Lost and Found: The Man and the Moment (1929)

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The light comedy The Man and the Moment (1929) was considered lost until a dupe negative was recently discovered at Cineteca Italiana di Milano. This part-talkie from First National Pictures was restored in 2K by Warner Bros. at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory in Bologna, and was released on Warner Archive DVD last month. A charming proto-screwball comedy, it’s about a marriage of convenience between a rich playboy and an impetuous adventuress that ends up destroying planes, boats and nightclub aquariums. Made during the transition to sound, it exemplifies the stereotype of that era’s stiff, static line readings. It has snap and vigor in the silent sequences, and grinds to a halt for dialogue. This is not aided by leading man Rod la Rocque, who is a debonair charmer in the silent sequences and a wooden statue during dialogue. His co-star Billie Love is more of a natural, and she waltzes away with the film.

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’60s Spy Stories: Gila Golan

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Gila Golan in Our Man Flint (1966)

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: I love ’60s spy movies! They typically contain more style than substance and seem to delight in ridiculous plot lines, campy performances, sexual innuendoes and questionable morals but that’s part of their appeal. Next Monday viewers who tune into TCM in the evening hours will be treated to an assortment of “’60s Spy Stories” beginning with Arabesque (1966) at 8PM EST/5PM PST followed by The Ipcress File (1965), Our Man Flint (1966), Our Man in Havana (1959 -not exactly a ’60s production but it will fit right in), The Prize (1963) and Our Man in Marrakesh aka Bang! Bang! You’re Dead! (1966). I’ve written or referenced most of these films here at the Movie Morlocks in the past but today I wanted to focus my attention on one of my favorite female undercover agents, the gorgeous and deadly Gila Golan who takes on James Coburn in Our Man Flint.

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Girlhood: Anne of Green Gables (1934)

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The books of my childhood have no hold on me, no permanent perch in my imagination. I was immersed in the boys-solving-crimes genre of The Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown as a lad, and today I couldn’t dredge up a single plot point from the dozens I read. My wife, however, is continually revisiting the worlds of Laura Ingalls Wilder and L.M. Montgomery, with Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables deepening for her over time. They evoke a rambunctious, adventurous girlhood as well as a very tactile sense of place. The forbidding tundra of Little House’s upper midwest and idyllic Prince Edward Island of Anne are landscapes that she has incorporated into her being. If she ever goes starry eyed, she has probably escaped to the Ingalls cabin in her mind. As a selfish male, I desired access to this secret girls club. But as a lazy one, I haven’t had time to read the novels. So instead I viewed the 1934 adaptation of Anne of Green Gables, newly on DVD from the Warner Archive. It’s a polished RKO production that softens the book’s tragedies, but still captures the stumbling energies of Anne’s incorrigible youth.

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Movie Book Round-Up: The Holiday Edition

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Since I began writing for the Movie Morlocks five years ago I typically compile a blog post with summer reading suggestions or a list of favorite film related books released at the end of the year. This year I’ve had access to so many great books that I decided to compile two book lists.

My first was “Midsummer Reading Suggestions” where I covered The Lives of Robert Ryan, Sex, Sadism, Spain, and Cinema: The Spanish Horror Film, Orson Welles’s Last Movie: The Making of The Other Side of the Wind, So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films and Audrey (Hepburn) at Home: Memories of My Mother’s Kitchen along with other titles. What follows is my “Holiday Edition” where I share some of the best books (pictured above) that I’ve encountered since July. I hope both lists will encourage you to do some reading during the holidays or provide you with some shopping suggestions while you’re purchasing gifts for fellow film buffs.

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November 14, 2015
David Kalat
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The Story of Chabrol

They called Claude Chabrol “the French Hitchcock,” but this was always more a marketing hook than a meaningful comparison. Alfred Hitchcock made crowd-pleasing suspense thrillers; Chabrol made vicious satires disguised as suspense thrillers. For decades, Chabrol had been crafting spiky, embittered dramas simmering with disgust for humanity in general and the French bourgeoisie in specific.

And in 1988, he took aim at Nazi-occupied France. That was impressive enough, but the bullet he fired was a tangled, M.C. Escher-like self-referential puzzle surfing waves he’d set in motion two decades earlier.

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KEYWORDS: Claude Chabrol, Isabelle Huppert, Landru, Story of Women, Violette Noziere
COMMENTS: 5
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October 24, 2015
David Kalat
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Tura Satana vs. the World

I was recently traveling in Oregon, and marveling at what Lewis and Clark must have thought as their years of travel across unknown terrain led them, at last, to such a wonderful and unexpected prize. It is hard in this modern day to find a similar thrill of discovery. The world is too well mapped, too known. It seems very very unlikely that we will ever again experience, on this world at least, the opportunity to find an uncharted island, to discover a new element, to describe a new species. You might as well hope to see a new color.

But, there are such thrills in other avenues of exploration. That is one of the attractions of watching obscure movies—to uncover lost treasures, so see something magical the rest of the world overlooked.

