Saturday, June 25, 2016

Stubs - International House (1933)

International House (1933) Starring Peggy Hopkins Joyce, W.C. Fields, Rudy Vallee, Stuart Erwin, George Burns, Gracie Allen, Sari Maritza, Col. Stoopngale and Budd, Cab Calloway and his Orchestra, Baby Rose Marie, Bela Lugosi, Lona Andre, Sterling Holloway, Franklin Pangborn, Edward Breese, Lumsden Hare and The Girls in Cellophane. Directed by Edward Sutherland. Screenplay by Francis Martin and Walter DeLeon. Produced by Emanuel Cohen (uncredited). Black and White. USA. Run time 69 minutes. Comedy

Sometimes an innocuous film has more going on than the results on the screen would imply. Such is the case with Paramount Picture’s International House (1933). If you’re a W.C. Fields fan, this is the sound film that finally made him a star in Hollywood. And the film and its vulgar humor may have been one of the last straws for the Hays Office, which felt the producers of the film had pulled a fast one on them, but more on that later.

The film itself is less movie and more a showcase for radio acts under the pretense of demonstrating a new invention, television, called the radioscope by its inventor Dr. Wong (Edmund Breese). This is not the TV we’ve all grown to love and hate, but rather a very mechanical machine that allows for the broadcast of both picture and sound from anywhere in the world without the need for a camera. 

Seeing the potential for millions, companies from all over the world send representatives to bid on the machine. Wong is especially interested in the American Electric Company, which is sending Tommy Nash (Stuart Erwin) because of his familiarity with the country and culture. But the trains from Shanghai to Wuhu are out and Tommy is going to have to drive. Peggy Hopkins Joyce (Peggy Hopkins Joyce) also wants to get to Wuhu, not so much for the invention, but because there will be millionaires there bidding on the device and she’s interested in marrying one of them. She convinces Tommy to let her ride with him, even though it’s a 24 hour trip and they will have to spend a platonic night together on the road.

Also waiting in Wuhu is Tommy’s twice left at the altar fiancĂ©e Carol Fortescue (Sari Maritza), who is not happy to hear about the travel arrangements after the fact. Hopkins Joyce has a well-deserved reputation, more on that later as well.

Additionally, there are representatives from other nations, Russian General Petronovich (Bela Lugosi), who is also one of Peggy’s jealous ex-husbands; German Herr Von Baden (Harrison Greene); and British interests are represented by Sir Mortimer Fortescue (Lumsden Hare), who is also Carol’s father.

Russian General Petronovich (Bela Lugosi) plays one of Peggy Joyce Hopkin's ex-husbands.

Throw into the mix Professor Henry Quail (W.C. Fields), who has no one’s interest, other than his own, in mind. The Professor, a heavy drinker, flies to the conference in an autogyro, aka gyroplane, though his original destination was not Wuhu, China, but rather Kansas City.

Professor Henry Quail (W.C. Fields) has a glass of beer before flying his autogyro.

The demonstration is to take place at International House, a hotel run by a daffy manager (Franklin Pangborn). While most of the staff seems to be Chinese girls (Bo-Ling and Bo-Ching), he does have an American doctor on staff, Doctor Burns (George Burns), who has a new nurse, Nurse Allen (Gracie Allen). While these two get involved when Tommy breaks into measles after he decides to tie the knot with Carol, most of the time they are recreating their vaudeville routine.

Gracie Allen as Nurse Allen is exasperatingly vapid in International House.

Gracie is exasperatingly vapid, the basis of their humor which they managed to build into successful radio and television series. While I would never consider Gracie to be vulgar, one of her lines of dialogue would come under scrutiny from the Hays Office. In one of her scenes, ditzy Gracie sits down on a stethoscope and says she can hear her heart beat. What might sound like a non sequitur Garcie-ism to modern audience, was one of six scenes the Hays Office advised Paramount producer A.M. Botsford to be careful with.

Botsford wrote back, “We are very much perturbed by the suggested deletions which we feel eliminate considerably comedy, and comedy which is, we believe, entirely innocuous. The stethoscope gag by Gracie Allen has no element of offense to it. Gracie Allen is a dumb girl who makes all kinds of mistakes constantly and the very way the scene is played cannot, we believe, cause offense to the most squeamish person in the audience. It is merely funny.

Meanwhile, Petronovich uses Tommy’s measles as an excuse to have the entire hotel quarantined, but as his luck would go, he ends up being locked out.

When he arrives, Quail drives to the hotel in an American Austin car that is stored in the autogyro’s cargo hold. Even though the hotel is under quarantine, Quail forces his way in. Even though there is no room at the hotel for him, like a bull in a china shop, Quail wrecks havoc, first disrupting the orderly front desk and then searching the hotel until he finds an unlocked room, which he moves into. The room he picks belongs to Hopkins Joyce, but the two manage to avoid seeing each other until Quail’s snoring wakes her up. Quail makes a run for it when the members of the hotel staff knocks on her door inquiring if she’s okay. But Quail’s antics are not lost on Petronovich, who has been watching from his room and takes a shot at the fleeing Quail, though he only manages to hit his cigar.

Professor Quail and Peggy Hopkins Joyce don't seem to notice each other.

Quail ends up disrupting one of Dr. Wong’s product demonstrations and ends up sharing Dr. Wong’s room.

Quail has a little bracer the next morning after spending the night in Dr. Wong's room.

Wong’s is trying to use a six day bicycle race from New York to demonstrate his radioscope, but he ends up showing pretty much everything but. Instead we are treated to vignettes from such talent as Col Stoopnagle and Budd (F. Chase Taylor and Budd Hulick) a popular radio comedy team at the time; Rudy Vallee, a huge singing star during the 20’s and 30’s and who would appear in 33 films; Baby Rose Marie, whom we all may know better as Rose Marie or Sally Rogers, the character she played on The Dick Van Dyke Show; and Cab Calloway and this Orchestra, a jazz singer closely associated at the time with the Cotton Club in New York and, along with Duke Ellington, responsible for breaking the colored barrier in network radio.

