The Law of Contact

Frank M. Roberts Favorites

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 —»

Manhattan Merry-Go-Round

Men of Action"Manhattan Merry-Go-'Round." Phil Regan, Leo Carrillo, Ann Dvorak, Tamara Geva, James Gleason, Joe DiMaggio, Gene Autry, disinterested spectators from Uranus.

This movie (?) is a mish-mash of stupid jokes, a plot-less plot, snippets of mostly forgettable songs (Sammy Cahn is listed as one of the songwriters (a sue-able offense), and gives new meaning to the phrase - 'what the HELL?. It is DUMB with a capital 'D' but hold on to your equines. If you're as semi-brainless as yours truly often is, you will find yourself enjoying yourself, even while wondering why.

"Manhattan Merry-Go-Round" is about a singer in demand by some, while others want to knock him off: He's too good, he's too bad. Said singer, handsome and talented, is Phil Regan but, the scene stealer is ole vet, Leo Carrillo -'Eye-talian' from the 'git-go.' Every word he rattles off ends with the letter 'a'. You know - Manhattan-A, song-a, etc. His lines are brilliantly rattled off and, unless you are an ultra-sensitive 'Eye-talian' he will have you laffing- 'scuse me - laffing-a every time he talks spaghetti. Was pizza invented in 1937?

If PRC had a bigger budget - well - if they had a budget - this could have been a minor gem. It features a mishmash of performers, plus a quickie appearance by J. DiMaggio who made sports headlines that year. He has little to say and, it's just as well. The gag writers who. indeed, should have been gagged were mostly fueled by 90-proof and, often offered some 'zingers.' My favorite zing came about when Autry, in his first screen appearance, is introduced by a hood who says, "lemme shake your ole cowhand." Well, I semi-howled. He sings, honest, "Round-Up In Reno."

In its ads the flick rattles off a batch of fame-names most of whom sing songs never to be remembered, mixed in with some of their familiar verses of which we hear only a handful of notes. You want more, but 'tain't forthcoming - or even 'fifth-coming.' F'r instance - you ole timers, Ted Lewis does get thru his "When My Baby Smiles At Me." Well, it's a very abbreviated version. Tuff nookie. (His nephew, Teddy Friedman, who was named after his unc was a schoolmate of mine).

The year was '37 so there was tokenism in the form of the 'wild man' - Cab Calloway. The cast of characters are interesting, fun and, for the most part, pretty talented but, musically, had little to work with. Tamara Geva, a pretty lass, goes operatic. One of my favorites, Louis Prima, contributes to the Italian flavor, of course. His singer at the time was a good baritone, Johnny Hart.

If - when you go weary of the 'music' there are a couple of well done gunplay-fist fight scenes, so well done you wonder how they were done. Jimmy Gleason, when he could, walks around huffin' and puffin'. Kay Thompson, Andy Williams mentor, shows up with a boy-girl ensemble. Also making quickie, but I mean quickie' appearances are my ole friend, Smiley Burnette, vet western ventriloquest, Max Terhune, Ralph Edwards (remember his showbiz profiles?), Jack Jenney's fine orchestra, The Lindy Hopper Dancers. and Frankie Marvin from the Autry band. (I mention him because that is three-quarters of my name).

By the time it's over - a fast 60-minutes - you wonder where the time went. You wonder - did I enjoy this craziness? Well - if you are an e.z. to please fuddy-duddy you will surprise you. Stoopid? Yes, but ---- .

\Meanwhile, remember to treat Tuesday like Friday. Nov schnoz-ka pop! Meanwhile, we return you to - uh - Uranus. What 'planetarium' came up with handle, anyway? Uranus-Uranus -- say it fast 57 times.

Watch the movie: Manhattan Merry-Go-Round —»

Men of Action

Men of Action"MEN OF ACTION." Frankie Darro, LeRoy Mason, Barbara Worth, Fred Kohler.

"Men Of Action" is a movie about- er - men of action and will be appreciated even by men of 'limited' action, i.e.- writers, and will especially be appreciated by people who give a damn about dams and, it's damn watchable. Actually, two damn dams are involved but - and this hasn't a damn thing to do with the flick - there is even a third damn dam that might fit in the picture. So, you sort-of get two and a-half dams for the price of one.

