“He’s all speed…the fastest thing in horseflesh…”

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In a booklet that was originally supposed to accompany the DVD collection Becoming Charley Chase (it’s still online—which was a tremendous relief because the copy I downloaded succumbed to the recent hard drive clusterfudge), Richard M. Roberts had this nice take on why the comedian didn’t do more feature film work: “He wasn’t particularly ambitious.  Chase never reached beyond the two-reel form with any seriousness, nor was he ever promoted by Roach with the zeal reserved for Laurel and Hardy, the reigning stars on the lot.  Chase was popular with audiences, and they expected and enjoyed his monthly appearance before the feature program.  They seemed satisfied with the twenty minutes they spent with him.  They never clamored for more, and he never offered.”

Patsy Kelly and Charley Chase in
Kelly the Second (1936)
Chase did appear in a handful of features.  His best known is his delightful turn as the obnoxious conventioneer (and brother-in-law of Oliver Hardy) in Sons of the Desert (1933), and three years later appeared alongside Patsy Kelly in the Hal Roach-produced Kelly the Second (1936).  The 1929 feature Chase made for Universal, Modern Love, was restored a few years back; I haven’t been fortunate to see this one but it did make the film festival circuit, notably Hollywood’s Cinecon (44) in 2008.  The only other feature on Charley’s cinematic C.V. (to my knowledge) is The King of Wild Horses (1924), which I did sit down with this week.  It features Mr. Chase (billed as Charles Parrott) in a “straight” role in a Roach feature starring the Rin-Tin-Tin of movie equines, Rex, the Wonder Horse.

The Wonder Horse goes by “The Black” in this oater (the nag actually answered to “Casey Jones” in his debut film before switching to “Rex” for subsequent films), and he’s the object of obsession by a cowpoke named Billy Blair (Léon Bary), who has sworn to capture and tame the wild stallion…and gets that opportunity when he saves The Black from perishing in a raging inferno that erupts in his stomping grounds.  Towards the end of the film, Blair decides to give The Black his freedom…and the horse briefly returns to his old environs before deciding that domestication isn’t such a terrible existence—after all, Billy is getting ready to settle down with a filly of his own, Mary Fielding (Edna Murphy).

Léon Bary, Pat Hartigan, Charley and Edna Murphy
Mixed into this story of a boy and his horse is a subplot involving Mary’s brother Boyd (Charley), who’s deep in debt to Wade Galvin, (Pat Hartigan) the unscrupulous foreman of his father’s (Sidney De Gray) ranch.  (A title card reads that Boyd’s precarious financial situation is due to “questionable gambling methods,” which made me laugh out loud.)  I’ve read in some places where Charley is described as the villain of the piece…which isn’t entirely accurate—he’s more like the poor boob who gets in over his head and is forced to do Galvin’s bidding.  Chase was cast in this movie about the time he was pressed into inaugurating the “Jimmie Jump” comedy series at Roach (once studio star Harold Lloyd struck out on his own), and I was tickled to no end seeing him doing something a bit out of his element.

That having been said, I don’t think Wild Horses is as good as the other Rex film I reviewed previously on the blog—No Man’s Land (1927), which features a pair of comedic faces in Oliver Hardy (as the despicable Sharkey Nye) and James Finlayson.  The weakness in Horses is that the plot concentrates on the taming of the “king,” which to be honest is a little bit of a tough slog at times—I think a better way to approach this would have been too have the Blair character reminisce to Mary Fielding how he made the acquaintance of his horse friend through flashbacks, allowing a lot of the dull man-and-horse sequences to be trimmed.  Landconcentrates mostly on the human characters in its plot, and seems to only have Rex around whenever Hardy’s villain starts to display filthy intentions toward Barbara Kent’s heroine.

I’m not sorry I watched King of Wild Horses—it has been on my “must-see” list for a good while now—but I must come clean here and admit that I cheated on this one a bit.  See, I purchased a DVD from Oldies.com that paired Horseswith No Man’s Land and as Horses started to unspool in my DVD player I couldn’t help but notice that the picture quality left a lot to be desired—it was a terribly dark and murky print.  (I knew reading the title cards was going to be tough even though the movie isn’t particularly dialogue-driven.)  Drawing on my imperfect memory, I vaguely remembered seeing it listed on YouTube…and while that print had its share of problems it wasn’t as much of a chore to watch as the Alpha version.  If you’re a Charley Chase fan (and if you aren’t—what’s your excuse, Bunky?), you’ll get a giggle out of seeing the man whose life was “one long embarrassing moment” ride tall in the saddle.

Adventures in Blu-ray: Abbott & Costello Rarities

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Thunderbean Animationhas firmly established itself in the Blu-ray/DVD field as the go-to label for classic cartoon releases, ranging from the oeuvre of Willie Whopper and Cubby Bear to their current project of restoring all 27 shorts from the Van Beuren Studio’s Rainbow Paradeseries (1934-35).  It’s a labor of love for Thunderbean CEO Steve Stanchfield, a cartoon historian and film preservationist dedicated to hunting up the best existing 16mm/35mm materials for these outstanding sets.  In May, Thunderbean’s long-anticipated Abbott & Costello Rarities—an outstanding collection of odds and ends spotlighting the great comedy duo—finally hit the streets, and if you’re as big a fan of Bud and Lou as your humble narrator, you need to track this down with all deliberate speed.

Lou, Bud, and Kate
I’ve had to cut back on the significant amount of DVD-age purchased for the dusty Thrilling Days of Yesteryeararchives of late, so I was most fortunate to score a free copy of the RaritiesBlu-ray/DVD combo from a longstanding member of the TDOY faithful (he asked me to keep his identity secret so as not to interfere with his sideline of bringing maniacal supervillains to justice).  There’s something for everyone in this collection…but I’ll come clean and admit that my favorite features were those of the audio variety.  Raritiesincludes a March 10, 1938 excerpt from The Kate Smith Hour (the boys do a variation of the “betting parlor” routine that was later recycled in 1943’s It Ain’t Hay) and the July 3 premiere broadcast of their 1940 summer stint as replacements for Fred Allen’s show (I was only aware of one other It’s Time to Smile program in collector’s hands).  Another uncirculated broadcast is from November 4, 1943—the night that Lou returned to radio after he recovered from rheumatic fever…and the same night he learned of the drowning death of his infant son “Butch” earlier that day; Lana Turner is the guest, and Bud informs the audience of Lou’s tragedy at the end of the broadcast.  A rare recording of their Saturday morning series (The Abbott & Costello Children’s Show from June 20, 1948) is also included among the audio gems (audience warm-ups, actualities, etc.).

Bud and Jerry Lewis
The Rarities collection includes trailers from some of Bud and Lou’s classic film comedies (Buck Privates, In the Navy, etc.) and “blowups” (bloopers) from others like Pardon My Sarong and Little Giant (I really got a kick out of seeing the outtakes from Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, my favorite A&C vehicle).  There are newsreel clips, excerpts from Lou’s home movies, and an amazing collection of footage (Kodachrome) from the team’s 1943 war bond tour (where they sold nearly $85 million worth of bonds).  A favorite highlight of mine is an unearthed November 1, 1953 telecast of The Colgate Comedy Hour, in which Bud must work solo in Lou’s absence (Costello is ill) with an assist from Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis.  The program includes clips from previous Colgateshows featuring Lou—one their famous “Rubdown” sketch (with stooges Sid Fields and Bobby Barber) and another hilarious skit where the duo goes to great lengths to get rid of a stolen necklace (the two men have difficulty keeping it together before the finish).  In addition to Dino’s singing (both solo and comedy songs accompanied by Jer’s clowning with Al Goodman’s orchestra), Peggy Lee does a few numbers (including the Halo shampoo jingle) and Gene Nelson dances (I kind of fast-forwarded through this).

Another favorite from this set: Lou, Bud, and Charles Laughton (as Bud's chauffeur!) make a plea for Christmas Seals.
Chris Costello, whose outstanding biography of her father (Lou’s on First) was written up for the blog in October of last year, provided much of the material for this release…and I’ll admit, the content more than surpassed my expectations (I was expecting a lot of the public domain A&C filler that’s been previously released).  At the risk of sounding like a parrot…this is a collection that Abbott & Costello fans will want for their bookshelf—a more-than-justified reward for those who have waited patiently all these years to see it come to fruition.

From the DVR: The Goddess (1958)

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Before winning Academy Awards for the screenplays to such Thrilling Days of Yesteryear favorites as The Hospital (1971) and Network (1976—a movie that becomes more and more eerily prescient every time I watch it), Paddy Chayefsky was one of the small screen’s most respected scribes, with contributions to such live television presentations as “Marty” (later adapted for the movies and winning Chayefsky his first Oscar) and “The Bachelor Party” (also becoming a big screen candidate in 1957).  The Goddess (1958) would be Paddy’s first original screenplay (and it also garnered an Academy Award nom), and I revisited this little gem last week after DVR’ing it from The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™.

