Sunday, March 31, 2013

Campus Rhythm (1943)

Campus Rhythm (1943) is a Pathe and Monogram picture that belongs to one of my favorite sub-genres of classic film: the collegiate film. It stars Gale Storm as Joan Abbott, a famous radio performer sponsored by the cereal company Crunchy Wunchy. Joan has been in show business all her life and she's sick of it. She dreams of going to college and experiencing campus life. She's underage and still under the control of her uncle Willy (Douglas Leavitt) who just renewed her contract with manager J.P. Hartman (Herbert Heyes) for another 6 months. Joan runs away and joins Rawley University under the assumed name Susie Smith, a moniker she borrowed from her manager's new secretary.

Even at Rawley she can't escape performing life because music just happens to be very much a part of campus life. She finds herself surrounded by talented people. Buzz O'Hara (Robert Lowery) is the head of the fraternity, leader of the campus band and known prankster. Scoop (Johnny Downs), the editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper and Joan/Susie's new love interest. Scoop is as stiff as a freshly starched shirt and is opposed to anything but serious studies on campus. There is always one of those types in a collegiate movie! There is also Harold (Candy Candido) a humorous voice artist and Babs Marlow (GeGe Pearson) a budding singer. Writers, dancers, singers, voice artists, the campus is full of talent just waiting to be discovered.

Susie is always at risk of being found out as Joan Abbott. Her father and manager are on the search for her but Joan is hard to find under her very common assumed name. They come up with a publicity stunt to encourage college students around the country to find Joan Abbott if she is hiding at their school. Most people don't know what she looks like so it's a fun challenge for the students. Another nation-wide college contest seeks to find the next big band.

How long can Joan hide under assumed name when it seems like everyone is looking for her? Especially when a jealous sorority girl is on to her scheme and will do anything to expose Susie as Joan.

The premise of Campus Rhythm is very similar to that of Dancing Co-Ed (1939) starring Lana Turner. Both feature a performer hiding in a college campus under an assumed name and a nation-wide collegiate publicity stunt. In the case of Campus Rhythm, the protagonist's intentions are always genuine.

The plot can be considered rather weak but that didn't stop me from enjoying this film immensely. I liked it so much I started watching again immediately after my first viewing. There are some great songs including "But Not You", "Swing Your Way Through College" and "You Character".  Hollywood seems to love a good yarn about a fake college student or one incognito. The new person dynamic in these cases really shakes things up on campus in a very entertaining way. And what is it with nation-wide collegiate contests? Was this a thing? I'd love to learn more about the collegiate life of early to mid-twentieth century America.

Gale Storm is a delight to watch and she's one of three talents to take note of in this film. There is also Candy Candido who was famous for his ability to effortlessly switch between three different octaves. He was already a well-known radio star, was establishing himself as a voice artist and bass player in film and went on to become a voice actor for animated film. I enjoyed watching radio actress and singer GeGe Pearson who plays campus singer Babs Marlow and performs a few songs in the film.

Also watch for prolific character actor Tom Kennedy who has a small but funny role as a Police Seargant. He's a favorite of mine and I was glad to see a familiar face in the movie.

I wasn't expecting much from Campus Rhythm and was pleasantly surprised. If you love 1940s music, radio culture and collegiate films, this is definitely one to add to your repertoire. It's available on DVD through the MGM Limited Collection. I rented it through ClassicFlix only to discover I had it available to me this whole time through Netflix Instant. Oh well!


Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Good Guys and the Bad Guys (1969)

The Good Guys and the Bad Guys (1969) is a Western and the last film produced by the independent outfit Robert Goldstein Productions. The film was directed by Burt Kennedy and features a wonderful cast including Robert Mitchum, George Kennedy, both David and John Carradine and Martin Balsam. Other notable supporting actors include Marie Windsor, Tina Louise, Buddy HackettDouglas FowleyLois Nettleton who I recognized from having seen Period of Adjustment (1962) and Kathleen Freeman who is in just about every TV show there ever was.