The biggie dam, and the thrust of the story, has to do with construction of our country's 'famousest' water container - The Hoover Dam, near Vegas (as in Las). To get construction underway, Pres. Herbert Hoover (whose name was famously mis-pronounced as 'Hoobert Heaver by radio announcer, Harry Von Zell) signed the necessary papers. That was in 1928. Three years later it was ready to go to work.

Also going to work - about 5,000 men. What were their jobs after completion? One story has it that some young'un stuck a finger in the dam to keep the water from wandering about town. Like many such major manpower jobs there were lives lost - about 112. Historically, "Men Of Action" moves swiftly while fiction and 'non' mix it up.

Yes, the movie tells us about building the damn dam but, is it really Mr. Hoover's? According to avid historian Jimbo Berkey, the film doesn't show the ex-prez's dam. Says he, there are no scenes at the proper damn dam during construction. Has something to do with 'freedom-of-the-screen.' It (gulp) was a movie site. Otherwise, 'el-plotto' is the all too familiar good guy vs. bad guy. As happened with many films of those days, the bad guys were big businessmen in it for the money while caring not a feather or a fig about the muscle-bound every day Joe struggling to feed his family.

Such conflict, of course, involves fistfights, gunfights, and a lot of scowling. I'd say a scowl every two minutes. Lull in action? Very little. There are good 'men-at-work' scenes, shots of the construction being constructed. And, there is the overdone scene about the boss's daughter. (These bosses seldom seemed to have male progeny). In this case, Barbara Worth (the price of admission), a 'nice-y' going by the name of Ann Evans.

BUT - the star of the movie is Frankie Darro, a hoss-jockey sized, scrappy young man who seemed to have been featured in almost a dozen pics a year. The 'leading man' attraction escapes me but, 'what-the-hey.

Her da-da is missing and she's not too happy so, adding to the plot, we have to find out what happened to him. (Check the 'good guy column). The 'rats' claim he was killed in an accident; the 'non-rats' say, vehemently - NO!

Sides are taken up. Some of the workers are satisfied with the status quo - others realize there's dirty work a-foot and, some at hand. Desperate script writers have Darro, as Johnny Morgan, asking everyone in sight, and a couple of out-of-sight cameramen, the same question over 'n over 'n over - have you seen my dad? The line never varies.

The men have to work extra hard to build the damn dam before the spring rains. Who wants a wet dam?? Well, as you well know, Mr. Hoover got his damn dam which, during movie construction, turned out to be part of the Sweetwater Dam.

That may be the end of the tale but, ho, another d.d. enters the picture - maybe. Word was making the rounds about a dam going up on the Cimarron River during the Dust Bowl Days. It needed hired hands. (At this point, my research grant ran out).

* * * *

In my "Men Of Action" review I 'tongue-in-cheeked' about Frankie Darro, but he was a workhorse - a small workhorse at 5 five feet three, but he kept busy in movie after movie and, into the early teevee years. During World War 2 he served in the U. S. Navy Hospital Corps. Then, back to the movies where he often did stuntman work. More - he did a fair amount of voice-over work. He was a pretty good athlete, and that was a career-pushing help.

When such work became scarce he opened a tavern called 'Try Later'. Good advice, perhaps, but it didn't work for him. By the mid-1950s it pushed him along and, add to that - malaria. Alcohol, it was claimed, helped with pain management. Darro was married three times, and left one son.

A final note of irony. I mentioned that Darro was 5-3 but, he portrayed the 7-feet tall, 'Robby the Robot,' in the sci-fi classic, "Forbidden Planet."

Watch the movie: Men of Action —»

Hoppy's Holiday

Hoppy's Holiday Pop quiz - well, mom can join in. What is a 'hoppy?' a) Bugs Bunny's nephew -- b) a '40s sidewalk game c) a one-legged cowboy. All, or none of the above.

"Hoppy's Holiday." William Boyd, Andy Clyde, Rand Brooks, Andrew Tombes. 1947.

