Saturday, May 31, 2014

Stubs – Bachelor Mother

Bachelor Mother (1939) Starring: Ginger Rogers, David Niven, Charles Coburn. Directed by Garson Kanin. Screenplay by Norman Krasna. Based on the movie Little Mother written by Felix Jackson. Produced by Buddy G. DeSylva  Run Time: 82 minutes. U.S.  Black and White. Romantic Comedy, Screwball Comedy, Christmas

If I was alive and of movie-going age in the 1930’s, I would have had a major league crush on Ginger Rogers. What’s not to love? She was pretty, talented and could play comedy, not to mention dance. By the time Bachelor Mother was released, Rogers had just wrapped up her long-time RKO relationship with Fred Astaire in The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939), a partnership that went back six years and eight films.

But Ginger was a star without Astaire as well, having starred in such RKO films as Rafter Romance (1933), Stage Door (1937) and Vivacious Lady (1938). Bachelor Mother partnered Rogers with David Niven, the good-looking British-born Actor. Unlike Rogers, who had been at least a prominent player since appearing in Young Man in Manhattan (1930), in which she spoke the then-oft quoted line “Cigarette me, big boy”; Niven only had his first speaking role in films three years earlier in Rose-Marie (1936).

The film Bachelor Mother is actually based on another film, Little Mother (Kliene Mutti), a 1935 Austrian-Hungarian comedy about a girl, Marie Bonnard (Franciska Gaal), who discovers a deserted baby. The baby is widely accepted to be hers, though she is not the mother. I’ve never seen Little Mother, and I don’t know how closely Bachelor Mother follows its plotline, but it is interesting to know the origins of the story. Little Mother was made by a local subsidiary of Universal Pictures and the rights were later acquired by RKO, which transformed it into a vehicle for one of the studio’s biggest stars, Rogers.

Rogers plays Polly Parrish, a new to town holiday-hire salesgirl at the John B. Merlin and Son department store in New York City. Since she’s been notified that she’s losing her job at the end of the day, she goes out looking for work on her lunch hour. After throwing away the listing she receives, she spots a woman leaving a baby at the door of an orphanage, the Atkins Founding Home. Polly tries to convince the woman not to abandon the baby, but the woman insists it’s not hers to begin with and runs off.

Fearing that the baby will roll down the stairs, Polly picks it up at the precise moment a nurse at the orphanage answers the door. Seeing Polly with the baby, the nurse assumes it’s hers and brings Polly in to meet the doctor. Despite her protests, no one believes that she is not the baby’s mother. Still, she manages to leave without the baby, but the orphanage is not through with her.

The baby, Johnnie, the cause of the problems for our heroine.

They insist she is the baby’s mother and try to help her, sending an investigator (Ernest Truex) to visit with Polly’s boss, David Merlin (David Niven), the playboy son of the owner and founder J.B. Merlin (Charles Coburn). Convinced that Polly gave up her baby because she was losing her job, the investigator convinces David into letting Polly keep the job for as long as she wants it, even throwing in a retroactive $5 a week bonus in pay.

Polly Parrish (Ginger Rogers) is mistaken for the orphan baby's mother.

Polly is confused but grateful for the change in her employment status. She accepts a date to go to a dance contest from Freddie Miller (Frank Albertson), who promises her that they’re sure to win second place and $50 since he’s good friends with one of the judges. Polly can use the money, but when she goes home to change, there is a knock on her door. Thinking it’s Freddie, she answers, only to be confronted by the investigator and the Matron (Edna Holland) from the orphanage. They are bringing her back her baby as a Christmas present from J.B. Merlin and Son.

Freddie Miller (Frank Albertson) invites Polly to a dance contest with the promise of the $50 second prize award.

Again, despite her protests, they leave the baby with her, even threatening her if she tries to abandon the baby elsewhere. While Polly has a rapport with the baby, she knows nothing about raising one. Not long after they leave, Freddie arrives for their date. Polly tries to beg off, but Freddie is insistent. Feeling that she’s been put in this mess by David Merlin, she takes the baby to the Merlin mansion and leaves him in the care of the Butler (E.E. Clive). She tells him that Merlin will have to use his influence to get her out of this mess. But of course, David doesn’t know what she’s talking about, so he and the Butler, with the baby in hand, follow Freddie and Polly to the dance contest at the Pink Slipper Dance Hall.

David Merlin (David Niven) takes the baby to the dance contest, trying to get Polly's attention.

David tries to break into the contest but his antics instead get him kicked out of the Dance Hall. Polly and Freddie return disappointed from the dance contest. Instead of the promised second place, they won the competition, getting instead of money, a loving cup. Freddie walks Polly to her door and tries any excuse to get inside, asking for a nightcap and when she insists she has no liquor, he wants to come in for a smoke. When she insists she has no cigarettes, he offers that he has a pocket full of them. Freddie sort of forces his way into the apartment, only to see David Merlin sitting there entertaining the baby. Freddy flees after leaving the loving cup.

David tells Polly off for having abandoned her baby to go off dancing and fires her on the spot. Further, he tells her that there is no way she’ll ever work in retail again after he’s through with her. He tells her that her treatment of her baby is contemptible, but before he leaves, he offers her one last chance to ask for her job back and raise the baby herself.

Feeling trapped, Polly accepts responsibility for the baby but tells David that there is no use in trying to deal with the father. She makes up a story that he once hit her with the coffee pot and shows him a scar to prove it. After David leaves, Polly thanks the baby for the job.

