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Weekly Mishmash: February 1-7

Artists & Models posterArtists & Models (1937). One of those “only in the thirties” movies in which grandiose and bizarre musical numbers are hung on a thread of a plot. The charms of Jack Benny as an ad man and Ida Lupino (still a few years from her “tough dame” persona) as his model friend are often enough to overcome the disjointed silliness of this film. Although TCM’s showing blacked out the first ten minutes, there was plenty else to enjoy — I loved the sequence with various famous illustrators of the day such as Peter Arno and Rube Goldberg. There’s also a strange marionette dance with the Esquire magazine mascot, and a slow number in which singer Connee Boswell’s face is unaccountably shrouded in darkness. I haven’t mentioned that hick comedienne Judy Canova lends comedic support, or the fact that Martha Raye performs in tan makeup alongside Louis Armstrong. Too fun.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains (1981). Fascinating but ineptly made rock ‘n roll pic about a girl group’s rise to fame. Nubile Diane Lane leads The Stains, a trio whose raggedy music sounds like the halfway point between The Runaways and The Shaggs. On tour, they spout off anarchist messages while gaining a following of young ladies who ironically make over themselves to look like clones of their idols. A cool concept, sure, but it’s marred by an awful script and shoddy direction. Seriously, there are too many “huh?” moments to count here, which probably account for this film’s cult following. It is worth a peek, however for the many cast members who went on to bigger and better things (Laura Dern, Christine Lahti and a baby-faced Ray Winstone are all very good; Lane is merely okay). The final sequence, in which the (implicitly successful) Stains make an MTV-style video, almost makes up for the shortcomings of the preceding 80 minutes.
Ladies of Leisure (1930). This quaint antique would likely be forgotten if it weren’t for a spunky Barbara Stanwyck in the lead. In this, she plays a tough cookie who becomes a model for a rich playboy artist (Ralph Graves). Predictable as all get out and Frank Capra’s direction is surprisingly clunky; but this film proves that Stanwyck had a winning charisma about her almost right from the very beginning (this was only her third film). I also enjoyed Marie Prevost, an actress best known for meeting an untimely end, as Stanwyck’s plump pal.
The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936). Pretty good but not exceptional film about Samuel Mudd, the doctor who treated John Wilkes Booth the night he assassinated Abraham Lincoln. Warner Baxter plays Mudd with a scenery-chewing gusto which likely should have netted him an Oscar nomination. In a hasty and panicked sentencing, Mudd is sent to the unforgiving Dry Tortugas prison off Key West, Florida — a place where he’d have no chance to appeal his conviction. A historically iffy but interesting story.
Skipping Towards Gomorrah: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Pursuit of Happiness in America by Dan Savage. Being a rabid fan of his weekly sex advice column and podcast, I checked this one out from the library as a diversion between more weighty books. Savage’s examination of current American mores, organized by way of the classic seven deadly sins, brims with the same offbeat humor as his other work. Although this was first published in 2002, giving it the whiff of Bush-era indignation, a lot of the book seemed pretty timely even today. Given Michael Phelps’ recent troubles, Savage’s even-handed look at current marijuana laws was fascinating. I also found myself agreeing way too many times at Savage’s “gay pride” chapter (really, why make a huge deal out of something that we’re born with?), and the opening rant on holier-than-thou conservative pundits was priceless. While it’s true that some chapters were more succinct than others, the entire book never fails to be breezy and thought-provoking.

3 Thoughts on “Weekly Mishmash: February 1-7

  1. I was pretty bummed to go back to my taping of Artists & Models to find the first few minutes of it sans video. I figured I’d hold onto it until it makes another pass on TCM.

    But there’s something about The Prisoner of Shark Island that makes it enjoy it more than others–maybe because it was so inaccessible all those years (the last time I saw it was on AMC’s Film Preservation Festival saluting John Ford, which should give you an idea of how long it’s been). I’ll try to free up some time this week and give it a second glance.

    The last time I saw the Fabulous Stains movie was on USA’s Night Flight. Couldn’t see what all the fuss was about then and my take on it hasn’t changed.

  2. Ivan! I read on the TCM boards that they’re planning to rebroadcast Artists & Models in complete form soon. Apparently a lot of TCM viewers were pissed about the missing picture.

    Personally, I’m hoping that they’ll show the sequel, Artists & Models Abroad — Joyce Compton is in it!

  3. i loved the stains when i saw it years ago on nightflight. i suspect i’d still love it today. i don’t remember any huh? moments though. of course, the film(and the zine article it was loosely based on) inspired riot grrrl. i’m pretty certain this was diane lane’s first acting roll.

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