Yo-Ho-Hollywood!: TREASURE ISLAND (MGM 1934)


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Robert Louis Stevenson’s  venerable 1883 adventure novel TREASURE ISLAND has been filmed over 50 times throughout the years, beginning with a 1918 silent version. There was a 1920 silent starring Charles Ogle (the original screen FRANKENSTEIN monster!) as that dastardly pirate Long John Silver, a 1972 adaptation with Orson Welles, a 1990 TV Movie headlined by Charlton Heston, and even a 1996 Muppet version! Most movie buffs cite Disney’s 1950 film as the definitive screen TREASURE ISLAND, with Bobby Driscoll as young Jim Hawkins and Robert Newton as Long John (and Newton would go on to star in the TV series LONG JOHN SILVER, practically making a career out of playing the infamous fictional buccaneer), but…

…a case can certainly be made for MGM’s star-studded 1934 interpretation of the story, teaming Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper as Long John and Jim. This was the first talking TREASURE ISLAND, and the…

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Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Test Pilot (dir by Victor Fleming)


(With the Oscars scheduled to be awarded on March 4th, I have decided to review at least one Oscar-nominated film a day.  These films could be nominees or they could be winners.  They could be from this year’s Oscars or or they could be a previous year’s nominee!  We’ll see how things play out.  Today, I take a look at the 1938 best picture nominee, Test Pilot!)

Test Pilot is all about charisma.

It tells a fairly simple story.  I imagine that the plot seemed just as familiar in 1938 as it does in 2018.  Jim Lane (Clark Gable) is a test pilot.  In the early days of aviation, long before people took the idea of flight for granted, Jim Lane is a hero and celebrity.  Whenever a new aviation technique is developed, Jim is the one who tests it.  He’s the one who makes sure that it’s safe.  Every day, when Jim goes to work for Mr. Drake (Lionel Barrymore), there’s a chance that he might not make it home.  Not surprisingly, he’s cocky, reckless, and not prone to commitment.  He’s also handsome, charming, manly, and quick with a quip.  In short, he’s Clark Gable.

When the movie starts, Jim has only one real friend.  Gunner (Spencer Tracy) is his mechanic.  Gunner is a by-the-book, no-nonsense professional.  He might enjoy a drink every now and then but Gunner knows his job and he knows his planes and, even more importantly, he knows Jim.  Gunner’s a man of unimpeachable integrity, the type who will always call things as he sees them.  In short, he’s Spencer Tracy.

One day, while on a test flight, Jim is forced to make an emergency landing on a farm in Kansas.  That’s where he meets Ann Barton (Myrna Loy).  Ann is beautiful and outspoken.  She quickly proves that she can keep up with Jim, quip-for-quip.  In short, she’s Myrna Loy and, before you know it, she and Jim are in love.  Just as quickly, Jim and Ann are married.

The movie starts out as a bit of domestic comedy.  Jim may know how to fly a plane but it quickly becomes obvious that he doesn’t know much about commitment or being a husband.  When Jim attempts to buy his wife a nightgown, he doesn’t even know how to pronounce the word lingerie.  (He asks a store clerk for help in finding the “lonjur department.”)  However, Jim soon starts to find that married life agrees with him.

Of course, that’s a problem when your job requires you to defy death on a daily basis.  Ann worries that Jim is going to go to work and never come home, fears that are intensified after a race with another airplane ends in a terrible and (for the other pilot) fatal crash.  Gunner, meanwhile, starts to fear that there’s only so many times that Jim can cheat fate.  Both Ann and Gunner promise that they will never leave Jim’s side.

Well, you can probably already guess everything that’s going to happen.  Test Pilot is not exactly the most narratively adventurous movie ever made but, when you’ve got Gable, Tracy, Loy, and Barrymore all in the same film, you don’t really need to break any new ground, storywise.  Test Pilot is an example of the power of pure movie star charisma.  It’s watchable because the performances are just as entertaining today as they were in 1938.  The film features Gable doing what he did best and Tracy doing what he did best and Loy and Barrymore all doing what they did best.  In this case, that’s more than enough.

