Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Tales from the Archives: The Movie Church - Dec. 16th 1928

The schedule at the "Movie Church" for December 16th 1928 contained one feature film, Hold 'em Yale (1928), followed by the short films When a Man's a Prince (1926) and Matching Wits (1928).

Hold 'em Yale
(1928), like several of the films shown by this church, was produced by the DeMille Pictures Corporation. I wasn't able to find out if it survives or not so I'll have to assume it is a lost film. However, you can buy a framed print from the movie here!
The actor on the left in the above still from Hold 'em Yale is Rod La Rocque. Although he is sitting down in the picture, La Rocque stood a tall 6'3". La Rocque was an American actor who married the famous Hungarian silent film star Vilma Banky in 1927. Unlike a lot of marriages between movie actors, they stayed together until his death in 1969. La Rocque started appearing in films in 1915. He retired in 1941 to become a real estate broker. La Rocque received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to the film industry.

Another actor in the cast for Hold 'em Yale was Lawrence Grant. Grant was a British actor whose career started in the silent era and continued into the 1940s. He appeared in popular films such as Shanghai Express (1932), The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), Werewolf of London (1935), Son of Frankenstein (1939), and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941). Grant hosted the 4th Academy Awards in 1931.

When a Man's a Prince (1926) was a short film starring silent film comedian Ben Turpin. The film still exists, but seems to be an incomplete version from a 1947 re-release. Turpin was cross-eyed due to an accident in his youth but managed to turn his affliction into a movie career. He even bought an insurance policy in case his eyes got uncrossed!
Turpin's earliest film credit goes all the way back to 1907. Turpin received what is believed to be the first instance of a comedian being hit with a pie in the face in the 1909 short Mr. Flip. In 1917 Turpin joined Mack Sennett's studio and became hugely popular in the 1920s. Many of his films were parodies of contemporary films and actors. For example, When a Man's a Prince pokes fun at Erich von Stroheim.
Turpin was a devout Catholic so I think he would've been happy that a Catholic Church showed his work.

Above is another picture of cross-eyed Ben Turpin as I couldn't find any pictures related to the final short!
Occasionally I will discover spelling errors in the titles of these schedules and we have another one this week as it should be Matching Wits (1928) not Matching Mits. Matching Wits was a Sport Pictorials production. Sport Pictorials were short documentaries on various sports which the company produced from 1921 thru 1929. This church showed Sport Pictorials shorts quite often. Two other series the Church liked to show a lot were Aesop's Fables and Our Gang, both of which I covered last week.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tales from the Archives: The Movie Church - Dec. 9th 1928

The schedule at the "Movie Church" for December 9th 1928 contained one feature film, The Wreck of the Hesperus (1927), followed by the short films Ride 'Em Cowboy (1928) and Seeing the World (1927).

The Wreck of the Hesperus was based on the 1842 narrative poem of the same name by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I can neither confirm or deny if the movie still survives so unfortunately I have to assume it is a lost film.
The Wreck of the Hesperus starred Canadian actor Sam De Grasse, pictured above in a still shot from the film, as the captain of the doomed Hesperus ship. Like many of the movies shown by this Church, The Wreck of the Hesperus was produced by the DeMille Pictures Corporation. Sam De Grasse appeared in several films that were directed by Cecil B. DeMille himself such as The Birth of a Nation (1915), Intolerance (1916), and The King of Kings (1927).
De Grasse was known for playing villainous roles, such as Prince John opposite Douglas Fairbanks as the eponymous hero in Robin Hood (1922). De Grasse was also in the classic silent film The Man Who Laughs (1928) starring Conrad Veidt.
De Grasse retired from the film industry shortly after the silent era ended and died in 1953 in his seventies. His grave says he was born in 1880 but IMDB and Wikipedia place his birth year as 1875 so I'm not sure which is correct as actors often lied about their ages.

