Saturday, December 10, 2016

Putting a wreath on The Couple’s Next Door

I’ve got just enough space before 2016 comes to an official close to do one more giveaway on the ol’ blog…and since this is that holiday time of the year, I figured I’d take another stab at offering up a chance to win one of two sets of the Radio Spirits collection The Couple Next Door: Merry Mix-Ups.  (There are a few Yuletide-themed broadcasts in this set, so it is most appropriate.)

Back in March, I tried to give away these sets…and to my genuine astonishment (and amusement), I didn’t get one entry.  Nada.  Zilch.  Now, I can understand why this was the case: it was at a time when the weeds had started to multiply around Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, since I had fallen into a quicksand pit of slackitude when it came to posting.  By the way, no one is more surprised than I at my recent spate of activity at TDOY; I have already doubled (and then some) the number of posts that I managed to cobble together in 2015.

Because I am committed to recycling, I’m going to borrow a few paragraphs from that original March 2016 post to give the TDOY faithful a little background on The Couple Next Door:

Actress-writer Margaret Frances “Peg” Lynch—who, sadly, was summoned to the Great Audition Room back in July of 2015 at the age of 98—was one of the most amazing individuals employed during Radio’s Golden Age.  Her website rightfully boasts that she was “the lady who invented sitcom”—that sitcom being The Private Lives of Ethel and Albert, which premiered over NBC Blue on May 29, 1944 (an earlier version had appeared previously in three-minute installments over several local stations at which she was employed).  It was a simple, character-based sitcom: Peg played Ethel Arbuckle (Lynch stepped in when the network brass didn’t think any of the actresses who auditioned were suitable), a typical housewife married to a typical husband in the form of Albert Arbuckle.  Albert was played initially by Richard Widmark, who eventually moved on to a stage and film career, and he was replaced by Alan Bunce…whose chemistry with Peg was quite convincing.

Ethel and Albert spent most of its run on radio as a five-day-a-week quarter hour—it was expanded to a half-hour in its final season before it was cancelled on August 28, 1950.  After that, it became one of the boob tube’s early successes—first as a fifteen-minute segment on Kate Smith’s variety show, and then as a half-hour series that aired on all three of the majors (ABC, CBS and NBC) from 1953 to 1956.  Lynch went on record as not being overly fond of the TV Ethel and Albert (“…I always felt it spoiled my timing…I would have to hold up for the laugh…”) so when she got an opportunity to revive her creation for CBS Radio beginning in December of 1957 she leapt at the chance.  The only snag was that because she had signed away the rights to “Ethel and Albert” sometime ago, she would have to rename the new series The Couple Next Door.

The Couple Next Door is a quirky little situation comedy in the mold of Vic & Sade (without the engaging eccentricity) and Lum ‘n’ Abner (without the bucolic wackiness).  I only had a passing familiarity with the series before I was asked to contribute liner notes, but in listening to the shows it wasn’t long before Couple Next Door worked its magic on me.  What I enjoy so thoroughly about Peg Lynch’s writing is that it doesn’t come off as writing; the dialogue sounds perfectly natural to the ear—it’s as if you caught yourself eavesdropping on a neighbor couple’s conversation by accident.  Several of the broadcasts in the Merry Mix-Ups collection are Yuletide-themed; one of the funniest is an outing that finds Mr. Piper (Bunce) having to drop off a parcel at the post office and being stymied by the nitpicky regulations that the clerk insists must be followed to the letter before it can be sent on its way.  (You have no idea how much I identified with his situation.)

As Mike “Mr. Television” Doran later noted in the comments section of the original post, Peg eventually arranged to re-obtain the rights to Ethel and Albert, since she and Alan reprised their characters in several laundry detergent TV commercials (Mike seems to recall it was Cheer, but he’s not 100% on that).  With that out of the way, here’s what you need to do to enter TDOY’s giveaway (the Merry Mix-Ups set has a SRP value of $31.95):

1) Send me an e-mail with “Merry Mix-Ups” in the subject header to igsjrotr(at)gmail(dot)com.  You have until 11:59pm EST on December 17, 2016 (next Saturday) to enter.

2) Make sure you are a U.S. resident or have a U.S. mailing address.

3) If you’ve won one of the blog’s contests in the past thirty days, it’s the height of proper netiquette to maybe sit this one out to allow fellow members of the TDOY faithful a more sporting chance of winning.