Mrs. Weiss (Ferike Boros), her landlady, arrives to help Polly with the baby, whom she knows is a boy, even though Polly initially calls the baby Joan. Joan becomes Johnnie. Mrs. Weiss offers to help her with the baby and even tells Polly the baby looks like her.

Freddie, thinking that Polly has an in with Mr. Merlin, asks for her help in getting the open position of Assistant floorwalker. Through coincidence, Freddie was first in line for the position, but he thinks Polly was still responsible.

That night, Polly is playful with the baby, showing him a windup Donald Duck toy that she’s bought from the store to amuse him. While she’s feeding Johnnie, David comes over to help. He thinks Polly should raise the boy scientifically and begins reading the proper way of feeding a baby, which with the pages stuck together reads that food should be rubbed into the child’s belly when that is, in fact, a treatment for an ailment. While he’s there, David breaks the windup toy. David tells her to return the toy to the store, but she informs her that Merlin and Son do not have a return policy. He promises her that it won’t be a big deal and promises to exchange it in the morning for her when she says being the son of the owner means that he could return it for a grand piano.

David tries to help Polly feed the baby the modern way.

The next morning, he shows up in disguise, a hat, and sunglasses. When his attempts to exchange the toy are thwarted, David decides to make the exchange himself, going to the toy department and pocketing a replacement Donald Duck. Freddie sees what he thinks is a shoplifter and tackles David. When David demotes Freddie for doing that, Freddie promises revenge, since he knows where the bodies are buried.

David, incognito, tries to return a broken toy to his own store.

Having become obsessed with Polly and Johnnie, David has neglected to call his girlfriend, Louise (June Wilkins), to confirm their New Year’s Eve date. She tells him she’s going without him. Not wanting to go stag, David sees the Donald Duck toy and thinks of Polly. He shows up at her apartment and invites her to go with him. He has her go ask the landlady to watch the baby while he calls the store to put together an outfit for Polly to wear.

David's girlfriend, Louise (June Wilkins), disses him for a New Year's Eve Party.

When they arrive at the party, David tells everyone that Polly is Swedish and cannot speak any English. All the men are gaga over her and she dances all night with other men, missing all the food and frustrating David. Hunger wins out over the fun she’s having and the two start to leave. But Louise tries to get in one last dig at Polly, telling David in front of her that Polly’s “not bad for a fill in. Personally, I’d just as soon go stag.” To which Polly quips, “You could too with those shoulders.” David laughs hysterically.

Polly pretends to be Swedish so she won't have to speak to his friends.

David and Polly are out on the street and get pulled into a crowd ready to celebrate the new year. But they get separated when the clock strikes midnight and they have to fight through the crowd to kiss. When David takes her home he declares it’s midnight in Chicago and kisses her again. But she pulls back when he asks if she wants to stay up until it’s midnight in Los Angeles.

Polly and David are about to kiss at midnight when the crowd pulls them apart.

David asks her to go for a drive the next day, Sunday, but Polly’s worried about the cold air on the baby. When she says they’ll be in the park all day, David is non-committal. Back in her apartment, Polly talks to Johnnie, telling him that she thinks David likes her but doesn’t like the baby much. She is really taken with the child and promises no one will come between them.

As David and his father are on their way to church, a boy delivers a note from Freddie hinting that David is the father of a baby. After church, David goes for a walk to the park to see Polly and Johnnie. J.B. has his chauffeur follow them. J.B. moves with some trepidation, asking Polly if he can hold the baby if he’s really careful. She lets him. J.B. is overjoyed when he hears the baby is called Johnnie, which he assumes is after him.

Both Polly and David are puzzled by J.B.’s reaction to the baby. J.B. informs David that they will talk about it when he gets home. Slowly, both Polly and David realize that J.B. thinks the baby is David’s.

J.B. Merlin (Charles Coburn) follows David to the park, thinking Johnnie is his son.

At breakfast the next morning, J.B. tells David that he’ll take the baby away from Polly unless David marries her. Even though David goes to tell Polly of his father’s intention, he tells her that he doesn’t want a family, Polly telling David to leave and to tell her father to leave her alone.

J.B. delivers an ultimatum to David.

Rather than give up the baby, Polly tells Mrs. Weiss that she wants to move away. Mrs. Weiss convinces her son, Jerome (Leonard Penn), to pretend to be her husband. Meanwhile, David goes to Freddie asking him to pretend to be the boy’s father in exchange for a promotion.

Polly and Jerome arrive first and have J.B. convinced of the baby’s parentage when David shows up with Freddie. But J.B. doesn’t care who the father is, he is the grandfather. Polly flees. When David shows up at her apartment, Mrs. Weiss claims not to know where she is, even though she’s hiding her. J.B. arrives and joins in the hunt. They are almost convinced Polly has fled until the windup Donald Duck gives her away.

David declares that he is in love with Polly and baby John. He tells his father that he is the father of the child and plans to marry Polly that night, all the while still believing Polly is the child's mother.

David proposes to Polly still believing she's Johnnie's mom.

As much fun as she appeared to have on screen, according to then RKO Production Chief Pandro Berman, Rogers did not want to do the picture and was suspended for her refusal. And making the film only made it worse, as Rogers supposedly hated the finished film as well.