Kim Stanley, Steven Hill
Newly-widowed Laureen Faulkner (Betty Lou Holland) has arrived in a small Maryland town with her four-year-old daughter Emily Ann to pick up the pieces by moving in with her brother (Gerald Hiken) and his wife (Joan Copeland).  Because Laureen is still in her 20s and anxious to have a little fun in life, she’s quite upset about being saddled with Emily Ann…and at one point even asks her in-laws to take the little girl in while she pursues other romantic interests (a man who wants to marry her doesn’t like children).  She expresses this wish within earshot of Emily Ann (who was eavesdropping while seated at the top of the stairs), an incident that surely scars the little tyke later when she’s turned eight (and played by a young Patty Duke) … and incapable of getting any love or attention from her indifferent, preoccupied mother.

Stanley, Hill, Betty Lou Holland
As Emily Ann (Kim Stanley) approaches adolescence, she becomes in many ways “her mother’s child”: she’s a capricious flibbertigibbet who dreams of respectability and acceptance by becoming a motion picture star.  She makes moves in that direction by marrying John Tower (Steven Hill), the son of a silent film legend; Tower is an irresponsible drunk who at least has enough decency to warn Emily that if they were to marry it would be an endless series of disappointments and heartbreak.  He’s right on the button on that score; things sour quickly in their marriage and Emily finds herself in a familiar situation when she tries to fob off her infant daughter on her mother.

Stanley, Lloyd Bridges
Five years later, Emily is now a Hollywood starlet renamed “Rita Shawn.”  She capitalizes on the ardor of ex-pugilist Dutch Seymour (Lloyd Bridges) by marrying him to give her career a boost…but that union turns out to be every bit as poisonous as her first marriage to Tower.  It does, however, achieve the desired effect of enhancing her status in the industry…particularly after a lecherous studio head (Donald McKee) offers her a lucrative contract.  Five years later, and Rita Shawn is one of the most bankable attractions in the industry…but she’s also a most unhappy one, with a never-ending battle with the bottle that led to a nervous breakdown.  Idolized by moviegoers, the woman formerly known as Emily Ann Faulkner is still stymied by her need for acceptance and to be loved.

Kim Stanley
The inspiration for the main character for The Goddess is readily apparent: it’s a thinly-disguised portrayal of Marilyn Monroe…though Paddy Chayefsky was always careful to disavow any obvious comparisons (particularly after Marilyn’s then-husband, playwright Arthur Miller, discussed the possibility of a lawsuit).  Other actresses that purportedly inspired the character of Emily Ann/Rita include Ava Gardner, Judy Garland, and Joan Crawford (though outside of Emily Ann’s assiduous ambition I don’t quite see this one); Kim Stanley, who portrays the Monroe clone, always thought her character more accurately mirrored Jayne Mansfield.  The irony is that Stanley’s personal life would later mimic that of the Emily Ann character; despite showcases in such films as Séance on a Wet Afternoon(for which she received an Oscar nomination as Best Actress) and TV shows like Ben Casey (winning an Emmy) and The Eleventh Hour, Stanley suffered a mental breakdown that scaled back her movie and TV appearances—she later became an acting teacher in her home state of New Mexico.  (Beginning in the 1970s, she returned to the small screen and then the big one, getting another Academy Award nomination for playing the mother of troubled actress Frances Farmer in 1982’s Frances and winning an Emmy in 1985 for her turn as “Big Mama” in the American Playhouse production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” [1984].)

Stanley, Holland
It’s been close to thirty years since revisiting The Goddess (I remember renting the VHS back when I worked for Ballbuster Blockbuster Video in the late 80s) and I was very surprised that it’s improved with age.  It’s not a perfect movie—it’s dramatically uneven (there were clashes between Chayefsky and veteran director John Cromwell) and many of the minor characters aren’t as fully developed as I would like—but I admire the film for resisting the attempt to put a big Hollywood happy ending on what transpires; by the time the credits roll no one is really satisfied with their lives and are simply resigned to taking as it comes.  Stanley is fantastic as a person who simply cannot satisfy her craving to be loved, and the scene where she tries and fails to reconcile with mother Holland (who’s morphed into a religious fanatic as she’s gotten older—a nice touch) is particularly heartbreaking.  The movie is also a nice showcase for Sea Hunt star Bridges, who handles his role as a frustrated ex-athlete with far more aplomb than I was expecting.

There are lots of future TV faces in The Goddess (notably future Oscar winner and Brooklyn Heights resident Patty Duke, in her first credited film role) including Steven Hill (billed as Steve), Joyce van Patten, Joanne Linville, Werner Klemperer, and David “You son of a gun!” White.  It’s TDOY fave Elizabeth Wilson, however, who commits cinematic larceny by practically walking away with the movie as Stanley’s protective assistant—a woman who’s resigned herself to the role as the actress’ surrogate mother (and caregiver), telling Hill’s character: “We got her to a psychiatrist for four months...then he said to me...she will never really respond to treatment...she will always be the same...she gets simple therapy now...I'll take her back to California...and she'll go on making movies...because that's all she knows to do...and whatever happens after that, happens...but I kind of love her...and I'll take good care of her...”  If you missed this one on TCM, it is available on MOD DVD from Sony…I will warn you, though—the feature is bleak and uncompromising…but life’s like that.

Crime Does Not Pay #9: “Torture Money” (01/02/37)

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Torture Money(1937), the ninth short in MGM’s Crime Does Not Pay franchise, would win the studio back-to-back Academy Awards for Best Short Subject (Two-Reel) …and while the CDNP folks would garner five additional nominations in that category before the series ended in 1947, I’m not convinced I would have been so willing to hand over a statuette for this entry (1939’s Drunk Driving, another nominee, is a much better short…and a more deserving winner, IMO, than Warner Brothers’ sappy Sons of Liberty, which took home the prize that year).  The man responsible for the previous CDNP Oscar winner, The Public Pays, also wrote the story and screenplay for Money—John C. Higgins.  Oh, and Torture Money does have this little mash note at the beginning contributed by James Edgar “Two-Gun” Davis (though he signs it without the “Two-Gun”), the L.A. Chief of Police at the time of Money’srelease:


Aww…wasn’t that sweet of him?  Before you break out the stationery for an RSVP to accompany your candy and flowers, leave us look at Chief Davis’ entry on Wikipedia: “Under Davis, the LAPD developed its lasting reputation as an organization that relied on brute force to enforce public order.  It also became very publicly entangled in corruption.  Members of the LAPD were revealed to have undertaken a campaign of brutal harassment, including the bombings of political reformers who had incurred the wrath of the department and the civic administration.”  Bad cop.  No donut.

I can’t be 100% on this, but I believe this is the first CDNP entry in which the narrator identifies himself as “the MGM CrimeReporter” (he just goes by “the MGM reporter” in previous shorts).  He is not, sadly, identified at the [always reliable] IMDb so if you know the actor—operators in the comments section are standing by.


REPORTER: Once again, as the MGM Crime Reporter, it is my privilege to bring you another episode in our “Crime Does Not Pay” series…may I present—Captain Michael Karnahan, chief of the Bunco and Pickpocket detail of the Metropolitan Police Force…


Great Caesar’s Ghost!  That’s John Hamilton (nice soup strainer, Johnny!), the veteran character actor fondly remembered as Daily Planet Editor Perry White on TV’s The Adventures of Superman…which is why the “Great Caesar’s Ghost” gag will get quite a workout here at TDOY, since this will not be the last time we see Hamilton portraying faux law enforcement officials (Torture Money is his CDNP debut).  (I mean, seriously—what is up with this “Metropolitan Police Force” nonsense?)

KARNAHAN: Criminals devote all their time and cleverness to devising new ways of making a living through terrorism and fraud…

Well, really—if you don’t innovate, how are you supposed to stay ahead of the competition?

KARNAHAN: The average citizen stands idly by…shrugs his shoulders…is totally indifferent…”What of it?” he says…”As long as they don’t touch my family or my property it isn’t my problem…they’re not getting anything out of me” …

I was completely unaware the “Me decade” began back in 1936.

KARNAHAN: Don’t fool yourself, my friends…whether your home is robbed or your neighbor’s—you pay for it!

Cap’n Karnahan is referring to “one of the most cruel rackets in America”—insurance fraud—and in showing us “the inner workings,” we are whisked away to a traffic accident involving this unconscious man:


That’s character veteran Murray Alper, whose cinematic resume includes such movies as Seven Keys to Baldpate (1935) and The Milky Way (1936)—chances were if there was a cab driver in a movie, it’s even money Murray was playing him—but is best remembered here at Rancho Yesteryear as the truck driver who gives fugitive Bob Cummings an assist in Alfred Hitchcock’s Saboteur (1942—I love his monologue about his wife’s fondness for new hats and “moon pitchers”).  Alper’s character is “Little Davie Barkell,” who’s the “victim” in this phony accident (there’s also a guy who claims to have broken his nose on the taxicab’s meter) engineered by this unscrupulous representative of the legal profession:


Meet Milton Beecher (spelled “Beacher” at the IMDb—but my spelling is confirmed in the short), a shyster who’s having to commit insurance fraud on a phenomenal scale because television hasn’t yet been invented to continually showcase his annoying ads during noon newscasts on WSB-TV.  Beecher is portrayed by character great Edwin Maxwell, who will also be a recurring player in the CDNP series.  (Around Rancho Yesteryear, we know Maxwell as “Dr. Egelhoffer” in His Girl Friday [1940]—Edwin’s also in the Ernst Lubitsch-directed Ninotchka [1939] and The Shop Around the Corner [1940].)