4) I will choose two winners Sunday morning (via the Random Number Generator at of December 18th and inform the lucky persons of their tremendous good fortune.  Keep in mind that when entering, you don’t have to provide a snail-mail address…but I will need it once you receive that “Congratulations!” e-mail.

5) As always…there is no number five.

The swag will be sent out to the winners as quickly as I can, owing to the timeliness of Christmas and all.  So there you go—a chance to win some truly remarkable comedy from the waning days of Radio’s Golden Age, and I think you’ll be as enchanted with The Couple Next Door as I am.  Good luck to all who enter, and remember—Thrilling Days of Yesteryear is the phrase that pays!

Friday, December 9, 2016

Forgotten Noir Fridays: Scotland Yard Inspector (1952)

Danny McMara is the victim of an automobile accident—he was struck by a car and killed in a London fog as thick as sea poop.  His sister Heather (Bernadette O’Farrell), who hasn’t seen Danny Boy in several months, was supposed to meet him in a pub…but upon receiving word of Danny’s death, gets a little sympathetic assist from magazine reporter Philip O’Dell (Cesar Romero), who’s also in that pub when Heather gets the bad news.  You see, Heather suspects that Danny was murdered and O’Dell—an American who spent time during the war in Old Blighty—convinces her to take her concerns to Scotland Yard, bragging that his pal Inspector McLendon will investigate the matter.

Arriving at the Yard, O’Dell is surprised to learn that McLendon has retired (he must not have been much of a friend if he didn’t keep in touch) and Inspector Rigby (Campbell Singer) is now in charge.  Rigby isn’t too enthused at the prospect of Phil playing amateur detective, but that’s just what O’Dell sets out to do…and his investigation uncovers a blackmail scheme involving both a movie producer (Geoffrey Keen) and the proprietress of a nightclub (Lois Maxwell).

Our old friend Sam Newfield has returned once again to Forgotten Noir Fridays—this time to direct a Hammer Films production (brother Siggy is nowhere in sight) released on the other side of the pond as Lady in the Fog (1952).  This title makes a lot more sense than Scotland Yard Inspector—the name assigned to the movie when it played for U.S. audiences—because the titular law enforcement official is a minor character in this vehicle.  You get the impression that star Cesar Romero is the inspector, and he’s not—he’s just a simple journalist.  This recalls the previously discussed Shadow Man [1953], the clunky U.S. title of the more aptly British-named Street of Shadows.)

Romero and director Newfield
Cesar Romero is a very likable actor, so even when he’s been saddled with a movie that’s a bit beneath his thespic talents you don’t really mind too much; Scotland Yard Inspector isn’t a terrible film, but it’s a terribly contrived one.  The plot of Inspector has more holes than the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.  For starters, O’Dell and Heather journey to the nightclub for a lead on Danny’s former whereabouts, and in a conversation with a waiter (Jacques Cey) it’s revealed that the nightspot only caters to “members” or someone who’s “been signed in by a member.”  All well and good…but just how did O’Dell and Heather get into the place?   It would appear to be after hours—the joint is pretty much deserted save for a chorus line doing their routine—so I guess you could surmise they’re not choosy about whether you’ve presented a membership card the door…but O’Dell and Heather make subsequent trips to the joint when it appears pretty packed.  (The expressions on the faces of the chorus girls are good for a laugh—they reminded me of the “Eh…it’s a living” attitude of the animal appliances on The Flintstones.)

Later in Inspector, Romero’s muckraker pays a visit to a sanitarium to track down a guy (Lloyd Lamble) involved in the blackmail scheme…and this place has the laxest security I’ve ever witnessed; there aren’t even any bars on the windows, which is how O’Dell can get inside (after being told the person he wants to have a chinwag with is dead) and find the man he’s looking for.  I guess that sanitarium works on the honor system.  What’s more, the director of the sanitarium (Betty Cooper) gets a phone call from the movie producer that O’Dell is on his way there—you’d think she would have alerted the rest of the staff…or better still, informed the guy at the gate not to let anyone in until they’ve gotten the seal of approval.

