Day Dream

A smooth, fun and funny entertainment, 1949’s MY DREAM IS YOURS,directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Doris Day, alights on Blu-Ray from the Warner Archive Collection. 

Doris Day was one of those Hollywood rarities.  Like contemporary star Danny Kaye, she never climbed the celluloid ladder rung-by-rung to stardom (Kaye worked in the Borscht Belt before hitting Broadway, Day was a band singer, notably for Bob Hope).  Each was immediately starred in a splashy Technicolor confection (Day for Warners, Kaye for Goldwyn), and hit the ground running.  Day (born Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff), with her engaging personality, good looks and excellent singing voice became an instant smash in 1948’s Romance on the High Seas, also directed by Curtiz and, like DREAM, costarring Jack Carson.  The fact that she was a really good dramatic actress (Storm Warning, Love Me or Leave Me, The Man Who Knew Too Much) was a bonus that would shortly surface, much to the elation of studio moguls ever on the lookout for that “complete package.”  Day also achieved an almost unbelievable record for a post-WWII actress – remaining a top box-office draw for twenty years!

MY DREAM IS YOURS, as written by Harry Kurnitz and Dane Lussier (adaptation by Allen Rivkin and Laura Kerr, from the original story, Hot Air, by Paul Finder Moss and famed producer Jerry Wald), is a far more fetching vehicle than Seas.  For one thing, it tackled at least a thread of a (then) real-life situation.  Day’s Martha Gibson is a war widow with a young son, striving to make it as a singer.  She works for a live DJ company – an outfit of phone-in juke boxes that to this day I’ll never believe actually existed (you’d plop in your nickel, and request a song from an attached voicebox).

The frame around this narrative is fast-talking likeable Doug Blake (Carson), an agent with Adolphe Menjou’s (aka Thomas Hutchins) talent agency.  Carson, along with his equally likeable fast-talking, Viv (the great Eve Arden), is hell bent to re-sign their biggest star, conceited swooner-crooner Gary Mitchell (an extra sleazy dose of Lee Bowman, so slimy that even his usual lounge lizard mustache opted to not appear).  Mitchell is a bit sadistic, too, and delights in torturing Blake before revealing he’s ditching the folks who made him a household name for a better deal.

This puts everyone in a tizzy until Carson’s frazzled character takes a deep breath, and goes out to find a new singer to be  groomed for (hopefully) bigger stardom.  Cue up, “Hello, my name is Doris.”

The shenanigans that this bunch goes through (countless auditions, nitery dives, and basic survival) is trademark self-deprecating Warners cynicism – a middle-class specialty for the studio.  In Curtiz’s more than capable hands, it’s often hilarious, with nevertheless some genuine pangs of pathos on the side.  This is all superbly adorned by a supporting cast of comic and iconic pros, who don’t disappoint:  S.Z Sakall, Franklin Pangborn, Edgar Kennedy (his final role, released posthumously), Sheldon Leonard, Frankie Carle, Ada Leonard, Selena Royle, Iris Adrian, Chester Clute, Marion Martin, Tris Coffin, James Flavin, Sandra Gould, Hank Mann, and Leo White.

Like Seas, DREAM is lavishly produced and photographed in ebullient Technicolor by two masters of the craft, Ernest Haller and Wilfrid Cline.  The fact that Day’s son (Duncan Richardson) is a Bugs Bunny addict (who isn’t?) gets an added perk via a Friz Freleng-directed sequence of the beloved character (vocals, natch, by Mel Blanc) interacting with Day and Carson (a la Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh).

What’s fascinating about MY DREAM IS YOURS is the movie’s historical context.  Sure, it’s wonderful to see shots of Los Angeles in 1949 Technicolor, but it’s the spritz of reality on the music industry walls that offers a telling sidebar:  the steady demise of the Big Band Era (and, yes, Bowman deservedly gets his just desserts; apropos, his swanky apartment was culled from leftovers constructed the previous year for Hitchcock’s Rope; WB never wasted nuthin’!). For Warners, DREAM likewise represented their current state:  the bombastic studio head Jack, having caused two extraordinary suits to split (first Darryl Zanuck, then Hal Wallis), forced many a “yes-man” to simply re-channel old product into modern projects; MY DREAM IS YOURS is, in part, constructed from bits lifted from 1934’s 20 Million Sweethearts.  For Day, the movie always held a soft spot in her heart, as it mirrored the artist’s touring dates that often resulted in leaving her real-life adolescent son, Terry, behind.

