Tuesday, May 17, 2011

warner archive news

We get the "new releases" news every week via email, etc., and usually there is always something that goes onto my wish list. This time there is a significant release that will be good news to many classic film fans that I know. Warner Archives is releasing the Four Daughters series of films, and for the first time, all four will be available on DVD.

From the Press release:
"Four Daughters Collection (1938-41) Never before available on home video as a complete movie series collection, the beloved and celebrated Four Daughters series of films finally finds its way to DVD. A rarity for its era – an A-list film sequence of sequels – these widely successful films boast a sparkling array of diverse talents in front and behind the screen. Long sought after, the remaining three films finally join the original, which is also returning in a new, remastered edition. Note: Titles included in the Four Daughters Collection are also individually available.

FOUR DAUGHTERS Meet professor Adam Lemp’s four daughters -- and the men who love them. This sentimental and romantic favorite launched the series and John Garfield’s career.

DAUGHTERS COURAGEOUS Should a daughter marry a footloose charmer who’s a lot like Dad? Director Michael Curtiz of Four Daughters reunites with Garfield, Claude Rains, the Lane sisters (Priscilla, Rosemary, Lola) and Gale Page in a follow-up tale of a family a lot like the Lemps.

FOUR WIVES The original filmmaker and cast again return – and the Lemp sisterhood finds new bonds in marriage and motherhood.

FOUR MOTHERS Will the Lemps lose the family home? Hard times give way to jubilant triumph in the endearing film that teams the Lane sisters and Gale Page for a fourth and final sister act."

There is a collection set available that Warner Archives is currently offering during a special sale, but all titles are also availble as stand alone DVDs. I've never seen the films myself, but know many people who love them and would be very happy to know that all four are now available. Just your humble servant passing along the good word...

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

I wouldn't win first prize if I were the only entry in the contest.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

film daily archives

When Leonard Maltin announces something or gives a heads up on something new in the field of hollywood and film history or research, I tend to perk up and listen. I, like many others, have read Mr. Maltin's books and followed his website for sometime, and while the reviews are great, I'm there for the history, the interviews and the Disney stuff. So when he and fellow animation historian Jerry Beck (on his awesome site, Cartoon Brew), both featured articles about some newly digitized archival material this week, I listened (or read as the case may be) and checked it out.

You may recall last year we discussed a major conservation project and preserving historical printed material related to film, called Media History Digital Library, and is headed by archivist and film scholar David Pierce. Last year Pierce had included some issues of Motion Picture Classic, Photoplay and Moving Picture World. Now Pierce has updated the collection to include a set of issues of The Film Daily, from 1922-1929.
Why is this important? Well to classic film buffs it's interesting to browse and look at the vintage ads (like above) and read reviews. To cultural historians like myself, it is a dream come true to be able to access this printed material without having to spend the money and time to track down and visit various library holdings of these collections, some of which are a continent away. This run of the Film Daily is particularly interesting because it documents the transition from silent to sound in an interesting way. This isn't a historian giving you the story of that transition; you can read and see it as it happened. (One of many examples, this article covering RCA's historic aquisition of Victor Talking Machine Co, which resulted in RCA Victor. ) Also lots of first hand and primary source evidence: for example, there were a great deal of First Amendment and Censorship debates and court cases going on in several states during this time, as States sought to have the right to inspect and censor the sound films themselves before exhibition. And in addition to documentation and news, there are scores of film reviews from the era. The years 1928 and 1929 are really interesting as the silent and sound era co-existed in a wary stasis. It's not as clear cut a transition as we often we like to think.
The scans are wonderful and the digital presentation remarkable. They are searchable, easy to read and browse and download as well. You can read more about the Media History Digital Library here, and please consider a donation as well, or perhaps if you have a collection of vintage printed material, contacting David Pierce to see about a contribution. Preserving our cultural heritage is vastly important. We have a rare opportunity to preserve in print, sight and sound the artifacts of our culture for future generations; not just to study, but to enjoy. Thank you Mr. Maltin and Mr. Beck for the tip and thank you Mr. Pierce for your project.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