I can only imagine why Rogers might not have wanted to do the film, but for me, it would have been the premise which seems odd and almost cruel. Forcing a woman, through intimidation, to raise a baby that is not hers seems like the grounds for a lawsuit rather than the premise for a Romantic Comedy. But once you get past that, the movie does sort of pull it off in the end. There does seem to be genuine chemistry between Niven and Rogers and the movie has several laugh-out-loud moments. One of my favorites was the scene in the park where it takes both Polly and David a beat to realize his father thinks David is the father of the baby.

And I might be alone having problems with the premise as the movie was actually nominated for an Academy Award for Best Story. And the story would later be remade as a musical, Bundle of Joy (1956), starring Debbie Reynolds, Eddie Fisher, and Adolphe Menjou. Upon its release, Bachelor Mother was a success, RKO’s top grosser of the year, earning the studio a profit of $827,000, so perhaps the premise wasn’t as unbelievable to audiences at the time as it might seem today.

It is interesting to note that the appearance of Donald Duck, in toy form, isn’t as out of line as it might seem, but rather product placement of sorts. Before Disney became the behemoth we know today, they didn’t distribute their own movies. From 1936 to 1954, RKO handled the distribution of all Disney features and shorts, including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), which, until Gone With The Wind (1939), was the highest grossing film of all time, not to mention the first animated feature from Disney studios.

Ginger Rogers would make about 73 films in her career, including the eight films she made with Fred Astaire at RKO. They would be reunited for a ninth film, The Barkleys of Broadway (1949), but at MGM. While we associate her with RKO, she made films at Paramount, Warner Bros., Monogram, Fox, Universal, and MGM. She would win an Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Kitty Foyle in the film of the same name, released in 1940. She also appeared in Billy Wilder’s first film, The Major and the Minor (1942), as well as Storm Warning (1951) and Monkey Business (1952) to name a few.

Niven would go on from here to have a great career. Soon after this film was released, Niven would leave acting to fight for his home country in WWII. Resuming his career in 1946, Niven would star in such films as The Bishop’s Wife (1947), Around the World in 80 Days (1956), Separate Tables (1958), The Pink Panther (1963) and Casino Royale (1967) to name a few. He would win an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Major David Angus Pollock in Separate Tables.

Charles Coburn is one of those actors that appears often in movies in the 30's, 40's and 50's. Some of his memorable roles include such films as Vivacious Lady (1938), also opposite Ginger Rogers; Edison, the Man (1940); The Lady Eve (1941); Kings Row (1942); Rhapsody in Blue (1945); Monkey Business, again with Rogers; and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). Usually playing someone's father, his character usually came around before the movie was over. He began his career acting with his wife, Ivah Wills and moved to Los Angeles after her death in 1937. He would win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Benjamin Dingle in The More the Merrier, based on an original story by Garson Kanin.

Kanin, the director of Bachelor Mother, seems to flourish with unbelievable storylines, see My Favorite Wife (1940). Kanin, who began his career as an actor, is perhaps best remembered as a writer and co-writer of screenplays, including the story for The More the Merrier, two of the Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy films: Adam's Rib (1949) and Pat and Mike (1952) and the screenplay for Born Yesterday (1950), which itself is based on his own stage play. One of his writing partners was his wife Ruth Gordon, who would make a splash later in life as an actress in such films as Rosemary's Baby (1969); Harold and Maude (1971) and My Bodyguard (1980).

If you can get past the premise, then Bachelor Mother is really a pretty funny and enjoyable movie. Of course, I might be biased. Ginger Rogers usually makes any movie she’s in worth watching.

To read reviews of other Christmas films, please see our Christmas Review Hub.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance DLC Story 02 - Blade Wolf

Spoiler Warning: Due to the nature of this DLC, there will be unmarked spoilers regarding the events of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. You have been warned.

Since I’ve reviewed the first DLC story for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Jetstream, it’s only natural that I look at the second one, Blade Wolf. Like the previous story, the idea behind Blade Wolf is that we get to know more about its title character, in this case what life was like for Blade Wolf, aka LQ-84i, before Raiden came along and freed him from Desperado. Once again, the reason I’m going over this now is because recently I discovered that it was made free (I slip up every so often when it comes to news about stuff). Blade Wolf runs into some of the same problems as Jetstream, in that a lot of it is recycled, however, it actually makes more of an effort to stand out from the main game.

Before the events of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Blade Wolf was a robotic canine with the name LQ-84i, suggesting that he had advanced AI compared to the other LQ-84 robots in the PMC. At the point in time the DLC takes place, he is to go on a mission with Khamsin (the desert storm, which continues Desprado’s wind-based naming convention), but Mistral wants to give LQ-84i VR training to not only prove that he is capable of the mission, but also to try and make him more subservient. As he goes through each training exercise however, LQ-84i wants to obtain something that he’s never had: freedom; he learns just how far he is willing to go to experience it for the first time.

He is also very capable of kicking ass.

The events of this DLC turned out to be better written than Jetstream, which is a huge step up in fleshing out a rather unique character. Blade Wolf’s backstory is easier to empathize with, since he is a thinking machine yet unable to know what certain concepts are like to his rather limited world. Mistral’s treatment of him is somewhat standard villain stuff, but when you see LQ-84i take control of his own life for the first time, and fight for it, it makes him a character worth rooting for, making you wonder if he’ll finally feel freedom and get to keep it. However, the main problem with the story is that Khamsin, the final boss, feels underdeveloped (although the Metal Gear Wiki seems to state otherwise). I hardly knew anything about him before, during or after the fight with him, but then again he’s not really the highlight of this DLC; he’s simply someone from Desperado forced to try and kill you. There’s indication that the story goes into the Abkhazian Coup from the beginning of the parent game, creating a much better transition than Jetstream, which simply ended with Sam suddenly in Abkhazia.

