For nearly 60 years I have interviewed and reviewed singers and musicians representing all kinds of music. I am - damn! - 86 years old and I've been around music just about all my life.
My name is Frank Roberts. In '98 I retired as a reporter-reviewer from the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot,then continued on those jobs, free lance, for another decade. Due to a bone problem (putting it politely) I had to give up reviewing. The good (?) doc said no more driving. Well, I'm still driving - driving myself crazy not being allowed to drive. Anyway, it cuts down on accidents. Currently, I am writing weekly columns for newspapers in Suffolk, VA. and Ahoskie, N. C., and playing music on the web.
You can also read more of my writings here: Frank M. Roberts —»
The Affairs of Jimmy Valentine - 1942
"The Affairs Of Jimmy Valentine." or "Unforgotten Crime." Dennis O'Keefe, Ruth Terry, Gloria Dickson, George E. Stone, Roman Bohnen. 1942.
I had to review this one. It's about 'newspapering, and I spent much of my pro career as a reporter in Norfolk, VA. and Jacksonville, N. C. And, there was television and radio news. So, "The Affairs of Jimmy Valentine" was a perfect fit.
Another plus for me is that it stars the ever-smiling Irisher - Dennis O'Keefe. The title? The one listed above alternated with "Unforgotten Crime." Either way, I'd like to suggest checking this movie. Make today your Valentine's Day.
Yeah-yeah, it's advertised as a crime drama, but the accent is on romance and fun.
Like so many 'B' productions it takes place in a small town where everything is cozy and fun, where relationships are less complicated. The small town is given a 'small town' name -- Fernville. That puts it somewhere in the mid-west. Gotta have a plot of course, so this one concerns the infamous, almost non-fictional, Jimmy Valentine.
He comes to the tree-lined streets for some peace and quiet, hoping for 'non-recognition.' Even though the 'dot-on-the-map locale' is wee, its small town newspaper editor is far removed from Hicksville, although he does drink his ayem coffee from a 'hick-cup. (har-dee-har). Soon, big city goings-on will put his burg on a 48-state map. Big headlines will grab the attention of the whooole USA. Those large-type headlines concern a headline-making safecracker possibly hiding out among the Fernville ferns.
He offers $10,000 to anyone who can discover the identity of that mysterious stranger. That brings us to another mystery. Where does a small town journal get that kind of money? No, he is not a robber - he is a safe cracker, sort-of like a Saltine.
In those days that amount would pay for the entire staff for a couple of months. Whew. Pass the flashlight. The winnah is whoever puts two and two two-gether.
In case you forgot, the noted robber is JIMMY VALENTINE. Whoops. He is an almost non-fiction fictional character created by O Henry when he wasn't making nut-filled chocolate bars. His story first appeared in Cosmopolitan Magazine. In the movies, handsome William Haines portrayed him. In today's film, handsome, ever-smiling Dennis O'Keefe (a personal favorite) has that assignment.
I like him. He always looks like he's grinning, no matter what, and he always dresses nattily. (What, she can't dress herself?)
The plot is the time-honored one about the pretty young daughter of the small town newspaper who gets a crush on the Valentine. He, of course, brushes her off until the final reel. Do they get together? Do hens cluck? Is our hero really a hot-shot radio reporter?
The girl, by the way, is the adorable Ruth Terry - quite a piece of cutlery. (He means she's a real dish). Seriously, I highly recomment this most enjoyable little fun-venture. The performances are top-notch, the musical numbers are very welldone.
The story originated in Cosmopolitan Magazine, hitting the stage in 1910. And, you are probably familiar with the song about, "My Funny Valentine,' featuring Sinatra and country singer Lorrie Morgan. High rating.
Oh, pay special attention to the ladies' shower scene, and the black cherry ice cream.
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A couple of Valentine-y thoughts: "My wife sent me a nice Valentine Day card - "Guess who, and you'd better." "If you don't have a little gift for Valentine Day, the next day may be Moving Day." -- "My son really has the spirit of Valentine's Day. When he was in college, he used to send his mother a heart-shaped box of laundry and, for the cynic, Valentine's Day is the day when you remember that Cupid was a lousy shot.
Watch the movie: The Affairs of Jimmy Valentine —»
Rocky Jones Beyond the Moon - 1954
"Rocky Jones Beyond the Moon." Richard Crane, Scotty Beckett, Sally Mansfield. 1954.
Call it 'schlock' if you wanna, and you'll wanna after sitting (or sleeping) thru "Rocky Jones Beyond the Moon." First of all, on these pages, is Jimbo's background on Scotty Beckett, who portrays the co-pilot of the - er - rocket ship - fascinating in a strange way.
Now - those names. The pilot is, of course, Rocky. The co-pilot is Winky. Their uniforms resemble old Roxy Theater ushers rejects. ('scuse me, but I quietly chuckle every time I think of -- 'earth to Winky, earth to Winky.)' The folks behind naming names might have been at least slightly stewed when they dreamed up these 'outer space' names. Patsy Parsons is Queen Cleolanta; Guy Prescott portrays Darganto, and there are Rus Conklin and Mort Mills as a couple of surlies from the planet, Ophicia. They're Ophicia officials.
On the plus side, there is the quite cute Sally (not Jayne) Mansfield as Vena Ray who parades around in a costume briefer than a Hooters uniform. She is photographed quite carefully. I thought of her as 'Grablelegs'. She represents the alleged 'weaker sex'. The story partly concerns the sexist pilot's attempt to keep her grounded 'cause, after all, she is only a hapless woman. He is a major sexist. Hapless, or not, her on-screen times are the brightest spots in this sci-fi non-epic. By the way, her second husband was William Powell's son.
I recommend watching the movie. It's a laugh getter, complete with 5 and dime special effects. All of this fun stuff is directed by Hollingsworth Morse. (I sneezed thru the movie -- must have been a 'Morse code'). The tale concerns one of my fellow geezers who's being held by the 'nasties' who also hold a little boy as hostage. That would be Robert Lydon as Bobby - not too bad a performer.
Plot two, as I mentioned, concerns the pilot's effort to keep Miss Ray grounded, reasoning that she is a woman - meaning her 'outer space' is where her brains are located. Scoff, if you will - and you will - the rocket ship, which resembles a broken fountain pen, - flies about, eventually landing and going after the surly bad guys.
Interjection: The sound in this epic is loud and clear which means, unfortunately, you can understand every word, every line. Best of all, you get the chance to watch Miss Mansfield knitting her way thru outer space. She uses her needles as Rocky needles her.
In-between 'knit-one-pearl two' Rocky's rocket is under attack, so there are a lot of cries of 'Mayday' 'Mayday.' You'll have a 'heyday' with Mayday. At one point, the 'cry' is necessary since a couple of the 'nicies' are felled -- 'ker-plunk' by some - gas what? - veeshuss gas. As one of the good guys so succinctly puts it -- 'lack of oxygen, she's out of it'. That's all right -- in those days 'gas' was cheaper.
The dialog is 'spacy', Kevin. My favorite phrases are 'galloping galaxies' and 'hopping Hercules'. Chortle-chortle. So, if you're bored out of your gourd, challenge yourself and sit thru, "Rocky Jones Beyond the Moon." In its own strange way, it is fascinating. You might enjoy it. I said 'might'. Heck, take a shot and give it a shot.
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Question: "If astronauts are so smart, why do they count backwards?"
