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Sunday, June 30, 2013

June 1985: Imagine One Of Them Being Yours For $29.95!

Part Two On Extinct Movies Being Here To Stay

One admitted difference, and a big one, is this: None of  vintage bounty is free. Even TCM comes with a price in terms of basic cable or satellite required to get it. The streaming stuff involves a subscription or per-movie rental. You can crib features off You Tube or online elsewhere, but that presupposes you paid for Internet service and hardware/screens to view on. Truly vanished is TV as a free medium, unless you hang an antenna or still use rabbit ears to pull signals (would that even work? It's been so long since I tried). DVD's get mighty expensive when ones you must have are toted up. Before long, the house is filled to rafters and you've not looked at half. It's a good thing rats aren't lured by shiny discs or my digs would be infested.

Some will complain that too many titles remain unavailable. Outside of London After Midnight and Convention City, what are they? Anything that exists is somewhere. Even stuff buried in archives has been run off at some point. Don't recall what John Ford silent it was that was found a year or two ago, but someone offered it to me last week. Maybe such looks lousy or was shot with an I-phone, but it can be got (UPDATE: As demonstration of how accessible such is, I've lately learned that the found Ford is soon out on legit DVD) . A lot of those who say they can't locate something just aren't looking in the right places. For myself, bootlegs are a last resort for pix I need to watch for some reason (assuming there's such thing as real need in this silly pursuit). They're generally not going to look so hot, although ones can surprise you. A guy handed me a plain-wrap of 1931's Graft (pre-Frankenstein Karloff!) at a show and promised a pip, and by jiggers, it proved to be just that.

I don't get logic of my generation having it made forty years ago. Full disclosure obliges recall of pathetic handful of 8/16mm prints I schlepped along to group shows where too much light poured through shade-drawn windows. Picture yourself seated before Kino's Blu-Ray of Sherlock Jr., then imagine a classroom desk in 1972, and me unspooling an 8mm print to freshmen resolved never again to so inflict themselves. Of course, our standards were lower then. How else would I stay at it and be here today? But with current technology at hand, no one need settle for less than best (although again, it comes with costs). There's part of why I maintain more young people enjoy classics than ever before.

Go into many high school/colleges, large enrollment please, and there's a handful of at least occasional watchers, if not devotees. When I most recently did campus shows, and this was for a period between five and twelve years ago, there was steady and often capacity attendance. I made a point of showing not just boilerplate typicals like Casablanca, Singin' In The Rain, etc., but oddballs and obscurities that some in the crowd invariably recognized. Music-and-effect (never called silent) shows always did well. My audience had seen enough on TCM and once-upon-time AMC to grasp the vocabulary of non-talking features, and it wasn't just comedies they'd come to watch. To compare my average audience size with ones that attended during treasured late 60's peak (again, so-called), I consulted with a local friend who oversaw Wake Forest University's (then College) film program forty-five years ago. Wake had one of the best series in the country during the late 60's/70's (The Sopranos' David Chase was a WF student then, and much influenced by it), but according to my contact, their average  attendance was no greater than mine in the 2000's.

I'm admittedly not in  trenches of revival screening today. A lot of you are and thus have better perception of current reality. I just don't believe vintage pix are on any tracks out, more being at fingertips to watch than I'd see in ten more lifetimes. I'm like Joe Besser in the plunging plane who says he can't die yet because he hasn't seen The Eddy Duchin Story. Well, don't lower my curtain yet, for I've not caught The Eddy Duchin Story in HD, even as I'm secure in knowledge it'll stream somewhere provided I live long enough. If old film is headed for tar pits, then book me for a same descent toward greater accessibility plus quality on constant upswing (what better evidence than Criterion's Safety Last?). Classics going extinct? I expect them to get nothing but better.