When it comes to the film’s numerous flight sequences, it’s perhaps best to try to put yourself in the shoes of someone seeing the film in 1938.  Today, of course, we’ve been spoiled by CGI.  We tend to assume that literally anything can happen in a movie.  In the 30s, however, people couldn’t take special effects for granted.  When they watched the flight footage in Test Pilot, they did it with the knowledge that it was filmed by people who actually were putting their lives at risk to get it.  At a time when commercial aviation was considered to be a luxury, Test Pilot provided audiences with a view of the world in the sky and of the world below, a view that they probably wouldn’t have gotten a chance to see otherwise.

A huge box office success, Test Pilot was nominated for best picture but lost to another film featuring Lionel Barrymore, Frank Capra’s You Can’t Take It With You.

Pre Code Confidential #16: Gable & Harlow in RED DUST (MGM 1932)


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(Hello, all! I haven’t been able to do much posting this week due to a severe bout of sciatica. I’m starting to feel better, and have watched tons of films while recuperating… stay tuned!)

  

Rising young MGM stars Clark Gable (31) and Jean Harlow (21) were red-hot in 1932, and the studio teamed them for the first time in the steamy romance RED DUST. Actually, Gable and Harlow had acted together in the previous year’s gangster epic THE SECRET SIX, but as part of the ensemble. RED DUST marked their first pairing as a screen team, and the duo make the film burn as hot as the sweltering jungle setting!

He-man Gable plays he-man Denny Carson, owner of a rubber plantation in French Indochina (now known as Vietnam). Denny’s a no-nonsense, tough taskmaster, as hard on his foremen as he is on the coolies. Into this manly milieu…

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4 Shots From 4 Films: Gone With The Wind, The Snake Pit, Lady In A Cage, The Swarm


Olivia De Havilland and Friends

Olivia De Havilland and Friends

I hope that you will join us all in wishing a happy birthday to the wonderful and legendary Olivia De Havilland, who turns 100 years old today!  Not only is Olivia the last surviving cast member of Gone With The Wind but she’s also one of the last surviving stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age!  Not only was she a wonderful actress but Olivia’s rivalry with sister Joan Fontaine continues to be one of the legendary moments of Oscar history!

This edition of 4 Shots From 4 Films features four movies that starred the one and only, Olivia De Havilland!

4 Shots From 4 Films

Gone With The Wind (1939, dir by Victor Fleming)

Gone With The Wind (1939, dir by Victor Fleming)

The Snake Pit (1948, dirby Anatole Litvak)

The Snake Pit (1948, dir by Anatole Litvak)

Lady in a Cage (1964, dir by Walter Grauman)

Lady in a Cage (1964, dir by Walter Grauman)

The Swarm (1978, dir by Irwin Allen)

The Swarm (1978, dir by Irwin Allen)

By the way, do you know who shares a birthday with Olivia De Havilland?  OUR VERY OWN PATRICK SMITH!  Happy birthday, Pat!!!!!!

Cleaning Out The DVR #1: Captains Courageous (dir by Victor Fleming)


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For the last few days, I’ve been desperately trying to clean out my DVR.  Ever since this year began, I have been obsessively recording movies and now, I suddenly find myself with just a few hours of space left!  Now, I know that the simple solution would be to just start erasing stuff but that’s just not the way I do things.  I recorded that stuff so you better believe I’m going to watch and review every single minute of it!

Last night, I did a quick count and discovered that I have 38 movies to watch before I can officially declare the DVR to have been “cleaned out.”  While that may sound like a lot, it’s not if you consider that — by watching and reviewing 4 movies a day — I can have the whole job done by the end of the next week!  That’s my plan and my challenge to myself.  Can I watch and review 38 movies in 10 days?

Let’s find out!

So, I started things out by watching the 1937 film, Captains Courageous.  Captains Courageous was aired on TCM as a part of their 31 Days of Oscar.  Not only was Captains Courageous nominated for best picture but it won Spencer Tracy his first Oscar.  Tracy was one of the quintessential American actors so it’s interesting to note that he won his first Oscar for playing a Portuguese fisherman who speaks in exaggeratedly broken English.

