This is Kidorama

THE FOUR ASPECTS OF THE FILM (Widescreen)

Yet another Holy Grail title I long-wished would get a proper home vid release, 1962’s lavish Cinerama entertainment THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM finally gets the Blu-Ray edition it deserves, thanks to The Warner Archive Collection, and the Herculean efforts of the format’s #1 fanboy David Strohmaier.

Today, the word “Cinerama” tends to confuse most post-Boomers – movie buffs that they may be. But more than a half century ago, it was a really big deal. Literally.

It wasn’t simply widescreen, or 3-D, or even IMAX, and yet, the positive attributes of all these things apply. In a nutshell, Cinerama was a synchronous three-camera 70MM process that required a special stadium-esque theater to show the succeeding synchronous three-projection 70MM walls of cinema. The germ of the idea went back as far as the silents, most famously rendered in the triptych finale of Abel Gance’s Napoleon (although these screens didn’t fully “tell” one complete, continuous tapestry. More than a decade later, the grandiose concept proved a draw at the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair – a freaky, dizzying attraction (called Vitarama by its exhibitor Fred Waller). World War II brought the idea further to fruition. Waller worked with the Army Air Force to create a lifelike rig situation to train pilots under simulated fire. This intrigued Merian C. Cooper, who, with travel impresario Lowell Thomas, approached unsung ‘Rama hero Hazard Reeves to possibly do a full-length feature, to be shot around the world in Technicolor with a new audio appendage called stereophonic sound (a big movie after all needed big sound). The result was 1952’s This is Cinerama, iconic for its opening roller-coaster sequence that immediately sent scores of stunned viewers into the rest room to hurl their partially masticated Goobers and popcorn. In other words, it was a massive hit.

Of course, the expense was tremendous – having to build special theaters, equipped with giant projectors, screens – and, natch, those 70MM prints x three. And the elaborate sound equipment. But it paid off. This is Cinerama played for years, with flagship Bijous in key states, and, soon in major European and Asian countries. Even Russia went Cinerama koo-koo. More feature travelogues followed, most of them successful, but there always was that dangling carrot of actually doing a narrative movie in the process (1958’s Windjammer came close, but still, it was essentially a glorified travel-docu pic).

After 1959, with the enormous success of Ben-Hur, MGM at last decided to take the plunge, and announced How the West Was Won in Cinerama; soon George Pal (then working out of Metro, and flush from the triumph of his 1960 classic The Time Machine) threw his hat into the format sweepstakes and unveiled his plans for a bio of Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, aka The Brothers Grimm, with sidebar featurette depictions of some of their most beloved works. To achieve this magical, captivating odyssey, Pal hired writers Charles Beaumont and William Roberts (using Hermann Gerstmer’s biography, Die Bruder Grimm, as a sourcework).

Long story short, both movies were blockbusters – not only in their roadshow Cinerama runs, but in their subsequent standard 35MM release. Of course, the problem with the latter was not only the loss of immersion (most thrilling in POV sequences), but of actual quality. The three screens had to be optically stitched together in a lab – the painful outcome displaying two bold join lines separating the center from what had once been the left and right panels. This was basically the versions we Cinerama fans had to live with for more than a half a century!

But now, leave us to the movie in question.

GRIMM is anything but. It’s a fun-filled, children friendly adventure (but also suitable for grownups not wanting to spend the 140-minute running time as groanups). The crux of the movie is a framing story about the two sibs, how they slave away for a dullard one-percenter, copying text in a behemoth-sized library. Their creative escape comes via (primarily through Wilhelm) fashioning a voluminous amount of delightful tales of fantasy from local lore (even relying upon a self-proclaimed forest witch!) blended with a unique personal take. As usual, the children love them, the adults are perplexed. We also get to know the Grimm’s non-literary existence, via their romances, Wilhelm with his loving wife Dorothea; Jacob with a burgeoning relationship with carefree Greta. There’s absolutely something here for everyone: comedy, music, drama, action, thrills, love stuff – and even one of producer Pal’s famed Puppetoons, used to tell the tale of The Cobbler and the Elves.

It’s these vivid once-upon-a-time excursions that had kiddies lining up around the block multiple times to revel in the wonder of what they were not only seeing, but (thanks to Cinerama) experiencing. The other stories, by the way, are The Dancing Princess,

and, perhaps most famously (at least, it was for me), The Singing Bone because of the stop-motion dragon (encrusted with jewels to tone down the scare factor).

To fully capture the allure of such a lavish undertaking, Cinerama cameras traveled extensively to the Bavarian and German locations of the Grimms, finishing up at MGM studios in Culver City. Pal, who also supervised the Cobbler segment, ceded the lion’s share of the directing chores to Henry Levin, who had recently scored huge with Journey to the Center of the Earth.

And, like How the West Was Won, a game cast of celebrated thesps graced the three panel extravaganza, notably within the fairy tales: Terry-Thomas, Buddy Hackett, Otto Kruger, Clinton Sundberg (The Singing Bone), Laurence Harvey Walter Brooke, Robert Foulk (The Cobbler and the Elves), and Russ Tamblyn, Yvette Mimieux, Jim Backus, Beulah Bondi, Sandra Bettin (The Dancing Princess; Tamblyn, it should be noted, has the cool honor of being in both narrative Cinerama movies). The remaining members of the GRIMM company comprise Walter Slezak, Ian Wolfe, Oskar Homolka, Martita Hunt (as the witch), Betty Garde, Walter Rilla, Gene Roth, and, in guest appearances as the Brothers’ renowned characters (Rumpelstiltskin, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, etc.), such familiar movie and TV faces as Arnold Stang, Pamela Baird, Billy Barty, Peter Whitney, Diana Driscoll, and Angelo Rossitto.

Title stars Laurence Harvey and Carl Boehm were perhaps the most unusual choices for the pic, as they are probably the least likely duo to cast in a children’s movie. In essence, Pal is turning your kids over to the Manchurian Candidate and Peeping Tom. Hey, it works. That Harvey’s wife is Claire Bloom (then simultaneously appearing on-screen as the rough sex-addicted nympho in The Chapman Report) is another head-scratcher, although one I relish. Only Barbara Eden as Boehm’s love interest seems to be perv-free (Pal obviously thought so, too, and later cast her in The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao), and would soon become an iconic phantasmagorical figure herself in the long-running I Dream of Jeannie series.

The no doubt enormous budget and extreme showmanship required to properly present Cinerama titles likely put a halter on any further narrative efforts; indeed, the moniker would soon become just that – a name to attach to a big screen 70MM single strip “specials,” It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Circus World, The Hallelujah Trail, and 2001 being several examples. Despite the logos, they ain’t Cinerama.

Around ten years ago, we Cinerama fanatics had the thrill of seeing a fully-restored three-panel Blu-Ray of How the West Was Won. It looked gorgeous with, best of all, the join lines having been digitally removed. Immediately, we all champed at the bit for a similar release of GRIMM. Not so easy, as the West materials had been in fairly decent shape, but the GRIMM elements were partially in shambles. Deterioration, water damage, and intermittent matrices shrinkage on some of all of the panels. A mammoth overhaul job, and an exorbitant pricey one. Could the sales for the title justify the cost? Could the footage even be saved?

And here’s where the aforementioned David Strohmaier stepped in. As a labor of love, editor Strohmaier had worked on stress-inducing restorations of the original This is Cinerama and many of the followups. He was, likely, dying to get his talented mitts on GRIMM. And so it came to pass.

Part of the supplements included in this two-disc set (a standard version and, like West, a Cinerama-simulated SmileBox curved edition), comprise a terrific documentary on the restoration, featuring Strohmaier painstakingly at work with an amazing crew of digital artists. The results are breathtaking: 70MM quality, eye-popping Technicolor visuals (I swear the previous prints were fuzzy, faded copies) and nifty stereo sound (how stunning to be able to view the astounding cinematography of Paul Vogel in all its three-panel glory, beautifully appended by Leigh Harline’s score, encompassing songs by Bob Merrill and coscripter Beaumont). It’s a must that you view the Rescuing a Fantasy Classic piece. Other outstanding extras include the original coming attractions, the Cinerama announcement trailer, vintage radio interviews with Russ Tamblyn and Yvette Mimieux, documentaries on the movie and George Pal, plus much more.

Back in 1962, GRIMM seemed to play forever. I can still recall the opulent display in my nabe record shop for the LP; I swear it was in the window for my entire childhood!

SIDEBAR: I have to boast that a great pal of mine in Australia sent me the original souvenir book from the Oz roadshow release to add to my collection of Big Time Movie Tie-Ins. They used to be sold in the lobbies for around a buck (serious urchin money back then). It’s one of my most prized movie possessions.

If you’re a picture-show buff from my generation, THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM is an absolute add-on to your cinema collection (while it plays in any situation, those fortunate enough to have 60”-plus TVs, a projection system, or an actual basement theater will be especially dazzled and delighted). It takes a lot to make me happy these days. This Blu-ray made me happy.

THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM. Color. VERY Widescreen [2.89:1; 1080p High Definition]; 5.1 DTS-HD MA. The Warner Archive Collection/Cinerama, Inc./Warner Bros. Entertainment. CAT # B09R6VTNNV. SRP: $24.99.

This title and others can be purchased at the Warner Archive Amazon Store or online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays® are sold*

Nella tua faccia!

THE FOUR ASPECTS OF THE FILM (3-D)

While admittedly, 1983’s TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS (now on 3-D Blu-Ray from Kino-Lorber Studio Classics, working with the terrif 3-D Film Archive folks) isn’t a monumental movie masterpiece, it nevertheless holds a place of quasi-relevance in cinema – especially for stereoscopic fans. And particularly because of those involved.