Saturday, June 29, 2013

It's 1983, and Gene Kelly Is Ushering In The Real Golden
Age For Vintage Movies

Old Extinct Movies Are Better Than Ever --- Part One

Being another of those hectoring "opinion" posts like THIS and THIS, mercifully spread to two parts. As Bob said when Bing started to sing, this might be a good time to go out for popcorn:

There's been talk in a last year of old movies facing extinction like dinosaurs, whereas it seems to me the only dinosaurs may be ones making that complaint, judging by what is, by all appearance, a peak period we're experiencing of interest and enthusiasm for vintage pix. Do so-called "millennials" indeed shun classics? Naysayers (folk I'd guess to be at least as old as me) claim there'll never be another Golden Age of film appreciation like the 60/70's, when viewing generations were said to happily co-exist in shared love of relic stuff. I'd say agreed to those who claim today's generation is not interested in the classic era to degrees we were ("we" being those who came of age in mythic Gold days). The current generation is, in fact,  more engaged than any I grew up with.

We who aren't deep in the life of IPad/Phones, Twitter, and the universe of social networking have but faint idea of what goes on. Old-timers feed off each other's mistaken notion that no one loves old movies like we love old movies. What goes on among a large and appreciative modern-day film culture sometimes makes me wish I'd been born closer to now than back when. There are high school students, many, not a few, who blog or tweet insightfully on film. They didn't come to it the way middle-age and olders did. Pictures that were nowhere in my alleged Golden Age can be seen in the palm of their hands.

To those who would say this is no way to view a classic, I'd refer to a ten-inch B/W tube that many a night traded me classics for sleep through a glaze of snow and endless interrupt for ads (imagine viewer reaction if TCM dropped a commercial into one of their movies). This was reality of coming up then. I was lucky to see a Bride Of Frankenstein once in three years, always diminished through vagaries of syndication. Now there are numerous formats by which to enjoy it in a next five minutes. Today's student of film needn't wait for favorites to surface in revival joints ancestors attended. Those are mostly gone in any case, and never mind the romance of revival housing ... many, if not most, of them used 16mm prints that wouldn't pass muster today. Movie fans now can watch whatever they want, anytime and anyplace. It's (mostly) all out there somewhere, legitimate or otherwise.

TCM remains the temple around which everyone gathers. That is the happy co-existence many recall (or imagine) from the 60/70's, and it's a larger body by far than Shangri-La seen through rose-color glass. When came the truest awakening to classic movies? Everyone likes to think it was when he/she was young and discovering the life. I was introduced in the 60's and entrenched by the 70's. That was a Golden Age only because my enthusiasm was so, but if I'd come along in the 80's or 90's, things would have been better, at least more accessible. They had video cassettes, plus AMC when it was starting out and worthwhile. Surely this would have been a Golden Era had I been ten years old in 1984 instead of 1964.

There were two dozen oldies broadcast by the 80's for every one that I plowed for and could barely receive on stone-age TV, and wasn't TNT rolling out recently acquired MGM and pre-48 Warner titles by 1985? The Showtime network had Red-Headed Woman, Reunion In Vienna, and any number of rarities around this time (and now Reunion In Vienna's gone again, though homemade VHS of it floats freely). Certainly I wasn't the only one watching these. Things would improve yet, with TCM's 1994 arrival a buff's equivalent to invention of the printing press. This to my mind is where our Golden Age truly began. DVD's bow a few years later merely confirmed that here was opportunity's loudest knock to discover and make a life's pursuit of classic movies. The ability to record on VCR and later DVR made film librarians of us all. I still have, and can still watch, a VHS cassette of Manhattan Melodrama captured off Chicago's WGN back in 1978. There's a guy not half a mile from me who has over ten thousand movies on every format introduced since the late-70's, even Beta. Ask him about a Golden Age and he'll tell you it's been going on for thirty-five years.