Of the performances, three make an impression. Vallee’s is more because his is the one Quail disrupts and he, through the power of the radioscope, tells him to stop. Baby Rose Marie, making her feature debut at 10, was one of those child singers with a grown up voice. "My Bluebird's Singing the Blues," one of three songs written for the film by lyricist Leo Robin and composer Ralph Rainger, is by far the strongest of the three. Marie had been singing professionally since the age of three, was an old hat by now and had been a radio star on NBC for five years by the time she appeared in this film. She had even starred in one of the early Vitaphone sound shorts, "Baby Rose Marie the Child Wonder" (1929), before sound became all the rage. Her singing of a torch song has the brassy quality of an older performer and it is easy to see why she would be a star at such a young age as well as continue to be one for years.

Rose Marie (here billed as Baby Rose Marie) makes her feature film debut.

The other performance is Cab Calloway’s and mostly for the subject matter; “Reefer Man” a 1932 song written by Andy Razaf (lyrics) and J. Russel Robinson (music) was the sort of thing that would soon disappear from Hollywood movies thanks to the Production Code. Sample lyrics:

Man, what's the matter with that cat there?
Must be full of reefer
Full of reefer?
Yeah man
You mean that cat's high?
Sailing, Sailing

Sailing lightly
Get away from here
Man is that the reefer man?
That's the reefer man
I believe, he's losin' his mind
I think, he's lost his mind

If he trades you dimes for nickels
And calls watermelon's pickles
Then you know
You're talkin' to that reefer man

Cab Calloway leads his band in a rendition of "Reefer Man".

The third composition from Ralph Rainger to be featured in the film, "She Was a China Tea-cup and He Was Just a Mug," is notable only because the production number features Sterling Holloway as the Chorus King (aka Coffee Mug) and Lona Andre as the Chorus Queen (aka China Tea Cup). The number was featured in a floor show which preceded what was supposed to be Dr. Wong’s first demonstration of his invention on the hotel’s rooftop garden restaurant.

Holloway was a character actor noted for his red hair and high pitched voice and was still in the early stages of his career. Between 1932 and 1934 he would appear in over 30 movies, many times in small roles. I don’t know if his appearance here is typical of his roles at the time, but from what I remember of his films, he is usually the comic relief as he is in International House. His partner in the routine, Andre, was also at the beginnings of her career. Just 18 in this film, Andre would go on to to star in several B films and would appear in nearly 50 films by the end of the decade. She is also known for setting a golf record for women in 1938, playing 156 holes of golf in 11 hours and 56 minutes on the Lake Norconian, California course.

Back to the film, after the quarantine is lifted, Tommy hurries to Dr. Wong to secure the patent. Petronovich, who has been locked out, storms around the hotel looking to kill whomever got the patent instead. He is enraged to find his ex- in the car with Quail, along with Tommy and Carol.The movie ends with Professor Quail in his American Austin and passengers driving through the hotel before getting back to his autogyro and taking off.

Petronovich is not happy when he finds Peggy, his ex-, in Quail's car.

The dialogue at the end was very pre-code as well:

            Peggy: I’m sitting on something.
Professor Quail: I lost mine in the stock market.
            When she gets up from her seat, she has been sitting on a box of kittens.
            Professor Quail (looking between her legs): My, what a cute little pussy!

That little bit of dialogue at the end is one example of the issues this film had with the Production Code. The Hays Office in fact felt like the studio had “pulled a fast one” by changing the scene. James B.M. Fisher, a Hays Office representative, wrote in a memo dated June 23, 1933, that in the version they were shown “it is my impression that he used the word, ‘cat,’ rather than ‘pussy’." 

But that wasn’t the end of it, Carl E. Milliken, Secretary of the MPPDA wrote to Joseph I. Breen at the Hays Office after a conversation he had with Ed Kuykendall, president of the Motion Picture Theatre Owners of America. Kuykendall, he wrote, wanted “an opportunity to tell the executives actually responsible for production in Hollywood what the average decent minded exhibitor thinks of some of their product and why." Milken called International House “vulgar and borders constantly on the salacious according to the comments of the public groups.”

Milken noted that even though the “west coast office required six deletions under the Code. The studio gave them an argument on all of them and they finally insisted upon only one [presumably the "pussy" line] ...This deletion was not made, as evidenced by the report of the reviewer who saw the print in New York....the dirty minded lout who put it in the picture knew perfectly well, however, what he was doing and undoubtedly felt he had gained something by getting away with it.” While the film was issued with a Code seal, line still intact, Paramount could not get a seal when they tried to re-release it in 1935 and again in 1950.

Controversy aside or because of it, the film was a success and Paramount signed its star, W.C. Fields, to a long-term contract as a result. I feel I’m in the minority, but I’m not a big fan of Fields. While he’s disruptive in a Harpo Marx sort of way, Marx’s antics come across more as a devious kid; Fields' actions seem like a mean, self-absorbed man. He’s cruel, not to be kind and generally obnoxious. I have not yet found the right film to become a fan.

But it’s really Peggy Hopkins Joyce that is the most fascinating person involved; not so much for her on-screen presence, but her off-screen persona. In International House, Hopkins Joyce is sort of playing herself, a gold digger out looking for her next millionaire husband. Married six times in her life, the first when she was still underage at 17, she had numerous affairs both while married and between engagements, of which she claimed there were fifty. She had expensive tastes and preferred her husbands to be wealthy. Her affairs were with the likes of producer Lee Shubert, W. Averell Harriman, a future Governor of New York, Prince Christopher of Greece and Denmark, Hiram Bloomingdale (son of Bloomingdale’s founder), Charlie Chaplin, and film producer Irving Thalberg. The stories she told Chaplin about her previous marriage were reportedly the basis for his film A Woman of Paris (1923).

Peggy Hopkins Joyce was practically playing herself in International House.

Just as Tom Lehrer would write the song “Alma” to celebrate the life and loves of Alma Maria Mahler Gropius Werfel, (she married in succession composer Gustav Mahler, architect Waltr Gropius, and novelist Franz Werfel), Peggy Hopkins Joyce was also celebrated in several songs, four alone by Cole Porter: "Why Shouldn't I?, "They Couldn't Compare to You", "Which" and "Let's Not Talk About Love" each mention her. Eddie Cantor’s “Makin’ Whoopee” written by Gus Kahn and Walter Donaldson, includes a stanza: "Take Peggy Joyce/With little voice/She soon became the nation's choice!/I tell you, buddy/She's made a study/Of makin' whoopee." The Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart song "I've Got Five Dollars" also sings her praises: "Peggy Joyce has a business/All her husbands have gold..."

