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Do That Birmingham Stomp: Twenty Birmingham Songs Posted on April 16, by Burgin Mathews The city of Birmingham, Alabama, has inspired many musical tributes over the years, from the pens and instruments of natives and non-natives alike. For a few of these Birmingham songs, the place name may be more or less inconsequential, offering a convenient rhyme and rhythm and a generic southern locale; most Birmingham songs, though, are invested with a deeper sense of place and homegrown experience.
The following essay appeared originally in the inaugural issue of Pavo, the late online magazine of arts and culture in Birmingham. The songs below are not arranged according to any strategy of ranking, and are not listed chronologically, but instead simply offer the ultimate Magic City playlist. By the s traveling Birmingham groups had established bases in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Memphis, New Orleans, Cleveland, Dallas, and other cities, building wide followings and effectively changing the landscape of American gospel.
One of the most successful of these outfits was the Birmingham Jubilee Singers, led by Charles Bridges, a quartet-trainer who had helped mold a number of groups in the local tradition. A perfect little recording, among the very first sides cut by future cowboy-crooner Gene Autry. The song deserves quoting: Quick on the heels of the original, Red Foley took it to the number-one position on the country charts, and a striking variety of musicians released their own versions: And so it was that in the days leading immediately into rock and roll, all over the country people were gearing up and getting primed—bouncing—Birmingham-style.
Seeing the need for a new group that would challenge discrimination, the Rev. Inthe group teamed with Martin Luther King, Jr. Neither Birmingham, nor the rest of the nation, would be the same again. Nobody sang country soul so forsaken and low as Sammi Smith. A raucous instrumental stomp-down from a great, forgotten Birmingham band.
Anyone out there, incidentally, who believes the worn stereotype that the music of the blues is a depressive and mournful thing had better listen to this record and get right.
A novice trucker, unable to get his rig out of reverse, backs a semi full of steel from Chicago to Birmingham. A throwaway novelty number, but performed with authority and good humor by bluegrass legend Lester Flatt. According to most commentators, it is at least in part a reflection on the deaths of four Birmingham girls, killed by explosion only two months earlier.
Some listeners have claimed that Coltrane built the composition on the cadences of a speech by Martin Luther King, possibly his funeral oration for those girls. Coltrane himself was more oblique in defining his inspiration: LeRoi Jones, in the original liner notes: That is one function of art, to reveal beauty, common or uncommon, uncommonly. Little remembered today, Darby and Tarlton recorded over 60 sides between andhelped pioneer the use of the slide guitar, and, with their heavy-harmonied, often-bluesy sound, proved influential to the development of country music.
Both of their Birmingham songs contain all of the classic Delmore ingredients: In college he became bandleader to the already-celebrated Bama State Collegians, whose members followed him to Harlem in to become the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra.
Glenn Miller recorded it and it hit number one. An anthem of the World War II era, it jumped and swung from jukeboxes across the country, but nowhere more proudly or frequently than in Ensley. Even the dishes seem to catch the rhythm of the piece. A barber up the street cuts hair to it.
Streetcar service ended, and the Junction was no longer a junction. All but one of the original Junction buildings the historic Nixon building were razed. When segregation came to Ensley, white residents pulled out in large numbers. The steel plant, long the heart of the Ensley economy, closed down. Poverty, crime, and homelessness went up. Today the famous tune lingers as a reminder of a heyday past, and as a call to rise again. The album offers a loose, semi-fictional storyline that plunges deep into southern mythology and identity, pulling into its scope Muscle Shoals soul, the Civil Rights struggle, the Lynyrd Skynyrd plane-crash, booze and family and the Devil—and, out of it all, loud and intemperate, gut-busting Rock.
Birmingham figures prominently into the whole thing, nowhere more so than in this blistering hymn. Greaves, nephew of soul-stirrer Sam Cooke, had one of the least likely bios in soul music history. In the process of dictation, he realizes his love for the secretary and incorporates her into his escape plans, beginning with a romantic dinner after work. Sun Ra plays sometimes simultaneously piano and Clavioline, an early synthesizer evoking the ominous explorations of late-night black-and-white space flicks.
The instruments play against and with each other, interacting also with the comings and goings of bass, drums, clarinet, piccolo, and flute. Fifteen minutes in, the performance explodes, instruments erupting at once. There are five saxophones, sometimes screaming. For more on Sun Ra, see the feature article in this issue. The protest-rooted Broadside Magazine ran the song the same month.
