Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Cinéma Inhabituel for August 1-15

A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


The Big Lebowski, from the team of Joel and Ethan Coen, hailed by many as one of the best cult films ever made, is celebrating its 20th anniversary by coming to selected theaters on August 5 and 8. A noir send up revolving around around a case of mistaken identity complicated by extortion, double-crosses, deception, embezzlement, sex, pot, and gallons of White Russians, the film stars Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Ben Gazzara, David Huddleston, Tara Reid and Julienne Moore. It was named to the National Film Registry in 2014.


As it’s a month of “Summer Under the Stars,” we thought we’d alter the format a little by reviewing each star’s day and what, if anything, fits into our usual categories. 

August 2 – Myrna Loy: There are two Pre-Codes being shown beginning at the late hour of 3:30 am with 1934’s Stamboul Quest, in which Myrna is a German spy during World War 1 who falls for American medical student George Brent. Following at 5:00 am Myrna is the bad girl in The Naughty Flirt (1931). She’s a seductress whose brother, a fortune hunter, is out to seduce the heroine, rich little Alice White. While Myrna seduces Alice’s boyfriend (Paul Page), her brother (Douglas Gilmore) will move in on Alice. Myrna is the only reason to see this badly dated jazz-baby nonsense.

August 3 – Lionel Atwill: An excellent choice for a day to be honored. Atwill was one of Hollywood’s best character actors. In real life, “Pinky,” as he was known to friends and acquaintances, was said to host the best orgies in Hollywood . . . until he got caught, that is.

9:00 am – The Solitare Man (1933). Atwill is on top of his game as an inspector matching wits with jewel thief Herbert Marshall. A rather talky adaptation of the Broadway play, watch for a modest improbable airline sequence. Also watch for Mary Boland, who steals the movie as a bigmouthed nouveau riche American.

2:45 pm – The Secret of Madame Blanche (1933). Irene Dunne stars in this rather contrived but well-made tearjerker as Sally, a music-hall singer who loses her son to callous father-in-law Atwill when husband Leonard (Phillips Holmes) kills himself. 20 years later, mother and son meet by a preposterous accident in World War 1 France and become involved in a murder. Sonny Boy (Douglas Watson) is Leonard, Jr., an irresponsible, drunken cad who seduces innocent young country woman Eloise (Jean Parker). When Eloise’s father (Mitchell Lewis) confronts him, Leonard shoots and kills him, but Mommy takes the blame. It goes on from there. Melodrama, thy name is Irene Dunne. Despite its obvious turn of plot, it is fun to watch.

8:00 pm – Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933): One of two two-strip technicolor films Atwill made for Warner Bros. He’s completely in his element as a mad sculptor with his eye on eternal victim Fay Wray, who will star in his wax masterpiece. Glenda Farrell is on hand as Wray’s wisecracking reporter friend. Total fun as Farrell and Gavin Gordon race to save the day – and Wray. The film was remade in 1953 as House of Wax with Vincent Price as the mad sculptor.

9:30 pm – Secret of the Blue Room (1933): A rarity which I will be seeing for the first time, and as an Atwill compleatist, I’m looking forward to the experience. To quote Michael Weldon in The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film: “Three men after the same woman are asked to spend the night in the room of a castle where a murder took place. The main stars are Lionel Atwill, Paul Lukas, Gloria Stuart, Edward Arnold, and Onslow Stevens. If it looks overly familiar, maybe you’ve seen one of the remakes: The Missing Guest (’38) or Murders in the Blue Room (’42). By the director of The Fly.” (Kurt Neumann).

11:00 pm – Doctor X (1932): The other two-strip Technicolor film Atwill made, this one’s about the search for “The Full Moon Killer,” who besides killing his victims, helps himself to a bit of their flesh as well. Atwill is the head of the medical school whose faculty heads the list of suspects. Lee Tracy is a reporter trying to get to the bottom of things and Fay Wray provides eye candy as Atwill’s daughter. With red herrings a-plenty, this is a wonderfully atmospheric thriller. Two words to remember: “synthetic flesh.”

2:00 am – The Vampire Bat (1932): Atwill is great as a mad scientist who kills in search of a blood substitute. Villagers believe simpleton Dwight Frye is the vampire they’re seeking. With Melvyn Douglas and Fay Wray. A rare gem from Poverty Row studio Majestic Studios,

3:15 am – Mark of the Vampire (1935): Disappointing sound remake of Lon Chaney’s London After Midnight. Atwill is the police inspector, Lionel Barrymore is the vampire expert, and Bela Lugosi is the “vampire.”

4:30 am – The Gorilla (1939): Country gentleman and insurance broker Atwill is receiving death threats from  a crazed murderer called “The Gorilla.” So what does he do? Why, hire the Ritz Brothers to protect him, that’s what. With Bela Lugosi wasted in another red herring role as the sinister butler in this disappointing comedy.

August 5 – Katharine Hepburn: two Pre-Codes are airing in the morning. At 6:00 am, Hepburn stars as a young actress looking for stardom in 1933’s Morning Glory. (Read our review here.) And at 9:45 am Hepburn is Jo March in the 1933 adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic, Little Women. For fans of bad movies, there’s Hepburn in Mary Of Scotland (1936), a mega bomb directed by none other than John Ford.