The new Blu-Ray of MY DREAM IS YOURS is terrific, finally approaching a genuine rendition of the 1949 Technicolor visuals (when shown in color throughout the 1970s-1990s, it too often looked pale, as in pallor).  The mono audio is standard Warners, which means dynamic and buoyant, with an array of tuneful songs by (mostly) Ralph Blaine, including the title track, plus “Someone Like You,”
Love Finds a Way,” “I’ll String Along with You,” and “Canadian Capers.” Two thoroughly bizarre entries reflecting the times are “Tic, Tic, Tic,” a merry ode to the feelings of love and A-bomb radiation poisoning, and, the equally similarly jaw-dropping “Nagasaki,” which is self-explanatory.

But there’s way more.  The Warner Archive Collection has truly stacked the deck, essentially creating a complete 1949 night at the movies that includes two shorts by director Richard Bare:  one a riotous Joe McDoakes comedy So You Want to be an Actor and a totally strange item entitled The Grass is Always Greener (the latter nominated for an Oscar); an added cherry on top is A Ham in a Role, a great Robert McKimson Technicolor WB cartoon featuring the Goofy Gophers.

For those who harbor a jones for nostalgic, musical comedy (with a sprinkling of snarkasm), you can’t go wrong with MY DREAM IS YOURS.  Besides, how often do you get to see Franklin Pangborn AND Edgar Kennedy in Technicolor?

MY DREAM IS YOURS. Color. Full frame [1.37:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Warner Archive Collection/Warner Bros. Entertainment/Turner Entertainment Co. CAT # 1000797618.  SRP: $21.99.

Available from the Warner Archive Collection:  http://www.wbshop.com/warnerarchive or online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays® are sold.

Mister’s Deeds Go to Frown

While often likened to cinematic twins, Leo McCarey and Frank Capra (to me) are light years apart.  Capra, who by his own admission, created what he dubbed “CapraCorn,” is too often bogged down by treacle; McCarey’s stuff smacks of life lessons in hypocrisy.  True, both began in silent comedy, but Capra, as his star rose, seemed to forget everything visual, while McCarey could zap an inventive sight gag into a sophisticated story line with a snap of his fingers.  And, yeah, they were both right wing nut jobs (with, McCarey responsible for two of the most embarrassing entries in ANY auteur canon, My Son John and Satan Never Sleeps), but, when in full bloom, Leo shined.  Nothing proves my point more than the recent Blu-Ray release of his shamefully ignored 1948 comedy GOOD SAM, now available through Olive Films/Paramount Home Entertainment.

GOOD SAM, for those acquainted with it, is frequently (and unfairly unfavorably) matched with Capra’s (in my opinion) overrated It’s a Wonderful Life (Oy, here comes the hate mail!).  Each flick concerns the downfall (by no fault of his own) of an upstanding do-gooder, whose one character flaw is his very philanthropic nature.  For Capra, this is tinged with whimsy; for McCarey, reality.

The comparisons continue.  McCarey copped one of Capra’s favorite leading men, Gary Cooper, to play the lead, and even cast Wonderful Life’s Todd Karns to play a key supporting role.  But, narratively speaking, that’s where the similarities end.  Cooper’s wife is, like SAM itself, the vastly underrated actress Ann Sheridan – a snarky, perfect companion, and a far cry from goody-goody Donna Reed (don’t get me wrong, I love Donna Reed).

Sam, the man – one Sam Clayton – is literally a good Sam, as in “Samaritan,” a tag that the populace of his town can eagerly verify, since they take advantage of him at every opportunity.  He and his spouse, Lu, live an ideal (supposedly) middle class-plus life, along with their two young children Lulu and Butch.  Sam is one of the heads of sales at the berg’s big department store, and can never stop helping people.  His disgruntled boss, H.C., ever on the verge of a heart attack, can’t berate him, as Sam’s innate goodness always seems to pay off (spending an inordinate amount of time with an elderly lady looking for knitting needles turns into a windfall for the store when Sam’s patience is reciprocated by her later furnishing an entire home from the store’s appliance and furniture departments as a wedding present for her marriageable sprout).

Sam is so benevolent that his family is inadvertently placed on the back-burner when someone in need requires assistance (money loans, shelter, transport, etc.).  A horrible next door family takes his car when theirs won’t start, and practically wrecks it (Sam graciously repairs both vehicles); a slut-shamed coworker is given room and board in the Clayton home when her married lover ditches her.  A no-account brother-in-law that even his sister (Sheridan) can’t stand turns a brief stay into a seemingly permanent residence.  Perfect strangers, too, get the Sam treatment: citizens running to catch a rush hour bus turn out to be heading toward a store before it closes, but not before Clayton practically lies down in the street to stop the vehicle.

And so it goes.