Peggy left her second husband, Sherburne Hopkins, to pursue a career on stage, first in the Ziegfeld Follies, and later appeared in Shuberts' A Sleepless Night and in Earl Carroll's Vanities. Her romantic escapades, her jewelry and furs and her outlandish lifestyle made her a darling of the press. As an example, in 1920, while married to her third husband, J. Stanley Joyce, she drew a lot of attention by going on a one week $1 million shopping spree.

Even though when she was called "A Circe of the Cinema” when she arrived to make Skyrocket in 1926, she didn’t really take Hollywood by storm, as she appeared in only seven films. While International House was her last film and her first in seven years, she had at least achieved enough notoriety to be playing herself in a fiction film. That is a certain celebrity few reach and the fact that her name is unknown today demonstrates just how fleeting it is. It’s too bad that her on-screen performance doesn’t capture what must have been a considerable off-screen charm.

Little has been written about the film’s production, save for footage shot that reportedly showed filming during the devastating Long Beach Earthquake of 1933. It turns out that footage was faked later by Fields and the film’s director Edward Sutherland as a publicity stunt. Outside of that, and it’s not even in the film, it’s hard to see what influence if any Sutherland had over the film. There is no Sutherland touch, so to speak.

I have to suspect a good portion of the film, the vignettes with Rudy Valle, Cab Calloway and his orchestra, Baby Rose Marie and Colonel Stoopnagle and Budd were shot by a different director or directors as they were made at Eastern Service Studios, formerly Paramount's Astoria Studio in New York, rather than Hollywood.

Sutherland had actually directed Fields before in a silent film It’s the Old Army Game (1926), which co-starred actress Louise Brooks, who would become Sutherland’s wife from 1926 to 1928. Previously an actor, Sutherland made his film debut in Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914). He is best remembered though as a “comedic’ director, helming more than 50 films. To have made that many films Sutherland must have been considered good at his craft. Perhaps his humor doesn’t age all that well.

In their contemporary review, the New York Times stated: “At the Paramount they are dispensing humor by the shot-gun method, and it should be said at once that "International House" has some direct hits.” While International House is funny in places, fewer of the jokes seem to hit their mark now. Does anyone, for example, even know that when Fields remarks that his car, the Austin being the smallest car available in the U.S. at the time, had “belonged to the Postmaster General” is a pot shot at the diminutive Will H. Hays, the man responsible for enforcing the Production Code and a former Postmaster General for the U.S.?

International House is a relic of the past, after having seen it, I don’t know if I would do so again, at least not in its entirety. Controversies aside, much of the humor is a bit dated and you may find some of the jokes don’t resonate the way they might have in the early 1930s. But if you like W.C. Fields and his brand of humor, then you might want to check it out.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Finding Dory

Finding Dory (2016) Starring the voices of Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O'Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy. Directed by Andrew Stanton, Written by Andrew Stanton and Victoria Strouse. Produced by Lindsey Collins. Color. U.S.A. Run Time: 103 minutes. Animated. Comedy. Adventure.

Into every summer, a little sequel must fall and 2016 promises to be no different. Pixar, which has turned to making sequels almost as much as original stories, is back with a followup to Finding Nemo (2003). This time instead of a father, Marlon, looking for his son, Nemo, it's Dory looking for her own parents, played by Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy. If 13 years seems like a long time to wait, you're right, but in this case, the wait is almost worth it.

Now, the film has already opened to record numbers and will no doubt set some records along the way. It already has the largest opening for an animated film, so nothing I can say here will change anything, nor should it.

For the most part, the movie is really good. The animation is standard Pixar top-notch. The studio which set the standard for CGI animation continues to be its standard bearer, even under the Disney umbrella of companies. So there are no complaints there.

The voice acting, like in the predecessor, is also very good. I was worried going in that perhaps Ellen DeGeneres might have reached the saturation point with me. Since Finding Nemo, she has tried and become a television dynamo with one of the most successful daytime talk shows since the days of Oprah and she has tried, with varying results, to spread her brand into other genres, mostly reality, of TV. I remember her even before her film breakthrough being a very, very funny standup comedienne and the star of her own sitcom. Her Dory does not disappoint here, so I guess I haven't reached the saturation point with her yet.

Marlon (Albert Brooks) and Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) return from Finding Nemo.
Nemo is now voiced by Hayden Rolence; in the original he was voiced by Alexander Gould.

As I've written before, I'm a big fan of Albert Brooks and am always happy to see him, or in this case, hear him. His Marlon is pretty much the safe character as he was in Finding Nemo, cautious almost to a point.

Pixar has an innate ability to turn pretty much anyone into a successful voice actor, even people I wouldn't normally listen to; example Larry the Cable Guy from the Cars film franchise. In this case, Ed O'Neill, who sounds to me like he's summoning his inner J.K. Simmons, plays Hank, an East Pacific red octopus, stands out as one of the new characters. Like so many of the characters that populate this story, there is something wrong with him. In this case, Hank is not an octopus, as much as he's a "septopus", having previously lost one of his tentacles. There is also a near-sighted whale shark, Destiny (Kaitlin Olson); Bailey (Ty Burrell), a beluga whale who has lost his echolocation; Nemo (Hayden Rolence) with his "lucky" fin; and of course, Dory, who has lost her short term memory, to name a few.

Hank (Ed O'Neill) spends a lot of time out of the water in Finding Dory.

So, the animation and voice-acting are great, but it is the story that is the lesser of the three. To begin with there is not the same sense of magic that I felt from Finding Nemo. It's hard to put my finger on it, exactly, but it's just not the same, not quite as good. It doesn't help that the film seems to be filled more with contrivances than the first film. Of course, stories like this have to have them in order to work, but here they are just much more obvious. I don't want to say too much, don't want to give any of the plot away.

The film is right for children, pretty much avoiding the gross humor that now passes as family entertainment (I'm looking at you Angry Birds). If you haven't seen Finding Dory, then you should by all means do so. I'm not sure if you have to have seen Finding Nemo before you go. While this film refers to it, it doesn't necessarily rely on it and stands on its own. But there are moments, especially for those who stay through the credits, and everyone should, that will be enhanced if you have.