Fans of the James Bond franchise might be amused at the participation of Lois Maxwell in this movie; the Canadian-born actress appeared in a few U.S. films (The Dark Past, The Crime Doctor’s Diary) before relocating to Italy to try her luck in the flickers there.  Maxwell is best remembered as “Miss Moneypenny” in fourteen films in the 007 series…and since she wisely chose to play that secretarial role instead of Sylvia Trench, Bond’s girlfriend, they should have renamed her character “Miss Smartmoneypenny” (they dumped the Trench character after the second film, From Russia With Love).  Lois plays a gal who’s b-b-b-b-b-b-bad to the bone in Scotland Yard Inspector, and she shares opening credits billing with Romero.

Scotland Yard Inspector features a lot of light comedy relief—I’m surprised Sid Melton didn’t turn up in this, he must not have gotten his messages from his service—including an amusing running gag involving an airline clerk (Frank Birch) driven to distraction by O’Dell’s repeated changing of his plans.  I smiled when I spotted Katie Johnson—the indestructible old dame from The Ladykillers—in a nice turn as a dotty sanitarium patient (she identifies herself as “Mary Stuart”), and Bill Fraser—“Snudge” of the classic Britcoms The Army Game and Bootsie and Snudge—plays a sales manager.

Scotland Yard Inspector’s claim to being a noir seems to subsist on the presence of fog (the B-picture director’s best friend), a femme fatale (Maxwell), and Romero’s sartorial choice of a trench coat (well, he also gets sapped by an assailant at one point).  It’s worth checking out if you’ve seen everything else, but personally I’d rather sit through a good noir again.

Thursday, December 8, 2016


Because of his reputation as a prep school track star, freshman Hugh Carver (Donald Keith) arrives at Prescott College as a BMOC-in-training.  He’s ready and rarin’ to go when it comes to collegiate life…though he explains to his dorm mate Carl Peters (Duncan Renaldo) that he will not be indulging in the wild party shenanigans because he doesn’t want to break training.  Carl, no slouch himself when it comes to athletics, doesn’t seem too concerned about the necessity in maintaining a healthy physical regimen; he’s more the Lothario type, and has plastered one of the walls in their room with photographs of his “harem”—including a comely lass named Cynthia Day (Clara Bow).

Hugh will eventually make young Cynthia’s acquaintance when he and another frosh crash her residence while being “hazed” by a fraternity.  Cynthia is most taken with Hugh (particularly when he serenades her with All Alone), and the two quickly become a campus item.  Cyn runs with a pretty fast crowd, however, and before too long Hugh is neglecting both his studies and athletic program to spend all his time with her.  In his sophomore year (you won’t believe how quickly this picture puts him through the halls of ivy, by the way), he blows an opportunity to set a school record in track because he’s been exercising in an entirely different manner…if you know what I mean, and I think you do.  His parents (Henry B. Walthall, Mary Alden) are most displeased that their son is a failure; Pa Carver tells him not to return home until he’s made good.

(I would just like to say that it has been my experience that f**king up in college doesn’t actually work in the manner depicted in this film.  My parents issued no such ultimatum—they just yanked my ass out of Marshall, though in their defense I was not there on an athletic scholarship.)

A narrow escape from a roadhouse that’s raided by the gendarmes puts Hugh at a crossroads: if he continues to party hearty with Cynthia, he’s in danger of not fulfilling his destiny as a Prescott legend (not to mention never being allowed to visit the folks again, which I still think is complete bullsh*t).  He must break it off (the romance, I mean)—but will it be enough to save the day when Prescott takes on rival Tremont in THE BIG GAME?

The Plastic Age was one of fifteen Clara Bow films released in 1925 (a year that included Free to Love and My Lady of Whims), so even if it was the movie that established the “It” Girl’s stardom (she was signed to Paramount after Age became a huge success) it seems only fair that she should receive some sort of reward after all that hard work.  I’ve stated numerous times here on the blog that I’m a big fan of her movies (and lament that so many of them are lost) …while freely acknowledging that Clara was more a screen presence than actress (not that she wasn’t good—she just had to make do with what she had in her toolkit).  (This is why I can’t wait until my copy of the Flicker Alley release of 1927’s Children of Divorce arrives in the mailbox here at Rancho Yesteryear—I have received an e-mail confirmation it’s on the way—since I promised Kristen “K-Lo” Lopez I’d have a review at the ready for ClassicFlix.)