The motion picture industry was the family business for Sam De Grasse as his brother was actor/director Joseph De Grasse (pictured above) and Sam's nephew was cinematographer Robert De Grasse. Joseph De Grasse was one of the founders of the Motion Picture Directors Association in 1915 along with John Ford and William Desmond Taylor. The Motion Picture Directors Association was a precursor to the present day Directors Guild of America. Joseph De Grasse directed about 90 films including The Scarlet Car (1917) which featured his brother Sam and starred Lon Chaney, Sr.
Robert De Grasse started his career in the early 1920s and continued working as a cinematographer into the 1960s. Robert De Grasse received an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography for Vivacious Lady (1938) which starred Ginger Rodgers and Jimmy Stewart. Robert De Grasse also worked on classic TV shows such as I Love Lucy, The Jack Benny Program, and The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Slim Summerville was also in the cast of The Wreck of the Hesperus. Summerville was one of the original Keystone Cops, appearing in the first film of the famous series, Hoffmeyer's Legacy (1912). Summerville was mostly known for his comedy work. Besides the Keystone Cops Summerville appeared in other films with famous silent comedians Charlie Chaplin and Fatty Arbuckle. After the silent era Summerville continued to have supporting roles in "talkies" and made films until his death in 1946.
Summverville was able to take some more dramatic roles in "talkies" appearing in the classic All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and the Western Jesse James (1939) which starred Tyrone Power and Henry Fonda. Summerville still tended to get comedic parts and was frequently paired in films with comedienne Zasu Pitts. Summerville was also in a couple of Shirley Temple movies such as Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938). For his contributions to the film industry Summerville earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Another actor in The Wreck of the Hesperus was Alan Hale Sr. Like Sam de Grasse, Alan Hale Sr. was also in Robin Hood (1922), as Little John. I wrote more about Hale in a Tales from the Archives post from last December. Hale was the father of Alan Hale Jr., the Skipper on the classic TV show Gilligan's Island.

Ride 'Em Cowboy (1928) was a cartoon in the Aesop's Fables series which this Church showed quite often. I don't know if this particular cartoon still survives, but there are some episodes of Aesop's Fables available on YouTube. I covered this animated series in depth with a post for the Short Animation blogathon so check it out here to find out more.

Besides Aesop's Fables, another series of short films this Church loved to show was Our Gang. Seeing the World (1927) was the 57th Our Gang short released. This Our Gang episode is notable for featuring Stan Laurel, one half of the famous comedy duo Laurel and Hardy. Both Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy have appeared in other films shown by this Church. Hal Roach created the Our Gang series and his studio also had Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy under contract which explains Laurel's appearance here. Seeing the World still exists and has even had a home video release.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 (2012)

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1
Based on the Frank Miller comic of the same name, which I highly recommend, this direct to video adaptation is the first half of the story. As a fan of the comic, I felt that this was a good idea as the book does feel like two stories that can easily be cut in half.

Peter Weller is great as an older Bruce Wayne who comes out of a ten year retirement to become Batman again in order to deal with the Mutant gang that has been menacing Gotham City. The rest of the cast also does a fine job. Voice acting veterans Frank Welker and Tara Strong provide additional voices. Batman: The Animated Series co-creator Bruce Timm has a brief role as Thomas Wayne.

It has been long time since I've read the comic but as an adaptation it seemed to hit all the right notes. The animation is nice and fits the style of the comic without being a carbon copy of the book's art. The Dark Knight Returns truly embraces the medium of film and isn't a motion comic. What this means is that the internal monologues of the comic as missing, but that is an essential change to turn it into a film. For example, there is one scene in the comic where Batman gets shot and thinks "Why do you think I wear a target sign on my chest" to reveal a bullet proof shield. Although we don't hear this line in the movie, we do see the shield when he gets shot at.

It seems that the intended audience of the movie is fans of the comic. While they probably won't be disappointed with the film version, I think they will still be more likely to re-read the book then re-watch the movie. Those who are new to the story should be able to jump right in, though it's probably helpful to have a basic knowledge of Batman coming into both the comic and the movie.
I wonder if we'll ever see a live action adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns. I wouldn't mind if that happened someday, though if this ended up being the only movie version I'd be fine with that.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 will be released in Winter of 2013.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Airport 1975 (1974)

Airport 1975
Despite the title, Airport 1975 actually came out in 1974. Airport 1975 is a sequel to Airport (1970) so why couldn't they just call it Airport II?
Disaster movies were extremely popular in the 1970s thanks in large part to the commercial success of the original Airport which was also nominated for 10 Oscars. Airport 1975 is the second of four films in the series, though this is the only one I've seen at the moment. Like the first Airport movie, Airport 1975 was a box office success and the sixth top grossing movie of 1974 behind a couple of other disaster movies, The Towering Inferno and Earthquake.
The basic plot of Airport 1975 is that a small plane crashes into a Boeing 747, killing and injuring the pilots. A flight attendant flies the plane with instructions from ground controllers but it is eventually decided that a real pilot must be brought in to land it.
Like most disaster movies of its time, Airport 1975 features a large ensemble cast. Pretty much everybody is in this movie such as Charlton Heston, George Kennedy, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Linda Blair, Nancy Olson, Erik Estrada, Norman Fell, Jerry Stiller, Gloria Swanson (as herself!), Myrna Loy (who has showed up in a couple of my Tales from the Archives posts), and many more.

