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Tag Archives: Warner Bros.

Politically Incorrect Theatre

The spouse and I spent some time a couple of nights ago looking up all of the Warner Bros./Looney Tunes “Censored Eleven” on YouTube (thank you, Tivo Premiere). We found ten of the eleven, including a nice print of the 1936 Merrie Melodie Sunday Go To Meetin’ Time seen below. Directed by Termite Terrace stalwart Friz Freleng, this is a typical faux-Silly Symphonies outing of the day with lots of great gags and fun music. It was placed amongst the eleven for its stereotypical treatment of black characters, but for the most part the humor is pretty benign. African-Americans may find it offensive, or they may find it a fascinating little window (as I do) on how mainstream culture viewed black communities in the 1930s.

Personally, I’m looking forward to Warner giving all of the “Censored Eleven” a tasteful presentation on DVD. It’s supposedly on the way later on this year (originally planned for Warner Archive, but now I hear it will be a full-fledged retail release). Whatever the case may be, outright censorship is never the answer when it comes to politically incorrect pop culture of the past. Complain all you want, but let me be the judge of whether something is offensive or not.

Weekly Mishmash I: January 17-23

Chinese Box (1997). IFC showing. A very serious drama documenting a British photojournalist (Jeremy Irons) living in Hong Kong when the city underwent their historic transfer of power to the Chinese in 1997. The tumult of these events is mirrored in Irons’ personal life, in which he deals with his girlfriend (Gong Li), a barkeeper who is also involved with a wealthy Chinese businessman, and a feisty street vendor (Maggie Cheung) who captures his attention. We recorded this for the cast, since Irons is always good, Li never fails to look gorgeous, and the versatile Cheung is watchable in just about anything. Despite them, though, this film is a big bore overloaded with too many obvious metaphors. The characters never really connected with me — Irons is too remote, Li (in her first English speaking role) looks uncomfortable, and Cheung can’t do much with her obnoxious, underwritten character.
Crooner (1932). Fun early Warner Bros. talkie starring handsome David Manners as a big band leader who finds swift stardom after emulating a Rudy Vallee style of soft singing. He gets a swelled head, however, finding that fame is more fleeting than the latest hemline length. Manners is too bland a personality to carry a film, and the songs are beyond unmemorable, but the film moves along nicely thanks to Lloyd Bacon’s crisp direction, and the marvelous Ann Dvorak is on hand as Manners’ girlfriend. I like that the ultimate indignity of Manners’ conceited singer comes when he hits a “cripple” (a WWI vet with one missing leg). How shameful!
The Girl Next Door (1953). Another musical hobbled by forgettable songs, but almost redeemed through its charming cast. This Technicolor Fox opus stars effervescent June Haver as a stage star who retires to a (fabulously decorated) suburban home. All is cozy until Haver finds herself drawn to the slovenly cartoonist (Dan Dailey) living next door, a widower raising a young son (Billy Gray). For some reason, I find myself drawn to June Haver and her generic perkiness, and she’s a good match in the dancing department with the athletic Dailey. I enjoyed the unusual domestic setting here, too, and there are several interestingly staged numbers (such as the one below, with Dailey and Gray doing some intricate moves with a bunch of Lifetime plastic dinnerware). This film even contains two fantasy sequences animated by the UPA studio. These scenes are cool to watch and very ’50s modern looking, but like the rest of the film they don’t quite jell. Overall the film is a diverting curio for ’50s musical fans, über perky and unmemorable.

The rest of the Mishmash continues tomorrow — betcha just can’t wait!