BEECHER: I think that $5000 for a fractured skull, bad bruises, and a broken arm is little enough, Mr. Carmathy…and a $1000 for the cab passenger who suffered a broken nose…


Milt is doing some good old-fashioned haggling with Alex Carmathy (Jason Robards, Sr.)—claim manager for the Universal Accident Insurance Company.  When Carmathy’s counteroffer for damages is rebuffed by Beecher, the insurance man remarks that perhaps this matter would best be settled in court—particularly since “We have a witness who reported that it looked as if the victim threw himself in front of the cab.”  Beecher seems most reluctant to pursue that remedy…and so he revises his earlier offer, which satisfies Carmathy.

CARMATHY: Very well…soon as I get a release from your clients…
BEECHER: Oh, that’s all right—I have complete authority to handle everything

"Beecher."
Beecher hands Carmathy a document that Barkell signed granting him power of attorney…which means Beecher is either a most efficient little legal eagle, or there’s something screwy in St. Louis.  We find out it’s the latter in a following scene, as we see Miltie counting out a wad of cash:


BEECHER: I always like those Universal Accident Company checks…the bank neverturns them down…here you are, kid—you did a good job…

Beecher hands some money to the cab driver (Roger Moore—not the guy who played James Bond), who starts to protest because he was promised a C-note and he’s only been given fifty bucks.  “Fifty’s what you get—take or leave it,” Beecher snarls, threatening him with being fired from the cab company and tossed in the sneezer if he squawks.  “Whaddya think of that—he’s got larceny in his soul and he squawks like a sucker,” Milt complains as he hands the Broken Nose Guy his cut.  (Evil help is so hard to find these days.)  Beecher also ladles out payment to the “witnesses,” of which a female witness remarks “Any time at all, Mr. Beecher.”  See—some employees are grateful for what they get.

One of Beecher’s henchmen, Red (Mel Ruick), asks how “Little Davie” is doing…and Beecher responds that Barkell is still in the hospital.  The two of them enter a side room where another goon, Doc (Norman Willis), is praised by his boss for his “work” on Little Davie.

DOC: Well…these “accidents” have to be real…
RED: Ah, nobody’ll ever get onto this…too smart a set-up…
BEECHER: I know, I know—I wouldn’t be in this racket if I didn’t leave all the exits open…

You’ve seen enough movies to witness that when supervillains start to boast, sooner or later the hero brings about their downfall and sanity returns to the world.  In fact, Mr. Carmathy is tattling to Karnahan about his latest experience with attorney Beecher while the bad guys are high-fiving themselves:


CARMATHY: All of Beecher’s cases against us were unbeatable—he’s collected over $100,000 from Universal alone…
KARNAHAN: Well, your investigators and doctors verified the claims, of course…
CARMATHY: Yes…here is a chart prepared by the Insurance Index Bureau…

We don’t need to look at no steenkin’ charts to see this Beecher guy is a menace to capitalism—having run this sweet, sweet racket in Salt Lake City, Denver, St. Louis and Chicago—and he must be stopped!

CARMATHY: …and in almost every case, the driver involved had taken out insurance a few days or a week before the accident…Beecher always has plenty of witnesses…yet when his last claim in Salt Lake was denied, he didn’t take it into court…instead, he moved to Denver…he collected many claims there…his last was denied…still, he refused to take it into court…he had several witnesses against us in this taxicab accident…but when I suggested fighting it out in court, he backed down…why?

Could be cowardice.  Or that he’s a sh*tty lawyer.  It’s all rhetorical, of course, because the District Attorney has taken an interest in all this…and the man who’ll be doing the investigating is Larry Morgan (identified as “Martin” at the…well, you know), played by (Peter) George Lynn (Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo, Adventures of Captain Marvel).  The write-up for Money at the IMDb suggests that Lar is some sort of reporter—which is how Leonard Maltin identifies him in his entry in Selected Short Subjects.  I kind of got the impression that Morgan was more of an undercover cop, though Cap’n Karnahan does tell Larry as he heads out “I can guarantee you the full assistance of the police department.”  Could he be a Fed?  Quien sabe?


First step in his investigation—confirming that “Little Davie’s” injuries are real.  A Dr. Kelsey (Charles Trowbridge—last seen in Alibi Racket) confirms that Barkell isn’t “shamming” the company, so Larry asks if it would be possible for him to see Barkell “without him seeing me.”  Since they just doped Davie up a few minutes ago, a Nurse Barry (Mary Howard) takes Morgan into Barkell’s room…and Larry removes a drinking glass from the nightstand.  A fingerprint check reveals that “Little Davie” is not an individual of particularly sterling character:


In a following scene, Nurse Barry and an orderly bandage up Larry for the purpose of placing him in Barkell’s room so he can spy on him.  The doc explains that Mr. Morgan “has been struck by a hit-and-run driver…and knocked unconscious” and that they are to “place no other patients in there.”


LARRY: If my roommate has any questions, why…just shake your head and act serious…and when I give three rings on the call bell, come in with the operating stretcher and wheel me out…

When the orderly gets a little carried away and starts to bandage Morgan’s ears he gets a sharp rebuke: “Don’t cover up my ears—they’re not unconscious.”  (No, but your sense of humor is.)

The playing-possum Morgan is wheeled into Barkell’s room, where Little Davie has been perusing a gossip magazine.


BARKELL: Whatsa matter with the guy?
NURSE: Hit-and-run driver…he’s been unconscious for several days—we had to move him up here from another ward…
BARKELL: Unconscious, eh?  Tough…


Peek-a-boo!  There’s a dissolve, and when Nurse Barry returns to Little Davie’s room he says to her: “You better check that guy—he never moves.”  Barry assures Barkell that the “patient” is still breathing, but Davie would like a transfer—“He gives me the creeps.”  “Mr. Barkell” is interrupted by visitors—Beecher and his mugs have stopped by—and though his guests are concerned about the bandaged Morgan, Davie assures him he’s out like a match.  “Talk to this unconscious guy when he comes to,” Milton tells Barkell, always drumming up bidness in true lawyer-style—“We might make a case out of it.”

BEECHER: Brought you some money, kid…
BARKELL: Cashed in already, eh?
RED: Sure…he settled out of court…
BARKELL: That old fracture of mine sure fooled ‘em again!
BEECHER: Shut up—you talk too much…leave a message at my office if you want me…

“Or you can find him at my place,” Doc chimes in as the trio prepare to hit the gift shop.  With the departure of Beecher and Company, it looks as if Larry has the goods on those evildoers…and so he rings the call button thrice to signal to Nurse Barry she needs to rescue him with the operating stretcher.  But there is still more work to do as the crack medical team liberates Morgan from his bandaged prison.


LARRY: Now I’ve just died on the operating table…tomorrow I’m coming to life as a hospital orderly… (To Barry) Now you hint around to Little Davie that I’m a jailbird…that I have a police record…and that I’ve served time in another state…can you act mysterious about it?

“It’s the role I was bornto play!”  The scene shifts to some nice gentlemen enjoying a leisurely game of craps.  At least that’s what it looks like at first glance—it’s actually the method that Milton Beecher, Shyster at Law uses to select the individual who will be portraying the “victim” in the firm’s next insurance scam.  A luckless Joe rolls “boxcars”…


…and is told by Beecher he’s going to be the next pats…er, hero.  This gentleman is played by character veteran Raymond Hatton—previously seen in Desert Death—but he’s not particularly jazzed about the assignment:


RAYMOND: But, Boss…I gotta…I gotta weak heart…
BEECHER: A weak heart’s better than one that’s stopped altogether…I don’t allow anyone that’s yellow to work for me…come on, boys—take him there…this isn’t the bridge club…
RAYMOND (as Doc and Red drag him off): No!  On the level…I tell ya, I can’t take it…

His pleas for help are soon cut off by the sound of a sap hitting his skull, and with a dissolve he’s deposited at a street corner by Doc and Red as the car speeds off.  But the car is simply making a trip around the block so that it can return with full force (Ray’s looking a little disheveled and covered in contusions).


Beecher’s criminal enterprise hadn’t counted on a lovely little girl who’s wandered into the scenario—carrying a single loaf of bread to take home to her 12 brothers and 11 sisters, no doubt.  (Well, it’s MGM—gotta put a little heart into this.)  She says to Hatton: “Oh, gee—you’re hurt.”  Ray motions for the little sprat to get out of the way…but the driver comes barreling down the street like a bat out of Heck and…


RAYMOND: Look!  You hit the kid!
DRIVER: Lie down, you fool!

