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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Pocket-Size Melodrama From Vitaphone


Silent Star Blanche Sweet Speaks in Always Faithful (1929)

Blanche Sweet belied her name by being less sweet than acerbic in old age, not suffering fools gladly and insisting on star treatment right to the end. She had red carpets coming for having begun with Griffith and consolidating stardom in 20's features. By Vitaphone and Always Faithful, time weighed heavy and made Blanche look older than her thirty-three years. This one-reel "playlet" was drama in a thimble, issues raised and resolved within eight to nine minute relay. Blanche may have seen this as opportunity to audition her voice and prove suitability for talkies. It was, in any case, her first chatting appearance on screen. Was she already on a down slope by '29? Always Faithful addresses fidelity imperiled. Will Blanche give in to romantic blandishments of would-be seducer John Litel, even as her husband sleeps unseen in a nearby lounge chair? There's stuff of suspense here, as somnolent spouse has a gun by his side. Always Faithful was a quickie sort of melodrama done lots in vaudeville between dog acts and slapshoes. Blanche Sweet took such on the road herself, a song act and reprise of Anna Christie being nucleus of a vaude turn she'd hone through balance of the 30's. Nice that she transcribed flavor of same to Vitaphone for posterity's benefit. We can thank Warner Archive too for including Always Faithful in their latest Vita DVD set.




Friday, November 29, 2013

Universal-International Lends Offbeat Touch To Another Comfort Western


Rory Calhoun Riding Into Red Sundown (1956)

It's sometimes a flag when your gunhawk promises in a first reel to lay down arms; usually that means you'll wait till a last for them to be taken up again. Rory Calhoun makes the peace pledge here and forebears killing after benign-for-once James Millican buries him alive to avoid capture by Leo Gordon's bad gang. Interested yet? Plenty more here is likeably offbeat. Prior to siege, Rory and Jim enjoy bread with strawberry jam from Calhoun's saddlebag --- now there's a first for me after years watching westerns. A support cast is great after Universal-International habit. Robert Middleton is principal heavy and does his own brawl and falls with Rory, while Grant Williams of future shrinkage acquits well as a smiling killer. It's easy to ignore U-I westerns because there were so many, plus fact few get shown beyond high-profile Jim Stewarts and a few Audie Murphys. Red Sundown is a good one and worth setting radar for. It shows up on Retroplex from time to time in HD.




Thursday, November 28, 2013

Comparing Best Of Old With Newest Of New


Deadwood, South Dakota Gets Comedy's Greatest Since Shoulder Arms For Thanksgiving 1935

Suppose they took a poll in 1926 ... 1927 ... or 1935 ... to name the Greatest Of All Comedies so far made. What, or whose, would head the list? From ad evidence here, Shoulder Arms appears to have been at or near the top. It came back, and often, after acclaimed first-runs during 1918 and through '19. San Francisco's Strand Theatre played an "Exclusive First Run" for two weeks at thirty cent evening admission, loges at forty, not what you'd call cheap seats ninety-five years ago ("All Prices Include War Tax"). I guess it's safe to say that Shoulder Arms made the biggest impression of any Chaplin comedy up to that time. He'd not ring the bell so loudly again until The Kid three years later. Chaplin would lease his First National comedies to Pathé for 20's reissue. Their merchandising emphasized Shoulder Arms' growing repute as funniest among Chaplin comedies, a best of all laugh-makers, in fact. The two Rialto dates shown below represent 1926 (accompanying feature Diplomacy), and but a year later, Shoulder Arms back and billed over Children Of Divorce, with Clara Bow.


Pathe Ad For Chaplins To Come in 1925
MGM had no vested interest in Shoulder Arms, but cited it still as benchmark against which their 1935 release, A Night In The Opera, would be measured. The ad at top was not homemade by Deadwood Theatre (South Dakota) staff, being instead part of suggested campaign material supplied by Metro in Opera's pressbook. Was Shoulder Arms indeed settled by 1935 as the Greatest of Comedies to that date? The film would have been out of circulation for a while. To my knowledge, there was no pre-1935 reissue with added track or effects, as had been case with Chaplin's Mutual shorts, revived by RKO during the early thirties. Shoulder Arms wouldn't come back to meaningful extent until packaged in 1959 for The Chaplin Revue, where it joined other First National shorts A Dog's Life and The Pilgrim.