Once again, a lot of the Blade Wolf DLC is recycled from Raiden’s campaign. However there is a surprising amount of work put in an attempt to feel different. About half of the story is LQ-84i going through VR training, which allows for the opportunity to do more than just fuse a few levels together and shove as many enemies in it as possible. Indeed, the levels flow much like how a series of missions would and there is actually a very interesting 3D platforming segment at the end of the training that requires some different skills than slaughtering everyone in sight, although there is a lot of that. Blade Wolf has more of a stealth approach, granting bonuses for Hunt Kills, meaning you sneak up behind the enemy and dispatch them with a quick thrust of his chainsaw. It’s still very likely that you’ll get into combat, but the fact that you can approach a situation more than one way is a sign that they were sticking truer to how the main game worked. When you do get in a skirmish, it’s actually a bit fun. Controlling LQ-84i is more varied from Raiden due to the difference in body type and the sorts of attacks he was designed for. In times when the chainsaw isn’t in use, you can use heat knives as a sub-weapon, the only one in the DLC actually, which shows effort in staying true to the depiction of the character in the parent game. In general it was just very interesting to watch the animation and see just how much more unique of a character LQ-84i is from Raiden in every way.

During the final act of the campaign, you end up having to dispatch quite a few enemies via stealth or head-to-head combat, but unlike Jetstream there aren’t any recycled bosses. In fact, it’s a little refreshing that the final boss, Khamsin, is a very original sequence that takes skill and cunning to successfully get through in one piece. The fight is very well constructed and the only real shame is that you have to play through the entire DLC just to fight him again (also you can only fight him as LQ-84i).

Khamsin (right) is one of the most original things in the DLC.

Other high marks would be the voice acting and music. Mistral and Blade Wolf/LQ-84i show off how fitting the voice actors are for them and Khamsin has a pretty good performance behind him. I’ve always liked the music of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and continued to do so throughout Blade Wolf, including the DLC-exclusive tracks and remixes.

Blade Wolf is a bit of DLC definitely worth playing through. The way the story ties into the main game is interesting and Blade Wolf is an interesting character (especially one to base an entire campaign off of). Some things are the same from the parent game, but there is a lot more effort put into making the campaign feel very different, even if one section is just a mirror of what Raiden goes through, and overall it’s a very fun experience. Those who already have Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance are encouraged to try this out, especially if they felt burned by Jetstream, as this will almost certainly wash away the feeling of sameness from that campaign, In general, after playing through something that felt very much the same as its source, it felt really good to play something completely different.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Stubs – Indianapolis Speedway


Indianapolis Speedway (1939) Starring: Ann Sheridan, Pat O’Brien, John Payne, Gale Page. Directed by Lloyd Bacon. Screenplay by Sig Herzig, Wally Klein. Story by Howard Hawks. Produced by Hal B. Wallis, Jack L. Warner. Run Time: 82 minutes. Black and White. U.S. Action, Drama, Sports.

1939 is called by many film historians and fans the Golden Year for Hollywood films. After all, in one year the studios released: Gone With The Wind (adjusted for current dollars, the biggest film ever released), The Wizard of Oz, Stagecoach, Wuthering Heights, Dark Victory, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Of Mice and Men, Ninotchka, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Gunga Din, Dodge City, The Women, Another Thin Man, Destry Rides Again and Indianapolis Speedway. Okay, before you do your best rendition of the Sesame Street standard “One of These Things (Is Not Like the Others)” I know Indianapolis Speedway doesn’t belong in the list of great Hollywood films of 1939.

However, a list of fifteen or so classics doesn’t come close to the entire output of the major studios at the time. "A" pictures were few and far between as the Majors pushed a movie out their front gates and into the theaters at the rate of about one per week. Considering there were seven Majors (MGM, Warner Bros., Paramount, Universal, Columbia, Fox and RKO) at the time that is over 300 films a year. Most of that output by necessity were B pictures. Typically, a B movie had a fairly low budget, a short shooting schedule and didn’t get a lot of publicity when released.

With the coming of sound, many of the independent exhibitors changed their presentation model. They dropped live acts and a broad variety of shorts before a single featured film. A new programming scheme developed that would become standard practice: a newsreel, a short and/or a serial, and a cartoon, followed by a double feature. Since the majors’ clearance rules favored affiliated theaters getting first access to top quality films, showing two features allowed theaters to promote quantity rather than quality. The practice of pairing films with different subject matter “balanced” the program, ensuring that a customer could count on seeing something of interest regardless of what was on the bill. All the major studios established B units to provide films for this expanding second-feature market, as well as newsreel, shorts and cartoon units. In addition to the Majors there were also other studios like Republic, Grand National and Monogram which also produced films of B or less quality. 

Block booking also became a standard business practice. In order for a theater to get access to a studio's A pictures, the theaters had to rent the company's entire output for a season. B films were rented at a flat fee (rather than the box office percentage basis of A films). These flat rates virtually guaranteed the profitability of every B movie. Movies were rent sight unseen, or what is called blind bidding. This practice freed the majors from worrying about their Bs' quality. At the time the five largest studios: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount Pictures, Fox, Warner Bros., and RKO Radio Pictures were part of large corporations with sizable theater chains, all which helped the studios’ bottom lines.(Warner Bros., the studio responsible for Indianapolis Speedway, would famously shut down its B unit in October 1941, to concentrate on making A pictures exclusively.)