Like all Pixar films, there is a short that precedes it. This time around it's Piper, the story of a young Sandpiper chick that must overcome its fear of the ocean. The animation here is as about as realistic as it can be without being a live-action documentary. It is truly stunning to watch and shows just how far CGI animation has come. The story is cute if not somewhat predictable, but should not be missed.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Stubs – Up The River

Up The River (1930) Starring: Spencer Tracy, Claire Luce, Warren Hymer, Humphrey Bogart, Williams Collier Sr., Joan Lawes. Directed by John Ford. Screenplay by Maurine Watkins. Presented by William Fox. Run time 90 min. USA. Comedy, Drama, Crime

I recently received the Ford at Fox boxset as a Christmas present. 24 films on 21 discs including many of the great film director’s early classics, including two versions of the silent western The Iron Horse (1924), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), How Green Was My Valley (1941) and My Darling Clementine (1946), just to name a few. Of all those films, the first one I wanted to watch was a little known film called Up The River (1930).

My reason was mostly personal. I’m a big fan of Humphrey Bogart and this is the first feature in which he received credit. It is also the first credited film for another Hollywood heavyweight, Spencer Tracy. Add to that, this is the only film in which these two actors would appear in together over their long careers. Bogart wouldn’t come back to Hollywood in a big way until Petrified Forest (1936) and spent most of his career at Warner Bros. and Columbia Pictures. Tracy would be offered a long term contract right after the film and would make films at Fox (1930-1935) and MGM (1935-1955) before going independent for the remainder of his career. 

Like Bogart, Tracy had been on Broadway prior to making it in Hollywood. His first success had been in a George M. Cohan play, Yellow (1926). Even though the play received mixed reviews, Cohan liked Tracy and wrote a part specifically for him in his next play, The Baby Cyclone (1927) that proved to be a hit. Tracy continued the success with another Cohan play, Whispering Friends. He also replaced Clark Gable in the play Conflict before being scouted by Hollywood.

The coming of the talkies, as they were called then, led Hollywood to look to Broadway for potential stars. Some found fortune right away, like Tracy and some would have off and on flirtations before finding success, like Bogart. Others, like Claire Luce, who is also making her film debut here, would never really catch on in films.

Luce had been on Broadway since 1923 and returned there after making this film and worked with Fred Astaire on the original musical version of Gay Divorcee (1932). In his review of the musical, New York Times theater critic Brooks Atkinson noted "In the refulgent Claire Luce, Fred Astaire has found a partner who can match him step for step and who flies over the furniture in his company without missing a beat."  Astaire also found inspiration in Luce when choreographing the “Night and Day” dance routine. In his autobiography, Astaire wrote about Luce: "Claire was a beautiful dancer and it was her style that suggested to me the whole pattern of the "Night and Day" dance. This was something entirely different from anything Adele (his sister and dance partner) and I had done together. That was what I wanted, an entirely new dancing approach."

In fact, Astaire wanted her for the film version of the musical, but the studio, RKO, wanted another actress they had under contract, Ginger Rogers. Sadly, Luce’s musical career would come to an end during the London run of Gay Divorcee when she suffered a serious injury, damaging her hip in a fall during the table dance sequence.

Up The River is a Comedy Drama, it says so in the opening credits.

The film starts with a prison break, Saint Louis (Spencer Tracy) and Dannemora Dan (Warren Hymer) have escaped and come up to the getaway car. Saint Louis knows, what we will later learn, that Dan is a moron, so he takes the first opportunity to dump him, having him get out of the car to change a non-existent flat tire and then driving off and leaving him stranded.

Saint Louis (Spencer Tracy) and Dannemora Dan (Warren Hymer) make their prison escape.

Later, they have a chance encounter. Dan has found religion with the Brotherhood of Man, a Salvation Army-style group, and relates his story to a small crowd that gathers, attracted by the sound of the group’s marching band. At that moment, Saint pulls up in a nice car with two women. He walks up close and watches his ex-partner fumble his way through his speech. Saint Louis shouldn’t be surprised when Dan pops him one.

 Dan testifies about finding religion while Saint Louis looks on.

No surprise, but both men end up back in prison. Dan is already there when Saint Louis arrives with some fanfare. It happens to be the same day that a new crop of women prisoners are being received. Amongst them is Judy Fields (Claire Luce), who is being registered by Steve Jordan (Humphrey Bogart). While Judy thinks Steve is an employee, he is, in fact, a prisoner like her, but only days away from parole.

Steve Jordan (Humphrey Bogart) is a prison trustee smitten when he registers Judy.

There is an instant attraction between them and they relate to each other their stories. Judy, who is 21, was arrested for fraud, telling fortunes, but pointing victims to her partner, Frosby (Morgan Wallace), who sold them worthless stocks. Steve had been on his way to work in China, when he was arrested. (Problems with missing frames makes following some of the dialogue and storyline difficult to follow.) His family, in fact, thinks that he is in China and does not know of his imprisonment.

Saint Louis is a bit of a celebrity prisoner and wants to be treated like that, asking for a cell up high, with southern exposure and lots of sunlight, but the Warden (Robert Emmett O'Connor) will have none of that, and puts him in the regular population, in the same cell as Steve and two other men, Pop (William Collier Sr.), a baseball-obsessed old convict, and his old partner, Dan, who is not happy with the reunion.

Saint Louis makes a hero's entrance, but notices Judy (Claire Luce) as well.

Judy is assigned to tutor the Warden’s daughter, Jean (Joan Lawes), while Steve tries to communicate with her any way he can. One way is to pass notes in the hem of Mrs. Massey’s (Louise Mackintosh) dress. Mrs. Massey is a well-to-do social worker who cares for the prisoners, especially the men, the same way a mother treats a child. The prisoners, both men and women, pretend to appreciate her help.

Mrs. Massey (Louise Mackintosh), a social worker, gets
played by one of the prisoners she's trying to help.

Direct communication between the male and female inmates is forbidden, though they try to hide it by having conversations at common fences while facing away from one another. Steve and Judy have one such talk when he tells her that he’ll wait for her and wants her to join him back in New England.

Steve tells Judy that he'll wait for her to get out of prison.

Meanwhile, Frosby, who has learned from Judy that she wants to be with Steve and not with him, follows Steve back to New England. He asks the preacher to introduce him to the Jordans, including Steve, his mother (Edythe Chapman) and his sister Cynthia (Althea Henley). When he tells everyone that he and Steve have a mutual friend, Judy, Steve is naturally alarmed, but can’t stop his mother from inviting Frosby to dinner.

