Friday, October 30, 2009

Worth 1,000 Words: LARRY PARKS as AL JOLSON

LARRY PARKS, OSCAR NOMINATED FOR THE JOLSON STORY (1946), gives out with For Me and My Gal in this dynamic scene from 1949's JOLSON SINGS AGAIN, the sequel to THE JOLSON STORY. It was Al Jolson's actual singing voice expertly lip synched by Parks in both movies. This vintage movie still was one of my prized possessions (I recently sold it), since it is autographed by Parks. Incidentally, there were plans for a third film about Jolie's life, this time starring Jolson as himself, when he suddenly died in October, 1950, after entertaining troops in Korea. [from Steve Crum's showbiz memorabilia collection]
You ain't heard nothin' yet until you hear Jolson sing Is It True What They Say About Dixie? from Jolson Sings Again here:

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Worth 1,000 Words: ANDY DEVINE & DON WILSON Fly TWA

THE DATE ON THE BACK IS STAMPED JUNE 26, 1939 (a mere 70 years ago), and in those days, these two radio and film personalities were known for their voices and girth. In '39, both ANDY DEVINE and DON WILSON were regulars on THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM on radio, Don being Jack's announcer. This rarely seen press photo's caption states: Andy Devine, he of the funny voice, and Don Wilson, he of the pleasing voice on Jack Benny's radio program, arrived on the T.W.A. Sky Master today (Friday) from Hollywood to aid Jack Benny in the taking over of Waukegan. The world premiere of Benny's picture, "Man About Town," will be held Sunday in the North Shore town.--T.W.A. News Bureau [from Steve Crum's showbiz memorabilia collection]

Crummy Art, Crummy Laughs: 'LAWRENCE of ARABIA'

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Worth 1,000 Words: ROY ROGERS & FLIP WILSON

NEVER TEAMED AS SADDLE PALS, King of the Cowboys ROY ROGERS (left) and comedy great FLIP WILSON bead down the barrel in this publicity photo curiosity. As the accompanying CBS-TV caption, dated Oct. 17, 1975, states: Flip Wilson takes aim, with some pointers in marksmanship from guest star Roy Rogers, in "Travels With Flip," the second of Wilson's travel-entertainment specials, to be broadcast Friday, Nov. 14 (9:00-10:00 PM, ET) on the CBS Television Network. [from Steve Crum's showbiz memorabilia collection]

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Worth 1,000 Words: ANDY WILLIAMS & PAT BOONE

TAKEN 50 YEARS AGO, this rare publicity photo features two pop singers whose records were in competition with Elvis during the dawn of rock 'n roll and beyond. ANDY WILLIAMS, left, accepts a pair of white bucks from PAT BOONE. The shoes were Boone's signature apparel. Dated Jan. 16, 1959, the ABC-TV press info on the reverse is headlined, ANDY TAKES OVER FOR PAT JULY 3: Come July 3, ABC-TV's Pat Boone will be off for a summer of filming and vacationing, and Andy Williams will be minding "The Chevy Showroom." Andy will be aided and abetted by comedian Dick Van Dyke and the dancing Bob Hamilton Trio. [from Steve Crum's show biz memorabilia collection]
A few years later, circa 1966, Andy and Pat sang together along with Elke Sommer:

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Night the Bed (almost) Fell, thanks to Jack the Ripper

By Steve Crum [with a Hatlo tip to the James Thurber fiction classic, The Night the Bed Fell, except my version is totally TRUE]

I suppose that the Kaw River flood mark of my growing up in Kansas City, Kansas was the night Jack the Ripper nearly caused my bed to fall with me. It makes a better oral read (to which my friends and relatives can attest after hearing it five or six times) than it does a piece of writing, and it helps the tale’s ebb and flow to slam closet doors, and scream like a hyena, to lend the proper atmosphere and verisimilitude to what is admittedly a somewhat pathetic tale. Still, it did take place.

As a nine year-old, I had honed my skills at convincing my parents to stay up past my usual 8 p.m., school night, bedtime. My younger sister, Becky, was also adept at pleading why we should extend our bedtime. Television was always the bargaining chip. It never mattered what was on at 8, be it The Loretta Young Show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents or even Playhouse 90. Mom, the decision maker, impatiently listened and, half the time, gave in to our whines. “But Mom,” either Becky or I would say, “We know we have to get up early for school, but can’t we just watch Loretta Young? It’ll only be 8:30 when it’s over.” This was rote script for us, familiar to our mother.

Then, when Loretta neared her 30-minute story end, either Becky or I would time it so one of us would leave the room to go to the bathroom and then return just as Alfred Hitchcock Presents had begun. This smoothly maneuvered into phase 2 of Operation Stay-Up.

