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 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.)

Mar 18, 2013

Silence Is Golden (or, The Toronto Silent Film Festival Is Back!)

ABOVE: Buster Keaton in The General
BELOW: Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc

The Toronto Silent Film Festival returns for its annual week-long celebration of movie classics from the silent era, commencing April 4. (Upon realizing that this will be its fourth year of existence, yours truly let out an Elwy Yost-styled, "Egad!" Time flies when you're having fun!)

The fest was originated by our friend and fellow Toronto Film Noir Syndicate programmer Shirley Hughes, who can take great pride in seeing this tradition grow into a viable institution among local cinephiles. Each movie is further enhanced with introductions by programmers and film scholars, some beautifully printed screening notes, and live musical accompaniment. This year is once again a solid lineup of classics and rarities. Even if you have seen some of these films already, you owe it to yourself to see them in their proper context: in a theatre, with an appreciative audience and… did I say live musical accompaniment?

Another novel characteristic of the festival is that it does not limit itself to happening in one fixed location, thus encouraging neighbouring residents to check something out whenever it plays nearby. The program alternates between Innis Town Hall, The Carlton, The Revue Cinema, The Fox Theatre, and especially Casa Loma (where the accompanying house Wurlitzer organ guarantees a showstopper). 

Although it's still three weeks away, it's probably a good idea to get your tickets ahead of time to avoid sellouts.

Here is this year's schedule:

Thurs. April 4: Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)- simply one of the greatest films ever made.

Fri. April 5: Tokyo Chorus (1931), by the legendary director Yasujiro Ozu. (Note: Japan did not start making sound pictures until several years after The Jazz Singer premiered in 1927.)

Sat. April 6: King Vidor's masterpiece The Crowd (1928), as timely now as it was 85 years ago.

Sun. April 7: 1000 Laffs: Slapstick Smorgasbord. A certified afternoon of fun, this program of silent comedy shorts always brings the house down. Every year this screening has combined films by comedians who are household names, with works by others who are less-remembered but of no less importance. This year we'll see films with Laurel & Hardy, Harold Lloyd, Max Davidson, Roscoe Arbuckle and Charley Chase.

Mon. April 8: America's sweetheart Mary Pickford stars in My Best Girl (1927). Her films aren't easily seen today, so this is a must.

Tues. April 9: Buster Keaton appears in the timeless classic The General (1927), and the delightful silent short The Railrodder (1965), produced by the NFB!

For further information on times, locations and tickets, visit the TSFF website!