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Weekly Mishmash: May 30-June 5

poster_hauntedHaunted Gold (1932). Haunted Gold is a lively little early b-movie Western starring a lean and green John Wayne. Actually it’s about three parts Western to one part Haunted House Movie, which is enough to make me enjoy it despite the silly plot and stilted acting. Wayne plays a man coming back to his childhood town to stake his claim on an abandoned gold mine, a spot that a gang of meanies and a lovely young woman (Sheila Terry) are vying for as well. Somehow the story also involves a creaky old house filled with assorted creeps and the regrettable stereotypical scared black guy (Blue Washington) who serves as the hero’s right hand man. At film’s climax, Wayne’s white horse “Duke” comes to the rescue doing something impressive even by celluloid animal prodigy standards. This was lots of fun, efficiently covering a lot of ground in just under an hour. Wayne was at an interesting stage where one can tell he’s not the greatest actor, but he has that indefinable “it” factor that the biggest movie stars possess. This was also an odd live action production by Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies producer Leon Schlesinger (check out the animated owls over the opening credits!).
Prince & The Revolution — Purple Rain. Since eMusic is adding Prince’s back catalog in stages, I decided to toss a spare nine credits their way for Purple Rain, arguably his most enduring work. I used to own this on vinyl as a teen. The album still sounds good with a excellent flow that doesn’t make the hit singles stick out, unlike other megahit albums of the day. The only tune I didn’t originally remember was “Computer Love,” a funky semi-instrumental. Several of the other non-hits are so good they could have been released as singles; the salacious “Darling Nikki” is Hendryx brought into the ’80s, and “The Beautiful Ones” is one of his best-ever ballads. Now I’m itching to get into the Purple One’s other stuff dating from his self-titled ’79 album up through the 1992 “unpronounceable symbol” album.
Swing It, Sailor! (1938). When I think of actor Wallace Ford, I don’t think comedian. I might think “only normal person in Freaks” or “hearty noir supporting character.” Nevertheless, the 50 comedy movie DVD pack we have contains no less than three comedies starring the doughy Ford. This forgettable maritime yuckfest is one of ’em. With Ford and Ray Mayer as two gobs tussling over a hard-edged blonde (Isabel Jewel), this film isn’t very distinctive but it’s a breezy enough way to kill an hour. What interested me the most was Mary Treen as the leading lady’s plain roommate. The versatile Ms. Treen was one of those “hey, I know that lady” comic actresses who seemingly appeared in everything produced by Hollywood from the ’30s to the ’70s. I remember her best as Kay, the dull woman who briefly replaced Alice as the family housekeeper in one Brady Bunch episode. It’s true, everything in my existence ultimately relates to The Brady Bunch.
The River (1951). Late period Jean Renoir film is pretty to look at, but ultimately undone with stock characters and situations. The film concerns a British family in colonial India, particularly the brood’s two blossoming daughters who become entranced by a dashing Army captain visiting their neighbor. This film is rightly considered one of the best examples of Technicolor photography, and in that respect it particularly shines in opening segments depicting India as a mystical rural paradise. When it comes to the plot and acting, however, this was a total misfire. I didn’t find anything compelling about the two girls and their petty arguments (granted, the narration was nice) and the way the drama plays out. Even the subject of death is treated with a disarming callousness in Renoir’s hands. The best thing I can say about this is that it’s not flat out horrible like Renoir’s follow-up, The Golden Coach, my vote for the worst film the otherwise peerless Criterion ever put out. As long as I’m on the subject, what’s your least favorite Criterion DVD?
The Thief of Bagdad (1940). Colorful and fun kiddie adventure from producer Alexander Korda. This is the Arabian Nights told with plushness and visual flair in stunning Technicolor. The special effects might seem cheesy to our jaded CGI overloaded eyes, but I think the cheesiness has its own appeal. The most laudable thing about this film is that it leaves the impression of having spared no expense, yet it never seems like it’s trying too hard. I enjoyed all the characters, especially Conrad Veidt’s menacing Jaffar and Sabu’s industrious thief Abu. Some scenes take on a heady, psychedelic quality, such as when Abu ventures into a massive Hindu temple to retrieve a magic crystal. As with The River, the Technicolor photography has that strange muted quality unique to British productions — dreamy, a little tacky but lovely all the same.

One Thought on “Weekly Mishmash: May 30-June 5

  1. I remember her best as Kay, the dull woman who briefly replaced Alice as the family housekeeper in one Brady Bunch episode. It’s true, everything in my existence ultimately relates to The Brady Bunch.

    You’re not the only one. Actually, I remember Treen for this and her role as the gal Friday for the Bailey Brothers Building and Loan in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).

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