In 1981, with the spaghetti western long dead, Italian actor/writer (in reality, a West Virginia expat) of the dubious moniker Tony Anthony (aka, Tony Pettito, or Roger Pettito, or Frank Pettito – depending upon which bio you subscribe to) decided to revive it. After all, what fame he had was owed to the genre, having scored a hit back in 1967 (at the spag/wes height) with A Stranger in Town (and the sequel, The Stranger Returns). Anthony Anthony came up with a quirky carrot to get the green light. Shoot it in 3-D. Convincing director/scribe and college professor (!) Fernando Baldi of the possibilities, the pair (in cahoots with another thesp/writer pal, Lloyd Battista) then concocted a viable, salable, and sensational plot about Old West sex trafficking, and loaded the pic up with 3-D effects, some great – some lame (a newborn baby’s rump held out to the audience) – all in questionable taste. The result shocked even them. The movie was an international blockbuster, and jump-started the 1980’s 3-D craze (causing many big studio franchises to take the bait: Jaws, Friday the 13th, Amityville).

Without a doubt, there would have to be a follow-up, so checking what was hot, the duo-trio wisely hit upon Raiders of the Lost Ark. And, thus, TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS was born.

Once again, it would be in 3-D, only this time much-improved with knowledge learned from past mistakes; the process was dubbed Super-Vision 3-D, a single-strip over-and-under anamorphic process; not the ideal format, but very effective nonetheless (it was also known as 3-Depix and WonderVision, basically semantics for Comin’ at Ya’s Optimax III and DimensionScope). And, once again, a beautiful costar would help the narrative along (Anna Obregon replacing the previous effort’s Victoria Abril). Mostly, the hook would be an unbelievable, crazed plot about J.T. Striker, an Indiana Jones-looking mercenary, hired by a museum to retrieve the title ornaments, which, in the wrong hands, could destroy the world!

I suspect, and this is my personal opinion, that Double Anthony had this scenario tucked in his pocket since the mid-late Sixties Italian obsession (post-Tokapi) with the heist movie. The Raiders stuff was added to update and put the project over (Golan-Globus/Cannon ended up with a lion’s share of the distribution rights). This is mostly due to the seeking out of a crack team to help perform the thievery – wherein Striker recruits a number of nefarious, but colorful rogues, including the gorgeous Liz (a circus trapeze artist). Indeed, the four crowns are really three (either a victim of a budget cut or bad mathematics) – with one retrieved in the Lost Ark opening sequence (the key segment in the movie for 3-D fans). So, really (after the first act), two.

Compact Anthony, who couldn’t look less like Harrison Ford, more closely resembles a Mike Myers version of Indy, which adds to the goofy fun. In addition, the barrage of bad press TREASURE has had heaped upon its crown is mostly due to the escapade being grossly misunderstood. So, let’s say it now: this popcorn epic was never to be taken seriously, not for one frame; it’s a fun afternoon at The Movies, and, once one manages to comprehend this fact, the 101-minute running time doesn’t wear out its welcome.

As for the aforementioned opening, it, alone, is worth the purchase. Beautifully framed by d.p.s Marcello Masciocchi and Guiseppe Ruzzolini (with third dimension supervisor Stan Loth fully on-board), the 3-D establishing shots of the “haunted” tomb/crypt are wonderful – and the ensuing kitchen sink action of weaponry and demonic creatures shooting out toward the camera/audience is a non-stop vast improvement over Comin’ at Ya. There’s even a fireball parody of the Raiders boulder moment (plus snakes, no doubt to help promote the “homage”).

Aside from Anthony and Baldi seemingly having a blast, FOUR CROWNS offers a cool array of supporting actors, including company associate Gene Quintano, and cowriter Jerry Lazarus, Emiliano Redondo, Francisco Villena, Kate Levan, Lewis Gordon, and the wonderful Francisco Rabal. The writing (with uncredited Anthony generously ceding all the juice to Lloyd Battista, Lazarus, and Jim Bryce) is strictly Republic serial 101. Even better, music-savvy star-producer Tony Tony’s tones are scored by no less than Ennio Morricone!

The Kino-Lorber/3-D Film Archive Blu-Ray of TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS is generally excellent. The restored materials look fresh with some nice popping colors and good detail. The wee bit of bleeding (or crosstalk) is due to both the over-and-under process and the still-not-quite-getting-the-framing-right quotient. But these technical dings are brief and minor; thank God, Cannon had the elements in decent reanimatable (is there such a word?) shape.

I do understand the mediocre response the movie gets, as its usually contributed by folks who saw it in anaglyph (briefly playing TV in the 1980s – you had to get your own tie-in red and green glasses), or flat. Either of these options is really unacceptable. This is first and foremost a polarized 3-D movie, and should only be seen that way. Of course, not all home video collectors have the post-Avatar 3-D systems required, so Kino and the 3-D Film Archive offer all three versions (a pair of anaglyph glasses included). The sound is accessible in either 5.1 or 2.0 surround (it genuinely was originally presented in Dolby Stereo). There are also (typical of the 3-D Film Archive) some nifty audio extras, comprising an interview with Tony Anthony by Douglas Hosdale, and running commentary by Jason Pichonsky, as well as the trailer.

As you know, I’m a 3-D junkie, so, for me, seeing and owning this edition is a duck ‘n’ laff riot. If you’re a similar addict, be prepared to have a lot of fun. The rest of youse’ll probably be scratching your heads. So be it.

TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS. Color. Widescreen/3-D [2.35:1; 1080p High Definition]; 5.1/2.0 DTS-HD MA. Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/The 3-D Film Archive/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios. CAT # K25857. SRP: $29.95.

Green Hell (plus Magenta)

THE FOUR ASPECTS OF THE FILM (Color)

1930’s MAMBA is one of those motion-pictures that when you attempt to describe it to someone, they refuse to believe a word of it (and even might try and have you committed). Thankfully, we now have the movie to hold up as evidence, as for nearly 90 years it was thought to have been lost. In a demented nutshell, we’re delighted to announce that this pre-Code pip is at last available in a beautiful, new 1080p High Def Blu-Ray from Kino Classics, in cahoots with UCLA and The Film Foundation. And the efforts of movie lovers and collectors (as shall be explained below).

So, what is MAMBA? Well, it was the first all-talking Technicolor drama (usually, the two-color process had been used to highlight sequences in musicals or for full-length revues and outdoor pics). And WHAT a drama! MGM or Paramount or Warners or Fox would have been logically pegged as the studio responsible for a frank, adult look at sexual depravity that likewise encompassed The Great War and a native rebellion in Africa. But, no, the company that did it was Tiffany (no relation to the jewelers, the pop star, or Chucky’s spouse). Tiffany was a modest indie that nonetheless had lofty aspirations. While producing a plethora of low-budget programmers and shorts, they also managed to finagle the rights to R.C. Sherriff’s Journey’s End, which became a profitable, respectable project for them; it also was the film debut of director James Whale and star Colin Clive, who shortly would make horror movie history at Universal.

This success only fueled Tiffany’s ambitions, and soon, with gung-ho (as in “who says we can’t!?”) director Albert S. Rogell, they came up with a whopper follow-up: a period epic, set in 1913 Africa.

As the pic fades in, we see the East Africa-stationed German and British military maintaining a friendly cohabitation – mostly bound by their absolute derision of wealthy lowlife August Bolte (aka Mamba), the richest man in the vicinity. And for good reason. Bolte has bullied, cheated and stolen everything that made him what he is today: a scumbag. Physically, a slob, he buys his way into the local society venues, but is rightly ostracized. No expat woman will touch him, so he sexually assaults the female natives, often leaving them with bastard children. Bolte’s servants fear and hate him, much to his delight; but these perks never suffice from his prime goal: acceptance among the upper class – the one thing he can’t buy.

Or can he?

Bolte receives an urgent letter from a titled, penniless countryman in Europe. The man is strapped for cash which he needs to restore his position. At first, Bolte scoffs, but then has second thoughts. The nobleman has a daughter. This would give him entrance to the upper class echelon he craves. And there’s another plus: she’s drop-dead gorgeous. Can he “trade” for her? Apparently, yes. Making the ultimate sacrifice, the woman in question, Helen von Linden, marries the monster, and journeys back to Africa with him, already the worse for wear, but seeing a glimmer of light after meeting Karl von Reiden, a handsome, sympathetic officer on-board the ship.

Frau Bolte’s life is coital Hell – events not helped by the awful climate, her growing adulterous veering toward von Reiden, and (not the least) the beginning of the Great War that turns the Germans against their former British compadres. Oh, yeah, and thanks in part to Bolte murdering the Black mother of his child, there is a native rebellion about to explode.

It all escalates into a thrilling, violent climax that excellently uses color to accentuate the blood.

MAMBA was a mammoth production that would have taxed any major studio. For Tiffany, it was beyond sink or swim. Period uniforms, battalions of charging horses, large-scale action sequences, and top flight stars meant the movie would have to recoup a mint. The three leads, we should mention were borrowed from no less than MGM (even Stymie from the Our Gang comedies, distributed by Metro, turns in an appearance). Jean Hersholt, the evil Marcus from von Stroheim’s Greed, tops his former performance with a supreme personification of repugnance. Stunning Eleanor Boardman (Bardelys the Magnificent, The Crowd) looks swell in two-color Technicolor; with popular Ralph Forbes (Trail of ’98, Mr. Wu), also an A-lister then, completing the romantic triangle. Remaining cast members include Hazel Jones, Edward Martindel, Noble Johnson, Torben Meyer, Arthur Stone, Claude Fleming, Wilhelm von Brincken, and Will Stanton.

The Hersholt/von Stroheim connection couldn’t be clearer. Erich might have made this movie himself (of course, it would still be filming); in fact, parts of the narrative, as scripted by John Reinhardt and Ferdinand Schumann-Heink (with dialog by Tom Miranda) mirror portions of von’s Queen Kelly and his unfilmed African opus and original novel Poto Poto. Hersholt soon would totally reverse his screen persona, becoming one of the most beloved character actors in Hollywood – on and off the screen. The Academy still occasionally doles out a Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

Other praiseworthy tech credits include the impressive Technicolor photography (Charles P. Boyle) and the score (James C. Bradford, Adolph Tandler).