Friday, June 28, 2013


Paying For Our History Lesson --- The Scarlet Coat (1955)

Patriot Cornel Wilde seeks to unmask Benedict Arnold in Cinemascopic dress-up done best by a declining Metro, costumes and furnishing in abundance from silent and better-days usage. History lessons were easier taught in a 50's era of public schools still attaching import to US fight for independence, so facts are less spoon-fed for being presumed known to all. Action being keynote puts Wilde to sword and fist fighting his way through enemy lines, spy v. spying in powdered wigs and knee breeches. Michael Wilding is a sympathetic redcoat, forging friendship with opposite number Wilde and coming to an unexpectedly blunt finish. Directing John Sturges, just off success of Bad Day At Black Rock, puts flair toward enriching us, The Scarlet Coat being no dry recitation of names and events. Reflected here is ongoing effort by Metro to breathe life into remote happenings and get back an audience gone over to the rebel force that was television. A resulting million dollar loss ($1.5 million in negative cost yielding a dire $467K in domestic rentals) might have been anticipated by marketing more reality-based than Metro's. Had East Coast sell staff warned Dore Schary against going forward with The Scarlet Coat? Seeing this show finally on wide canvas, thanks to Warner Archive, is major rehab for a costumer underestimated too long for simple reason it couldn't be decently seen.





Blu-Ray Rides Out: The Devil's Bride (1969)

One devil of a Hammer horror, their last of greatness so far as I'm concerned. Aristocrat Chris Lee is a Van Helsing of Satanist debunkers who frustratingly decamps to research at the British Museum just ahead of awful things happening to ill-equipped friends/family. Charles Gray is a formidable servant to Lucifer, and 20's setting gets conveyed by natty roadsters the cast drives. Adapted from a novel by Dennis Wheatley, who was a pal of Lee's and spur toward the actor giving perhaps his best-ever pic performance. Very little gore save a goat sacrifice --- mostly it's the concept that chills. This was Hammer along cerebral lines of Five Million Years To Earth, with deviltry this time as opposed to alien presence. The two features were like last intelligent gasp before the UK company's give-way to erotic vampirism and souped-up sex.


Devil-worship had been a tricky wicket in American films, censorship for years frowning on it. Would circulation of this have been blocked a decade earlier? By 12/68 and 20th Fox release, there was no fuss toward a "G" rating, suitable for young 'uns like myself and Brick Davis when we saw it with The Conqueror Worm in a near-empty Liberty Theatre on 5/31/69. Done for negative cost of $569K, The Devil's Bride took a ruinous $185K in domestic rentals, hardly worth Fox's time to put it out. Special effects were hamstrung by budget constraints, so Region 2 Blu-Ray keyboardists went in and fixed flaws they detected, which amounts to change of existing text (to use that pretentious term), but The Devil's Bride plays smoother as result, so here's a debate I'll leave to purists vs. revisioners. The new Blu looked glorious to me. For all occasions I've seen Devil's/Rides Out, it was never so vivid as this.




Thursday, June 27, 2013


Sandor's Been Underestimated!

Quick: How many recognize Irving Pichel as anything other than "Sandor" in Dracula's Daughter? That's how I knew him for a lot of years before learning that Pichel also directed, taught, spoke with dulcet tones as narrator, and wrote frequent while serving among editors of The Hollywood Quarterly, a precursor to Films In Review and serious journals reflecting on film. Pichel died in 1954 at age 63, concluding his career on the Theatre Arts faculty at UCLA, but still an active director of features, stage, and television to the very end. I printed out and read a stack of articles he wrote for the Quarterly, and they're excellent. How many among working directors maintained ongoing analysis of the industry they served? These read like a private journal making its way regularly to print. Pichel defended Rope experiment against criticism of Hitchcock's long-take technique, waxed eloquent on how George Stevens at last got An American Tragedy adapted right with A Place In The Sun, and took Hollywood to task for absurdity of its "Movies Are Better Than Ever" incantation (how could they be, asked Pichel, when a postwar public was spending disposable dollars on so many other things?).


Pichel the director was held in high esteem. The Hollywood Quarterly's eulogy saw contribution from big names: Dudley Nichols, Josef Von Sternberg ("Irving Pichel was one of the finest human beings I ever met" --- to how many would truculent Jo pay such homage?), plus opportunity taken by Paul Muni to salute Pichel's memory and lob a grenade at  Hollywood (" ... I never stopped wondering how a man with his intelligence and good taste could manage to work compatibly and maintain his integrity in an environment so utterly devoid of these qualities as the Hollywood studios"). Pichel the director is less esteemed now, his output arguably not a remarkable one, though closer look finds a number worthy of mention, if not applause: The Most Dangerous Game, She (1935), The Man I Married, The Moon Is Down, And Now Tomorrow, Tomorrow Is Forever, O.S.S., They Won't Believe Me, Something In The Wind, Quicksand, Destination Moon, and one lately released on Blu-Ray by Olive, The Miracle Of The Bells.