Sam, however, is no Capra doofus.  He’s a smart, dude who knows exactly what he’s doing.  In a beautifully written, acted and directed sequence, Cooper quietly and with dignity, tells Sheridan that he understands that some folks might consider him an easy touch, but, while many have traditional hobbies and extra-curricular interests, helping people is what he enjoys.  It’s his jones.   In an unexpected bolt of modernity, the local pastor, during a Sunday sermon, chides the majority of “fake Christians” as opposed to the slim array of those rare individuals who really care.

Like Wonderful Life, Sam’s world comes crashing down during a snow-blitzed Christmas.  He’s about to lose the dream home his wife has wanted, likely his marriage…and, as for all those friends and neighbors he’s helped throughout the years…well, “better you, than me.”  Sam’s recourse is to drown his sorrows at the local bar, attempting to become a mean drunk – but even this fails, as he gives his clothes to a homeless alcoholic.  No angels’ shoulders to cry on here, just unappreciative disgruntled post-war Americans.

McCarey truly delivers the goods in GOOD SAM, a worthy (and, in my opinion, superior) follow-up to his mammoth back-to-back blockbusters Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary’s.  A final side-by-side to Capra, like Wonderful Life, GOOD SAM was an independent production, released and distributed through RKO.  It probably did better than Life (due to the participation of Cooper and Sheridan; Jimmy Stewart was post-war box office poison until 1950), but then was promptly forgotten.  I first encountered it, in a truncated re-issue form, on TV in the mid-1960s, and, by accident (I thought it was the small-screen debut of the 1964 Jack Lemmon comedy Good Neighbor Sam, a TV Guide misprint listing).  The cut version was pretty much the only game in town, until a subsequent cinematic excavation restored the pic to its full 114-minute running time (which this edition is).

This dialog and situations (by credited screenwriter Ken Enlund, from a story by McCarey and John D. Klorer) are sharp and hilarious.  “Are you an idiot?,” asks one of Sam’s precocious urchins of their wastrel uncle.  A later scene of Mr. Nelson, an obnoxious repair man ogling Sam’s beautiful wife (after inviting himself to dinner), is equal parts painful and riotous (Nelson’s gross impression of his battleaxe better half’s constant asthma would be an awful moment, if not in McCarey’s deft hands).  The supporting cast is brilliant, and features Edmund Lowe, William Frawley, Clinton Sundberg, Dick Ross, Minerva Urecal, Ray Collins, Bobby Dolan, Jr., Lora Lee Michael, Joan Lorring, Louise Beavers, Matt Moore, Irving Bacon, Ida Moore, Almira Sessions, Dick Wessel, and an early appearance by Ruth Roman.

GOOD SAM was photographed by the excellent d.p. George Barnes, mostly heralded for his Technicolor work (The Spanish Main, Samson and Delilah, War of the Worlds), but primarily known for his exemplary black-and-white cinematography on Hitchcock’s Rebecca.  While this 1080p Blu-Ray looks and sounds pretty good, it certainly could benefit from a full-scale restoration (an improbability, considering its current stature). An appropriate score by Robert Emmett Dolan (borrowed from Paramount) appends the visuals.

One of Cooper’s and Sheridan’s best performances, GOOD SAM is, for me, the perfect Christmas flick to be duly trotted out every Yuletide, and with a way more practical mantra than Capra’s:  every time a (door) bell rings, run like hell!

GOOD SAM.  Black and white.  Full frame [1.37:1; 1080p High Definition]; 1.0 DTS-HD MA. Olive Films/Paramount Home Entertainment.  CAT # OF804.  SRP: $29.95.

Joey Evans Speaks

Hey, this is gonna kill ya – I’m now a big-time movie reviewer.  Let me tell you how this event came about.  This bum, Mel What-his-name found out I’m still kickin’ and that some crazy outfit called Twilight Time is bringing out the story of my life – you know, that classic 1957 flick, PAL JOEY…Anyways, knowing that the whole megillah was based on my buddy John O’Hara’s book, which was, in turn, simply a collection of my letters to you…Well, he thought that I could do a better job than he could by handing over our recent exchanges…  “You got emails?” he asked me.  “Email-schmee-mail!”  I don’t go in for that.  I like sending postcards.  Glad you saved ’em…So here we are in print.  And he gets the credit – and I don’t get a dime!  Whatta bum!  Since this is the case – could you possibly spare a c-note?  Just to tide me over.  As you know, I’m always having cash flow problems.  As ever,

Your pal,                                                           

Joey

Let me tell you something that you might have been unaware of.  Billy Wilder – yeah THAT Billy Wilder was the guy who wanted to bring my story – Joey Evans unvarnished – to da screen.  He had just had an altercation with Paramount studios, whom (sic) wanted him to soften the German release prints of Stalag 17!  Since Wilder’s folks met their end in the holocaust, this didn’t seem kosher (and I don’t blame him!), so he left rather acrimoniously (how’s that for an $8 college word?  I’m comin’ up in the world).  Wilder further gives them the ice pick in the puss by freelancing at Fox, resulting in a little panache called The 7-Year Itch.   Oh, brother, remember that?  Marilyn Monroe and that dress in the subway grating?  Wowie–wow-wow-wow!