Watch the movie: Rocky Jones Beyond the Moon —»
T-Bird Gang - 1959
"T-Bird Gang." Ed Nelson, John Brinkley, Tony Miller. 1959.
If you were a fairly dedicated 'watcher' several decades ago you, no doubt, have seen Ed Nelson in action in the movies and on the tube. The dude got around. Matter of fact, he graduated from the same school as I did - The School Of Radio Technique. Most of the teachers were respected announcers working in New York city.
Nelson's original intention was to become a lawyer but, after being bitten by the 'vee-cious' acting bug, he traded gavel for microphone. The New Orleans native at first worked behind the scenes - as an assistant director, writer, location manager and, in one flick, he was an alligator wrestler. (You can watch that match in "Swamp Woman."
That came out in 1956. Three years later, he went film noir in a 'B' gem called, "T-Bird Gang." He sneers and snarls his way through this quite watchable offering in which he portrayed a 'Cagney-Raft' type who heads a gang of what the movie calls teen-agers. (Oldest teens I've ever seen).
He constantly orders his crew of misfits around and, of course, they blindly obey even with eyes wide open. Nelson is a man of authority as 'smart-Alex" gang leader, Alex Hendrick, whose hobby seems to be 'scenery chewing.' He wants to rob a warehouse, he sends his goons out for the dirty work - he wants someone knocked off, so be it and, that, in effect, is where the story begins. His junior misfit gang kills a night watchman who happened to be the father of a respected young man, Frank Simmons who sees a sign, 'No Minors Allowed' so, naturally, he decides to call himself, Frank Minor. His folks called him John Brinkley.
Minor's major effort is bringing down nasty Nelson and, he does so by infiltrating the bad guys. In other woids, the 'goodie' becomes a 'baddie'. There are some fight scenes, of course, most of them 'pantomimic'. As for transportation to and from each crime - check the movie's title.
There is some pretty good stuff in "T-Bird Gang," including a well done fire scene. The dialogue is tough (Warner's would be proud) and the story, though familiar, makes some semblance of sense. See why the boss accepts Minor. Makes sense.
As a confirmed chauvinist, I should mention the 'femmes fatales' in the movie. Pat George is the moll (Ed's g.f.), a tough-talking hoot from the Gloria Graham School of Tough Talking Hoots and, conversely, pretty Nola Thorp is the sweetie pie gal pal of Mr. Gang Infiltrator. She is called Kay - the poor gal is given no last name.
A fat plus in the movie is the background music by jazz great, Shelly Manne - bandleader, drummer, composer - a NYC native who began 'swingin' in '39. He was in the Navy during WW2 and, where did he play whenever he got the chance? On 52nd Street which, in those days was known as 'Swing Street' since there was club after club supplying the music of that genre. Later, he peformed with Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker - also with Woody Herman and, best known, with Stan Kenton.
Speaking of music, there's an excellent scene showing the boss listening intently to classical music and, there is a fun scene showing the boss and the babe playing chess. Her motto seems to be - "I cheat, I win." And, to add to all that, Miss Mill reads - books, not just the funny papers. Bottom line - it's a most watchable romp.
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Hey, gorefans, Roger Corman co-produced this movie, but is not listed in the credits. He and Nelson became good friends and, it was Mr. C. that put pal Ed in the 'swamp' movie. As mentioned earlier, Nelson was all over the place but, probably, his best known role was in the p.m. t.v. version of "Peyton Place." Nelson also portrayed - God's honest truth - a crab in, what else? "Attack Of the Crab Monsters." (See seafood).
Jack Nicholson was not in "T-Bird Gang," but he did pose for some of the film's stills. Glenn Campbell was an extra. By the time he got to Phoenix he was forgotten. Anyway,' twas not the singer, just someone who shared the name. Vic Tayback - yes, Alice's boss - had a teensy role as a cop. You blink, you miss.
So, it's a double whammy. You have a really good movie and, a really good soundtrack. You've got standard dumb guys and some hot music. I promise, on the head of a Jimbo, you can't lose when you check out the "T-Bird Gang."
Watch the movie: T-Bird Gang —»
That Ragtime Band - 1913
'The Jazz Band Leader." Mabel Normand, Ford Sterling, and other loonies. 1913.
If you're looking for sophisticated comedy, look elsewhere; If you are listening for music from a movie about "The Ragtime Band", listen elsewhere. If you're seeking a no-nonsense look at nonsense, look here: "The Jazz Band Leader."
If silence is golden, this 12-minute flick is worth its weight in -- . Wanna see what your parents and/or great-grandparents were giggling about in makeshift theaters, this little gem will prove educational.
It doesn't make a modicum (not even a tiny modicum) of sense but, as 'tis said about so many political speeches - who gives a hoot? It's not a constant laugh-getter but, it's ideal medicine for this day and age. The 'no dialogue' movie could serve as an example for today'spoliticos - the less said, the better.
The stars were two of the biggest draws of the early, early days - Ford Sterling and Mabel Normand. Did they work from a script? I doubt it. The so-called theme can be described in this day-and-age as, "America's Got No Talent."
Our g. l. - i.e. Jimbo - notes that America was introduced to pie throwing in this flick. Members of the audience, all of whom seemed to enter the theater 'pies-in-hand' toss the pastries to the performers and, vice-versa.
The other - er - performers include an acrobat who can't acro -- dancing girls who cavort with papers showing their addresses -- and a sousaphone player whose 'souse' is filled with water.
Most importantly - 'The Jazz Band Leader" was produced, directed, and - er - written by Mack Sennett, the man who turned craziness into an art form.
It is Ford Sterling (some car owners might not agree) who steals the show with his expressions, his physicality. He walks off with the 'goings-on'. He is the leader of the band - Professor Smelts. Mabel Normand portrays - who else? - Mabel.
A couple of other characters went off to bigger and better - Raymond Hatton and, especially the ever-frustrated, Edgar Kennedy.
Well, as I said - this here now thing ain't for sophisticates but, if you want to enjoy 12-minutes or so of utter nonsense listen - oops, wrong word - watch, "The Jazz Band Leader."
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In real life, Sterling was a very handsome gentleman. He was the original leader of The Keystone Kops portraying Chief Teeheezer. The LaCrosse, Wisc. Native made 275 films, the last one in 1936.
Watch the movie: That Ragtime Band —»
Shadow Valley - 1947
Okay, western film fans -- here's the scenario: It's midweek and you're bored outta your gourd. The are three movie houses in the neighborhood but, one is closed for renovation, another for camera repair. These are the '40s so television is not a consideration. (Duh).
The one theater is open and it's offering a cowboy double feature. The top-rated film is Autry, Rogers, or their ilk. These are the days of double features. You check to see what the second half of that double bill is. You look - you're less than thrilled. It's billed by 'the new PRC" as something called, "Shadow Valley." Well, you don't feel like sticking your nose in a book so, you decide to attend that motion picture showing.
The bottom half of that double bill stars Eddie Dean, imaginatively referred to by the scripwriter as, Eddie Dean. The story is as old as Methusaleh's toenails. Pretty girl has ranch, wants to sell it for a quick trip outta town, and puts the sale in charge of a crooked lawyer. (Is that a contradiction of terms?)..
He is as crooked as a mountain road and wants to buy her land because, as they used to say, "there's gold in them thar hills"). She knows zilch about that. Ridin' into town, and chirping merrily away, is the man who, at first she distrusts but, later, realizes he's really a decent chap.