August 6 – Audrey Totter: The always wonderful but underrated Audrey Totter is featured through the day. The one to catch is The Beginning or the End (1947) at 11:30 am, based on the true story of the Manhattan Project. Too bad they’re not running my personal Audrey Totter favorite: F.B.I. Girl, a 1952 thriller from Lippert with Audrey as an F.B.I. clerk who goes undercover to trap a ring of criminals. Maybe someday.

August 7 – Harold Lloyd: Catch the Pre-Code comedy Movie Crazy (1932) at 2:15 am. Better yet, record it and then read our review here.

August 10 – Dorothy Malone: John Ireland, wrongly convicted but innocent, escapes and kidnaps Dorothy and her Jaguar, then blends into a cross-country road race to make it to Mexico before the cops catch up in The Fast and the Furious, the first feature from AIP, produced and written by Roger Corman, airing at 1:00 pm. For bad movie buffs, Malone co-stars with Liberace in the so-bad-it’s good  remake of George Arliss’s 1932 The Man Who Played GodSincerely Yours (1955). It’s impossible to watch this and keep a straight face.

August 13 – George Brent: Three Pre-Codes are on tap today, not nearly enough. Leading off at 6:00 am, wealthy Ruth Chatterton cannot get ex-hubby John Miljan out of her mind, even after she starts romancing George Brent, in The Rich Are Always With Us, from 1932. At 7:30 am, innocent, but restless, small-town girl Loretta Young is wooed by traveling salesman David Manners and follows him to the big city, where she discovers he's engaged to another woman. But our Traveling Salesman becomes jealous when Loretta begins dating doctor George Brent in They Call It Sin (1932). Finally, at 9:00 am, Brent co-stars with Barbara Stanwyck in Baby Face (1933), a film that gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “upward mobility.”

August 14 – Lupe Velez: Lots to see today, starting st 9:15 am with Lupe and Walter Huston in the deprived Kongo (1932), a remake of Lon Chaney’s West of Zanzibar, itself based on the Broadway play that starred none other than Huston.

10:45 am – Mexican Spitfire (1940), the second in the popular B series starring Velez as Carmelita Lindsay. It’s followed at Noon by Mexican Spitfire Out West (1940) and at 1:30 pm by Mexican Spitfire at Sea (1942).

2:45 pm – Ramon Novarro is a young Navajo who defies tribal taboos to marry outcast Lupe Velez in the 1934 Laughing Boy.

4:15 pm – John Barrymore’s final film is one of the great train wrecks, Playmates (1941), with Kay Kiser and his band and Velez as a female bull fighter. Sad to see Barrymore come to this.

6:30 pm – In another weak comedy, Jimmy Durante and Lupe Velez are a pair of radio comics who tire of the same old gags and are looking for new material in Strictly Dynamite (1934).

8:00 pm – It’s the film that began the Mexican Spitfire series, The Girl From Mexico.

9:30 pm – Lupe Velez is the prize fought over by the now civilian, but still feuding Quirt (Edmund Lowe) and Flagg (Victor McLaglen) in Hot Pepper, yet another sequel to the silent hit What Price Glory? The jokes are getting long in the tooth but Velez is worth the price of admission.

12:30 am – Lupe Velez is a sideshow hoochee-koochee dancer who is turned by carnival barker Lee Tracy into an instant sensation in the thoroughly delightful The Half-Naked Truth (1932). Frank Morgan gives a wonderful performance as a neurotic fusspot Broadway producer and Eugene Pallette is in fine form as dopey escape artist Hercules.

4:30 am – Marine Lawrence Tibbett and hot-tempered Havana peanut vendor Lupe Velez make for an unusual couple in the 1931 musical romance The Cuban Love Song. Though at times it moves at a snail’s pace, the leads give enough of themselves to make it worth your while. Ernest Torrence and Jimmy Durante co-star as Tibbett’s rowdy buddies.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

TCM TiVo Alert for August 1-7

August 1–August 7


(August 1, 12:45 am): This excellent 1954 film noir is when Frank Sinatra became a legitimate actor. Before this, he did some weak musicals and the highly overrated From Here to Eternity. In Suddenly, Ol' Blue Eyes is an assassin preparing to kill the president, who is making a stop in the quaint California town of Suddenly. Sinatra is an excellent bad guy, completely believable as a ruthless killer. There's a great supporting cast including Sterling Hayden, James Gleason and Nancy Gates. The film is in the public domain so if you don't have TCM there are several other ways to see it. The next film Sinatra made was The Man with the Golden Arm, probably his greatest role and our We Agree Film of the Week. But without expanding his acting range in Suddenly, it's doubtful Sinatra would have been so memorable in Golden Arm.

LIBELED LADY (August 2, 10:00 am): First, a few words about the cast. You can't possibly make a bad movie with William Powell, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy and Jean Harlow (the latter had top billing). The chemistry between all four in this 1936 screwball comedy is among the best you'll find in any movie. While Walter Connolly is fine as Loy's father, the legendary Lionel Barrymore was originally cast in the role. If that had come to pass, this would rival Key Largo as the greatest ensemble-cast film ever made. There are so many wonderful and genuinely funny scenes in this film with these four great comedic actors. Powell and Harlow were married at the time, but it was decided that Powell and Loy, one of cinema's greatest on-screen couples, would fall in love though Harlow got to do a wedding scene with Powell. Harlow died of renal failure the year after this film was released. She was only 26. The plot is wonderful with socialite Loy suing a newspaper for $500,000 for falsely reporting she broke up a marriage. Tracy is the paper's managing editor and Harlow is his fiancée who he won't marry. Tracy hires Powell, a slick newspaperman who is a smooth operator when it comes to women, to seduce Loy and then purposely get caught in a compromising position by Harlow, who would pretend to be his wife. Things don't turn out as planned with Loy and Powell falling in love. It's a great movie with a fantastic cast and a joy to watch.

