Sunday, October 19, 2014

Around the Blogosphere This Week

Miscellaneous bits of news and fun stuff from around the internet...an extra-long edition, as I didn't post last week due to being out of town at the Lone Pine Film Festival. You can find all my Lone Pine coverage linked here!

...Here's a great-looking new book coming for Christmas: CECIL B. DEMILLE: THE ART OF THE HOLLYWOOD EPIC. It's by DeMille's granddaughter Cecilia DeMille Presley, who I had the pleasure of seeing introduce a 2010 screening of CLEOPATRA (1934), and Mark Vieira, author of many excellent coffee table books including HARLOW IN HOLLYWOOD, HOLLYWOOD DREAMS MADE REAL: IRVING THALBERG AND THE RISE OF MGM, and MAJESTIC HOLLYWOOD: THE GREATEST FILMS OF HOLLYWOOD, which I reviewed earlier this year.

...Speaking of new film books, at her blog Out of the Past Raquel has put together a really fantastic long list of upcoming books on classic films. There are many titles I'm looking forward to learning more about and possibly adding to my shelves! CHARLES WALTERS: THE DIRECTOR WHO MADE HOLLYWOOD DANCE is a must, as is WILD BILL WELLMAN: HOLLYWOOD REBEL. I heard William Wellman Jr. speak about his father at last weekend's Lone Pine Film Festival; more on that soon! Many thanks to Raquel for providing so many tantalizing previews and a great resource to use in the months to come.

...My appearance yesterday on the online radio show Hollywood Time Machine can be heard at the program's archive page; scroll down and click the arrow for Show 6. It was a lot of fun and I really appreciate Alicia Mayer and Will McKinley inviting me to be on the program.

...Attention Southern Californians: This year's centennial of the birth of Tyrone Power will be celebrated by A Century of Power on November 14th and 15th. Two Power films, ALEXANDER'S RAGTIME BAND (1938) and CAPTAIN FROM CASTILE (1947), will be screened at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. The Friday night screening will be attended by Taryn and Tyrone Power Jr., along with Coleen Gray, Terry Moore, and Jane Withers.

...That same weekend, November 14-17, I'll be contributing a piece on Power and Moore in KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES (1953) to the British Empire in Film Blogathon hosted at The Stalking Moon and Phantom Empires.

...So cool: A sphinx from DeMille's THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1923) has been unearthed in dunes where location filming took place near Guadalupe, California.

...A book review by Robby at Dear Old Hollywood: HOLLYWOOD FRAME BY FRAME: THE UNSEEN SILVER SCREEN IN CONTACT SHEETS, 1951-1997 by Karina Longworth. The book looks quite interesting; thanks to Robby for calling it to my attention!

...Over at Speakeasy, Kristina has a gallery of vintage advertising with movie stars. So much smoking going on! My favorite ad is Alexis Smith sitting on a diving board singing the praises of Royal Crown Cola.

...And if you missed it during the O Canada Blogathon, here's Kristina's tribute to the great Yvonne DeCarlo, born in British Columbia.

...Exciting news from Kimberly Truhler at GlamAmor: She's begun work on an authorized biography of designer Jean Louis, with the cooperation of his family, including the family of Loretta Young, who married him a few years before his passing.

...At the Classic Film and TV Cafe, Rick had a very interesting post on the Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield, North Carolina.

...Here's an interview with Paula Guthat all about @TCM_Party on Twitter, by Kimberly Lindbergs of the TCM Movie Morlocks.

...Here's a fun map showing in graphic form how the U.S. roots for college football.

...A Broadway revival of the musical ON THE TOWN has drawn positive reviews.

...Cliff has a very interesting post on MEN AGAINST THE SKY (1940) at Immortal Ephemera; I reviewed the film with Richard Dix, Wendy Barrie, and Kent Taylor in June. Cliff provides extensive background information as well as his critical perspective.

...Anyone who loves brightly colored Fiestaware, as I do, will enjoy this article. (Via a Tweet from Constance.)

...This week Raquel paid a visit to two classic film related exhibits at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She shares photos at Out of the Past.

