Today is the last day of the Thanksgiving Holiday, the second weekend in a row I’ve had off. I have done nothing except cook. eat, sleep and play stupid puzzle games. It has been remarkably renewing. The opposite of profitable, but renewing. Which brings me to this entry.
December begins tomorrow. That is usually a busy month for me; hopefully the last two weeks are not an indicator of how busy I’ll be this year. I need to wrap up phase one of a writing project by the end of the month, and there is a personal writing project I’ve been putting off far too long.
So what I’m saying is, I’m going to stop pretending and simply announce that, likely, this space is going dark for the rest of the year. This downtime has been nice, but I need more. I haven’t watched a movie in more than a week, because – and I find this hilarious – if I watched any more, I’d have to write about them, and this entry was getting ungainly long already. That’s the epitome of putting the cart before the horse. So, before I close this tab on my browser, here’s a shorter version of that ever-growing blog post:
Ghost Catchers (1944) is Olsen and Johnson’s third movie for Universal, the first being Hellzapoppin’, which I raved about last time. Fortunately, it’s up on Vimeo in its entirety, as is their second movie, Crazy House.
Studio execs had ground them way down by this time (it is probably telling that their last picture is titled See My Lawyer, and reportedly has very little Olsen and Johnson in it), to the point that once more we have two movies occupying the same space, but there isn’t even the uneasy truce between them that made Hellzapoppin’ great. Olsen and Johnson find themselves in an Abbott & Costello knockoff (typically, they make a meta joke about it), and the best sequence involves a jitterbug exorcism to cast out the one actual ghost in the whole thing. Mel Torme is supposedly in that, and so is Morton Downey Sr., providing far more entertainment value in five minutes than his son did in an entire career. Chic Johnson seems to be on nitrous, so constant is his giggling. I should have watched Hellzapoppin’ again.
I went over to Rick’s to watch more movies; now, normally, Rick and I, during these outings, watch a better quality of film. During the last sojourn at Dave’s, however, when I showed Wheeler and Woolsey’s Diplomaniacs, Rick became a hardcore convert to the cause of W&W. We had been interested in So This Is Africa, their sole movie for Columbia (during a contract dispute with RKO), and reportedly one of their most heavily censored. Alas, my suspicions were correct, as not only does this movie suffer from the lack of Joe Mankiewicz’s lunatic scripting, but the print is pretty heavily and obviously cut, so much so that Rick and I took to marking each instant with scissor motions in the hour while hissing, “Filth!”
The best bit is an out-of-left-field riff on Eugene O’Neill’s Strange Interlude, which would have been brilliant had the Marx Brothers not done it three years before in Animal Crackers.
We next watched what is the best thing I’ve seen all week, which is the recent Criterion blu-ray of A Hard Day’s Night. The image is a crisp, clean black-and-white and the sound features a lovely 5.1 remix that serves the songs well. The movie stands as a milestone for any number of reasons, but mainly as a testament to letting creative types have their head, and how important is good timing. The Beatles occupied one of those rare intersections where talent and desire were in the right place at the right time, and it was amazing that Richard Lester and writer Alun Owen could break the precedent of other rock musicals to actually allow their stars to show their differing personalities, to be themselves by playing larger versions of themselves.
I hadn’t seen this movie since 1975, when a local theater ran a midnight movie marathon of this, Help!, Yellow Submarine, and Let It Be. Some of the ladies in the college crowd were game enough to scream during the appropriate parts. But what I had forgotten was how claustrophobic this picture was, that it showed how trapped the Beatles were inside their own success. There’s always a smile or a joke, sure, but their faces do not truly light up until they’re playing their music.
For some reason I truly appreciate that in the final concert segment of the movie, you are able to see that the Beatles are sweating under the stage lights. People tend to forget how much actual work is involved in performing, and it is good to see that paid tribute.
It took me two more nights to get through all the supplements. That’s a great disc, is what I’m saying.
Rick is a recent convert to the cult of Oliver Reed; he arrived there by watching Terry Gilliam’s Baron Munchausen, followed by my insistence that he watch Richard Lester’s (there he is again) Three Musketeers, where Reed rather steals the show as Athos. So I brought my old disc of The Assassination Bureau (1969) (Warner Archive recently re-issued it).
This movie is what we used to call a “romp”. In pre-World War I England, a young suffragette journalist (played by Diana Rigg) discovers the existence of the title organization, run by the son of its founder, Ivan Dragamiloff (Oliver Reed). She contracts the Bureau to kill Dragamiloff himself, which the young idealist accepts – he feels the organization has grown too complacent and greedy, accepting hits for their monetary value, not the moral killing of deserving targets his father had insisted upon. Thus begins a cat-and-mouse chase throughout Europe, with Rigg unknowingly reporting to the Vice Chairman of the Bureau (Telly Savalas), who wants that World War, because all his money is tied up in munitions factories.
This is light (despite the subject matter), frequently silly comedy-adventure, with a final fight scene aboard a zeppelin loaded down with a prototype blockbuster bomb bearing down on a castle housing a peace conference between all the crowned heads of Europe and Russia. I wanted Rick to see it because I think it proves that Reed could have been a credible James Bond… were it not for, you know, all the drinking and punching people.
For our follow-up, we’ll be watching The Devils, as soon as I figure how to play my Region 2 DVD on his system (really, Warner Brothers, what the hell).
I should close by mentioning that Rick, in retribution for my constant bad-mouthing of and cock-blocking a re-showing of Evilspeak at Crapfest, had re-named his wi-fi router so this was showing on my phone and iPad:
If I don’t have a chance to see you before then, have a Merry Christmas, or whatever your inclination is this time of year. Be safe, and watch good movies. It won’t kill ya.