The source material for Age came from a 1924 novel (with the same title) by Percy Marks, a Brown University professor who drew upon the lives of his own students (the “flaming youth” of that era, to make another silent classic reference) and their fast-and-furious lifestyle during the Roaring Twenties.  Producer B.P. Schulberg, the CEO of independent studio Preferred Pictures at that time, bought the rights to Marks’ novel for a cool $35,000 (outbidding all the major and not-so-major studios) with the confidence that pictures depicting collegiate life (witness Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman, among many others) would net a tidy sum at the box office.  Schulberg was also available to use the hefty take obtained by Plastic Age to his own advantage; when Paramount’s Adolph Zukor expressed an interest in Bow, he “re-dopted” Preferred into the Paramount fold, and B.P. was hired as an associate producer so he could continue working on Clara’s new Paramount vehicles.

I enjoyed The Plastic Age despite it’s being pretty corny stuff.  It hits every predictable note (notably the sequence of THE BIG GAME), and yet it’s impossible to dislike.  As always, I couldn’t take my eyes off Bow and I found her co-star, Donald Keith (who also appeared alongside Clara in Parisian Love [1925] and Dancing Mothers [1926]), a little more palatable here than his bland turns in Free to Love and My Lady of Whims.  To be honest, I found the chemistry between Clara and Gilbert Roland even more interesting—something that was hot-and-heavy off-screen as well, since the two of them engaged in an affair while Age was in production (Roland remained good friends with Bow after their ardor had cooled).  Knowing this makes the ending of Age kind of bittersweet.

That jug-eared fellow without the towel looks awfully familiar...

Henry B. Walthall and Mary Alden turn in solid performances as Keith’s concerned parents, and that’s future director David Butler (A Connecticut Yankee, Ali Baba Goes to Town) playing the athletic director, James Henley.  (There’s a funny bit where Butler’s Henley is also coach of the football team, and he has this nervous habit of snapping twigs during the game—the camera even moves in for a close-up of a twig pile under the bench.  Toward the end of the contest between Prescott and Tremont, Coach has run out of twigs…until a team member enters stage right with a handful of replacements.)  That gentleman I joked about above is Clark Gable, of course, and Age also invites you to look for Gordon “Wild Bill” Elliott and Janet Gaynor.  (The [always reliable] IMDb lists the future Mrs. Gable, Carole Lombard, as appearing in this movie…but a note in the “Trivia” section says she’s not in the film.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

B-Western Wednesdays: Heart of the Rio Grande (1942)

You might recall my mentioning earlier that Rancho Yesteryear was the beneficiary of a Starz/Encore/Movieplex “freeview” over the Thanksgiving holidays, and this allowed me to grab some goodies from both their respective On Demand outlets (for the record, I adore how Movieplex allows their movies to play all the way through—just like those on The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™’s On Demand—because I’m kind of anal when it comes to closing credits) and the channels themselves.  I tried my darndest to grab The Lone Star Trail (1943) from Encore Westerns On Demand, but it vanished before my suckass Windstream connection could download it.  (Bill Crider got to see it, and mentioned in a recent comment that he may get around to reviewing it one of these days; I suggest we start picketing his blog immediately until he acquiesces to our demands…though I cannot stress enough the importance of staying on the sidewalk because he has a thing about people in his yard.)

While I was denied a dandy Johnny Mack Brown-Tex Ritter oater, I did grab a couple of Buster Crabbe-Fuzzy St. John PRC B’s and a slew of Republic-Columbia programmers starring “America’s favorite singing cowboy,” Gene Autry hizzownself.  (Including 1940’s Melody Ranch, which was reviewed back on the blog in 2011.)  So, don’t be surprised to see a few of Gene’s moon pitchers turn up in this Wednesday space in the future—including today’s entry, Heart of the Rio Grande (1942).

You’ll find when you watch enough B-Westerns that there’s usually a wealthy bidnessman character out to screw over the townsfolk until the hero steps in to put a smackdown on those shenanigans.  Heart has such a rich character, but he’s surprisingly benign when it comes to making life miserable for the disadvantaged; in this movie, Randolph Lane’s (Pierre Watkin—billed as “Pierre Watkins”) only vice is that he’s been a little delinquent in the parenting department—which is why his daughter Connie (Edith Fellows) is spoiled rotten.  The students at the private school Connie attends will be spending two months at the Smoke River Dude Ranch—accompanied by chaperone Alice Bennett (Fay McKenzie)—and Connie would rather make other plans.  Father Randolph exercises his parental veto and Connie is soon on a train heading West.