Robert Mitchum stars as Flagg, the aging Marshall of an isolated town called Progress. Mayor Wilker (Martin Balsam) has just kicked out the local prostitutes (albeit temporarily) in an effort to clean up the town and improve his chances at becoming re-elected. Flagg has just heard that legendary outlaw John McKay (George Kennedy) is heading to Progress with a band of young up-and-coming outlaws. They plan to rob a train, carrying a significant load of money, when it makes it's stop at a Progress depot. Flagg wants the help of the Mayor and the Deputy plus 20 men to stop the outlaws. However, the Mayor laughs off the threat and forces Flagg into retirement.

That doesn't stop Flagg however from finding McKay and his posse and trying to stop them. What he witnesses is interesting. McKay's men don't respect him and a lot of that is because of his age. Flagg and McKay go way back and although they are on opposite sides of the law, they see pretty much eye-to-eye when it comes to how things should be done. There is a big difference between the old outlaws and the new brand of ones. The young outlaws have no respect for their elders, don't have any sense of honor, kill even when it's not necessary and will shoot a man in the back without giving him a fair chance to fight back. McKay is under Flagg's arrest and together they try to stop the outlaws from their big heist.

While the title of the film is The Good Guys and the Bad Guys this really is more about The Old Guys and the Young Guys. But I'm sure that title wouldn't have sold very many movie tickets. The main conflict here is not between good guys and bad guys but between the old and the young. Let's take Mayor Wilker on the one hand. He's technically a good guy but he clearly has bad intentions. He likes to manipulate the young including his younger sidekick Boyle (Dick Peabody) and others, notably a young married woman (Tina Louise) with whom he has an affair. He can't successfully manipulate Flagg however who is closer to him in age than his other victims. Lots of characters are paired by age. Flagg is romantically pursued by the much younger Mary who runs the boarding house he lives in. McKay and Waco (David Carradine) are always at odds. Polly (Marie Windsor) turns down the attention of a young outlaw for the platonic company of the older Grundy (Douglas Fowley). And so and and so forth. In the end, the battle is really between age and wisdom and youth and bravado.

Young, Old, Young and Old. That's a young David Carradine in the back!

I have never been a fan of Westerns but I think that is quickly changing. As I work through the canon of Robert Mitchum's work, I am finding that I enjoy his Westerns a great deal. The Good Guys and the Bad Guys is a light Western in the respect that there is a comedic undertone that keeps it from taking itself too seriously. It has a great cast and it's just fun to watch. I was not very familiar with George Kennedy, having only seen a few of his films, and I discovered that I liked him very much indeed. I'll have to watch more of his movies (recommendations are welcome).

The movie posters play up the "sex" in the form of Tina Louise (Ginger from Gilligan's Island) who had a very small role in the film.

The film has a great theme song called The Ballad of Marshall Flag sung by folk artist Glenn Yarbrough. You can listen to it with the player below. Yarbrough also sang the theme song for the film Baby the Rain Must Fall (1965). Fans of Yarbrough might like to know that his daughter runs a Facebook page for him and keeps fans up to date and also relays fan messages to her father.

Many thanks to my friend Frank who let me borrow his DVD copy!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Warner Archive Wednesday ~ The Dawn Patrol (1930)

The Dawn Patrol (1930) is directed by Howard Hawks and stars Richard Barthelmess, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Neil Hamilton. It's an all-male cast which includes Frank McHugh in his debut role.

The year is 1915 and we are in the middle of WWI. The Dawn Patrol consists of Commanding Officer Major Brand (Neil Hamilton), two Aces Courtney (Richard Barthlelmess) and Scott (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) and team of pilots and crew. Major Brand has to make some unpopular choices because of commands he receives from his higher ups. This causes tension between Brand and Courtney especially when new and relatively inexperienced recruits are added to missions full knowing that they may not come back from those missions alive. It's only until Brand is promoted and Courtney takes over his command that he realizes the stress Brand has been under. Courtney and Scott are best friends and their relationship is tested when Scott's younger brother is added to the patrol.