Indeed, the movie WAS a huge hit with critics and audiences, with the terrific use of color a key viewing incentive (director Rogell would continue a career for almost another thirty years, mostly working on lightning-paced B-pictures and in television; his 1933 adventure Below the Sea for Columbia, too, would use color (MultiColor, see last week’s column) – but only for underwater segments, now sadly lost. Nevertheless MAMBA couldn’t quite make the profit it hoped for, and, with the Great Depression becoming worse, Tiffany soon folded up.

Which brings us to the sad part of this tale.

Rumored to have provided the “timber” for the famous burning of Atlanta scenes in Gone with the Wind, the Tiffany library literally went up in smoke sometime in 1938. While a handful of the studio’s titles survived (mostly due to collectors), one – the most desirable in the bunch – eluded the archives. Yep, MAMBA. For decades, we had the stills, lobbies, pressbooks, reviews…and dreams. MAMBA became one of the most sought after titles in cinema history (ironically, up there with von Stroheim’s complete Greed and Devil’s Passkey). But there seemed to be no hope of ever seeing this classic. The fact that it was two-color Technicolor made it harder to imagine a magical rediscovery, as print runs from the company at the, time were often limited to under 100 copies (MAMBA being a special deluxe item had a slightly more generous print run of 160, but still…).

Then the impossibility happened. Thanks to the work of archivist/producer Paul Brennan, a near-complete 35MM nitrate print surfaced in Adelaide, AU. The owners were the retired, movie-loving couple Murray (a former projectionist) and Pat Matthews (see the sidebar). Brennan, working with Swedish archivist Jonas Nordin, the UCLA Library, Ron Hutchinson’s Vitaphone Project, and others, eventually resulted in a full-stage collaborative restoration, and today, MAMBA is saved for all to see, enjoy and be gobsmacked. In gore-rious Technicolor. And virtually pristine.

The story of the discovery and restoration is practically as jaw-dropping (obviously, for different reasons) as the movie’s incredulous scenario, and one that I largely leave to Mr. Brennan’s own words (again, see below).

The new Blu-Ray of MAMBA looks and sounds simply grand. It perfectly resembles the copy I viewed at MoMA, back in 2017. Some fine extras are included as well, comprising audio commentary by Brian Trenchard-Smith, an interview with Paul Brennan, excerpted from the documentary Splice Here: A Projected Odyssey, Theatre of Dreams, Mr. Brennan’s documentary on Murray and Pat Matthews, a photo gallery, and more.

Pre-Code at its most ferocious (and stunningly inventive), MAMBA is a must for all classic collectors. It gives us hope of what other long-lost cinema treasures might still be out there.

The following dialog has been culled from several meetings (primarily, an introduction at a 2017 MAMBA-MoMA screening) with producer/director/film archivist/writer/exhibitor Paul Brennan (obviously, a man of many hats), and the major force behind the discovery and restoration of MAMBA.

PAUL BRENNAN ON MAMBA:

“Australia is a big place, in case you don’t know. I mean, really big. I say that to preface the story of the rediscovery of this amazing, sooooo pre-Code 1930 classic.

“So, here we go. For me, an ardent fan of early Technicolor, finding a long-considered-lost print of MAMBA was nothing short of a Holy Grail quest. It haunted me for years. I actually fantasized about it. I had seen posters, lobbycards, stills and read reviews. How extraordinary it would be to find a Technicolor copy of the first all-color dramatic talkie. Like with the complete Greed, rumors of its existence abounded for decades. Several years ago, one in particular kept resurfacing. I kinda sloughed it off because it couldn’t be that easy. It came from my country’s hinterlands. And from a thoroughly reliable elderly couple, Murray and Pat Matthews, who lived in Adelaide – closer to the South Pole than to the equator, the edge of the mid-Australian desert! Of course, if true, I would drop everything and fly out there. Murray was a projectionist in the Fifties and after TV shattered attendances in 1957, mass closures and dumpings of prints occurred. He and Pat then rescued what they physically could and took it to storage at home. I contacted them, thinking that the treasure they spoke of was probably Mambo, the black and white 1954 Italian-American coproduction starring Shelley Winters, Vittoria Gassman, Michael Rennie, and Silvana Mangano. “No, no,” Murray assured me, “it’s in color.”

“Okay, my attention was grabbed by the throat, and my enthusiasm piqued to fever pitch. I decided to make the flight. Upon arrival, I was told by the Matthews that there was a good news-bad news situation. “Oh, no – here it comes! What happened, the nitrate dissolved into dust yesterday morning?” “No, no, the print is fine, but it was from a sound-on-disc release, and the platters are long gone. We have the print, but it’s mostly silent (MAMBA was released in three versions: silent, sound-on-disc, and sound-on-film) We do have three of the sound discs.” Too much to hope for that it would have been sound-on-film, but I’ll take it, as long as the quality is watchable. What I saw blew me away. Not only watchable, but near-pristine. How could a two-color Technicolor nitrate movie survive for decades in a garage through the Australian heat while carefully vault-preserved films had turned to dust? Hey, I wasn’t complaining. I shouted that we must preserve this classic, and make it available to the millions of buffs who thought it lost forever. The Matthews, who likely thought I was bonkers, quietly replied, “whatever you have to do.”

“First, was the sound problem. The NFS Archive Of Australia looking for lost films, scanned the print onto a Betamax tape in 1988 and sent the 35mm print back to Murray. In 2008, I had that tape copied to a DVD. We matched Murray’s three discs to partially restore the synch. Jonas Nordin, a gramophone sound pal in Stockholm, who runs the wonderful TALKIEKING Sweden, did this.

“I then flew to NYC met with an ecstatic Ron Hutchinson [who, in 1991, began the wonderful Vitaphone Project – an organization that tracked down surviving sound-on-disc platters and matched them to existing silent prints] who burst with jubilant awe when hearing the specifics of the tale. He then contacted UCLA.

“UCLA had all the discs, and via Ron H, they made a CD of them. I sent both DVD/CD to Jonas. Jonas then matched the dialogue, and his splendid synch job saved $100,000 in eventual restoration costs. It synched perfectly. Even better, the sound quality was quite excellent! The only problem was that a brief sequence had been trimmed in 1930 by Australian censors; not serious, we freeze-framed the beginning of the cut, and let the audio play out. It’s a honeymoon trip aboard a ocean liner taking the unfortunate Eleanor Boardman to Jean Hersholt’s Africa. He rapes her, but then promises to agree to allow her to padlock the bedroom door to their mansion…with the villainous caveat of Hersholt telling Boardman that when the need arises, no lock will keep him out. It was only a couple of minutes of screen time, so it was no terrible loss, especially considering all that we had found.”

“Jonas and I went to Syracuse, NY in 2012 and played the new completed synched DVD to a disbelieving audience who screamed in shock. Jonas and I, I should add, were never paid a dollar. We also had to fly across the planet multiple times at our own expense!

“In 2016, I made the short film Theatre of Dreams [included as an extra on this magnificent Blu-Ray], celebrating and recording Murray and Pat. We also made the MAMBA calendar which we had to give away because nobody would buy it [a shame, since it’s wonderful; I still have mine].

“My two regrets are that UCLA won’t sell us one of the three 35MM prints they now have of MAMBA, but, more poignantly, that Murray and Pat didn’t live to see the ultimate result of their love of cinema – the now-fully preserved and forever protected MAMBA. The Matthews, sadly, both passed in 2022, just months from one another.”

I first met Mr. Brennan at the October 23, 2017 MoMa screening (he had been traveling the globe with the MAMBA restoration, to great acclaim). It was a thrill to meet him afterward, and to discover that we had mutual friends in Australia (it’s a big place, as he says, but a small world; we would meet again the next year in Telegraph Point at their wedding). Also at this screening was The Vitaphone Project’s Ron Hutchinson, another personal hero of mine; we had several discussions about early sound from the time when I was still on Facebook (his sudden passing in 2019 was a shock to movie lovers across the globe). It was wonderful to finally meet him in-person.

Paul Brennan with Ron Hutchinson at the MoMA screening of MAMBA, October 23, 2017. (photo by Mel Neuhaus)

MAMBA Color. Full-frame [1.33:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Kino Classics/The UCLA Library/The Film Foundation. CAT # K25878. SRP: $29.95.

All Stalking! All Singing! All Dancing!

THE FOUR ASPECTS OF THE FILM (SOUND)

For those who knew me back in the 1980s, my constant platitudes about a book called The Four Aspects of the Film were thought to be a self-induced fantasy. A book solely about sound, color, 3-D, and widescreen!? I MUST have made it up. Indeed, James L. Linbacher’s 1968 tome became (and still is) my movie Bible. In contemporary times (aka, the 2010s and 20s), Supervistaramacolorscope readers have been forced to constantly put up with my love of early talkies, Technicolor, 3-D and various aspect ratios. The beat, as they say, goes on.

Amazingly, a couple of studios have recently decided to give us collectors a treat, and present movie tech fans with excellent examples of all four. I, therefore, happily begin this month-long salute to Mr. Limbacher’s book (and my Jones) with…sound. And nothing could better underline that than the new superb 2K restoration of the astounding 1929 talkie THE GREAT GABBO, now on Blu-Ray from Kino Classics, utilizing the digitally-cleansed 35MM materials from the Library of Congress.

For most classic movie fans, THE GREAT GABBO is noteworthy not merely as an early talkie, but for the sound debut of Erich von Stroheim, who plays the title role. But there’s way more here than meets the eye…or ear. The movie is incredibly advanced for a 1929 talker. It uses multiple tracks, inventive (albeit primitive) audio mixing, and noise-free recording. It also doesn’t seem to be confined to those first sound “refrigerator” cameras (and is often quite beautifully shot by Ira H. Morgan). There are many angles, and cutaways; plus, possibly (on the audio side), the first large-scale use of dubbing.

And then there’s the plot.