Consider what cult movie audiences in the 1970s and 80s must have thought as they stumbled unawares across the VHS release of Russ Meyer’s 1965 Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill! Here was a thing that was not so old, yet almost throughly forgotten—a low-budget indie film that was at best destined for niche market appeal but which had sunk into oblivion on its initial run. It was so thoroughly drenched in 1960s style (That music! Those fashions!) but also so ahead of its time that we’re still playing catch-up with it. It was somehow sexist and feminist at once, a leering piece of cinematic oogling that also pushed men wholeheartedly away. What happens to a work of male gaze if men aren’t invited to do the gazing? What is the sound of one hand clapping?

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KEYWORDS: Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill!, Russ Meyer, Tura Santana
COMMENTS: 9
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Pulling the Strings: What Every Woman Knows (1934)

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When Helen Hayes was cast in the 1926 Broadway production of What Every Woman Knows, she was not yet “The First Lady of the American Theater”. According to the show’s producer William A. Brady, she had previously been “deep in the high heels and lipstick business – flapper roles”. It was with the part of the pragmatic “Maggie” in J.A. Barrie’s 1908 play, a Scottish battle of the sexes, that she established the Hayes persona, her civilized veneer holding back a mischievous spirit. The show ran for 268 performances and rave reviews. After further Broadway successes in Coquette (’27) and The Good Fairy (’31), she signed with MGM in 1931 to extend her career into the movies. It seemed natural to have her return to her breakthrough role, and What Every Woman Knows was directed by Gregory La Cava in 1934 – available now on DVD from the Warner Archive. But it was a frustrating experience for all involved, hampered by poor test screenings and re-shoots. Hayes was so disappointed in the process she stopped acting in films for nearly two decades. Regardless of the off-screen dramas, the film itself is a charming comedy about a smart young spinster who manipulates the men in her life into prominence, becoming a behind-the-scenes power broker. It is a rare treat to see Hayes reprise her star-making role, and it is a layered performance built on hundreds of stage repetitions, in which every glance is like a conductor’s wand, controlling the men around her.

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October 3, 2015
David Kalat
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Dance, Girl, Dance

It is one of Hollywood’s most revered myths—the talented yet undiscovered starlet from some flyover backwater, desperate to make it big in the city. Forget The Voice, this stuff goes all the way back to the dawn of mass media. You could be forgiven for wondering which was more numerous: the wanna-be stars or the movies made about them.

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The Power of the Pantsuit

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TCM’s Star of the Month, Susan Hayward, in a publicity still for VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1967) airing tonight on TCM at 11:45 EST/8:45 PST

“What we have here is a dirty soap opera. It is dirty because it intends to be, but it is a soap opera only by default. It tries to raise itself to the level of sophisticated pornography, but fails.” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times

“Pure trash, based on a trashy book with trashy performances. . . Banal, ignorant and just plain lousy.” – Jay Robert Nash, The Motion Picture Guide

“Dull, sex-teasing, talky, sudser.” – Variety

“Bad as Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls is as a book, the movie Mark Robson has made form it is equally bad or worse. It’s an unbelievably hackneyed and mawkish mishmash of backstage plots and Peyton Place adumbrations.” – Bosley Crowther, The New York Times

As the quotes above illustrate, VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1967) tends to generate strong reactions. Critics generally hated this soapy melodrama when it was originally released and seemed to relish finding new ways to insult the movie as well its audience. Based on Jacqueline Susann’s bestselling gossip-fueled book, the film claimed to illuminate the sleazy side of showbiz with lurid stories about the sexual appetites and drug-habits of its female protagonists who are looking for love, fame and fortune in all the wrong places. Today the uproar over the film and its source material seems rather quaint but contrary to popular belief, the sixties weren’t completely swinging in 1967. There were still plenty of conservative pockets in the country as well as bourgeois intellectuals who balked at the popularity of Susann’s book and were appalled that a Hollywood studio had decided to turn the trashy tell-all into a big budget movie. VALLEY OF THE DOLLS is now considered a cult classic. Its fans relish the over-the-top performances and ridiculous dialogue but I think it contains some genuinely great moments and one of the movie’s best scenes features Susan Hayward in a jewel-encrusted paisley pantsuit.

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Alberto Vargas in Hollywood

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Vargas in his Hollywood studio. The photo was taken sometime during the 1930s.

If you love vintage pin-up art as much as I do you’ll probably recognize Alberto Vargas’s name. Between 1920 and 1975 the Peruvian artist created some of the most celebrated and recognizable pin-up art in America while working for the Ziegfeld Follies as well as Esquire magazine and Playboy. His paintings of ridiculously long-legged, thin-waisted and big-busted beauties known as “Vargas Girls” (or “Varga Girls”) also graced calendars and were favorites among enlisted men during WW2. GIs hung “Vargas Girls” on their lockers and in their barracks, copied them onto the sides of bomber planes and had them tattooed on their bodies.

What classic movie fans might not know is that Alberto Vargas also had a brief but lucrative career in Hollywood painting celebrity portraits, working for film industry magazines and creating movie posters. I enjoy playing detective so I decided to dig through various archives and books in search of Vargas’s film related work and what I found surprised me. The Latin artist made a much bigger impact on Hollywood than I’d previously been led to believe.

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