Eddie Dean is our 'hero' - displaying the personality of a wet dishrag. I give him 31/2 yawns. He sings decently, acts woodenly and displays the personality of a wet dishrag (justifiably repeating myself).
The picture is not a 'bang-'em-up' western. Shots are fired but, there are only a couple of boooring fights. Most of those shots are fired by veteran second banana, Roscoe Ates as Soapy Jones. The running joke (?) is his inability to hit his target - a 'joke' that worked the first two times.
The leading lady has been around - Jennifer Holt as Mary Ann jarvis whose sole contribution is - slowly - mounting and dismounting from her horsie.
The crooked, always smirking lawyer, is another cowboy pic vet, Ben Gunnison. The neat twist in this flick concerns Lee Morgan as a decent sheriff. The gimmick here is that he trusts the stranger, much to the chagrin of most of the citizens who, as in so many westerns, distrusts the 'stranger-in-town'.
Interesting, to me anyway, is Dean's cowboy outfit. It looks like the kind of uniform Little Johnny used to wear when he was calling for Phillip Morris.
There is a highlight to all this mishmash. It's music by a fine western band, The Plainsmen. But, for heaven's sakes they appear at the very end of the picture and play for all of two minutes.
It hardly seemed worth the effort to come to Hollywood for their quickie appearance. And - you knew this was coming - it's not worth the effort to take a trip to that theater to see, "Shadow Valley." Maybe you can find a movie with Rudy Vallee.
In all fairness, Dean's earlier efforts were fairly good. I should also mention he was a good songwriter whose efforts were popularized by such folk as Tex Ritter. And, get this -- here's where I chomp crow: Autry and Rogers both proclaimed him as one of the best singers but, in this pic there are only three short pieces. By the way, elsewhere on the Jimbo pages I profile Dean.
Watch the movie: Shadow Valley —»
There Goes the Bride - 1932
"There Goes the Bride." Jessie Matthews, Owen Nares, Jessie Matthews, Carol Goodner, Jessie Matthews.
Who cares about the plot? "Not I," said the cat. When I check out a Jessie Matthews movie almost the only thing I concentrate on is -- Jessie Matthews.
This go-'round I highly recommend, "There Goes the Bride," starring the absolutely adorable, wide-eyed actress whose every movement, every expression keeps you alternating between smiling, guffawing, and howling with laughter.
Hollywood, of course, has had its share of 'cute' but, as far as this reviewer is concerned none can match the matchless Matthews who is the seventh child of a family of 16 young'uns. (My wife is the youngest of 12. I was an only child. Er - don't ask).
This movie has a very appropriate title. She is a bride-to-be who prefers being a 'bride-not-to-be' so, she skips town a few minutes before the wedding is to begin. The 'groom-to-be' is a wealthy dude, so the inference is that she was going to marry for money. At the last minute she has some second thoughts. She exits, leaving behind her, a room full of p.p's - puzzled people.
She decides to go to gay Paree. Remember, this movie was made in 1932 when 'gay' only implied joy. Jessie, as Annette Marquand, settles in on a train bound for France. Innocently, and quietly, she settles back and, while snoozing, a cad steals everything she owns, and that includes train tix and moolah. The low-life leaves her with zilch.
A gent who shares the compartment with her becomes irked when she tries to - er - borrow his stuff, thinking it's her stuff. That constantly befuddled gent is Owen Nares, excellent as Max, whose thoughts were occupied with Cora, the lovely Carol Goodner. Goodner is good as his intended. He makes the mistake of 'grabbing' her in an effort to get back his belongings -- a mistake for him, a blast for us.
He hangs on to her and complains to a conductor that she robbed him. BIG mistake. Miss Matthews can 'cute' her way out of any dilemma. All it takes is a look at those wiide eyes. Well, when the choo-choo stops she finds a parked car and hides in it. Whose car? C'mon now. She talks her way into a) letting her stay in the car and b) letting her stay in his mansion.
Once there, she high tales it to his piano where, as she has done in past movies, plays quite well and sings quite charmingly. The song, with the proper title of, "I'll Stay With You," is a good, rhythmic piece that you will hear during the movie at various times.
If you haven't figured it out by now, his fiancee comes a-calling, which means that Matthews has to run around the house to find various places to hide - lots of rooms, lots of slamming doors. At one point, Miss M plays a record and turns Max's volume to the max. So, Max the is frustrated, his intended is flustered (Remember them from vaudeville - the team of Frustrated and Flustered?). The flustered, supposed bride to be said she doesn't like the song so, naturally, Miss M turns the volume to verry loud, bringing the noise police into the pic.
That song, not so incidentally, is performed by Carroll Gibbons and (honestly) The Savoy Orpheans. They dance 'n drink and, to re-phrase a British phrase - have a jolly ole time. They may not be hillbillies but there are a lot of 'hics'.
"There Goes the Bride" is a 'howl' of a wonderful movie with nary a minute of dullness. As I noted earlier - and now 're-note' - the main reason for watching this craziness is the always delightful Miss Matthews. I urge you -- 'urge-urge' -- to watch the film. It's more fun than a barrel of popcorn eating monkeys. (Sorry, Jimbo).
Watch the movie: There Goes the Bride —»
Heartaches - 1947
"Heartaches." Sheila Ryan, Edward Norris, Chill Wills, Kenneth Farrell, featuring Lash LaRue, Keefe Brasselle, Terry Moore. 1947.
Recently, I profiled Lash LaRue, then went looking for one of his movies. I came up with "Heartaches," in which he has a minor role. Bottom line - I watched it anyway and found myself watching a thoroughly enjoyable musical murder mystery about a handsome hunk who looks good on screen, but sings bad. He mouths the words which are actually sung by a 'dubber'. Chill Wills as 'Bogie' Mann is the 'dubber, and Kenneth Farrell as Vic Morton is the 'dubbee.' (Think "Singin' In the Rain" - Reynolds and Hagen).
Both men play their parts to a 't' with Wills, of course, far removed from the type of character he usually played. He is marvelous as the piano playing crooner, and Morton is grade-A as the handsome 'supposed' vocalist who relies on 'lip sync.' The 'sync-er' is sunk when the secret gets out - the secret being that he can't sing a note. He can't sing any notes.
The leading lady in the picture(s) is very lovely Sheila Ryan as the very lovely Toni Wentworth. She is in love with a newspaper reporter. As a retired 'one-of-those' I can attest to the fact that it's a common problem. (Yeah - right). Wanna see my list?
As you might expect, wise cracks abound - sort-of a poor man's Loy-Powell. The fly in the ointment is that the reporter, Jimmy McDonald, is actually Miss Ryan's hubby-to-be, and the reluctant object of the on-screen singer's attention -- on screen, only. The sharp newspaper guy uncovers the ruse which results in death threats and-- death, itself. The count is three.
There is a photograph in which the 'would be singer' is seen as a trumpeter in a band. We all know that trumpeters usually can't croon - with the exception of Vaughn Monroe.
There are several pretty good songs throughout the picture, the most important, of course, is the title tune, sung as a ballad rather than the 'snapper' we're used to. (For more about the song, see below). Song and pic go back to 1947 so, I must have played it while yapping for the Armed Forces Radio Service in Nome.
In 1981 there was a movie with the same title, which has nothing to do with anything. Our version begins with a tour of the major Hollywood studios, and of L. A. This movie was not from a major studio. 'twas a Mascot movie. In this movie, the 'star' is so popular he is offered a contract to appear on stage and, on stage, doing comedy, the dubbing trick wouldn't work. (Again - see "Singin' In the Rain.")