Shot in about a month with two still rising stars on the Warners lot: Ann Sheridan, once known as the Oomph Girl and Pat O'Brien. Sheridan had already appeared in several notable films by 1939, including Angels With Dirty Faces (1938) with James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart and the aforementioned Dodge City with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. She would make notable appearances in The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942) and King’s Row (1942) for which she received top billing over co-stars Robert Cummings, Ronald Reagan and Betty Field. In 1949, she starred opposite Cary Grant in I Was a Male War Bride. Her career would slow down in the 1950’s and she died in 1967 after starring in a western-themed TV series Pistols ‘n’ Petticoats which aired for one season.

Ann Sheridan in a publicity photo from 1939.
Pat O’Brien had up until then made a career out of being James Cagney’s friend in such films as Here Comes the Navy (1934), Devil Dogs of the Air (1935), The Irish in  Us (1935), Ceiling Zero (1936), Boy Meets Girl (1938) and Angels with Dirty Faces. Cagney and O’Brien had met in 1926 and would remain lifelong friends. O’Brien began acting in films in Honor Among Lovers (1931) and his career would continue until the 1950’s, though he would appear in a few films in the 1960’s and 70’s. His last film appearance was also Cagney’s, Ragtime (1981). O’Brien might best be known for his starring role in the bio-pic Knute Rockne, All American (1940), which also starred Reagan as George “win one for the Gipper” Gipp.

Pat O'Brien (l) made nine films in total with James Cagney (r).
Here they are in Angels with Dirty Faces (1938).
Indianapolis Speedway tells the story of two brothers who are race car drivers. Joe Greer (O’Brien) is a three time Indy winner and works hard to make a better life for his kid brother, Eddie (John Payne). Joe assumes Eddie has been going to college until he comes home to visit his father (Granville Bates) and finds Eddie has been working in their father’s garage building a race car. Eddie wants to follow in his brother’s footsteps, or tire tracks, if you will. But Joe knows the dangers of racing and wants Eddie to finish college and get a “soft” job.

Publicity still showing Granville Bates (c) with his movie
 sons Joe (Pat O'Brien) and Eddie (John Payne).
Joe tries to discourage Eddie at an exhibition race, but can’t. Even when Joe thinks Eddie has gone back to school, Eddie follows him out to Los Angeles, where Joe lives. Beating Joe’s train into town, Eddie drives to, Lee Mason’s (Gale Page), Joe’s girlfriend, apartment which is in the same building as Joe’s. While he’s there, he meets Lee’s roommate, Frankie Merrick (Ann Sheridan). Eddie convinces Joe to let him race as long as he promises to continue studying at night and return to college after a summer on the race car circuit.

Joe disapproves of the relationship between Eddie and Frankie Merrick
(Ann Sheridan). Lee Mason (Gale Page), Joe's girlfriend looks on far left. 
While hanging around L.A., Eddie becomes infatuated with Frankie, but Joe will have none of that. Frankie in Joe’s eyes is a gold digger. Even though Frankie has no designs on Eddie, she seeks him out to make Joe mad. But it turns out that she falls in love with Eddie and he with her.

When Joe finds out about the romance on the eve of a big race, he first confronts Frankie, but when Eddie insists he loves Frankie, the two brothers get into a public fist fight. Joe fires Eddie on the spot and breaks up with Lee for not stopping the relationship. Eddie has already met Duncan Martin (William Davidson), a rival racing car manufacturer and sponsor who has already offered to take Eddie on.

One of the action sequences with Pat O'Brien behind the wheel in Indianapolis Speedway
The two brothers go head to head in the big race. Joe enlists his best friend and relief driver, Spuds Connors (Frank McHugh), to help teach Eddie a lesson. Spuds tries to keep his car between the two brothers, but when Joe tries to pass Spuds, he accidentally catches Spuds’ car on fire, resulting in a fiery crash which burns Spuds alive.

Guilt-stricken, Joe gives Spud's widow, Martha (Grace Stafford) all the money he has and distraught, he quits racing. Meanwhile, Eddie marries Frankie and continues racing, winning race after race leading up to his driving in the Indianapolis 500 for Duncan Martin. Meanwhile, Lee is still interested in Joe and goes looking for him deciding Joe will likely be at the brickyard for the 500 race.

Joe is indeed going to the race, but having hit rock bottom, he is forced to hitchhike to the racetrack. Unable to find work, Joe sits in the stands to watch his brother compete. Meanwhile, Martin has offered Eddie a cushy job if he wins the race. Thing are seemingly going Eddie’s way, he’s leading the race, when his car has tire trouble. But Eddie refuses to pit. A tire tread breaks off and hits Eddie in the elbow, forcing him into the pits. A doctor examines him and won’t let Eddie get back in the race.

Lee convinces Joe to race in his brother’s place. Back then, the racer had a second person, a mechanic, in the car. Eddie lets Joe race his car and Eddie sits in as the mechanic. Together the brothers win the race, but the car has more tire trouble and crashes, injuring Joe. In the ambulance on the way to the hospital, Joe proposes to Lee and tells her the Greer brothers will have desk jobs from now on.

Indianapolis Speedway is squarely in the B picture category and a remake to boot, of The Crowd Roars (1932), itself a quickie film made to capitalize on two new stars. In the original James Cagney played the lead character Joe Greer and Joan Blondell played Anne Scott; a different name, but the same character as Frankie Merrick in Indianapolis Speedway. Ann Dvorak was Lee Merrick, changed to Lee Mason in the remake; Eric Linden appeared as Eddie Greer; Guy Kibbee as Pop Greer; and character actor Frank McHugh played Spuds Connors (hmm, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?). The original film was directed by Howard Hawks, one of the all-time Hollywood greats and his is the better known as well as the slightly better of the two films.