TOO HOT TO HANDLE (August 2, 1:00 pm): An overlooked and hilarious comedy with Clark Gable and Walter Pidgeon as competing newsreel photographers and Myrna Loy as an aviatrix looking for her lost brother in the Amazon jungle. Of course, soon Gable and Pidgeon are also competing for Loy’s charms, but who can blame them? The scene near the beginning with Gable staging a war scene in China is one of the funniest ever on film.

MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (August 3, 8:00 pm): A great vintage Pre-Code horror film from Warner Brothers in two-strip Technicolor process with Glenda Farrell as a reporter investigating the sudden disappearance of young women. Could it have something to do with wax sculptor Lionel Atwill? He has his eyes of Glenda’s friend, Fay Wray. Tune in and find out. This film was later remade in 3-D as House of Wax, starring Vincent Price, but I much prefer the original. It has that ‘30s sass, especially from Farrell in the lead that the later version completely lacks.

WE AGREE ON ... THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM (August 1, 8:00 pm):

ED: A. This adaptation of Nelson Algren’s Chicago-set novel caused quite a stir when it was released though it seems somewhat dated today. Where other films about the subject treated it gingerly, director Otto Preminger went straight for the jugular. Star Frank Sinatra gave one of the great performances as the title character, poker dealer Frankie Machine. He is rhythmic, and instinctive, yet always under control. As his wife Zosch, Eleanor Parker is superbly irritating and pathetically insecure. Kim Novak scores as Molly, winning us over with her compassion and common sense. Her chemistry with Sinatra is pure gold. Backing them up is a stellar supporting cast, led by Darren McGavin and including Arnold Stang, Robert Strauss, Leonid Kinskey, and the always reliable George E. Stone. It’s a film that will grab you from the start and not let go. It’s one to see.

DAVID: A. While the scenery looks like it came from a summer stock play, it's the story and the characters that make The Man With the Golden Arm an excellent film. Frankie Machine (Frank Sinatra) is a junkie/expert card dealer who just got out of federal prison and has kicked his drug habit. He was a hardcore heroin addict. The drug is heavily implied in this film and never mentioned, but you'd have to be clueless to not know. He learned to play the drums while in prison and has dreams of playing in a big band, but the reality is he's back in his Chicago neighborhood hanging out at the same bar with the same losers and hustlers – including his drug dealer Louie (played so well by Darren McGavin) – trying to get a few bucks before a supposed music tryout. He quickly finds himself arrested for possessing a stolen suit and has to work dealing cards for Schwiefka (Robert Strauss), his former card boss in illegal high-stakes games, to pay the cost of the suit and a fine. This is a story of desperation – almost every character is desperate for something including Frankie's wife, Zosch (Eleanor Parker), who wants to keep her husband to the point that she fakes that she still can't walk from a car accident caused when Frankie was drunk years earlier. He married her out of guilt and she knows he'll leave her the minute she can walk. Frankie eventually gets hooked again and it leads to more trouble. When he wanted to Sinatra was an excellent actor and he shows it in this film. The movie is dark, authentic and gripping. This one pulls no punches leading it to not get a rating from the Motion Picture Association of America because it violates the Hays Code. For a film from 1955, it holds up well. Also of note is the excellent jazz soundtrack.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Wasp Woman

The Psychotronic Zone

By Ed Garea

The Wasp Woman (The Filmgroup, 1959) – Directors: Roger Corman, Jack Hill (uncredited). Writers: Leo Gordon (s/p), Kinta Zertuche (story). Stars: Susan Cabot, Anthony Eisley, Barboura Morris, William Roerick, Michael Mark, Frank Gerstle, Bruno VeSota, Roy Gordon, Carolyn Hughes, Lynn Cartwright, Frank Wolff, Lani Mars, & Philip Barry. B&W, 73 minutes.

The Wasp Woman is an entertaining piece of nonsense from director Roger Corman and writer Leo Gordon, though later Corman tried to claim it was really a social satire on the quest for beauty. As with all Corman’s claims to the intellectual high ground, it should be taken with a grain of salt, the result of his lionization by later critics, particularly the French. In reality, the film is an attempt to cash in on the success of The Fly, released the previous year. As for the contention of some critics that it was an early feminist effort, the truth was that with a shooting schedule of two weeks and a budget of $50,000 any feminist theme was unintended and more likely an accident of the abbreviated shoot. Any power the film has is due to the strong performance of Susan Cabot as the lead.

Janice Starlin (Cabot), owner and chief of cosmetics company Starlin Enterprises, has problems. as it comes to her attention that sales are dropping. Bill Lane (Eisley), company virtuoso and chief brown-noser, tells Janice the decline in sales is due to Starlin’s decision to step aside as public face of the firm. For 18 years she has been the fact seen on every advertisement, and when she made the decision to step aside and let a bevy of young spokesmodels take her place, the public began to lose faith in the company. Starlin, naturally flattered, agrees with Hall’s analysis, but she doesn’t see a solution in sight.

Enter Dr. Eric Zinthrop (Mark), the mandatory crackpot mad scientist, who has been recently discharged from his former position at a honey company for his personal experiments with wasps and the nerve to bill the company for them. In a letter the doc tells Janice that he has discovered that enzymes from queen wasp royal jelly can reverse aging. (Never mind that only bees produce royal jelly, this is Corman we’re talking about.) Janice naturally is interested.