Steve pulls Frosby aside and is told that unless he helps him in a swindle, Frosby will tell his mother about his incarceration.

Back in prison, word gets back to Judy about Frosby’s plans. She tells Saint Louis, who promises her that he’ll take care of it. Using the annual prison talent show, sponsored by Mrs. Massey, Saint Louis and Dan make their escape, turning off the lights and dressing in drag.

Saint Louis learns from Judy that Frosby is blackmailing Steve.

They show up in Steve’s hometown, just as Steve is confronting Frosby, threatening him if he tries to swindle his mother. Steve brings Saint Louis and Dan home to meet his mother and sister and mother invites them to dinner. After dinner, a couple of local girls come over and invite all the men to accompany them on a hayride and they all go.

Steve introduces Saint Louis and Dan to his mother (Edythe Chapman) and his
 sister Cynthia (Althea Henley) when the escapees show up at his house.

Upon their return, they find that Frosby is just leaving Steve’s house. When he asks his mother, she informs him that she’s made an investment that she’s sure will set Steve and his sister up for life. The payment she made to Frosby was in negotiable Bonds.

Steve gets a gun and is about to confront Frosby when Saint Louis stops him. He tells him that he and Dan will take care of it for him. The two then break into Frosby’s office and take back the bonds. (Again, the bad print deletes some of the action at this point.) Frosby sees the two carrying his satchel and goes to his office and presumably finds that the bonds are gone.

Saint Louis convinces Steve to let him and Dan take care of Frosby.

After they deliver the bonds back to Steve, they inform him that they’re going back. Steve gives them some lines of poetry he copied to give to Judy, but on the train ride back, they lose it out the open door of the freight train they’re on.

Saint Louis and Dan on the frieght train back to prison.

They arrive back at the prison just in time to see Judy leaving on her parole. She’s still not sure that Steve is really serious about her and Saint Louis manages to convince her that he is.

Judy gets out on parole. We assume she goes to New England to be with Steve.

The two escapees are then allowed to play in an Inter-prison baseball game. Saint Louis is the pitcher and with the game already in progress, the home team is already down. Even the warden knows to delay punishment until after the game.

Saint Louis and Dan arrive back in prison in time to play in the big baseball game.

The film ends there with a lot of things left up in the air, but which we’ll have to assume work out in the end. Assuredly, Judy goes to New England, she marries Steve and they live happily ever after.

There are a lot of head scratchers about the story, including the co-ed prison that is necessary for the story. How else could Steve fall in love with Judy unless that was the situation? I don’t know a lot about the prison system in the U.S., but I’ve never seen a movie like this that had men and women sharing the same prison. This seems like a pure plot invention.

Also, in the closing baseball game, there is a real zebra that is presumably the team’s mascot. Zebras were, and still are, exotic animals and the thought that a prison in the Midwest would actually have a live one on hand is a little hard to believe. The only reason would be for comedic effect.

But the topper for me is that the warden’s daughter, who has to be all of seven or eight, is allowed to walk by herself down on the men’s yard and interact with the prisoners. No matter when the film was made, that seems like a very dangerous idea. (The actress who played Jean, Joan Marie Lawes, was in fact the daughter of Warden L. Lawes, who was at the time the warden at Sing Sing prison, so maybe there was some truth in this portrayal.)

For the little bit of plot, we’re treated to a lot of filler, including some fairly complete acts at the prison talent show. There is even a minstrel segment of two men in blackface telling jokes and playing homemade instruments.
The acting overall isn’t bad, but there isn’t much more than stereotypes here. Saint Louis, as played by Tracy, seems like a pretty fleshed out character, but his motives seem a little specious at times, especially escaping to help out a friend like he does. In real life, prisoners don’t go back willingly to prison, the way Saint Louis and Dan do.

What little laughs there are in the film are supplied by Warren Hymer, who plays Dan, who is tested to be a moron. One of the better moments is when Dan is ripping up a piece of paper and ends up with a very intricate lacey doily looking piece when he’s done. Hymer was near the beginning of a career in which he would appear in 129 films, including Sinners’ Holiday (1930), Kid Millions (1934), San Francisco (1936), You Only Live Once (1937) and Meet John Doe (1941).

Dan rips up a piece of paper into a fancy doily. The other prisoner, Pop (William Collier Sr.) looks unamused.

Steve, Bogart’s character, also seems pretty three dimensional. In retrospect, the fact that he’s playing a prisoner seems to be right down his alley. Bogart played a lot of petty criminals throughout his early career. But for the most part, he plays Steve rather restrained, which is not something Bogart’s criminal characters were known for. But despite how we think of Bogart on film, he had a lot of experience on stage playing milquetoast men or what he called "White Pants Willie" roles. Steve, in some ways, straddles the two types of roles, a criminal, but still a mother’s boy.

I like Claire Luce as Judy. It’s too bad that she never caught on in films the way the others did. Maybe if Astaire had been able to convince RKO to use her in the film version of The Gay Divorcee, she may have had the sort of career Ginger Rogers did. She seems capable of much more than we get to see in Up The River.

Most of the actors are uncredited in this film, but it’s interesting to see a young Ward Bond in only his seventh film. He plays a bully prisoner who Saint Louis knocks out when he doesn’t like him picking on a young recent arrived inmate.

Even though the film was directed by Ford, it really could have been directed by anyone. I’ve read that Ford turned what had been a drama script into a comedy, but it’s really not a laugh out loud comedy, unless of course, the best lines had been spliced out of the film.

And that is the worst thing about the movie, its presentation. While Fox used the best available sources for the print, they didn’t seem to really try to restore the film in any way at all. There are far too many jump cuts. One has to imagine that the studio could have done better by one of its own releases. They are really doing the film, the director and the actors a disservice by not at least cleaning the film up before selling it.

This is not a bad film, but it is not really worth seeking out, especially in its current state. The only reason anyone would want to see it would be for Tracy and Bogart. Both actors will get much better and have better roles before their careers end. But if you’re a fan of one or both of these actors, like I am, then you might want to see how it all started for them. That’s really the only reason I wanted to see this film in the first place.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Warcraft (2016) - Strictly for Gamers Only

Warcraft (2016) Starring: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Ben Schnetzer, Robert Kazinsky and Daniel Wu. Directed by Duncan Jones. Screenplay by Charles Leavitt and Duncan Jones. Based on Warcraft video game by Blizzard Entertainment. Produced by Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Charles Roven, Alex Gartner and Stuart Fenegan. Color. U.S. Runtime 123 minutes. Fantasy, Action

If you play Warcraft or your name is Jackie Chan, you can stop reading here. You have already seen the film and no doubt love it. If you're not a Warcraft player, then read on.