The Smoke River Dude Ranch is technically a horse ranch—but mismanagement from ex-foreman Hap Callahan (William Haade) has necessitated that owner “Skipper” Forbes (Sarah Padden) open the place up to tourists to pay the bills.  Hap never stops pissing and moaning about this…though it probably has more to do with the fact that Skipper has hired a new foreman in Gene Autry.  Gene and loyal sidekick “Frog” Millhouse (Smiley Burnette) meet Ms. Bennett and her charges at the depot (Frog immediately falls—literally—for Alice), just in time to see Connie continue on to San Francisco.  Autry and his horse Champion catch up to the Frisco Express, and he pulls her off the train because…damn it, she’s there to have fun.

Connie behaves…how should I put this?  Well, I’ll spell it out in case there are any kids in the room: she’s a proper P-I-L-L.  She steals a truck from the ranch to make another desperate bid for freedom but the vehicle has no brakes, and she ends up crashing it in a ditch.  (She insists on walking all the way back to Smoke River even though Gene offers her the use of Champion.)  Later, she marks up her back with lipstick to look as though she’s being whipped during her stay (she sends the photos to her father, and believe me, they will come back to bite her in the derriere).  When Gene gives Connie a lecture on doing things for others without expecting anything in return, the girl gets the bright idea to tamper with the cinch on Hap’s saddle so he’ll lose a riding contest with Autry.  (Connie apologizes when Hap is seriously hurt, and when Hap draws a gun on Gene during an exchange of fisticuffs, Autry tells him to hit the road.)

Eventually, Connie begins to understand that being a rich bitch will not win friends and influence people (well…maybe not in good ways), and she starts to enjoy herself at Smoke River.  Then her old man turns up, wanting to know why his daughter is being abused (those damn pictures!) …and Gene finds himself having to teach Papa Lane a lesson as well.

If you’ve expressed concern that all these teachable moments Gene must impart adversely affects his duties at the ranch…allow me to assuage your fears.  Gene likes nothing more than being a scold; there’s even a scene where he speechifies to some of the ranch hands (played by the Jimmy Wakely Trio, including Wakely and Johnny “Ten Little Bottles” Bond) that they should be spending their hard-working wages on war bonds instead of liquor and card games…because damn it, there’s a war on.  Gene’s tendency to be a bit bossy is one of the reasons why I prefer Roy Rogers’ movie western output—I’m not saying Roy wasn’t guilty of a little preaching now and then, but he seemed to conceal it better.

That having been said, I got a kick out of Heart of the Rio Grande.  I know, I’m on the record as affirming that my preference for Autry movies are the more adult ones he made at Columbia (with serials veteran John English directing), but Heart is a great little oater, and I think it’s due to the fact that the character played by Edith Fellows (whom you may remember from those Five Little Peppers movies) is more than just a one-dimensional brat.  Fellows really makes Connie unlikable in the early frames of the movie…and yet when she realizes what an unpleasant person she’s been, her conversion to regular gal is quite realistic.  (She and Gene become great pals—he even teaches her some roping tricks!)

I know you’re going to wonder if I’ve developed a fever—but the other kiddie thesp in Heart, Joe Strauch, Jr., also didn’t cause me to retch violently like I usually do (see She Who Shall Not Be Named).  Strauch has some amusing moments as Frog Millhouse’s younger brother Tadpole (that’s a joke, son!—he’s even decked out in the same “Frog” clothing, just a Mini-Me version)—a role he initiated in the Autry oater Under Fiesta Stars (1941) and continued in three additional Autry vehicles after that (Strauch also appeared in Beneath Western Skies [1944] with Smiley and Bob Livingston).  Strauch’s main movie fame was as George “Spanky” McFarland’s double in the Our Gang comedies—he even appears onscreen (as “Tubby”) in the Our Gang short Fightin’ Fools (1941).  When I was watching Heart of the Rio Grande, I heard what I thought was one of the female students refer to Frog as Tadpole’s father and had to run it back to make sure I hadn’t heard incorrectly.  (As it turns out, I did.  Frog is a bachelor, so that family arrangement would have been very interesting.)