She asks company chemist Arthur Cooper (Roerick) for his opinion. He tells her it ain’t gonna work, but does Janice listen? Not on your life. She has Zinthrop waiting outside her office. He has a covered cage with him, and taking her to there lab, shows her the contents  two aged guinea pigs. But with a simple  injection of his joy juice, they not only become younger, but transform into white lab rats! Ah, the joys of low-budget filmmaking. Janice is hooked and hires Zinthrop on the spot, especially after he tells her that all he wants is a small royalty and credit for the discovery. She will give him complete freedom and secrecy to carry out his experiments, provided she can serve as his human subject. Zinthrop protests but Janice is firm, so why not? A test subject is a test subject.

But in such a large company nothing remains secret for long. Hall, for one, confides to his girlfriend and Janice’s assistant, Mary Dennison (Morris) that Zinthrop may be a charlatan. As Cooper is also of the same opinion, Bill asks Mary secretly to keep an eye on Zinthrop and Janice and report what they’re up to in the lab.

After several weeks accumulating the necessary amount of royal jelly, Zinthrop administers the first injection to Janice, advising her that it may take time for the results to show. He also tells her that after the test results are positively confirmed, Janice and Cooper should develop the product as a facial cream that will result in enormous profits for the company.

But Janice, having taken the injections for three weeks, is dismayed when they show no results, so she begins sneaking into the lab at night and dosing herself with a much higher amount than Zinthrop recommended. The next day Janice arrives at work looking as young as she did when she started the company, which prompts amazement from her staff and management. Janice and the board enthusiastically devise a new advertising campaign to “grow younger with Janice Starlin” using the new product. (Wait a minute, they want to release a product that has hardly been tested with unknown long-term side effects. Where is the FDA in all this?)

Meanwhile, back at the lab . . . Zinthrop finds to his horror that a cat that he has injected with the serum has transmuted into a cross between a cat and wasp. In one of the funniest scenes in the movie, the wasp-cat puppet attacks Zinthrop and he is forced to kill it. Badly shaken over being attacked by a puppet, Zinthrop absent-mindedly walks into the street, where he is conveniently hit by a car and taken to the hospital. 

Janice becomes aware that Zinthrop has gone AWOL when she seeks him out to tell him about  the constant headaches she’s been having as of late. Concerned, she hires a private detective (Gerstle) to find him, giving him an 8x10 glossy, which begs the question of how a man who has been hired to work in secret has the time to pose for such a photo. That afternoon the detective reports that he has found the wayward scientist at a local hospital suffering from serious head injuries. (And she thought she had headaches.) Janice arranges for expert medical care while secretly continuing to dose herself with Zinthrop’s wasp serum.

Frustrated by the continued secrecy of Zinthrop's work, Cooper breaks into the laboratory and discovers the chemist's notes. He reads them, and believing he has found something fishy, returns to the lab. There he comes upon Janice, who has mutated into a sort of ‘werewasp.’ She attacks and kills Cooper, striking at his neck like a vampire. A couple of days later, Zinthrop comes out of his coma and Janice, now back in human form, has him transferred with a nurse to the Starlin building. As Janice and the nurse see him to his bed Zinthrop tells her that he has something important to tell her, but can’t remember what it is. She tells him to rest and tell her later when he heals up.

The next evening, Janice goes to the lab, only to discover that she’s fresh out of wasp serum. Later that night a watchman mysteriously disappears near the laboratory. The following day Bill, concerned over Cooper’s continuing absence, tells Mary the answers to his increasing questions are likely to be found in the lab, and Mary accompanies him. 

Janice, still suffering from severe headaches, goes to visit the semiconscious Zinthrop, telling him that something has occurred to her; something that she cannot control. Although Zinthrop is barely able to pay attention, she hectors him to make more serum pronto. The discussion draws the nurse into Zinthrop's room and right into Janice, whose trauma has triggered another werewasp episode. Zinthrop revives long enough to see the werewasp kill the nurse.

Having found Zinthrop's notes, Bill speculates to Mary that Cooper and the watchman have been murdered (He must have read the script.). Suspecting Zinthrop is the key to the deaths, the couple visit him in his room, where they hear an incoherent account of Janice and the nurse. So what does Bill do? Why he sends Mary out along to look for Janice, who from what they read and heard, may be a dangerous killer. Mary finds Janice, now in human form, in her office. She insists they call the police, but Janice refuses and knocks out Mary, taking her to the lab. 

Meanwhile Zinthrop has composed himself enough to tell Bill about Janice and the enzymes when they suddenly hear screams coming from the lab. They race to the lab to find Janice in full werewasp mode after Mary. A struggle ensues, during which Zinthrop grabs a bottle of carbolic acid and hurls it at the werewasp, hitting her right in the face. Burning and in pain, Janice is pushed out of the window to the street forty-four floors below by Bill. At that point Zinthrop grabs his heart and collapses while Bill tends to Mary.


Shot in two weeks for approximately $50,000, the film is typical Corman: he seldom shot more than one take unless there was a major error or malfunction on the set. As a result, the direction is choppy at best, with the dialogue scenes suffering the most, as the framing of the characters doesn't always align correctly as Corman cuts back and forth, resulting in noticeably awkward editing. Many scenes simply have the characters walking or driving around for long sequences. These are set-ups; quick and cheap to produce and pad out the film. 