He shuns radio work noting, "I prefer to make an honest living." (Thanks a lot," signed, 'former radio guy - moi)'. And, there is the scene that describes reporters as, "having no scruples." Well, this is a work of fiction. Shoot, in my reporterial days I was up to my ankles in scruples.
I mentioned LaRue - well - he plays a gunsel. Keefe Braselle, the star of "The Eddie Cantor Story" is on screen in this epic, just long enough to pull a trigger. I spent a day with him and I'm here to say - he was a fun-fun character; Terry Moore is on screen briefly in a scene as the object of the 'star's - croonin'.
The movie is thoroughly enjoyable from beginning to end and, wait till you see 'The End'. It's 'coo-coo'.
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As promised, here is some info on "Heartaches" - the song. The biig hit, of course, was the Ted Weems version featuring Elmo Tanner who whistled his way thru a couple of choruses. Altogether, there were about 50 recordings of the song which Weems cut in 1933 and re-released in 1947. The 'Weemsie' arrangement spent 16 weeks atop Billboard Magazine's hit chart, peaking at number one. Other numero uno hits by the Weems ork were "Somebody Stole My Gal" and "The Man From the South." The bandleader was the man from Pennsylvania." My personal favorite by that band was, "Oh, Monah."
The Harry James arrangement peaked at number seven. Altogether, there were about 50 arrangements. Artists included The Marcels, a parody by Allen Sherman which included - honest - eating a teevee set. (Please, no jokes about tossing your cookies). The song was also recorded by Patsy Cline, Jimmy Dorsey, Chet Atkins, Pat Boone, The Ames Brothers, Connie Francis, Barbara Eden, Eddy Howard, Frankie Laine, Billy Vaugn, Guy Lombardo etc., etc., etc. Surprisingly, the Lombardo version was lame.
Lyricist Al Hoffman also penned "Allegheny Moon," "A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes," "Hawaiian Wedding Song," "Mairzy Doats," "Papa Loves Mambo." The music is courtesy John Klenner who is also credited with "Smoke Dreams," and "Just Friends."
As for Mr. Weems, he played violin and trombone. A sort-of claim to fame - he played at the inaugural for Pres. Warren Harding. The band disbanded at the start of World War 2 and, for good reason. Every member joined the Merchant Marine.
Watch the movie: Heartaches —»
Carnival of Crime - 1962
"Carnival Of Crime." Jean-Pierre Aumont, Alex Talton, Toni Carrero. 1962
The good news is that the performers in the French flick, "Carnival Of Crime," all speak-a English and/or their voices are dubbed, so sub-titles aren't necessary. The star, Jean-Pierre-Aumont speaks 'American' clearly and distinctly, so he didn't need any help. But, the picture does - in spades.
One critic rightly noted that the plot is weak. I watched it on a 'weak-day' which, with this movie would have been any of the seven days. Pick one.
The movie begins with a couple of buildings being blown to smithereens. (That is several miles from Rio de Janeiro). Those blasts were almost the highlights of the film which has to do with an unfaithful wife vs. a faithful secretary. Another character is a soused ladies' man. And, there is a mom-in-law who spends her time with a gigolo.
The above is the movie's - er - plot. The hero is an architect, Frank Lloyd Wrong. He is on a time schedule - he has to get a couple of his buildings ready by a certain date. A nemesis does all he can to nip that schedule in the bud - thus the blown buildings. The film opens with a couple of bad guys dynamiting the architect's efforts. They divide their time between being s.o.b.'s and/or arguing with each other.
On the plus side - all the ladies involved are quite pretty, Aumont as usual is a fine performer. I must give ten stars to the soundtrack which switches from flamenco to jazz. If you just want some good music, you will enjoy that soundtrack. Some of it is Django Reinhardt-like. Also worthwhile is the French German Shepherd. (Do you have to pee? Oui (wee).
The story switches between Rio and Brasilia. The movie was produced by the misnamed, Crown Jewels which, 'tis said, was America's oldest independent film company.
Enough, already, Roberts. Jimbo has billions (a slight exaggeration) of good movies in the hopper. (No, not Hedda) - so there is no dearth of really good stuff from which to choose. If you want to watch "Carnival Of Crime" (the first movie to use that title), invite someone you dislike to join you for a joint gagging session.
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I'm reading "Das Boot," penned by Lothar Gunther Buchheim, who commanded a German submarine during WW2. It's a tough, but fascinating read and, I got into it, because I had the movie. Recently, Fox showed a movie about American sub-mariners, "Crash Dive." The star was Tyrone Power who, unlike some of his peers was a hero in reel and real life. He enlisted in the Marine Corps at age 42. He was too old for combat flying, so he volunteered to pilot cargo planes, a task that would get him into active combat zones. Those who worked with him praised Power for his abilities and for the way he got along with fellow Marines; James Stewart, likewise, led a squadron of Liberators, and was involved in more than 20 missions. John Wayne, on the other hand --- .
Speaking of that world war - with all of our technology, this wouldn't make news in this day and age but during the second World War the British news agency, Reuters, was often able to beat their rivals to the punch with headlines. How? They used carrier pigeons. My Pigeon was 'Walter'.
Finally, this sage advice from Paul White, an early CBS radio reporter. He said that every point in a broadcast story had to be repeated. "You have to tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you've told them." A solid - Amen!
Watch the movie: Carnival of Crime —»
Hoodlum Girls - 1944
"Hoodlum Girls." Joy Reese, Warren Burr, Kay Morley, Michael Owen, Rod Rodgers. 1944.
Here's the 'nutty' plot in a nutshell. Two sisters - one, a living example of sweetness and light -- the other, well, exactly the opposite. Jeez, where have we seen that plot before??
The attractive young ladies, like everyone in the cast were unknowns, both before and after the movie was made and, for seemingly obvious reasons -- most of the cast can be politely described as 'non-actors' who probably couldn't get roles in grade-Z movies.
Hold on, though. The music and entertainment acts are outstanding. More about that later. The movie, "Hoodlum Girls" was originally called, "Youth Aflame," and was produced by - honestly - Social Service Pictures of Hollywood. As the son of a social service supervisor, I protest.
The film's posters were more exciting than the movie, itself. They read, "Sex Crazed Youth On a Wild Rampage," and they claim the flick is "thrill mad - without shame..wanton and dangerous." Whew! I guess that enticed a portion of the male population. In small print, it notes that it is double-featured with "Last Date," starring Dick York. Ah, at last - a familiar name.
The unfamiliar names in "Hoodlum Girls" are Joy Reese as Katy White - she's the goody-good girl -- and Kay Morley as Laura White, the rebellious chick. Michael Owen and Rod Rodgers are the male leads. The story opens and closes with our heroine in a hospital bed, looking totally unhappy. Why not? She just took a bullet.
A couple detectives are working on the case and, one is - dare I say it? - a female. This was many moons ago so someone noted that police work "is a man's job." Not any more, of course. Women are now acknowledged to have beauty and brains.
As in so many others and, in many cases as in real life, the 'baddie' owns a nightclub, and that's where all the fine acts perform. In the meantime the girl's dad, a gun loving bank guard, fusses at both daughters.
Most of the action, including some pretty decent fisticuffs, takes place there. His bartender, by the way, turns out to be a sort-of Crosbyish crooner. A 'stole' stole is presented to the nice daughter. Its point of origination is, to put it mildly, a big question mark - as in '?'.