Video games are a somewhat untapped pool of content for Hollywood. There have been a few in the past, like Doom (2005) and Ratchet and Clank (2016), but with a few exceptions, they have not been used nor have they been all that successful. But it is no surprise that Hollywood would look to Warcraft as a source. I am not a player, but I do know that the video game has been around in some form since 1994's release of Warcraft: Orcs & Humans.

With that little to go on, I went to see the film in the theater, seeing it in 3D since that matinee was cheaper than seeing the 2D version at a later time; go figure. Visually, the film is stunning, and even though not shot in 3D, some of the effects looked really good done that way. Sad to say that is about as much as the film has going for it.

Set in an imaginary kingdom, Azeroth, run by humans and led by King Llane Wrynn (Dominic Cooper) and his trusty aid, Sir Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel), everything is peaceful until the Orcs invade. With their own planet, Draenor, dying, the Orcs, led by Gul'dan (Daniel Wu), come through a life-force sustained portal.

Bad Orc Gul'dan (Daniel Wu).

While not all Orcs are bad, Gul'dan wields fel power to control his Horde and to battle the humans. Those who try to stop him, like Durotan (Toby Kebbell), the chieftain of the Frostwolf clan, and his pregnant mate, Draka (Anna Galvin), are no match for his power. There is even one half-Orc, Garona Halforcen (Paula Patton), who finds herself caught between the two races.

Good Orc Durotan (Toby Kebbell).

There are a gob of other characters as well, all with somewhat hard to pronounce names, which doesn't help. What also doesn't help is the sound mix with dialogue oftentimes getting buried under the score and sound effects. Add that to a somewhat convoluted storyline with characters who sometimes look too similar to one another and you have an audience that is sometimes on the brink of what could be called a confused slumber, which is not a good thing for an actioner like Warcraft. To top it off is an unsatisfying ending which is supposed to lead to a sequel.

A good film based on a video game should be like a good film based on a book, in that it should stand on its own without requiring prior knowledge of the source material by its audience. It should tell the source material in film-ic way which can and should stand on its own as a story. Sadly, this is a lesson that director Duncan Jones has still to learn. There is too much of an expectation that the audience has played the game and is familiar with its myriad of characters, relationships and environments.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Stubs - Alice in Wonderland (1933)

Alice in Wonderland (1933) Starring: Charlotte Henry, Richard Arlen, Richard Ates, Gary Cooper, Leon Errol, Louise Fazenda, W.C. Fields, Skeets Gallagher, Cary Grant, Raymond Hatton, Edward Everett Horton, Roscoe Karns, Baby Leroy, Mae Marsh, Polly Muran, Jack Oakie, Edna May Oliver, May Robson, Charlie Ruggles, Alison Skipworth, Ned Sparks, Ford Sterling. Directed by Norman McLeod. Screenplay by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and William Cameron Menzies. Based on the novel Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (London, 1865) and his novel Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll (London, 1870). Produced by Louis D. Lighton. Runtime: 77 minutes. U.S.A. Black and White. Fantasy

While Disney is the latest studio to release a big name live-action version of Lewis Carroll’s fantasy classics: Alice in Wonderland (2010) and Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016), they are certainly not the first. The tale has been made many times going back to Hepworth studio’s silent short released in 1903 and another feature-length silent film in 1915 from Nonpareil Feature Film Corp. In 1931, Metropolitan Studios released their own version, which came and went at the box-office with little fanfare. These early efforts speak to the story’s appeal to filmmakers.

A stage play also called Alice in Wonderland, opened on Broadway on December 12, 1932. Adapted by Eva Le Gallienne and Florida Friebus, the two-act play featured music and ran for 127 performances. The play, which called for actors to play multiple roles, included Whit Bissel, Howard Da Silva, and Burgess Meredith, the latter who plays a Duck, rather than the Penguin, the role of TV’s Batman that would be one of his most famous.

Partially based on the success of this play, Paramount Pictures decided to throw their hat in the ring and produce their own film version. To write this film, Paramount hired Joseph L. Mankiewicz and William Cameron Menzies, the latter best known for his work as a Production Designer. Casting a marquee’s worth of names, including the famous: W.C. Fields, Cary Grant and Gary Cooper; the less well known: Edward Everett Horton, Charlie Ruggles, and Jack Oakie; and the forgotten: Alison Skipworth, Polly Moran and Charlotte Henry. I know what some of you are saying, “I haven’t forgotten Polly Moran or Charlotte Henry,” but the bulk of the rest of the world has.

Paramount wasn’t the only studio considering an “Alice” movie at this same time. According to the Motion Picture Daily, Mary Pickford and Walt Disney had been considering a live-action/animated version of the Alice in Wonderland story. And Columbia Pictures had expressed interest in producing a film based on the Eva Le Gallienne and Florida Friebus play, but neither projects happened, based on Paramount’s purchase of the rights in England to the story on May 9, 1933.

A five-month hunt for Alice began and Paramount supposedly auditioned nearly 7000 girls before settling on Charlotte Henry. At 14, Henry had been cast in the Broadway play Courage, which turned out to be a hit in 1928. She came to Hollywood and starred in the film version released in 1930. She would appear in two more films, Huckleberry Finn (1931) and Lena Rivers (1932), before appearing in a play at the Pasadena Playhouse. It was while Paramount was auditioning for Alice that a talent agent from the studio saw Henry in the play and arranged for an audition. A week later, in late September 1933, the film went into production.

The film, as do most cinematic versions, combines the two books together, moving back and forth between them without hesitation. In the opening scene, Alice (Charlotte Henry) is bored and her governess (Ethel Griffies) isn’t much help. It’s snowing outside and the governess won’t let Alice go outside to play. She tells her to wait for her sister, who never does make an appearance in the film.

Alice (Charlotte Henry) and her Governess (Ethel Griffies) stuck inside.