Heart of the Rio Grande gets a few extra points for integrating the musical numbers much better than your usual Gene Autry outing; Gene performs Deep in the Heart of Texas (the movie’s original title was to have been Heart of Texas) and one of my favorites, I’ll Wait for You, while the Wakely Trio tackle a Johnny Bond composition in Cimarron.  Even Fellows is allowed a number (I’ve previously joked that she was Columbia’s answer to Deanna Durbin…though this is a Republic release) in Rainbow in the Night.  Directed by longtime film editor William Morgan (who helmed quite a few of Gene’s Republics, including Home in Wyomin’ that same year) and scripted by Lillie Hayward & Winston Miller (from Newlin B. Wildes’ story “Sure, Money Folks, But—“), Heart of the Rio Grande is a lovely little B-oater.  It’s available for purchase (I love how Gene’s westerns have been painstakingly restored) or for rent at your friendly neighborhood ClassicFlix.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Grey Market Cinema: Night World (1932)

The best way to describe the pre-Code motion picture Night World (1932) is that it’s “Grand Hotel in a speakeasy.”  That speakeasy is owned and operated by ‘Happy’ MacDonald (Boris Karloff), a charmingly sinister host with clear ties to unsavory underworld elements.  His wife Jill (Dorothy Revier) is having a little clandestine what-have-you with Klauss (Russell Hopton), the man choreographing the dance routines for the chorus girl contingent at “Happy’s Club.”  Then again, everyone who frequents the joint is having an adulterous assignation of one kind or another—at one point in the action, a female patron signals Happy that he needs to ixnay on the matter of whether or not she was a regular presence at the discothèque while her better half was away on business.

The main tale told in Night World belongs to wealthy young Michael Rand (Lew Ayres) …ever since the murder trial of his mother (Hedda Hopper)—Mother Rand shot and killed Pa Rand in the apartment of his “mistress,” Edith Blair (Dorothy Peterson)—Mike has been curious to prove that copious amounts of alcohol can take a toll on one’s liver.  (And this is Prohibition-era hooch, friends—it’s a wonder Michael hasn’t gone blind by now.)  Rand runs into Edith at Happy’s during the evening, and she tells him that whatever he may think of her she wants him to know that his father loved him and that his ma is just a little “cold around the heart,” to quote a favorite film noir.  (Mrs. Rand later turns up at the club, long enough to tell her son that she never wanted him and that she married his pop for his money.  She seems nice.)  But salvation for Michael arrives in the form of Ruth Taylor (Mae Clarke), a chorus girl who’s fallen head-over-heels for the young souse…she’ll just have to fend off the amorous advances of Ed Powell (George Raft) before those crazy kids can wind up happy-ever-after.

Here’s one tiny thing that brought a smile to my lips when I watched the copy of Night World that I purchased from Finders Keepers not too long ago: for a brief moment onscreen, the “American Movie Classics” logo flashed briefly, and I waded into some nostalgia clean up to my neck—thinking about all the hours I enjoyed watching the once-proud classic film channel before they became obsessed with zombies and meth dealers.  (My parents still watch a lot of AMC, no doubt because the commercials that plague their movie offerings are a godsend to their weak bladders.)

Night World has been on my classic movie radar for quite some time now…and I’m not going to mince words: I loved every minute (fifty-six in total) of this fascinating curio.  To be honest, the film had me at Boris Karloff; I’ll pretty much commit to watching anything he’s in, and I relished seeing him tackle a role admittedly out of his wheelhouse.  Other people who have viewed World have commented that he’s every bit as evil here as he is in his better-known “monster” performances…but I enjoyed Karloff’s Happy MacDonald, a jovial sort who greets everyone who walks into his establishment with a “Hiya, big shot!”  (He’s a little miscast—the way he was in Scarface [1932]—but I can overlook it.)  I kind of felt sorry for Hap, being saddled with Mrs. Mac; sure, Happy has a quick temper (he lays Michael out like carpet with one punch when Rand gets a bit boisterous) and he could use an upgrade with regards to the people with whom he associates…but then again, he’s running a speakeasy—not a daycare center.  (And not only is Jill MacDonald stepping out on her husband…she doesn’t even have the good taste to do it with someone not quite as loathsome as Krauss, who sadistically orders the chorus girls to stick around after closing so they can rehearse some new routines.)

