Thursday, October 30, 2008

Happy Hallowe'en!

Best wishes to everyone out there for a wonderful (i.e. creepy and dark) hallowe'en! Here we have a photo of two stars from the Hal Roach stable in their finest celebratory garb. Charley Chase and Marion "Peanuts" Byron get into the spirit of the holiday.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Glass movie slides

I LOVE the old glass slides that theaters used to use to promote their upcoming films. As with my movie tastes I tend to like the slides from the late 20's/early 30's pre-code era. They are colorful, have fantastic images on them, and many times the women are scantily clad! Here are 4 from my collection and although we don't see any slips or lingerie in this batch, we DO get to see Fifi D'orsay's legs in an unusual (almost anatomically unbelievable) pose. I have lots more coming in the future so stay tuned and, as with all the images on this site, click on them to see a larger picture!!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Last Trail (1933)

Last weekend I had what may have been a unique opportunity to view a print of Fox’s “The Last Trail”. Based on a novel of the same name by Zane Gray (in fact, the source I viewed had the title card as “Zane Gray’s The Last Trail”) but it seems from a note in Variety Magazine and reading a synopsis of the book, the movie has almost nothing to do with the Gray story.

Production started on June 5th, 1933 and wrapped in early July. Starring he-man George O’Brien as Tom Daley and Claire Trevor (in only her second feature film role, the first being another Fox film, “Life In The Raw” which was also based on a Zane Gray tome and starred George O’Brien) as Patricia Carter. El Brendel is featured as Knute Olsen, a friend of cowboy Daley, and rounding out the main cast is Matt McHugh (brother of Warner Brothers contract player Frank McHugh) as Looney McGann.

The films synopsis comes from the AFI Catalog of Feature Films:

Gangster Looney McGann, who reads a Wild West magazine as he travels by train to Arizona, is excited to see from his window a man on horseback pursued by a group firing at him. After helping the man scramble onto the train, Looney opens a violin case to reveal grenades, which he and the man, Tom Daley, throw at the pursuers, who soon retreat. Impressed when Tom says he that he is known as "El Diablo," Looney offers to introduce him to his gang, but Tom is not interested.

At the border, customs officer Pedro Gonzales learns that Tom, an American, broke up a wedding and stole the bride. He gathers an army of men and boards the train looking for Tom, who hides in the upper berth of a vacant room. Patricia Carter then enters and, after she tells Gonzales that she is alone, begins to remove her clothing until Tom knocks over a bag. When she screams, Tom puts his hand over her mouth and forces her to listen as he explains that the bride was being forced to marry a man she didn't love and that she was "stolen" with her own consent.

After Gonzales and his men leave the train, Tom jumps off the train and rides into Delhi, Arizona, where he tells his old pal, Newt Olsen, that his uncle, Jerry Malone, sent him a letter urging him to take over his ranch, which is the largest in the state. After Newt's ornery wife Sally, angry that Newt is drunk and with Tom, fires a rifle at them, they ride to the Malone ranch. At the ranch, Malone has died, supposedly by accident, and John Ross, Malone's attorney and the leader of Looney's gang, plans to have Frank Briggs, one of his men, pose as Tom so that they can inherit the ranch and then start a Ranchers' and Cattlemen's Protective Association.

Pat, an undercover agent who is traveling with Ross, secretly attempts to transmit this information via a radio in her bedroom. When Ross tries to act romantic, she shies away, but promises to go away with him as soon as their work in setting up the association is over. Tom and Newt ride up and learn from a servant that Malone has died.

After Tom saves Looney from an irate bull, whom he tried to rope, Looney introduces Tom and Newt, whom he calls "Killer Olsen," to the gang. Tom says that he wants to muscle in on their scheme. Ross then sends his men to kill them at night, but Tom and Newt capture the men and lock them in an icehouse.

The next morning, Ross capitulates and suggests that Tom pose as Tom Daley and that Pat pose as his wife, so that if Tom meets with an "accident" or double-crosses them, his "widow" will get the ranch. They go to Judge Wilson's home, where the will is to be probated, but the judge is out of town until the morning. Mrs. Wilson, who, it turns out, is Tom's godmother, insists that he and Pat stay the night, to Ross's and Pat's discomfort.

Alone together that night, Pat grows fond of Tom and encourages him to pull out of the scheme, while he remarks that she does not belong with the gang. Tom spends the night in the room sleeping on a chair. The next day, as the will is settled, Looney and Newt get drunk and become pals, but Sally shows up, and after she reveals Tom's identity, the gang captures her and Newt. Pat is relieved when she learns the truth about Tom.