The bad guy is after the good girl - the good girl is after the good guy - the bad girl is after the bad guy, and said bad guy gives her the brush. Unnerstan'? Incidentally, just so you'll know who's who - the bad girl is dressed in black.
The action takes place in - where else? - Detroit which, to this day has a reputation for questionable 'goings-on'. In all fairness, though, it should be noted that the number one crime city these days is my parents' hometown - Baltimore. I have no argument there, having gone through some unhappy mess involving relatives with whom, as a youngster, I was very close.
What has that got to do with the movie, you may well ask. I may well answer - nothing. I just had to get it off my chest. The movie, itself, in spite of its amateurish look, is not bad at all and, I can practically guarantee, it will keep you interested.
The story also concerns efforts to open a club for young people where they can jive and drink milk. Mr. Bad Guy sees that as a threat to his business, so he does everything to thwart. The good people have an ally, Amy Clark, the policewoman mentioned above. She is portrayed, with sweetness and light, by Mary Arden.
Will good conquer bad? Well, duh! As I noted, the story isn't half bad but, see this picture for the outstanding entertainers.
* * * *
In his summation, Jimbo tells you a little about one of the jitterbuggers, Johnny Duncan, who went on to have a quite decent career after "Hoodlum Girls." I will have a bio on Karl Kiffe, the knockout drummer. There is a novelty act, 'One Good Turn Deserves Another," with a dance-acrobatic routine that is outstanding - exciting. Lindsay Bourquin, Laverne Thompson, and Betty Phares fare very, very well.
* * * *
"Hoodlum Girls" is concerned with attempts to open a club for 'delinquent' young people who want/need to let off steam, to keep out of trouble, to switch their energy from whatever it is that got them into trouble --- to a place where they could let off steam by listeningto good swing music, and by dancing up a storm or two.
There was a similar story on the other side of the globe - specifically in Nazi Germany where such music was verboten so, it had to be an underground activity. What irked the heil Hitler-ites was that the swastika-less young people were playing and/or dancing to the music of Duke Ellington, a Negro -- Django Reinhardt, a gypsy and, of course, Benny Goodman, not a good man in Nazi eyes.
It began in Hamburg in '39 and, for the most part, involved young people from fairly well off families. The government, of course, was busy organizing the Hitler Youth, but those German youth were disinterested. In 1941 over 300 of them were arrested, sent back to school under Nazi supervision, and were made to cut their hair. Some were deported to concentration camps.
In retaliation, the swingsters distributed government propaganda. In 1942, it became unbearable as far as the German leaders were concerned and some of the ringleaders of the 'swing' movement were sent to concentration camps, were beaten, and forced to participate in forced labor operations. Heinrich Himmler was in charge of everything. The crackdown soon resulted in the raiding of clubs.
In 1993 a film was made about the "Swing Kids," which featured excellent music and some really wonderful jitterbugging scenes. It illustrated the young peoples' desire to switch from 'Heil Hitler' to 'Swing Heil." Ja whol!
A final note. "Hoodlum Girls" features a fairly lengthy drum solo by Karl Kiffe - a knockout performance by a fairly unknown musician, a most interesting gentleman. I will have a separate and, I believe, story that will interest anyone who loves swing music. Check it out —». Jimbo will tell you where to go. Er - that doesn't sound quite nice.
Watch the movie: Hoodlum Girls —»
Crime, Inc. - 1945
"Crime Inc." Leo Carrillo, Tom Neal, Martha Tilton, Lionel Atwill, Grant Mitchell, Sheldon Leonard, Don Beddoe, George Chandler. 1945.
To begin with - "Crime Inc." is quite good. How can that be? It's from PRC. Sheesh. Well, it is good, with some of the best known '40s-50s performers tangled in a 'keep you guessin' plot', the end of which may well surprise you.
There are murders a-plenty, and a fair amount of good music by Martha Tilton, one of the swing era's best known vocalists. She can act, too. The songs she offers are five on a one to ten scale. In one scene, she sings and takes pictures of the nightclub customers, a gimmick which has been done before.
The murder-music mystery works well and, in mid-song the first two murders are committed. "The Sound Of Music' mixes with the sound of murder as her chriping is interruped by the film's first pair of killers at work. When the bang-bang is finished, the 'Liltin' Miss Tilton goes back to her vocals.
Plot-wise, there is Big Jim Riley, a newspaper crime reporter who is determined to do his part to end the spread of crime in their community. He even gets 'over-involved' by working undercover. My reportorial days were never that exciting.
Incidentally, the title sort-of tells the tale. The chief 'bad guys' are the board of directors who are determined to take over their city. Who's to stop them? A crusading journalist, of course. That is Big Jim Riley, as portrayed by Tom Neal who, in those days, was all over the screen, often in 'meanie' roles.
And, there is a Tony Marlow, who owns the nightclub where Tilton vocalizes. And, here is some fascinating piece of casting. Leo Carrillo has that role, and he speaks perfect English. Moviegoers are more familiar with him as the Latin-accented Pancho, sidekick to the'Cisco Kid'.
Anyway, Mr. Marlowe, who is one of the mob's kingpins, is kidnapped by mobster, Bugs Kelly, (not Bugsy Siegel) to express his opposition to the mob. Here is where sex rears its head. Our crusading journalist, and the club vocalist, fall in love. She is Kelly's sis and keeps busy telling him mob secrets.
The mob? It is much like stories we see in papers and on the tube everyday. Several of the 'bad guys' disguise themselves as 'good guys' and it can throw viewers off the track - but it makes for an interesting story. One quite good scene involves a road that is supposed to be closed. I will say no more.
So, there are more murders. And, there is a grand jury, and there are witnesses who must be eliminated. Also, similar to today's headlines, there is a secret hidden device - listening and taking pictures. How update can you get?
Honestly, there are no dull moments - even when one of my old hangouts - Coney Island - becomes the center of attention for a spell. There is a fascinating scene involving a wax museum there. An electric chair is involved - grim-o.
So, if you like - dare I say it? It is a well acted, fascinating story. You will definitely enjoy your moments with "Crime Inc."
* * * *
In his liner notes, the 'popcorn person' goes into Miss Tilton's background - but - the queen of big band singers was Helen Forrest, who was born in Atlantic City, yet. She worked with Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Harry James (some - er - love interest there faded when he wed Betty Grable. That was one of showbiz's most successful pairings. Miss Forrest admits that her feelings do not subside).
Her father died when she was a baby. Her mom married someone who was disliked by Helen and her three brothers. What a guy. He turned their home into a brothel, with his wife as 'storekeeper'. As if that wasn't enough, dear, ole stepdad, tried to rape her when she was 14. She fought him off, with the help of a knife. She then went to live with a piano teacher who recognized her talent.
After that, thank heaven, it was uphill. Her first job was on a station I listened to in my growin' up years (the reason I became a disc jockey) - WNEW in NYC. Then, it was into night clubs, performing in D. C. for two years. Artie Shaw heard her - hired her. She replaced Billie Holiday. The two had vocalized jointly. H. F. threatened to quit because Miss H, thanks to the color of her skin, had not been treated fairly by behind-the-scene big shots.
When Shaw quit the biz, Goodman picked Forrest up and, the years with the King Of Swing, were, to say the least, quite unhappy. To be blunt - she did not like the man. Despised is a better description. Helen exited to, as she put it, "avoid a nervous breakdown."