 Spring 1927 Trade Ad For Shoulder Arms Revival
The 1927 run with Clara Bow may well have been among last Shoulder Arms sightings for quite some decades, leaving fans given toward nostalgia to  recall it as funniest of all. Was Shoulder Arms' legend enhanced for being out of circulation? I understood it to be a Chaplin best for quite a while before catching up finally to a print and being disappointed. Part of that may be modern presentation, Shoulder Arms among ones that Chaplin monkeyed with for authorized reissues (stretch-printing ... alternate, and some say, lesser takes pressed into latter-day service because primary negatives were worn out). The film is Public Domain now and there are purists who have made earlier versions of Shoulder Arms available on DVD, these sourced from surviving 16mm that date in some instances back to the 20's. So how far afield is the Shoulder Arms we see today from what 1918 and later silent era audiences called Chaplin's, or anyone's, finest?

More of Chaplin, Shoulder Arms, and his First National comedies at Greenbriar Archive here.





Wednesday, November 27, 2013

More Thin Man Understudies Go Sleuthing


Franchot Tone and Ann Sothern Are Would-Be Nick and Nora in Fast and Furious (1939)

How critical was Bill Powell to continuation of the Thin Man series? Well, he couldn't be replaced in them, first of all. MGM considered that and even tried second-string detecting couples in hope of a switch in event Powell's health took him out (cancer surgery and uncertainty he'd recover). Showmen wanted more Thin Men, so a next best thing was duplicating the formula with husband-wife crimebusters on reduced budget in what was more or less audition to recast Nick and Nora Charles should worse come to worse. Fast and Furious was third of these attempts, Franchot Tone and Ann Sothern as married rare book dealers who dabble at sleuthing. The previous two had cast other MGM couples in pursuit of one that might click (Melvyn Douglas/Florence Rice, Robert Montgomery/Rosalind Russell). The Joel and Garda Sloane mysteries if nothing else point up distinction between workmanlike leads and a truly irreplaceable team, latter being Powell and Myrna Loy. Fast and Furious gets by in the way a fair copy might for a Rembrandt; so long as expectation stays at that level, it can please. The killer was so obvious that even I guessed it, but that too is part of fun, further doses of which can be had with Warner Archives' three-pack DVD release of the Joel/Garda Sloanes.


UPDATE --- 12/7/13: Found the above in a vintage newspaper. This was the sort of item that would adorn entertainment sections in dailies, and was gratis publicity for local theatres that advertised regularly.




Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Among Cartoon Stars We've Forgot


Columbia's Fox and Crow in Room and Bored (1943)

Columbias were always the rumble seat of cartoon rides. They used to be nowhere, it seemed, but nests are built here and there at You Tube, where better (or worse) ones are accessed, including Room and Bored, a "Fox and Crow" that was among two dozen more/less featuring the mismatched pair that became star attractions, if there was such thing at Columbia during the 40's. Nearest competition there had been "Scrappy," who by 1941 was scrapped. Such vague personages stood as Columbia surrogate for a Bugs or Popeye that ranked higher on marquees and got better rentals. To summarize for many to whom the Fox and Crow are unknown quantity, Fauntleroy Fox was polite, prim, and fussy in oft-role as doormat to brash and streetwise Crawford Crow. The team was minted by Frank Tashlin during his short Columbia stay. Room and Bored has C. Crow as destructive boarder in F. Fox's rooming house. The two were teamed in terms of opposition to each other, and maybe that slowed progress toward a public's embrace, but didn't Tom and Jerry become superstars doing an approximate same thing?