Despite being a hit in its time, Airport 1975 is very dated with references, clothes, and politically incorrect jokes that make this a time capsule of the mid-70s. There is a lot of melodrama which at times makes it feel like a soap opera. Although this was a disaster movie, I never felt that these characters were ever in true danger. There are some scenes full of tension, like those with the flight attendant (Karen Black) being instructed on how to fly the plane, but others fall flat and can be boring. Airport 1975 is competently made with a lot of good actors but just ends up being mediocre and a product of its time.
Airport 1975
was directed by Jack Smight. Although this is the first of his movies I have seen, Smight directed four episodes of The Twilight Zone including The Lonely, a personal favorite of mine.
Airplane! (1980) would later parody disaster movies like this one. Although I already loved that comedy, I appreciate it even more after watching Airport 1975 since I got a better sense of what they were parodying. It was interested to see plot elements of this film that Airplane! would later go on to directly make fun of.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Judge Dredd (1995)

Judge Dredd
Judge Dredd is based on the comic of the same name. I have not read these comics so I'm judging it only as a movie and not an adaptation. I have heard that in the comics Dredd never takes his helmet off but in this movie he does. There are probably other differences that I'm not aware of but since I wasn't already familiar with the character and stories it didn't bother me.
Judge Dredd opens with a comic book introduction and while I'm sure this is not the first movie based on a comic to do so, it was still before the Marvel movies made this common. James Earl Jones provides the opening narration setting up the story though he is not actually in the movie.
Sylvester Stallone plays our title character who gets convicted for a crime he didn't commit and discovers that the law of the future is not as perfect as he used to think. The rest of the cast is solid with Diane Lane, Max von Sydow, and Jurgen Prochnow as other judges. Armand Assante is the main villain, Rico, who is a former Judge that was jailed for murder but breaks out of prison near the beginning of the film. It is later revealed that Rico has a connection to Dredd. I remember Assante as Odysseus in the enjoyable 1997 miniseries The Odyssey based on Homer's ancient Greek epic poem of the same name. Joan Chen plays scientist Dr. Ilsa Hayden who helps Rico. However, she doesn't do much as her character is just there to be evil and sexy.
Rob Schneider does a decent job as the comic relief. I generally liked his run on Saturday Night Live in the early 90s and Schneider had fun supporting roles in stuff like Home Alone 2 and Surf Ninjas even though those movies weren't very good.

Despite the fact that Judge Dredd is now over 15 years old, the special effects and Blade Runner-esque set design are surprisingly good. Practical effects, or those combined with CGI, always age better than CGI alone. Although the movie was a box office bomb, it had a big budget which shows. The overall look of both the dystopic city of the future (Mega City One) and the post-apocalyptic wasteland is the strongest aspect of the film. The action scenes are pretty fun but nothing groundbreaking or particularly memorable.
Stallone has a bunch of witty one liners such as "I'll be the judge of that!" My favorite humorous moment was when Dr. Hayden calls Judge Hershey (Diane Lane) a bitch and Hershey responds with the retort "Judge Bitch!" Of course the most well known dialogue from the movie is Dredd yelling "You betrayed the law!" at Rico who screams back "LAAAAAWWW!"
The satire seemed to have been toned down from the comics, though as I said earlier, I haven't read any yet. I wonder what someone like Paul Verhoeven would have done with the material as there were some thematic similarities to his films like RoboCop (which probably borrowed some concepts from the Judge Dredd comics) and Starship Troopers.
I had never heard of director Danny Cannon before. Cannon is still active but mostly directs TV shows now. I thought his directing was passable but that the story ran out of steam by the last act. 
Besides being a bomb with audiences, Judge Dredd was a commercial failure too. Despite the generally negative response, I did like it. It's not a bad movie but obviously not a great one either. I can understand fans of the comic being upset that things were changed and you could say this is a good Stallone movie but not a good Judge Dredd movie. Of course there have been many good movies made out of books or comics that were quite different than the source material.
The latest Judge Dredd movie, Dredd, came out last month. Like the 1995 Judge Dredd it also performed poorly at the box office in the US but did better in the UK and worldwide. Dredd did get very good reviews from critics so I'll have to check it out when it hits Blu-ray.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tales from the Archives: The Movie Church - Dec. 2nd 1928

This week's post is going to be short because the Church of the Holy Infancy didn't watch any movies on December 2nd 1928. However, the reason they gave in the schedule is worth talking about.