As for special effects, Corman sent for mechanical effects or rather than camera tricks, which would have cost more in money and time. For instance, during the scenes where the Wasp Woman attacks on the necks of her victims, star Susan Cabot squirted chocolate sauce in her mouth before filming. When she was close enough to her costar's neck, she simply spit out the sauce so that it ran down the victim's neck. In black and white, the sauce looks like thick blood. 

In the final scene, where Bill and Zinthrop fight the Wasp Woman, Zinthrop tosses a bottle of acid at her head. Someone had filled the 'breakaway' bottle with water, and it was so heavy that when it struck her she said, "I thought my teeth had been knocked through my nose!" To simulate the burning acid smoke was doused onto the antennas of her costume, but the smoke went up her nostrils. After falling through the window and unable to breathe, she tore some skin off along with her monster makeup, leaving a huge purple mark on her neck while someone threw water on her when she was out of camera range. 

Corman is applauded by many contemporary film scholars who see the film the first feminist horror film, and this is mostly due to the strength of Cabot’s performance. A woman leading a large corporation and using men as means to her end (even killing couple along the way) was a novelty for 1959. However, the film is also loaded with conventional patriarchal themes. For instance, the company’s problems are blamed on her aging physical appearance, the implication being that the company wouldn’t be in such a mess if a man was in charge. After Janice receives Zinthrop’s letter detailing his idea she takes it to head chemist Cooper. But after he tells her the idea as no chance of working we find that she has already called Zinthrop in for an interview, and her idea of being the guinea pig is a direct allusion to feminine vanity. While men are motivated by success and power, women are motivated by vanity. The idea seems to be that only women pursue a younger self, which then as now went against direct experience.


The Wasp Woman was the first release from The Filmgroup, a production and distribution company founded by Roger and Gene Corman in 1959. It debuted in theaters as part of as double bill with Beast From Haunted Cave.

Uncredited director Jack Hill added a prologue with Zinthrop at the honey company to further pad the film for television release.
This was Susan Cabot’s final film. Born in Boston and raised in a series of eight foster homes, she attended high school in Manhattan, where she took an interest in dramatics and joined the school dramatic club. Later, while trying to decide between a career in music or art, she illustrated children's books during the day and sang at Manhattan's Village Barn at night. She began her acting career in 1947 in the film Kiss of Death as an uncredited restaurant extra. In addition to The Wasp Woman, she appeared in five other Corman films from around this time: Carnival Rock(1957), Sorority Girl (1957), The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent (1957), War of the Satellites (1958), and Machine-Gun Kelly (1958). Aside from a highly publicized romance with Jordan’s King Hussein (said to be instigated at the request of the CIA to prove the King with some company during his U.S. visit), Susan was married twice and had one son who suffered from dwarfism. Sadly, she was murdered on December 10, 1986, by her son who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for the crime.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Hair-Raising Hare/Water, Water Every Hare

Animation Nation

By Ed Garea

Hair-Raising Hare (WB Merrie Melodies, 1946) – Director: Chuck Jones. Writer: Tedd Pierce (story). Animation: Basil Davidovich, Robert Gribbroek, Ken Harris, Earl Klein, Abe Levitow, Lloyd Vaughan, & Ben Washam. Music: Carl W. Stalling. Sound: Treg Brown. Voices: Mel Blanc. Color, 7 minutes.

Water, Water Every Hare (WB Looney Tunes, 1952) – Director: Chuck Jones. Writer: Michael Maltese (story). Animation: Philip DeGuard, Robert Gribbroek, Ken Harris, Earl Klein, Phil Monroe, Lloyd Vaughan, & Ben Washam. Music: Carl W. Stalling. Sound: Treg Brown. Voices: Mel Blanc & John T. Smith (uncredited). Color, 7 minutes.

Now that the war was over and there was no longer a need for Private Snafu cartoons, it was time for Termite Terrace to get down to business.

Much had changed. Leon Schlesinger, who owned the cartoon studio and acted as a subcontractor to Warner Bros., finally sold his operation outright to Warner’s, who placed producer Eddie Selzer in charge. Pioneering animators Frank Tashlin and Bob Clampett would leave this year and Robert McKimson would be elevated to the director’s chair.

Bugs Bunny, too, had changed over the years. As created by Tex Avery, he was a rabbit who clashed with hunter Elmer Fudd. As the years went by his screen image mellowed and he began to be seen as someone who just wants to be left alone, but characters such as Fudd and others won’t allow him any peace. In Hair-Raising Hare, director Chuck Jones now shows the influence on Bugs of another screen icon: Groucho Marx.

In no other cartoon would Groucho’s influence be as strong on Bugs as here. Bugs takes on Groucho’s leer, his breaking of the fourth wall, and even his duck walk. Like Groucho, all Bugs is really interested in is chasing the girl.

The cartoon opens with the camera panning across the dark forest. We hear Bugs singing a stanza of “Sweet Dreams, Sweetheart” (first heard in the 1944 all-star extravaganza Hollywood Canteen). A shaft of light appears and the camera zooms in on Bugs' rabbit hole as he rises up, dressed in a nightshirt and holding up a candle. “Eh, I don't know but, did you ever have the feeling you was being watched?” 

In fact, he is being watched via remote TV by an evil scientist (a caricature of Peter Lorre, voiced by Blanc). “Being watched, he says,” the scientist intones as we now hear growling behind a door labeled “Monster.” “Patience little one,” the scientist says  soothingly. “Your dinner will soon be here. A nice, tender little rabbit.” 