As I went down to Birmingham upon a summer day I saw the biggest Bull, sir, dry up and blow away. His belly it was huge, sir, you should have seen it flop It dangled to the ground, sir, till I thought his skin would pop… His rear was round and fat, sir, how large I cannot tell His head was even fatter, you should have seen it swell… The song ends with this advice: But if you see a Bull, sir, that tries to throw a scare Just give his tail a pull, sir, and let out all his air While some would doubtless argue that it does not belong on this list at all, others would rank it as the ultimate Birmingham song—even if its reference to the city is brief and, well, complicated.
This song, moreover, is in our blood. American tourists—people who have never set foot in this state—will hear it suddenly in far-off countries and will identify, will feel a kind of patriotic rush, and will sing along.
And it is catchy, and it is loud. That is, after all, the crucial line—the controversial line, the one that incorporates for we are the they all of us. But surely that is far-fetched, revisionist and wishful thinking. So what do we do with the line? Does liking the song mean loving the governor? Does loving the governor have to mean supporting his segregationist poses?
Or is this merely a celebration of populism—or a defiant pride in who we are, despite all our obvious warts? What, exactly, does it mean when Alabama football fans adopt a song Roll, Tide, Roll! And, really, how can Watergate not bother these guys? Is that swaggering indifference okay, even in a pop song? What I guess I am saying is: What does that song, and that line, mean for Birminghamians now? I have written more about this song than I meant to.
At first glance Newman may seem a snarky outsider further maligning a cracker culture which, for all of its faults, may not deserve cheap shots from a far-off California hipster. But Good Old Boys is a complicated, challenging, and empathetic work which has become a southern classic. The song is convincing enough that Del McCoury could later cover it as a bluegrass song—straight-faced, no trace of irony or condescension anywhere—and again it works.
For what it is worth, here is my list, followed by the eulogy: Long live Greencup Books. This is not easy to write—hopefully you know it already, and I am not the one breaking the news—but Greencup is officially no more. Struggling since it opened to keep its head over water, the not-for-profit bookspace on Richard Arrington Boulevard has finally closed its doors for good.
Of course, the day was bound to come. Certainly, there were lots of factors behind the final decision. Many locals considered the very premise of Greencup hopelessly quixotic from the get-go. When, in October, word came that the store only had a few weeks left, the announcement, however unwanted, surprised nobody.
Greencup ended, with a fitting touch of symbolism, on the Day of the Dead, Sunday night, November 2. Some walk-ins browsed the store that night for their first and last time. Friends came in and paid their final respects. And a kind of death hung over everything. Several Fridays ago, one of my students wrote this: It was really exactly like I expected, except that it smelled like smoke instead of used books.
I used to read books from the same series at the library and the person who read them last always wore really strong perfume. I could only find one of the books I looked for Portrait of the Artist as a Young Manand the place was hardly organized at all.
I think books need to be passed hand to hand. Russell Helms opened the store in February of ; Helms moved to Kentucky and Tesney took ownership in July of the same year. From its inception, Greencup was an anti-capitalist venture—a concept, Tesney says, which most people had trouble swallowing. Workers volunteered their time and were paid in food and maybe gas money.
It boasted comfortable old couches and a wide selection of politically radical zines. Performers came from all over the U. Last year, Greencup hosted an alternative media fair for zinesters, do-it-yourself bookmakers, and indy record labels across the Southeast.
When Cave 9, the all-ages punk venue, closed its own doors earlier this year, its operations moved briefly into Greencup. I only wish that more people could have had the same experience. We question and investigate the psychosexual underpinnings of both this bureaucracy and those of us attempting to rebel against it. I tend to agree with that philosophy. The best of the books that I have accidentally discovered hold a certain kind of power in my memory; there is the sense that book and reader stumbled upon each other unsuspectingly, through some turn of fate, forging something unique in the encounter.
Bought and read by accident, these books carry a particular kind of weight and mystery in my reading experience. Most I got as trades. As I write this, I am listening to the Alabama Wurlitzer.
I was not there, and I do not know if there was electricity or not. But it does make for an effective image of how Greencup finally ended: The opening scenes are effectively suspenseful, despite knowing full well what was coming.
If you haven't seen it, do! Lotsa time is spent on a potential romance between military man Kenneth Tobey and scientist Faith Domergue--including a "From Here To Eternity"-like beach romp--even though fellow scientist Donald Woods always seems to be part of the equation as well! The picture even ends with a scene of the three sharing a victory meal that seems almost to be a prelude to a menage a trois!