Let’s face it, if anyone could have introduced the now-beloved insane ventriloquist scenario, it would HAVE to have been Erich von Stroheim. And, he’s all in it. Like any von Stroheim vehicle, the picture is quite frank about lust, sexuality, with dark detours into bondage and the maniacal results of rejection.

On their second wedding anniversary, fair-to-middling successful ventriloquist Gabbo, his dummy Otto, and his beautiful assistant/wife (and former singer/dancer) Mary begin one of their usual rows. But this time, the psychological verbal abuse is accompanied by physical violence. Otto, Mary correctly shrieks, is the only one [of you two] “with a soul,” all the while as Gabbo taunts, insults, and assaults her. Otto, smiling contentedly, creepily appears to agree. Mary leaves him, as Gabbo snarls a seething “good riddance, you are nothing without me!” adieu.

Time passes, and Gabbo, unlike what audiences would expect (aka, the without the love of a good woman chestnut…did we say this was a von Stroheim picture?), becomes an enormous success, playing the best houses, and reaping riches beyond his dreams. Mary hasn’t been idle, either. She has gone back to musical comedy, and has, along with her new lover, Frank, achieved stardom as well. And, now Mary and Gabbo are both headlining a lavish Ziegfeld-esque revue.

Gabbo, who has lengthy conversations with Otto, is convinced that Mary has come back to him. Otto, however, warns him about counting his chickens (the psychological effects of Otto’s mouth moving from across the room in these “talks” reflects and puts the audience smack dab inside Gabbo’s mania, and works perfectly). Mary, happy her ex is doing well, and still having some love for him, offers the madman gregarious companionship. Gabbo believes this will explode into a friends-with-benefits relationship, then a remarriage. But Mary has some secrets of her own – to say nothing of the fact that the ever-cautious Otto is, after all, a better judge of the human condition than Gabbo.

From just these narrative snippets, one can see that THE GREAT GABBO is no ordinary entertainment. Bizarrely, it was filmed by a small indie company, Sono-Art Worldwide, yet looks and plays wayyyy better than most ‘A’ talkies from the competitive majors. As indicated, it’s very fluent, both in dialog and technique (in pure technology terms, it wipes the floor with another doomed showbiz “von [Sternberg]” picture from the same year, The Blue Angel).

GABBO‘s greenlight and opulent financing, came via its director James Cruze. Like von Stroheim, Cruze began as an actor in the early Teens, then progressed to directing. Unlike von Stroheim, Cruze was nowhere near as talented (in either department), yet enormously prosperous (not a von Stroheim specialty either). His 1923 epic, The Covered Wagon broke all box-office records, and opened the door for the Super-Western (better illustrated via Ford’s The Iron Horse, Walsh’s The Big Trail, etc., both which owe their existence to Cruze). Cruze had no handle on cinematic human relations. His mantra: just make it BIG. As late as 1937, his Wells Fargo oater for Paramount defined his abilities: it’s basically a feature-length trailer.

The question then remains how, in essence, an uninspired second-unit director became so knowledgeable about interrelationships, sexuality, mental illness, and spousal abuse? The short answer: he didn’t.

Anyone familiar with von Stroheim’s work, and, who has seen THE GREAT GABBO immediately comes to the conclusion that the brilliant movie-maker not only had a hand in the story and screenplay, but in the directing. That’s putting it mildly. In a nutshell, James Cruze never made anything this good before or after GABBO. One cannot downplay von Stroheim’s penchant for the aforementioned psychological aspects of his/this work. Visually, he gets away with as much as he can, but his genius for implication was/is unsurpassed. We can actually feel Gabbo’s battling lust, desire and pain – surrounded by the constant array of gorgeous, scantily-clad showgirls in the revue. He doesn’t physically pursue them, but he is consumed by them (he even managed to convey a sense of smell/scent, which definitely would have been von Stroheim’s fifth aspect of the film).

The use of sound, too, is spectacular. Von Stroheim didn’t actually “do” Otto; that was done off-camera by George Grandee. Yet, they seem so believably connected, that the better part of Gabbo’s personality is never questioned (and anyone who’s seen Singin’ in the Rain knows that dubbing or directional recording in 1929 wasn’t a given…or, realistically, as easy as Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor make it seem). Von Stroheim didn’t get directorial credit because, as a director, he was poison – known for going above and beyond the realm of logic, spending money like an out of control flood, and jettisoning (what was considered) good taste into the abyss. Long story short: Cruze is essentially von’s beard. Prove me wrong. The scenario is soooo von Stroheim, being aided in the the story department by the ubiquitous Ben Hecht, with some dialog credited to comic actor Hugh Herbert (“woo-woo” indeed). Von Stroheim likewise worked his rapacious magic on some of the songs in the tuneful score by the appropriately-named King Zany, along with Donald McNamee, Lynn Cowan, and the no doubt childhood-taunted Paul Titsworth. One, in particular, is worth repeating: “Icky (The Lollipop Song).” As sung by Otto, the ditty, on the surface about candy confection, recounts the messiness of sexual discharge (“I’d rather suck a lemon drop because a lollipop gets all over icky”). Another ballad “Laughing” becomes the theme of the movie.

While von Stroheim is obviously the whole show, THE GREAT GABBO nevertheless includes a game cast of supporting players, most prominently costar Betty Compson (a very big star at the time, and the female lead in von Sternberg’s 1928 masterpiece Docks of New York). Also on-hand are Donald Douglas (as Frank), Bo Peep Karlin, Harry Ross, Eddy Waller, Earl Burtnett and the Biltmore Orchestra, and, as a dancer, Rosina Lawrence.

The background ambiance and atmosphere of THE GREAT GABBO is equally impressive – well-staged and choreographed (Maurice L. Kussell) musical numbers, including several sung by Babe Kane (unQuestelably, the real Betty Boop). They, sadly, were filmed in MultiColor, a Technicolor rival, and none of this material currently exists; fortunately, we can at least see these sequences here in black-and-white (although one number, “The Gaga Bird” has been lost), but we can’t help but wonder what it truly looked like; MultiColor, like 1920s Technicolor, was a two-color process, but blue and yellow (rather than magenta and yellow), so it must have looked odd. What is intriguing about the process was, that, unlike Technicolor, MultiColor didn’t require special cameras; its bipack magazines could be loaded into a standard 35MM rig (MultiColor went out of business in 1933, later to re-emerge, with refinements, as CineColor). Fingers crossed, maybe one day footage will surface. It should be noted that an elaborate spider number, featuring half-naked females trapped in a giant web backfired, once the picture went into roadshow release. Premiering at the prestigious Selwyn Theater in New York, Cruze’s publicist thought it a great idea to recreate this number by building a living billboard. The result: a block-wide rooftop spider web with writhing, live (practically) nude women stopped traffic dead in its tracks. The entire construction had to be dismantled after a couple of days.

Like so many indie movies, THE GREAT GABBO fell into public domain, the results ranging from barely watchable to atrocious. It’s stunning to see a near-pristine 35MM print in 1080p High Definition (only slight black patches of decomposition twice briefly invade the otherwise crystal-clear surroundings). The audio is absolutely distortion-free and quite dynamic (the movie was available in both sound-on-film and disc version; this 1.33 presentation hails from the latter).

There’s a terrific supplement on this Blu-Ray as well: second audio commentary by motion-picture scholar Richard Barrios, author of A Song in the Dark: The Birth of the Musical Film, one of the best (if not THE best) book on the transition to sound period.

An engrossing, freakish schizophrenic nightmare, THE GREAT GABBO is a must for collectors of the macabre and fans of talkies, pre-Code, von Stroheim, and 1920s cinema.

THE GREAT GABBO. Black and white. Full frame [1.33:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Kino Classics/The Library of Congress. CAT # K25509. SRP: $29.95.

Mountain Meanery

MAY IS EARLY 3-STRIP TECHNICOLOR MONTH

An action-packed historical drama with Western elements, 1938’s GOLD IS WHERE YOU FIND IT, the second all-three-strip-Technicolor Warner Bros. feature, comes to DVD via the Warner Archive Collection/Warner Bros. Entertainment.

In 1936, Paramount beat the other studios to the Technicolor punch by producing Trail of the Lonesome Pine – the first three-strip movie to be shot on-location. The pic, deservedly a smash hit with critics and audiences, opened the floodgates for similar fare, and Warners led the charge. In 1937, their first “new Technicolor” pic was the outdoor adventure, God’s Country and the Woman, starring George Brent. Not surprisingly, it did quite well with audiences (critics were mixed), enough to do a sort-of follow-up, again starring Brent.

But this time, there would be improvements, mostly in terms of upgraded budget, supporting cast, and director.

Indeed, Brent’s costars were way above his God’s Country cast members (Beverly Roberts, Robert Barrat, Alan Hale, Roscoe Ates, and the insufferable El Brendel – although baddie Barton MacLane would return). Here, he was ably supported by no less that Olivia de Havilland and Claude Rains, each making their Technicolor debuts (with the latter appearing in his only Western), plus an array of character actor faves, including Margaret Lindsay, John Litel, Sidney Toler, Tim Holt, Henry O’Neill, Russell Simpson, George “Gabby” Hayes (yep, Gabby Hayes and Claude Rains doing scenes together – and in Technicolor!), Harry Davenport, Clarence Kolb, Moroni Olsen, Willie Best, Granville Bates, Charles Halton, and Cy Kendall.

Even more prestigious was the choice of director – Michael Curtiz, making his initial foray into the perfected process. An old hand at two-strip, his earlier works often used the previous color system for highlighted sequences (Mammy), and, more relevantly, for full-length titles (Under the Texas Moon, Dr. X, Mystery of the Wax Museum). But this was all-new, all-natural, and presented the challenge of dealing with the elements. More on that later.

The story for GOLD IS WHERE YOU FIND IT was scripted by Warren Duff and Robert Buckner (based upon a Cosmopolitan serial by Clements Ripley, another important factor). It was not simply a mountain romance with a lot of action (although there was plenty of that on both counts). It was a movie amazingly (for 1938) about ecology.