Spencer Tracy may have won the Oscar for Best Actor but his role is really a supporting one.  Instead, Captains Courageous is about an extremely spoiled, obnoxious, and annoying 15 year-old named Harvey Cheyne (Freddie Bartholomew).  From the minute that Harvey first appears on screen, it’s difficult to like him.  The son of a rich businessman (Melvyn Douglas), Harvey is hated by everyone.  His family’s butler rolls his eyes whenever Harvey calls for him.  His classmates (and, of course, Harvey attends a snooty private school) want nothing to do with him.  When his father takes him on a trans-Atlantic cruise, even the sailors seem like they want to toss him overboard.

However, before they get a chance to give him one quick shove over the railing, Harvey does their job for them.  He falls overboard and he nearly drowns before being rescued by a fisherman named Manuel (Spencer Tracy).  Manuel takes him back to the fishing schooner, where that ship’s captain (Lionel Barrymore) refuses to believe that Harvey is rich.  Since the rest of the crew quickly decides that they dislike Harvey as much as everyone else does, the captain saves Harvey from being thrown back overboard by “hiring” him as a fisherman.  And, of course, the captain makes Manuel responsible for him.

Though initially hostile, Harvey and Manuel slowly start to bond.  Harvey learns about the importance of hard work and starts to grow up.  And, eventually, it all leads to tragedy.  That’s just how things work in the movies.

As you can probably guess from the plot description above, there’s not a subtle moment to be found in Captains Courageous but, as is so often the case with 1930s Hollywood, that’s actually what makes the film appealing.  Captains Courageous wears its sentiment on its sleeve and it makes for an interesting contrast to the more cynical films of today.  While it takes a while to get used to seeing Spencer Tracy giving such a theatrical performance, he does eventually win you over.  Freddie Bartholomew is vulnerable enough to you can forgive his character for being so obnoxious.  Meanwhile, Lionel Barrymore and Mevlyn Douglas are well-cast in their supporting roles and, if you keep an eye open, you’ll see everyone from John Carradine to a young Mickey Rooney working on the schooner.  Ultimately, Captains Courageous is a well-made and likable coming-of-age film that still holds up today.

The Seventh Annual Academy Awards: 1920


Over on Through the Shattered Lens Presents the Oscars, we are reimagining Oscar history, one year at a time. Today, we take a look at 1920. Prohibition goes into effect, women finally get the right to vote, Harding is elected President, D.W. Griffith finally gets some recognition, and Fatty Arbuckle is the most popular man in Hollywood!

Through the Shattered Lens Presents The Oscars

William S. Hart, the Third President of AMPAS William S. Hart, the Third President of AMPAS

1920 was a year of many changes.

On January 16th, the 18th Amendment went into effect and prohibition became the law of the land.  Suddenly, it was illegal to transport and sell alcohol in the United States.  As social reformers rejoiced, the government grew and ordinary citizens started to hoard whatever liquor they had.  (Selling alcohol was illegal but drinking it was not.)  Perhaps the people happiest about prohibition were the gangsters who now had a totally new market to exploit.

On August 26th, the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed and, finally, all women were granted the right to vote.  And it came not a minute too late because it was time for the United States to elect a new president.  Weary after the nonstop drama of  8 years of Woodrow Wilson, the American electorate turned to Warren…

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The Third Annual Academy Awards: 1916


Over on Through the Shattered Lens Presidents the Oscars, Jedadiah Leland and I have been reimagining Oscar history, one year at a time! Today, we take a look at 1916, the year of Thomas H. Ince, Civilization, and Intolerance!

Through the Shattered Lens Presents The Oscars

Thomas H. Ince, the 2nd President of AMPAS Thomas H. Ince, the 2nd President of AMPAS

In the long history of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 1916 was dominated by one man: Thomas H. Ince.

Today, Ince is a largely forgotten figure and his many accomplishments have been overshadowed by the mysterious and potentially sordid circumstances of his death in 1924.  However, in 1916, Ince was one of the most popular figures working in the film industry.  He was the first producer to build his own studio in California and, with D.W. Griffith and Academy President Mack Sennett, founded the Triangle Motion Picture Company.  When, following the 2nd Academy Awards ceremony, Sennett announced the he would not be running for a second term as president of the AMPAS, Ince was the obvious choice to replace him.

As President, Ince immediately launched a recruiting drive to bring more industry professionals into the organization…

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