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Flick Clique: March 11-17

Dick Tracy, Detective (1945) and Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (1947). We didn’t really have anything to watch last Monday night, so we made a double feature out of these two b-movies RKO did in the ’40s starring Chester Gould’s hook-nosed police detective. Although they don’t get anywhere near capturing the jazzy/ghoulish flavor of the comic, both Detective and Meets Gruesome are workmanlike, occasionally fun b-mysteries. Detective, with Tracy tracking down the common thread amongst several murders of people from varying backgrounds, has the more intriguing story and better pacing of the two. Morgan Conway is bland beyond belief as Tracy, but I enjoyed the salty Tess Trueheart played by Anne Jeffreys. Meets Gruesome‘s more cartoonish plot concerns a smoke which rendered anyone who smells it immobile, which a gang of criminals form into a bomb to help them rob a bank. The investigation by intrepid Tracy, now embodied by the more capable Ralph Byrd (who originated the role in the 1930s serial edition Tracy – are you taking notes?), leads him to Boris Karloff’s menacing ex-con Gruesome. Karloff is a hoot, but the film suffers from glacial pacing and I couldn’t get past all the goofy character names (I.M. Learned – really?). Both of these public domain goodies were on the Mystery Classics 50 Movie DVD set.
Keaton Plus (2004 DVD). This was a DVD that I came across at the local library – it consists of odds and ends involving Buster Keaton that Kino didn’t put on the other discs containing the silent legend’s films and shorts. Exactly the kind of stuff we dig! Overall, the disc is inconsistent but fascinating. The best parts are the films and fragments from his peak, including the short Ten Girls Ago. There are also two shorts he did in the mid-’30s, which are fun but not nearly as inventive, a fragment of an unreleased 1962 comedy, vintage commercials, tributes, photos and more. Probably the most absorbing part has Keaton historian John Bengston outlining various Los Angeles and San Francisco locales Keaton used in his shorts, with now-and-then photos. Tributes from Orson Welles, Gloria Swanson and Lillian Gish offer a neat glimpse into how silent films were repackaged for TV in the ’60s and ’70s. Not everything on this disc is great, but we had a ball combing through it.
Stagecoach (1939). The other disc that I picked up at the library (we recently dumped Netflix streaming, so I’m looking for alternatives). As I previously noted, the local library has a few dozen Criterion DVDs (with booklets and everything) in their stacks. Stagecoach is one of those classic classics that I’ve mysteriously never gotten around to seeing before. Though I’m not normally a fan of Westerns or John Wayne, I found myself swept into this one. John Ford really had a gift for doing engaging characters who interact in a realistic way. Loved Thomas Mitchell and Donald Meek, but probably my fave was Claire Trevor as hooker-with-a-hear-o-gold Dallas. As an IMDb user aptly stated: “She was a very real, honest actress. I never get a sense of phoniness when Claire Trevor is on the screen. She gives a remarkable performance in Stagecoach.” The film seems to be anticlimactic after the expertly staged Apache ambush scene, and the score is overbearing and badly dated, but otherwise it was a terrific ensemble piece. I can’t get enough of John Wayne’s iconic first appearance, in which the camera zooms in, goes out of focus momentarly, then settles on Wayne blinking just after the focus comes back. That’s star quality! The Criterion DVD of Stagecoach also included a quaint but interesting early John Ford silent, Bucking Broadway from 1917.

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