Keaton International

In this week’s post we will meet Buster Keaton the gangster, Buster Keaton the communist, and Buster Keaton the Nazi.  I’ve got a treasure trove of rare clips you won’t see anywhere else—all you have to do is click that “more” button to expand this.  C’mon, you know you want to.  It’ll make your day…

Buster Keaton

 

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CRIB NOTES, PART 2 OF 2

In my last post I explained the reasoning behind my programming choices for the first half of my Spring arthouse film calendar, today I finish the job. I accept the fact that anyone looking at my program will inevitably point to one (or more, perhaps even many) titles here and, in essence, ask the following question: “What the heck is THAT doing there?!” What follows below will hopefully dispel all head-scratching.

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Netflix Instants: Horizons West and China Gate

ROBERT RYAN IN GERMAN ADVERTISEMENT FOR HORIZONS WEST

In November, Netflix introduced a “streaming only” option to their membership plan, for $7.99 a month, another marker in the slow death of the DVD. Their “Instant” offerings are frequently presented on faded and cropped masters likely made during the VHS days, but the rarity of their hodgepodge collection makes it a near-essential outlet for those interested in American film history. Unless one lives in a cinephilic megacity like New York or L.A., VOD offerings like Netflix Instant and DVD-on-demand outfits like the Warner Archive are the only (legally) easy way to view older titles.

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Variety

 

PRICE TEN CENTS - not anymore!

To renew or not to renew? That is the $329.99 subscription question.
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Bogart & Lorre: A Match Made In Movie Heaven

The cast of PASSAGE TO MARSEILLES (1943)

PASSAGE TO MARSEILLES isn’t the type of film that normally sparks my interest. I have an aversion to propaganda films and I’m not particularly fond of prison break movies but I love Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre so I’ll watch them in anything. I’ve seen all the films that the two actors made together but for one reason or another I’ve managed to overlook PASSAGE TO MARSEILLES until now. Maybe it was all the lackluster reviews I read? I finally caught up with the movie last weekend and I’m happy to report that PASSAGE TO MARSEILLES surpassed my low expectations. It wasn’t the overlooked masterpiece I wanted it to be but I think it’s well worth recommending.

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Raoul Walsh’s Group Therapy

My  hopscotching education in Raoul Walsh skitters on this week, with five gut-punching thrillers. I’m jumping through his career haphazardly, watching whatever I can easily acquire. Last week led me from 1930 to 1955, but today I’m mired in the 1940s, thanks to the Warner Bros.-TCM box set, Errol Flynn Adventures (feel free to ignore this post if you think the TCM branding compromises my objectivity).  Along with Lewis Milestone’s Edge of Darkness, it includes the Walsh-directed Desperate Journey (1942), Northern Pursuit (1943), Uncertain Glory (1944) and Objective, Burma! (1945). I supplemented these with the Warner Archive disc of Manpower (1941).

The images at the top present two communities of wisecracking men, and Marlene Dietrich, sending off one of their own. They are from Manpower and Desperate Journey, two mournful studies of male camaraderie. Manpower takes the love triangle (and Edward G. Robinson) from Howard Hawks’ Tiger Shark (1932) and moves it from a fishing village to the road crew for a power company. It’s there that Robinson and buddy George Raft tell tall tales about their amorous accomplishments with fellow boozers Alan Hale, Ward Bond and a group of other grinning mugs. Walsh packs the frame with group shots, of leering, laughing and impulsive men. They gather in semi-circles to trade quips, and end the film in the same group formations saying their final goodbyes.

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Learning to Love Raoul Walsh

The Big Trail (top, 1930) & The Tall Men (btm, 1955)

Raoul Walsh was nothing if not adaptable. As a teenager, he tagged along with his uncle on a trading mission to Cuba and Mexico. The schooner was damaged in a storm and had a long layover in Vera Cruz. It was there, Walsh claimed, that he learned roping from a man he only knew as Ramirez, whom he paid in Cuban rum. He stayed ashore when the ship returned to NYC, and was soon hired as a cowboy to drive cattle into Texas. His accidentally gained expertise landed him a horse riding gig on Broadway (in a version of THE CLANSMAN, later filmed by D.W. Griffith as THE BIRTH OF A NATION, in which Walsh played John Wilkes Booth), and later got him hired at the Pathe Film Studios, who also needed a horseman. Once he was primed to break out as a leading man in IN OLD ARIZONA, a jackrabbit flew through his windshield, and the glass shards gouged out an eye (he was replaced by Warner Baxter). Hence his eyepatch, and his practically-minded move behind the camera.

