Mar 31, 2013

Girls in the Night (1953)

Director: Jack Arnold
Screenplay: Ray Buffum
Music: Henry Mancini, Herman Stein
Cinematography: Carl Guthrie
Producer: Albert J. Cohen
1953; Universal-International; 83min; B&W
Cast: Harvey Lembeck (Chuck Haynes), Joyce Holden (Georgia Cordray), Glenda Farrell (Alice Haynes), Glen Roberts (Joe Spurgeon), Patricia Hardy (Hannah Haynes), Jaclynne Greene (Vera Schroeder), Don Gordon (Irv Kellener), Emile Meyer (Officer Kovacs)

While Jack Arnold directed films in many genres, he will always be known for his string of science-fiction films in the 1950s. His first commercial feature is this dated, obscure but interesting melodrama with young adults eager to break out of the East Side ghetto- by any means. In a rare dramatic role, Harvey Lembeck (best remembered to modern audiences as the bumbling bike-gang leader in the Beach Party movies) is the aimless Chuck Haynes, who lives with his parents and two siblings in a cramped East Side tenement. All of the central characters have a desire to aspire to a better life- especially the father figure (presently disabled from an accident) who wants to put a down payment on a house (only three blocks away!) to get his family out of the ghetto. Chuck’s girlfriend Georgia scrapes up some loose change by shaking her booty at a beatnik party; his sister Hannah wins a beauty contest, but won’t get anywhere with her dopey boyfriend Joe.

One night this quartet robs some loot stashed by some old miser in his house, but unbeknownst to them the man is dead in the other room, as cheap hood Irv and his accomplice Vera had just made a botched robbery attempt before their arrival. Chuck is accused of murder, and his friends conspire to unmask the true culprit. Hannah, previously avoiding the lecherous affections of Irv, decides to turn up the affection towards him in order to spill the beans.

The film already has novelty value because of its director, the atypical dramatic lead, and for featuring the first significant role for ubiquitous character actor Don Gordon (seen in countless 70s movies and TV series). It is also unique in that the central villain of this piece is a woman. The tomboyish Vera is the most complex figure in this piece: calculating, full of sexual longing, clamouring for attention. She is attracted to Irv, and at first is subservient to his every whim. After the murder however, he is wrapped around her little finger, and must cater to her demands, lest she implicate him with the crime. Throughout most of the picture, Vera is commonly referred to in the second person as “Ugly”. (Try getting that one out of the gate today.) But fret not, viewers, for in the end credits when the voice of Universal contract player Jeff Chandler (!) introduces the young newcomers, it is revealed that actress Jaclynne Greene isn’t as homely as her fictional character.

This was made before The Blackboard Jungle ushered in the cycle of “troubled teen” flicks later in the decade, and as such, borrows from an earlier tradition. This space-age chronicle of misspent youth harkens back to the conventions of the Bowery Boys urban melodramas of the 1940s. Almost everyone, cops and teens alike, talks in patter like “Ah shaddap!” and “Look here, see?” (I kept waiting for Leo Gorcey to show up.)

Mar 28, 2013

It Has Come To This...

Yahoo News had a genuinely thought-provoking article for a change, yesterday.

A store in Brisbane has begun charging people five dollars who come in "just to browse", inquire the staff about the prices of certain items and then go elsewhere to buy them. This charge is waived if the consumers actually purchase something.

While this strategy is rather extreme (in the long run, it may discourage potential shoppers), it is easy to understand the reasoning behind it. Consumers want to save some money, and more often than not, will go to some big name retailer instead, even though the small business might offer competitive pricing and service. Also, this story reminds me of the scandal two years ago when Amazon was encouraging people to go into places like Chapters, use their iPhones to scan the barcodes of items, and Amazon in turn would offer competitive pricing.

Toronto's independent video store, Eyesore Cinema, has gone one step further and published a response on its Facebook page, explaining how this general problem has specifically affected its business. Namely, people wander into the video store to look at titles for ideas on what to watch... and then go home to download them instead of renting the movie right there. Here is their post (reprinted with permission):

Dear lord, it has come to this?