First things first (a neat arrangement) - If you're seeking lotsa shootin', ridin', fisticuffs - a typical grade-B western bill of fare, you will probably be bewildered (not to mention bewitched and bothered) as you sit thru William Boyd (not a Brooklyn chirper) in his flick about Hopalong Cassidy's holiday.

Me? I'm a Hoppy enthusiast and, I'm 'hoppy' to report he's all over your small screen in this entry. It's not a talk show - it just seems like one. The story, and how many times have we crossed this plot? - has to do with some suitcases, one filled with lots 'n lots of money. It's like a few of today's teevee game shows - you 'n Hop have to figure out which has what.

This being a Hopalong Cassidy Production you kind-of figure out that he's around to -- kind of figure it out. And, that's about it for plot. It takes place in Mesa City (a 'mess-a plot) and begins with something we see so little of these days, a good, ole fashioned square dance - fun to watch. And, there's a bucking horse contest (not much money for an equine). It has nothing to do with the story but - who cares?

Hoppy, unlike many of his contemporaries, is a real cowboy but he doesn't do much cowboy-ing during his holiday. As you keep watching, it occurs to you that nothing much is going on - just a lot of arguing and jokin' around and, you also begin to realize -- who cares? As the movie rolls along you join in and have an enjoyable time watching the goings-on.

Hoppy, as usual, drops into town where he is greeted by a 'politician-mayor who, of course, has a lovely daughter. (Look, but don't touch). Her name is Gloria Patton, as portrayed by Mary Ware. Where's Ware? She has about 1/2 dozen lines, then disappears. A town celebration is taking place and, as you can imagine, all the noise and excitement is a perfect cover for a robbery.

Horses, of course, abound and, in the middle of it all, a horseless carriage comes tootin' by. It adds nothing to the story, but it's a good excuse for some ancient jokes. The townsfolk, of course, don't cotton to the newfangled machine. (Is there such a thing as an old-fangled machine?).

The gaiety (an old New Jersey burlesque house) is interrupted by a quickie gun battle and by a quickie bank robbery. Hoppy, of course, gets to do his Sherlock Holmes bit, and it's done with the help of two sidekicks. One is grizzled Andy Clyde as California Carlson, and the other is unusual - young, clean-cut doofus Randy Brooks as Lucky Jenkins.

A neat scene shows the nutcases getting away in a dumbwaiter and, boy, did that hit home. In the 3-story apartment building (we lived on the first floor) we used to put our garbage in one of those contraptions which was also a means of transportation from kitchen to basement).

It should be mentioned that the townspeople don't 'cotton' to strangers so Hoppy and his buds are suspects. Did they swipe the cash?

Naturally, a posse is formed (that's not a small cat) and they chase the horseless carriage which - surprise, surprise - runs outta gas which, in those days, probably cost a nickle a quart.

The ending is as 'quiet' as the rest of the movie and, it is not revealing anything much by saying that Hoppy and his friends ride quietly outta town.

By that time the words THE END flash on the screen and you realize you've seen nothing startling, but had a good time watching - er - nothing startling. Hippity-Hoppity!

Watch the movie: Hoppy's Holiday —»

The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry

1939 World's Fair"The Strange Affair Of Uncle Harry." George Sanders, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Ella Raines, Sara Allgood, Moyna MacGill. 1945.

When I saw THAT name, I knew I had to review THAT picture. The name: Ella Raines, my teenage Hollywood actress crush. I had written a column about 'us' - well, her and it's in the Fan Favorites section of Jimbo Jimbo Berkey. Ah!

As for the movie itself it is a film noir gem - a beaut. The story is lucid, fascinating and the acting is top rate. Well, look at the stars - George Sanders, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Sara Allgood and the little-known but quite effective, Moyna MacGill.

If you're looking for gunplay, fistfights, etc., look elsewhere. None of that in this Hitchcock-like movie. There is plenty of conflict but it is all mental - verbal.

It concerns a family of three - Sanders, Fitzgerald, MacGill. He manages the town mill (those town mills were plentiful in the old movies) and lives there with his sis's. Like it or not 'it' is not just between the lines, but almost up front -- Sanders, as Harry Melville Quincey (yes, with an 'e'), and Fitzgerald as number one sis, let us politely say - have something going on beyond the Biblical sisterly love. The film doesn't bang you in the head with it, nor does it back off. (No, it's not 'outcest.')