Alice seems to have a vivid imagination, as when she sees a rabbit in the yard, she tells her governess that he was wearing a waistcoat and carrying a watch. The governess takes this in stride, so we’re supposed to know that this is nothing new. When she’s left alone, Alice starts to wonder about life in the room in the looking glass, or mirror, even climbing up on the mantle of the fireplace to try and see as much as she can.

Alice wonders what's on the other side of the looking glass.

And wouldn’t you know it, Alice slips through the mirror and ends up in the reflected room, where not only are the book titles backward, a volume of an encyclopedia reads aidepolcycne, but the chess pieces are alive and one of the pawns is stranded on a table high above the king and queen. When Alice helps them, by picking up the pieces and placing them up on the table next to the pawn, which is the queen’s son, she is mistaken for a volcano of all things.

Alice entering the reflection.

When she hears a white rabbit run through the house, Alice takes chase outside and follows the top coat wearing animal into the garden and down the rabbit hole. She falls in slow motion and when she lands finds herself in a room with a series of ever smaller doors, leading her into a room with a table and a very small door. A key appears and Alice unlocks the door, but try as she might, she can’t get through.

Alice falls down the Rabbit hole near the beginning of Alice in Wonderland.

Suddenly on the table, there is a vial that says “Drink me not poison” and so she does. Alice grows very tall. Crying at her misfortune, she leaves a puddle of water on the floor. Then a box appears with a square pastry inside with the words “Eat Me” on it and she does, shrinking down to a few inches in height. She is so small that her tears have made not a puddle but a pond in which she falls in and swims with a mouse.

Alice grows too big for the room and starts to cry.

The door that separated her from the rest of the world is no longer an issue and Alice emerges on the other side of the pond. There, a history lecture from a Dodo bird (Polly Moran) dries her off. Before the Dodo can put her to sleep by reciting dates, Alice wanders off.

The Dodo (Polly Moran) uses dry history to dry off Alice.

Her next encounter is with the hookah-smoking Caterpillar (Ned Sparks) who helps three-inch Alice grow but also gives her the other side of the mushroom which will make her small again. And she uses that almost right away when she encounters the Duchess’ house. Alice shrinks back down to enter but first must watch a Fish messenger (Roscoe Ates) deliver an invitation to the Duchess’ Frog butler (Sterling Holloway) inviting her to play croquet.

Alice encounters the Caterpillar (Ned Sparks).

The frog doesn’t stop Alice from entering the house. There, the Cook (Lillian Harmer) throws dishes while the Duchess (Alison Skipworth) struggles to cuddle a baby (Billy Barty). The Duchess gives the baby to Alice to mind and she is suddenly outside, carrying the transforming child who turns into a piglet before she puts it down.

The Cook (Lillian Harmer) throws dishes while the Duchess
(Alison Skipworth) tends to her Baby (Billy Barty).

This leads Alice to her encounter with the Cheshire Cat (Richard Arlen), who confuses as much as he helps her. Then the scenery literally changes in front of Alice’s eyes and she is presented with a fork in the road, one side leading to the Dormouse and the other leading to the Mad Hatter. She chooses the latter and ends up at the never-ending tea party with the Mad Hatter (Edward Everett Horton), the March Hare (Charlie Ruggles) and the sleeping Dormouse (Jackie Searl). The Mad Hatter explains that he has had a falling out with Time and now it is perpetually six o’clock, i.e. tea time.  After their little bit of nonsense watch repair and moving down to a clean cup, the Mad Hatter sings and Alice moves on.

The Mad Hatter (Edward Everett Horton) and the March Hare
(Charlie Ruggles) entertain Alice at their Tea Party.

She comes across a tree with hats hung on it and with a door. Curiosity gets the best of her and she goes through. On the other side is the Queen of Hearts' garden and her servants, playing cards, are painting white roses red. When she asks why one of the cards informs her that they are trying to cover up their mistake of planting a white rose tree instead of a red one. But before they’re done, the Queen of Hearts (May Robson) arrives, accompanied by the King of Hearts (Alec B. Francis) and the Joker (Baby LeRoy).

The arrival of the Queen of Hearts.

The Queen calls for everyone to have their heads cut off, even Alice who curtsies when she introduces herself. But the Queen’s plans are easily put aside when the King informs her that it is the Executioner’s day off. But the Queen quickly adapts, asking Alice if she can play croquet. The cards quickly shuffle and turn themselves into a croquet court. The balls are guinea pigs and the mallets are flamingos, both real in this case. The game is a sped up mess, but not fast enough for the Queen, who orders everyone’s heads be cut off until everyone flees into the bushes.

As the court empties, Alice meets up with the Duchess, who gives the young girl confusing advice that she should, “Be what you would like to be.” Their conversation is interrupted by the Queen who wants them or their heads to be off. But before she can carry out her plans, the Gryphon (William Austin) chases the Queen and the Duchess away. But the Gryphon is not mean, telling Alice that the King pardons everyone the Queen sentences to be beheaded.

But their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of the Mock Turtle (Cary Grant), what mock turtle soup is made from. But the Mock Turtle is crying. He tells the Gryphon and Alice his own sad history, which includes having gone to school every day when he was a real turtle, learning regular courses like Arithmetic, which is broken into ambition, distraction, uglification, and derision. When they’re done talking about his lessons, the Gryphon asks if they should play a game or have the Turtle sing. Alice chooses the latter. The Turtle sings about soup and the Gryphon and Alice dance.

The Gryphon (William Austin) and Alice hear the Mock Turtle (Cary Grant) tell his tale of woe.

The Gryphon and Alice run very fast, but don’t seem to get anywhere, but the Gryphon turns into the Red Queen who encourages Alice to run faster and faster, even though they’ve long passed their destination. They end up on a chess board, where Alice will be one of the Queen’s pawns. The Red Queen gives her more confusing advice such as speaking only in French and to walk with her toes pointed out.

But the Queen disappears and Alice wanders off, running into Tweedle Dee (Roscoe Karns) and Tweedle Dum (Jack Oakie), who eventually tell her the story of the Walrus and the Carpenter, which is an animated tale. Afterwards, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum decide to have a fight, but that gets interrupted when a giant crow flies in, blowing with it the White Queen.

Tweedle Dee (Rose Karns) and Tweedle Dum (Jack Oakie) show Alice the Walrus and the Carpenter story.