The scientist winds up a shapely female technical rabbit (the box she came from reads “One Mechanical Rabbit Lure”) and sends her on her way to the background tune of “Oh, You Beautiful Doll.”   

Bugs follows the lure to the castle (with “evil scientist” on the outer castle wall in big neon lights). The scientist locks the door behind him, but Bugs simply turns and says, “You don't need to lock that door, Mac. I don't wanna leave.” He catches up to the mechanical rabbit and begins kissing her hand. After she suddenly short-circuits, breaking into pieces, Bugs stoically comments, “That's the trouble with some dames . . . kiss 'em and they fly apart!”

Nonchalantly heading for the door to take his leave, Bugs is stopped by the scientist, who tells him, “I have another friend who would like to eat . . . I mean, greet you.” Bugs turns both around as he heads for the monster’s door, saying “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.”    

As they near the door the monster growls loudly. Bugs wraps himself around the scientist. “Your friend?” he asks. The scientist smiles and says, “Yes.” When it becomes clear that this "friend" is a ferocious beast, Bugs vigorously shakes the scientist's hand in goodbye and begins packing luggage as if for a vacation trip, all to the tune of “California, Here I Come.” He tells the scientist, in typical Groucho fashion, “And don't think it hasn't been a little slice of heaven . . . ’cause it hasn’t,” as he bolts for the door. The scientist then opens the door and out comes the monster, covered completely in bright orange fur and wearing basketball sneakers. The monster comes up behind Bugs as he’s trying to get the front door open. He asks the monster for a hand: “Here, you look like a strong, healthy boy. Gimme a hand!” Turning and getting a look at his “helper,” Bugs makes a face while holding up a sign simply saying “Yikes!” He turns it around and the word is now in big letters, before Bugs drops the sign and runs off. 

The thin plot gives way and the cartoon becomes nothing more than an extended chase scene between Bugs and the monster. With the gags flying so fast and furious, it’s almost hard to keep up.  

Of these gags, there are some notable ones. At one point Bugs rushes up a staircase and runs right back down, knocking over the monster. “Don’t go up there, it’s dark!” (Jones is lifting this gag from Freling’s 1942 cartoon, The Rabbit Who Came to Supper, where Bugs uses the same line on Elmer Fudd after running down into his basement.) 

The Groucho influence again comes to the fore when Bugs locks himself behind a door as the monster begins breaking in. Bugs turns to the audience frantically asking, “Is there a doctor in the house? . . . Is there a doctor in the house,” he asks desperately. A silhouette in the theater audience stands up and says, “I'm a doctor.” Bugs now relaxes and grins while pulling out a carrot and munching on it while asking, “Eh, what’s up, Doc?” Though Tex Avery was the first director to break the fourth wall between the characters and the audience in I Love to Singa (read our essay on it here), Jones is lifting the gag as a tribute in spirit to Horse Feathers, where Groucho, along with Chico, trapped the apartment of college widow Thelma Todd by her boyfriend, has to listen to Chico play the piano in a desperate attempt to save both their necks. He stands up, telling the audience that he has to stay but there’s no reason why they shouldn’t go wait in the lobby “until this thing blows over.”

As the monster chases him Bugs spots a trap door opening on the floor and comes to a quick halt. While tiptoeing backwards and praying, he bumps into the monster. Suddenly, Bugs produces a table and a chair, seats the monster in the chair, and begins working on him like a manicurist, all the while he talking and acting like a girl: “Oh, for shame! Just look at those fingernails!” He seats the monster and goes to work in his nails. “My, I'll bet you monsters lead in-teresting lives . . . I bet you meet lots of in-teresting people too. I'm always in-terested in meeting in-teresting people. Now let's dip our patties in the water!” As the monster doers so, two mousetraps snap, catching his fingers and making him whine in pain.  

The last inspired gag has Bugs ready to leave the castle after knocking the monster cold. As he rounds a corner he sees the monster standing on as pedestal in a piece of ill-fitting armor and holding an ax. Bugs laughs and retreats. The monster then hears a noise and looks up to see a knight riding a horse and holding a lance heading straight for him. As we hear the sound of a train, Jones uses a cut showing Bugs operating the armor and horse like a locomotive. He then cuts to a unique overhead shot as the lance hits the armored monster head on, bouncing him off a wall. All that’s left is a small can with the monster’s picture on it and the words “Canned Monster” written across the front. It’s a uniquely imaginative gag composed of several parts, all fitted seamlessly into one continuous shot.

But the cartoon flags at the end with Bugs finally getting rid of his nemesis by pointing to the audience. As the monster has him lifted by the throat, Bugs says “Look out there . . . in the audience.” The monster shrieks “People! Aaaah!” and runs through a series of walls, leaving his outline behind. It’s a major plot inconsistency, for earlier, Jones ran a gag where the monster passes by a mirror and scares off his reflection. His reaction is to simply turn to the audience and shrug.

Jones ends the cartoon by resurrecting the mechanical lure, which we earlier saw fly apart. As Bugs snickers and says, “Mechanical!” the robot smooches him on the cheek, leaving a lipstick mark. “Well, so it's mechanical!” Bugs says as he follows her off the screen with a mechanical gait.