MacGill is the other sister, Heather. At first, she appears to be a sort-of troublemaker but, stay with it and watch the story shift gears.

Where does Raines fit in? She is visiting from the mill company's NYC office and, right off the bat (as they say in the stadium) it's obvious she has a 'thing' for Sanders who, in this picture is quiet and laid back. We usually see him as a growling heavy. whatever he does, he is always effective.

I should also mention Sara Allgood who, in those days seemed to be a servant in at least every third movie. In this film she does more than just set the table and serve tea. She is quite involved with the affairs of the family.

As I mentioned earlier - there is no noise, no physicality, etc. but you will become involved - deeply involved as you get to know the characters and watch the intelligent story move on - quietly and menacingly. I promise - unless you are a doe-doe you will want to stay with it.

Raines, as Deborah Brown, pulls no punches about her fascination with Mr. Sanders who eventually, though reluctantly initially, falls for her obvious beauty and charm. (Well, duh. I want his role).

Anything else going on? You betcha, and it has to do with poison, connected with a 'romance' triangle, of course. Eventually, plans are made to wed and travel - Sanders and Raines. Thwart time. The Fitz character, so tied in with her bro - has a hissy-fit about that plan. One fly in the ointment is a man she is supposed to wed. That idea goes up in flames as we see a kiss-squeeze scene between Sanders and Raines.

To further throw them together, Miss Fitz (misfit?) insists that her bro and the lovely Miss R have zilch in common. Fitz insists she will not give him up. (harrumph). She goes around looking for a house to buy for the family but finds nothin' interesting. More conflict.

For whatever reason, there is a Sunday morning church service and we hear the congregation singing, "Abide With Me," sounding like a mini-Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Then, we see Sanders and Raines running into the church as it lets out. Speaking of chirping, there is a neat scene of four ole buddies singing barbershop harmony. One of the 'vocalists' is Harry Von Zell who, teevee viewers and radio listeners will recall was, for many years, the Burns & Allen straightman/announcer. (More on him below).

Obviously, I won't go into detail but the movie's ending is spellbinding. (Okay - - b-i-n-d-i-n-g). It has to do with the previously mentioned poison/pills.

So-o-, if you like suspense, a helluva good plot, excellent performances check, "The Strange Affair Of Uncle Harry." Strange, indeed, and most satisfying. Sanders' hobby in the flick is stargazing, and the stars in this movie will keep you gazin' and guessin'.

* * * *

Harry Von Zell - what a career. If you are a senior-senior citizen you would know him well. Dad was a sports reporter. Our hero went into announcing after winning an audition involving about 250 would be announcers. (Envy-envy). He also did some singing. Combining the two talents he worked with some of the biggest names of the '20s to the early tv days. Look at the names: Paul Whiteman, Fred Allen, Phil Baker, Eddie Duchin, Ed Wynn, Eddie Cantor. (Eddie-Eddie-Eddie). And, there was Joan Davis, plus "Life Of Riley." (He probably slept on some studio cots).

VZ worked regularly - 20 shows a week. All that but, what was he was most famous for? Mispronouncing the name of President Herbert Hoover. It came out this way: Hoobert Heever. My mistakes never gained fame. Well, hell, I never made any. Just ask Jumbo Jumbo Berkoo.

Watch the movie: The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry —»

The Middleton Family at the World's Fair

1939 World's Fair"The Middleton Family At the World's Fair." Marjorie Lord, Jimmy Lydon, Ruth Lee, Harry Shannon. 1939.

First of all, lemme clear the title. "The Middleton Family At the World's Fair" should be called, "The Middleton Family In an Hour Long Documentary." The only Fair attraction you see is the Westinghouse exhibit. Take my word for it, there was a helluva lot more to the spectacular event. Honest, friends, there were other attractions - beaucoup attractions. (Beacoup is French for 'a helluva lot).