So he ventures to Columbia and Harry Cohn, who naturally welcomes him with open arms.  Then the fireworks began.  As you know, I’m a hoofer by trade, but Billy had other notions.  Gene Kelly became a star because of me – when the whole shebang exploded on Broadway in 1940.  But he wasn’t part of Wilder’s picture – at least the moving picture.  “Who then?” asks Cohn.  “Marlon Brando!” exclaims Billy.  Cohn looks like he’s about to have a fit.  Me – I’m ecstatic.  BRANDO doin’ yours truly.  Hell, the guy pulled off Julius Seezer (sic), so why not Joey Evans?  Cohn admits that Marlon can line ’em up proper, so he grits his teeth and relents.  “But Brando can’t dance” he tells Wilder.  Wilder replies, “Not to worry – we’re making him a night club comic.”  Cohn wonders how Marlon will play op Rita Hayworth, who has a couple of pictures left on her contract – and whom he’s more than dyin’ to get rid of.  “Doesn’t matter” sez Billy.  Hayworth is out.  “Who then?” asks Harry.  “Mae West,” sez Wilder.

Now let me tell ya something quickly.  Harry Cohn is what the carriage trade refers to as “uncouth.”  He proudly tells everyone that he can pick a winner by scratching his rear end.  It’s true – when his behind gets an itch – he knows he’s got a box office hit.  Some writer once said that the world’s problems could be solved by simply wiring the planet to Harry Cohn’s ass!  Is that a killer or what?  Well, Harry’s feeling something in his keester, but it ain’t an itch.

“MAE WEST!” he shouts.  She’s like a 1000!  And she made a picture here years ago that almost ruined me!”  “That’s because it was a piece of crap!”  sez Billy.  Harry calms down ’cause he knows this a genuine fact.  Now everyone’s still agog by singin’ and dancin’ Brando from Guys and Dolls, but Harry ain’t convinced.  “Can he sing dem songs?” he asks Wilder.  “Doesn’t matter – we’re throwing them all out.  They’ll only be heard as background music!”  Throwing out Rodgers and Hart tunes?  A musical without music!  Jeez, now even I’m pissed!  Forget about throwing out the R & H stuff – Cohn throws out Wilder.  Columbia remained the only major joint he never worked at.  Ain’t that a kick in the head?

Your pal,

Joey

Wait till ya hear the latest.  They’ve brought in George Sidney – who’s done quite a few hot musicals at MGM…And here’s the topper.  Guess who’s playin’ me?  SINATRA!  That’s right, Frank Sinatra!  Sidney had done Anchors Aweigh with Francis (and Gene Kelly, the original me) at Metro – resulting in one of Frankie’s biggest early movie hits.  So they get along.  Frank and Sidney are co-producing with Columbia.  Harry Cohn’s already expecting the worst.  Frank’s still hurtin’ from not getting On the Waterfront, which coincidentally starred Brando; he’s also seein’ red from being downgraded to Marlon’s wing man in the aforementioned Guys and Dolls – where Brando got the big songs, and Frank, basically got bupkis!  So beatin’ out Brando kinda makes Frankie happy.  Therefore all is quiet on the western front.  Frank not only insists that Hayworth stay in – but gets top billing (“She IS Columbia Pictures!”).  And yours truly is now a saloon singer (which, considering Frank’s participation, is rather apt, don’t you think?).  Dancer-comic-singer.  Who knew I was so multi-talented?  Because of this, the R & H score remains intact; in fact, they’re adding some more tunes.  And Frank approves of Kim Novak as the younger mouse.  Who wouldn’t – I mean, have you seen her?  They got along in The Man With the Golden Arm – that was a corker, wasn’t it?  “Confidently, I’m stacked!” she tells him.  She ain’t kiddin’!  Va-va-vroom!

I know you’re probably thinking that because of all this action that I’m rolling in dough.  Not so – it’s all in what they call transit.  So I still could use that century.  If you’ve already sent it, terrific!  If not, please remit same, as my hotel tab is rapidly reflecting the lifestyle to which I have become accustomed.