She is a mess but prepared for her finger to get pricked when her shawl comes loose and her broach becomes undone. But then she starts to bleat and transforms into a sheep working in a store. Alice decides to buy an egg, which starts to grow and grow into Humpty Dumpty (W.C. Fields) up on a narrow wall. Like everyone else she meets, Humpty Dumpty gives her a hard time, in this case, about her age. Impressed by his wordplay, Alice tells him that he’s a clever man and asks him to tell her the meaning of the poem Jabberwocky to her, but he refuses. When he starts to laugh, he loses his balance and falls off the wall.

Humpty Dumpty (W. C. Fields) helps confuse Alice. 

Alice runs to get the King and his horses and his men but runs into the White King (Ford Sterling).  She tells the King about Humpty Dumpty, but he already knows and his men are on their way. The King asks Alice if she can see his messengers coming down the road when she says she can’t see anyone, the King is impressed and then he skips away.

But down the trail comes the White Knight (Gary Cooper), dressed like a chess knight piece, riding a horse. As soon as the horse stops, though, the Knight falls off and onto the ground and the horse head he’d been wearing comes off. Using a ladder, the knight gets back on the horse. Alice asks him If he’s one of the king’s messengers, but he informs her that he is the White Knight. He escorts her to the edge of the woods, explaining to her his many inventions, none of which seem very practical. But he continues to fall off his horse.

The White Knight (Gary Cooper).

At the edge of the woods, he tells Alice that she’s only a few steps away from being a queen. He asks her to stay and watch him off, which she does. But when she runs down the hill, she loses her balance and rolls. When she stands up, a golden crown is placed on her head and she is now Queen Alice.

But her joy is tempered by the Red and White Queens who are on either side of her. She’s informed by the Red Queen that she has to pass a proper examination. Like every character in Wonderland, they ask her some confusing questions. Then the White Queen gets sleepy and the Red Queen sings her an Alice-themed lullaby. She asks Alice to sing it to her but falls asleep nonetheless.

The White Queen (Louise Fazenda) and the Red Queen (Edna May Oliver)
give Alice a quiz to see if she is fit to be a Queen.

Alice leaves the sleeping queens and walks to doors with Queen Alice written above them. Before she can knock, the Gryphon sticks his head out and tells her there will be no admittance for a week.  When Alice knocks, the door disappears and she walks in. A party is already in full swing and all the characters she’s encountered seem to be there. Her place is between the two sleeping queens who are already there. She squeezes in, awakening the queens who order the food be served. But the roast and the pudding are alive and Alice is not allowed to eat them.

Things quickly get out of hand at Queen Alice's party.

After drinking a toast to Queen Alice, the party gets out of hand. The various characters climb up on the table and start to walk towards her across the table top. The Red Queen starts to strangle her. It is then that Alice wakes up back in the chair in her front room. Her adventure into the looking glass country is over.

The movie was not a success at the box office, which led many in Hollywood to doubt the vitality of live-action fantasy movies for six years, until the release of The Wizard of Oz (1939). But unlike Oz, this Alice suffers from a long checklist of issues.

The great William Cameron Menzies, credited here only as co-writer of the screenplay, may have had much more to do with the film than that. Stories out at the time say he was being loaned from Fox to direct part of the film and he may have done so; these are also the days before credits were mandated by the unions. No doubt, he also had a hand in how the film looked, he was after all the original production designer, even coining the phrase. But it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Menzies’ vision for Alice is more claustrophobic and worst of all dull.

To begin with, the film lacks a sense of whimsy, which a successful mounting of the story requires. It is as if the director, Norman McLeod, let the words carry the load, but without giving the actors any direction on how to say those words. As an example, the caterpillar needs some attitude when he says “Who are you?” to Alice, but here there is none, just a dry read.

You have to also question the casting. While Charlotte Henry might have looked the part of Alice, she really has no stage presence here. And just because you have a lot of big-name actors doesn’t mean they are necessarily right for their parts. As an example, Gary Cooper as the White Knight doesn’t work for me. He’s not as funny as the role needed or required. You can’t get humor from a stone.

Then there is the costuming. While it adheres closely to John Tenniel’s illustrations in the original book, they also serve to obfuscate the actor’s faces, so they are often unrecognizable. An example of this is Cary Grant as the Mock Turtle. In the costume, he is totally unrecognizable. You only know it’s him because of his voice, but he is so heavily made up that you can’t tell otherwise. These were the days long before CGI and motion capture, but while these illustrations might work well in a fantasy book, made “real” so to speak, they come across more as horror freaks rather than enchanting.

The pacing is also painfully slow at times. The movie takes almost four minutes to get through the opening credits. And it never really picks up from there. Even Alice falling down the hole is done in slow motion as if deliberately trying to lengthen the film’s running time.

And there are the special effects. Given that we are blessed with some great and overdone special effects these days, those in the early 1930s seem almost laughable by comparison. The technology has come a very long way in the years since. Still, they could have been better even for the time. The journey through the looking glass is not handled very well and it is obvious when the effect is put in place. Audiences of the day surely noticed as well as we can now. Alice doesn’t shrink or grow the same way and then to it is handled in a very obvious manner. At best, they come across as pre-psychedelic imagery; at worst, they look like bad kinescopes made of early TV shows. For the most part, they muddle somewhere in between.

I also should address the persistent rumor of a longer version existing as if a longer running time would have made this better. According to some sources, the film was originally 90 minutes and was cut down to 77 when the television rights were purchased by EMKA, a division of Universal Pictures, which ended up with the bulk of the Paramount library. I’m going on two sources here that I believe are fairly reliable that this longer version doesn’t exist. To begin with, the AFI, which has documented most American films from the era, shows the run time at 75-76 minutes. The second source is James Curtis, the author of William Cameron Menzies: The Shape of Films to Come, published in 2015. In his review of the film on Amazon, he cites a Variety review from December 26, 1933, which gives its length as 76 minutes and the 1935-36 Motion Picture Almanac which gives the runtime as 75 minutes.

Having grown up enjoying Disney’s animated 1951 version, I’ve been curious how the story has been handled by other filmmakers. They usually only make the animated version seem better by comparison. This 1933 version only compounds that. While this film covers much of the same ground, it seems more disconnected as characters seem to be paraded by for their brief cameos on screen. While I appreciate the effort put into the film and the star power applied, the end result is a great disappointment.