Monday, May 21, 2018

Musical Monday: The Final Countdown with Leo

Here's another entry in the series spotlighting the cover tunes by Leo Moracchioli. Moracchioli is an extremely talented musician and producer of music videos from Norway who specializes in making metal-themed covers of... well, just about any type of song from any genre you care to mention, continues. One of the great things about his work is the crazy sense of humor and wild fun that comes with it.

This cover of "The Final Countdown", and the video that comes with it, are fine examples of everything that makes Leo's presentations so enjoyable!

Check out more of Morachioli's covers on the YouTube Channel for Frog Leap Studios.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

'The Penguin Pool Murder' is a great start for Miss Withers

The Penguin Pool Murder (1932)
Starring: Edna May Oliver, James Gleason, Clarence Wilson, Mae Clarke, Robert Armstrong, Donald Cook, and Guy Usher
Director: George Archainbaud
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

When a wife-beating, crooked stockbroker (Usher) is murdered, his wife (Clarke) and her one-time boyfriend (Cook) are the obvious suspects. Sharp-eyed and sharp-tongued school teacher Miss Hildegard Withers (Oliver), who found the body, thinks there's more to the situation, and she badgers Inspector Oscar Piper (Gleason) to keep digging into what seems like an open-and-shut case.

"The Penguin Pool Murders" is a breezy mystery with a cast so charismatic and likeable that one almost forgets the dark subject matter at its heart--spousal that may have led to murder. Because the cast is so likeable, I also find myself forgiving the film for, essentially, being a one-suspect mystery, and becoming evenmoreso when the character that I zero'ed in on as the murderer almost immediately starts becoming super-helpful with the investigation; the film is simply too much fun for that flaw to drag it down too much.

Another strength of the film is the interplay between the two main characters, Miss Withers and Inspector Piper. They start out with obvious disdain for each other, but when they realize that each is actually much smarter than they initially gave each other credit for, you can see the mutual respect develop between them... and by the end, romance is in bloom. (And speaking of romance, the *obvious*--the one we expect from this film--involves a couple nice twists that also make this film stand out.

"The Penguin Pool Murder" was the first of six films with Gleason as Inspector Piper, and of three with Oliver as Miss Withers. I hope every entry in the series is as strong as this one.

Friday, May 18, 2018

'The Undie-World' is fun, but surprisingly mild

The Undie-World (1934)
Starring: June Brewster, Carol Tevis, Grady Sutton, Big Boy Williams, Dewey Robinson, and Will Stanton
Director: George Stevens
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

A gangster (Williams) recruits a violinist (Sutton) to help him impress a pair of sexy roommates (Brewster and Tevis) who live in the apartment across the courtyard from his, by showing them that he's sophisticated and romantic. The girls, however, end up falling for the dorky musician, assuming he's a dangerous Bad Boy. In an effort to salvage his plan, the gangster suggests the four of them go on a double-date. A comedy of errors ensues.

"The Undie-World" is an almost sweet little film that's surprisingly mild, given the title and subject matter. In fact, I can't imagine a more wholesome film where the majority of the main characters are on the make. It's got slapstick, it's got puns, it's got class-based humor... but what it doesn't have is any double-entrendres or anything from the blue category. We get within a mile of "mature" when June Brewster gets knocked down during her first encounter with Grady Sutton and her robe rides up to show some leg, but that's it. Everything though is well-staged and the actors are all perfect in their parts. For the dorky among us, the film even presents a little bit of wishfulfillment as it's the dorky violin teacher who gets the girl(s) in the end.

"The Undie-World" is the first film on the Blondes and Redheads: Lost Comedy Classics DVD collection, but it was the fourth in a series of films that were tied together by featuring as their central characters a pair of young women--one blonde, one redheaded. Although the same actors and actresses appeared in most of them, and usually played characters named after the performers, each film was actually about different characters. Some reviewers and websites about early Hollywood output seem to have missed this, eventhough it's obvious if one watches more than two of the films, and they treat this like a series. "Blondes and Redheads" wasn't even how the series was referred to Back in the Day; RKO's internal title for it was "Working Girls". The films themselves dont' carry any such indentifications, and they're only a "series" due to the troupe of actors that appear in all of them, sort of like the Laurel & Hardy comedy shorts are a series.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Margot Kidder passes away

This past Sunday, Margot Kidder, the actress who was the cinematic Lois Lane for Generation X, passed away at the age of 69. Here's a gallery of pictures in her memory.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Musical Monday: Leo's Uptown Metal Funk

Norweigan musical virtuoso Leo Moracchioli has performed and produced dozens upon dozens of creative covers of songs along with amusing and creative videos... with the ones where he dons a bunny suit, uses puppets, or borrows his daughter's toy instruments being among the most amusing. No matter what artist, or whatever the original genre the song he's covering is from, Moracchioli takes the song and makes it his own, usually with a hard rock and/or heavy, heavy metal twist. He usually plays every instrument and he plays every one of them well.