Jimmy Cagney and Joan Blondell star in The Crowd Roars (1932). But their characters weren't this chummy,
While Indianapolis Speedway does not deserve mention in the same breath as say The Wizard of Oz or Gone With the Wind, it is probably more typical of the movies of its day. A lot of action is squeezed into less than an hour and a half. The special effects feature rear projections and sped up playback. The writing, directing and acting are all pretty much utilitarian. No one was going to win any prizes for their work in this movie. This was made for keeping the pipeline full.

Entertaining, but nothing spectacular Indianapolis Speedway is not a film to seek out, but it is well worth watching if it comes on a cable channel near you, read that as TCM. This is indicative of the movies people went to see, in the days before television and probably a second choice when the line for Gone With the Wind or some other A picture was too long.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance DLC Story 01 – Jetstream

Spoiler Warning: Due to the nature of this DLC, there will be unmarked spoilers regarding the events of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. You have been warned.

While we wait for the eventual release of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, there’s an opportunity to look at more things Metal Gear. In this case, we will be looking at the DLC stories released for Metal Gear Rising: Revengance, more specifically the first one, which revolves around Jetstream Sam. Sam was a very interesting character in the main game, and an important one, as he is the one who drives Raiden to become stronger before taking down all of Desperado Enforcment, LLC. PMC and posthumously assists Raiden during the climactic battle with Senator Armstrong. With this DLC (which I finally got around to playing because I noticed it was free instead of “free in exchange for money” like before), the idea is that we finally learn how Sam became involved with Desperado and becomes one of MGR:R’s greatest antagonists. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot to say about that here.

As I explained, the idea is that we see what Samuel Rodrigues was like before he became affiliated with Desperado and what exactly he was doing before his fight with Raiden in the main game. Well, the answer is somewhat of a contrivance. Armstrong and Monsoon are in the main building of Desperado waiting for Sam, or Minuano as Monsoon first calls him, to show up since he is a prime candidate to join their PMC. Sam arrives on his motorcycle and, after a run-in with the cops, enters the sewers and makes his way through the building from the bottom up. And…that’s kind of it. Aside from the Codec calls Sam receives during the mission, that’s all we ever know about that. We don’t really even know that much more about him apart from a confirmation that he is Brazillian (Minuano refers to the cool Brazillian wind, thus continuing the wind theme naming of Desperado members). Sam is characterized as someone who travels all over the world dispensing justice like a vigilante, which actually sets up some parallels with Raiden, strengthened by him having certain tendencies mirroring Raiden during the story. I really wish there was more we could see or learn in this one to two hour adventure, but sadly I’m left hanging and wanting more.

Jetstream Sam has a few parallels with Raiden.

One thing that’s been noted, that I have to agree with here, is that every asset for Sam’s story is recycled from the main game. Levels, setpieces, enemies and bosses are all taken directly from Raiden’s campaign, the only really noticeable difference being the Depserado logo plastered on Metal Gear RAY; the other bosses Sam fights are a more aggressive Bladewolf and a similarly structured Senator Armstrong. They do manage to seamlessly connect the sewer, building and rooftop levels together into an interesting string of environments, but it doesn’t do much to reduce the feeling of déjà vu from playing. If there were one or two original sections thrown in then it would be more forgivable, but as it stands it feels more like playing through parts of Raiden’s story again.

Where Jetstream Sam and Raiden begin to differ a bit is the combat. Sam’s moveset is very similar to his rival’s in a lot of ways, but he does have a couple attacks that stand out. These are his famous quickdraw ability as well as a charge move that is surprisingly effective (Protip: Spam it against Bladewolf and Armstrong). His animations are also similar in some ways, but there are a lot of subtle differences that give the feeling you are actually playing as a different character, such as how Sam draws and retracts his sword or the way he runs. Also notable is that his overall style is like Raiden’s total offense, but Sam is focused a little more on the air and less on flash. Also, instead of having Augment Mode to see more deeply into the environment, Sam has the ability to taunt enemies to temporarily enrage them; taunting increases your score. This change suits his personality, but trying to find certain things was made a little harder as a result. Speaking of which, you can still find a lot of things in the environment, though items like the cardboard box and oil drum feel a little less useful thanks to the more action-oriented approach of Sam’s levels. You also have to find your upgrades manually, so you really have to look around if you want Sam to be strong enough to take down the enemies (Protip: You start with no upgrades every single time you play).

This actually sort of ties into a problem I have with the DLC: you must do everything in one shot. There’s no ability to pick a segment that you want to play, which means that if all you want to do is fight Armstrong, you have to start from the beginning every time. It’s not exactly easy either, since no matter what difficulty you pick, you’ll be faced with a good degree of challenge. Because of this, it’s also annoying to play the VR missions, which surprisingly will allow you to use any items (including Repair Nanopaste) that you’ve collected during normal play. Unfortunately, if you use any items, you don’t get them back, so you have to play at your own risk. However, the VR missions can only be accessed while you play through the entirety of Sam’s campaign, so if you want to try again, you have to suffer through the long grind to get to it and hope that you’re not too weak in the end. It may not be worth the trouble though, since four of the five missions are of the “kill every enemy in the room” variety and the last one is a platformer. While the last one is unique in its presentation, the lengths you have to go through to access it in the first place are just nuts.