So, what you will see is a long commercial. Yep, it is well done - interesting in spots as we go from one W exhibit to another - another W exhibit to yet another, etc. etc. The conversation has to do with modernism vs. traditionalism. Check the arguments between sis Babs two boyfriends. One is a bright boy next door who just happens to be a guide at the W exhibit; the other is Miss Babs intended who happens to be her hi school art teacher. (Gulp? Nah. My youngest granddaughter, who has no interest in history married her hi school history teacher. Great-granddaughter number five is en-route at this writing).

Babs, the very pretty Marjorie Lord, is torn between the two young men. Who does she eventually choose? The sweet-natured boy next door, or the wise-tail teacher. Not hard to figger. The crux of that part of the plot has to do with rings-on-finger, and it is interesting and fun to see how it all plays out. It's a well done plot piece.

The story moves from one exhibit to another, each scene showing just about everything offered in those 'just-before-America's-entry-into-WW2-years.' The interesting things are the new-fangled dishwashing machines, a slow-talking cigarette smoking robot, and a host of other items, amazing for that day and age - almost historically fascinating in 2017.

The Middleton family comes from Indiana (middle America, see?). There is mom, dad, grandma, the maid (Elvira - oompoppa-oompoppa mow--mow. Check the Oak Ridge Boys). They all visit the fair -- well, except for the maid. She stays home and cleans the rugs.

In the opening, the folks are listening to the radio - the rough news about the world of that day. Junior had enough - he switches to a swing band. He is not optimistic about the future - pop feels it will be bright - if - he studies his lessons.

By the time they see all that Westinghouse has to offer, the kid changes his mind about the value of education. He enters a writing contest and wins it hands down. Jeez, his future is assured. As Louis Armstrong once observed in song - 'what a wonderful world'.

Going to the fair, of course, made it seem all the more wonderful, even though the family never seemed to go anyplace else. One interesting thing - and I wrote a story about this a few moons back - is burial of the sponsor's time capsule. Get this - it was buried in 1938 and can't be opened until - and I'm not kidding - 6939. I would plan on writing about it, but Jimbo would have run out of popcorn, and he'd be too old to drizzle.

If there is a central theme to the Westinghouse exhibit it would be, of course - industry will bring jobs, prosperity, etc. One good look at the future is teevee. Jr. is in one room, the others in another watching him give his spiel. And, p.s., I remember watching the t. v. thing during one of my many visits. The sponsor modestly refers to his company as, "a playground of science."

One item looked like some of today's cookin' shows. One lady uses a mod dishwasher, the other washes by hand. The first gal looks trim and proper - the other looks grungy. One more thing. We find out that Westing-etc. was partly responsible for me making a living. They offered the first full-time radio station - KDKA in Pittsburgh. Well, I worked in Ambridge, PA., about 45 minutes from Pitts.

As we used to say on the air - stay tuned - coming up - more info on the World's Fair - er - Westinghouse movie.

Marjorie Lord, you probably remember, played Danny Thomas' wife, Kathy 'Clancy' Williams on both "Make Room For Daddy," and "Make Room For Granddaddy." Remember? Situation comedies minus smut.

She died two years ago at age 97, leaving a house listed at $9.25 million. Thanks dad, granddad, Danny -- .

Jimmy 'James' Lydon was 93 when he died. If you are old enough you probably remember his mom's cry - "Henry - Henry Aldrich." That was followed by a 'gulp' and the lad answering something like, "coming, mom."

He had a rough start in life. His dad was outta work, busy drinking. In addition to the young man's many acting jobs, he was co-creator of "77 Sunset Strip."

So, what about George? Geo. Westinghouse, that is. He founded the Westinghouse Electric Co. in 1886, after founding the W Air Brake Co. which, since 1995 bought CBS. No slouch, he. Westinghouse Electric was one of 60 of his companies. Geo, himself, received more than 360 patents for his work. He was the eighth of 10 children. Wonder what the other nine were up to.

Bottom line: As a piece of science and/or television history, "The Middleton Family At the World's Fair" has zilch to do with the momentous event. I spent a good part of my childhood visiting - afternoons and weekends. Why not? It was a 10-minute subway ride from my humble - very humble - abode. It is, in its way, a fascinating look at the future as seen in those years. As Doris Day used to croon, "Que Sera, Sera."