...Coming from the Criterion Collection in January: One of the funniest movies ever made, Preston Sturges' THE PALM BEACH STORY (1942) starring Joel McCrea, Claudette Colbert, Rudy Vallee, and Mary Astor.

...I'm sad that Joan Fontaine's family is auctioning off her 1941 Oscar, among other items. The proceeds will benefit the SPCA, an organization dear to Fontaine's heart.

...Anyone who's ever tried to work with a cat in the way will chuckle over this video.

...Reviews, reviews, and more reviews: Cameron reviews HIT THE DECK (1955) at The Blonde at the Film, a movie I enjoyed last May...Toby reviewed Randolph Scott and James Garner in SHOOT-OUT AT MEDICINE BEND (1957) at 50 Westerns From the 50s...Aurora reviewed the new Olive Films release of DRAGONFLY SQUADRON (1954) at Once Upon a Screen. It has a great cast including John Hodiak and Bruce Bennett, which John McElwee referred to as a "comfort cast" in his post on the film at Greenbriar Picture Shows...and Glenn Erickson also reviewed DRAGONFLY SQUADRON at DVD Savant.

...I love newspaper movies so I enjoyed Kendahl's post on newspaper pre-Codes for ClassicFlix!

...Have you checked out the great posts in the Jack Webb Blogathon at The Hannibal 8 yet? Click here to head on over to Dispatch for links.

...Attention Southern Californians: The Crest Theater on Westwood Boulevard will be screening Alfred Hitchcock's silent film THE LODGER (1927) with live music on October 25th at 5:00 p.m.

...Notable Passings: Sad news this week that Tim Hauser, founder of the Manhattan Transfer, has passed away at the age of 72. That group has brought me a lot of listening pleasure over the years, starting with their short-lived TV series back in my childhood. I especially like their 2005 Christmas Album...Actress Elizabeth Pena, who was in the very enjoyable TORTILLA SOUP (2001), has died at 55. She was the voice of Mirage in THE INCREDIBLES (2004).

Have a great week!

Tonight's Movie: The Desert Song (1953) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

In 1953 Warner Bros. remade the Sigmund Romberg musical THE DESERT SONG, which it had previously filmed in 1943. Both versions were very recently released on DVD by the Warner Archive; I reviewed the 1943 version last month and caught up with the remake this evening.

This version of THE DESERT SONG stars Gordon MacRae, Kathryn Grayson, and Steve Cochran in the roles played a decade earlier by Dennis Morgan, Irene Manning, and Bruce Cabot.

The story in the '40s version had been modified -- quite effectively, I thought -- so that Paul, a cafe pianist also known as the mysterious El Khobar, led desert tribesmen against the Nazis.

This time around Paul and the tribe he leads are battling evil tribesmen led by Raymond Massey and William Conrad. Paul, who has a different last name in this version, is a professor studying native tribes; his studies give him a plausible reason to disappear into the desert for periods of time. One of the strengths of the '53 version is how the movie effectively plays up a "Clark Kent" angle, with Paul as a mild-mannered, almost bumbling intellectual who removes his glasses and turns into the dashing desert chieftain.

MacRae and Grayson's singing is quite wonderful and reason enough for musical fans to own this DVD. The melodies are beautiful, and I expect I will be putting this DVD in at times just to enjoy the songs again.

Adorably handsome Steve Cochran is another plus for the later version; his role is really that of a secondary good guy and romantic competition for El Khobar, rather than the more ambiguous Vichy officer played by Bruce Cabot.

The production values for the 1953 version, on the other hand, are a definite negative. Whereas the 1943 version featured excellent location shooting in New Mexico and Arizona, keeping process photography to a minimum, the '53 production looks cheap; indeed, it must be admitted the first appearance of Gordon MacRae singing in the desert is downright cheesy, with blatant back projections. There is some location photography but the areas where filming took place, other than sand dunes, are not particularly striking.

The DVD seems to be in perfect condition, but the photography in '53 also cannot compare with the gorgeous Technicolor of the Morgan version, stunningly restored by the Warner Archive. The color is part of what made the '43 version a magical desert fantasy; here the photography by Robert Burks is pedestrian.