He lays Hatton out with a haymaker, and then he kneels in front of the car as the camera pans over to slices of bread all over the street.  RIP, Little Bread Girl.

The scene shifts to Little Davie’s hospital room, as he interrogates Larry the Orderly as to the whereabouts of his little unconscious bandaged friend.  “He kicked off a couple of days ago,” Morgan tells him.


BARKELL: …the nurse was tellin’ me about you…
LARRY: Yeah…what’d she say?
BARKELL: Ah, it’s nothin’…don’t worry about it…everybody gets in jams…
LARRY: Yeah…

Barkell gives him a drag off his cigarette, then asks Larry if he’ll give him a shave later—“I’m gettin’ out of this morgue today.”  Nurse Barry interrupts their conversation by telling him the hospital superintendent wants to see him…but he’s really been summoned by a phone call from Cap’n Karnahan.

KARNAHAN: There were three more bad smash-ups last night…the drivers are going to be questioned by the accident investigation bureau…just how much longer do you intend looking them over?
LARRY: Till one of that gang shows up…


Larry moseys on down to police headquarters, where he spots Red in another office and identifies him as one of the gang.  “He ran down a man and a little girl,” Karnahan informs him.  “She’s badly hurt…if she dies, we’ll slap a second-degree murder charge on him.”

But not now, argues Larry—Red must be turned loose lest the rest of the mob get suspicious.  Karnahan reluctantly agrees, and Red gets a visit from his attorney:

BEECHER: The kid died this morning…
RED: Ah…I figured she’d seen too much…maybe she’d squawk…
BEECHER: Well, forget it…she’s dead…

“F*ck it, Dude—let’s go bowling…”

BEECHER: …I’m handling the case for her mother, and we’re going to collect plentyon it…
RED: Yeah, but what about me?  I’m not takin’ any manslaughter rap…
BEECHER: You won’t…you won’t…the coroner’s inquest will clear you…now, remember…the police think it was just an ordinary accident…and I’m here to get your deposition on how it happened…

I’m no legal expert…but that sounds a little like conflict of interest to me.  Beecher is shrewd enough to operate his insurance racket outside the confines of his legitimate office.  Larry wants to learn the location of his lair, and he explains to Karnahan that he’s going to cozy up to Little Davie (he knows Barkell hangs out in a pool hall) and see if he can infiltrate Beecher’s mob.  He waves off Karnahan’s insistence on having one of his men “shadow” Larry, but of course cops are by their nature a little slow on the uptake:


KARNAHAN: Well…Little Davie…workin’ the ol’ pickpocket gag with a bandaged arm, eh?
BARKELL: It’s busted…on the level…I just came from the hospital… (Pointing to Larry) Ask this guy!
LARRY: That’s right…copper…I work in the same hospital…

Okay, technically that’s a teensy fib—since Larry has moved on, arranging to have himself “fired” to join the Beecher outfit.

KARNAHAN: Okay…I just want you to keep straight, Little Davie… (He leaves)
BARKELL: How did you know he was a flatfoot?
LARRY: Eh, I can smell ‘em a mile off…

“It’s the tantalizing aroma of…bacon…”

BARKELL: Good cop…that guy…
LARRY: Yeah, all the good cops are in coffins

Larry’s decidedly anti-police stance is later relayed by Little Davie to Beecher; Barkell points Morgan out as the two men stroll past the pool hall.  Learning that “he has a police record and he hates cops,” Beecher tells his stooge to “send him around.”

Beecher’s mob gathers around for another round of “craps” as Little Davie explains to Larry that they roll to see who the next “hero” will be.  We witness a bit of chicanery as Red switches the dice on Larry…


…and he rolls the dreaded “boxcars”.  Larry is told to “come into the office,” and then there is a brief cutaway to Karnahan at headquarters, where he worries himself that Morgan hasn’t reported back in.  Back in Beecher’s hideout, he explains to Larry and a woman (Bernadene Hayes) identified at the IMDb as “Debbie” that the pair of them will be the accident victims—and that there’s no fear of really getting plowed down, because the driver “can stop on a dime and still make change.”  Debbie decides she wants out—so Beecher threatens her into compliance by telling her he’ll “wire the Nevada police—you know they’re very anxious to find Daisy.”  (Whether “Daisy” is an alias used by Debbie or maybe her child goes unexplained.)


BEECHER (to Larry): You’re not turnin’ yellow, too—are you?
LARRY: No…I need the dough too bad…

Maybe this guy really isa reporter.  Beecher will have a couple of his men planted as witnesses, and all Larry and Debbie will have to do is be ambulanced to the hospital—he’ll take care of the rest.  Beecher has the two sign the power of attorney statements, and after doing so Debbie asks “Well—what time should I come back?”

“You’re not leaving,” Beecher answers her.  “Go into that room—both of you.”  Once inside, Debbie cries out in terror…for it’s in Doc’s “office” that we see some of the interesting devices he utilizes to simulate injuries:

This goon observes: "This makes a great bruisin' machine!"


 In the other room, Little Davie turns on the radio and cranks the volume to drown out the expected screams while Doc orders Debbie over to a table to get “a few abrasions” with the help of a cheese grater.  We got a taste of this in the previously reviewed Accidents Will Happen (1939) when the insurance scammers had to break our pal Clinton Rosemond’s arm to insure reality…but this is some pretty cold-blooded stuff for a two-reel short.

When the job is done, Milton is once again filled with admiration for Doc’s “good night’s work.”  “Anything to help a couple of kids get along,” he replies modestly.  “Remember on this accident—we take two ways: we take the city for big damages, and we take the insurance company,” his boss reminds him.


“That’s what the city gets for being careless,” Doc editorializes.  The plan is to stage an accident near Sunrise and Garland, where the unnamed metropolis has dug up some of the street—the bad guys will wreck an automobile at the site, and then Larry and Debbie will place themselves in the excavation, crying “Lawsuit!”  But despite his injuries (he looks like those gorillas broke his arm), Larry manages to get to a telephone he spotted earlier and contact Karnahan (after subduing Red with a knock to the noggin), who’s ready to swoop in with some men before the “accident” can commence.  (I liked the presence of men with cameras, taking pictures with flash bulbs popping.)  Karnahan takes charge of rounding up the rest of the mob in Beecher’s hangout—as a barely conscious Red is dragged out, he barks at the henchman “We want you for murder!”


KARNAHAN: Larry Morgan’s testimony secured an all-around conviction…the sentences of this mob totaled more than 200 years…consider thatif you think crime pays!


Okay, take a victory lap, Michael me boyo—I guess you earned it.  Next time: It May Happen to You (1937)—with that “celebrated actor,” J. Carrol Naish!  G’bye now!

We laugh to win!

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In 1925, a group of expatriate Broadway thespians who had moved to the West Coast for film work decided to establish a social club where members could fraternize and enjoy each other’s fellowship.  It would be known as The Masquers Club, and its members included at various times such classic movie icons as Joe E. Brown, Frank Morgan, Pat O’Brien, Charley Chase, Edward Arnold, and Charles Coburn.  It’s still going strong today—you can even check out the club’s websitewhen you get a notion.

The Masquers Club decided to capitalize on the talent present in their membership and get into the motion picture production business in the 1930s with a series of two-reel shorts produced at RKO.  They weren’t the only outfit to express interest in making their own movies; The Lambs Club did a similar series for Columbia (among the familiar faces were Lynne Overman and Leon Errol) while the Thalians (featuring the likes of Franklin Pangborn and TDOY fave Grady Sutton) cranked out shorts for Universal.  But the Masquers Club’s movies were, in the opinion of Leonard Maltin in Selected Short Subjects, “easily the best of these shorts”:

If these two-reelers had one consistent quality, it was that they tried awfully hard.  There was a conscious striving for offbeat humor, which at times was overbearing, but which often paid off.  In Rule’em and Weep (1932), the sound effects are always wrong. In a duel that runs through the film, every time the guns are fired, different noises are heard.  And when a horse-drawn carriage pulls up to the country of Bulvania, where the story is set, the sound effect of a train slowing to a halt is heard.

Director Mark Sandrich poses with Dorothy Granger and
Eddie Borden on the set of Thru Thin or Thicket (1933)
Alpha Video has issued a fun collection of these bizarre two-reel comedies in The Masquers Club: The Pre-Code Comedies Collection.  The set kicks off with an entry described by Maltin as “one of the wildest in the series”—Thru Thin or Thicket; or Who’s Zoo in Africa (1933).  (Many of the Masquers shorts had double titles, something reminiscent of many episodes of Rocky & Bullwinkle.)  Wealthy dowager Mrs. Chyzzlebottom (Grayce Hamilton) is financing an expedition in Darkest Africa on behalf of Professor Backwash (James Finlayson), who hopes to locate (despite some skepticism) the famous “Tarzan” of motion picture fame.  Instead, the party—with the help of reporter Scoop Skinner (Eddie Borden)—learns that that neck of the woods is ruled by the “Queen of the Jungle”—one Tarkana (Dorothy Granger), whose “yell” resembles in Len’s words, “a combination of Andy Devine and Johnny Weissmuller.”  Mr. M isn’t just whistlin’ Dixie when he says this is a wild short; it’s got some gut busting gags and wacky situations (Tarkana has a “homing pigeon” that’s a pelican) written by Ben Holmes & Walter Weems and directed by future Astaire-Rogers helmer Mark Sandrich.