The constant gags flying about in Hair-Raising Hare tend to distract us from the excellent backgrounds of Gribbroek and Klein that give the cartoon a sinister, Old Dark House look. The backgrounds also combine nicely with some of Jones’ complex gags. And, of course, Carl Stalling’s use of music is a plus as it lightens the mood and provides a pleasant audio distraction.

This was the first appearance of the orange monster. In Jones’ remake, the monster was named Rudolph. Eventually, Jones would name him Gossamer, the name by which we know him today. In Jones’ 1980 cartoon, Duck Dodgers and the Return of the 24 1/2th Century, Space Cadet Porky chases Gossamer into his boudoir with a pair of electric clippers. When Porky comes out, he is holding only the basketball sneakers. It seems Gossamer was entirely composed of hair.

This was the final appearance of Chuck Jones' Bugs Bunny design. Starting with his next Bugs Bunny cartoon, A Feather in His Hare, Jones would use Robert McKimson’s model for the character. 

In 1952 Warner Bros. released Water, Water Every Hare, a remake of sorts to Hair-Raising Hare. The title is a pun on poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s line from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, “Water, water, everywhere/Nor any drop to drink.”

As in Hair-Raising Hare, Bugs finds himself trapped in the castle of an evil scientist and doing battle with the orange monster. The cartoon opens with a downpour that floods Bugs’ rabbit hole, causing his mattress to pop up with him on and float downstream. As he passes by the castle, the neon sign on the outside flashes “Evil Scientist,” alternating with “BOO.” The scientist inside (a caricature of Boris Karloff voiced by Smith) has just finished building a huge robot and is wondering where he is going to a get a brain when he sees Bugs float by. Using a fishing pole he hooks the sleeping Bugs just before the mattress goes over a waterfall.

Bugs awakens on a table to find himself beneath a mummy. He first jumps into the scientist’s arms ("Eh, eh, eh, w-w-what's up, doc?"), then to a sarcophagus ("What's going on around here?") and finally onto the robot ("Where am I anyway?"), before running away from the terror of seeing all three.

The scientist, complaining of “delays delays,” opens a door marked “Monster.” A hairy orange monster the scientist calls “Rudolph” emerges. The scientist tells Rudolph to retrieve the rabbit, with the promise of a spider goulash as a reward.

Jones repeats the trap door gag from Hair-Raising Hare, embellishing it with a rock falling into the water below and crocodiles snapping their jaws. Bugs begins walking backward and praying. He bumps into Rudolph, saying to himself, “Uh oh. Think fast, rabbit!” and uses the same gabby beautician gag as in the previous cartoon, but deciding to give Rudolph a new hairdo.

Telling Rudolph he’ll be right back, Bugs goes to a storeroom and returns with sticks of dynamite, which he fastens to Rudolph’s head like curlers. He lights the dynamite and takes his leave just before the dynamite explodes, leaving a bald patch on Rudolph’s head, which he fixes by tying his hair together on top.

Rudolph follows Bugs into the laboratory. Bugs douses himself with a bottle of “vanishing fluid” and becomes invisible. Bugs opens a bottle of “reducing fluid" and dumps the contents on Rudolph, causing him to shrink as he lets out a roar that goes from a bass to a soprano. Putting on a coat and hat and grabbing two suitcases, Rudolph enters a mouse hole and kicks its resident out, before slamming the door (which bears a sign saying "I QUIT!”) The mouse holds up a bottle of whiskey and says, "I quit too,” before dashing away.

Triumphant, Bugs gnaws on a carrot (“Well, that's that.”). Suddenly he re-appears as the scientist, on the table above him holding a hatchet, pours a bottle of “hare restorer” over him, while remarking, “Never send a monster to do the work of an evil scientist.” He insists Bugs hand over his brain, “Now be a cooperative little bunny and let me have your brain.” When Bugs again refuses (“Uh, sorry doc, but I need what little I've got”), the scientist throws his hatchet at Bugs, who ducks as it flies over his head, shattering a large bottle of ether and sending fumes into the air.

In the next scene the laboratory door opens and Bugs runs out in slow motion with the scientist in pursuit. “Come … back … here … you … rab … bit.” Bugs runs behind a door and sticks out his foot, tripping the scientist, who flies slowly through the air and tells us “nighty night,” before landing asleep on the floor. Bugs slowly lopes down to the river, trips over a rock and falls asleep, landing in the same stream, which now takes Bugs straight back into his flooded hole and onto his bed. He suddenly wakes up and looks around. “Whew. It must’ve been a nightmare,” he declares, before we see the miniature Rudolph, still in his hat and coat, passing by on a rowboat, telling him in a high-pitched voice, “Oh yeah!? That's what you think.” Bugs looks confused as the cartoon ends.

Water, Water Every Hare is not only a far superior cartoon than Hair-Raising Hare, it’s one of Jones’ best. Bugs Bunny has now become someone who isn’t out looking for trouble, but whose problems arise just from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. While he doesn’t instigate the trouble, once the villain starts, Bugs will not rest until it’s ended. 

In this case he has come across an evil scientist who wants his brain for his robot. The scientist, small with light green skin, a bulbous head and a unibrow, is one of Jones’ better creations. Smith gives him a voice somewhat akin to Vincent Price. 

The orange monster finally gets a name and Jones uses him well, this time not allowing the gags to overtake the plot. Even the way Bugs dispatches Rudolph makes sense given the surroundings. This time, Jones takes full advantage of the marvelously detailed backgrounds by Gribbroek and Klein, integrating the action with them. Nowhere is this better seen than at the cartoon’s climax with a stoned Bugs running from an equally stoned scientist, as if in zero gravity and speaking in slowed-down voices. Carl Stalling beautifully punctuates the scene by using a slower version of the William Tell Overture.