She auditioned for James and was hired, thanks to band acclimation. Her most popular songs came with that orchestra - "I Had the Craziest Dream," and "I Don't Want To Walk Without You." In 1942 and 1943, in a poll conducted by the respectable Downbeat Magazine, she was voted 'the best female vocalist in the U. S.' And, that covers a lot of territory.
Later, she enjoyed a respectable solo career which included a radio show starring herself and Dick Haymes. They recorded 18 duets -10 reaching top 10. Their biggest hit was a beaut- "Long Ago And Far Away."
She was often referred to as "The Voice Of the Big Bands."
Watch the movie: Crime, Inc. —»
Buried Alive - 1939
"Buried Alive." Beverly Roberts, Robert Wilcox, Paul McVey, Ted Osborne.
When I saw who starred in this movie, I just had to see it. Beverly Roberts was wife number one. (At this point, Jimbo chokes on his popcorn). I will explain after the review in the 'notes' department. (At this point, a lotta readers skip right down there).
Remember 'Fibber McGee and Molly?" When he did something a little crazy, she would say, "t'aint bad McGee." I will say that about this movie, a not-at-all-bad cheapie from Producers Releasing Corp., then known simply as Producers Pictures Corporation.
It has to do with a prisoner who is en-route to 'that room' with an electric chair, a punishment which, for many, was an entertainment. So many people wanted to watch, including an obnoxious newspaperman. As a retired 'un-obnoxious' newspaperman I would have called in sick on that day.
The movie takes a stand - a strong stand, against capital punishment and takes an unabashed view of newspapers in general. Sheesh! What eventually happens? That's for me to know and for you to find out.
One of the main characters is interesting and adds to the 'anti-capital punishment' stand taken by the film. George Pembroke is Ernie Matthews, the man who makes $250 every time he pulls the switch. "I send 'em on their way," he explains. The man who is about to be seated has found guilty of murdering three women.
Once the switch is pulled he, of course, is jolted into eternity. Matthews looks at it philosophically. "I throw the switch. It's all in a day's work." Does he feel guilty? Hell, yes - he gets drunk after every 'switch pull'.
Beverly Roberts is the prison nurse and everyone who comes in contact with her falls in love. Well, she is a beaut and has a sweet attitude. The prison doc loves her and, honestly, so does the prison chaplain.
An important character in the film is Johnny Martin, a prison trustee who is up for parole in two years. Robert Wilcox plays the Mr. Nice Guy who gets into a fight when he sees the executioner being beaten up by obnoxious reporter. And, as any obnoxious reporter would do he gets even by writing an article putting Johnny down so, not only is he in trouble for fighting - believe it or not - he winds up in that little room near the electric chair.
His execution is about to go forward. It leads to what I have to say is an interesting climax so, I reiterate, this is not a bad movie at all. The story is quite good - the action never lags. Recommend - recommend.
* * * *
Now - about Beverly Roberts. She was my first wife ----- well ----- not the actress, but the former Beverly Ciora. They do have onething in common. Both came from Brooklyn. There - wasn't that exciting information? The star was a blonde, mine had dark hair. She was, as they say in Germany - zoftig. Her brother, Elliott, used to call her Blubberly. Unfair - she was - er - zoftig, not overweight.
A character in the movie, called Riley, was portrayed by Ben Alexander who later became Jack Webb's first "Dragnet" partner. I had the pleasure of interviewing him during my stint with KWWL-TV in Waterloo, IA. He was touring with Fred Waring and - both of them - were as nice and pleasant as could be.
Also in the cast, in small roles, were Wheeler Oakman who later worked in the Flash Gordon serial, and Dave O'Brien who starred in those MGM comedy shorts, "Pete Smith Specialties."
Watch the movie: Buried Alive —»
Confessions of a Vice-Baron - 1943
"Confessions Of A Vice Baron." Willy Castello. 1943.
This is not a typical movie review, because "Confessions Of A Vice Baron" is far removed from being a typical motion picture. It has to do with the life of Mafia pioneer, Lucky Luciano.
Several things put this film in the 'very unusual' category. First, and foremost, there are movies within the movie - scenes from several films incorporated into the story of Sing Sing inmate #1452. The movie opens with a seemingly contrite gang boss confessing some of his sins to the prison's warden.
To tell the story we see scenes from "Race Suicide," "Smashing the Vice Trust," "Mad Youth," Wages Of Sin," and "The Pace That Kills."
Also unusual is a nude scene that comes as a surprise and leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination. 'She' alternates between being scantily clad and completely 'unclad'. That scene alone prevented the flick from being shown in about 95 per cent of the movie houses. A similar scene, although not quite as raw, features some suggestive dancing by two belly dancers of those days.
Most of the subject matter is typical of gangster movies of the era but, in this case, they are dealt with more frankly. Luciano was involved in vice rackets, abortion, white slavery, baby selling, kidnapping, charming women and some male suckers out of their savings and, of course, murder. Girls as young as 13 were among the targets. Pimps, madams, bordellos - he owned them all. Most of them wound up in Fat Pearl's Brothel.
You've probably seen gangster movies galore but, you can bet you've never seen it like this. "Confessions Of A Vice Baron" begins pleasantly enough. Luciano is scheduled, shortly, for a seat in the electric chair. First, though, he does as the movie title suggests, and adds warnings about the dangers of going for fast, easy money.
He looks and sounds sincere in his repentance as he tells one and all that greed is stupid. The once hardened, cynical, heartless gangster is, of course, an Italian but, in the movie he is well portrayed by a Dutch actor, Willy Castello, who has been seen in other gangster flicks.
There is a lot of concentration on the women in his life. He pretends to marry some of them and/or when he gets tired of them he sells them into white slavery.
At one time he drives off with a woman taking her, "for a good, long ride." She won't work for him so he leaves her for a couple of days without food or water. Other un-cooperative females get - those refusing to go into white slavery - get 'worked over' by some of Luciano's goons. Some of the women are picked off college campuses.
"Nothing can stop me," he brags at one point. And, remember, the story is told via clips from other movies about the feared gangster. Something did stop him - the dedication of two district attorneys - Selmer Jackson, and Thomas Dewey. The latter later became governor of New York.
Needless to say, but I will say it anyway, the movie is extremely graphic. Unlike many such films, it does not glamorize 'gangsterism'. It will keep you enthralled -- and disgusted.
* * * *
Charles 'Lucky' Luciano powerful? While in prison, he provided the Navy with contacts in Sicily to help Allied invasion planners. His information helped to guide Allied forces to key Nazi command centers in Sicily, the city of his birth.
The gangster's real name was Lercara Friddi. In the movie he is called Lucky Lombardo. He was born Nov. 11, 1896 and died Jan.26, 1962 in Naples. His crime career began at the tender age of 10 when he became involved in smuggling, shoplifting, and extortion.
Castello, the Dutch actor who portrays the Luciano character, was also the voice of -- Popeye. In today's movie, Luciano was referred to as Lucky Lombardo.
Watch the movie: Confessions of a Vice-Baron —»
Moonstone - 1934
"The Moonstone." David Manners, Phyllis Barry, Gustav von Seyffertitz, Jameson Thomas, Elspeth Dudgeon.
I'll be blunt. "The Moonstone" is a gem -- the picture, ain't. It's based on an old Victorian novel, presumably the firest detective story in the English language so, from that point of view, the story is sort-of fascinating.
