Law of the Rio Grande (1931, directed by Forrest Sheldon)

I nearly didn’t review Law of the Rio Grande.

First, the only copies I could find were at the Internet Archive and on YouTube.  The available copies run 48 minutes but according to the IMDb, Law of the Rio Grande originally had a 57-minute run time.  If that number is correct, that means that the versions on the Internet Archive and YouTube are missing 9 minutes.  Since there doesn’t appear to have been anything objectionable in the film (this is a 1931 b-western, after all), I’m going to guess that the 9-minutes were probably cut when the movie started playing on television in the 50s.  That is something that happened to a lot of the old western programmers.  Television was quick to buy them because they were cheap and they made for appropriate children’s programming but the movies were always edited for time and often, the original versions were lost.

Secondly, edited or not, Law of the Rio Grande is not very good.  It was made, for a very low-budget, by Syndicate Pictures, a poverty row studio.  The majority of the cast was made up of actors who had found success in the silent era but who never made the adjustment to the sound era.  Though the actors have the right look to play cowboys, none of them know how to actually make dialogue sound convincing.  There’s also a persistent sound of crackling static in the background of most of the scenes.  I don’t know if that’s the fault of the film or if it’s just a bad upload but it’s obvious that the cast and crew of Law of the Rio Grande were not used to working with sound.

Despite the film’s title, the Rio Grande was nowhere to be seen in the version that I saw.  Instead, the film is about two outlaws, Jim (Bob Custer) and Cookie (Harry Todd), who are determined to go straight.  Jim and Cookie end up working for Colonel Lanning (Carlton S. King) and his daughter, Judy (Betty Mack).  But then a former acquaintance known as the Blanco Kid (Edmund Cobb) shows up and threatens to reveal the truth about Jim’s background.  It’s a typical western programmer, with the main message being you can’t escape your past but you can beat it up in a fair fight.

The kids probably loved it in 1931.  Today, it’s mostly interesting as an example of one of Bob Custer’s final films.  Custer was a legitimate rodeo star who went to Hollywood during the silent era and who had a lot of success because he looked authentic jumping on a horse.  Like many silent era stars, he didn’t have to actually recite or even know his lines.  He just had to be himself.  Unfortunately, the sound era destroyed his career because, while he may have looked like a character from the old west, he didn’t sound like one.  Unable to find work at the major studios, Custer ended up making movies like this one for studios like Syndicate Pictures.  He retired from acting in 1936 and went on to become a building inspector for city of Los Angeles.  It turned out that he was a better engineer than he wan actor and eventually, he named Chief Building Inspector for the city of Newport Beach, California.  He passed away in 1974, nearly forty years after starring in his final film.  He was 76 years old.

TV Review: The Girl From Plainville 1.5 “Mirrorball” (dir by Pippa Bianco)

Well, I tried.

I really did.  Coming off of the high that I got off reviewing each episode of The Dropout, I thought it would be pretty easy to review all 8 episodes of The Girl From Plainville but, having watched the fifth episode last night, I think I’m done.

Don’t get me wrong.  I will continue to watch the series.  (There’s only three weeks left.)  And I’ll certainly include any thoughts that I have about the show in my “Week in Television” post.  But I think I’m done with trying to come up with 500-1000 words to use to review each episode because, quite frankly, there’s just not much to say about The Girl From Plainville.  The story of how Michelle Carter encouraged Conrad Roy to commit suicide is well-known.  The fact that Michelle Carter was put on trial and convicted is also well-known.  This show is trying to build-up suspense about a story that most viewers will already know.

It perhaps wouldn’t matter if The Girl From Plainville had something new or unexpectedly insightful to say about the case.  But the fact of the matter is that Michelle Carter is not that interesting of a human being.  Everything that I’ve read and seen about the case seems to suggest that she really didn’t have much going on inside of her brain.  Because she lacked an actual personality, Michelle learned how to behave and how to interact through social media and television.  Conrad’s death allowed her to live her life as if it was an episode of Glee, or at least that’s what Michelle was hoping.  And now, years after Conrad’s suicide, Michelle is out of prison and being played in a miniseries by Elle Fanning.  It doesn’t seem to be quite fair, does it?

As for last night’s episode, it felt pretty much like a filler episode.  The prosecution team continued to build a case against Michelle while Michelle had to deal with going from briefly being the most popular girl in school to being an absolute pariah.  We also got a few clumsily handled flashbacks to Michelle texting Conrad.  Last weekend, I watched Dopesick, which also aired on Hulu and also used a jumbled timeline.  The timeline in Dopesick did occasionally get confusing but, at the same time, it worked because it took place over several years and the actors could be made to look older or younger, depending on the timeline.  If Michael Keaton had a hint of hair, you know the show was taking place in the 90s.  If he was bald, you know it was 2004.  The Girl From Plainville, on the other hand, is only dealing with a two-year period and, as such, it’s hard to keep track of what’s happening when.  The characters played by Elle Fanning and Chloe Sevigny pretty much look and act the same in 2012 as they do in 2014.  It’s a very clumsily constructed story structure, one that does the miniseries little good.

That said, Elle Fanning continues to give a convincingly unhinged performance as Michelle and Colton Ryan is appropriately vulnerable as Conrad.  (Sorry,  I’m not going to call him Coco.)  I think if the miniseries had done away with all of the flashback nonsense and just told their story in chronological order, Fanning and Ryan’s strong performances would have been better served.  For now, I’m done with doing full reviews of this show but, if next week’s episode is a surprisingly good one, that could change.

Music Video of the Day: Wall of Hate by Shine (1988, directed by Richard Levine)

To tell the truth, up until 8:03 pm yesterday, I had never hear of Shine nor had I ever heard their first single, Wall of Hate.  It was at 8:03 that I came across an entry for this video over at the Internet Movie Video Database.  I liked the song so I decided to go with it.

This video was uploaded to YouTube by George Wheelwright, who was a member of the group.  In the video’s description, he explains that this was Shine’s first single and that it was released by RCA.  He writes that the song did well on college radio and the video occasionally aired on MTV “but alas didn’t set the world on fire, story of a thousand bands i know, but we had a great time…”  I’m glad they had a great time because it’s actually a pretty good song.  Wheelwright adds that the video was shot around Glasgow.  The video has a very 80s, Miami Vice-like feel to it, as does the song.

Today, I’m featuring this video as a way to honor all of the good bands that “didn’t set the world on fire” but who still produced some damn good music.  If you get a chance, click on the video YouTube link and let George Wheelwright know that the song is still appreciated.