Your pal,

Joey

Maybe it’s me, but something in the screenplay irks me…They kept a lot of the original dialogue and I feel a bit sad about one recurring line of which Hayworth refers to Frankie.  She keeps callin’ him “Beauty.”  Now, don’t get me wrong – I think he’s a decent enough looking specimen…maybe average-plus.  But BEAUTY?  Is it my imagination or does it sound like sort of a snipe?  Couldn’t they have replaced it with, “Hey, blue eyes?”  I know it’s a minor point, but I sorta feel bad for Frank.  Then again, it could all be a swell-head deal.  I mean, he’s not only starring, but co-producing.  So I guess they can call him anything he wants.  Hell, they could call Rondo Hatton “beauty” if he was starrin’ and co-producing.

Your pal,

Joey

The supporting cast is aces.  One of my favorite broads, Barbara Nichols is in it an’ she’s beyond fantastic.  All the babes are something to write home about.  One of Frankie’s pals, Hank Henry plays the owner of the club movie-Joey sings at.  Their relationship is very much what I perceive the Sinatra-Cohn splice to be like.  When Frankie dedicates “The Lady is a Tramp” to Hayworth, Henry bops his noggin in the wall.  What a hoot!

The lines are mostly million buck zingers.  Some rough stuff.  “Can I offer you any aid?” asks some old dame to Frankie upon his lighting in Frisco.  “What kind of aid do you have in mind?” he replies definitely referring to the bedroom variety.  I’m also not sure if movie-Joey ain’t getting it on with his landlady…some ancient twist named Elizabeth
Patterson.  You’d know her if you saw her.  Been in pictures forever…Even before pictures…when they just had cave paintings.  I’m glad we don’t know fer sure, as this is one case where things are best left to the imagination.

The words movie-Joey speaks are yours truly to a “T.”  Fits Frankie like a glove too.  This, and correct me if I’m wrong, is like the perfect Frankie Sinatra vehicle.  It’s like the first Rat Pack picture – but without the Rat Pack!  Do you get what I’m saying?  Script is credited to Dorothy Kingsley – a broad!  Can this be?  Ya think maybe it’s some guy fronting with a mouse name?  Let me know, as I value your opinion – also your rubles, of which I still have not received any of same.

Your pal,

Joey

The picture’s a pip!  Breaking all records.  Snobs and bums love it!  They’re linin’ up!  Kim Novak is driving me crazy!  She an’ Frankie are great together.  Kim seems to always bat one outta the ballpark when making a picture in San Francisco – although, speaking from experience, I think the ending in this show may be worse for her in the long run than the one in Vertigo.   Take a gander and give me your take.  I’m wondering if you sent me that lifesaver in cash – which could explain why I never got it.  You should never do that.  Also a check is likewise a no-no, as my current status at the local vault is of the persona-non-grata variety.  A money order is the best way to go to save…

…Your pal,

Joey

Have you ever seen a Blu-Ray?  Again, in the words of my movie counterpart:  Wowie-wow-wow-wow!  And with a few extra WOWS to boot!  It’s so clear and sharp – I’ve never seen a picture like it!  You can almost reach out and touch the cast of characters – and with so much prime female pulchritude on display, there’s plenty you wanna touch!  It was shot by this guy, Harold Lipstein, a very nice fella of the Jewish persuasion who never quite got his due (although he’s been around for years).  From being on-location with the company, I know first-hand how hard this shoot was – what in Technicolor an’ all.  To say nothing of the nighttime stuff, which looks sensational as well.  Trust me, that ain’t easy to achieve.

I don’t know who these Twilight Time characters are, but I think that they may be giving the paying public too much.  They’ve included the PAL JOEY trailer, which, in and of itself, is almost worth the price of admission.  It’s like a little extra movie – what we moguls call a featurette.  It has Sinatra talking to the audience – giving them a lesson on how to be hip, via a chalkboard and pointer lowdown on what they call Joeyisms…all based on moi!  Didn’t know I could talk French, did ya?

If that’s not enough, they’ve got a fairly-recent (2010) ten minute short, entitled Backstage and at Home with Kim NovakI’D like to be backstage and at home with Kim, if you know what I mean! Man that broad is talented.  Makes her clothes, lives with these artists, loves horses and dogs and painted these crazy murals on her walls.  I once painted my old man’s garage, and, let me tell ya, it’s no walk in the park!

But there’s more!  They got the sound available in either standard stereo or 5.1 surround.  I’m not sure what that means, but both come off great.  They’ve also got another thing called IST.  Personally, I prefer a BLT, but you know how I can always eat.  IST means that you can listen to just the music by George Duning with arrangements by Nelson Riddle.  And that includes the vocals!  I don’t have to tell ya that this ain’t chopped liver!  It’s like getting the movie and a separate soundtrack album for one price!  I don’t think that’s fair.  Shouldn’t they be charging more – and shouldn’t I be getting a nice slice of this swag?  I’m sure you agree with me.  Know any cheap lawyers?  Ha, ha.