The tale takes place in an old mansion - and nowhere else. The camera stays put on the premises. The plot has to do with the theft - sorta - of a valuable gem stolen from India. There is the not unexpected cast of characters, most of them under some degree of suspicion, and it takes place - yep - on a dark and stormy night.
Oh, and of course the lights go out and, in a manner of speaking, so does the moonstone, brought to the house by Franklin Blake (David Manners). For 'safekeeping' the daughter of the house, Anne Verinder (Phyllis Barry) wears it around her neck, in plain view of several questionable characters. The expected happens, some lowlife snatches it off Miss V's neck. Later, it's found under a table and, still later, she goes to bed and, for further safekeeping, she puts it under her pillow. Of course, when she awakens - poof! - it's gone.
Is there a safe in the house? Nope. (People - that's why they call it a safe). What's left to do? 'Calling Scotland Yard - Calling Scotland Yard.' A low-key detective quietly grills one and all. It must be found because the lord of the manor is going broke, and sale of the gem would get him back on its feet. I know - the gem was stolen - how could he legitimately sell it? Er - !
One mystery in this mystery is why Miss Verinder seems so indifferent about the fate of the gem. Of course, all's well that ends well, and, to quote Gomer Pyle - "surprise, surprise" - the mystery is solved.
The most interesting thing about "The Moonstone" are some of the characters in the cast of -- . Recently, in a review of "The Cowboy Millionaire," I penned a few days before, I went ga-ga over Miss Barry. In this story she has little to do, exuming her charm only briefly; David Manners, as her lover, is a familiar face - more about him at the end of this epic review.
John Davidson (no, not the singer) portrays a man from India (the turban is a give-away). He portrays the guest from that country with a name straight from Calcutta - Yandoo. Oh, he claims to be a convert to Christianity. That do make it nice. The scene stealer is Elspeth Dudgeon as the housekeeper, Betteredge. Better watch Betteredge.
"The Moonstone" runs for about an hour and, during that time, it will keep you at least semi-interested. Give it a shot - it won't hurt you.
* * * *
David Manners was the young hero of the original "Dracula." Get this - he earned $2,000 a week for that historic horror movie. Bela Lugosi, who did all the work, only got $500 a week. Mr. Manners, 'tis said, was a distant relative of Princess Diana. Back to Drac. He said he never saw that movie, does not want to see it, and if anyone tries to foist it on him, he will turn that misguided individual around. One more thing - dig his real name: Rauff de Ryther Daun Acklom, of the Nova Scotia - uh - Ackloms.
Earlier, when I wrote about Miss Barry I gushed about her looks and personality exhibited so wonderfully in "The Millionaire Cowboy." Unfortunately, in this movie, the last of four in which she appeared, it doesn't work. The actress-dancer, initially billed as Phyllis Du Barry, initially worked in an Australian cabaret. She died of an overdose of barbiturates.
Miss Dudgeon played a man in, "The Old Dark House" and a ghoul in something called, "Shh! The Octopus." I would have loved to see that one.
If you can catch it somewhere, "The Moonstone" came back to life in 1997. The story was presented on the old, esteemed television series, "Robert Montgomery Presents."
Watch the movie: Moonstone —»
Cowboy Millionaire - 1935
Recently, for Pop Corn, I penned a bio of cowboy star, George O'Brien so, I figured, why not review one of his pics. The title, "Cowboy Millionaire" intrigued me and, lemme tell you, it was one helluva terrific movie. See it. You have my personal guarantee you will love it.
I have to toss in some words about the leading lady. Most of those in the old 'B' westerns are cute - lovely - but, excuse my crudity, Evalyn Bostock is 'drop dead gorgeous'. Unlike 99% percent of the cowboy movies, we get to see this miss poolside - in a bathing suit. Er - she is well endowed and, as far as her acting is concerned, she is excellent.
I won't go into O'Brien too much - you can find out about this fascinating gent in my profile. He is tall, dark, handsome, athletic, charming, etc. In short (no, he ain't short) he lights up the screen.
"Cowboy Millionaire" has a decent plot - one, well used. Bob Walker (O'Brien) owns a mine and, eventually he finds out it isn't worth thousands - it's worth millions.
A greasy Brit finds out about it and attempts to buy it from co-owner, Willy Persimmon Bates. That's the always reliable Edgar Buchanan. He's the sidekick and, in this case, he's dumber than Gabby. The g.b. (greasy Brit) tries to talk 'Persimmon' into selling the mine for $20,000 - a mere pittance. (How mere is a pittance, anyway).
Hadley Thornton (Stephen Chase) came into town with Miss Pamela. When the first get to the area they are held up - sort-of. Seems the hotel arranges such goings-on to impress the 'iggerant' visitors. They try to get the passengers out of the wagon but, the lady is stubborn and refuses. So, the sparks don't fly. Then there are some darn funny scenes between hero and heroine involving 'un-togetherness'.
She, of course, can't stomach him - is becoming smitten and, with the help of his horse, Mike, continues to pursue her (and she is well worth pursuing).
She thinks he's a no-goodnik and, eventually, heads back home to jolly old England. Darned if he doesn't pursue him. We see pictures of airplanes, ships, and trains to convince us that he will travel 'round the world to catch up with her.
Some of the action takes place in England (it really is or, the studio had one helluva expensive back lot). By this time, you have figured out that "The Cowboy Millionaire" is quite removed from the standard westerns. No gunplay, for one. There is a fight but, sad to say, it's not too convincing.
There is a scene in a body of water that is as much fun as any similar scene in 'A' movies. He and she wrestle in the wet, she loses a shoe and limps away.
The by-play between he and she is just wonderful or, as Mr. Gibson might put it - it's a hoot. Speaking of which, a lot credit for some good scenes goes to Maude Allen portraying the girl's aunt - Maude Allen. (That is not one of my mistakes - that's how the program is listed.
One of my favorite scenes is when our hero finds out that his mine is worth millions. He runs around, jumps up and down, yowl, and yells like a "Price Is Right" contestant.
So-o-o, he loves her, and vice-versa. And, the ending is the biggest surprise of all. I don't mean to give it away but, it kind of floored me. The lovers actually kiss - not just a friendly peck - I'm talking lip-to-lip lingering. Jeez, I thought to myself - he gets paid for that? I would have donated my services.
Anyway, I highly - very highly - recommend "The Cowboy Millionaire." It's exciting, it's fun, it's different. Obey me - SEE IT!!
Watch the movie: Cowboy Millionaire —»
Springtime in the Sierras - 1947
"Springtime In the Sierras." Roy Rogers, Jane Frazee, Andy Devine, Stephanie Bachelor, Roy Barcroft, Sons Of the Pioneers. 1947.
I'm telling you, up front, "Springtime In the Sierras" is one the best 'B' westerns ever to come down the trail - podner. Lots of fisticuffs (fightin' to you), a hassle of hard riding, gunplay galore, touches of humor, the best cowboy music and, in a manner of speaking, a showpiece for 'the milk of human kindness.'
It starts right off with the title song, heard as Roy and his 'Sons' (Of the Pioneers) lope along. They are riding into town and, as usual, the town has some wrongs that need 'a-rightin'.
There is a mean, mean gang of 'evildoers' slaughtering game and wildlife - poachers - who take the sport out of traditional hunting - shooting anything with four legs, often leaving the wounded animal to die. They don't kill for food, they kill for money, shipping the results of their misdeeds up north - where - presumably - no questions are asked.