"Youse is a viper!" declares Barbara Sheldon to villain Sam Hardy in Stolen by Gypsies (1933), who responds: "I hope she don't mean an old windshield viper."  (Okay, I didn't laugh at that so much as I did the reference to the classic Billy DeBeck comic strip Parlor, Bedroom, and Sink.)

Eddie Borden has a bit role in another short on the Alpha set—one that I found wonderfully amusing entitled Stolen by Gypsies; or Beer and Bicycles (1933).  (Borden figures in a running gag with June Brewster as the couple’s attempts to get in a little passionate necking are interrupted by various characters throughout the two-reeler.)  Stolen by Gypsies would the final short in the Masquers’ brief series; the best-known of their efforts (according to the [always reliable] IMDb) is the 1931 classic entitled The Stolen Jools (spoiler alert: the IMDb is wrong), which has been in the public domain for so long everyone’s seen it (if you haven’t—here it is).  A promotional short that sought to raise funds on behalf of the National Variety Artists’ campaign to combat tuberculosis, Jools spots an all-star cast in a funny tale about the hunt for some stolen bling belonging to Norma Shearer.  (Included in the cast are such TDOY favorites as Buster Keaton, Edward G. Robinson, Our Gang, Laurel & Hardy, and Wheeler & Woolsey.)

Stolen Jools isn’t in this collection, but the remaining shorts that are provide intermittent laughs and classic film celebrity wattage like Laura LaPlante, Walter Byron, John Sheehan, and Olaf Hytten in Lost inLimehouse; or Lady Esmerelda’s Predicament (1933—a funny melodrama that spoofs both Sherlock Holmes and Hairbreadth Harry-heroics) and Mary Carr, Russell Simpson, Lucile Browne, Russell Hopton, and Frank McGlynn, Jr. in The Moonshiner’s Daughter; or Abroad in Old Kentucky (1933—a feud between the Ratfields and Catfields in a tale from the hills).  My personal favorite is The Wide Open Spaces (1931), which features Ned Sparks, Antonio Moreno, Dorothy Sebastian, William Farnum, George Cooper, Claude Gillingwater, Frank McHugh, Tom Dugan, and George Chandler.  Moreno is a suspected bandito who’s smitten with heroine Sebastian…but she’s being pursued by crooked sheriff Sparks (as “Jack Rancid”).  When Dorothy agrees to marry Ned to spare Antonio’s capture (this is decided over a game of checkers), the two of them are about to be “spliced” when the justice of the peace (Gillingwater) asks Sparks to produce the ring.  Ned pulls a handkerchief out of his pocket and a buttload of rings in various sizes falls to the ground.  Laughing, Judge Claude observes: “You’ve been ridin’ a merry-go-round!”

If Mack Swain is pourin'...I'm buyin'.  (Mack's the bartender in Wide Open Spaces.)
Brian Krey of Alpha Video provided me with a screener for this most entertaining compendium of classic film shorts…and I think fans of both two-reel comedies and those stars from the bygone days of Tinsel Town will want to add it to their bookshelf.  To quote Br’er Maltin: “Familiar faces and far-out humor were the order of the day in the Masquers Comedies.  They tried very hard to go off the beaten track.  Often they succeeded and sometimes they did not.  But the ingenuity that went into them always shines through.”

Buried Treasures: People are Funny (1946)

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Radio producer John Guedel was a man who was in the right place at the right time.  In 1942, he was plying his trade on Red Skelton’s Raleigh cigarettes program when he spotted an article in one of the trades mentioning a show recently cancelled by NBC.  Getting in touch with the ad agency that had sponsored the now-defunct program, he pitched an idea for an audience participation show that would eventually debut over the network on April 10, 1942.  Hosted by Art Linkletter, People are Funny featured average Joes and Janes participating in offbeat, unusual stunts for prizes of cash and merchandise.  People was second only to Truth or Consequences as radio’s best-known “stunt” show, running on radio until 1960 (on both NBC and CBS) and transitioning to the small screen for a version that lasted from 1954 to 1961.

Helen Walker, Jack Haley
The popularity of People are Funny inspired a feature film released in 1946, produced by Paramount’s “Two Dollar Bills”—William H. Pine and William C. Thomas—who purchased the rights for $25,000 in 1944.  Pine-Thomas had obtained the services of actor-singer Jack Haley (who had been teamed with Joan Davis on radio with the popular Sealtest Village Store show), whose film fortunes had drifted toward second banana status despite showcases like The Wizard of Oz (1939—where he had played “The Tin Man”).  Haley became the “star” of such Pine-Thomas vehicles as Take It Big (1944) and One Body Too Many (1944—I caught this one during our Epix freeview a while back…painful), and was tabbed to repeat his streak in the People are Funny movie along with fellow radio star Ozzie Nelson (who had also appeared in Take It Big along with spouse Harriet Hilliard).

In a gag in the movie, Rudy Vallee's character is deliberately dropped off at CBS rather than NBC.  In reality, "the stars' address" wasn't that distant from their rival, though Phil Harris (who often had to bolt from Jack Benny's show [once it moved to CBS] to his own NBC sitcom with wife Alice Faye during broadcasts) might give me an argument.

In fact, People are Funny doesn’t skimp on the radio favorites.  Rudy Vallee, enjoying a second career as a comedic actor thanks to Preston Sturges (The Palm Beach Story), is a great comic foil as Ormsby Jamison, a big bidnessman whose search for a program to sponsor fuels much of People’sadmittedly wafer-thin plot.  (Vallee even gets in a nice in-joke at his own expense when he picks up a small megaphone from the desk of Ozzie’s character and remarks that he once used such an item in his brief singing career [“Yale, you know”].)  Art Linkletter, the host of the real-life radio program, appears as himself (his motion picture debut) and vocalist Frances Langford—who gets a “Special Guest Artist” credit—also turns up in the movie to sing one of her signature tunes, I’m in the Mood for Love.  Curiously, Langford’s number has been surgically excised from the print of Peoplethat I watched (an Alpha Video DVD from Oldies.com) and according to my Facebook compadre Hal Erickson that’s the case with many of the public domain prints.  In the Alpha version, all that remains of Langford’s number is a long shot of Frances exiting after finishing and an announcer (an uncredited Ken Carpenter) thanking her for what we didn’t see.

Spoonerism king Roy Atwill was no stranger to radio (he was a regular on Fred Allen's program in the 1930s, and also worked alongside Joe Penner and Edgar Bergen); he plays Haley's boss in the film...and the lady behind him is Jack's fellow Wizard of Oz co-worker Clara "Auntie Em" Blandick, as Haley's grandmother.

Walker and Ozzie Nelson
John Guedel is fictionally played by Big Town After Dark (1947) actor Phillip Reed, who’s desperate to find a replacement radio show for Vallee’s Jamison to sponsor since Jamison is most displeased about Johnny's current program, Humbug (which pokes fun at the legal profession].  Guedel gets on the phone and pleads with his best writer (and long-suffering fiancée) Corey Sullivan (Helen Walker) to cut short her Las Vegas sabbatical and head back to L.A. because they only have a week to come up with something to placate Jamison.  Meeting up with Guedel’s rival, an obnoxious sax player named Leroy Brinker (Ozzie), Corey and Leroy are on their way back to the City of Angels when car trouble waylays them in Clearwater, Nevada…and they witness a popular local program (three guesses as to what’s called…the first two don’t count) hosted by department store druggist Pinky Wilson (Haley).  Both Corey and Leroy decide to steal Pinky’s concept (Sullivan “liberates” a transcription disc of the program) and sell it to Jamison…though Corey is only pretending to work in tandem with Leroy.  Small-town Pinky accompanies Corey to “the big city” and for the rest of the film’s running time the People are Funny program is developed despite the wacky complications.

Rudy Vallee winds up a victim of the program's mayhem.

People are Funny host Art Linkletter
If I had to pick between People are Funny and Breakfast in Hollywood (1946) as to which is the better “audience participation” movie my vote would go to BreakfastPeople isn’t terrible (there’s too much talent on display), but it suffers from a great deal of padding where the musical numbers are concerned (even with the missing Frances Langford number it’s far too long), with Breakfast simply showcasing better music.  Bob Graham, at one time the vocalist on radio’s Duffy’s Tavern, plays a singing mechanic and warbles Every Hour on the Hour and Jack Haley gets a musical showcase singing English lyrics to Hey Jose(sung in Spanish by Lillian Molieri).  The Vagabonds do three musical numbers in the film (they interfered in several Paramount films, including It Ain’t Hay [1943]) including one in blackface (Angelina) that was no doubt embarrassing even back in 1946.  (The group figures in a running gag throughout the film in which they’re trying to get on any program of Guedel’s.)  The only bright spots are Ann Jenkins’ boogie-woogie piano and an English version of the folksong favorite Alouetta, and that’s because Vallee’s Jamison asks Nelson’s Brinker to assemble an impromptu group of singers that includes Billy Bletcher, Eddie Kane, and William “Billy” Benedict.