The Dawn Patrol is a sober study of the brutality of war, it's psychological effects on individuals and relationships between people. Grueling battles and losing their fellow pilots drives them to drink. Every night, they lose themselves in alcohol and music to numb the pain and to forget about the horrors they've faced that morning. While the film is looking back 15 years, it's still an interesting to watch for anyone interested in studying WWI.

I really wanted to enjoy this film but I found it awkward and a bit boring. I absolutely adore Richard Barthelmess and while he was not the best actor out there I will watch any film he is in regardless of what anyone says. That's how devoted I am to him! While I enjoyed watching Barthelmess, DF Jr. and Frank McHugh, I still couldn't bring myself to enjoy the film. It's one that could captivate an audience from its era with it's special effects and aerial footage. Director Howard Hawks was a WWI pilot so I feel like this would be a more accurate representation of the goings on at a WWI airbase. However, looking at it with modern eyes it does feel a bit dated.

I would recommend this film to WWI buffs or to war movie enthusiasts! The movie was remade in 1938 with the same name and with Errol Flynn as Courtney and David Niven as Scott. I would be curious to watch that to see if it's at all an improvement on the original.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. I received The Dawn Patrol (1930) from Warner Archive for review.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

TCM Road to Hollywood - Jane Powell and Leonard Maltin present Royal Wedding (1951)

Yesterday we had the pleasure of attending the TCM Road to Hollywood event at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, MA. Presented by Turner Classic Movies, hosted by Leonard Maltin and featuring special guest Jane Powell, last night’s event was nothing short of spectacular.

I have been excited about this special event ever since it was announced as part of the TCM Road to Hollywood lineup. As soon as tickets became available, I snatched two up as quick as I could and waited anxiously for the day to arrive.

Carlos and I arrived about an hour early to the event and there was already a line waiting to get in.

We didn’t have to wait long in the rain to get in. Once we entered, we handed over our tickets and picked up our complimentary TCM Film Festival postcards and TCM Now Playing Guide. There was a photographer taking pictures of us as we entered and this cool signage greeted us.

This event was sold out and the place was packed.

Tickets were compliments of TCM and the event was geared towards promoting the TCM Film Festival.

 A representative from TCM spoke to us about the Road to Hollywood series and the Film Festival encouraging us to go. I thank TCM for being so generous and hosting these events across the country and allowing us to attend for free! Not only that but allowing us to be in the presence of a classic film star.

After the rep from TCM did her talk, Ned Hinkle, Creative Director of the Brattle, also spoke encouraging folks to go to the TCM Film Festival if they could and thanking TCM, Leonard Maltin and Jane Powell for making this amazing event happen. He also spoke some really kind words about Leonard Maltin and all he’s done for movie buffs over the years, especially in the days before the internet when a lot of us relied on his movie guides for information and film discovery.

Leonard Maltin came out and talked a bit about the TCM Film Festival some more before Special Guest Jane Powell. He referred to it as Movie Buff Camp and said that the energy at the festival was really wonderful. I also remember him saying that people from over 45 states attended the festival. Woah!

Maltin introduced Jane Powell and she was received by the audience with a standing ovation and an enthusiastic roar of applause. She looked really good! She had a lovely blue dress on and black high heel pumps and looked absolutely lovely. The talk lasted about 30 minutes and Maltin was a gracious and helpful host and Jane Powell was witty and charming and effervescent. You could tell the crowd was hanging on to her every word and were really excited to see her. There was lots of applause and laughter. A positive experience overall. Maltin also took a few questions from the audience.