We've seen growing awareness of film preservation, yet the deterioration and eventual disappearance of films have not come to an end. There's still a race against the clock to save what we can at some point.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

tcm remembers jackie cooper

As you all know, classic movie legend, Jackie Cooper, passed away last week. This coming Friday, May 13th, Turner Classic Movies will alter their schedule to honor Jackie Cooper by featuring several films. This is the official announcement and schedule I received from TCM in my email:

"Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will remember the life and career of actor-director Jackie Cooper on Friday, May 13, beginning at 6 a.m. (ET). The special tribute will showcase nine films from Cooper’s days as one of Hollywood’s most popular child stars. Included in the lineup are O’Shaugnessy’s Boy (1935), Treasure Island (1934) and the heart-wrenching boxing classic The Champ (1931), all three co-starring Wallace Beery. The day will also feature The Devil Is a Sissy (1936), co-starring Freddie Bartholomew and Mickey Rooney, and Tough Guy (1936), with Rin Tin Tin Jr.

The following is a complete schedule of TCM’s May 13 memorial tribute to Jackie Cooper (all times Eastern):

6 a.m. – Dinky (1935), with Mary Astor and Roger Pryor.
7:15 a.m. – Divorce in the Family (1932), with Conrad Nagel, Lewis Stone and Lois Wilson.
8:45 a.m. – O’Shaughnessy’s Boy (1935), with Wallace Beery, George “Spanky” McFarland and Henry Stephenson.
10:15 a.m. – Boy of the Streets (1937), with Maureen O’Connor, Kathleen Burke and Emmett O’Connor.
11:45 a.m. – Gallant Sons (1940), with Bonita Granville, Gene Reynolds and Gail Patrick.
1:15 p.m. – Tough Guy (1936), with Joseph Calleia, Harvey Stephens and Rin Tin Tin Jr.
2:45 p.m. – The Devil Is a Sissy (1936), with Freddie Bartholomew, Mickey Rooney and Ian Hunter.
4:30 p.m. – Treasure Island (1934), with Wallace Beery, Lionel Barrymore, Otto Kruger and Lewis Stone.
6:30 p.m. – The Champ (1931), with Wallace Beery, Irene Rich and Roscoe Ates."

Cooper was one a few exceptional child stars from the classic era, of course as one of the members of "Our Gang": The Little Rascals, but he also later transitioned into television and of course is much loved and remembered by myself and others as Perry White to Christopher Reeve's Superman in the 1970s and 80s. What is really impressive to me is his service to our country during WWII and after. He served in the US Navy and remained in the reserves for many years- diligently working in the reserves training other servicemen and in public relations. In fact, other than James Stewart, he was one the higest uniform ranking hollywood stars.

TCM also posted their always exceptional short video tribute, TCM Remembers Jackie Cooper:

Also for some added memories with Jackie- doing a hilarious fake voice- here he is as the celebrity guest on one of my favorite classic game shows, What's My Line:

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

Now listen to me, I tell you boys and girls - whichever one of you gets it out... is going to wind up with the single most important interview since... God talked to Moses!

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

long time, no see

...and brother, I mean that in so many ways. It has been a long "unintended" sabbatical for us here at the Shelf, but we've been itching to get back at it. There may be more breaks here and there, due to an increased teaching and work schedule and certain other constraints, but for now, bear with us and stick with us. We've missed you, missed our blogging friends, and missed being here. But let's dive into the order of the day.

Over the past few months, more and more films have been piling up on my DVR; my poor, poor DVR. I've had nary a chance to view many of them, but I take the time every now and then to check the TCM schedule and program several titles to record to watch later. It's always been the "watch later" part that has eluded me, especially of late. So I've decided to try and rectify that and make room on the old DVR for other movie goodness. Not by deleting them, but watching them (and then deleting those not worthy to be saved) and telling you about it. This will be a new feature that I have cleverly titled: "From the DVR Files". Short reviews, maybe a note or two about the film and then a final verdict: Do I save it on the DVR for additional viewing, Watch and Delete or Don't bother, Delete now. Or maybe I need to have it in my permanent library on DVD. Who knows? We'll find out today. And then you can chime in with your own opinion in the comments section.