Being of unsound mind, I gotta wind this up with a triple-dumb joke. Why did the rabbit nap in a refrigerator? It was his 'westing-house.' (That's a two 'carrot - karat) bunny tale.

Watch the movie: The Middleton Family at the World's Fair —»


Pitfall"PITFALL." Dick Powell, Lizabeth Scott, Jane Wyatt, Raymond Burr, John Litel, Byron Barr. 1948.

In his summation of "Pifall" Jimbo lets you know what to expect. I will, as it were, read between the lines and let you know why you should, or shouldn't watch the movie in question. No question about this one. It is a doozy. The plot is clever, it makes a lot of sense - the acting is top notch, and it will hold your interest throughout.

Dick Powell, whose early years were spent singing and ogling Busby Berkeley's beauties, had been wanting to switch from his sweetpleasant roles to join the ranks of actors who made a living with roughtough. The switcheroo worked, as illustrated in this offering. Like an intelligent Saltine, he is a 'wisecracker' dashing off those 'smart-ass' lines smoothly.

We begin with a look at the perfect domestic scene - hard-working hubby, John Forbes - Powell, of course - getting ready to go to work, cute Tommy Forbes (Jimmy Hunt) getting ready to go to school, and sweet momma Sue (Jane Wyatt) serving breakfast. Somebody put a Wheaties box in plain sight so, audience, you know what's in their cereal bowl.

So, everything is normal - it's routine and, there's the rub. Normalcy is boring. We need some fisticuffs, some gun play, etc. and, as expected, it all shows up, although not in a terribly vicious way. In one scene, bad Burr (Raymond as J. B. MacDonald) knocks Powell for a loop, later it's vice-versa. The sounds of fisticuffs are more rugged than the sights. Pow - bam - sock.

Powell, as Jn. Forbes, a bored-as-hell insurance salesman meets Sultry (yes, capital 'S') Mona Stevens, (Lizabeth Scott) and, as any red-blooded salesman would do, he flips over her. Well, she is a looker, and he is the 'look-ee'. Also, totally enamored of the b.b. (beeyootiful blonde) is Burr, shivery in one of his pre-Perry D.A. roles. He will jar you (think - Mason Jar).

Another important ingredient in this film noir gem is Miss Scott's early boyfriend, Byron Barr as Bill Smiley. Burr doesn't like him so, it's - are you ready for this? It's Burr vs. Barr. (Later, of course, Mason was a member of the bar).

Barr's behind bars because he embezzled. All the action takes place in Santa Monica (no, it's not the Claus hometown). So, all three guys are head-over-heels (an uncomfortable position) for seductive Scott with the seductive voice.

There's a lot of faux romance, but only one kisskiss scene involving of course, the lips of Scott and Powell. The lady, by the way, is a department store model and, there's a goody scene featuring Burr making her model beaucoup outfits as he ogles and ogles and ogles. Burr will make you go 'br-r-r. (I know, that's stretching it).

I would be re-miss if I didn't mention the dialogue - much of it, damn clever. One of my favorite lines: Little Tommy asks his daddy what he did in the Army. The reply: "Anything I was told." Ah-h -- been there, done that. Matter of fact the movie was made in 1948 and I was in mid-hitch.

Anywho - Powell spends so much time mooning over and visiting Scott, he ignores his home-sweet-home, and his cutie-pie kid. Wifey is sort-of stepped on. I don't want to give anything away but, it will turn out that she is up to her lobes with gumption.

What happens to Mr. Jailbird? What foolishness gets Powell over-involved, and what about the future Perry Mason who never closes doors. (Mason leaves them a-jar).

Oh, and what is Code 3? No plot giveaway here. Watch the movie. You have my 100% guarantee you will thoroughly enjoy it. Mark it down as another Jimbo gem.

* * * *

A quickie look at the Scranton, PA. beauty who, by the way, actually did work as a model. She was one of six children. Her real name - and even I couldn't make this up - is Emma Matzo. (Isn't that a Jewish cracker?).