In 1879, the new-born American fat cats (aka, the 19th century one-pecenters) glom on to the 1877 discovery of gold in California – a strike that threatens to surpass the famed 1849 rush. Rather than laboriously using pans and sifters, these “entrepreneurs” go all technology and utilize the industrial age mechanics of hydraulics to essentially rape the Sacramento Valley. This (as we see in frightening sequences) comprises using torrents of siphoned lake/river water to rip the tops and sides off mountains (day and night, 24/7!).

While this leads to quicker results, it also causes a nightmare of side effects. Man-made floods of tsunami strength ruin thousands of acres of farmed crops, turn the rich terrain into giant sinkholes, and even cause deaths from desecrated property and washed-away homes.

Brent is the modern techno-crat foreman who rides out to oversee the project, falls in love with Rains’ farmer’s daughter de Havilland and attempts to reach a compromise before the escalating violence between the factions turns into a full-scale war.

Interestingly enough (and a positive sliver of hope for my like-minded ecologists), the highest court in America eventually ruled in favor of the farmers, citing the destruction as unnecessary, and, in fact, causing a devastating effect on the land – in essence, polluting it. Oh, yeah, did I mention, this is based on a true story?

As alluded to, the elements had their say in the production, as actual torrential rains disrupted filming, causing expensive and excessive delays. Director Curtiz, already known for taking too long on Warners movies, made lemonade out of these landfalls, and spent many hours with camera crews shooting rainbows in the new process. Suffice to say, these shots are jaw-dropping gorgeous.

Like with many who disagreed with him, Curtiz soon took on the Technicolor organization, particularly official color consultant Natalie Kalmus (wife of the firm’s owner). Going against the rules provided by the company, the director chose to shoot in to backlight for several pastoral sequences. When Ms. Kalmus complained, the Hungarian autocrat snapped back that Technicolor doesn’t tell the sun what to do. Nor (apparently) Curtiz. The dazzling results floored the studio hierarchy in the Warners screening room, and actually caused Technicolor to rewrite their guidelines.

Typical of Curtiz, the narrative moves quick and the lavish sets, including one for an Eastern city ball (where the evil capitalists conspire), contrasted with the scenic splendor of Weaverville, CA (as lensed by d.p. Sol Polito), are awesome in three-strip. Nevertheless Warner suits (including J.L.) were biting their nails, anxiously awaiting for the bloated cash-hemorrhaging pic to wrap. They needn’t have worried, GOLD proved just that at the box-office, reaping a profit of $250K, a lofty sum in 1938.

SIDELINE WINK-WING, NUDGE-NUDGE BIT: Making an appearance at the aforementioned ball is a Senator Hearst, who chuckles about his frivolous son wanting to run a newspaper; it is indeed the pater of William Randolph Hearst, an in-joke, as the movie was coproduced at Warners with Mr. H’s Cosmopolitan Productions, and, as indicated, originated from a story in the magnate’s names-the-same magazine.

The Warner Archive DVD of GOLD IS WHERE YOU FIND IT looks pretty damn good. While not rendering the clarity of a Blu-Ray (maybe a possibility for a later release), the colors are spectacular, reasonably approaching the beauty that knocked the socks off 1938 audiences. The mono track, typical of the studio, is fairly strong, featuring a (what else?) boisterous score by Max Steiner.

Curtiz, de Havilland, and Rains would be rewarded and reunited later that year with their second Technicolor effort, the (rightfully way better known) blockbuster and eventual all-time classic, Adventures of Robin Hood.

GOLD IS WHERE YOU FIND IT. Color. Full frame [1.33:1]; 2.0 mono. The Warner Archive Collection/Warner Bros. Entertainment. CAT # B00O9OEBMG. SRP: $9.99.

This title and others can be purchased at the Warner Archive Amazon Store or online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays® are sold.

Hues and Cries

MAY IS EARLY 3-STRIP TECHNICOLOR MONTH

Although Nothing Sacred followed it seven months later, producer David O. Selznick intentionally spaced an even more elaborate Technicolor release earlier that year to lay the groundwork for his planned widespread-color assault – a lavishly-budgeted tale of Hollywood, warts and all. The result, 1937’s A STAR IS BORN, now available on Blu-Ray (from the Warner Archive Collection) in a stunning new restoration from the original 35MM three-strip nitrate negatives.

Convinced that all new Technicolor should look as natural as possible, the producer picked a like-minded director (William A. Wellman) and star (Fredric March) for this revealing, often heart-wrenching, yet brutally sarcastic depiction of the movie industry (that said, fellow directors Jack Conway and Victor Fleming would be called in to do pickup shots and additional sequences); both would be rewarded later with similar duty on Nothing Sacred. While Wellman’s participation was practically a given (he’s credited as author of the original story/idea), March’s role as the slipping, aging alcoholic one-time matinee idol Norman Maine was initially pitched as a natural for John Barrymore. Problem was that it proved a bit too natural. Reportedly, tests were made, but the actor at this point had trouble remembering even the simplest of lines (he furthermore refused to read off out-of-camera-view blackboards); plus, needless to say, the years of drinking had finally taken its physical toll on the Great Profile. As for Wellman’s idea, I suspect much of his thoughts came after viewing the unofficial first version of the story, 1932’s What Price Hollywood?, starring Constance Bennett and Lowell Sherman, and directed by George Cukor (not surprisingly, Cukor’s name was at one time bandied about as director for this pic). Although Dorothy Parker is officially credited as the main scribe, Selznick (and Wellman) contributed to the screenplay, along with bits and pieces by Robert Carson, Alan Campbell, Ben Hecht, Budd Schulberg, Ring Lardner, Jr., John Lee Mahin, and Adela Rogers St. John; ultimately, the project’s goal was to represent the ideal modern date night at the movies for late 1930’s couples. And the outcome hit the cinematic jackpot.

Esther Victoria Blodgett is a comely farm lass, with a passion for the movies; it’s her only escape from the bleak life she leads, parented by her widowed dullard father and strict (aka wicked) aunt. Only her grandmother, an actual remnant from the pioneer era, shares her devotion to strive for something better. Granny puts her money where her mouth is, and gives Esther saved funeral cash to head west to Tinsel Town, and make her mark.

Hollywood, it turns out, isn’t exactly waiting for the determined young woman, who ends up dodging her curmudgeonly (but fatherly) landlord in a boarding house for hopefuls. Soon, she’s flopping at crashing the Movies, but excelling at flipping burgers (well, waitressing – the generally renowned unofficial thespian school of higher learning).

A gig as a hostess at a director’s party puts Esther in contact with her screen idol, Norman Maine – whose likeable, but alcohol-fried persona immediately goes on the make, although he eventually enthusiastically (and sincerely) becomes her supporter.

Maine badgers the head of the studio to test her, and the rest is, as they say, movie history. Esther, now Vicki Lester, weds Norman, he plummets, she rises, and it all ends in Greek tragedy with one of the great closing lines in any motion picture.

Janet Gaynor may have been an odd choice in 1937 for the lead in a major pic, but she’s perfect (many had already forgotten the one-time #1 star of the late silent/early talkie era). It resurrected her career, a move she chose to ignore – apparently the lady just wanted to show she could do it. And indeed, she did. March is superb as Maine, very natural (like the color) and appropriately doomed. The supporting cast, like all Selznick endeavors is A-1 (“They’re only two classes,” the Gone with the Wind producer famously said, “first class and no class.”): May Robson, Andy Devine, Adolphe Menjou, Lionel Stander, Owen Moore, Peggy Wood, Edgar Kennedy, Guinn Williams (as a posture coach!), Irving Bacon, Vince Barnett, Clara Blandick, Wade Boteler, Sidney Bracey, Helene Chadwicke, the ubiquitous George Chandler, Francis Ford, Trixie Friganza, Jonathan Hale, Olin Howard, Arthur Hoyt, I, Stanford Jolley, Chris-Pin Martin, Edwin Maxwell, Buddy Messinger, Franklin Pangborn, Marshall Neilan, Robert Emmett O’Connor, Harvey Parry, Osgood Perkins, Jed Prouty, Kay Sutton, Fred Toones, Margaret Tallichet, Clarence Wilson, and Dennis O’Keefe.

And just like moviegoers would be thrilled to see Manhattan in Nothing Sacred‘s three-strip, they additionally dropped their jaws seeing their favorite dream factory town in vibrant IB.

Urban legends have led legions of fans to postulate whom this drama was actually based upon (the “you know who they are” STAR IS BORN theorists are as prevalent as the armies of Jack the Ripper sleuths) – prime suspects being Johns Barrymore and Bowers (the big favorite), and, lethal celeb wedded couples Barbara Stanwyck and Frank Fay, Bernard Durning and Shirley Mason, John Gilbert and Virginia Bruce, and John McCormick and Colleen Moore. Truth be told, it was likely a smidgeon of all of them – tales of celluloid too-much-too-soon were certainly not unique.

Many industry “in-jokes” prevailed throughout the production and filming. The Oscar Vicki receives at the 8th Academy Awards is actually the Best Actress statue Gaynor won for her 1927 portrayal in 7th Heaven (the first actress to ever win an Oscar at the Awards’ debut ceremony in 1929, Gaynor actually was honored for three pics, which also included Street Angel and Sunrise).

But that wasn’t the only fun/promotion gimmick Selznick pulled. When Esther visits Grauman’s Chinese, the movie posters prominently displayed are for the producer’s first Technicolor foray The Garden of Allah.

But D.O.S. still didn’t stop there. The most fictional character in the piece is Oliver Niles, the head of the studio, ably impersonated by Adolphe Menjou. He’s a benevolent, kindly, paternal, loving, caring, just gee whiz/oh gosh wonderful guy. “Forget the cost, these are people” is his mantra, as said/thought no producer ever. Selznick proudly boasted that Niles was based on him; Parker, Hecht, and Wellman must have been laughing their respective asses off!