Although this Roman Catholic Church would usually watch movies every Sunday, they took a break this week due to the Forty Hours' Devotion. The Catholic practice of Forty Hours' Devotion is a forty hour period of continuous prayers while the Blessed Sacrament, or host, is exposed on the altar. The Forty Hours' Devotion usually takes place in a succession of Churches, with one starting the devotion once another Church has finished.

The Church showed these films on Sundays, the traditional day of rest. However, the schedule shows that even though the Church loved their movies, the balanced this hobby with their religious priorities. The Church went back to showing movies the next week, so my next Tales from the Archives post will go back to the same format as my other Movie Church posts.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Tales from the Archives: The Movie Church Nov. 1928 Part 3

After being on hiatus since December 2011 (except for a special post back in April that was part of the Short Animation blogathon) my Tales from the Archives series is finally back! To catch up on my previous posts simply click on the Tales from the Archives tag at the bottom of this post. New Tales from the Archives entries will be up every Tuesday.

I'm picking up exactly where I left off, which was in the middle of going through schedules of movies shown by the Catholic Church of the Holy Infancy in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in the 1920s. My last entry was about the movies shown on November 18th 1928, so without further ado let's get to the movies people watched at this Church the very next week!

Like November 18th, the Church showed another double feature the following Sunday the 25th. The first movie was The Girl From Chicago (1927), a crime film with romance starring Conrad Nagel and Myrna Loy. Myrna Loy was in another movie this Church showed a few weeks earlier titled Ham and Eggs at the Front (1927). Like that film, this movie was another early role for Loy before she would breakout as a superstar playing Nora Charles in The Thin Man series which started in 1934. Like many of the movies shown by this Church, The Girl From Chicago was a Warner Bros. Vitaphone production. This meant that even though it was a silent film, there was a recorded musical score and sound effects which were synched with the movie when shown. It appears that is a lost film, but I was able to find a contemporary review of the movie! Check it out here.

Conrad Nagel received top billing for The Girl From Chicago, and unlike Myrna Loy this is his first appearance in my Tales from the Archives series. Nagel was a prolific actor with over 135 credits spanning from 1918 to television appearances into the mid 1960s! Nagel was in a famous lost film, London After Midnight, which I discussed in this post last summer. Nagel had no problem making the jump from silent movies to "talkies" and later television. He must've had a great voice since he also hosted the popular radio program Silver Theater in the 1930s and 1940s.
Conrad Nagel was one of the founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization best known for giving out the Academy Awards or Oscars! Nagel hosted the 3rd Academy Awards in 1930 and the 5th Academy Awards in 1932. Nagel would later co-host the 25th Academy Awards in 1953 with none other than Bob Hope! The 21 years between hosting Oscar ceremonies still holds the record for the longest gap between hosting the Academy Awards. Nagel was given an honorary Oscar in 1940 for his leadership and involvement in the Motion Picture Relief Fund. In 1960 Nagel received three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work in Motion Pictures, Radio, and Television.

The second movie of this week was a romance film titled Dress Parade (1927) about a boxer who enrolls at West Point and falls in love with the commandant's daughter. The star of Dress Parade was actor William Boyd, who was featured in many of the movies shown by this Church. William Boyd would later become famous for role as the cowboy Hopalong Cassidy. The Hopalong Cassidy character was extremely popular as the series lasted from 1935 to 1947 for a grand total of 66 films! Hopalong Cassidy was so well received that the movies even spawned an amusement park in Los Angeles named Hoppyland! Boyd made regular appearances at the park but it ended up not being a success as it only lasted from 1951 to 1954.

The director of Dress Parade was Donald Crisp, pictured above. Crisp was also an actor and won an Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for How Green Was My Valley (1941). Crisp co-directed The Navigator (1924) with Buster Keaton and worked as an actor and assistant to D.W. Griffith for many years.
Dress Parade survives today and has even been released on DVD.

The Flight That Failed (1928) was an animated short in the Aesop's Fables short film series. The Flight That Failed is not on YouTube and I'm not sure if it still exists. I covered these cartoons in depth with a post for the Short Animation blogathon so check it out here to find out more.