"Curly" Joe DeRita plays one of the contestants in the movie's recreation of the radio show.

Phillip Reed
I didn’t particularly care about the romance between Reed and Walker but I did chuckle at the fact that both of their characters are portrayed as schemers (Walker seems to be practicing for her best screen turn as the unscrupulous psychiatrist in 1947’s Nightmare Alley).  The real-life Guedel purportedly had a reputation—according to Hal Erickson’s book From Radio to the Big Screen—as “a man who in real life magnanimously bestowed the title of vice-president on every person in his production company— including himself.”  Hal kind of glosses over Guedel’s non-magnanimity by neglecting to mention the fast shuffle he gave People’soriginal host, Art Smith, in the first year of the radio program…so I was pleased to see that the fictional “Johnny” played as a flawed human being in the film.  The plot about People are Funny’s origins as a small-town local show mirrors reality, too; Peoplebegan as Pull Over, Neighbor on local NBC and CBS stations in L.A. in 1939 and later became known as All Aboard.  (The legend goes that the show’s eventual title stemmed from Guedel’s attendance at a dull after-dinner speech; while observing that the fidgety audience was just as bored as he was, Guedel jotted down on a napkin—“People are funny, aren’t they?”)

Jack Haley comes off best in the cast; I really liked him as the sympathetic Pinky, a babe-in-the-woods who insists that the money resulting from his selling of the program go toward projects in his home town.  Ozzie’s turn as a bit of a heel is also quite entertaining (in two instances he must don disguise as a Swedish janitor and a cab driver with a Scottish burr), a change from his established persona as an amiable doofus of a dad on The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet.  But I’m in agreement with Hal that the main problem with People is that “hiring Hollywood actors to portray the ‘real folks’ contestants severely diminishes the verisimilitude needed to sustain the laughter.”  After all, the radio and television People are Funny enjoyed the same success as Candid Microphone/Candid Camera—that people are funny when caught in the simple act of being themselves.

Rage against the (Hopper) machine

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“Those opposed to DRM contend there is no evidence that DRM helps prevent copyright infringement, arguing instead that it serves only to inconvenience legitimate customers, and that DRM helps big business stifle innovation and competition. Furthermore, works can become permanently inaccessible if the DRM scheme changes or if the service is discontinued.” – Wikipedia

Well, as I initially suspected, Thursday was the last day of our receiving the Buzzr channel at Rancho Yesteryear with our DISH “Flex Package.”  What made me wary that it would be a temporary thing was that we experienced something similar when DISH added the Grit subchannel a while back; when I noticed that they added a few “new” reruns to their lineup—one of them being The Californians, which I was curious to check out—I went to program the DVR only to discover it had completely vaporized from our system.

I recorded reruns of To Tell the Truth, What’s My Line?, and I’ve Got a Secret from Buzzr for two purposes—the most important being that I had planned to use these episodes as “filler” whenever I dubbed a ninety-minute movie to a DVD-R.  (I’m kind of anal about that sort of thing.  Please do not look upon me with bewilderment and pity.)  Friday afternoon, I decided to get started with the dubbing and as I set up the first installment of Truth…I get an onscreen message telling me that I can’t watch this recording because I’m not subscribed to the channel.

This is not the first time this has happened.  My Mom had the same trouble watching Gone Baby Gone (2007), which I snagged during a Starz “freeview” some time back.  (I had already managed to dub this one off onto a disc, and offered to run it for her but she waved me off.)  The peculiar thing about all of this is that we never experienced these difficulties until DISH uploaded a new “interface” for their Hopper DVR about two weeks ago.  I got an earlier heads-up about this from Andrew “Grover” Leal, who told me he could no longer watch a movie he DVR’d from HBO a while ago.  (He’s also been experiencing trouble programming his DVR since the changeover.)  I checked out an HBO recording I made—I believe it was The Sixth Sense (1999)—and it seemed to play fine, so I didn’t think much more about it.

But the Buzzr situation really got me steamed.  It angered me because the recordings were only a month old, if at that—I could understand it if I had DVR’d these last year but this just seemed to be one big clusterfudge.  I decided to call someone at DISH about this nonsense.

You’d think when you get to be the age I am now you’d learn that anytime you must contact a cable or satellite company about a problem it’s not going to end well.  There is a simple reason for this.  These companies are staffed by people working for human-weasel hybrids.  (I used to think that everyone employed there was some sort of half-human, half-weasel until I further contemplated on the matter and decided that it was probably just upper management—the rest of the proles were unhappy humans forced to work for the company to afford luxuries like food, clothing, and shelter.  This does not, however, resolve them from any of the evil their masters do nor their tireless efforts to see just how high they can raise my blood pressure.)

When we moved into Rancho Yesteryear (the Winterville edition) in July of 2015, we didn’t have many options re: TV service; although our mailing address is Winterville, we’re technically outside the city limits…where no cable installer has gone before.  So, it came down to DISH or DirecTV, and after hearing a few of my friends bitch about how DirecTV loves to raise their rates more than they love their children I decided to go with DISH as our provider.  (Plus, there was already a DISH dish in the yard.  I figured it would make things easier.)  Since that foolish decision, DISH has gone above and beyond the call of duty to keep me in a continually ulcerated state.

It started when Mom and Dad were upset because they couldn’t watch Braves games on the weekend; the channel (Fox Sports South) that televised the games would have a notice onscreen that the outing they wanted to watch had been blocked in our area.  I called DISH to ask what the dealio was and the rep I spoke with swore on the lives of her children that this was completely out of the company’s hands.


Yes.  This woman flat-out lied to me, thinking smugly: “This guy sounds too dumb to even look it up on the Internets.”  Because here’s the thing: it’s bad enough that you’ve aroused my ire by doing this kind of sh*t in the first place (although it was really more of my parents’ ire…since I had no f**ks to give regarding the televised games) but then you compound this by not being straight with me.  All she would have had to say is: “Yes, we’re too cheap to pay Fox for the weekend games.  I know you, as a customer, probably don’t agree with what we feel is a principled stand…but we really don’t care because you have no other options regarding TV.  Have a nice day, asswipe.”  (Sure—I still would have been angry…but it would be an honest anger.)

Let’s get back to the present.  Before DISH instituted its new “interface”—there was never any problem with my DVRing movies from freeview weekends and then watching them when I had the time.  After the changes, however—this crap starts happening.  Now—I know that believing correlation equals causation is a logical fallacy…but it just seemed odd that this kind of problem would rear its ugly head after DISH changed their Hopper/Joey.  I had an online chat with a rep to find out what was going on.

I should have foreseen that this person was not going to give me any sort of honest answer—that she had, in fact, been conditioned by her human-weasel masters not to get sidetracked from the official story (I’m guessing it was a combination of snakes and live electricity).  She kept prattling on about it being a DRM (digital rights management) issue—that practice that companies have adopted to, in the words of Wikipedia, “restrict usage of proprietary hardware and copyrighted works.”  Since I wasn’t subscribed to Buzzr, I couldn’t access any programming I might have recorded…and if I did record a show, it would expire after a 24-hour period.  (“What’s the point of having the DVR if I have to watch this stuff before that time limit runs out?” I asked to no reply.)

This made no sense to me whatsoever.  What she was saying was, if I was subscribed to Buzzr—I could continue to access the programming I had legitimately recorded…but how would that stop me from “piracy”?  (Wikipedia: “Proponents of DRM argue that it is necessary to prevent intellectual property from being copied freely, just as physical locks are needed to prevent personal property from being stolen, that it can help the copyright holder maintain artistic control, and that it can ensure continued revenue streams.”)  The most infuriating part of the conversation was that she steadfastly maintained that this had nothing to do with the new interface…even though these “piracy” threats were not a problem with the old interface.

My favorite part came at the end, when she acknowledged that this might not have reached a satisfying conclusion but was there anything she could do to “better the experience”?  My response was no, there was not.  “You are doomed to spend eternity in Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell, along with politicians and pedophiles,” I explained to her. “I couldn’t do what you do for a living because I have a conscience.”  All she would have had to say to me would be: “Yes, unfortunately one of the side effects of the interface change is that it puts the screws to people who like to record movies.  Here’s a coupon for the inconvenience.”  (The ‘rents would have liked that part.)  I guess if there is a bright side to all this I now have some space cleared on the DVR because I had to delete all the movies I grabbed during the freeview weekend as well as some TV episodes I obtained from the Encore Westerns channel.  (Oddly enough, there were a couple of movies I could continue to access…though those might be history by the time this tirade posts.)

And they wonder why people despise cable/satellite companies so much.  Okay, rant over.  Back to business tomorrow.