The movie doesn't skirt around the issue. What these professional hunters do is evil and disgusting and, you can bet your bottom dollar (or the top one, even) that Roy Rogers is gonna right those wrongs - but - not before there's a lot of what Betty Hutton used to sing about - 'feudin', fussin', and 'a-fightin'.
he bastards' (telling it like it is) weapons of choice include high-powered rifles, silencers, telescopic gun sights - nothing sporting. If you are an animal lover, there is one scene particularly hard to watch - a severely injured little deer, left to die, has to be put out of its misery.
When the law catches up with the lowlifes the judge (Milton Kibbee), gives them plenty of 'what-for'. He calls them 'racketeer hunters' and, for good measure describes them as 'most contemptible.' (In this era of light sentencing, that spiel was refreshing).
Now, let's talk about the excellent cast. First of all, it's Roy vs. Roy. The good Roy is, of course, Rogers. The bad Roy is, of course, Mr. Barcroft who spent about 30 years playing the meanest of the mean. But, in this pic, he is second in command. The head of the gang is a female Bachelor - Stephanie B, as Jean Loring, who need not take a back seat to any of the 'A' movie femme fatales. She is chilling.
Of course, there is a female fight scene between Bachelor and Jane Frazee (who made beaucoup movies - western and non - in those days). She even kills a friend of Rogers. Just before pulling the trigger (no, not the horse) she lets him know, "this is going to hurt a little bit." The chick has an evil sense of humor.
She gets her 'come upppance' in the wrestling match with the sweet Jane Frazee, with the sweet name of Taffy Baker. (I tried baking taffy. Messy!)
Their 'wrestling' match is a dandy hair-puller; On the other side of the fence is the Roy-Roy fight. It takes place in a large freezer where the 'baddies' keep their ill-gotten gains before shipping them out.
It's a hot fight, in a cold place and - honestly - our hero loses and winds up tied up. How does he get out? Ah-h -- that's for you to find out. I will say - the method is unique. Until then, he shares space with hanging meat, prompting one of the bad guys (with an evil sense of humor) to say, "we got him on ice." To comfort hero Roy, evil Roy notes that, "freezing is an easy way to die."
Some of the horse chase scenes are some of the best you will see in a 'B'. Watch how Rogers rides forward while shooting backward.
And, of course, there is music and, it's so-o-o good. Rogers sings and yodels, some of the lead is taken by Bob Nolan. He has a crisp, distinctive voice. The songs are good. They even go way-the-heck back for the old chestnut about "Seeing Nellie Home." Another excellent song is about 'me'. It's called, "When I Get Old And Gray."
A fun song features the 'Sons' with gravelly-voiced Andy Devine, who runs the local photo shop. They sing a country novelty, "Imagine Me."
To repeat what I said up front: "Springtime In the Sierras" is a must-see for the avid western flick fan - Rogers at his best.
* * * *
I noted that Roy Barcroft spent over 30 years 'villain-ing'. Offscreen, he was everybody's pal. He joined the Army when he was 15 - World War One - was wounded in France and, later, re-joined when he was the right age. He talked about one of his personal appearances: He said a little boy, who obviously saw one Barcroft movie too many, kicked him. Barcroft described that incident as, "the finest compliment anyone could have given me."
* * * *
Milton Kibbee, who played the judge, was the brother of Guy Kibbee, the more successful of the brothers. Busy? Milton appeared in 365 features; Guy in 107. In 18 films, they shared appearances. Guy was born in El Paso, had two wives and seven children; Milton was born in Santa Fe, and had one wife and two children.
* * * *
I talked about Jean Loring's talent as an evil lady. Well, real life almost paralleled that. In 1946, the former model married a Vegas businessman, Cornelius Hurley. Five years later he was investigated by the Kefauver Crime Committee. He was linked to notorious syndicate mobsters Moe Sedway, Morris Rosen and, the infamous Bugsy Siegel.
* * * *
Other seasonal movies: "Springtime In the Rockies," "Springtime In Paris," "Springtime For Hitler," and, of course, "Spring Time." For a slight variation there's the Astraire-Rogers flick, "Swing Time."
Watch the movie: Springtime in the Sierras —»
His Royal Highness - 1932
"His Royal Highness." George Wallace, Byrl Walkley, Frank Tarrant, Donald Warren, Lou Vernon, Marshall Crosby. 1932.
This may be sacrilege but, Aussie, George Wallace, is funnier than Costello, Lewis, Curly, Larry, and Moe. His movie about, "His Royal Highness" is hilarious and clever.
Up front, let me say - don't worry about a hard-to-understand Australian accent. Everybody's speech is crystal clear, and just about everything they do ranges between extrememly funny and downright hilarious.
George Wallace, surrounded by an all-white cast, can look pop-eyed, he rolls his eyes back 'n forth, forth 'n back. He sings nonsense songs and has a fine voice for chirping. He does a downright crazy but extremely clever tap dance. When he's not walking about, he takes some great pratfalls. When it comes to music/comedy, he does it all, and does better'n anyone.
Please - take my word for it. If you want a fun-fun-filled hour, watch "His Royal Highness." The title has to do with him getting beaned on his bean - waking up as the King of Betonia, a happy kingdom filled with almonds, pecans, and other nuts.
Wallace, with his sad-sack appearance, dominates the screen. Not only that, he wrote the story, and co-wrote some of the excellent songs. As Jimbo pointed out in his notes, Hollywood wanted him but, he wanted to stay home, in The Land Down Under.
There are so many scenes to look for, beginning with one that centers around, "when the snow is falling." Soon afterwards, he goes into one of his extremely clever songs - "My Girl's Got It."
He discusses being, "a hail fellow all wet," when he meant, "a hail fellow well met." He talks about life on the farm - another one of his hilarious monologues. Oh, and listen for, "I'm the Queen Of Spain."
He slaughter's the King's, and almost everyone else's English. When told he has a valet, he misunderstands - thinking he has a galley.
There is so much more - a chorus of stunning early Aussie dancing girls with a poor man's Busby Berkeley routine. (That's Berkeley, not Berkey). There are other dancing girls - sort-of -- a chorus of - er - pleasingly plump ballerinas.
Wallace, noted as one of the greatest 'pratfallers' is one hilarious king. Watch as His Royal Highness, sitting on his royal hiney, challenges his lackeys to a crazy poker game. The king has five kings.
Above all, closely watch the crazy star. He is one funny Aussie - a lot more fun than Mel Gibson. Before, and after he is king he is Tommy Dodds. He is identified by a couple of stuffy Betonians as heir to the Betonia throne-ia, since he has a scratch on his neck. Don't ask. Toward the end we find out the real truth behind that unreal scar.
He is not a nasty king and when he hears that some poor woman is headed for the guillotine, he nixes that explaining that she would have no place to put her beads.
If Jimbo has the good sense God gave him, he will seek out some George Wallace movies. Until then - I am on bended knees (making it tough to use the computer) urging you, begging you - watch "His Royal Highness." Like me - you will want to watch it more than once. To emphasize -- IT IS HILARIOUS.
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"His Royal Highness" was produced and directed by F. W. Thring, a good-sized name in down under moviedom in the '30s and '40s. He began his 'showbiz' life as a conjurer and, when he was 'outconjured' he became a bootmaker. On the more serious side, he made a film about the Great Barrier Reef. Also, he was one of his country's pioneer radio broadcasters.
Watch the movie: His Royal Highness —»