“Mom,” can’t we just see the opening?!” “Just the opening,” she’d agree. After Hitchcock’s opening monologue, it was easy to convince Mom we were hooked (since she was too), and had to extend our TV viewing “just another 25 minutes.” Becky and I became truly involved in these shows, despite our deceptions. In retrospect, I think watching Hitch and Loretta made us pretty sophisticated seven and nine year-olds. At the very least, we were happier, sleep deprived grade schoolers the next morning.
It happened in the same year, then, that I went to my bedroom and snuggled under the covers after I had successfully manipulated my mother into letting me stay up late to finish watching Channel 5’s Million Dollar Movie. My sister dozed off early in the film, so Mom carried her to her room. That left me alone on the floor in front of the TV, with Mom and Dad on the sofa, to screen a black and white flick entitled The Lodger, starring Laird Cregar as Britain’s infamous Jack the Ripper. It turned out to be a scary movie, the most frightening this Crum boy had ever seen. The atmospheric, 1944 movie included scene after scene of hapless ladies having their throats cut by Jack the Ripper. Stirred and shaken, I shuffled off to my room at movie’s finale.

With no night light, my room felt especially dark this evening. A London fog seemed to float around my covers as I pulled them to my chin, closed my eyes, and drifted asleep. Then the dreams began...women screaming...decapitations...London bobbies blowing whistles...the Ripper sneaking back to his upstairs room...more heads rolling...the Ripper...the Ripper. I awakened at a 45 degree angle in my bed, drenched in sweat, the covers totally covering me, nearly smothering me. I uncontrollably shook, and my bed rattled as if on the verge of collapse. Jack the Ripper stood over me, knife drawn, and ready to attack. At that moment, logic dictated. I recalled that Jack only killed women. So he was making a fatal-to-me mistake. Maybe he took a wrong turn en route to my sister’s bedroom, I reasoned from within my quilt cocoon.

I thought fast and yelled hard, “I AM NOT A WOMAN! I AM NOT A WOMAN! I AM NOT A WOMAN!” On my 11th frantic, banshee, Ethel Merman blast of “I AM NOT A WOMAN!”, Mom tore through my door, flipped on the lights, and ran to my bedside. After a struggle, she convinced me to stop screaming, that she was not Jack the Ripper, and that I could safely emerge from my protective covering. As usual, Dad was still sleeping, letting Mom handle any nightly Ripper travails. Down the hall, my sister never awakened either.

Mom gave me a guided tour of my room, opening the closet doors and checking under my bed to make me feel safe from cold cuts. (Yes, I thought I was lunch meat.) We even perused my chest of drawers just to make sure. I had been crying as well, and dear Mom sat beside me on my bed, and held me in safe embrace. Since I was finally calmed with my intruder relegated to a bad dream, my mother felt it was safe to leave me alone. The Ripper never returned to my home, but The Lodger holds a revered place in my movie memories as great story telling.

The incident did not deter the two Crum siblings from our ongoing campaign, and basic grade school age requirement, to stay up past bedtime to watch anything TV had to offer.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

'Law Abiding Citizen' mixes bloody depravity with zinger plot payoff

By Steve Crum

Law Abiding Citizen, directed by F. Gary Gray, is best described as a pretty demented hybrid of the Charles Bronson Death Wish movies and the 1939 Boris Karloff starrer, The Man They Could Not Hang. Revenge is the central theme in each film, with Law Abiding Citizen taking bloodthirsty honors as the most violent of the three. Hybrid seems too civil a word to describe it.

Despite the gore, which is marginally justified to drive the revenge aspect, the film is worth seeing for the clever plot turn finale as well as above average performances by leads Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler. Let me add that most audiences used to graphic violence in the Saw movies and the like will not find Law Abiding Citizen problematic in regard to its grossness. 

Previous to this butchery, we are shown at film’s opening a happy home of dad, mom and young daughter. As the father, Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler), answers his front door, he is slammed in the face with a club wielded by one of two thugs who are invading his home. It is a fast paced scene showing both Shelton down as his wife is beaten and tied up near him. His little girl wanders in the front room, and one of the bad guys makes a deviant comment about her as he takes her into another room. Fade out from this horrific scene. I mention this opening in some detail, not to spoil it, but because it is obviously so disgusting and upsetting to the audience that we are passionately sympathetic to Shelton. 

The plot crux is presented. Shelton’s pleas to sentence both criminals to death are ignored by the district attorney, Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx). Like Charles Bronson’s Paul Kersey Death Wish character, Shelton feels he must carry out justice on his own. This all plays into his clever revenge scheme.

The Man They Could Not Hang, mentioned earlier, includes Karloff’s criminal taking revenge on virtually everyone, including the judge, connected to his execution--which he has somehow survived. Shelton, soon to be a criminal himself, plots against virtually everyone connected with his case. Each violent act is meticulously planned and executed. There is no better word choice here than executed.