Crawford Crow was new, though familiar somehow, to my cartoon experience, youth exposure having been to Buzzy The Funny Crow of Matty's Funday lineage. All of Columbia we TV-got was Mister Magoo. There were Fox and Crow comic books on spinning racks where I 60's shopped, but these had less lure than even funny bunny stuff that went ignored in favor of Archie, Richie Rich, and eventually Superman/Batman. Come to find lately, however, that Fox and Crow were a comix institution for over twenty years, so someone, many in fact, were loyal. I found Room and Bored fun and would seek more Fox/Crows --- shouldn't Columbia be packaging these for at least On-Demand DVD release? (it could be a two-volume set, in fact) There were lovely IB Technicolor prints made for TV and rental use back in the day. 16mm survivors, splicy/worn as they tend to be, are sought still by collectors loyal to the vanishing format. They'll assure you that Fox/Crows and others bearing Columbia label can only be had on increasingly rare film (this further evidence that digital's takeover is far from complete), and are well worth dedicated search to find them.




Monday, November 25, 2013

Just Another Page Out Of Exhibition History ...


4/27/55: Rock and Roll Dawns In Chicago

The change didn't come quick, but theatres were catching a rock and roll bug as the 50's reached a mid-point. It wasn't so much in movies. Hollywood took time to recognize this wave that was upon them. And movies weren't baked overnight, unless maybe Sam Katzman was the chef. He was one of few producers who recognized the trend and met it in a hurry, getting out his R&R exploiters seemingly overnight. But this was April 27, 1955, pre-dawn of days that would change the culture and youth's viewing preference. What rock demanded was instant response, the kind kids registered when they dug the new sound on car and lately introduced transistor radios. Theatres could latch on to extent of shoehorning rock and roll acts into vaude and variety programs, this an only means of hopping aboard a parade float not yet equipped by a so-far sleeping pic industry.


Chicago did it on two fronts that 4/27/55 day, at Loop palaces the Woods and Chicago. Each seated a multitude and first-ran strongest attractions. The Woods had The Blackboard Jungle and emphasized "the Rock 'n Roll rhythms of the hit tune, ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK," MGM's nod to a music trend the studio would otherwise ignore that year. The Blackboard Jungle was an enormous hit because it drew not only curious teens, but "concerned" parents appalled by its depiction of public education in collapse. And besides, Bill Haley and his Comets' recital was over and out by the end of title credits, with nary sight of the band, Metro's narrative from there a grim account of delinquency unchecked and music may-be responsible for much of carnage. The Blackboard Jungle was no endorsement, let alone, celebration, of rock and roll.


The 3,500 seat Chicago Theatre had better sense of the pulse beat in stage booking what could be had of the Big Beat. They'd been playing Untamed, as establishment Hollywood as 1955 got, but live in performance with each show was "Sh-Boom" Boys" The Crew Cuts, their very name and appearance suggesting clean-cut, but nevertheless at a vanguard of music fashion to come, with Sh-Boom a Number One chartbuster, followed by Earth Angel in early '55. The DeJohn Sisters were more like old times, straw hat and gingham dress performers whose sole hit, (My Baby Don't Love Me) No More, reached #6 on Billboard charts. Then there was Will Jordan, "The Man Who Made Ed Sullivan Laugh!," and what may have been local talent, Bobby Brandt, as I could find no reference for him.


The Chicago's incoming film that week was closer to edgy equivalent of rock and roll, Kiss Me Deadly being atom-age noir where even credits rolled in backward and cock-eye fashion. Spillane's Mike Hammer was no progressive, but the Robert Aldrich read on him may well have given us a first rock and roll private eye. Certainly anyone in quest of bold and fresh would find plenty in Kiss Me Deadly. It still packs a lollapalooza fifty-eight years later. This time the Chicago frankly called theirs a "Rock 'N Roll Revue," with Ella Fitzgerald (debatable), Eddie Fontaine, late of Alan Freed's historic Easter show at the Brooklyn Paramount theatre, and The Chuckles, aka The Three Chuckles, their hits modest likes of Runaround and Times Two, I Love You. All this and more may not have been rock and roll as we'd come to know it, but the Chicago's was a start, and certainly with this music, plus Kiss Me Deadly for added kick, patronage knew they were on a verge of changed times.




Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sinister Sanders Is Egypt Bound


The Asphalt Jungle Remade As Cairo (1963)

George Sanders is "The Major," in Egypt to mastermind a heist of King Tut jewels from the Cairo Museum. This was straight-up remaking of The Asphalt Jungle by MGM British Studios Ltd., so-called (by them) "The Best Studio In Europe," and it probably was, based on two new sound stages added as of May 1962. Metro shot their own stuff here and rented space besides, their British arm being an almost equal to grounds back in Culver, USA. Potential for worldwide grossing made Cairo seem viable. Its source yarn was evergreen: The Asphalt Jungle could be updated or done period (as in 1958 western The Badlanders) --- it was among most useful properties MGM owned. Even bad filmmakers would have had trouble mucking up a story this good. Cairo reunited the producer/director/star team from recent sleeper hit Village Of The Damned, to wit Ronald Kinnoch, Wolf Rilla, and Sanders.


Variety announced that Cairo would be "the first international film to be made in the English language in the Egyptian city." There was full cooperation from the United Arab Republic (imagine that being accomplished today), though "all assignments in pix shot in (the) country must be approved by the Egyptian government." Location shooting is a boost, the Cairo crew filming at street bazaars, among pyramids, sinister market places; the pic is more than worthwhile just for access to sights not before captured by major studio cameras. Variety gave Cairo a harsh review; seeming not to realize this was an Asphalt Jungle remake, they knocked Sanders' part for being a copy of Sam Jaffe in the "13 years ago" film ("the device of having lechery serve as the undoing of this character is hackneyed"). Cairo currently plays on TCM in full-frame where it should, of course, be 1.85. Hopefully, a Warner Archive release to come will sort that out and give us an upgraded presentation.




Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Long Ago Slave Revolt


Ann Sheridan Shows WB Her "Oomph"

Fan mags were generally less mirror to truth of star living than reflection of control imposed by studios and bow-down by editors who had to maintain supply line to "news" out of picture-land. Print media beyond was something else however. They loved it when players fell out with management. Contretemps led to loose talk and strip-away of masks a secretive industry wore. On-suspension stars gone rogue warmed many an ink well for sheets always on lookout for trouble in Hollywood's paradise. Warners was noteworthy for spanking talent and locking same outside gates as punishment. Most crawled back on employer terms for need of renewed wage. Even biggest names relied on morphine drip of weekly checks. Stardom wealth was illusory as movies themselves.


Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart were brought to heel by family obligations both had, Davis with a mother and troubled sister, Bogart's circumstance the same. Management knew any revolt they staged was bluff. "Loans" were a way of tightening chokehold. Sometimes it was called an advance of salary. Either way, they owned you. One who got closer to loosening chains was Ann Sheridan, here the subject of breathless '40 news re the "oomph" girl's four month (so far) stand-off with Warners. Referring to herself as "the Sheridan," Annie promised they'd not "starve me out." Key words, and what probably made the studio back down, was Sheridan declaring her five year saving of cash toward just such eventuality: "I can sit just as tight as they can." No side is ever stronger than one that doesn't need the money. At issue was difference between $600 Sheridan was getting and $2000 she wanted. Warring factions got together, but was middle ground tilted her way or theirs? If asked two decades later, I'll bet Sheridan would have remembered to the penny.




Friday, November 22, 2013

Greenbriar Gone Raft-ing Again


George Raft Onstage and In A Dangerous Profession (1949)

Ella Raines is past flame to George Raft's bail bondsmen in this thicket of an RKO nearly-noir. She was an actress whose appeal I don't quite fathom. Word is that girlfriend-ing Howard Hawks and later his (super) agent Charles K. Feldman got Raines entree. Couch-casting played greater part in Gold Age starmaking than even candid biographers (let along autobiographers) care to admit. Raft was headed for shoals by 1949, A Dangerous Profession the second of his for RKO that lost money. The star would play tough customers till cows came home, but seldom outright crooks, that getting too close to real-life bone. George wasn't tall, had a thick middle, and ears that needed only winged accompany to qualify him for Disney work, but there was, for a long time, happy expectation among patronage as to what a Raft vehicle entailed, that being fist-work, a little gunplay, and double crosser dames for salt. GR, while no thesp, was wise to it all, his an authentic whiff of the pavement. The ad at left was for a Cleveland personal appearance circa 1940. Raft would have put on a good show, what with dancing capability demonstrated in pre-stardom and from earliest film work, competing with Cagney in Taxi!, followed by the Bolero/Rumba pair with Carole Lombard. There was not need for this performer to fall back on a tough-guy's limited repertoire when on stage.




