Archive for Wheeler & Woolsey

Lost and Found Dept.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 23, 2014 by dcairns

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Lots of interesting feedback on yesterday’s post, which was about the not-particularly-interesting Kay Kyser movie YOU’LL FIND OUT.

Via Facebook, Jason Hyde points out, “That gorilla got around. It also pops up in the Rathbone Sherlock Holmes film The Woman in Green. It was still getting work as late as 1971’s Escape from the Planet of the Apes. Somebody should write a biography.”

I replied, “In 1972 they opened it up and found Charles Gemora, full of buckshot.”

But Randall William Cook had more information. The spooky mansion in this movie turns out to be a real treasure trove — as recounted in this DVD extra from the Peter Jackson KING KONG, video essay, several models from the 1933 original KONG can be seen as props in the villains’ lair, including various sizes of triceratops and some spiders from the famous deleted “spider pit sequence.”

We even see the odd, two-legged lizard that climbed a vine to get at Bruce Cabot.

And elsewhere in the movie, some very recognizable gargoyles (bottom of frame), last seen posing beside Charles Laughton in THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME.

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I imagine there’s stuff there from SHE and maybe THE HOUNDS OF ZAROFF, and all the Egyptian doodads are probably recycled from the Wheeler & Woolsey dud MUMMY’S BOYS — though it’s doubtful they were originally created for it.

The beauty of the studio system was that all this material was on call at all times, either in the (rubber) flesh or via stock footage. I previously investigated the bizarre rubber octopus (Steve) in CITIZEN KANE, dismissed reports of pterodactyls from KONG invading KANE, but found the ship from KONG reappearing in Val Lewton’s THE GHOST SHIP, heading in the opposite direction thanks to an optical flip that rechristens it from the Venture to the erutneV. Rechristening ships is said to be bad luck, and so it proves for the unhappy crew of the erutneV.

Much has been written about the reuse of the grand staircase from THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS in various Lewton horrors.

One day, when I am bored, I will track down the ludicrous gargoyle that decorates the background of Hammer’s TWINS OF EVIL but can also be seen, with a fresh lick of paint, in THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW.

Goodnight, and good luck.

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Thing I Read off the Screen in “Diplomaniacs”

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2013 by dcairns

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Informal trilogies are the best kinds. Here we have an informal trilogy of war-and-peace diplomatic “satires” from the pre-code era, comprising DUCK SOUP (the good one), MILLION DOLLAR LEGS (the less familiar, less good one) and DIPLOMANIACS (the not exactly good but certainly odd one).

M$L was co-written by Joseph L Mankiewicz and Henry Myers, among others. They were also responsible for this one. They ought to be ashamed.

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Fake newspapers in movies fascinate me. Sometimes the small print is made up of Latin, cut and pasted in at random. Sometimes it’s fictional stories of a vague, unconvincing sort. Sometimes it’s smaller stories related to the film’s main plot — some of these above qualify — but there are also authentically grim and real-seeming stories here, like 2 MEN SEIZED: BODY WAS PUT IN BURLAP BAG.

Low comedians Wheeler and Woolsey are sent to Geneva by the Indian Nation to sue for peace. Evil schemer Louis Calhern (Ambassador Trentino from DUCK SOUP) plots to thwart them with vamps and with fiendish Chinaman Hugh Herbert. Mr. Wu Wu, I guess you could call him — but the credits name him simply as “Chinaman”. Oddly, yellowface seems to agree with the overeager vaudevillian, forcing him to calm his schtick the fuck down, a good thing.

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The vamps are another matter. Dolores, played by half-pint Manitoban firecracker Marjorie White, is delivered down a chute wrapped in plastic like Laura Palmer. She tries to make Wheeler sing by throttling him. Englishwoman in Paris Fifi (Phyllis Barry) has a kiss which reduces men, literally, to smouldering heaps. Yet when she tries this on weedy Woolsey he blows HER fuses — it’s like Barbarella Vs. the Excessive Machine all over again. You wouldn’t think he had it in him.

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Lots of printed gags in this one, because it’s a VERY cartoony aesthetic. Also dismayingly random, which doesn’t make it good but at least makes it unpredictable. One can forgive it a lot for a scene where Wheeler sings “Annie Laurie” with his mouth fill of bread, which keeps jetting out in doughy wads — he catches it, stuffs it back in again, and carries one singing as movie tears run down his face in a gelatine torrent. Gross yet hilarious, and very strange.

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Unusually for a Hollywood movie, the boys’ mission fails and the world is plunged into war, a bitter harbinger of destiny. Fiona had been watching with eyelids slowly descending to Robert Mitchum levels of drowsiness, occasionally starting wide open at some fresh insult to the senses. At the end she declared that she was entirely uncertain how much of the film was real and how much a dream. There is no way to know — I mean, I was watching it too, but I couldn’t prove it didn’t unfold in her unconscious.

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The Peace Conference: “NO SPITTING ALLOWED UNLESS YOU’RE A DELEGATE.” Chairman: Edgar Kennedy.

Pretty Polygraph

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on July 29, 2013 by dcairns

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Wheeler and Woolsey electrocute Betty Grable in THE NITWITS. Actually, the sparks are from a home-made invention which forces the victim to tell the truth.

An interesting thing about the real life lie detector — it incorporates something called the systolic blood pressure test, invented by William Moulton Marston. This blood pressure measurement helps determine whether or not the testee is telling pork pies. Marston, in addition to being a psychologist and intrepid troilist, was also the creator of Wonder Woman, who has a lie detector of her own, her lassoo which forces snagged perpetrators to confess their sins. It’s not often that parallel careers and interests (Marston’s kinky side emerges vividly in his comic book writing) influence each other so clearly.

But never mind that. THE NITWITS is an RKO Wheeler & Woolsey comedy from 1935, directed by George Stevens. Although W&W betray more of a Marx Bros influence (while looking forward to Abbot & Costello), Stevens’ handling of the mock-thriller storyline often recalls his experience as a cinematographer on Laurel & Hardy shorts. But then he pulls out a lot of suave proto- noir effects for the last act.

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Whodunnit? Fred Keating is such an interesting performer one figures it must be him, but the movie also features Erik Rhodes, so it keeps you guessing.

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The wisecracks are pretty basic stuff (including one Groucho swipe) but the visual comedy is often excellent, with the boys visiting Grable at the prison wearing stilts so they can speak to her at a high window (they end up serenading a hoosegow full of felons, who join in as chorus) and a hectic climax with Willie Best and his stereotyped friends fleeing a fake spook, and some fairly inventive slapstick. Searching the list of credited and uncredited writers, I find the name of Al Boasberg, “the funniest guy in Hollywood,” who wrote gags for Keaton on THE GENERAL — I think he’s likely the fellow responsible for the best business in this one.

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This was Stevens’ last silly comedy vehicle — evidently somebody noticed it was better than it needed to be.