The wall-to-wall music is by the (then) primo movie composer Max Steiner, already (albeit briefly) prone to Mickey-Mousing riffs and themes. But the main (as opposed to Maine) attraction is still the strikingly beautiful Technicolor photography, brilliantly shot by W. Howard Greene. Choosing to keep it bright and ebullient (today, it would no doubt drably reflect the melancholy gloom of the narrative) was a correct and even more damning choice; Hell has never been more beautiful.

While Nothing Sacred performed exceedingly well, A STAR IS BORN was a Selznick blockbuster. As such, it was the first of many firsts, primarily the first Technicolor movie to receive Oscar nominations for categories other than cinematography (which it won, along with Best Writing, Original Story): Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Actress (the only movie that year to be selected for all the major awards). Interestingly enough, as the pic became an almost cottage industry standard, the three subsequent remakes all starred singer/actresses. Gaynor remains the only non-warbler.

Like Nothing Sacred, A STAR IS BORN fell into nefarious hands, and was re-issued in inferior CineColor (see last week’s column); also (as with Sacred), the movie negligently careened into public domain causing a vault of godawful 16MM dupes, video tapes, laserdiscs, and DVDs. Unlike Sacred, this title had a savior. When Warner Bros. remade the pic in 1954, they obtained the original negatives and existing prints. As early as the late 1970s, I saw embryonic CRI restorations on late-night TV, with STAR looking decent.

But those 40-year-plus attempts can’t compare with 2022’s dazzling, meticulous reconstruction/restoration. This crystal-clear High Definition Blu-Ray is spectacular in every sense of the word. The colors are rich, lush and effervescent, the mono audio strong and dynamic. If that isn’t enough to warrant a purchase, there are the numerous extras. A 1938 Technicolor Warners cartoon spoof (Friz Freleng’s A Star is Hatched) is included as a goof, plus several shorts that may have accompanied the main feature during the 1937 playdates (Mal Hallett and his Orchestra, Taking the Count, and Alibi Mark). STAR IS BORN fanatics usually cite the aforementioned 1954 Judy Garland version as the best of the lot. Didja know that she did a 1943 radio broadcast (with Walter Pidgeon as Maine), based on this production? Well, guess what, that’s included here, too (as is a September 1937 edition with Gaynor and Robert Montgomery). So, seriously, what are you waiting for!?

SIDENOTE: Back in 1966, I read one of the first mass-market movie bios – a Humphrey Bogart tome, penned by columnist Joe Hyams. He stated that the actor owned a 16MM print of the 1937 A STAR IS BORN, and would screen it often, with Baby (Bacall) finding him at the fade-out crying like a…baby.

A STAR IS BORN. Color. Full frame [1.37:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. The Warner Archive Collection/Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. CAT# B09R6QT69Z. SRP: $21.99.

This title and others can be purchased at the Warner Archive Amazon Store or online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays® are sold.

Yellow (and Cyan and Magenta) Journalism

MAY IS EARLY 3-STRIP TECHNICOLOR MONTH

The only American screwball comedy in Technicolor, 1937’s NOTHING SACRED finally comes to home video in a version it deserves.

As the Thirties passed the midway mark, and, as the Depression was winding down, David O. Selznick amped up his desire to see more perfected three-strip Technicolor on the worldwide screens. To the famed producer, it was time to stop just showcasing the process for the way it looked, and to integrate it into the various genres. Primarily, he wanted to crank down the “ooh-and-ahh” factor, striving for a more “natural color” look. Screwball comedies seemed a ripe choice, so he hired The Front Page‘s Ben Hecht to pen a wacky script of modern lovers. As usual, Mr. Hecht (along with James Street, from his story; plus, uncredited, Ring Lardner, Jr., Moss Hart, Budd Schulberg, George Oppenheimer, Sidney Howard, Robert Carson, Selznick himself AND director William A. Wellman – Jeez, what a load of wiseacres!) didn’t let his employer down.

In NOTHING SACRED, spinning its tale in a mere 74-minutes, we are quickly introduced to wily New York City reporter Wally Cook – a solid gold-plated tabloid dude who will stoop to any level for a story, much to the contradictory delight (circulation)/dismay (lawsuits) of his publisher/editor (wait for it), Oliver Stone. The opening, one of my favorite parts in the movie (or in ANY screwball riot) has Manhattan’s cafe society/political royalty paying tribute to the visiting Sultan of Marzipan – a banquet ruined by the arrival of the potentate’s wife and kids. “That’s him!,” she angrily points to her errant spouse, in reality a Harlem bootblack.

The backlash Cook receives (banishment to the basement-housed obits column) is likely to become vocationally lethal – unless the prank-driven writer redeems himself. Desperate, Wally discovers a six-line squib that smacks of the stuff gullible suckers’ll eat up. In Warsaw, VT, Hazel Flagg, a young woman, has been fatally exposed to radium, unhappily spending her final days hoping to spend a $200 stipend the company who poisoned the unlucky female has bestowed upon her. And she wants to do in style, along the Great White Way. Perfect, eh?

Even more so when Flagg turns out to be totally gorgeous.

Soon, Wally, Hazel and her personal physician, Dr. Downer, are planning a grand sendoff in New York City – commencing with the key to the city, unending tributes (including a deli offering extra cheese and baloney), and culminating in Hazel Flagg Day – with one small unrecorded detail. Hazel’s quack sawbones made a mistake – she ain’t kicking off.

Players being played was never so much fun…or colorful, and, indeed, moviegoers gasped in awe at the many second unit Technicolor shots of Manhattan (we do too, seeing the city in three-strip, ca. 1937).

Of course, you needed a no-nonsense, machine-gun-paced director to keep things moving, and Selznick got him with William Wellman – not known for comedies in the talkie era, but who had done some silent burlesque gems (When Husbands Flirt, The Boob, You Never Know Women, The Cat’s Pajamas). And, natch, ya needed two top leads to seamlessly bounce situations off each other – verbally and physically – from romance to one memorable moment involving fisticuffs.Enter Fredric March (Hecht originally wanted John Barrymore, but Selznick absolutely refused) and Carole Lombard (hmmm…would have been interesting to see a reunion of the Twentieth Century stars…in Technicolor), who handled rapid-fire dialog with sublime panache (Lombard’s comment/delivery to her co-conspirator doc, once she discovers the truth, and decides to ride the gravy train for all it’s worth is timing ambrosia: “It’s kind of startling to be brought to life twice – and each time in Warsaw!”).

W. Howard Greene shot the picture brilliantly, and no less than Oscar Levant scored it with an almost Gershwinian smooth sophistication (there’s even Raymond Scott quirky band music in a nightclub scene). And what a supporting cast, too! An array of 1937’s Who’s Who Character Actor Heaven, comprising Margaret Hamilton, Walter Connolly (as Stone), Charles Winninger (as Downer), Sig Ruman, Frank Fay, Maxie Rosenbloom, Olin Howard, Bobby Barber, Billy Barty, George Chandler (the director’s human good luck charm), Ann Doran, Jinx Falkenburg, Hedda Hopper, Leonid Kinskey, Charles Lane, Edwin Maxwell, Mary MacLaren, John Qualen, Aileen Pringle, Monty Woolley, Ernest Whitman, and Hattie McDaniel.

A literal image problem with this title made it a notorious item for many years. Reissues in the 1940s, when Technicolor was in high demand (and the distributor wanted to save a buck), relegated the prints to the inferior CineColor. Worse, CineColor was a two-strip process (not until 1952 would there be a SuperCineColor three-strip edition), so, without decades-later technology of CRIs (Color Reversal Intermediates), muddy, murky results were the throwback fate of a three-strip movie being reduced to two-strip. Adding to the dilemma was the fact that CineColor had no emulsion – it was double-sided base, which rendered the images soft to boot. More indignation when this title fell into public domain and dupes of dupes of dupes from 16MM CineColor flooded the market, incorrectly causing armchair movie archivists to conclude that early color sucked. Lombard’s cautious quote during production (that color can make you “look screwy”) didn’t aid the dilemma.

Well, hold on to your hats, folks, cause Kino-Lorber, has secured a new 2K scanned 35MM master, restored from the original fine grain elements. It is truly the best version of NOTHING SACRED that I’ve ever seen! In addition to the outstanding video, there’s excellent supplemental audio commentary by William Wellman, Jr., and, the theatrical trailer).

While NOTHING SACRED isn’t my favorite screwball comedy, it’s definitely up there. And for fans of the stars, Technicolor, and the era, this Blu-Ray’s a must!

NOTHING SACRED. Color. Full frame [1.33:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Kino-Lorber Studio Classics. CAT # K23099. SRP: $29.95.

Hey, collectors, click on Kino-Lorber’s site to take advantage of a sale currently offering this wonderful Blu-Ray at 80% OFF! https://www.klstudioclassics.com/search?q=film%7C%7CNothing+Sacred+%28Restored+Version%29&dvd=off&dvd=on&bluray=off&bluray=on

Oooh Allah!

MAY IS EARLY 3-STRIP TECHNICOLOR MONTH

Just as so many moviegoers were curious as to how their favorite stars sounded during the talkie revolution, many cinema fans were equally piqued about how their glam gods and goddesses looked in color. This fact did not escape David O. Selznick, who cast Marlene Dietrich and Charles Boyer in his 1936 opus THE GARDEN OF ALLAH (the producer’s first foray into three-strip), now on Blu-Ray from Kino-Lorber Studio Classics.

The movie, based on the controversial (albeit absurd) novel by Richard Hichens (and scripted by W.P. Lipscomb and Lynn Riggs, with uncredited assist from associate producer Willis Goldbeck) concerns Domini Enfilden, a convent-reared beauty, who, upon her’s father’s death (a widower she cared for dearly), retreats to the vastness of the Sahara…to find peace. Once there, she meets Boris Androvsky; little does the religiously-guided lass know that this strange dude who is getting her juices flowing is a guilt-ridden disgraced Trappist monk, who has eschewed his vows, and retreated to the desert…and found one helluva piece!