Okay, probably not, but still Kinda dull, especially compared to the far more entertaining "Beast From 20, Fathoms". Marceau plays deaf mute Malcolm Shanks, a puppeteer who lives with his abusive step-sister and her booze guzzling second hubby Tsilla Chelton and Phillippe Clay, MM's fellow French mimes. He gets a job working with eccentric scientist, old Mr. Walker also Marcel, speaking a half-dozen words at beston experiments reviving dead animals via some tiny electrode devices.
They don't actually come back to life per se, but instead have their dead bodies manipulated like puppets. Walker dies, so Shanks tries the device on his late friend--and eventually, in some of the the most surrealistic and amazing scenes you'll ever see, on the now-late married couple he'd been rooming with.
Toss in 16 year-old Cindy Eilbacher who looks 13 at best as a girl who follows the 48 year old around like a love-sick puppy dog, initially amused by the antics of the manipulated corpses, then horrified when she realizes they're dead--and THEN, taking it all in stride as the foursome celebrate her birthday at Walker's mansion!!!
The movie is largely devoid of dialog, and as Marceau stipulated he wanted to do a fantasy, not a horror film, a lot of otherwise obvious aspects like decomposition and such are totally ignored. But it's still all unsettlingly creepy--though the whole alleged whimsy thing goes off the tracks in the final quarter when a motorcycle gang shows up, with the poor little girl dragged away screaming by the gang's leader, to be presumably raped and definitely murdered.
THAT I didn't expect. Shanks has his revenge, though--AND one last dance with his underage gal-pal, as well. Did I mention creepy? Castle has a nice cameo as a grocer, and the actually miming is breathtaking--it's the overall story that's a bit deficient. But see it if you get the chance--movies don't get much odder than "Shanks" Opening with an Oscar worthy confrontational scene between 29 year old co-ed Mamie Van Doren, who's being screamed at for coming in at 2: Rather than rat out boyfriend Conway Twitty who yes, does warble a ditty later onshe places the blame on college prof Allen for keeping her out late.
Seems Steverino is conducting a written survey of his students, with two of its twenty pages focusing on their sex lives!! It's all very much on the up and up, thoroughly academic--which reporter Meadows discovers after her paper receives an anonymous note complaining about the immoral questionnaire. He invites her to a party he's giving for the students--who all dig him--to show the film he's taken of them down at the ol' swimming hole, but things go awry when someone spikes the punch AND tacks on a porno flick to the end of swimming footage!!
The kids--all of 'em, even the guys--rise up as one in disgust, and storm out of the accidentally tipsy professor's pahd--with the police not far behind, very quickly arresting Allen on charges of corrupting minors! A hearing is held in friendly town grocer Mickey Shaughnessy's store, and because it's all about SEX, somehow a half dozen actual once famous columnists show up for the proceedings, headlined by the unmistakable Walter Winchell! You'll laugh in disbelief as Mickey examines the witnesses--my favorite moment comes when one young lass mentions "the virginity question" and the whole audience gasps simultaneously!!
Steve--who's given scant opportunity to showcase his good-natured humor--delivers a supposedly inspiring speech in his defense, but he still woulda been person non grata in town if it weren't for it accidentally coming out that Shaughnessy was behind it all as a ways of getting daughter Cathy Crosby daughter of Bob, niece of Bing attention enough to win her the screen test she never really wanted.
Mickey gets to emote heavily during his confession scene as well.
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Randy Sparks appears and sings a tune that Allen provided lyrics for, two years before he would form The New Christy Minstrels. I've always been a big fan of Steve Allen, but it's hard to fathom him picking THIS project to do at what was pretty much the height of his fame!! Oh, and that porno film, which we viewers never actually saw?
It was established during the hearing that it was merely folks in flesh colored outfits, which gives you a pretty good idea how tame this so-called shocker actually was! And why not--Ray Harryhausen's rudely awakened mythical dinosaur was the the first such cinematic beast to be defrosted by an atomic test blast? While many later giant monster flicks are just plain laughable, this one has enough internal integrity to be enjoyed with a modicum of seriousness.
Scenes of the stop-motion monster wreaking havoc in New York City are especially memorable. Swiss actor Paul Hubschmid here billed as Paul Christianhe of the thick accent, seems an unlikely choice for the film's hero, but I found him all the more interesting due to this inescapable aspect of his character. Cecil Kellaway plays the kindly scientist who put off that long over-due vacation just a couple of days too many, and there are plenty of other familiar fifties' era faces to be found in the cast including Alvin Greeman, who played Alfred, the young janitor in "Miracle On 34th Street" several years earlier.