Thursday, November 21, 2013

Dirk Bogarde Serves Wife-Killing With Afternoon Tea


A Romantic Leading Man Going Psycho in Cast A Dark Shadow (1955)

Lethal charmer Dirk Bogarde disposes of one wife, then goes in quest of a next. Bogarde, a sort of UK dreamboat alternative to Alec Guinness, had become popular in US art houses for doing comedy, notably his "Doctor" series. Would a same audience welcome him as a serial murderer? Sure it works today, modern viewers better used to Bogarde in darker mode. Cast A Dark Shadow has good dialogue (ported over from the play it's based on?) and a possibly best-ever Margaret Lockwood as a second wife/target not so easily fooled. Major distributors passed on Shadow, two years elapsing before independent DCA (Distributor's Corporation of America) took on US release, in 11/57. "Pint-sized" art house 50th Street Guild, with 450 seats, hosted a New York three-week run where business was spiked by five inch print ads on two columns, this in a season of big studio pics cutting way back on newspaper hype (Bombers B-52 from WB ran only one inch on one column for a same week). Observers noted that it was now television and art houses spending a most with dailies, the former using ad space to tout network specials and movies on the tube. A bigger flap resulted from Shadow distributor DCA releasing its product to television while theatres were still collecting admission for same. Harrison's Reports got in a lather, as did showmen who'd trusted DCA to withhold their stuff from the free box for a safe period. Variety search reflects few bookings amongst the keys for Cast A Dark Shadow, and even these might have bailed had they known it would surface in syndication within months.  TCM currently runs a very nice 1.66 transfer that improves considerable over poor videos earlier available.




Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Greenbriar Dares Again The Inner Sanctum


Thawing Out The Frozen Ghost (1945)

It's old news that the Inner Sanctums aren't much good, so I resolved this time to say nice things about repeat-watch of The Frozen Ghost, criticism suspended in consideration of forty-nine years it's been in my life (how many views? Only the man in the crystal ball knows). Let's start thus: it beats tar out of Columbia's Whistler, a Sanctum's closest relative among series mysteries. Any Universal B for me is better than Columbia's same. Sanctums are visually polished, support casts familiar and friendly, with Chaney combative (watch those lapels, co-workers --- he grabs!). Ghost's scheme is to drive Lon into a "psychopathic court." Did Simon and Schuster really publish books with plots like this? Apparently so ... they're credited in all six Sanctums. We expected too much of these as kids, but didn't TV GUIDE "melodrama" listing of a Frozen Ghost or Dead Man's Eyes, with Lon Chaney yet, imply horrific happenings?


Universal's was a same quack-like-a-duck ruse when The Frozen Ghost came out, pairing it with Jungle Captive for a show sold as shocking to 1945 audiences. But would The Frozen Ghost really "freeze blood" among first-run  viewership? Perhaps it needed companionship of a Jungle Captive to accomplish that. The ad here is from Chicago's first-run. That town's RKO Grand had a sock week with the horror combo ($14K) thanks largely to ongoing August '45 revelry over Japan's surrender and everyone crowding the Loop to celebrate. How they felt coming out of Universal's parlay might have been another matter. What to do when neither end of a double feature delivered? Small wonder Universal's monster franchise fizzled within a year after, though happy ending came when the six Inner Sanctums (including long out of circulation Strange Confession) took DVD flight with quality comparable to what froze 40's blood. We still await, with increasing anxiety, the disc bow of Jungle Captive, but in a meantime would tender below progression of Acquanetta, the original starlet-to-ape of 1943's Captive Wild Woman, first of Universal's "Paula Trilogy" that culminated with Jungle Captive.