Crime Does Not Pay #8: “The Public Pays” (10/10/36)

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As the blogosphere goes wild for the triumphant return of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear’s critically-acclaimed dissection weekly of the Crime Does Not Pay shorts (hoo boy), we learn this week that while crime may not pay the public certainly does.  (Says so in the title.  They do need two forms of I.D., though, if they’re paying by check.)  The Public Pays (1936) won the CDNP franchise its first of two Academy Award statuettes for Best Short Subject (Two-Reel); the series would garner seven nominations in total during its twelve-year run on motion picture screens.  (Props to veteran scribe John C. Higgins, who wrote the story and screenplay, and would later work on such cinematic concoctions as He Walked by Night [1948] and Big House, U.S.A. [1955].)

William Tannen—the actor who played the “MGM Reporter” known as…Jim—will no longer be narrating our Crime Does Not Pay series; he has been replaced by Philip Trent (the actor would play another familiar-to-the-blog reporter in “Jasper Jenks” in the 1940 serial The Green Hornet) …though Tannen will return to CDNP, only in various bit parts.


REPORTER: How do you do, ladies and gentlemen…

Boo!  You suck!  Bring back Jim!

REPORTER: …once again, as the MGM Reporter, it is my pleasure to bring you another episode in the series entitled “Crime Does Not Pay” …may I introduce to you John Allgren of the Federal Department of Justice…

You couldintroduce us to him…but since I know that he’s really actor Edwin Stanley—who’s been in more serials (The Phantom Creeps, Mysterious Doctor Satan) than Carter has little liver pills—what would be the point?  (I’m going to warn you right now: Allgren comes across as someone who had a humor-ectomy as a kid.)


ALLGREN: The problem I have to present to you is not a nice one nor an amusing one…I’m not going to quote figures and let it go at that…I’m not going to lay the problem in your laps…I intend to throw it full in your faces

Mental note: scratch this guy off the guest list for the end-of-year TDOY party.

ALLGREN: The problem is this: the robbery of our nation…the systematic and organized plundering of your country…of yourselves

Oh!  You mean capitalism!

ALLGREN: Our department estimates that many industries are paying tribute to racketeers who have formed fake protective associations and fake unions…

Note that Allgren is careful to emphasize “fake” unions—otherwise that would be the end of this movie series as we know it.  (“Build your own goddamn set!”)

ALLGREN: …businessmen and workers are frightened into joining, and once they do the prices go up…and the consumer pays…which means everybody in this audience

“Except for that couple seated in the back.  I have it on good authority that they steal for a living, and some of my men will be picking them up once the main feature is over.” 

ALLGREN: Ten cents of every dollar you spend goes into the pockets of crime…and that’s a dime for which you get absolutely nothing

Kind of a bargain when you stop to consider how much of every dollar I spend goes into this country’s obscene, bloated military budget…for which I also receive absolutely nothing.  But I digress.

ALLGREN: Those dimes add up to two thousand million dollars a year to criminals…

What have you got against the small businessman, Allgren?  Laughing Boy then goes on to tell us that these same crooks were even evill enough to infiltrate the milk business, and he brings out the chief of police of “a Midwestern city” (later identified as “Clayburne City”), John Carney, to narrate this sordid story…


…except that Chief Carney is instantly recognizable as character great Cy Kendall…who, coincidentally, plays the chief bad guy in the Green Hornet serial.  I’ve seen Kendall in a great many flicks—you’ll remember he was in one of our previous CDNPshorts, Hit-and-Run Driver (1936)—and because the characters he portrays often tend to represent the opposite side of the law I kept waiting for him to be eventually revealed as working in tandem with the gangsters in this short.

CARNEY: We were confronted with a dangerous crime situation usually confined to large cities…we were invaded by a gang of extortionists…they posed as businessmen from Detroit…


There’s a dissolve, and then we pan up this impressive skyscraper…and to be honest, I was kind of confused because I got the impression that when Carney mentioned “usually confined to large cities” Clayburne City would be the last burg to have a building this imposing.  (“We shot our wad with the money from the general fund—but it was worth it!”)

Four “Detroit” men are being shown office space in that building by a landlord (character veteran Eddy Waller)—Moran (Paul Stanton), Bartley (Emmett Vogan), Kelly (William Pawley), and a fourth identified only as “Moran’s hood” at the (always reliable) IMDb …but played by yet another veteran thesp, Frank Puglia.  Also, according to the IMDb, the “office” used in this short was a set seen in the Clark Gable-Jean Harlow-Myrna Loy picture Wife vs. Secretary (1936).


LANDLORD: Uh…what business did you say you were in, Mr. Moran?
MORAN: I didn’t…but it happens to be milk
LANDLORD: Milk?
KELLY: Yeah…the stuff they feed babies
LANDLORD: I know a reporter on The Clayburne News…if you’d like a little free publicity…
BARTLEY: No, no, no…no publicity, my good man…we get our ownpublicity in our own way…

“Try this on for size: got milk?”  Bartley shoos away the landlord while asking him for “a first-class sign painter”—and this is the result:


The goon—who walks with an umbrella and a bit of a limp—pays off the painter and ventures back into the office, where the others—having received the “papers of incorporation”—are all set to take Clayburne City’s milk money.  (I make leetle joke.)

BARTLEY: Here’s a list of the independents…
MORAN: Well, their independence is over…the ones with the checks in front are the weak sisters…with a little talk, and they’ll join—that’s yourjob, Bartley…

The ones who have “x’s before them” will need “a little mild persuasion”—and that’s the jurisdiction of Mr. Kelly.  As for the Umbrella Man?  It’s pointed out that there are “a couple of Italian names” on the list, and since the guy with the bumbershoot seems to share that ethnicity he’ll handle those accounts.  The goon enthusiastically points his umbrella at the screen…


…and opens it, much to the consternation of his associates.  (I couldn’t initially figure out if it’s because it will serve a sinister purpose later or because they’re superstitious about opening an umbrella indoors.)  Moran and his bunch have hired a bunch of “boys” to assist them in their persuasion, and is informed by Kelly that “they’re over at the gym, taking a workout.”

MORAN (to Kelly): Now remember…you’re a trainer in town, with a stable of boxers…don’t make any attempt to phone here…nobody must connect those bruisers of yours with the Creamery Betterment Association…Incorporated

First stop: Mr. Moore’s (John Dilson) dairy.


MOORE: Naturally, in the interest of good business I’d like to see the price go up…but…uh…
BARTLEY: But what?
MOORE: I started such an organization myself a couple of years ago…but it didn’t work…
BARTLEY: Don’t worry, Mr. Moore… (Hands him a piece of paper) This one will…now if you’ll just sign that…

Moore puts his John Hancock on the paper, and hands it back to Bartley.  That’s when he learns that Bartley is an administrative assistant to Beelzebub, and that he’s just signed away his immortal soul!  I’m kidding, of course; but Moore does learn that the price of milk is going up three cents…and that “The Creamery Betterment Association” expects to get a penny per bottle of cow juice sold.

MOORE: A cent on every bottle!  Why—that’s outrageous!  You know how much that amounts to?!!
BARTLEY: Yes…we know…but don’t forget in a few days the price goes up three cents…and it stays up…now you’ll save that extra profit just by organizing…
MOORE: But I can’t afford to pay that much!
BARTLEY: But you don’t pay it—people who buy your milk pay it…

"Why didn't I think of this before?"
This is, hands-down, the funniest bit in the short—because Moore gets this look on his face as if he’s just now figured out how capitalism works (it never occurred to him to squeezethe customers), and he’s beside himself with joy at the notion of screwing over his clientele.

The thug with the umbrella pays an Italian dairy owner named Simonelli (George Humbert) a visit by telling him the CBA (Creamery Betterment Association) is “an American outfit and you have been chosen to join,” skillfully appealing to his immigrant sense of patriotism.  Mr. S “don’t want-a no trouble,” and he sells his soul easier than a milkshake through a straw.  Dickman (Frederick Vogeding) of Baltic Creamery, on the other hand, proves a bit of a tougher sell when Bartley comes a-callin’.


DICKMAN: No, thank you…not interested…I’m making a fair profit…and business is getting better…but I don’t believe in banding together to get the price up…

Now I know this must be a movie—this guy is too good to be true!  Bartley is not discouraged; he throws his business card on Dickman’s desk and remarks that by noon tomorrow he’ll probably need it.  There’s a brief scene where Moran orders Kelly to put the heat on Dickman’s outfit…but curiously, he comments on Bartley’s habit of popping little white pills like they were Tic-Tacs.  I thought they introduced this into the story so that they could come back to it later (“We found an empty pillbox near one of the milk trucks, Inspector!”) but nothing ever develops—I think it’s just in there to give Bartley a little color.  Some of Kelly’s “boys” block one of the Baltic trucks on a country road, and when the driver gets out he’s punched out by one of the goons while the rest of them dump the milk on the ground.