After Tom is knocked out, Pat tries to call the police on her radio, but Ross catches her and smashes it. He tells his gang to kill the Olsen’s and Tom. Tom convinces Looney to help "the killer" and his wife escape. Newt, however, refuses to leave Tom, who fights the gangsters with Newt's and Looney's help. After Briggs shoots Looney, the police arrive, and Ross is shot trying to escape. Although Looney tells Newt that he is "hitting the last trail," Newt points out that Looney's belt stopped the bullet. Sally calls her husband a brave hero and promises never to scold him again. Tom kisses Pat and reminds her that according to the deed they filed when they pretended to be married, half of the ranch is hers. She replies that she is recording it.

El’s wife in the film was played by Ruth Warren, who also appeared with him in “Mr. Lemon of Orange”, “Six Cylinder Love” and “The Women of All Nations”. The film was directed by James Tinling who would also direct El in 1937’s “The Holy Terror”.

At this point in time I have not been able to locate any period reviews for “The Last Trail”. When I viewed a complete run of Harrison’s Reports at Bowling Green State University last year, for some reason that was the only El Brendel film I could not find a review for. Undoubtedly reviews are out there but I will have to revisit them later when they are acquired.

As for my personal opinion of the movie, I found the film to be an above average western with a good story and fine acting all around. George O’Brien it seems did many of his own stunts which surprised me. I think the script was much better than some of Brendel’s other Fox films which allowed him to be more integral to the story rather than just inserted for comic relief. El even got to sing a bit in the movie during a drunken scene with Matt McHugh (where McHugh “shoots” a portrait of El with a machine gun! See photo.) and the song, “She’s Only One of the Weaker Sex” got El a credit for the music and lyrics!

A side note, in late May ’33, it was announced that nearly the same core cast of “The Last Trail” (O’Brien, Trevor, and Brendel with the addition of Preston Foster) would appear in a film together called “Let’s Go, America”. It was written by Lamar Trotti (who would go on to win 3 Academy Awards for writing) and the story had to do with the reforestation army of the Civilian Conservation Corps which was one part of the work relief program instituted as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” legislation. It appears that the film was never made.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

El Chevalier

Continuing the series of El appearing as other famous stars of the day, (according to the snipe on the back) here he is as Paramount player Maurice Chevalier.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Happy birthday Charley!!!

115 years ago today, one of my favorite comedians was born Charles Joseph Parrott in Baltimore, Maryland. In time, after stints at Christie and Keystone Studios and a series at Hal Roach where he went by the name Jimmy Jump, Mr. Parrott would entertain the world as Charley Chase.

The first Charley comedy I ever saw was "Mighty Like A Moose" (1926) and I was hooked. Not just a gifted actor, Charley was a talented singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist and those skills were shown in many of his shorts. He directed many of his own films while at Roach Studios and when he moved on to Columbia Pictures he would helm films by Andy Clyde, Walter Catlett and Columbia's most valuable asset, The Three Stooges.

Some of his films are accessible on DVD's including an excellent 2 volume set from Kino Video and next year All Day Entertainment will be releasing a 4 DVD set of Chase films from 1914-1925. It's a shame that the can't be said for his later silents and talkies at Roach as that's where Charley REALLY hit his stride, but they are shown from time to time on Turner Classic Movies so keep an eye out!

In 1937 he went to make shorts for Columbia, which showed a decline in quality but are still FUN to watch and there is a strong rumor that next year we will see a release of ALL of them on DVD, much like the Buster Keaton 65th Anniversary Collection we saw in 2006.

An unrepentant alcoholic during much of his professional life, multiple hospitalizations couldn't slow that addiction down and many feel that led to his early death from a heart attack on June 20th, 1940 at age 46. If you want to learn more about Charley's wonderful career and life I suggest you pick up the book "Smile When The Raindrops Fall" by Brian Anthony. It is a great read and has a pretty thorough filmography.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

LIVE in Salt Lake!!!

Here we have an ad from a summer 1946 appearance by El and his wife Flo Bert (misspelled here as "Burt") in Salt Lake City, Utah. It had been over a year since he had appeared on the screen, in the short "Pistol Packin' Nitwits" for Columbia, and nearly 2 years after he was in a feature film, "I'm From Arkansas" from PRC. But, throughout his film career, whenever he had some downtime, he would usually take to the road with his wife and perform their stage act around the country.