Water, Water Every Hare is a solid example of the growth  and evolution of Chuck Jones from the ‘40s through to the ‘50s. Along with fellow director Friz Freleng, he refused to rest on his laurels, instead continuing to push the boundaries of animation, which led to some of the best and most imaginative cartoons ever to come out of one studio.

Friday, July 20, 2018

TCM TiVo Alert for July 23-31

July 23–July 31


BADLANDS (July 24, 8:00 pm): Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek show their incredible talents in this 1973 film, loosely based on a serial killer and his girlfriend on a 1958 cross-country killing spree. The two become more detached to reality and violent as the movie progresses. The film focuses on the alienation and hopelessness felt by the two doomed young criminals. Despite their horrific actions, you feel somewhat sorry for them. An excellent script, a remarkable job by Terrence Malick in his directorial debut, and outstanding acting from Sheen and Spacek, who would go on to be major stars. It's an exceptional film that shouldn't be missed.

THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE (July 28, 2:00 am): To be nostalgic for a moment, this movie was often on Channel 5 (WNYW) in New York City when I was growing up. My father and I would often watch this excellent film together when it aired. It's a smart thriller about four men who hijack a NYC subway car for ransom money. Walter Matthau was a wonderful actor, and this is among his best as a cynical transit authority police lieutenant who deals directly with the criminals. While it's a great drama, there are a lot of comedic moments and the final scene is one of the most memorable in movie history. This film came out in 1974, and is right up there with the excellent NYC-based gritty crime dramas of the era, including The French Connection (1971), Serpico (1973) and The Seven-Ups (1973).


GODZILLA (July 23, 6:00 am): This is not your father’s Godzilla, with Raymond Burr inserted for American audiences. No, this the original, inspired by a tragic accident that took place when America exploded the first H-Bomb in the Marshall Islands, which used to belong to Japan until World War II. A nearby fishing boat, thought to be out of range of the fallout, got caught and the crew died horribly. That was eight months before this film went into production. Godzilla is a metaphor not only for The Bomb, but for America. In other words, Godzilla R Us. Forget about the American version of the film, which at times didn’t appear to make sense amid all the cuts. This version makes perfect sense and its meaning is clear. It’s also a very frightening and serious film, in contrast to the ever increasing silliness of its sequels (except for the first, Gigantis the Fire Monster). It’s a picture that deserves to be seen.

CAT PEOPLE (July 30, 5:00 pm): Producer Val Lewton’s first horror hit, this tale of a strange, shy woman (Simone Simon) and her fear of an ancient curse within her and the man (Kent Smith) who falls in love with her depends more on shadows and suggestion than actual visual horror. Lawton creates an eerie atmosphere of mood and style that draws us in, and once it has us, builds relentlessly until the finale. Tom Conway and Jane Randolph give wonderful supporting performances. Watch for the swimming pool scene. Lewton’s first film and the harbinger of more wonderful horror to come.

WE DISAGREE ON ... A BUCKET OF BLOOD (July 23, 4:00 pm)

ED: C. A Bucket of Blood is a watchable, enjoyable little B-horror flick. It’s the typical Roger Corman formula for his horror-comedies: Walter Paisley (Dick Miller), a dorky character, works as a busboy at a beatnik café. He envies the more talented customers, such as the poets and artists, but he just doesn’t fit in with the cool scene. Trying to impress the café’s hostess, Carla (Barboura Morris), with whom he’s in love, he decides to create a sculpture, but his clumsiness results in the death of the landlady’s cat. Seeking to hide the evidence, he covers the dead cat in clay. The next day he shows her the sculpture. It’s a hit and patrons demand more of the same, so Walter has to keep upping the ante. But despite a great performance from Dick Miller, the film never rises above the usual level of Corman’s quickies (filmed in five days at a cost of $50,000). The humor is obvious, and the tongue-in-cheek attitude ultimately brings the film down. There’s something to be said for playing a bad film seriously. Like I said, it is watchable and enjoyable, but nothing worth going out of you way about.

DAVID: B+. I've put myself in an awkward position – defending Roger Corman. I was outraged when he was given an honorary Oscar in 2010 alongside Lauren Bacall. The "King of the Bs" made a career by being a lazy filmmaker who let others do most of the work. In the process, he helped launch the behind-the-camera careers of Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and James Cameron, among others. However, I must admit A Bucket of Blood – the name is another one of Corman's gimmicks; give a film an outrageous name to bring in the audience – is among his two best movies along with Little Shop of Horrors (hmm, another outrageous name). In "The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film," Michael Weldon calls A Bucket of Blood "an all-time classic," as well as "a wonderful beatnik horror comedy shot in five days." I suppose there aren't many other movies in the quickly-made beatnik horror comedy genre, but this is enjoyable and charming even for those not looking for films in that category. Dick Miller, who went on to appear in many of Corman's films, plays Walter Paisley, a coffeehouse busboy loser who dreams of being in with the in-crowd. In a ridiculously-quirky twist, Paisley accidentally kills his landlady's cat and covers it in clay making what the beatniks consider to be an amazing piece of art. He ups the ante when he kills people, first by accident and then intentionally. The story is funny and the beatnik "Daddy-O" dialogue is equally amusing. It's funny and suspenseful, and is nicely paced, wrapping everything up in 66 minutes.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.