Karloff’s fellow Frankenstein player Mae Clarke gave the best performance in the film; I really fell in love with her character, particularly in the scene where she removes a bearskin (complete with bear head) from Rand after he’s finished sleeping it off.  (Rand’s reaction to waking up staring straight at that bear head is hilarious.)  It’s not too hard to see why Raft’s Ed Powell has eyes for her (he prods her to go out with him and when she explains that it’s too late to go stepping George responds “My apartment’s never closed”) and while I’m not unconvinced that the romantic high-note between Ruth and Michael that ends the film will go anywhere Clarke is able to make the scenes they share sparkle (I wasn’t all that impressed with Lew, to be honest).  Clarke also gets the lead in one of the movie’s musical numbers, Who’s Your Little Who-zis?; she started her show business career as a dancer in Atlantic City, and Night World demonstrates she remembered her terpsichorean skills with the same ease as riding a bike.  As my friend and fellow CMBA member Cliff Aliperti notes in his review of the film, “Her Ruth Taylor of Night World seems to be the very showgirl that Waterloo Bridge's Myra had claimed to be.” (Who-zis also brought about a sly smile…Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis perform the same tune in 1953’s The Stooge.)

Night World is a splendid showcase for TDOY fave Clarence Muse, who portrays philosophical doorman Tim Washington—a role that might be interpreted by some as a demeaning stereotype, but Muse infuses the character with a dignity that rises above scads of the kinds of parts African-American thespians had to sadly settle for in that less-than-enlightened era.  World features a fascinating give-and-take between Tim and cop-on-the-beat Ryan (played by A Night at the Opera’s Robert Emmett O’Connor), in which Tim explains to his policeman friend that the nightlife in Happy’s establishment isn’t necessarily a bowl of cherries.  “Most all of them folks is starvin’ for something, and it ain't just food.  They comes in here and eats and dances and hugs themselves up to a woman.  For a while they thinks they happy.   Then they comes out, and the old world is just as cold and empty as it was before.  That's real starvin', Mr. Ryan.”  The supporting cast in Night World is nothing short of sensational, with familiar faces like Bert Roach (as the “Schenectady” drunk), Louise Beavers, Billy Bletcher, In the Balcony mascot Byron Foulger, Harry Woods, Jack La Rue, Florence Lake, and Geneva Mitchell.

“The general mood and ambiance supplied by Happy's Club,” writes Cliff, is “the true star of Night World.”  I heartily concur, and I’ve tried to keep mum by revealing only a few small details about the movie…because I couldn’t sleep at night if I thought I spoiled any of its elements to someone who hasn’t had the opportunity to sit down with this delightful film.  (It was directed by former silent film star Hobart Henley—the idea for the movie was purportedly his as well—and if those dance routines in the film look vaguely familiar, it’s because staged by some guy who answered to “Busby Berkeley.”)  “The rest of the film’s a good mix of goofy fun and sly romance,” opines Danny Reid of fame.  “It has a lot of everything that got forbidden a few years later, and it has both a big heart and a wicked, nasty sense of humor.”

Monday, December 5, 2016

Gilder-Shreve’s Bad Day

As days go…I’ve experienced better.  It started last night, when I had just finished putting the finishing touches on this blog post excuse.  The indispensable Internets stopped working for your humble narrator, and he quickly surmised—due to the inclement weather (not that I’m complaining—we need the rain)—that Windstream was apparently experiencing an outage.  (For those of you who reside in a rural area where your Internet needs depend on Windstream…you have my unceasing empathy.  They really are terrible.)

I couldn’t immediately see to the problem upon rising early this morning because I had an appointment to see my endocrinologist and that necessitated getting out the door before 7am.  (My appointment was at 8:15, and Mumsie is a stickler for being early.)  The good news is that the doctor was effusive in his praise for my progress on the diabetes front; my A1C level was waaaaay down, and overall, I’m managing it like a bitch.  (There was no celebratory donut, sadly enough.)  Having returned from the docs (and a side trip to Kroger Nation for a case of water and a bag of ice), I fired up the laptop…and learned to my disappointment the outage was still raging on.

I would rather cut off a pinky finger than deal with the Windstream people.  For starters, you must negotiate one of those automated customer service deals…and this one is a real hoot, because the voice informs you: “I understand complete sentences, so speak to me like a real person.”  Unfortunately, they leave out the “stupid” between “real” and “person”; I had to repeat my phone number three times before Mr. Automated Service Rep acknowledged my existence.  Then, after going through that charade, you get to speak to a real person who makes the automated guy look like a member of MENSA.  Now, I’m very sympathetic to the fact that the real people are only making $7-8 an hour to read from a manual…but I knew the trouble had to be on their end, and this jadrool kept telling me it was on mine.  He tells me that someone from “Internal” will call me back, and that could take anywhere from 24-48 hours.