Oh, an’ I gotta mention this – PAL JOEY is a limited run of 3000.  Once they’re gone, they’re gone.  Don’t know about 3000, but my run’ll be limited to 2021 – if ya don’t come across with that hundred, which I desperately need now more than ever.

As always,

Your pal,

Joey

PAL JOEY.  Color. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 5.1 or 2.0 DTS HD-MA.

Twilight Time/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment/Columbia Pictures Industries. SRP:  $34.95

Tony Curtis, Schwartz and All

It’s about time!  Throughout the home video evolution encompassing laserdiscs, DVDs, and Blu-Rays, one major human attraction has been notably absent.  Bernard Schwartz, a nice Jewish boy from the Bronx, with a love for the Movies, its gods (particularly Cary Grant) and all the riches and fame cinema celeb brought with it; fact, Bernie knew from his adolescence that he had to be a star.  Not aspired to, not wanted to.  HAD to.  And, so it came to pass.  After the war (where he served in Guam, after lying about his age), Schwartz (with a plethora of Big Apple trial-by-fire casting calls under his belt) hopped it to Hollywood; didn’t hurt that he was tall, really good looking with crystal-clear blue eyes.  His first part was a bit in the great 1949 noir Criss Cross.  He danced with Yvonne De Carlo in a nightclub, his face not even seen.  Yet, there was “something.” Enough of a something that Universal-International was besieged by thousands of letters from hot and bothered females demanding who that boy was dancing with De Carlo.

So, Mr. Schwartz, now Anthony Curtis, was signed to a standard contract, and, within two years, was a featured player and teen heart throb.

The thing about 1950’s Curtis (now simply Tony) was his enthusiasm.  You can see it on the screen.  He was having a blast living the dream.  He also knew that most of the U-I vehicles were routine; yet, his sense of humor prevailed; he winked at the audience, who got it.  Typically, the in-your-face truth that the young star was a fine actor didn’t become apparent until Universal loaned him out to rival companies.  The UA titles specifically brought that point home (Sweet Smell of Success, The Defiant Ones, Some Like it Hot).  Curtis, now offered a renewal with Universal, had grown from a teen fave, to a key player.  He was calling the shots, aka script/director approval, plus a percentage of the points to be shared via his own production companies (Curt-Leigh, a combi with then-wife Janet Leigh, and, later, Curtis Enterprises).

A new box set from Kino-Lorber Studio Classics, one of their terrific on-going Blu-Ray collections of Universal pics, concentrates on the later Curtis titles – the superstar Tony pics, consisting of THE PERFECT FURLOUGH, THE GREAT IMPOSTOR, and 40 POUNDS OF TROUBLE.  They’re a fun and varied lot (with the middle offering being perhaps his finest work at Universal); I would, at some short time down the road, love to see an early Curtis box set, too (although an iconic title, 1952’s Son of Ali Baba is already available as a single, and 1955’s Six Bridges to Cross is part of a Noir Box).

All three pics have been remastered in 1080p and look and sound wonderful.  It’s a cool intro to a sadly neglected star who nevertheless helped define the immense fun of movie-going in the 1950s and early 1960s.

The Tony and Janet fanzine craze was in full bloom when 1958’s THE PERFECT FURLOUGH was released (the pair had already previously starred in two very successful movies, Houdini and The Black Sheild of Falworth, the latter being Universal-International’s first CinemaScope production; that same year as FURLOUGH, they would be paired in another mammoth hit, The Vikings).  Indeed by 1958, Curtis’ value to Universal-International was beyond top contract player; he had morphed into an A-list star.  His loanouts to UA for Sweet Smell of Success and The Defiant Ones gained him scores of new followers, critics among them…and an Oscar nod (for the latter).  Curtis, at U-I, was now comfortably in the driver’s seat.  He and Leigh would share the profits with Universal-International (via their Curt-Leigh company), and the selection of projects would be of his choosing.

In the mid-Fifties, the young power couple was great friends with rising writer/director Blake Edwards and his first wife, actress Patricia Walker.  Edwards, who would achieve great success with his TV series Peter Gunn, still hadn’t been able rise beyond the B-picture director ladder rung on the big screen circuit.  Tony took care of that.  THE PERFECT FURLOUGH, a risqué (for the 1950s) comedy about a lecherous soldier awarded the title fantasy holiday with a luscious movie star (the very luscious Linda Cristal) was written by Stanley Shapiro (it was to prove to be a run-through for his next assignment, the phenomenal smash Pillow Talk which changed American romcom as we inched toward the 1960s).  Most importantly, the flick would be directed by Edwards, who proved his worth in droves.  Inventive use of CinemaScope and wry sight gag compositions meld beautifully with Shapiro’s clever double entendre dialog and situations.

