Archive for Warner Bros

Teddington Bare

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , on November 16, 2017 by dcairns

From David Lean’s Dedicated Maniac: Memoirs of a Film Specialist by ace props man Eddie Fowlie.

Though Eddie’s non-conformist, anti-authoritarian streak made him a true independent for most of his career, he started out as an employee of the props department at Warner Brothers’ Teddington Studios on the banks of the Thames ~

“There was everything from Chippendale to Sheridan, and even the odd kitchen sink. We bought furniture at auctions from great old houses that had been closed because of the war, including silverware, bronzes, pianos, harpsichords, full-dinner services, and quality carpets of every shape and description. It was a veritable treasure trove, and the wizard in charge of all of it was a cockney property master called Harry Hannay. We became good friends and spent most days out in a van, ‘totting’ or looking for the props we might need. Some things were bought and others rented. Whether the set was a suburban room, a hospital ward, a pretty garden or a hovel for tramps, my job was to dress it with suitable props, down to the last detail — and no detail was too small or insignificant. It could be a piece of paper in a typewriter, or a slipper tossed carelessly by a rumpled bed. It was all a question of using one’s own imagination. Much to my surprise I learned that black and white films were anything but. We applied a blue dye to cloth bed sheets and tea for the smaller surfaces, because anything truly ‘white’ did not show up on film. We introduced blotting paper between sheets to prevent them making a rustling sound and tipped a bit of lighter fluid on candles to help them light up instantly. These little details went unnoticed but they were just as important as the rest of the set.”

But, when Eddie returned from a location shoot with Burt Lancaster ~

“Shortly after returning to Teddington, however, I came back to earth with a bump. We were told Warner Brothers had sold the studio to a new commercial television company and that we would have to move out within two weeks. We didn’t have much time to dwell on the news. The prop room had huge amounts of stuff, worth many millions of pounds in today’s money, which took fleets of trucks to clear out. Other studios swooped down on Teddington like vultures to pick the bones, buying and loading up with as many props as they could. Rental houses came too, but as the deadline approached it was still not being loaded quickly enough, and we were faced with the thoroughly unpleasant task of having to destroy the rest. Windows were taken out on each floor, pushed out and burnt in piles along the river bank, including a unique collection of a room-full of rare posters on theatre, shipping, railways and commercial advertising. It was a sad end to what had been the country’s artistic heritage, but we did as we were told. If we had wanted anything I suppose we could have helped ourselves, but I took nothing, not even one of the century-old books. When Warner suggested I go to Elstree as their property manager, I declined […]”

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A Night Without Casablanca

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2017 by dcairns

I wrote a little about this one years back (has it been years?) and so left it to nearly the end of my Marxian odyssey this time (for late-comers, I’m writing about those aspects of the Marx Bros films excluding the Marx Bros — what are usually considered the bad bits).

A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA sees the three remaining Bros at United Artists, in 1946, in a largely studio-bound version of North Africa. Plot revolves around Nazi gold and art treasures, then I imagine quite a new McGuffin. It’s probably sensible that the Marx films skipped the war years altogether (if one considers WWII from an American perspective) and refer to the Third Reich fairly obliquely here.

The film is deftly directed by Archie Mayo, with a surprising amount of fluid camera movement. It’s questionable whether a Marx Bros film NEEDS fluid camera movement, but it’s getting it regardless. And despite the limited budget keeping us in a hotel for most of the plot (when the boys escape jail and steal a plane, they crash right back into the jail again, thus saving on further sets) it looks pretty good.

No Margaret Dumont, alas, but Sig Rumann is present and incorrect as Pfferman the German. He’s a Nazi-in-hiding with a giveaway scar on his head (I’m imagining an unfortunate encounter with the Inglourious Basterds) for which he requires the camouflage of a toupee. Harpo is set up as Rusty, his put-upon underling, a role that dates back to A NIGHT AT THE OPERA and Thalberg’s unfortunate attempts to sentimentalize Harpo. Still, it means we can have lots of scenes of Sig being driven to apoplexy by Harpo and later the other brothers. And he keeps his clothes on this time. The sight of his genital cluster swaying within his long johns in A NIGHT AT THE OPERA will follow me to my mausoleum.

Sig comes complete with henchpersons, the oily Kurt and the seductive Bea. Kurt is ably played by actual German Frederick Giermann, and gets a decent sabre duel with Harpo. Giermann is one of countless fugitives from the Nazis who enjoyed a few boom years in Hollywood playing the guys he had fled. His career dries up not long after the war.