I'd somehow never seen this one before, but wound up thoroughly enjoying a movie I fully expected to be far cheesier than it actually was. A troubled production history--three years in the making, and originally filmed in color, prints of which no longer exist--ran up costs astronomically, and then audiences stayed away in droves, dooming science fiction on film until the fifties. Plus, it's one of those films that was made as a silent, but belatedly tacks on some sound sequences.
In this film, the dialog scenes come about five minutes in, and last another ten or so--and boy, are they ever STATIC!! Scientist Lionel Barrymore stands opposite friend Montagu Love Baron and would be King of a small country adjacent Barrymore's island and carries on a conversation as the camera never leaves a medium shot, all the while Barrymore seems to be reading from off-screen cue cards!!
It's a special hoot when, after hearing Lionel's plans for his revolutionary submarine,Love practically licks his lips, saying, "With that, we could conquer the WORLD!! Barrymore's having none of THAT, though, and soon--save for a few stray radio transmission dialog lines and a lot of sound effects, the movie turns silent for the duration--which is actually for the better, as the action becomes far more fluid.
Love returns with armed soldiers to seize Barrymore's two ships, torturing the scientist and his sister, Jane Daly, who retired from films after this in the process. Eventually, everyone's on the ocean floor and a massive group of sea dwelling creatures midget actors looking an awful lot like The Mole Man's moloids attack the two ships. Some of the effects are laughable--an alligator with fins pasted on top comes to mind--but others, like the deep-sea suits worn by the crew, are positively charming.
A must see for any sci-fi fan with a hankering for film history, and just plain entertaining for plenty of other reasons as well! Of course, given Tashman's reputation, Bole's is justified in assuming Laye to be an easy, um, lay, but off course that's not the case. With a handful of forgettable tunes belted out by the principals, operatta style, several scenes border uncomfortably on near date rape--though in the end, when the truth is revealed, wouldn'tcha know the pair are suddenly blissfully and romantically in love?
The antics of Leon Errol take up substantial screen time, with at least three longish scenes devoted to the pretend drunkeness the man perfected and based his career on. If you love Leon, check this one out--otherwise, don't bother.
But that's all a matter of taste, I guess.
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I found the music, if not brimming with classic tracks, much peppier than most other Elvis flicks, the supporting cast first-rate, and the writing fairly amusing a year later, co-writer Theodore J.
Despite the title, the race car aspect mainly figures in the story's climax. Elvis helms a musical foursome featuring Jimmy Hawkins, Jack Mullaney a sixties era sitcom supporting actor who never quite made the big time but whose work I remember fondly; here, he plays dumb to great effectand drummer Deborah Walley, forever taken by the other three members as one of the guys, much to her constant consternation.
Spoiled rich girl Shelley Fabares joined here by Carl Betz--her "Donna Reed Show" father--playing the same role in a radically different manner and icy cool author she writes investigative sex books Diane McBain, who, along with Walley, all want to marry Elvis--and how THAT'S worked out in the end is marginally clever!
Also featuring Warren Berlinger, Will Hutchins, and, as a rich couple Elvis talks into letting him and his group house-sit while the pair take off on a belated second honeymoon are Hollywood vets Cecil Kellaway and Una Merkel this would be Ms.
Merkel's last big screen appearance. Unlike the Frankie and Annette series, this flick was almost totally devoid of comedy, and its single song was the Jan and Dean title tune that played over the end credits. An almost endless competition--also featuring nominal bad guy, Jim son of Robert Mitchum--serves as the film's finale, with the winner never in any doubt. Cheesy closeup footage of the actors ostensibly swaying back and forth on their boards is combined with stunning footage of pros riding the surf in the plentiful long shots.
Most amusing to me was that two of the male stars had to change their normal hair color to match their stunt surfers--AND two of the women in turn had to change theirs as well, as contrast to their on-screen boy friends!! Incidentally, not a single woman attempts--or even considers--riding a surf board in this movie.
Beautifully lensed, but overlong and ultimately dull. Sure coulda used a visit from Erich Von Zipper Enamored patient and society widow Billie Glinda the Good Witch Burke offers to set Chet up in his own lucrative practice, and at one point he's so disgusted with his current lot, he bites.
When she starts blathering about office and outfit color schemes, he quickly comes to his senses. Then there's the gangster's mom down the hall--you just KNOW bullets will fly when he comes to visit, and one finds its way into Morris. The old fogey docs figure he has no chance, but Chester enlists young Doctor Taylor to perform a new technique to remove the bullet--all the while a groaning Chester directs the operation!!