Already all the Shapiro pat formula jokes are firmly in place:  the appealing but womanizing lead, the uptight virginal adversary, and the personification of female carnality oozing with sex.  All surrounded by an expert Greek chorus of wise-cracking supporting thesps.

The plot concerns a group of Arctic-stationed soldiers, deprived of opposite sex companionship for months and months…and months.  With morale low, the top brass becomes concerned until bright-light officer Lt. Vicki Loren (Leigh) devises a lottery where one lucky dude will win a furlough in Paris with Hollywood sexpot du jour Sandra Roca (naturally, chaperoned).  The horny losers will live vicariously through the shenanigans of the sole horny winner.

What could go wrong?

Curtis plays the conniver, Corporal Paul Hodges, to a “T,” in the tailor-made role, and Leigh, who, of course, is repulsed by his debauched persona, eventually…well, you know.  Cristal is gorgeous window dressing, and also quite funny herself, as is/are her suffering agent, the military chiefs, and Hodges’ fellow needy snow-bound compadres.  Of particular note in the large and terrific cast are the following scene stealers, Keenan Wynn, Marcel Dalio, Les Tremayne, Jay Novello, King Donovan, Gordon Jones, Alvy Moore, Dick Crockett (soon to become a member of the Edwards stock company), Curtis pal Nicky Blair, Frankie Darro, silent screen comic Snub Pollard, and an early appearance by Troy Donahue; a special mention must be accorded to Elaine Stritch as Leigh’s Space Age sidekick equivalent of Eve Arden.

The movie is lavishly photographed in Eastmancolor (nicely restored, from the beet red scope prints I recall from my misspent youth) by the masterful Philip Lathrop (later to shoot Edwards’ shamefully obscure Gunn).  A typical U-I score, supervised by the ubiquitous Joseph Gershenson and credited to Frank Skinner, appends the proceedings. Extras include audio commentary by David Del Valle and C. Courtney Joyner.

Like with Shapiro, THE PERFECT FURLOUGH was a run-through test for Edwards as well; the previous year, the director and star had made the wonderful, unfairly ignored comedy-drama Mister CoreyFURLOUGH, which turned a tidy profit, gave way to the next Curtis-Edwards collaboration Operation Petticoat, which broke all box-office records for both Universal-International and Radio City Music Hall.

1960’s THE GREAT IMPOSTOR is not only a great movie, it’s, as indicated above, arguably the best movie Tony Curtis ever made during his tenure at Universal-International.  It’s a light-hearted (with nonetheless a sprinkling of serious dramatic overtones) look at one of the most fascinating human beings of the twentieth century, Ferdinand Waldo Demara, Jr.  It’s one of those “if ya made it up, no one would believe you” true-life stories.

Demara, born poor, and growing up during the Great Depression, survived by imagination and fantasizing through his father’s profession (when there was work); his dad was a projectionist at a movie theater, and the young boy lost himself in the illusion of the Movies (you can see why I love this pic, or, for that matter, did Curtis).  The lad did abysmally in school – often thought to be mentally challenged; the opposite was true.  Demara, a genius savant, was simply bored.  A subsequent stint in the army proved to be like a slap in the face.  He aced all the competition at Officer’s Training School, but without the proper qualifications (he dropped out of high school after a little more than two years), was relegated to no rank above private.  So, he decided to improvise – forging papers, stealing identities and excelling (post-U.S.military life) at a number of professions, careers, and goals, including Trappist monk, prison psychologist (revolutionizing the treatment of disturbed inmates), Canadian Navy surgeon (successfully performing scores of operations, and founding a children’s hospital in war-torn China), elementary school teacher (where he consistently topped the lists of “educator of the year”), and more.

And, yes, with a few liberties (methinks that the slew of gorgeous women were likely more attracted to Tony than Ferdy), THE GREAT IMPOSTOR sticks to the facts.  Custom-designed for its likeable star (by scripter Liam O’Brien, and based upon Robert Crichton’s Demara biography), the pic is directed with verve and humor by Robert Mulligan – one of his first big-screen efforts (and released a year before his acclaimed breakout Universal-International entry, To Kill a Mockingbird).  I not only rate IMPOSTOR as one of Curtis’ finest movies, but one of Mulligan’s as well; furthermore, it appears that both director and star had a ball making it (an inside joke has a character named “Mrs. Pakula,” a nod to his oft professional collaborator Alan J. Pakula).  The beautiful black and white widescreen photography is by the brilliant Robert Burks, and a bouncy score by Henry Mancini perfectly matches the scenario.  A fantastic supporting cast compliments its charismatic lead, and comprises Karl Malden, Edmond O’Brien, Joan Blackman, Arthur O’Connell, Gary Merrill, Raymond Massey, Robert Middleton, Jeanette Nolan, Sue Ane Langdon, Larry Gates, Mike Kellin, Frank Gorshin, Harry Carey, Jr., Dick Sargent, Doodles Weaver, Ward Ramsey, Herbert Rudley, Jerry Paris, and Bob Hastings.  Supplements feature the trailer and audio commentary by film historian Kat Ellinger.