Bea is the excellent and lovely Lisette Verea, who seems to be genuinely having a ball, and is particularly good with Groucho. The nice girls in these films are always a bore, but the vamps are generally great value. Better, Verea gets to convert to the side of good, meaning she can get chased offscreen by the Bros at the end. This Romanian vixen was in just two films, the other being the 1933 version of THE GHOST TRAIN, which I bet is aces. ALL versions of THE GHOST TRAIN seem to be thoroughly entertaining.

Frank Tashlin worked on gags for this one, including Harpo’s first scene, leaning against a wall, getting moved on by a policeman (“Say, what do you think you are doing, holding up the building?”), at which point the full-sized building collapses. He may have also devised Groucho’s deleted entrance, in which his small desert hotel blows away in a sandstorm. The movie has obviously suffered quite a bit of this “tightening” — despite which Chico and Harpo’s musical numbers remain intact — numerous scenes fade-out in mid-action, or with characters opening their mouths to begin new quips. Who knows if there was gold in the lost footage? The remaining film has its longeurs, and the inelegance of the cutting does make me wonder if they snipped out the wrong bits.

Chief among the longeurs, of course, are the romantic leads, but the movie gives them short shrift, for which we can be grateful. Their names are Charles Drake and Lois Collier, and they can’t help themselves. And the script doesn’t exactly go out of its way to help them either. Of Mr. Drake, the IMDb says “No change in popularity this week,” which strikes me as beautifully apt. Collier had a much shorter career than her co-star, but most of her characters had names. This pair doesn’t get a lot of screen time — the movie actually seems to forget about them midway, and it’s a surprise when they crash back into the plot. And at least they don’t sing.

Lisette Verea does, briefly, and the number chosen, Who’s Sorry Now?, is a very good one, and it’s nice that it’s by Kalmar & Ruby, who wrote Hooray for Captain Spaulding! and Whatever It Is, I’m Against It, and who are the chief credited writers on DUCK SOUP.

Who else? Perennial bit player Paul Harvey plays Mr. Smythe, who can’t get a room in Groucho’s hotel without showing his marriage license. Mr. Harvey was born in Sandwich, Illinois, which makes me warm to him. Sig Rumann was a Hamburger — perhaps he would have bonded with the Sandwich man also.

There’s an extraordinary-looking thesp called David Hoffman as an Arab spy. And Dan Seymour as the Prefect of Police, his beard dismissed by Groucho as a terrible case of five O’clock shadow. And, we are told, Ruth Roman as a harem girl, but I failed to spot her.

The movie is a big step up from THE BIG STORE, it seems to me, and lets the Brothers be properly anarchic and only incidentally noble. Though the best bits of OPERA and RACES are up there with the best bits of anything else, I can’t help feel that the Marxes made a mistake, essentially, in signing with MGM — this movie liberates them from the Thalberg influence. The studio where they SHOULD have found a home, Warner Bros (the most brazenly Jewish, most leftie, most proletarian, and most casually vulgar studio) threatened to sue over the use of the word CASABLANCA in the title here. Groucho threatened to counter-sue over the use of their word BROTHERS.

Despite someone NEARLY saying “Round up the usual suspects” and a Groucho-Lisette riff on “You know how to whistle, don’t you?” from TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, there’s little of Bogart here, though Groucho’s tent-like white jacket may be a clown version of Rick’s evening dress. A more actionable version could be imagined, with Groucho running a night club, Chico as a combined Dooley Wilson and Peter Lorre (“Sure I gotta the lettuce o’ transit!”) and Harpo as… hmm, not sure. Paul Henreid could play himself.

I love Ewe

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on September 21, 2016 by dcairns

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From the Frank Tashlin short I GOT PLENTY OF MUTTON (great title). A wolf wants to eat some sheep, but they are protected by a powerful ram.

The wolf dresses up as a sheep, but not just any sheep. A sexy sheep.

Rather than merely pass unobtrusively among the flock, he wants to seduce the ram, then murder him. This doesn’t go well.

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At the sight of a sheep wearing lipstick and a sarong, the ram turns into Charles Boyer — anticipating Pepe le Pew by a year. And the rest of the film turns into a blatant rehearsal for the Parisian skunk’s amours, with an added dose of homosexual panic, as the ram — whose horns uncurl, stand to attention and turn red at the sight of a sheep in a sarong — pursues the dragged-up wolf over hill and dale.

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When the desperate lupine rips off his disguise and declares, “I’m a wolf!” the ram replies “What of it, so am I!” and bays in a lustful (and kinda phallic) manner — anticipating the climactic shrug of SOME LIKE IT HOT.