Silly stuff, sure, but Morris's fast-talking, all-out commitment to the material makes this short feature entertaining enough to spend an hour plus change with. Playing a big city con-man--NOT the Little Tramp--Chaplin marries naive Marie Dressler top-billed, due to her stage success using the same material for her million dollar inheritance. Beside a few predictable twists and turns in the plot, there's very little to laugh at here--director Mack Sennett's idea of comedy mostly consists of people either falling down or getting kicked in the butt, and oft times both.
Of interest to students of film--or Chaplin--history. Those looking for a good laugh need not apply. Actually, for about the first third, it ain't so bad not great, but Future Babs hubby Robert Taylor this is where they met plays a gambling playboy scientist who's due to head out for the jungle in ten days to help discover a cure for a killer tick bite.
He meets Stanwyck in the gambling palace of the always delightfully slimy Joesph Calleia here called Fisheye! John says, you want the money, you make the trip. When they break the news to Barbara, she doesn't take it very well. She goes to Calleia, takes him up on an earlier job offer as long as her pay can cover Taylor's debt anonymously.
Eldredge comes in to pay off Calleia, runs into Babs, she strikes up a conversation, they dance, and--after we see Taylor going nuts in the jungle cuz he's getting no mail from her, so he heads home for a furlough--we next see the brother being dismissed from his job at the local hospital because he can't keep his mind on his doctoring! Stanwyck seduced him, married him, and then--as soon as it became official--laughed in his face and dumped him!!
But he can't get her out of his mind, and won't divorce her. We never see Eldredge again--we await his signed divorce papers so the two original lovers can be together again Barbara's sorry for what she did, don'tcha knowbut as soon as they arrive, Taylor explains he's been playing HER!!
He hates her--get out!! But--and mercifully, I won't go into detail--the only way to prove his antidote to the deadly tick bite actually works is for Stanwyck to inject herself with the poison and find out for sure!! Which--surprise--it does, and the pair head home happily on a cruise ship. Bouncing back between the two wildly differing locations--and bouncing back and forth from "I love you! Gee, no wonder John Eldredge turned to crime! Using publicity stills, snippets from trailers, and the original script, the first fifteen minutes or so of this restored version consists of a cobbled together set-up for what does remain.
Too bad most of the elaborate costume party mid-way through no longer exists, but we DO get the story of a pre-cognitive Rudy--an Indian Rajah smuggled to the USA as a babe and raised here--being called back to his home to stop an evil ruler, even if doing his duty for his home country does mean having to turn his back on his true American love. Plus, he foresees his own death!! But, worry not--it all works out. Interesting curio, but y'know, if this thing was really three times as long as it wound up being in this truncated version, maybe I'm lucky so much of it was lost!
Told in flashback at his funeral by the women in life, there are some terrific scenes sprinkled throughout this movie, most of which include dancing Valentino was a dancer before he became a movie star, y'see. My fave is early one when he pulls Carol Kane from the audience to be his partner after her date--an obnoxious film comic referred to as "Mr. Fatty"--drives his original partner from the dance floor with his cat-calls. Watch for a totally nude conversation between the Phillips and Nureyev who reportedly couldn't stand one another in a tent.
And the trumped up boxing match that ends the film is a hoot as well--while the scene of Valentino trapped in a jail cell with a group of perverted derelicts is just the sort of thing one expects from Russell, unfortunately. Nureyev is no actor, but he tries hard, and I found his effort somehow endearing. Watch for a pre-"Cheers" John Ratzenberger as a reporter hounding the various mourners including Leslie Caron as the actress Nazimova, wearing an outfit that has to be seen to be believed.
Not a great film by any measure, I found it an absorbing curiosity, and shamefacedly admit to enjoying every minute of it! Although I wasn't quite willing to commit to that judgment until the ending proved, much to my relief--yes, there WAS some doubt--that Sherlock was only up against a particularly clever criminal, not actual magical forces.
THAT woulda knocked things down a couple of notches for me. While the film's frantic nature was a bit startling so soon after viewing all those old Basil Rathbone flicks--there were more fisticuffs than the story actually needed--some of the action sequences were memorably breathtaking, specifically the errant ship-launch and the literally dizzying finale up on the unfinished bridge.
The acting by Robert Downey, Jr. And if the couple seemed a wee bit gay at times, well, not there's anything wrong with THAT, right?GRWM: ASU GAMEDAY + TAKING YOU TO A TAILGATE!
The carefully explained logic behind events, big and small, was a winning approach with me, as was the palpable atmosphere of the film's set design.
Mark Strong made a good baddie as well. I had to laugh at that scene with Sherlock handcuffed to a bed, naked save for a strategically placed pillow--it had absolutely NOTHING to do with the story, and only lasted as long as it took to insert into the trailer, no doubt in the hopes of luring in unsuspecting movie-goers!!