Irving Pichel liked faith-based subjects. His Martin Luther (1953) played theatres and every protestant church for states around; I remember it showing up in seemingly every 16mm rent catalogue published. Pichel's final film was a life of Christ, Day Of Triumph, released posthumously. I checked its availability at Amazon, where one used VHS is offered --- for $500. What might we be missing here? The Miracle Of The Bells was independent-produced by Jesse L. Lasky; you'd have thought he was making movies since Grant/Lee rode, although Bells would be his last. Lasky had a venerable name and Sergeant York among recent accomplishments, so the Bank Of America loaned him $1,472,696 on 6/30/47 to make The Miracle Of The Bells. RKO released the film in 5/48 (total cost: $2.2 million) and it lost $640,000. The bank had a chattel mortgage on Bells and so seized the negative when its loan went unpaid. The Miracle Of The Bells was sold by BOA to General Teleradio for TV packaging (the price? $85,000) with other seized pics in 1954. Here then, was where the '48 flop performed it truest miracle by becoming the highest rated program to have played Los Angeles television up to 9/54.


"The best prize package of feature films ever to be offered TV", according to Variety, was made available by General Teleradio to Los Angeles stations in April, 1954. There were thirty-two titles, all having been seized by Bank Of America for loans unpaid, and dealt to Teleradio. The latter had hoped to make a network deal first, for more dollars than could be got from syndication, but negotiations went south. It was a sweet list of mostly A pics with stellar names: Body and Soul, Arch Of Triumph, A Double Life, The Dark Mirror, Force Of Evil, and more. KHJ, Channel 9, took the plunge in June, hoping the package would bring them even with six rival stations in the L.A. market. The plan was to show each movie for five consecutive nights, Tuesday through Saturday, a fresh title scheduled each week. The Miracle Of The Bells would lead off KHJ's movie series on September 21, 1954.

Note Fred's Identical Disapproving Expressions in This and the Still Above
 with Harold Vermilyea

Bells indeed rang for the broadcaster as Miracle(s) were performed to tune of 2,954,500 people watching over five nights the film was shown, an audience "without precedent in L.A.," said Variety. KHJ pledged to hold commercial interruptions down to five minutes, unlike New York's WOR-TV, which gave a minute to each of eight sponsors, plus a minute preview for the following week's movie, all this jammed into ninety-minute time slots obliging station editors to bear down with shears (The Miracle Of The Bells, a two-hour movie originally, was not so on WOR). All this took place two years ahead of major studios selling or leasing their pre-48 libraries to syndication, time enough for the General Teleradio package to get wide exposure and win many admirers for The Miracle Of The Bells and others in the group. Bells would, in fact, become a holiday perennial in many markets and be fondly remembered by viewers who caught it at least yearly. Bells and others of BOA seizure, and ultimate Paramount ownership, are now leased to Olive Films, the latter releasing the group steadily on Blu-Ray and re-introducing The Miracle Of The Bells and its partners to a fresh audience.




Wednesday, June 26, 2013


9:14 Minutes Of Lavish: Gulliver Mickey (1934)

The Mickey Mouses had become so special by 1934 as to require each to be presented as mini-events, polish and visual goodies on a constant upswing, surely a treat for those who liked observing progress of animation from the most accomplished shop in the industry. But what of Mickey in all this? He'd been softened to upstanding citizen status, much like lately anointed to cultural icon Walt himself. Gone was barnyard crudity and occasional sadism of a rat-like Mouse, replaced by Mickey in comfort surroundings of home and hearth not unlike his audience (at least ones affluent enough to see his cartoons), with a flock of child-mice charges whose origin goes unexplained. It's dream scene-ing that puts Mickey to Gulliver re-creation, and here's where Disney drawers show off what they've learned. WD spent way more on cartoons than anyone, took them more seriously from art and effort standpoint as well, all of which shows in spades when Mickey is assaulted by a seeming million Lilliputians. It's like outsized animated equivalent of Ray Harryhausen set-pieces to come. Is it funny? --- or better put, does that matter? For me, not much. Sometimes there's satisfaction enough in just being dazzled, which I surely was by this 9:14 minute demo of how far Disney/Mickey cartoons had evolved from Steamboat Willie beginnings.