To no one’s surprise, this induces Mr. Dickman to become a fervent supporter of CBA—though Moran warns him he’s letting him off easy despite Dickman calling the cops about the incident.  The scene shifts to a milkman making a delivery for Markowitz Dairy (lot of dairies in Clayburne City) while an unknown miscreant adds a little something extra to the milk via syringe…


We don’t learn what’s in the milk until a following scene, when a little boy takes a swig of his morning milk cocktail and complains to his mother “there’s something funny about this milk.”  Mama downs a bit of it, and noticing the odd tang sniffs it—declaring “Why, it smells like kerosene!”  While the mother announces that “that’s the last milk we’ll get from them” and goes off toward the telephone to give them a tongue lashing, a little girl also seated at the table has a slash and makes a face.  Yes, I laughed at this.  {“What is this kerosene-in-the-milk bullsh*t, Ma…gaahhhhhhhh!!!”)

The secretary (Barbara Bedford) to Mr. Markowitz (Karl Hackett) informs her boss in the next scene that customers have been bitching left and right about the new ingredient in the milk.  “I can’t understand it,” she laments…but Markowitz has figured it out; he hands her a business card and resignedly says “Call that number—tell them I’ll sign their agreement.”

As she turns to leave, he adds: “Tell MacMillan that milk goes up three cents.”


As you can see by this edition of The Clayburne News, every dairy in the area has knuckled under to the strong-arm tactics of the CBA except for Paige Creamery—whose president, Charles Paige (Ivan Miller), will no doubt be getting a visit from one of their friendly reps soon.  In the meantime, the audience witnesses for itself the devastating effects of CBA’s reign of terror.  A woman purchasing two bottles of milk from a grocer (Harry C. Bradley) must put one back after she’s informed of the price hike.  And a poor family gets a visit from a woman from the relief bureau is informed that their daily ration will be slashed from two quarts a day to a quart-and-a-half.  (Milk, Mandrake?  Children’s milk?)  By the way—the relief bureau lady is played by Bess Flowers, “Queen of the Dress Extras.”


Paige has taken all he can stands—he can’t stands no more:

PAIGE: Now get this straight, John—Paige Company is not knuckling under to these grafters…I’ve spent twenty years building up the biggest creamery in this city and I’ll fight ‘em…with or without your police department!

Looks like it’s going to be without.  Carney behaves pretty much like every pusillanimous public official—there’s nothing we can do, I’m just marking time until I collect my pension, yadda yadda yadda.


CARNEY: We have no evidence connecting the outrages with the racketeers…extortion’s very difficult to prove…I’ve got to have some evidence that a good jury can set its teethinto…
PAIGE: Swell…meantime these thugs take over the milk business and skyrocket prices!
CARNEY: Yeah, I know…

“F*ck it, Dude—let’s go bowling…”

CARNEY: I don’t blame the creamery companies for giving in…they’ve got too much at stake…they can’t risk spoiled milk…interrupted deliveries…families and hospitals have gotto have their products!  The crooks have got the milk dealers right over a barrel…

More like a carton.  Paige still insists he’s going to hold out and that he’s itching for a scrap.  “We’ll be right beside you, Charlie,” promises Carney, “as soon as we get something on them.”

Back at the CBA, the officers lament that Paige Creamery still won’t play ball and that they’re going to soon start asking for three cents per bottle from its august members.  (This is how real bidnessmen are supposed to act!)  Kelly enters to tell Moran that Paige is still being stubborn—it’s speculated that the president’s reserve is due to his working his way up through the ranks, starting out as a humble milkman.  “He’ll go in with us or go into bankruptcy,” declares Moran.  The word is out to put on additional pressure, and in this next scene…


…not the best screen capture but the actor playing “Drunken Hood Who Knocks Over Milk Wagon” (thank you for that, IMDb) is B-western/serial veteran Richard Alexander (you might know him as Prince Barin the first Flash Gordon chapter play).  Dick and his fellow tipplers take the horses from the milk wagon, and when the driver objects he’s laid out with a roundhouse…then his wagon is pushed over, spilling the precious kerosene-laced beverage all over the ground.  A following sequence has two CBA goons crashing into a Paige truck on a busy street, also knocking the vehicle on its side.  But Paige continues to hang tough, despite a visit from Moran, Kelly, and Umbrella Henchman.  As they’re ordered out of his office, Bumbershoot Goon sees a photo of Paige’s wife and kids on his desk.  “Nice family you got…”  (“Be a shame if someone were to set fire to them.”)

Paige’s secretary (Betty Ross Clarke) informs him that Chief Carney has come to visit, and that’s when Paige announces he’s had enough.

PAIGE: I’m giving in, John…those crooks have threatened my family…

“I may be a captain in the homogenized industry—but my family means the world to me.”

PAIGE: Oh, I stuck it out while they smashed my trucks…beat up my drivers and made them quit…destroyed raw milk and apparently everything accidental…but this is too much…I’m through, Carney…

Carney pleads with Paige to “stick by me” even though the long arm of the law is completely helpless where these racketeers are concerned.  (“I was this close to stepping up my efforts to do completelynothing!”)  All he needs is another week—and in the meantime, he’ll do whatever it takes to protect the Family Paige.


“The police department is going into the milk business,” Carney declares to Paige.  He rounds up a considerable number of his fellow flatfoots (you wouldn’t think a city would need that many—but what do I know?) and disguises them as common garden variety milkmen.  As a couple of CBA shakedown artists approach one of the undercover cops with milk mayhem on their agenda, the cop gives one of them a judo flip…


A uniformed cop recognizes one of his fellow boys in blue (Robert Homans) in a milkman’s getup and assumes he’s gotten into another line of work.  No, me boyo, he tells his friend…and as Carney approaches, the milkman informs his captain he’s got a couple of guys ready for the hoosegow on top of his wagon:


The officers with the CBA are not amused.

MORAN (to Kelly): You dumb cluck
KELLY: Well, how was the boys to know that every one of them milkmen was a cop?
MORAN: How could they know anything with such a dumbleader?  How many did they lock up?
KELLY: All of them…but don’t worry, Chief—they won’t talk…they know you’ll spring ‘em in a couple of days…
MORAN: These hick cops think they can stymie our racket, do they?  Okay…well, it’s Paige’s funeral…maybe the police department’s, too…


The Creamery Betterment Association proceeds to detonate a small thermonuclear device inside Clayburne City—which finally makes the police sit up and take notice.  Okay, I’m just kidding—Moran’s hood finally gets the opportunity to use his umbrella when the car he and a few of the “boys” are riding in passes a Paige truck alongside a country road.  The umbrella is actually a high-octane shootin’ weapon which pierces the tanks on the truck and spills the milk all over the ground.  (I haven’t seen umbrella action like that since that rerun of The Avengers.)  The man (Russ Clark) behind the wheel of the truck is unhurt…and he’s also an undercover cop, who spills the news of the event to Carney.  Carney knows that simple ballistics is all he’ll need to convict those evil-doers—particularly if he catches them with the umbrella gun.  There’s an unintentionally humorous bit where Paige starts bitching about the damage to his truck—estimated at $30,000—and demands of Carney: “What kind of police department are running here?”

“A good one!” is Carney’s response.  (Eye roll.)  The gendarmes quickly surround the building that houses the CBA, and they plan to flush out the gang by printing some “fake news”:


Spoiler: the driver was not killed.  The racketeers manage to make it to their vehicle and hightail it out of town…but they’re stopped by Clayburne’s finest—who shoot out the tires and make the car come to a screeching halt.  Umbrella Dude is gunned down…


…and back in the lab, the technician proves that the bullets found in the milk truck are an identical match to test slugs fired out of the umbrella.  “Umbrella or not—these fellas didn’t know enough to come in out of the rain,” he observes.  If this was a sitcom, everyone would be standing around laughing about now…

Okay, I'm starting to lose all feeling in the gluteus maximus (though I’m working on a remedy for next week)—let’s cut to the chase:

"And don't forget to drink your milk, you little bastards!"
ALLGREN: On the strength of the ballistic findings, Moran, Bartley, and Kelly were sentenced to fifty years each in state prison without possibility of parole…in such manner was the power of the milk racketeers broken in Clayburne City…extortion demands good organization, clever brains, and much money…but extortion cannot operate against a brave man who faces down these parasites and goes to the police for help…he cannot be robbed!

A still from The Public Pays
Um…you’re sort of forgetting that the cops kind of sat on their hands until the last five minutes of this thing.  That’s all for today, kids—but before I go…whoever has been "donating" the screen grabs for these write-ups to the (always reliable) IMDb I am most flattered.  I'm a little apprehensive about the IMDb crediting Alonzo Price with portraying “Captain Halliday” in last week’s entry, Foolproof(1936), only because it was merely an educated guess on my part.  (They’re still crediting Harry Hayden with playing “Stewart Walden” even though Facebook compadre Andrew “Grover” Lealhas pointed out that is not the guy “serving the big dinner” in The Killers [1946].  And I still think that's Esther Howard as "Mrs. Layton.")  As always, thanks for encouraging my behavior.


Next time: Crime Does Not Pay wins its second and last Oscar with Torture Money (1937)!  G’bye now!