Well, the guy WAS married to Madonna, after all! But when the ship presided over by the father of tombyish Moran a plain but top-billed Dorothy Dalton goes down with her as the only survivor--rescued by Valentino--friction develops between Rudy and the less than honorable Cap'n Long. Featuring plenty of outdoor location shooting on both land and sea, Valentino acquits himself nicely in the role of action-hero.
While apparently not a typical vehicle for the actor, right on the cusp of his icon-hood, I nonetheless found it mildly interesting. Greta has loved John since childhood.
Dad Hobart Bosworth doesn't want his son to marry her. After Gilbert is forced to turn his back on Garbo, she does indeed hitch up with Brown, but on their wedding night--BEFORE the festivities, shall we say, culminate--the couple recieve a pair of visitors, and Brown throws himself out a window to his death!!
Garbo explains he died for "decency", and she soon becomes hated by all save family friend Lewis Stone. She goes off and has meaningless affairs, but eventually returns just as Gilbert is about to marry sweet Dorothy Sebastian.
They spend the night together, coupling just a dissolute Fairbanks, Jr--who's long hated his sibling for allegedly driving Brown to his death--dies across town. Eventually, it comes out that Brown was an embezzler and Garbo was protecting his good name--and to make sure Gilbert stays married to the angelic Sebastian, she jumps in a car and drives it into the very tree the two pledged eternal love under as children!
Watching this without prior knowledge of the screenplay's source material, I could never quite figure out WHY Garbo sacrificed her own reputation to cover for a crook she wasn't even in love with--and worse, the film saves the big reveal for the final scene like I didn't realize what the two guys with guns had in mind when they arrived on site, even if the director did quickly jump to the next scene without them anywhere to be found.
Still, that Garbo sure was something, and if you dig her, worth tuning in to. Sickly and distracted Studwick doesn't have the same winning way with the natives that Carroll did, and soon, the medicine men are instigating trouble against the "white devils". Only Maisie's Carmen Miranda hootchie cootchie dance in front of the natives--AND a well-timed downpour--saves the day!
And aside for some tepid wisecracks, that's about as close to comedy as this fairly standard melodrama gets, much to my surprise. Sothern is entertaining, and given the opportunity, I'd probably watch a second "Maisie" installment, but this time, without any particularly high expectations. I confess to not being a fan of the lady, but her vibrant performance here as a Roaring Twenties party girl with honor intact, mind you is positively dazzling.
Rich bachelor Johnny Mack Brown has to make a choice between fun-loving Joan and her friend, pretend-demure Anita Page who, by the way, is absolutely stunning, and acts her role of scheming gold-digger to the hiltand as he soon finds out, makes the WRONG choice. The storyline is all tied up in the mostly antiquated morals of the day, but unlike some other silent melodramas, I never felt bored with this one for a second. The finale is laughably predictable--even the filmmakers seemed to realize that, as they tease us with the inevitable for several drawn out minutes.
I mean, why ELSE is there such a long staircase included on set if not for a tipsy villainess to--but no, see for yourself. Wonderfully garish art deco sets, and here's an odd observation: Joan Crawford resembled, to these eyes, a somewhat sexier Gracie Allen!?! Say good night, Joanie Vic Tayback has a plan for the perfect crime: In full killer psycho mode earlier in the film, he shot his girl-friend point blank cuz he heard the truth about her last affair.
Johnny--posing as a guitar lesson salesman to get into the house, thus allowing him to strum a little and sing a few lines of the ominous title tune to his prey--is flat out scary, if not particularly polished, acting-wise. Watch him gleefully torture the trembling wife by destroying ever knick knack and doodad in her suburban living room--and THEN ask where the bedroom is!
Opie to the rescue!! And when the smoke clears, the movie's STILL not over unlike so many thirties' flicks that end abruptly as a series of loose end tying epilogs play out, much to my satisfaction. Vicious Johnny Cash has to be seen to be believed, and while the film-making as a whole is, um, not first-rate, it is entirely entertaining!!
So what if Johnny's silencer makes a loud bang with every fired shot and Vic Tayback gives his real name to the clerk when going into the bank to see Donald Woods?
Highly recommended if you have a taste for this sort of thing. Elvis to accompany him on a trip to wrest an agreement from some ornery mountain folk in order to use their territory to build an ICBM missile base.
At which point, the pair encounter distant cousin, blonde-wigged Elvis. The fun here is watching for the true faces of the stunt doubles in the non-split screen scenes that pepper the film. A remarkable job is done keeping the illusion up, most amusingly in the final scene as the pair duet while dancing, one facing the screen, the other with his back to it, the camera rapidly switching between the "two" during a big production number featuring the title tune, the only marginally decent song in the flick.