I also wasn't particularly wild about Dick Wesson and Allyn Ann McLerie in supporting roles; although Faye Emerson didn't dance, I found her much more believable as El Khobar's spy than the heavily made up McLerie. McLerie and Wesson, incidentally, appeared in another Warner Bros. musical in 1953 which is a favorite of mine, CALAMITY JANE with Doris Day and Howard Keel.

THE DESERT SONG (1953) was directed by H. Bruce Humberstone. The supporting cast includes Paul Picerni, Dick Wesson, and Frank DeKova.

In a nutshell, musical fans should own both the 1943 and '53 versions of THE DESERT SONG, but it was Dennis Morgan's 1943 version which really spoke to my heart.

The DVD of the 1953 edition does not contain any extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Government Girl (1943) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

GOVERNMENT GIRL (1943) is an early entry in a string of mid '40s comedies about life in wartime Washington, D.C. It's a brand-new release from the Warner Archive.

The title role is played by Olivia de Havilland; she stars as Elizabeth "Smokey" Allard, who's assigned to be the secretary to Ed Browne (Sonny Tufts). Browne is newly arrived in the nation's capital; he's a manufacturing whiz charged with increasing production of bombers. The can-do Browne is frustrated by Washington bureacracy -- a theme which remains timely today -- and Smokey helps him navigate his way through alphabet agencies and social events despite their relationship initially getting off to a rocky start.

Smokey is romanced by too-slick Dana McGuire (Jess Barker) and newsman Branch Owens (Paul Stewart), but without realizing it she's gradually fallen under the spell of her big teddy bear of a boss, Mr. Browne.

GOVERNMENT GIRL is a bit of an oddity. It's not a bad movie -- indeed, it fully held my attention and for the most part I kind of enjoyed it -- but one has the sense throughout that it could have been quite a bit better.

Most of my discomfort with the film was due to Olivia de Havilland's performance. She's such a fine actress I have truly loved in so many films, especially THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938), GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), and HOLD BACK THE DAWN (1941), that it's hard to know what to make of her acting in this one. It's extremely broad and at times almost disinterested; she seems uncertain how to play comedy and not entirely happy about trying it.

Curiously enough, after the movie was over I read in a couple of places that de Havilland hadn't wanted to make the movie, done on loanout to RKO, and her performance was the result. It's hard to imagine an actor wanting to self-sabotage one's career but perhaps that's the explanation.

By film's end her character has become more likeable, as she warms up to Mr. Browne, but it's simply an odd film for her, and it doesn't help that, other than a shimmering evening gown, she's poorly dressed. By contrast, the very same year she gave a glowing, lovely performance in the charming romantic comedy PRINCESS O'ROURKE (1943), where she looked stunning and gave her usual outstanding performance.

Tufts, who also starred that year in Paramount's SO PROUDLY THEY HAIL (1943), is pleasant if not particularly memorable. To date I have liked him best as a football player in Jacques Tourneur's EASY LIVING (1949), an excellent film which coincidentally also costarred Paul Stewart. Stewart is one of the more appealing characters in GOVERNMENT GIRL.

Anne Shirley is fun as Smokey's dizzy roommate, who marries the (considerably older) Sergeant Blake (James Dunn), but they can't find a hotel room for their honeymoon. Agnes Moorehead is a stitch as a perpetually hair-patting, self-important D.C. society matron. The excellent supporting cast also includes Harry Davenport, Sig Ruman, and Una O'Connor.

I was on the lookout for Barbara Hale in a bit role but didn't spot her, and apparently I also didn't notice Lawrence Tierney as an FBI man! Watch for Charles Halton, Ian Wolfe, Jane Darwell, and Emory Parnell in small parts.

GOVERNMENT GIRL was written and directed by Dudley Nichols, based on a Budd Schulberg adaptation of a story by Adela Rogers St. John. The movie was filmed in black and white by Frank Redman.

GOVERNMENT GIRL was released just days after the far superior wartime Washington film THE MORE THE MERRIER (1943), which starred Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea.