Corman and Jim/Sam Rising: Five Guns West (1955)

A Dirty Dozen's later mission needed twelve, but neophyte director Roger Corman made do with five, and on a nine day schedule. Legendarily made for peanuts, but competently so, Five Guns West entertains for a game cast and interest sustained despite virtually no action and yards of talk. Better stories were told by shooting participants in Corman bios to come, this being occasion where all should have kept diaries. Five Guns West was the second pic from "American Releasing Corporation," (after The Fast and The Furious) better to-be known as American-International, and was distributed territory by territory by Corman, with Jim and Sam, trolling for state's rights sales (did they sleep in bus terminals or squeezed together in a bunk like the Three Stooges? --- cash was tight, after all). Energy is what it took to sell product on one-by-one basis, relationships made with showmen on this trip that would stand good for AIP over years to come. Sitting across a desk, or dining table, was a best way to cement ties in days when budget producer/distributors called customers by first name and had standing invite to split a bottle in booth/offices whenever they were in town.


Budget filmmakers needed youth and can-do spirit, no one in fuller possession of same than starting-out Roger. He's said to have paid Five Gun's writer $250, plus change for acting one of the parts scribed. Others were new to the game, and eager, thus Touch Connors (a football-playing nickname) got for $200. Name participants were John Lund and Dorothy Malone, both slumming and I'd guess aware of it, but paychecks were welcome, and never mind the source. In support Paul Birch is excellent. Maybe actors for Corman thrived because he left them alone, as in, by most accounts, completely alone. Five Gun participants labor under threat of indian attack, its realization a matter of one leaping redskin and borrowed footage of others. Cheating on ad-art promise was such a given then as to make complaint seem churlish. Weren't theatres just year-round fairgrounds after all? Roger Corman wrote later that Five Guns West was shot on a $60,000 budget; what came back to ARC in domestic rentals was $407K, fine momentum for a young company getting on its legs. Corman and AIP would go from Five Guns West to decades of further bally that misled, doing so heroically and to eternal gratitude from ones of us who took the paying journey with them.




Tuesday, June 25, 2013


JUST IN: Scott MacGillivray Finds Another Showman Turned Actor

Not a big star perhaps, but Gene Roth (nee Eugene Stutenroth) was an actor who emerged from ranks of exhibition to become a mostly malign presence in westerns, comedy shorts, serials, wherever kids learned him by sight for raw deals dispensed to screen heroes. Writer/historian Scott MacGillivray sent Greenbriar the dope in wake of today's Babe Hardy post, along with illustrations shown here (as ever ... Thanks, Scott!). Gene Roth had been with Loew's Brooklyn circuit and before that a Warners man in Philadelphia venues. He had a particular interest in pipe organs as an ongoing feature in theatres he managed, and was proficient at fabrication and installation of same (see his letter at left to The Motion Picture Herald). When war looked imminent, he offered skill toward manufacture of combat planes at Lockheed, and while visiting studio lots, was tabbed for uncanny resemblance to a certain German officer named Ernst "Putzi" Hanfstaengl, the subject of a war actioner then before cameras. From that inauspicious start, Stutenroth was on his way to a career in movies (while also pulling four-hour daily shifts at Lockheed).