More Inner Sanctum at Greenbriar's Archive.





Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Oswald Plays Dem Dry Bones


Universal and Their Lucky Rabbit Prosper in Hells Heels (1930)

Oswald was lucky for Universal, if not for Disney, being a nice and ongoing revenue stream from the time Laemmle and associates commissioned him in 1927 till the character's screen retirement in 1943. My impression, and correct me if I'm wrong, is that Universal wanted a cartoon character and subcontracted Charles Mintz to develop one, which he did by way of Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. Then Universal's publicity named the rabbit they came up with. Oswald was inarguably the studio's property. It was only a matter of hiring artists to draw him, and they'd prove interchangeable, from Disney at first, to Mintz after he euchred Walt, then Walter Lantz once Universal got done with Mintz. Lantz proved most durable of the lot where the Lucky Rabbit was concerned. His cartoons with Oswald maintained a fair standard throughout the thirties. I don't recall seeing them on TV growing up. Were they around much? Maybe it was just our NC stations that skipped them.


By Hells Heels, Oswald was talking and risen high among cartooned faces. Am I safe to say he was second only to Mickey Mouse in 1930 polling? (for that matter, were there cartoon popularity polls in 1930?) Felix seemed finished, Fleischer had not (yet) star characters of weight, and Bosko/Flip The Frog were just starting out of WB/MGM. Oswald was established and an object of intense promotion, Universal making with trade ads and merchandising that Disney surely envied, and would imitate, as he developed Mickey. The Oswalds copied Walt on screen, but the rabbit's selling arm was a strongest among cartoon contestants, which is why it mattered less if Hells Heels and other Oswalds fell short of emerging Disney's quality. Universal had well-tuned machinery, and the Rabbits were good enough to keep it greased. Oswald could more than get by for helping fill a Universal program and not antagonizing his audience, as Flip The Frog risked doing at Iwerks/MGM when that character proved so unappealing. Oswald pads six minutes of Hells Heels with song/dance and gags looted from betters so recent as Disney's Skeleton Dance. Lantz and his animator, Bill Nolan, seem infatuated with skeletal matters. At one point, Oswald's surprise is expressed by his bones leaping out of his body, which would be lots more disturbing had it not happened so fast. Hells Heels is part of the Woody Woodpecker and Friends --- Volume One DVD, along with other Oswalds and Lantz oddities.

More Oswald The Lucky Rabbit at Greenbriar Archive HERE.




Monday, November 18, 2013

Where True-Life Was Made To Pay


Going To Disney's Nature School and Liking It

Nature was mostly served raw before Walt Disney made it a profit center with his True-Life documentaries. In fact, WD took the onus of education off nature shorts (later features) by making each irresistibly entertaining. Most called them breathtaking for keyhole view of private animal life. It was for Disney to make informative content pay, luring admission for what schools had been force-feeding. Yes, there had been "nature" subjects before, most aimed at exploiting wildlife for shock or sensation. What were folks going to movies for, after all? It didn't occur to most that straight recount of creature habits might engage. Exploration themes had clicked, like Chang, Byrd at the Pole, and others such, but four-footed friends cycling at life was beyond what even Hollywood-trained magicians of the camera could capture, that is, until Disney got his revolutionary idea and commissioned outsiders to execute it.

First off, he'd shun the human element. Nix on native women hauled off by gorillas, or Killers Of The Sea making meals of frogmen. Walt wanted animals to speak for themselves, so put stringers in far-flung fields to document habits ... survival, mating, feeding, and otherwise ... from which best of the best, as in millions of feet perused, would be shaved to half-hour or so length. Camera/nature bugs Alfred and Elma Milotte shot miles of footage on Alaska (frozen) soil using 16mm Kodachrome, Seal Island the boiled-down result of effort that took a year. Disney sunk "some $75,000" (Variety) into the finished 27 minutes, from which he refused to cut an inch despite RKO entreaty that his long short was, for booking purposes, neither fish nor fowl, completion-date of 1948 being also one that favored double-features, as in features, not hybrids.

