The (Yom HaShoah) Monday Matinee, Chapter Two: The Thunder Riders

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , on April 24, 2017 by dcairns

At the gripping climax of chap 1 of our Shadowplay serial, THE PHANTOM EMPIRE, our heroes were literally hanging off a cliff, from a rope which broke, plunging them towards certain death. In chap 2, by simply omitting one shot of the dropping figures, the filmmakers cut to them sliding down a slope and catching on a branch. They were never in danger at all! Expect more of this cheating, which was standard practice in movie serials.

Now read on…

Leading man Gene Autry then hauls ass back to his Radio Ranch to give the latest broadcast of his singing cowboy show, a production so lavish and realistic that it features real horse chases and shoot-outs to delight the listeners. We get the latest episode of the serial-within-a-serial, which intriguingly bears no narrative relation to the last episode we “saw.” I like the idea of a random serial. It may be a kind of commentary on the oddness of THE PHANTOM EMPIRE itself, which is after all a singing cowboy / sci-fi show.

I’m wondering whether TPE is going to sustain this conceit that, no matter what desperate adventures he’s involved in, Autry has to go home and do a radio show every episode. I do hope so!

During this exciting show, Gene’s partner, father of the two juveniles, is shot dead! This is the work of the mundane baddies, who are trying to drive Gene away so they can mine radium. I didn’t mention these guys before because they’re kind of dull compared to the Thunder Riders, although Professor Beetson has a great sneery face.

The Thunder Riders come from Murania, the underground scientific city, exiting via a garage door hidden in the rock face. They communicate with their Queen Tika (Dorothy Christy)  via “wireless telephone,” which is basically a Dick Tracy wrist-radio, and also a big screen for Skype calls. But hilariously, when the Queen calls them, the view she has on her monitor is of the backs of their heads ~

This may be why she looks tetchy and suspicious when she hangs up. Is someone taking the piss? Then again, Queen Tika always looks that way. It’s the natural effect of having played a Stan Laurel screen wife, I suppose.

Of course, she also has her big floor screen so she can look at the upperworld and make snarky cracks about it — she does that again this week too, though it’s not as long or insanely edited as Episode One’s tirade. Still, I hope she keeps it up.

The Thunder Riders look set to abduct the singing cowboy star at the end of this week’s installment, and about time. But the real cliffhanger is that an aeroplane containing the juveniles has been shot down. Everyone in it is certainly dead. Tune in next week to view the smoldering corpses of Frankie Darro and Betsy King Ross.

To be continued…


The Sunday Intertitle: A Case of Elephants

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on April 23, 2017 by dcairns

AN ELEPHANT ON HIS HANDS is an inaccurate title for a 1920 comedy short which blatantly contains TWO elephants. The filmmakers are selling themselves short. So at some later point, a distributor has spliced in the more accurate ELEPHANTS ON HIS HANDS, which is clumsier but at the same time somehow funnier.

Very fat man Hughie Mack is the leading man — freaks of nature are very much the film’s stock-in-trade, along with odd sights like a dog with a serving plate strapped to its back, bringing in the bacon. John George, the diminutive thug from Houdini’s serial THE MASTER MYSTERY, also a favourite of Rex Ingram, appears briefly as the world’s shortest policeman.

The only real interest is the sight of elephants walking about inside a large metropolitan hotel. There’s also a dream sequence in which Hughie is tormented by elephantasms in his slumber. A brief double exposure of the pachyderms wafting by in single file dimly anticipates THE ELEPHANT MAN.

Weirdly, apart from the crude main title added after the fact, the intertitles are elaborate things, some featuring little stop-motion figures running (well, sliding) about. They’re not exactly attractive, but someone put some effort into them. Makes me think the deleted main title was probably the highlight of the film.

The Monster Talks!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on April 22, 2017 by dcairns

Jack Pierce from David Cairns on Vimeo.

A find! From S. Sylvan Simon’s 1937 short subject, HOLLYWOOD SCREEN TEST, a glimpse of makeup maestro Jack Pierce at work. I’d seen photos, I think maybe I’d seen moving picture film of Pierce (Boris Karloff makeup test? The green one?) But I’d never heard him talk.

Delightful to see that Pierce’s character, as presented here anyway, is just what I’d heard — you might say “irascible.”