In the meantime, Shelton is sent to prison for one of his murders. While incarcerated, the revenge killings continue, many on elaborate scale using machine guns and sophisticated explosives. As Rice’s legal associates and friends get killed, he knows he and his family could be next.

By the film’s third act, even the audience wonders how Shelton is pulling off the murders, especially while he is in solitary confinement. It puzzled me, and of course the payoff is the answer to the how. Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay gets kudos for the clever twist to it all. I have to mention there is a faint similarity between Shelton’s secret and Gerard Butler’s domain in The Phantom of the Opera, in which he played the title role. Whether Wimmer had this on his mind when writing the script is an unknown, phantom query.
On an A to F Grade Scale: B-

Monday, October 12, 2009

Miklos Rozsa, ‘Dragnet’ & a ‘dumb-de-dumb-dumb’ mistake

By Steve Crum

THIS was the city. Los Angeles, California. Home of movies, TV, and the people who make them. Sometimes they break laws, by mistake or on purpose. That’s part of my job: report them. 

My name’s not Friday. I’m not a cop. These are just the facts, ma’am...

In 1954, composer Walter Schumann (1913-58) won the first Emmy ever awarded to a composer for original television music. It was for his memorable theme to the popular cop series, Dragnet, which was created and produced by Jack Webb (pictured at left), and starred Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday. Dragnet had begun on radio in 1949 (running until 1957), and segued into TV (1951-58) in its first of several versions.

The “dum-de-dum-dum” theme was so familiar and popular that satirist Stan Freberg sold millions of records in 1951 using the theme in his comedy take-off, St. George and the Dragonet. Ray Anthony’s jazz version of the Dragnet theme was another best seller in 1953. The four “dum” notes even made the cover of Time Magazine in March, 1954, along with Jack Webb’s photo.

The Dragnet music would be Schumann’s musical legacy, even though he scored the cult classic thriller, Night of the Hunter, and fronted his own choral group, The Voices of Walter Schumann, on several albums.

All was rosy-cozy, except for Rozsa, Miklos Rozsa.

Miklos Rozsa (1907-95) wrote numerous film scores throughout the golden years of Hollywood and beyond. The Hungarian-born, award winning composer wrote stunning music for Ben-Hur, Spellbound, A Double Life, and Madame Bovary, among dozens more from 1936-82. No one was more stunned, however, than Walter Schumann when he was served papers by Rozsa’s lawyers for allegedly stealing the Dragnet “dum-de-dum-dum” notes from Miklos Rozsa.

Schumann was accused of plagiarism and copyright infringement, the claim being the Dragnet four-note motif was lifted from Rozsa’s score of The Killers (1946). Both Schumann and his orchestrator, Nathan Scott, plead that the similarity was totally unintentional. In other words, the four famous notes were accidentally, subconsciously borrowed. Schumann’s lawyers counter-claimed that Rozsa had lifted his notes from both Dvorak and Brahms.

That counter-claim went nowhere. However, the two composers agreed to settle the “dum-de-dum-dum” issue out of court for $100 thousand (to Rozsa), plus a 50-50 split between Schumann and Rozsa of future Dragnet theme royalties.

It was the closest Miklos Rozsa came to scoring a TV show or series.

This has (not) been a Mark VII Production. Fade out.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Stage Disruptions, starring Hugh Jackman, Basil Rathbone & more

By Steve Crum

Last week, Hugh Jackman stopped his on-stage dialogue with co-star Daniel Craig during a performance of their Broadway show, A Steady Rain, as an air headed audience member’s cell phone rang--and continued to ring. Breaking character, Jackman faced the guilty party from stage and asked, “You want to get that?” The waiting Jackman paced; Craig patiently sat; and the phone rang for another minute. “Come on,” Jackman pleaded, “just turn it off.” Finally the cell ceased, and Jackman got back into character and his lines.

Audience rudeness and disruptions have plagued live theater, and movie theaters, for that matter, long before cell phones. Ticket holders’ talking to each other during a performance is common. Sometimes it escalates to arguing and beyond, like the time I witnessed two burly guys literally fighting over a front row seat at the premiere of The Godfather movie at the old Empire Theater in Kansas City. The movie had begun, and Marlon Brando’s mafioso seemed to be looking down on these two Neanderthals. Life imitates art.

Pat Hunt, a good friend and former teaching colleague, tells a great audience rudeness story involving Basil Rathbone when he performed at The University of Kansas. Rathbone is forever remembered for his starring role in many Sherlock Holmes movies as well as his dueling villainy versus Errol Flynn’s title hero in The Adventures of Robin Hood.