I recently noticed that a few of his videos made in black-and-white, so I'm jumping on the excuse to spotlight him here on the blog, just in case someone out there hasn't discovered this great talent. I'll be posting a new one each Monday for the next few weeks. I hope you enjoy these covers as much as I do.

First up is Leo's version of "Uptown Funk." (For much, much more, visit his YouTube Channel.)

Friday, May 11, 2018

Time's passage may have left 'Lucky Ghost' behind

Lucky Ghost (aka "Lady Luck") 1942
Starring: Mantan Moreland, E.F. Miller, Maceo Bruce Sheffield, Florence O'Brien, Arthur Ray, Jessie Brooks, Nappie Whiting, and Henry Hastings
Director: William Beaudine (as William X. Crowley)
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Riding an incredible wave of luck in craps games, two vagabonds (Miller and Moreland), have the chance to become set for life when the irritable operator of an illicit club and casino (Sheffield) bets his entire operation against them on a single winner-takes-all die roll. The ghost of the former owner (Hastings) may have other plans, however.

"Lucky Ghost" may be one of those films that's more interesting as a historical artifact than something that modern viewers should seek out for entertainment. It's rife with the common mid-career weaknesses of most William Beaudine-helmed films--like scenes and jokes that could have been impactful or funny but which are padded well-past the point of even being interesting--and a whole lot of race-based humor that will cause the 21st Century Woke Set to suffer strokes before the halfway mark.

That last bit is perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of the film. "Lucky Ghost" is what is termed a 'race picture'--a film made specifically for a black audience during a time when the United States was racially segregated, so there was a market for films to be shown at movie theaters for all-black audiences. Despite this, the all-black line-up of characters in "Lucky Ghost" are almost without fail what today is viewed as racially insensitive and negative stereotypes, far more so than other 'race pictures' I've watched (which, admittedly, aren't very many). Perhaps these caricatures were to the audience back then as stoners or nerds are to viewers of comedies today and were recognized as exaggerations of existing people and not something to get huffy over?

One thing that should still speak just fine to modern audiences, and the best part of the film, is the interplay between stars Mantan Moreland and E.F. Miller. This is one of a handful of films they were teamed in, and they function as a black version of Abbott & Costello, with Miller being the straight man and Moreland providing the antics. I think I've expressed my affection for Moreland in every review of a movie I've seen him in, and it's no different here. All by himself, Moreland brings this film from a Low Four rating to a Low Five... and his presence might have made an even stronger impact if not for some of the scenes where I am certain that Beaudine padded the running time by including all takes on a bit where only one, or two at most, should have been included. Moreland is particularly funny during the gambling scenes, and in a couple of scenes where he is leering at the butts or cleavages of the casino's hostesses and making not-so-subtle innuendos. While the film is labled as having passed the Review Board in the opening credits, one wonders which Hayes Commission censor was sleeping on the job that day!

Another aspect that lifts this film a bit above many other horror-comedies of the period is the nature of ghosts. More often than not, hauntings in these pictures turn out to be hoaxes or misinterpretations of perfectly normal and natural events. No so here; in "Lucky Ghost", the filmmakers go fill-tilt with the phantoms, even treating the audience to what special effects the meager budget could allow. It's a nice change of pace.

Monday, May 7, 2018

'Double Exposure' unfolds at double-time.

Double Exposure (1944)
Starring: Chester Morris, Nancy Kelly, Phillip Terry, Richard Gaines, and Charles Arnt
Director: William Berke
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

The road to romance is rocky for editor Larry Burke (Morris) and photographer Pat Marvin (Kelly), with deception, jealousy, and frame-ups for murder getting in their way.

  "Double Exposure" is a fast-moving comedy that mixes up the familiar elements of fast-talking and quick-witted reporters; dodgy and eccentric rich people; romance complicated by social mores and deceptions; and a murder mystery that would be slightly less of a murder mystery if the police weren't lazy. It's a B-movie stew, but it's a tasty one.

This is a movie that hits the ground running and it never slows down, with gags and plot complications flying at the viewer non-stop. As mentioned above, the film is made up of familiar elements and there is nothing here that is terribly original, but what we have is so perfectly deployed that fans of movies from this era can't help but have fun while watching it. In fact, this film is so well put together that some of the things that usually annoy me--such as Insta-Romances between the male and female leads, and One-Suspect Murdery Mysteries--don't bother me here at all.

As a bonus for the modern viewer, the film also has some commentary on the challenges that career-oriented women had to face during the 1940s. The commentary is shallow and breezy, just like the rest of the film, but it adds an interesting dimension that may speak differently to us than it did to those sitting in the theaters in 1944.

The one complaint I have about the film is the soundtrack. I'm used to so-so and often bizarrely inappropriate music over the opening credits of these old B-movies, but it's rare that it shows up during the run-time as wildly inappropriate scoring. During a scene where Burke is trying to confirm his suspicions about who the real murderer is, we're treated to the happy, cheerful music that opened the film. I'm sure someone during editing said, "we can't have a scene this long that's this quiet... what will we do?" but then someone else made the WRONG choice when it came to "fixing" it.

But one "sour note" doesn't come close to ruining the overall experience of this film. It's well worth the time spent watching it!