The following year there were several more comedies focusing on the D.C. housing shortage or wartime work, including THE DOUGHGIRLS (1944), STANDING ROOM ONLY (1944), and JOHNNY DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (1944).

GOVERNMENT GIRL is one of several recent releases from the Warner Archive starring Olivia de Havilland; I've also reviewed WINGS OF THE NAVY (1939) and anticipate reviewing GOLD IS WHERE YOU FIND IT (1938) sometime in the next couple of weeks.

Despite some negative comments above, I still had a pleasant time watching GOVERNMENT GIRL, as I enjoy films about wartime Washington. The GOVERNMENT GIRL DVD is a good print. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.

Tonight's Movie: Wings of the Navy (1939) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

WINGS OF THE NAVY (1939) is an enjoyable film about the training of Navy pilots just prior to the start of World War II. It's a new release from the Warner Archive.

Cass (George Brent) and his kid brother Jerry (John Payne) are both in the Navy, as their father was before them. Jerry is stationed on a sub but dreams of being a Navy flyer like Cass; Cass tries to squelch Jerry's dream, as he's worried Jerry might make dangerous mistakes attempting to live up to his brother's reputation. Eventually, however, Jerry gets his transfer and begins training as a Navy pilot.

The brothers are also in competition for lovely Irene (Olivia de Havilland), who is in a serious relationship with Cass but falls for Jerry soon after meeting him.

This is a relatively simple plot but the film is pure gold for those who love aviation movies as I do. The training sequences are well-presented and interesting; I especially loved the look inside the big seaplane Jerry learns to pilot. It was also interesting watching the men in bathing suits who push the planes into the water.

It was rather poignant that a number of pilots take off for a new station in Honolulu at the end of the movie, as the viewer knows what will happen in Hawaii just two years later.

The cast is wonderful, starting with Brent and de Havilland, who had previously worked together on GOLD IS WHERE YOU FIND IT (1938); they would later costar in IN THIS OUR LIFE (1942). They are both charming, and it's easy to imagine any girl being torn between Brent and Payne.

Payne was very handsome in his Warner Bros. days early in his career, and he and de Havilland make a very attractive couple. Soon Payne would move over to 20th Century-Fox and become a much bigger star.

The deep cast has many wonderful faces, beginning with one of my favorites, longtime Warner Bros. stalwart John Ridgely; a decade before appearing as an officer in the Warner Bros. Navy film TASK FORCE (1949), which I recently reviewed, he appears here as a young pilot in training.

Frank McHugh overdoes the comedy a bit, although much of that can be blamed on the screenplay, but his character calms down by the end. Victor Jory, Donald Briggs, and John Gallaudet are all excellent as Navy instructors; Regis Toomey's role as an instructor is so brief that if you blink you might miss him!

The cast also includes Henry O'Neill, John Litel, Jonathan Hale, and Alberto Morin.

WINGS OF THE NAVY was directed by Lloyd Bacon and filmed by Arthur Edeson. The screenplay was by Michael Fessier. The film runs 89 minutes.

WINGS OF THE NAVY is a nice print, and the DVD includes the trailer.

This film was just released by the Warner Archive as part of a "wave" of Olivia de Havilland movies. Look for more de Havilland DVD reviews coming soon!

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Dragnet (1954)

This post on the 1954 DRAGNET feature film is my contribution to the Jack Webb Blogathon being hosted by Toby at The Hannibal 8. The blogathon is going all weekend, from today through October 19th. Be sure to stop by "The Dispatch" at The Hannibal 8 to check out links to other wonderful contributions, including a terrific post by Toby's daughter Presley on a fondly remembered 1969 episode of the DRAGNET TV series.

Jack Webb's shows are among my earliest TV memories. I remember watching ADAM-12 and DRAGNET when I was very young, and a few years later EMERGENCY! was a huge favorite. We could hardly wait to hear those sirens going off during the opening credits on Saturday nights!

Thanks to DVDs I shared Webb's shows with my own children, and while some of the concepts Webb introduced to the general public, such as paramedics, were no longer novel, the shows held up wonderfully as great entertainment. In fact periodically I notice that my older son, who's now away at college, has been streaming ADAM-12 and EMERGENCY! via Netflix; he finds them relaxing when he's stressed out about finals! It's great to see these shows still being so enjoyed decades after they were filmed.