Despite the differences, Jetstream Sam is kind of the same.

On the upside, the (recycled) music is great, including a DLC remix of one of the themes from the game. I also liked the voice acting, though Armstrong’s voice and Jetstream Sam’s delivery sounded a little off to me. I know they’re the same people behind the scenes, but still. The only one who didn’t sound off was Monsoon, who has a pretty good presence in the events.

As free DLC, Jetstream has some pretty cool ideas, but squanders them a bit through the mass recycling of scenery and gameplay. There are some small touches that show dramatic bursts of creativity, but, at least on consoles, there isn’t much incentive to keep playing the campaign, not even for the VR missions. There are some missed opportunities, especially in terms of story and the idea of being able to play as Sam during Raiden’s levels, so that bogs it down. In the end though, if you want to get more out of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance on consoles, this is a good way of doing it, if only to get a glimpse of what playing as Sam would be like.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Stubs - Gojira (1954)

Gojira (1954) Starring: Akira Takarada, Momoko Kōchi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura. Directed by Ishirō Honda. Screenplay by Ishirō Honda, Takeo Murata. Story by Shigeru Kayama, Produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka. Run Time: 96 minutes. Japan. Black and White. Science Fiction, Drama, Horror

Gojira aka Godzilla is perhaps one of the most famous films to come out of Japan. The giant monster would go on to star in 28 films produced by Toho Pictures. Originally brought to America in 1956, the original film was altered to add Raymond Burr, the future Perry Mason and Ironside, to the story while trimming nearly 16 minutes from the original’s run time. It was released here as Godzilla, The King of the Monsters where it was not only a success on the big screen, but would also become a staple on television.

It should come as no surprise that the film has been re-imagined by Hollywood, not once, but three times. Tri-Star took a stab at the story in 1996, moving the location to, where else, New York City and starring Matthew Broderick. The reception to this film was so poor both critically and more important, financially, that two planned sequels were scrapped.

In 2008, J.J. Abrams attempted to Nosferatu the Godzilla myth in Cloverfield. While the monster is not called Godzilla, it shares many of that monster’s characteristics, just as F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) was a Dracula film in all but name.

And there is a new version made by Legendary Pictures and released in May 2014 to a very large opening weekend. Directed by Gareth Edwards, this new version was made to depict the monster in a style faithful to the original Toho films.

So, before viewing the new Godzilla, Trophy Unlocked decided to go back to the original film, Gojira (1954), and see what that’s like.

Japan in the 1950’s was still recovering from being the only nation on earth to ever have a nuclear bomb dropped on them. A necessary action to end World War Two, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still had a devastating effect on the psyche of the nation. Add to that the incident of the Daigo Fukuryū Maru aka Lucky Dragon 5, a Japanese fishing boat that was contaminated by fallout from a U.S. hydrogen bomb test at Bikini Atoll, near the Marshall Islands. Fishing outside the declared danger zone, the test was for a bomb twice as big as announced and the Lucky Dragon 5, as well as other fishing boats, was caught unaware. All 23 fishermen onboard were diagnosed as having acute radiation syndrome.

At first the U.S. refused to disclose the composition of the fallout on grounds of national security, but went so far as to claim the crew of the Lucky Dragon 5 were on a spy mission for the Soviets who wanted to expose the crew and their catch to radiation to embarrass the U.S. and to gain intelligence. Eventually, the U.S. would pay victims’ families compensation equivalent to about $5500. The incident would give rise to an anti-nuclear movement in Japan. And it is in this environment that Gojira was made.

The film opens with an incident reminiscent of the Lucky Dragon 5, when a Japanese fishing boat is attacked by a flash of light near Odo Island and all communication is lost. Another ship is sent to investigate only to meet the same fate, but this time there are a few survivors.

The first ship to disappear doesn't know what hit them.

On Odo Island, a village elder tells everyone that the cause of the problem is a sea monster known as "Godzilla" and recalls how the villagers used to sacrifice girls to appease the giant sea monster. Word of the fishing boats disappearing and of Godzilla gets out and a helicopter arrives on the island with curious, but skeptical, reporters. Frightened natives perform a night-time ceremony to keep the monster away, but that night a torrential storm comes on shore, bringing with it something that causes death and destruction beyond storm damage.

Dr. Yamane (Takashi Shimura) leads the investigation into what is happening on Odo Island.

The next day, in Tokyo, Archeologist Kyohei Yamane (Takashi Shimura) suggests that investigators be sent to the island. On arrival, Yamane finds giant radioactive footprints, and a trilobite, a long thought to be extinct sea animal. When an alarm sounds, the villagers arm themselves with sticks and various weapons and run to the hills, only to be confronted by Godzilla, who is revealed to be an enormous dinosaur-like creature. After a quick skirmish, the villagers run for safety and Godzilla heads to the ocean.
That's not a rock formation. That's Gojira.

Yamane returns to Tokyo to present his findings and concludes that Godzilla was unleashed by a nuclear explosion. While it’s not stated, it is obvious the U.S. is to blame. Some want to conceal that fact, fearing international repercussions. But those who want the truth revealed prevail and Godzilla and its origins is announced to the public. Ships are sent with depth charges to try to kill the monster, but fail. Godzilla appears again, this time frightening patrons aboard a party boat, and causing nationwide panic.
While Officials appeal to Dr. Yamane for some way to kill the monster, he wants the monster kept alive and studied for scientific reasons. His belief is so strong that he banishes Hideto Ogata (Akira Takarada), a salvage sea captain in love with his daughter Emiko (Momoko Kōchi), from his house for expressing a contrary opinion.