Dave Kehr commented on on his blog, relating to his NY Times piece on the Errol Flynn Adventures box set that TCM released with Warner Bros., that “for me Walsh belongs with Ford and Hawks as one of the Big Three American directors, but there has been surprisingly little of substance written about him in English or in French.”  I felt I should be as practical as the director and take this as a sign to dig further into Walsh’s work. There was further discussion of how little he’s esteemed in the under-30 crowd, of which I’m a member for the next few months. And it’s undeniably true. I’ve never had a conversation about Walsh with anyone of my own age group.  So until I hit that magic number in February, I’ll be assessing and re-assessing his work, to find my way through Walsh’s massive filmography and hopefully spark further discussion about this major figure in film history.

Kehr’s erudite readers also took up the challenge, especially Blake Lucas, who wrote an essay-long breakdown of Walsh’s career. Spring 2011 promises a flood of material, with an essay on Walsh in Kehr’s eagerly awaited collection When Movies Mattered, and a forthcoming biography, Raoul Walsh: The True Adventures of Hollywood’s Legendary Director (University Press of Kentucky), by Marilyn Ann Moss. I’m adding my rather undigested thoughts here, and will contribute more in the coming weeks the more I see. I watched The Big Trail  (1930), The Strawberry Blonde (1941), Battle Cry (1955), and The Tall Men (1955) in quick succession with comment below, and my bits on Me and My Gal (1932) and Colorado Territory (1949) are here and here.

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“The Hasty Heart” — One of “Bob’s Picks” and Mine, Too!

I was gratified to see the 1950 Warner Bros. title The Hasty Heart scheduled tonight at 8pm on TCM as one of Bob Osborne’s personal favorites.  I’m not sure why Bob is so crazy about it, but I’ll bet we share some of the same respect and affection for the movie.  Based on a Broadway play by dramatist John Patrick, The Hasty Heart tells the tale of an irascible Scottish soldier in WWII whose stay at a British military hospital in 1944 Burma brings him face-to-face with the consequences of his prickly personality and ultimately his own mortality. [...MORE]

Memorial Day Movies: They Were Expendable (1945)

“This isn’t going to be some goddamned two-bit propaganda flick.”

-John Ford to Vice Admiral John Bulkeley, USN

John Ford put off making They Were Expendable for over two years. He was busy with his Field Photo Unit making war documentaries, and he wasn’t eager to to go off active service. He was completing post-production on The Battle of Midway (1942), and dealing with the negative reaction to December 7th (directed by Gregg Toland), a Pearl Harbor re-enactment whose depiction of a less than prepared Navy led to its shelving, and to the future censoring of the Photo Unit’s output. Joseph McBride, in his magisterial biography Searching for John Ford, writes that “the navy reacted to the long version of December 7th ‘by confiscating the print and ordering Ford to lock up the negative.”

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Hattie McDaniel’s Path to Her Oscar

Last year, in part because of the celebrations surrounding the films of 1939, I had a chance to introduce Gone With the Wind to younger viewers in my family who had never seen the film. It’s not a favorite movie of mine, so I could understand their appalled reactions to the innate racism of the story that implied that a slave’s first loyalty was to the families that owned them, (even after the Civil War and emancipation). Seen at a glance in GWTW, maybe the antebellum South’s biggest problems may only seem to be uppity white trash like Victor Jory’s oily Jonas Wilkerson, or the need for rebellious girls like Scarlett to maintain their hypocritical poses in a rigid social structure, while secretly acting on their own half-understood impulses, and the upheaval caused by those damn Yankees. But look a bit closer and you can see the story of changing attitudes and a brave woman struggling to make her mark in a world that both rejected and accepted her.  I don’t mean Scarlett Katie O’Hara, either.

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