Despite my great fondness for Webb, there are some gaps in my viewing of his work, and one of the Webb films I'd never seen was the DRAGNET movie from 1954. The Jack Webb Blogathon gave me the perfect motivation to finally watch it!

DRAGNET stars and was the first directing effort by Webb, who also did uncredited work on the script. When the movie started playing it was love at first sight, as the detectives joining Joe Friday (Webb) and Frank Smith (Ben Alexander) to discuss a new murder case include captains played by Richard Boone and Dennis Weaver. How cool is that?!

And the dialogue! Someone mentions that the first gunshot cut the murder victim in half, to which Friday responds that the second shot "turned him into a crowd." Yikes! After sputtering with shocked laughter, I actually rewound to make sure I'd heard it correctly.

The plot is really beside the point, as Friday and Smith try to solve a gangland execution, which is shown before the opening credits and is surprisingly bloody for 1954.

In all honesty the plot kind of peters out in the last half hour of this 88-minute movie, which has an abrupt ending where justice is served, but not as one might expect. But what matters is all the great staccato dialogue -- by Richard Breen plus the uncredited Webb and Harry Essex -- the parade of veteran character actors, and the amazing mid-Century settings.

Webb's Joe Friday seems more high-strung than in his '60s TV incarnation, and he even flirts with policewoman Grace Downey (Ann Robinson, who disappears from the film too early). Webb has some memorable bits, such as the hotel room interrogation of Max Troy (Stacy Harris), where he has a speech about how much money he makes; he also has a great piece of physical business tossing a cigarette lighter to Troy.

And speaking of the hotel room interrogation, what was with police officers taking all the suspects to a hotel for questioning rather than to the police station? Some of the techniques seen in this film would surely face legal challenges in today's world. At the same time, some of the issues are still timely today, such as a discussion Friday has with a grand jury member about phone calls, the right to privacy, and circumstantial evidence.

The movie has an utterly fantastic mid-Century look, from the Googie pattern on the Red Spot bar curtains to the Yellow Cars in Downtown Los Angeles to the San Diego hotel lobby to the cars. Gorgeous!

And then there are the actors. Weaver unfortunately doesn't have much to do after the opening, but Boone appears throughout and is great barking out orders like "Bumper to bumper tail!"

There's a marvelous office scene where the D.A. (Vic Perrin) says they have enough to arrest a suspect; thunder from on high immediately crashes, and the scene is capped by Boone sending Friday and Smith out to get the murderer with the admonition "You'll need your raincoats."

William Boyett, the sergeant from ADAM-12, is the grand jury foreman. Webb regular Virginia Gregg, who appeared over two dozen times in DRAGNET, ADAM-12, and EMERGENCY!, plays the wife of the murder victim. Virginia Christine, who appeared on DRAGNET a few times, plays a member of the grand jury, as does Herb Vigran, who appeared over a dozen times on Webb's shows.

There's a great bit by James Griffith as a timid witness, including a sequence filmed in the L.A. County Natural History Museum.

Disney production designer Harper Goff has a bit acting role, as he also did in PETE KELLY'S BLUES (1955), on which he also worked as production designer. Years later Goff would work with Boone as an associate producer on the TV series HEC RAMSEY.

Other familiar faces in the cast include Olan Soule, Art Gilmore, James Anderson, Dick Cathcart, Ross Elliott, Malcolm Atterbury, Dub Taylor, and Harry Lauter.

DRAGNET was filmed in WarnerColor by Edward Colman.

The Universal Vault Collection DVD mostly looks great but a few of the scenes look pretty bad. The variability is rather strange.

The movie can be rented for streaming from Amazon.

Update
: For another take on DRAGNET (1954) which provides a great deal of additional information, be sure to check out Toby's post at The Hannibal 8.

Tonight's Movie: We're Only Human (1935)

WE'RE ONLY HUMAN (1935) is an imperfect yet engaging little movie about a headstrong cop and a lady reporter.