Hideto Ogata's (Akira Takarada) plans to ask for Emiko's (Momoko Kochi) hand go awry when
 he disagrees with her father on how to handle Gojira and is banned from the house.

Meanwhile, Emiko decides it’s time to break off her arranged engagement to her father’s colleague, Daisuke Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata). But while she’s unable to break off the engagement, Serizawa does swear her to secrecy before giving her a demonstration of a secret experiment, which horrifies her.

Daisuke Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata) makes Emiko watch his experiment.

That night Godzilla attacks Tokyo. Though the attack is over quickly, there is much death and destruction. The next morning, the army constructs a line of tall electrical towers along the coast of Tokyo Bay that will send 50,000 volts of electricity through Godzilla, should he appear again. Civilians are evacuated from the city and put into bomb shelters.

Gojira chewing on a railroad passenger car.

Godzilla does indeed attack again the next day. He easily breaks through the electric fence, melting the wires with his atomic breath. A bombardment of shells from the army tanks has no effect. Godzilla continues his rampage until much of the city is destroyed and thousands of civilians are dead or wounded. Godzilla descends unscathed into Tokyo Bay, despite a squadron of fighter jets' last-ditch attack.

Gojira has no trouble getting through the electric fence.

The next morning finds Tokyo in ruins. Hospitals are overflowing with victims, including those with radiation poisoning. Witnessing the devastation, Emiko tells Ogata about Serizawa's secret Oxygen Destroyer, going into details about the device he’s created which disintegrates oxygen atoms and the organisms die of asphyxiation while accidentally creating a new energy source. She hopes that the two can persuade Serizawa to use it to stop Godzilla.

Tokyo in ruins after Gojira's attack.

When Serizawa realizes Emiko has betrayed his secret, he at first denies, then refuses and ends up giving Ogata a cut on his head during a fist fight. As Emiko treats Ogata's wound, Serizawa apologizes for his action, but he refuses to use the weapon on Godzilla, citing what could happen if his device was used as a weapon.

Then a newscast shows the devastation Godzilla has caused. Choirs of children are shown singing a hymn. Finally realizing he is the only best hope, Serizawa decides he will use the weapon once and to be sure no one can use it again, he burns his life's research for the good of humanity. Emiko breaks down and cries when she sees this, understanding that Serizawa will sacrifice more than his life's work to stop Godzilla.

Serizawa decides the only way to stop Godzilla is to use his Oxygen Destroyer device.

A navy ship takes Serizawa to plant the device in Tokyo Bay. When it is disclosed that Serizawa has no experience with diving gear, Ogata decides to go down with him. Together they descend into the water, where they find Godzilla at rest at the bottom. Ogata returns to the surface as Serizawa activates the device, watching Godzilla die before cutting off his oxygen cord so that the secrets of the Oxygen Destroyer will die with him. A dying Godzilla surfaces and lets out a final roar before sinking to the bottom where he completely disintegrates, save for his skeleton.

Although the monster is gone, those aboard ship mourn the unexpected loss of Serizawa. Godzilla's death has come at a terrible price and Dr. Yamane believes that if mankind continues to test nuclear weapons, another Godzilla may appear again one day. At the bottom of the ocean, a giant beating heart is seen, no doubt Godzilla’s kept alive by the new energy source created by the Oxygen Destroyer.

At 96 minutes, Gojira is surprisingly slow paced with the monster on screen for less time than one would have expected. The story is somewhat burdened with the love triangle between Ogata, Serizawa and Emiko, but that only makes Serizawa’s sacrifice at the end that much more powerful. Having lost the love of Emiko, he has decided that life is not worth living and takes his secrets of the Oxygen Destroyer with him to his watery grave.

The storyline seems somewhat reminiscent of King Kong (1933), another prehistoric monster franchise that keeps being remade. But unlike King Kong, who is brought to civilization and treats the city like his own jungle, Godzilla brings the fight to civilization. While mankind’s meddling has brought him life, Godzilla seems to be taking revenge on humanity for doing just that.

For the most part the special effects are very low tech. To no one’s surprise, Godzilla is just an actor (Haruo Nakajima) in a rubber suit and the city and trains are obvious models spliced with real footage. The most memorable effect is the roar of the monster, which is by now as iconic as Tarzan’s yell.

A behind the scenes look at the making of Gojira.

It is interesting to note that at the time, the U.S. military had a very strong presence in Japan, and still does, but they are never asked to help with the fight. Japan is taking on Godzilla on its own. Perhaps this is part of the anti-American sentiments from the Lucky Dragon 5 incident and U.S. government cover up.

A common complaint with foreign language films is having to read the subtitles and while that was part of the Gojira viewing experience I would have to say there weren’t enough subtitles as none of the credits, or whatever was written on the screen at the beginning, was translated, at least in the version I watched. We are very used to audio cues, dialogue, etc. to help tell the story that reading lines at the bottom can take away from the visuals on the rest of the screen. But with its cheap effects, maybe the less you see the better.

Having just seen the original Japanese film, I’m wondering if the shorter run time of the Americanized-Raymond- Burr film and the English language exposition his character, reporter Steve Martin, provides would make it a more enjoyable experience or at least easier to follow. The original film suffers not from too much story or cheap effects, but by too little monster on the screen.