Disney had qualified Seal Island for Academy consideration by getting a late '48 LA date and thus sealing bid for a Best Short Subject Oscar. That came off with the expected win, and though RKO still sought cuts, they'd give in to Walt's determination that there would be none. Migration of seals was to venues summer-booking a Disney reissued pair, Dumbo and Saludos, Amigos, the program "designed to lure vacationing moppets into theatres," said Variety. Seal Island was a hit to modest extent that any three-reeler could be, but confidence was such that Disney announced it as first of a series of True-Lifes, their next, The Amazing Beaver, already in progress on northern Idaho location. Speculation was that Walt was really doing these things for television, being that Seal's 27 minutes was ideal for a half-hour programming slot. Disney had, after all, intimated willingness to embrace the tube. Meanwhile, Seal Island was racking up further awards and making Walt a friend to school teachers nationwide.


As to brilliance at marketing, 1950 was where Disney's outfit really came into its own after a years-long slump. Cinderella was out of the gate for an animated feature comeback, and an all-live actioner, Treasure Island, cooked with frozen funds thawed in England, was ready for summer release. Walt sent invites to camera hobbyists for sneak glimpse of his next True-Life, now named Beaver Valley. This was by small way of how Disney smartly made outreach to patron corners his competition ignored. Amateur photographers were no inconsequential niche, but a force thousands-strong and connected by lines of communication strong enough to swell lines for whatever Disney produced that interested membership (The Amateur Cinema League, Inc. had a monthly magazine that Walt Disney followed). These camera buffs raved over True-Life, calling WD a visionary for putting nature photography front/center for mass appeal, and giving reps of the amateur army, Alfred and Elma Milottes, opportunity to see their work displayed before millions.


A biggest so-far pay-off came with Beaver Valley. WD sales force had formulated an "All Disney" program policy that would serve variety to all ages, a three-pronged approach with Beaver Valley and a fresh cartoon served as appetizers to the main course that was Treasure Island. Ads cried, Don't Send The Kids --- Bring Them! Thus was born truest concept of Disney as "Real Family Entertainment." Beaver Valley got the expected raves, Variety calling it a "wonderment," and "one of the novel film highlights of the year." Heads-in-sand RKO still had doubt of Beaver Valley pulling weight as a so-called second feature, and tried pairing it with mis-mates Joan Of Arc, Our Very Own, and others off the company's release chart. Best results, however, were obtained with the pure Disney mix, although Beaver Valley also sat well in offbeat berths like Cleveland's Tele-News, a 500 seat newsreel house that used Disney beavers to buttress bulletins off baseball fields and out of Korea.


An incidental boost for Beaver Valley, but a meaningful one, was the hit Christmas song, since a standard, that emerged from Paul J. Smith's lively score for the nature short. Variety had lauded Smith for the "brilliant undertaking" that "materially" enhanced Beaver Valley, and indeed, it's hard imagining the True-Lifes without his accompany. One segment, "The Frog Symphony," was noted in particular, and from that came lyrics and further arrangement by Don Raye, whose idea it was to lay Christmas wreath upon nature's canvas. Result was Jing-a-Ling, Jing-a-Ling, which was promptly issued as sheet music, and recorded by the Andrews Sisters, Tommy Tucker and his Orchestra, many others (this You Tube link should ring a bell).


The ongoing success that was True-Life Adventures would enhance Disney programs ahead, and in fact, came to at least partial rescue of occasional clucks like 1951's Alice In Wonderland, the next feature to get a True-Life infusion in theatres (Nature's Half-Acre). When the whole show was good, as with Peter Pan in 1953, the animal acts were like icing on a rich cake, Bear Country a bonus that made grown-ups glad they'd taken Junior to the cartoon. True-Lifes would graduate to feature-length in 10/53 with The Living Desert, and incidentally become mainstays of the Disney non-theatrical market, 16mm prints renting from a 1954 launch to eager schools and elsewhere that paid $10 for a day's use of Seal Island, Beaver Valley, and others from the shorts list. Price would triple by late-70's juncture, the True-Lifes becoming evergreen as backgrounds they celebrated. All are gathered since as four DVD sets from Disney, and highly recommended.
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