Today's inaugural installment of "From the DVR Files" will kick off with perhaps a lesser known title from some famous stars.

Casefile #1: The Jackpot
Stars: James Stewart, Barbara Hale, James Gleason, Natalie Wood
Directed by Walter Lang
Studio: 20th Century Fox

The Film: Stewart and Hale play average suburban couple Bill and Amy Lawrence. They are the average couple- a house, two kids, a dog and neighbors to socialize with in the 'burbs. By day, Bill is an executive at a department store with a very demanding boss, trying to get the big promotion. Like everyone else, they have financial concerns, and maybe a little ambition to keep up with their neighbors. Then one evening, Bill receives a call from a radio show asking him to be home during a certain evening to take part in a contest over the phone with the chance to win a huge jackpot: $24,000. The Lawrence's friends and neighbors turn out to witness Bill answer the questions correctly and win the jackpot! Even though things are looking up, soon Bill, and eventually Amy realize that the "jackpot" isn't all it's cracked up to be; it's not $24,000- it's cash and prizes valued at $24,000. And the prizes don't always fit neatly into their average suburban home, or neighborhood for that matter. Some of the prizes are nice and useful, and some of them are downright crazy. Eventually the Lawrences figure out that this jackpot may end up costing more than they realize, as they have to sell some of the prizes to pay off the taxes. Sometimes your "lucky day" becomes a big pain!

This is a neat little film that fits perfectly into the era in which it was made, the 1950s- suburbia, radio quiz shows, teenagers (Natalie Wood plays the Lawrence's teenage daughter) always on the phone: it's almost like a page right out of 1950's culture. We tend to remember Stewart now more for the Westerns or War pictures, and especially for those classics like The Philadelphia Story or It's a Wonderful Life. But he was also well known and loved by audiences in comedies were he played the slightly harassed, slightly exasperated, yet lovable and earnest family man. This is such a film. A light comedy that moviegoers of the 1950s would've readily identified with, The Jackpot is an enjoyable B film that almost seems like an extended episode of a show like Father Knows Best or even I Love Lucy. (Indeed the plot has been visited again in many a sitcom, most memoriably in The Andy Griffith Show, when Aunt Bee won a Game Show and had to sell many of the prizes to afford the taxes and fees.) Stewart is pitch perfect as Bill Lawrence and in some ways the chartacter almost seems like a typical "Jimmy Stewart" character. Barbara Hale is equally fun and shows some comic flair as Amy. Hale, of course, would go on a few years later to play her most famous role as Della Street in the Perry Mason show and movies.

The support cast is excellent as well, if perhaps, underutilized, in the film. Natalie Wood has a supporting role as the young teenage daughter, Phyllis. Fred Clark plays Bill's ill tempered boss, Mr. Woodruff. Clark was a veteran character actor from many television shows, and is better known for his role as the Burns' ill-tempered neighbor, Harry Morton in The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. The always great James Gleason plays Bill's newspaper reporter friend Harry Summers. The writing can be a bit tedius at times, but the script is well done and paces well- not drawing out too many gags or scenes. The one exception would be the scene where Bill is actually on the phone trying to answer the questions. It might have been drawn out to add to the tension, but Stewart and Hale add a bit of gentle comic nervousness to light the mood. You will see familiar faces, familiar plotlines and funny scenes, and familiar formulas. In fact, perhaps it is the "familiar-ness" that has made it more of a lesser known film- just another type of 50s family comedy. But sometimes it is the familiar gentle comedic film, that becomes just the right thing to enjoy on a bad day to brighten your spirits.

Even though this is almost a forgotten film in someways today, and considered a "b" family comedy, The Jackpot has an excellent cast and very good script, with many funny moments throughout the film. It may not be worth multiple viewings, but it is definitely a film to sit back and enjoy and escape with, much like you would with a favorite and familiar episode of a best loved sitcom from the 1950s. You will enjoy it the first time, and maybe revisit it years later if you catch it on television, but probably no more than that.

The Verdict: Check it out, and delete after watching.
Case closed.

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Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

They might detatch your salary.
Then I'll quit my job and live on soup.


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