As a video store owner, I've had people use my shop to browse titles to download. Even going so far as to ask me if I tell them what sites would feature certain title or to ask me if this or that titles is on Netflix.

I would loathe to have to resort to this but it seems that consumer culture is eating it's own tail at this point. The comments are hilarious and truly born out of consumer ignorance.

"Why don't they just lower their prices to compete?"

Well, in my case, I have rent to pay (downloads have no overhead)... and I can't buy in massive bulk like HMV and Amazon, who often sell items well below wholesale prices (intentionally, as a strategy to kill off local competition)

My strategy has been, and always will be, to strive to provide friendly, accommodating and attitude-free "service" based on expertise and product knowledge as well as sourcing and stocking items that are simply not available through big box retailers. Downloads are, of course, another problem since they are "free".

What consumers fail to understand is the effect that this has on their local culture... a landscape of corporate conglomerates that are soul-less and life-less and contribute nothing to the community outside of "low prices".

Just look what's happened to all the great indie booksellers in T.O.'s a damn shame that a city once so rich and rife with unique shops of all stripes is being reduced to a giant shopping mall of globally branded crap.

...but hey, you saved a dollar, so it's worth it. Because, after all, in a "consumer culture" all that really matters is how much you can consume and how cheap you can get it.

This is what happens when all we care about is money.

Maybe it's time for a paradigm shift in human evolution... maybe we should start striving for something better than exploiting every last resource (animal, vegetable, mineral ...and human) just to satisfy our fleeting desires for new crap every fifteen seconds.

Mar 26, 2013

DVD Releases We Dig This Week (03.26.13)

Good heavens, there is a lot of great stuff this week, no matter what kind of cinema you're into. (Easter is around the corner, so if the Easter Bunny leaves you any money, it'll be well used at the DVD shop.) As always, Olive Films has a boatload of titles. First up, there are a handful of John Wayne films from his days at Republic: Westward Ho (1935); The Lawless Nineties (1937); A Man Betrayed (1941); Wyoming Outlaw (1939) (the latter is part of the Three Mesquiteers series, of which Olive had released several films last year).

And here are some more classics from Olive: The Duke's frequent boss John Ford is represented with the excellent underrated The Sun Shines Bright (1953); Jean Arthur and Charles Coburn in the brilliant screwball comedy The Devil and Miss Jones (1941) (My God- how has this not been released previously!?); Ruthless (1948), from everyone's favourite poverty row auteur Edgar G. Ulmer; Mickey Rooney in the underrated comedy The Atomic Kid (1954) (scripted by a young Blake Edwards!); the 1954 film noir Hell's Half Acre; and Samuel Fuller's offbeat Korean War epic, China Gate (1957) (another one long overdue). And for good measure, there is also Hector Babenco's underrated screen adaptation of Ironweed (1987).

Two new releases from Criterion for the arthouse crowd: Robert Bresson's A Man Escaped (1956) and Charlie Chaplin's black comedy Monsieur Verdoux (1947). 

There is no shortage of fun for the midnight movie - cult film enthusiast either! The always impressive Shout! Factory has released collectors' editions of the favourites, Phantasm II (1988) and From Beyond (1986). This week they also debut Futureworld (1976), the underrated sequel to Westworld, and the complete series of the great Japanese TV show, Johnny Sokko and His Giant Robot

 Still want more? Okay, then! Scorpion's line of Katarina's Kat Skratch Cinema releases the cult epics Alley Cat (1984), and (be still my heart) Angels Brigade (1979)!!

Whew! What a world. More next week.

Mar 24, 2013

Six-Gun Heroes: Viewers Guide

Beginning with this post, there will be a regular feature on the blog entitled "Sunday Scans". Each week will be an upload of an old program guide or assorted memorabilia.

Former cowboy star Sunset Carson was hired to host a movies for PBS entitled Sun Gun Heroes, which played on the airwaves in 1980. The hour-long show would feature a B-western and have wraparound segments by Carson, who would talk about the film and its stars. The series also had a memorable theme song, "Ride Off In the Sunset", by Bill Anderson. Below is the viewers' guide for the first season that subscribers would have received. Enjoy! (Click on the images to see them larger.)


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