There were parts, mostly small, not all of them "speaking," in features like The Hitler Gang, Charlie Chan In The Secret Service, The Spider Woman, Song Of Russia, Canyon Passage, many more. Gene also got lots of work at Columbia, where he'd be an all-purpose heavy. To that he was well suited for stout carriage and imposing size. There were westerns that cast him as "agitator in bar" or "poker player," many of these silent and seated. The Three Stooges used Gene for pomposity's punch bag, a cream pie's likeliest target. Serials yielded more of Roth; as principal menace to Captain Video in that 1953 serial, he'd enrich one of the decade's most perversely enjoyable chapter-plays. A face like Gene's never lacked for work, being an ideal fit to genres that seemed here to stay. That wouldn't be the case, of course, B westerns and serials ultimately drying up, but GR made the segue to TV and kept at it. He died in 1976.




Just An Apple-Cheeked Boy Managing Milledgeville's Palace Theatre at Age 18

Oliver Hardy --- Exhibitor

Here is today's bold pronouncement that I invite anyone to correct: Oliver Hardy was the first major film star to have come out of exhibition, and was in fact, the only major film star to have ever come out of exhibition. By exhibition, I mean, of course, operating a theatre, projection, ownership of a venue ... any of these. The notion came to me after reading a splendid article by Robert J. Wilson III that appeared in The Georgia Historical Quarterly in its Fall/Winter 2003 issue. Mr. Wilson is a professor of history at Georgia State University and did the best research I've seen so far on Hardy's pre-movie life. Oliver Hardy in Georgia, 1903-1913 tells of that period, inclusive of when Babe managed Milledgeville's Palace Theatre, his job starting at age 18 in November 1910. Hardy was referred to by the local census as an "electrician," which, according to Wilson, indicates he was operating an electric movie projector among other duties at the Palace Theatre.

L&H Drop In On a 16mm Rental House During Their Late 40's British Isles Tour

Babe Shows Off His "Fun Factory" Booth to Visiting Stan
In fact, Babe sold tickets, ushered, swept up, and served as out-front barker for Palace shows. In a pinch, he'd even sing with projected slides featuring song lyrics. The young manager's most strenuous duty was likely projection, with its sweat-booth and flammable film that often arrived in rough shape, Milledgeville being down the exhibition line and well behind houses that had handled (or mishandled) prints. Hardy would certainly have got a crash course in 35mm presentation and ample opportunity to expect the unexpected. The Palace sojourn lasted more or less until 1914 (some possible breaks as Babe took shorter term jobs elsewhere) before permanent move to Jacksonville, Florida and lifelong from there career as a movie actor. Like riding a bicycle, however, you never forget how to operate a projector once it's learned. Babe might well have retained sentiment for days exhibiting, as he built, in the early 40's, a home theatre called "The Laurel and Hardy Fun Factory," fully equipped with 35mm projection, Babe the operator as in Milledgeville yore.

Major tips of the derby to Scott MacGillivray and Jeff Missinne, longtime Sons Of The Desert and experts in all things Laurel and Hardy. Jeff shared with Greenbriar the wonderfully rare image of Stan and Babe at the UK film rental facility, and Scott provided the fine quality still of Babe demonstrating home 35mm projection for Stan.




Monday, June 24, 2013


Paramount's Brain Surgery: The Monster and The Girl (1941)

Stuff I would have thought censorable abounds in this half-measure of a Paramount horror film, a latter portion of 65 minutes focused on man-to-ape brain transplanting (how can this ever be a practical idea?). Heroine Ellen Drew is meanwhile forced into prostitution (unspoke, but clearly understood), and the avenging ape, formerly a brother protecting Ellen's honor a la Bill Hart, goes about one-by-one-ing of the gang that sullied her. Revenge murder was frowned upon by Code monitors, but here endorsed thanks to instrument of death being simian rather than human, plus guarantee he/it will be treed and done for by Monster's end. Pretty good after blueprint of 1936's The Walking Dead, wherein Karloff was resurrected to settle scores. What's fun too is a death house scene where scientist George Zucco scans cells for brain donation, shopping among the condemned by courtesy Edward Van Sloan, a warden who'd know plenty from value of a fresh brain. The Monster and The Girl comes courtesy Universal's Vault Series, quality OK, but a fresh transfer, like for gorilla brain placement, would have been nice.