Preston Foster plays Det. Sgt. Pete McCaffrey, who thrills reporter Sally Rogers (Jane Wyatt) when she sees him take down and arrest a mobster. The only problem is that the police feel Pete's heroism was misplaced; the premature arrest is preventing them from tracking the rest of the gang.

This seems to be the story of Pete's life, as he doesn't always think things through and too often acts without calling in reinforcements. Witness the bank robbery interrupted by Pete and his partner Danny (James Gleason); unfortunately Pete is on suspension at the time and doesn't have a gun, which has disastrous consequences. Danny should have called for backup!

That said, it's great fun to realize the robber Pete takes down is Ward Bond. That's the kind of thing that makes a little movie of this era so much fun.

Handsome Pete and bright-eyed Sally are immediately attracted to one another; indeed, the very first time they go to dinner he asks her "Want to be my girl?" Sally shows repeatedly that she cares for Pete, yet she is exasperated at times by his temperament and -- despite his impulsive request for a certain commitment -- a lack of romance. The movie chronicles Pete's gradual maturation, finally earning his first kiss from Sally in the very last shot of the movie.

Foster and Wyatt are well-teamed and both very appealing in this; indeed, Wyatt was so young, about 24 or 25, that she hadn't even made LOST HORIZON (1937) yet. As for Foster, I've been a fan since seeing THE HUNTED (1948) and DOUBLE DANGER (1938). He's been way overlooked as a leading man; when he had the chance to be the hero, rather than a villain or other supporting role, he was just terrific.

The movie and the characters themselves suffer from a certain lack of common sense; for instance, one can see the potential problem coming a mile away when Sally publishes information identifying the witness to a mob hit! That said, such problems do serve to illustrate the movie's title.

I happened across the original New York Times review and thought it was about right: "...better-than-average physical production and with several interesting players...a merry pace...succeeds in sustaining interest."

WE'RE ONLY HUMAN was directed by James Flood and runs 69 minutes. It was filmed by J. Roy Hunt. The supporting cast includes Moroni Olsen, Jane Darwell, Mischa Auer, Arthur Hohl, and Delmar Watson. Small roles are played by Hattie McDaniel, Pat O'Malley, and Harold Huber.

WE'RE ONLY HUMAN has been shown on Turner Classic Movies. At this writing it has not had a release on DVD or VHS.

Radio Appearance Alert

A heads up, now that it's been officially announced: This Saturday I'll be a guest on Alicia Mayer's new online radio show, Hollywood Time Machine.

My fellow guests will be Christel Schmidt, editor of MARY PICKFORD: QUEEN OF THE MOVIES, and one of my heroes, Alan K. Rode of the Film Noir Foundation.

I'll be speaking with Alicia (seen here) and her co-host, Will McKinley, about classic film blogging; I'm now in my tenth year as a blogger, and I'll be celebrating my first decade here at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings in 2015.

I wouldn't be surprised if talk also turns to the recent Lone Pine Film Festival. We'll see where the conversation takes us!

As many of my readers are already aware, Alicia is the great-niece of Louis B. Mayer; she lives in Sydney, Australia, and blogs at Hollywood Essays.

I've enjoyed getting to know New Yorker Will McKinley at the last few TCM Classic Film Festivals; he blogs at Cinematically Insane.

The show airs at 6:00 P.M. Pacific Time/9:00 P.M. Eastern Time on Saturday, October 18th; visit www.LATalkRadio.com.

You can also follow on Twitter while the show is underway at @TimeMachineTalk which is handled by the show's intern, Kaci Kielmar.

If you can't listen live on Saturday, you can stream the show later as a podcast by visiting Alicia's program archive page.

Here's the show's Facebook page.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Gunga Din (1939) at the Lone Pine Film Festival

After a day of exploring locations at the Lone Pine Film Festival, it was time for the Friday evening "keynote" film, GUNGA DIN (1939).

GUNGA DIN was screened for a nearly full house in the Lone Pine High School Auditorium, seen at the right. The maximum festival seating in the auditorium is 300 people.