I actually resorted to cleaning up my room while waiting for the Internet to return. My mother was delighted.
After lunch—about 12:30 my time—I decided to call Windstream again because I was growing more and more agitated.  (We give these people an arm-and-a-leg for shitty service—the least they could do is make sure the lights stay on.)  I danced the Automated Polka again, and this time there’s a message informing me that, yes, there is an outage in my area.  “Who’s the nut case now, Ray?  Who’s the nut case now?”  They said it would be up and running at 2pm (it was more like 2:45), which now brings everyone up-to-date.  Without further ado, the “my dog ate my homework” post:

In retrospect, I was certain that the first regular Thrilling Days of Yesteryear feature to bite the dust would B-Western Wednesdays.

I had every intention of getting a book read this week.  I really did.  I did not anticipate, however, that I would spend a good deal of the time I normally set aside for this purpose on other pursuits.  For example, I am in the process of trying to whip a movie database into shape.  I own a lot of movies, and I like to keep track of what I have because…well, there’s been a time or two where I have made DVD purchases and then learned to my chagrin I already have a copy in the dusty TDOY archives.  I don’t do this too often (otherwise I would start to wonder if I should see my doctor about the early onslaught of senile dementia) …but if I had a nickel for every time I’ve burned a DVR’d movie to disc that I already own—or by that same token, didn’t DVR a movie because I thought I already owned it—I would be the proud owner of many nickels.  I’ve also got some Radio Spirits and ClassicFlix assignments in my inbox that will need to be completed before the ‘rents and I get away for a little R&R over the holidays.

The book that I planned to crack open—Hold That Joan, by my Facebook chum Ben Ohmart—never received the crack-opening it was due.  As the deadline to have a book read and the post completed got nearer and nearer, I considered calling an audible: I bought—on an impulse buy—a cute little Kindle book entitled F in Exams: The Very Best Totally Wrong Test Answers and I devoured that in the time it takes my father to go once around the DISH channel lineup looking for a show about cops arresting people.  I cannot emphasize enough the word “cute” when describing this book, put together by Richard Benson.  In a nutshell, it’s a tome that lists questions that originally appeared on tests and the hi-larious responses from the test takers who, because they did not know the answer, did what I did on so many examinations in my high school and college days—baffle them with bovine excrement as opposed to dazzling them with brilliance.  The problem with the content in F in Exams is that none of these answers are really all that funny; oftentimes one is left with the impression that someone had a copy of Joe Miller’s joke book in their back pocket during the test.

Here’s an example:

I remember a broadcast of The Jack Benny Program where Jack tells announcer Don Wilson that he has an agreement with Abbott & Costello: “We leave them alone, and they leave us alone.”  So, I decided to scrap a review of F in Exams…which necessitated deciding between continuing to read books and writing about them on the blog…or just spending that time continuing to watch and write about movies.

To no one’s surprise, throwing the book review feature under the bus didn’t require a great deal of soul-searching.  (I really enjoy watching movies more.)

I will say this: I have not completely abandoned the book review feature of this blog.  It’s just that it will not be appearing with the regularity as the other fine features you’ve come to know and love here at TDOY.  If I’m reading a book and decide to do a little write-up in a blog post, fine.  If I’m reading a book and I decide it’s not worth mentioning, also fine.  If I just don’t feel like reading…well, that’s okay as well.  (To be honest, while I’m not in the habit of giving out tips…if it were my money, I’d bet on this last one.)

What will replace the book review feature, I hear people asking?  Well, at this point I haven’t really decided.  There are movies I watch that I’d like to write about…except they really don’t fit into the admittedly narrow parameters here on the blog, and as such, I’m thinking about allotting Mondays to give them a fair hearing.  Andrew “Grover” Leal has been pestering the dickens out of me to resurrect Doris Day(s), so there’s another option.  Which reminds me that it’s been a while since I did anything TV-related on the blog (one of the reasons I made a concerted effort to participate in the recent Classic TV Blog Association Blogathon—that, and because I thought it would be tremendous fun).  Whatever I ultimately decide, I hope the relegation of book reports to semi-regular status doesn’t disappoint too many of you among the TDOY faithful.  Tomorrow, I’ll resume with the regular blog content and Overlooked Films on Tuesdays.  (I just hope there’s not another rain delay.)