“I was a student at KU,” she says, “so the performance was in the early sixties, 1961-64. It was at the big auditorium at KU. It was a one-man performance; he (Rathbone) performed a selection of soliloquies from Shakespeare. As I recall, he had begun Romeo’s speech at the beginning of the balcony scene.

“After one or two lines, a baby began to cry loudly from somewhere in the upper balcony. He froze, turned to face the audience, and in his inimical rich baritone, commanded loudly and firmly, ‘Remove that baby at once!’ The audience, after a stunned silence, applauded. He didn’t move until he apparently saw that the child had been taken out, and the audience was silent again. Then he turned, and began the speech again. I was mightily impressed and thankful that it wasn’t I who had brought the child to the theater that night.”

Some 50 years before the Rathbone escapade, in 1915, Al Jolson told a Kansas City Star reporter about losing composure with his audience. The great entertainer Jolson, in town for his touring show, Dancing Around, is quoted from “No Joke On the City Now,” published Oct. 6, 1915:

“You know, I think I’m developing a temperament,” said Jolson. “Honest I do. It used to be they could unload a ton of scrap iron back stage when I was working and I’d shout a little louder to drown the noise and never mind it. I thought I was good then. The other night a man came in late, and when I saw him coming down the aisle it sent me up in the air. I almost blew up. It that isn’t temperament, what is it?” This comes from an egoist who, legend says, never played to an empty seat throughout his illustrious career.

Were that Rathbone and Jolson had to deal with cell phones.

Friday, October 2, 2009

'Zombieland' is dead on funny bash

 By Steve Crum

Like vampires, zombies are very fashionable now. That does not mean either linkage to the horror genre is my particular cup of corpuscle. To be honest, I had to drag myself to Zombieland. And, horrors upon hilarity, I laughed throughout it. Chalk it up to the comedy's rapid pacing, graphics, makeup, actors, and clever writing. In other words, zombie-shuffle the kudos to director Ruben Fleischer and co-writers (and producers) Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. For all three, Zombieland is their first significant film. They should definitely helm the inevitable sequel.

Set in either a parallel universe or merely a fictional present (it is never clarified), Zombieland first centers on 20-something Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), who also narrates the story. Immediately, we are introduced to a society in which zombies are the world majority, wandering streets, parking lots, and vacant stores. (Mad Cow Disease is the possible culprit.) Following a grossly violent opening showing zombies attacking and chomping upon innocent human by-walkers and drivers, it is clear Columbus is a survivor by no accident. He really knows his way around the walking dead. His outthinking the enemy takes the form of clever rules to live by, which are boldly flashed on the screen and explained by him at given, zombie peril, moments.

For example, one from Columbus’ book of how to avoid zombies is: “RULE #23, The Double Tap. Always Smash Your Zombie Twice.” As already mentioned, the graphics are a plus, particularly since the rules are displayed in animated fashion during the 20 or so zombie attacks. They are flashed on screen like it is the National Safety Test. It is reminiscent of the silly “BAM” and “CRUNCH” graphics flashed during fight scenes in the old Batman TV series.

Obviously, the rules work. Columbus soon teams with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a fellow human he meets en route to...well, we never really know their destination either. Since the entire world is zombie central, where could they be headed? It is Tallahassee who gives both himself and Columbus the city names, since he feels it best to remain mostly anonymous to each other. After picking up two more humans, immediately labeled Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), the four venture to anywhere in pursuit of zombie-less trappings. All are loaded with rifles and ammo, which they repeatedly use on zombie after gurgling zombie.

The zombie shootings, hackings, bashings, and general clobberings are certainly violent, but surrealistically. Since zombies by nature are not human anymore, it seems justifiable, if not justifiable homicide, to eliminate them. They are certainly trying to kill and eat any and all humans. Really, knocking off a zombie in Zombieland is emotionally and morally akin to scoring points in a video game or shooting an air rifle to hit bad guys at an arcade.

So much for Zombieland’s plot. There just isn’t much to it, except to hang a half dozen hilariously grim set pieces upon a road movie. I can tell you the four do not get along with each other--at least throughout most of the film. What I cannot divulge is the hands down, funniest bit of the entire flick. All critics were ordered not to say who or what is involved. Just prepare yourself for a delightful surprise, and the film’s real centerpiece. By adhering to the film distributor’s demand not to say anything specific, this also creates an effective hook to get you into the theater. No harm done; you will not be disappointed.

What I can also say is that the four principals, particularly Harrelson and Eisenberg, obviously had a fun time during the filming. In turn, the audience has a great time. A running gag has Tallahassee searching the territory for Twinkies to satisfy his craving.

There must be zombie symbolism linked to this blatant product placement.
On an A to F Grade Scale: B+