The movie was hosted by Oscar-winning sound effects wizard Ben Burtt (STAR WARS, E.T.) and Oscar-winning visual effects creator Craig Barron (CAPTAIN AMERICA). Both men have a great love for classic films and enjoy sharing it with audiences. They presented a program on THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938) at the TCM Classic Film Festival earlier this year, and I understand the 1937 version of THE PRISONER OF ZENDA may be a possibility for a future presentation.

First, the movie itself, which concerns three pals serving in the British military in India and the dismay of two of the men (Cary Grant and Victor McLaglen) when the third (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) wants to marry lovely Joan Fontaine. While that story plays out, the men battle local rebels and ultimately end up the prisoners of a nasty cult led by Eduardo Ciannelli; the British army will walk right into a trap trying to save them unless the water boy Gunga Din (Sam Jaffe) can save the day.

I'm sure mine is a minority opinion, but I'll be honest here and say I didn't care for GUNGA DIN. It was a movie I really, really wanted to like, but while I loved Fairbanks and Fontaine, loved the Alfred Newman score, and loved the Lone Pine locations, that was the extent of my enthusiasm.

For the most part I perceived GUNGA DIN as a rambling film about men making silly decisions, particularly in the second half when they needlessly put their lives and those of others in jeopardy.

Especially in his earlier days, Cary Grant was prone to overplay if not reined in, and that was certainly the case here. I felt Fairbanks walked the line perfectly, with just the right balance of giddiness and suave panache, but Grant as the "comic relief" quickly became annoying. I say that as a huge Cary Grant fan who has seen the majority of his films, some of them many, many times.

The film was often unpleasant to watch, more dark than light in tone, with extended battling, imprisonment, and torture; and in the final minutes I thought Gunga Din would never blast that blasted trumpet, the movie dragged on so slowly! I found it quite a long 117 minutes.

The hour which followed, however, was completely wonderful and made me glad that I had sat through the movie. Burtt and Barron did a terrific job presenting a vast amount of information on the making of the film, including the Lone Pine locations and special effects shots, plus they shared color home movies shot on location.


They had a great slide show which included the shot seen below of the tent village created for the movie crew in the Alabama Hills outside Lone Pine. GUNGA DIN remains the biggest production ever filmed in the Alabama Hills, with two huge sets and hundreds of extras.


Burtt and Barron combined the color home movies shot on location by Grant, Fairbanks, and director George Stevens in order to give a great sense of what things like the battle scenes would have looked like if filmed in color. The footage even included shots of falling stuntmen landing.

I had previously seen some of Fairbanks' home movies at the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival, but it was terrific seeing that film put together with the other movies, creating a more expansive look at the filming.


They showed photographs of the village and temple sites as they look today and then superimposed photographs of the sets over those locations to give a sense of how the areas looked during filming.


One of the most interesting bits was about the visual effects created for the precarious bridge crossed by Grant and Jaffe, which was actually built in the hills but was much closer to the ground than it appears in the film.


When production was completed much of the lumber was purchased and recycled into long-term movie sets built at nearby Anchor Ranch, which will be the topic of a future post. We were told that today remnants of the GUNGA DIN sets can still be stumbled across in the hills!


There's a GUNGA DIN plaque in the hills, mounted on dolomite, which was dedicated by Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in 1992. My goal is to find it and photograph it on my next visit! In the meantime here's a link to shots of it at my friend Deb's site, Sidewalk Crossings.

Finally, here's a shot I took last summer of the big GUNGA DIN battle site...

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-mRI_bsCLTEQ/U7mLF7aazpI/AAAAAAAApQY/s4MV0GdixqM/s1600/P1120039.JPG

...and here's how it looked in the movie:


Later in the weekend we had the chance to say hello to both Burtt and Barron and thank them for a wonderful evening. They are both very nice gentlemen who love movies, and I highly recommend taking advantage of future opportunities to see their presentations.

Previous posts I've written on a display of GUNGA DIN artifacts in the Lone Pine Film History Museum may be found here (2010) and here (2014). Here's a sample (click to enlarge):


For more on the Lone Pine Film Festival, please visit The 25th Lone Pine Film Festival in Review, which includes all links to all of my festival coverage at the end of the post.

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