Add some Arabian treachery and nearly 80 minutes of awesome three-strip vistas (with Yuma, AZ and Buttercup Dunes, CA subbing for the Sahara), and you got the makings of a high-priced budgeted freak show extraordinaire.

To backtrack a bit, Selznick, upon seeing the tests for perfected Technicolor, went totally ga-ga over three-strip, even decreeing that all his future productions would be shot in the process; it would be a notoriously bad decision, costing him a number of important projects – most notably John Ford’s Stagecoach. Still, color prevailed long enough for him to envision what a book like Gone with the Wind might look like if the grays could properly be contrasted with the blues. Already, a key GWTW cornerstone Selznick crew was in place for ALLAH, including set designer Lyle Wheeler, composer Max Steiner, plus a barrage of color consultants who, collectively, put style over content, creating a spectacular IB feature-length test reel that virtually demanded that viewers disregard the prejudicial, right-wing religious bosh of the lip-biting scenario.

Another GWTW run-through was the search for the leads. No less than Joan Crawford and Merle Oberon were considered/tested for Domini before Dietrich was signed. And Robert Taylor, Fredric March, George Brent, Laurence Olivier, Robert Donat, Ivor Novello, Gilbert Roland, and Jean Gabin did likewise for Boris before Boyer got the news. George Cukor was, at one point, listed as director, but these chores eventually went to Richard Bowleslawski, a strange choice as he was generally known for comedies, intentional and unintentional (Theodora Goes Wild, Hollywood Party, Rasputin and the Empress, The Painted Veil).

The remaining cast of (literally) colorful characters include C. Aubrey Smith, Alan Marshall, Lucile Watson, Pedro de Cordoba, Nigel De Brulier, Helen Jerome Eddy, Robert Frazer, Frederick Gottschalk, Leonid Kinskey, Mary MacLaren, Michael Mark, and Frank Puglia. Young convent girls rhapsodizing over Domini’s breathtaking looks comprise Ann Gillis, Bonita Granville, Marcia Mae Jones, and prominently Dietrich’s daughter Maria Riva (their squealing line “Isn’t she beautiful?” was likely suggested by Marlene).

The lusty, animalistic dancer Tilly Losch makes her debut in an early, memorable sequence, writhing amok in an extremely sensual display; she would repeat that in spades for Selznick super Technicolor western Duel in the Sun, in 1946. And if one oily personification of smarmy villainy wasn’t enough, Selznick gave this show more dastardly mountebanks than you can shake a Technicolor stick at, aka, Basil Rathbone, John Carradine, Joseph Schildkraut, and Henry Brandon.

For Boyer, this was an early plum role (indeed, he seems to be the only one turning in a performance); for Dietrich (essentially portraying a human mannequin for Ernest Dryden’s sensational frocks), it was a career move she almost immediately regretted – not that she had a choice. After two Josef von Sternberg mega-flops at Paramount (The Scarlet Empress, The Devil is a Woman), Marlene was treading deep water. Sternberg already got his walking papers, and was kicked out of the elegant studio – his next stop being Columbia! Dietrich hung on by a thread called Desire, a Frank Borzage comedy, produced by Lubitsch, which proved to be a sizable hit. Yet, post-Code, her charms were certainly compromised (imagine what this plot could have been like three years earlier!).

The striking use of locations didn’t help. Practically before she set one over-priced tootsie upon the Salton basin, Dietrich was bitching about the heat. And she wasn’t necessarily wrong. Without the array of her approximately 9000 costume changes, the temps, occasionally rising to 112 degrees, would be unbearable. Add the generator-driven hot movie lights – made worse by Technicolor cameras requiring even more illumination, and it was purgatory.

But it didn’t stop there. Marlene disliked horses, remarking on their smell, their attracting armies of flies, and the fact that they could kill you. Her erotic riding scenes were shortened, and those mostly achieved by stunt doubles.

The worst target of Marlene’s malice was costar Boyer – by no fault of his own. Dietrich spared him nothing, mouthing off to anyone who would listen about his “tewibble toupee”! Apparently, the intense heat caused the already-balding actor’s hairpiece to open front end, with warm “towents” of sweat cascading over La Dietrich’s punim.

Sternberg-deprived, she would often bemoan out loud “Where’s my Joe?” to deaf ears and pissed off smelly, fly-friendly equines.

Like it’s recent predecessors, ALLAH‘s celebrated faces took a backseat to the glories of Technicolor, as rendered by three masters of photography: W. Howard Greene, Harold Rosson, and (uncredited) Virgil Miller (the former two winning a special Oscar for their endeavors). The visuals far outweigh the narrative (including such immortal dialog as “You come a land of fire, and, I think, you ARE fire!”), and are, as we often fondly state, drop dead gorgeous. With every new production, three-strip was becoming more advanced; the difference between ALLAH and Dancing Pirate (released the same year) is like night and day.

The Kino-Lorber Blu-Ray of THE GARDEN OF ALLAH is a knockout, faithfully rendering a hues-and-tones facsimile of what the 1936 excitement was all about, certainly the most expensive IB pic for the then-new process to-date. Herbert Kalmus’s Technicolor company fared best for all the production’s grueling toils…as evidenced by the reception. Long story short, Technicolor got the lion’s share of the reviews, and while ALLAH, at least initially, did a fairly brisk business, it could come nowhere near to recouping the pic’s massive costs. Dietrich would continue to plummet in popularity polls until 1939’s Destry Rides Again permanently resurrected her from the Box-Office Poison list. Her last word on Technicolor, ALLAH, and the company that released it (United Artists) would come several months later. UA invited the star to attend the premiere of the Disney’s Snow White, the first animated feature in three-strip. Besieged by the press upon exiting the theater, her response was classic Marlene: “Big deal,” she shrugged, “it’s a cartoon!”

Selznick was undaunted, however, and eagerly planned more Technicolor vehicles for his upcoming release schedule. But that’s for another time (like next week).

THE GARDEN OF ALLAH. Color. Full frame [1.33:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Kino-Lorber Studio Classics. CAT# K22826. SRP: $29.95.

Beyond the Blue Horizon

MAY IS EARLY 3-STRIP TECHNICOLOR MONTH

To celebrate the dawn of perfected Technicolor, we’ve chosen the colorful month of May to herald the release of a handful of mid-Thirties’ titles filmed in the then-new process, and recently released on Blu-Ray and DVD.

First up is the incredibly obscure, but historically important 1936 release, DANCING PIRATE, the first three-strip Technicolor musical (or, more precisely, “dancing musical,” as it was lauded), now available from The Film Detective.

Even while two-strip briefly flourished (in highlighted sequences and rare full-length features throughout the silent and early talkie era), Technicolor head Herbert Kalmus was forever tinkering around to further improve the process. Two-strip went through various evocations, including the actual cementing of two strips of film (magenta and yellow) before imbibition allowed the printing to be done on a single strand of 35MM stock. Still, the results varied – from pleasing to strange and bizarre (which is why it was usually reserved for musical numbers once sound arrived, or, more famously, for horror like Dr. X and Mystery of the Wax Museum). As far back as the mid-1920’s, Kalmus was experimenting with three-strip, usually hampered by his not winning over enough backers to make his vision a reality.

Indeed, the Technicolor story is a fascinating one, and would make a great movie in and of itself, with as much nasty corporate intrigue as Wall Street, The Hucksters, Executive Suite, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Wolf of Wall Street, or an entire season of Mad Men…yeah, it’s that mysterious, double-dealing and shady (the behind-the-scenes Disney stuff alone…oh, never mind).

By the beginning of the 1930s, Technicolor took a dive when audiences tired of musicals, and producers tired of the expense (not helped by the Great Depression); but three-strip was on the way, and the initial tests looked gorgeous. The biggest problem had been solved: rendering the color “blue,” or “cyan,” as the IB folks chose to call it. This also enabled the process to fully encompass day and night photography – the latter always previously a particularly difficult chore.

Once lawsuits had been resolved (did I mention “Disney”?), Kalmus interested Sam Goldwyn, who filmed the final sequence of the Eddie Cantor musical Kid Millions in three-strip. It took place in an ice-cream factory, and the nervous “yes men” in the screening room could barely look at the mogul – until they heard him audibly drooling “Mmmmmm, strawberry!”

Movie producers, explorers and entrepreneurs Merian C. Cooper and John Hay Whitney went further by contracting Technicolor to film the first full-length feature in three-strip, Becky Sharp, an adaptation of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, starring Miriam Hopkins and directed by Rouben Mamoulian. While critics were divided as to the movie’s worth as pure screen drama, everyone was ga-ga over its physical presence. Perfected Technicolor had exploded in a rainbow tsunami. Under their banner Pioneer Pictures, Cooper, Whitney, and John Speaks searched for a follow-up (Paramount had already decided to shoot a remake of Trail of the Lonesome Pine on-location – the first outdoor movie in IB). Long story short, Pioneer’s second feature had to be a first (they had already done a mini-musical short, La Cucuracha). Since they were operating through RKO (Cooper’s old haunt, the one from where he made King Kong, and, equally relevant, a studio where he subsequently, albeit briefly, had been head of production), Fred Astaire seemed like a good Technicolor bet. So, the first dancing three-strip musical, brilliantly entitled DANCING PIRATE, would be the second Pioneer IB feature. They immediately hit a snag when Astaire took one look at the script (by Ray Harris and Francis Edward Faragoh, adapted by Jack Wagner and Boris Ingster – from Emma Lindsay Squier’s 1930 story Glorious Buccaneer) and promptly refused. Undaunted, Pioneer combed the theater stages and music halls and scooped up Charles Collins. He would be supported by Steffi Duna, Frank Morgan, Luis Alberni, Victor Varconi, Cy Kendall, Jack La Rue, and Marjorie Reynolds; also in the cast were the Royal Cansino Dancers, featuring Rita Cansino before her last name was changed to Hayworth.