She once recorded an album of torch songs, befitting her personality. She was twice married - no children and, she disdained interviews. She died at 92-years-of age. The career was lengthy and, for the most part, quite successful.

Watch the movies: Pitfall —»

Fatty Arbuckle

Fatty Joins the Force"Fatty Joins the Force." Fatty Arbuckle, Dot Farley, Edgar Kennedy, Billy Gilbert, Mack Swain, George Nichols. 1913.
"A Flirt's Mistake." Fatty Arbuckle, Minta Durfee, Edgar Kennedy, George Nichols. 1914.

Your cup runneth over - two reviews for the price of one. As you probably figured out, these are silent movies from waaay the heck back. The cop piece is dated 1913. The flirt flick came out a year later. Run time for each about eight or so minutes.

The comedies are historical, if not hysterical. Rosco 'Fatty' Arbuckle was a headline maker (not for the funny stuff) who specialized in pratfalls, making funny faces, running and stumbling. The other performers - well- they're just there.

If you're looking for plot - forget it. The police piece has to do with Arbuckle saving a little girl from drowning. Naturally, to show his appreciation her dad, the commish, makes the girth-y one an officer of the law. The rest of the film has to do with our hero 'battling it out' with early 20th century versions of juvenile delinquents.

As for the flirt who made a mistake - well - the mistake was flirting with the wrong girl - begging the question - what constitutes flirting with the right girl?

Who the heck cares? What makes these silent films interesting is that you are watching movie history - the pioneer days. Scoff, not - your great, great grandparents probably thought they were hilarious.

Hilarious, he wasn't. Arbuckle was the 'star' of Hollywood's first major scandal, accused of killing actress Virginia Rappe. He was acquitted. It was a possible throwback to his childhood. He weighed in at 16 pounds and, it was reported, he was often beaten by his father. He was the least favored of nine children.

The Smith Center KS. native was a singer, songwriter, director, and screenwriter. Like so many of the 'funstars' of those days, he was discovered by Mack Sennett who described him as, "tremendous, obese, just plain fat." Not exactly an ego stroke but, what the hey - in his heyday he was paid more than $3 million. That would be the equivalent of a trillion - well - maybe a tad less. Not bad for an Arbuckle whose buckle didn't make it all the way around at least, not until he 'buckled' down, Winsocki. (Buckles were cheap in those days, selling for under a 'buck-le'.)

Remember the teevee show - "I Led Three Lives?" He 'led' three wives, the last of which was Minta Durfee who played his wife in the appropriately titled, "A Flirt's Mistake."

* * More Minta. Her real name was Araminta (sounds like a Wrigley's product). She began her showbiz career as a chorus girl - and that was back in 1908. Arbuckle's third wife, they separated in 1921, just before the scandal became headline news. What? You didn't catch it on CBS News?

* * Edgar Kennedy, who had only a few seconds on screen in our two Arbuckle features was a busy, busy man. Between 1914 and 1949 he sneezed his way thru more than 500 films. He is, of course, remembered for his 'achoo' talents - the man who frustratingly ran his hand over his face - then a)sneezed hard and b)vacationed in Capri. It is reported that he never spread germs.

* * George Nichols directed our two Arbuckle films and, appeared in both.

Well, what the hey. All this talk about Hollywood reminds me that a successful Hollywood marriage is when the couple leave the church together -- and -- there is the sad tale about the Hollywood marriage that ended very quickly. The bride sued for the wedding cake. Finally, there's the movie star who has towels marked 'hers' and 'next'.

Watch the movies: Fatty Joins the Force —»                A Flirt's Mistake —»

The Affairs of Jimmy Valentine - 1942

Rocky Jones Beyond the Moon "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.

* * * *

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.
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Rocky Jones Beyond the Moon - 1954

Rocky Jones Beyond the Moon"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.

* * * *

Question: "If astronauts are so smart, why do they count backwards?"
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T-Bird Gang - 1959

T-Bird Gang"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.

* * * *

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."
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That Ragtime Band - 1913

That Ragtime Band'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."

* * * *

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.
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There Goes the Bride - 1932

There Goes the Bride"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).
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