Plot-wise, little is made of the situation--there are no wacky mix-ups, no sly substitutions. Basically, it's brunette Elvis's show--blonde Elvis mostly stands around, acting cranky and wanting to wrestle.
Yvonne Craig is the cousin brunette Elvis actually kisses and, by implication, marrieswith Arthur O'Connell as the stubborn hill patriarch. I was surprised--and delighted--to see Glenda Farrell as the film's ersatz Mammy Yoakum.
She was a busy supporting actress back in the thirties--I've seen half a dozen of her movies in recent times--and here, she gets ample screen time, AND the chance to sing a solo number all by herself plus her forty-ish son nicely plays a sergeant in the flick.
Donald Woods is the general, and somewhere in all this hillbilly mess is Maureen Reagan, daughter of Ronald. Producer Sam Katzman's wife, Hortense Petra, shows up briefly in a nothing role. But having watched this, even without reading the book, I'm thinking 76 minutes is way too short to properly fit in the entire story.
It plays almost like three movies in one. First off, social worker Dunne is seduced by shipping out dough-boy Bruce Cabot on the eve of WW1, and winds up pregnant for her trouble. Only, viewers get absolutely no indication that Cabot isn't the love of her life and won't marry her as he'd pledged to do when he returns--until she spots him in a restaurant with another cutie while on leave. Learning the news, he begrudgingly agrees to get hitched, but Dunne wants nothing more to do with him--he's never seen or mentioned again, and as for the baby?
Stillborn or aborted--flip a coin; guess you'd have to read the book to find out which. Next, she goes to a woman's prison to work, but witnesses such horrible conditions consisting of a series of montages of brutal acts with Dunne's ghostly, worried face superimposed over them that she wants to reform the system. The system doesn't want to be reformed, though, so the warden and his chief henchmen lay a trap for her--lured up the room of the prison's doctor, lying unconscious on his bed in an alcoholic stupor, the pair wait in his closet to snap a photo of her trying to revive the doc, looking all the world like the proverbial compromising pic interesting note: Carroll Naish, who gets a screen credit, even though this is his only scene and he has absolutely no dialog!!
Nice gig if you can get it! So she leaves, writes a best-seller about prison reform, and about half-way through the film, meets second billed Walter Huston, a married judge with questionable friends who eventually winds up in jail, but not before stealing her heart--AND giving her another illegitimate child!! Wonder if that was the book's final revelation as well? I did like the line where she tells a prisoner she was gonna help her "quit the snow, cold turkey"--and it WAS the first time I've seen Walter Huston play a romantic lead, which he pulls off decently, if not exactly in a Gablicious mannner.
Dunne's fine as well, and there's lots of interesting pre-code quirks to be seen, but the story's all over the place. These filmmakers probably could've buried even "Gone With The Wind" in cinematic obscurity Walter Huston plays an over-zealous cop whose vain pursuit of mob boss Sam Belmonte usually kind-hearted Jean Hersholt, with slick-backed black hair and questionable accent gets him demoted to the sticks.
Until, that is, Huston's exploits garner him enough front page buzz to get himself made police captain of the entire city. Happy-go-lucky younger cop brother Wallace Ford is disappointed when Captain Walter cheerily informs him he's gonna have to earn that promotion he wants, and his resentment is all the seed Belmonte's former moll, Jean Harlow, needs to plant with the help of J. Carroll Naish in order to corrupt the heretofore straight shooter.
The initial seduction scene between Harlow and Ford ranks right up there with the hottest stuff I've yet encountered in a pre-code film--with witty dialog to boot. Things eventually go all to pieces, and soon, Ford is sitting on the dock, next to Nat Pendleton, charged with murder.
But Hersholt thinks it would be a big gag to get Huston's kid brother and off, so shyster Tully Marshall--giving the most deliciously over the top closing argument I've EVER seen and remember, I've seen Lionel Barrymore in court!
Up that point, this movie is absolutely wonderful, but then comes the ending. It's dramatic, it's stunning, it's incredibly violent, but it's also, logically speaking, incredibly stupid. I won't give it away--and recommend you see the film anyway--but c'mon, was that the ONLY way to handle things? I really don't think so Harlow's role is comparatively small, but whenever she's on screen, she's totally riveting. DA Walter Huston wants to nail mob boss Ralph Ince badly, and has the eager cooperation of the entire family--until dad Grant Mitchell is lured into a warehouse and is brutally beaten by Nat Pendleton in some disturbingly no-holds barred scenes of repeatedly throwing the hapless man head first against a wall.