The world first became aware of Ferdinand Demara, Jr. in 1959 when his biography appeared, and immediately became a bestseller.  In the 1970s, I used to end each evening watching reruns of You Bet Your Life on WNEW-TV, here in New York.  Imagine my shock when, one night, one of the pair of contestants was Ferdinand Demara, Jr.  Looking nothing like Tony Curtis (a more faithful physical cinematic rendering would today be Zack Galifianakis), Demara was nevertheless genuinely engaging, and briefly discussed his extraordinary life with Groucho (probably appearing on the show as a tie-in to the book).  Demara died in 1982 at age 61.

1962’s 40 POUNDS OF TROUBLE is an adult story geared for the kiddies.  Yeah, I know. A gossamer vanity project produced by its star (Curtis Enterprises), 40 POUNDS is a 1960’s glitz Vegas-era update of Damon Runyon’s perennial Little Miss Marker.  Curtis is Steve McCluskey, the amiable borderline mob owner of a successful ultra-mod casino, who is also on the constant alimony run from his ex-wife and her shyster lawyer.  One of the plungers in hock (Gregg Palmer) leaves his grade-school-age daughter (Claire Wilcox) as security while he attempts to come up with some debt coin; then, he has a fatal heart attack, and Curtis’ character is stuck with the kid.  The gags practically write themselves (and no stone in that direction is left unturned).  Innuendo, via embarrassing children’s questions and loopy situations with McCluskey’s business cohorts, bevies of hot Vegas showgirl-friends, etc. abound.  Romantic grist to the cinematic mill is thrown into the mix when a gangster’s supposed babe, gets a casino singing gig (costar Suzanne Pleshette).  It all ends up via a famous lengthy chase finale through Disneyland (which had every sprout who saw the trailer/TV spots demanding to be taken to this movie; kudos to Curtis Enterprises).

An ideal 1960s afternoon fluff entertainment, 40 POUNDS rises above it all due mostly to the two leads, for whom, naturally, the movie was specifically showcased.  Nothing says that more than a lavishly shot sequence where Curtis and Pleshette spend a weekend in gorgeous, serene surroundings doing nothing but wearing flash Sixties fashion and simply being beautiful people looking beautiful (bet they got to keep the threads and shades).  Curtis pulled no punches, and made sure that the supporting cast numbered friends and familiar character actor associates that folks like me and millions of others always looked forward to seeing.  So be prepared to enjoy the always welcome histrionics of Larry Storch (TC’s off-camera BFF), Mary Murphy, Nicky Blair, Howard Morris, Kevin McCarthy, Edward Andrews, Karen Steele, Stubby Kaye, Warren Stevens, Tom Reese, Ford Rainey, Sharon Farrell, Jim Bannon, Helen Kleeb, Jack LaRue, Allyn Ann McLerie, Richard Mulligan, and, in an early role, Diane Ladd.  Phil Silvers turns up in an elongated guest appearance as a New York gangster, obviously more Bilko than Corleone.

The movie was scripted by the celebrated humorist/writer Marion Hargrove (immortalized in two 1940s MGM comedies, See Here, Private Hargrove and What Next, Corporal Hargrove?), and was shot in (restored) Eastmancolor and Panavision by the legendary Joe MacDonald.  The professional direction is by Norman Jewison, nearing the end of his work-for-hire days, and about to be upgraded to the A-list pantheon deck (The Russians are Coming, In the Heat of the Night).  The perky Mort Lindsey score is indicative of what defined “wacky” during America’s Camelot, and, all in all, is a pleasant nostalgia trip for all who lived through that period and patronized the cinema with great regularity.

The Kino-Lorber Blu-Ray probably looks better than the original Easmancolor release prints did; extras again include the trailer and audio commentary by Kat Ellinger (who, apparently, is as big a Curtis fan as I am).

A logical entry for a Curtis box set, 40 POUNDS OF TROUBLE is an excellent reminder of what a star vehicle was during the waning days of the Hollywood studio system.

THE TONY CURTIS COLLECTION.

THE PERFECT FURLOUGH

40 POUND OF TROUBLE

Both color and widescreen [2.35:1]

THE GREAT IMPOSTOR Black and white. Widescreen [2.00:1]

All 1080p High Definition. 2.0 DTS-HD MA.

Kino-Lorber Studio Classics/Universal Studios. SRP: $49.95.