Here are some of the anecdotes that Jane Powell shared with us:

  • She referred to her younger self as a “country bumpkin from Portland, Oregon”
  • She got her start tap-dancing for a radio broadcast. Yes, radio.
  • She found out that MGM had changed her name from Suzanne Burce to Jane Powell from a phone call. She thought the name was boring and noted that other actors already had the surname Powell.
  • She liked the Studio system, always thought of herself as an employee of MGM. She went to school at the MGM lot with Elizabeth Taylor and Margaret O’Brien.
  • She never turned down roles. Her only regrets were roles that were never offered to her. One of the roles she regrets not getting is Love Me or Leave Me which eventually starred Doris Day.
  • She wishes she could have been offered more dramatic roles.
  • The first time she met Clark Gable she was so star-struck she forgot his name.
  • She remembers Fred Astaire as a very private person and felt she never really knew him. She described him as unique, kind and a rarity.
  • The movie studio suffered from competing with TV. She remembered that if she had her picture taken that a TV set could not be included in the shot.
  • She used to be on the road a lot and always took her 3 kids and 3 dogs.
  • She always worked independently. Never had a secretary and still doesn’t.
  • She had a good relationship with Louis B. Mayer and described it as a father-daughter sort of bond.
  • She says she was never “chased around the desk” like other actresses were.
  • She was a bridesmaid at Elizabeth Taylor’s first wedding and Taylor was a bridesmaid at her first wedding too.
  • After leaving MGM, she went on to perform in theaters and night clubs.
  • Her husband, actor Dickie Moore, isn’t doing very well health-wise so she has taken on the role of caretaker. She lives a very quiet life and refers to herself as a homebody.
  • She thoroughly enjoyed everything she did with her career and sincerely loves people.

Something I noticed about Jane Powell was how appreciative she is about her career and the people she worked with. She only had nice things to say about everybody. She shared a sad memory she had of Louis B. Mayer’s final days at MGM, but otherwise she had a lot of happy memories to share.

The conversation wrapped up and Jane Powell thanked everyone and she and Leonard Maltin received another standing ovation. They took a photograph by the poster and we’re off. I wish the talk lasted an hour rather than 30 minutes or that perhaps there would have been a follow up after the movie. Oh well! I was at least happy to be sitting in a good seat (second row on the left with no one really blocking me!) and to have been able to experience what I did.

Royal Wedding (1951) came up on the screen and we were treated to a showing. The film stars Jane Powell and Fred Astaire as Ellen and Tom Bowen (respectively), a brother-sister singing and dancing duo. They are a big success in the states and were offered an opportunity to perform in London and to attend the royal wedding of Queen Elizabeth II. The Bowens set off on a vessel across the Atlantic. On the boat she meets Lord John Brindale (Peter Lawford) and they find that they both share a propensity for leaving behind multiple love interests and that they both enjoy each others attention. A romance between them blossoms. While in London, Tom (Fred Astaire) accidentally meets Anne (Sarah Churchill – Winston Churchill’s daughter) a dancer who is auditioning for his show. There isn’t much of a conflict to drive the plot along but the movie moves at a very satisfying clip. It’s a fun movie to watch for various reasons. There are the amazing musical numbers. I especially loved the How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Love You When You Know I’ve Been a Liar All My Life (phew!) number: 


 It was really fun to watch Jane Powell as a sassy brunette! Then there are the famous Fred Astaire solo numbers, including Sunday Jumps in which he dances with a hatstand and the You’re All the World to Me number in which Astaire dances on the walls and ceiling of a rotating room (although it doesn’t look to be rotating!). Then there are the costumes, the comedy and the cultural musings of London circa 1950s.

The audience’s reaction to the movie was wonderful. We were all still feeling the energy from having just seen Jane Powell in person. There were applauses after most of the musical and dance numbers and an applause when Jane Powell’s name came up on the screen. I have been to many film screenings and I have to say I have never been to one with an audience as enthusiastic and as appreciative as this one. It was just hands down a wonderful experience.

Thank you so much to TCM, the Brattle, Leonard Maltin, Jane Powell and everyone else who helped make this amazing event happen!

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