At this time, it seems that El was still somewhat popular with the fans (by getting the headline over the other acts) but he would not appear on screen again for almost 3 years when "The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend" was released in 1949.

It's interesting to note the exaduration in the ad claiming "STAR OF 100 MOVIES!". At this point in time when the appearance took place, the real number was probably somewhere around 70-75.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Joan Blondell

If you are reading this blog and don't recognize the name Joan Blondell, you should close your computer now, go to a quiet room, and contemplate how miserable your life ACTUALLY is.

I firmly believe in the early 30's there was not one other movie star who could come close to her in terms of beauty, brazeness, and balls. In the pre-code films she made for Warner Brothers she comes off as a street wise vixen who could capture your gaze and not let go, but also a softy who would grab your heart and hold it forever.

There are a bunch of films for me to recommend that you see from her career but I prefer the sexy pre-codes. "Three On A Match", "Night Nurse", "Gold Diggers of 1933", "Havana Widows", "I've Got Your Number", and much more I could go on and on. In fact she was so busy that in the years 1931-1933 she made an astounding 28 feature films!!

In future blogs I will be posting many stills from my vast collection of Blondell stills that I hope you'll enjoy, but PLEASE, seek out all her films (TCM plays them pretty often) and see what made her such an amazing actress!

Monday, October 13, 2008

El gets a haircut!

In this shot, from the early 30's, we see El getting a trim from Fox studio make-up man, James Barker.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

"Mother's Helper" 1933

In 1933, with the USA and the rest of the world in the grip of the Great Depression, the movie studios banded together by each making a short film to promote President Roosevelt’s National Industrial Recovery Act. The act made it possible for the President to regulate banks and promote public works programs to give the economy a boost it needed.

Five studios had their individual films shown for a special screening at Paramount Studios on Saturday September 2, 1933. There were some other studios involved in the project but they had not completed their films at the time of this showing .

The films ran the gamut between comedy and drama, most ran under 7 minutes, but all supporting the NRA and Roosevelt’s New Deal. Warner Brothers offered “The Road Is Open Again” which featured Dick Powell singing a song of the same name with a patriotic motif of George Washington (Alan Dinehart), Abraham Lincoln (Charles Middleton), and Woodrow Wilson (Samuel Hinds).

M-G-M whipped up Jimmy Durante in song with “Give A Man A Job”, which can be seen here. Keep an eye out for Moe Howard from the Three Stooges in a bit part talking about rats!

Charlie Ruggles and Mary Boland appeared in Paramount’s contribution, but as of this time I have yet to find the name of it. R-K-O featured Edgar Kennedy, Virginia Sale, and Billy Barty(!) in “What America Needs”.

Over at Fox, our blog idol Monsieur Brendel was starring with Zasu Pits and Esther Muir in “Mother’s Helper” and concerns with a housewife’s demand for a 40 hour work week. The film is described by Variety as such:

"El Brendel tries to explain in a Weber and Fieldian manner how his working only 40 hours weekly will give another man employment. When his wife, Zasu Pitts, wants to know if the NRA affects housewives, Brendel explains he has attended to that and brings in the hot looking Esther Muir, explaining that in the future she’ll take care of half of Miss Pitts wifely duties. Miss Pitts conks Brendel for the fade out."

That’s it, but what more could there be as the film only lasted about 2 minutes! This film is NEVER listed in any Brendel or Pitts filmography and I just found out about its existance last year. El and Zasu were still a couple of months from starting the cameras rolling on “The Meanest Gal In Town” for R-K-O (which, of course, will be written about in the future) and Zasu was making films at Fox around the time this short was filmed, so I think that's why she was paired with El.

As for the survival rate of these shorts, a 35mm nitrate print (perhaps the only one in existence) of “Mother’s Helper” was sold to a collector a few years ago so it DOES exist (although I haven’t seen it). We know (and can see) that the M-G-M film is available and Warner Brother’s contribution is in the National Archives and was screened there this past February. As for R-K-O, Paramount, and the other studios involved (whoever they might be), I have no idea as to their whereabouts. Hopefully these shorts will be rediscovered, restored, and preserved for us all to enjoy.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Cigarette cards

During the early 30's, El Brendel was featured on a number of cigarette cards from around the world. Here are a couple:

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Trying to redeem myself

After screwing up royally yesterday by posting that photo that I thought was El, today I decided to post a picture that I KNOW is him.

From an early 30's Fox promo photo. Where else are you gonna see El dressed as a Tarzan type character??