The screenplay quality (concerning a shanghaied Boston dance instructor ending up in old California, ca. 1820) certainly mirrored another major creative choice; instead of an A-list director, like Mamoulian, the producers sought to save a dime by hiring competent Lloyd Corrigan, better known as a jovial character actor. The rest of the credits, however, were non-negotiable. Soon-to-be Technicolor expert (and nine-time Oscar nominee) William V. Skall (The Little Princess, Reap the Wild Wind, Rope, Joan of Arc, the latter winning him an Academy Award) won the coveted position of d.p., working closely with Ray Rennahan, (who had been with Technicolor since 1923); art/set, and costume design by Wiard Ihnen and Eugene Joseff, and choreography by Russell Lewis (who was Oscar-nominated) appended the visuals. The all-important music, under direction of Alfred Newman, comprised a Rodgers and Hart score, truthfully, not their finest moment – as colorless a contrast as the movie is colorful.

Almost immediately, it’s easy to see why Astaire bolted. The fact that Collins, aka Jonathan Pride, becomes the title character by default doesn’t stop the local gentry from wanting to hang him. He is saved by his Terpsichore skills – ample proof he ain’t no pirate; sadly, unlike Astaire, he ain’t no movie star either (even with a pasted-on Douglas Fairbanks mustache). There’s a B-movie subplot where corrupt Spanish military officials attempt to ravage the community and female costar Duna. You can pretty much figure out what happens, and how it all ends.

To paraphrase Gold Hat in Treasure of Sierra Madre, “we dunt need no stinkin’ screenplay. We’ve got three-strip Technicolor!” And, yesiree, the hues and tones were the authentic stars of this saga. Falling in love with the capabilities of three-strip IB might have been a mistake, though; there’s way too much footage devoted to nighttime shenanigans. But, again, in 1936, it didn’t seem to matter; the oohs and aahs had ’em lining up around the block.

For the most part, the Film Detective restoration of DANCING PIRATE is clean, sharp and (when daylight allows) ebullient. Previously only available in black-and-white or murky CineColor 16MM prints, the three-strip materials were long-thought lost until a 35MM nitrate print was discovered in 2015. A few jump cuts (nicely digitally-cleansed) are evident where the footage no longer exists; not a prob, these tally up to mere seconds. Extras include audio commentary by Jennifer Churchill and two mini-documentaries: Glorious Pioneers: The Birth of Technicolor of and Ambushed by Mediocrity: Remembering The Dancing Pirate.

For me, the best part of the picture encompasses the opening sequences where Collins/Pride teaches untalented pupils how to waltz; it’s the most Astaire (and grownup) moment, and also beautifully lit and shot (it should be noted that one of the young would-be twinkletoes is Pat Nixon!).

By the following year, all the majors were planning three-strip endeavors, and Kalmus & Co. never had to look back.

At 83 minutes, this is an interesting way to spend a movie night; for Technicolor fans and classic cinema buffs, however, it’s a MUST.

DANCING PIRATE. Color. Full frame [1.37:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. The Film Detective. CAT # FB1018. SRP: $24.95.

Pre-Code Makeover

You know I’m a sucker for pre-Code movies (as are most if not all of my readers), so I’m delighted to announce the Blu-Ray remasters of two superb specimens from that era, LADIES THEY TALK ABOUT and MARY STEVENS, M.D. (both 1933, and now available from The Warner Archive Collection).

We pre-mies, of course, are more than familiar with each of these excellent titles. They often run on TCM, and have been in the Warner Archive Collection for years – the latter as DVDs. Now don’t get me wrong. These older transfers were quite good, but, damn, the new 1080p High Definition re-dos blew my mind. Truly, it’s as if I’m seeing these naughty nuggets for the first time. Mel Mantra #1: Never forget how well (if not brilliantly) these movies were lit and shot. Long story short, the difference between the DVDs and the Blu-Rays is the difference between “very nice” and “jaw-dropping gorgeous.”

A gender switch on convict redemption, as only pre-Code can deliver, LADIES THEY TALK ABOUT is a first-rate vehicle for rising star Barbara Stanwyck, who can do more with a smirk and a look than a script packed with risque one-liners (never mind, they’re here, too – courtesy of a scenario by Brown Holmes, William McGrath, and Sid Sutherland). Interestingly, LADIES is based upon Dorothy Mackaye’s and Carlton Miles’s play, Gangsteress, recounting Ms. Mackaye’s 1928 ten-month imprisonment in San Quentin. Stany plays Nan Taylor, the proverbial hottie from the wrong side of the tracks (jaded in girlhood by religious wingnuts), who ends up taking the fall for the heads of the bad crowd she’s hooked up with (the lead noggin and her squeeze being – who else? – but Lyle Talbot). Enter sanctimonious radio preacher Dave Slade (Preston Foster), who instantly becomes attracted to a suspicious Nan; much to her dismay, she starts gets the physical vibes herself. That all goes south when, hormones aside, Slade causes the now conflicted (but mostly pissed off) Nan to be sent up the river.

The prison sequences are primo pre-Code, with new fish Taylor taken under the tutelage of sassy Linda (Lillian Roth in her best movie role). They BFF like nobody’s business, and Nan’s intros to the penitentiary’s lesbian contingent, Aunt Maggie (the ex-Madam of a “beauty parlor,” where men were the clients), and Susie (a Dave Slade-obsessed nympho, out to destroy Ms. Taylor, once the revivalist’s lingering attraction becomes common knowledge) comprise cinematic snarkasm from Heaven. There are attempted crash-outs, double-crosses, and triple-crosses before Nan finally realizes that her love for Slade is genuinely mutual (but only after she pays him back by shooting him).

In stir, Roth and the other goils put the frustrated sexual heat on sizzle, particularly in one scene where horndog (or is it “kitten”?) Linda tells Nan that the only things on their collective minds are “freedom…and MEN!,” the last word delivered with such lip-biting frenzy that the poor lass nearly gnashes her puckerers to the teeth. They also moan to pinup photos of their favorite male movie stars (coincidentally, all Warners contractees).

The cast is terrific with Babs additionally backed up by Maude Eburne (Aunt Maggie), Dorothy Burgess (Susie), and Ruth Donnelly, Harold Huber, Grace Cunard, Mary Gordon, and Robert Warwick. Director William Keighley (who codirected with Howard Bretherton, and also appears in a bit) moves the action at a lightning paced 69-minutes. As underlined above, this Blu-Ray is gorgeous, with John Seitz’s cinematography looking like it hasn’t looked since 1933! The music score by Cliff Hess and Bernhard Kaun is okay, highlighted by riffs of W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Woman” playing throughout – almost becoming Nan’s theme. I Like Mountain Music, a vintage Merrie Melodies, which may have originally supported the LADIES playdates, is also included.

MARY STEVENS, M.D., gives so-fun-to-watch-her-suffer Kay Francis one of her best Warners pre-Code turns. As the title character, she is the brunt of many cruel, sexist snubs despite the fact that the lady sawbones is aces in her profession. Opening a clinic with her fellow graduate student pal Don Andrews proves to be…dare I say…a pill. Even with a guy in tow, a woman doctor has difficulties payin’ the rent (fortunately, she has wise-cracking Glenda Farrell as her all-purpose gal Friday nurse to keep the doom out of gloom). But Don has other plans: marrying a rich, beauteous harpy (the always welcome Thelma Todd) and getting her daddy to fund his super-duper clinic. Ta-ta, Mary. Turns out that although Dr. Andrews is a competent medical practitioner, he’s an absolutely brilliant drunk; he’s also a class-conscious, ladder-climbing under-achiever, who – even with all the breaks – can’t cut it (in or out of surgery; “the less I do, the more I make,” he smirks). Self-loathing, selfish Don is played by – who else? – Lyle Talbot. Prior to going on the lam for embezzlement, Andrews sets Mary up with an office in his swanky practice, transforming her into an overnight success. As a result, Stevens and Andrews move from just friends to friends with benefits – the main one being her soon-to-arrive little tax deduction (an adulterous encounter while ducking the authorities). Back then, all women of means, when faced with this situation, booked passage on the Loretta Young Cabbage Patch Tour. Mary, sporting a Rachel Maddow “do,” and accompanied by Glenda (that’s Farrell’s character’s name, too), takes off for Europe, eventually returning with a little bundle of joy.

Before the story ends with a surprising outcome for Drs. Stevens and Andrews, Mary proves that many things haven’t changed for career women in nearly 90 years. Unwanted pregnancy aside, the femme physician also deals with a brief suicidal moment and, more topically, a mini pandemic aboard an ocean liner because…well, you know, some folks don’t take precautions…like maybe wearing a masks when your brood is infected. All of this unspools at a sprightly 72-minutes. Warners house talent Lloyd Bacon moves Rian James’s, and Robert Lord’s script (based on Viginia Kellogg’s play, with William Keighley acting as dialog consultant) at a more-than-brisk pace. Like LADIES, MARY STEVENS utilizes some smokin’ Orry-Kelly frocks (when not wearing scrubs or prison gear) – so much so, that, frankly, he should share responsibility for Stevens’s blessed event. D.P. Sid Hickox, another Warners’ workhorse, shows us how terrific slick, quickly-made movies could look. The crystal-clear, shimmering monochrome is double-take stunning in this new 1080p High Def remaster. The fact that none of the female trouble (in both these sensational titles) would be “acceptable” within a year makes us grateful that this and all those other great pre-Codes made it to the theaters before mid-June, 1934.

LADIES THEY TALK ABOUT

(CAT# B09HMZTCSP).

MARY STEVENS, M.D. (CAT# B09GKLZLD3).

(both 1.37:1; 1080p High Definition); 2.0 DTS-HD MA. The Warner Archive Collection/Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. SRP: $21.99 @.

This title and others can be purchased at the Warner Archive Amazon Store or online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays® are sold.