Disney's 1954 Water Log --- 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

Was there a bigger man vs. monster battle staged in 50's sci-fi than the Nautilus crew taking on a giant squid? Rivals could have made whole movies with dollars Disney spent just on this sequence, by far the action centerpiece of what's otherwise a contemplation of what made James Mason's Captain Nemo tick. Trouble is, he's in 127 minute tortoise-hare running with live action Popeye Kirk Douglas and a "funny" seal kibitzing whatever threatens to play too serious. Should rushes-wary Walt have called in Kirk for a tamp down, or did the less experienced with live action producer figure it was OK, if not desirable, for his actors to be cartoon characters minus drawing? Douglas sings, grimaces, hogs scenes ... did he figure this was what WD's "family" audience preferred? KD's the weakest link on a casting chain, but a biggest star Disney had used up to 1954, so who was anyone to challenge him? (director Richard Fleischer tells the story humorously in his Just Tell Me When To Cry book)


In fact, Fleischer was surprised to get the megging job in light of presumed enmity between his dad Max and Walt, but super-success Disney could afford to be magnanimous, as what were chances of the senior Fleischer getting off canvas to square old accounts? 20,000 Leagues is at (underwater) times very much like one of WD's lately popular True-Life documentaries, being guided tour of 'neath waves flora-fauna never captured so vividly. Disney got kid patronage largely for what approving parents saw as educational value of his output, the name representing safe haven and responsible baby-sitting in a market giving way to adult subjects (Leagues followed bare-knuckle On The Waterfront into Broadway's Astor Theatre). A truest star of Leagues was the Nautilus, which unlike Douglas, Mason, et al, could be rebuilt and play evermore to visitors at Disneyland, most of whom had seen, or would see, this ever-greenest of live actioners. Leagues was still in theatres near-twenty years beyond '54, my own Liberty-see on a 1972 parlay with "Bonus Late Show" Bride Of The Monster (!).




Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Smith Family Headed for "The Louisiana Purchase Exposition"

A St. Louis Cloud Parts

The Real St. Louis World's Fair of 1904
Among quirky lines in Meet Me In St. Louis, especially ones spoke by Tootie (Margaret O' Brien), there is this brought back from her first tour of the 1904 World's Fairground: "We saw the Galveston Flood.  Big waves came up and flooded the whole city.  When the water went back, it was muddy and horrible and full of dead bodies!" I sort of let that pass over forty years of otherwise living in this great musical, attributing Tootie's outburst to either her or a MMISL writer's peculiar worldview. Just last night, however, I learned finally what the Smith family's excitement was all about from reference made in Q. David Bowers and Kathryn Fuller-Seeley's epic book, One Thousand Nights At The Movies, raved over earlier at Greenbriar, which mentions the real-life Galveston disaster of 1900, and how it was exploited by early filmmakers. The hurricane and resulting flood brought death to an estimated 8,000 people, the worst natural disaster in American history up to that time.


Picture-men were right away in Galveston to capture the carnage, and within days it was being featured in show tents at carnivals. People then as now had a fascination with doom and destruction brought on wings of fire or flood. A lot of traveling showmen gathered profits from what was left after waters subsided. The 1904 "Louisiana Purchase Exposition," to which the Smith family repairs at the end of Meet Me In St. Louis, had an entire building (above) devoted to Galveston's horrific disaster, and folks flocked to it. Promoters constructed a "diorama," which is defined as A model representing a scene with three-dimensional figures, either in miniature or as a large-scale museum exhibit. Visitors were thus able to stand in the very midst of calamity as it happened, a fully-on recreation of the flood to encircle onlookers. One fairgoer wrote of the experience in a 1904 letter to friends: The Galveston flood is one of those electrical illusions which are so natural that they make you wonder whether or not they are an illusion or real. The destruction of Galveston by a mighty sea wave and the restoration of the city are beautiful to behold. This then, is what Tootie and companions saw at the St. Louis World's Fair, and I'd suspect a lot of patrons to the 1944 MGM release had also been there and remembered the Galveston exhibit well. Certainly it would have beat our IMAX and 3-D to flood-sodden ground.

More about Meet Me In St. Louis HERE and HERE.
grbrpix@aol.com
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