NOW the family changes its collective tune--all save Granpa 47 year old Chic Sale convincingly--and annoyingly--playing 87, in full 'tarnation' mode. Even when young George Ernest is kidnapped, Gramps is still willing to testify, much to the horror of the rest of the clan.
But worry not--the old man tracks down the young 'un on his own, and the blasted furriners get their just desserts!! Huston is top-billed, but it's really Sale's picture. Comics fans should look for the youngest cast member, Dickie Moore, playing a character named Ned Leeds. But his job is to get convictions and The Criminal Code--the book of laws he refers to throughout the movie--says punishment must be meted out, and so the boy is shipped off to prison.
One of his two cell-mates is Boris Karloff, a con who had his parole revoked and was thrown back in jail to serve out his time simply because he was spotted in a speakeasy having a beer several days after being sprung. The man who turned him in is one of the prison guards, a man Karloff vows to "have an appointment with".
Several years into Holmes' sentence, Huston is made warden, and recognizing the near-broken boy, the prison's new head takes him under his wing as does daughter Constance Cummingsand is on the verge of getting him out on parole when he inadvertently serves as the only witness to Karloff's murder of a stoolie.
With his own future freedom in jeopardy, Holmes adheres to his own Criminal Code, refusing to rat out his cellmate, despite Huston's best efforts to get him to do so and the ham is sliced mighty thick during THIS sequence--tasty, too!!
Lady Muleskinner Press: Writings of Burgin Mathews
A wonderful movie, with Karloff whose dramatic scene cornering the hapless stoolie is replayed in Peter Bogdanovich's "Targets" as an example of Boris's fictional Byron Orlac character's early film career a true-standout. Menacing, but never to Holmes or the other inmates--his unique mixture of sympathetic creepiness is apparently what drew James Whale to him, as the story goes it was this performance that attracted the eye of the "Frankenstein" director.
Look for a small speaking part played by a young and almost thin Andy Devine. Recommended, even to non-Karloff fans. Very well-mannered and charming, he's delighted at the return of daughter Loretta Young home after a decade abroad. That is, until his calmly logical explanation of what exactly it is he does for a living fails to win her over, and in fact, drives her away. The film's title refers to the room where he disciplines straying henchmen--they hear his voice, but never see his face save for Huston's eyes peering through a small slit.
This plot device figures in the flick's tense finale. Rather talky, but Huston always makes excess verbiage interesting. Look for a fully suited Nat Pendleton in a more refined than usual role for him--albeit, still a crook. And most memorably, plenty of unintentional yocks are to be had at the expense of Young's finance, David "Dracula", "The Mummy" Manners, simply because his character's full name is repeated at least a dozen times over the course of the movie: I'm going to marry Dick Cheney.
There's a Dick Cheney here to see you Plenty of laughs--you might even say, a BUSHel full! Don't worry, though--there's love in the air for the pair, and after overcoming a few strategic personal obstacles, all is right in the end.
Stanwyck is winning as always, playing Oakley as demure yet confident.
Kentucky - AARP
Not a true western, but better described as a reenactment of an old time rodeo show, with trick horse riding, play-acting Indians, and plenty of sharp shooting. Melvyn Douglas plays the romantic third wheel, Pert Kelton the original Alice Kramden--who would later play Alice's mother on a color episode of "The Honeymooners" is Foster's ex-partner, and Moroni Olsen distant cousin of Merlin Olsen and perhaps best known to present day audiences as the judge who presided over the dispute between the Ricardo's and the Mertz's regarding a shared TV set, ultimately kicking the screen in himself while in chambers is impressive as a blustery but kindly Buffalo Bill.
Nothing particularly special here, but as always, Babs makes the time put in worthwhile. Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire"min This Oscar nom-magnet boasts truly electrifying acting Mo'Nique deserved her Supporting Actress statue, and newcomer Gaby Sidibe turns in a remarkable performance in the title role while telling what I'd consider a less than uplifting tale despite the strides made by Precious by film's end.
It's a good movie and I'm glad I saw it, but the flurry of ecstatic publicity surrounding it reminded me of similar hype afforded "Slumdog Millionaire"--I went into both fully expecting a life-changing experience, which I felt I'd been implicitly promised. Just saw a pair of well-done, comparatively off-beat films. Well, I guess I shoulda known better--after all, I'm the type more likely to have my life changed by the likes of "Elf " or "Enchanted"!
Watson traveling to the nation's capitol in search of a secret document that's disappeared from the hands of a now-dead British agent.