Kendra Steiner Editions

April 29, 2020

Elvis Presley, A Dog’s Life (Audifon LP, released circa 1979)

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ELVIS PRESLEY, “A Dog’s Life” (Audifon Records LP, unauthorized, released circa 1979)

Buyers of boot (by the way, in the Elvis community, we don’t use the “B-word”– we call them “imports”) LP’s in the late 70’s and the early 80’s will have fond memories of the Audifon label (which seemed related to Ruthless Rhymes….some albums said Audifon on the cover but the label of the actual LP had the inimitable Ruthless Rhymes “shooting the dog” logo). A lot of their releases were devoted to Elvis (and clearly assembled by people who loved and cared about Elvis’ legacy as an artist), but there were also fantastic Beatles albums (Live At The Sam Houston Coliseum, Youngblood, Watching Rainbows), the legendary THIN WHITE DUKE album from David Bowie, and fine offerings from Hendrix and Cheap Trick.

For the Elvis fan back then, just two years after The King’s passing, an album like A DOG’S LIFE was a revelation and we were excited that such an album even existed, and with an attractive full-cover cover, not a paste-on xerox sheet as might have been the case a few years earlier.

At this time, the only legit archival releases that had come out on RCA were The Legendary Performer series, the first volume of which came out in 1973, after RCA purchased the reissue rights from the Colonel, “on behalf of Elvis,” for the Presley masters in perpetuity for a mere bagatelle. Each successive volume (there were four eventually) had a higher percentage of unreleased material.

However, we wanted and needed more, and an album like A DOG’S LIFE delivered it.

A combination of great-sounding alternate takes of 60’s movie songs (clearly from the master tapes and without overdubs, just Elvis and the rhythm section); alternates/rehearsals of 1970 studio material MINUS ALL THE ANNOYING OVERDUBS, with basically just a small group, live and spontaneous, with Elvis; and some 1973 concert recordings, in sparkling sound quality with none of the awful overdubs and “sweetening” that cluttered and choked the RCA 70’s “live” albums, also mixed so that the orchestra and the backing singers are lower in the mix and it’s essentially Elvis and the rhythm section up front.

Here’s what you get (discographical info from an Elvis boot website):

A1  August 4, 1965: A dog’s life (EOV take 8)
A2  March 23, 1961:
Rock-a-hula baby (TO takes 1, 2 & 3)
A3   It’s over*
A4   June 8, 1970: There goes my everything (undubbed)
A5  October 26, 1961:
Home is where the heart is (M3 take 4)
A6  My way*

……………………………………………………….


B1  October 26, 1961: Riding the rainbow (M4 takes 3 & 4)
B2   June 8, 1970:
If I were you (undubbed)
B3   An American trilogy*
B4   August 4, 1965: Paradise, Hawaiian style (GOV take 4)
B5   August 3, 1965:
Scratch my back (then I’ll scratch yours) (COV take 1)
B6   Can’t help falling in love*

* from January 12, 1973 20.30 hrs show

…………………………………………………………………..

Now that there are 150+ albums of archival Elvis material on RCA’s all-Presley “Follow That Dream” label (you’ve probably read my reviews of some of those in the pages of Ugly Things Magazine), and hundreds and hundreds of “imports” of studio outtakes and live concerts, something like A DOG’S LIFE is no longer necessary—-although it is still an exciting listen. I just listened to it twice tonight while working from home, which is what prompted this tribute to a historic Elvis “import.” It’s impossible to listen to the sparse 1970 outtakes of  “There Goes My Everything” and “If I Were You” with Elvis just backed by 4 minimal but in-the-groove musicians and The King WAY up front, as you might hear on a Julie London record from 50’s, and not come away floored by Elvis’s subtlety and soul as an artist. Hearing him working out the song with the musicians, clearly friends with whom he was comfortable and who were comfortable with him, makes the case for Elvis better than any documentary could.

I’d not be surprised if Elvis fans of that era (people like me) have played this album hundreds of times–I certainly have. In the pre-CD, pre-internet era, it was a revelation. I can still feel that when I listen to it. If you care about Elvis and his work, you might feel the same thing if you hear this LP today. The compilers even ended the album with a beautiful live performance of “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” the song that Elvis ended many of his shows with (and Elvis is way up front in the mix, you can hardly hear the backing singers or the Joe Guercio Orchestra). Clearly, Elvis lovers were at work here, and they did their job masterfully in support of The King’s legacy.

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April 24, 2020

Stay-At-Home Film #6, NORMAN CONQUEST aka Park Plaza 605 (UK, 1953), starring Tom Conway and Eva Bartok

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NORMAN CONQUEST (UK release title Park Plaza 605)

starring TOM CONWAY, EVA BARTOK, Joy Shelton, Sidney James, and Anton Diffring

directed by Bernard Knowles (cinematographer for Alfred Hitchcock on SECRET AGENT and THE 39 STEPS!)

based on one of the “Norman Conquest” detective novels by Berkeley Gray

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The 60-to-70 minute crime-mystery programmer film is an interesting and unique artistic form—-like a Petrarchan sonnet, or a 12-bar blues song, or a Durango Kid western, or an Andy Warhol 40″ x 40″ commissioned portrait, it’s got strict parameters within which it must work, and like a baseball runner, it has to hit all the bases for the run to be scored. However, within those guidelines, an infinite number of possibilities can be explored in small and almost unnoticeable ways, and also the creators can seem to touch all the bases, with artistic sleight-of-hand making the audience think they have while going in other directions. In the UK, these crime-mystery programmers were called “quota quickies” (Google that term, and you can see how the phenomenon happened and why) or “second features,” intended as filler to support the A-picture. Ironically, in many cases these lean and efficient programmers have dated much better than the “main” features they accompanied because they set out to do something well-defined and achieved what they set out to do. The grace notes and small details they often provide are just icing on the cake.

This particular one runs a bit longer than usual (75 minutes) and stars TOM CONWAY, best-known for his wonderful FALCON mysteries, taking over for his brother George Sanders. Conway is one of the great masters of being casual and suave on-screen. It’s REALLY hard to pull that off. As I mentioned in my piece on the Memphis Jug Band, simply recording a party does not make a record that comes across as a party on 78 rpm record. It is a very particular contrivance to SUGGEST a party. Similarly, you could have someone casual on screen (think Jan-Michael Vincent in his later “guest star” period) who just looks bored. You have to project casual and project jaded charm. Tom Conway is great at that, and he’s great doing that in this film, which is very much a vehicle for him.

It’s based upon a character, Norman Conquest, featured in many British novels, but that character is a bit younger than Conway was here, and frankly, whoever wrote the film brought over most of Conway’s tropes and mannerisms from the Falcon movies….and why not, since it was less than ten years after that series ended and Conway was still in fine form, although a bit older. However, that kind of casual charm does not require a 30 year old, and it does mellow and ripen with age.

As with the TWIST ALL NIGHT film covered here recently, NORMAN CONQUEST is a film I reviewed online 15-20 years ago, which I discovered when I Googled it. Here is that review:

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ENTERTAINING UK-MADE TOM CONWAY MYSTERY

This review is of the US release of the film, under the title NORMAN CONQUEST. One of the many interesting UK pick-ups released by the fading Lippert Pictures in the early 50’s to pad its schedule, this mystery should satisfy any fan of B-movie mysteries. Star Tom Conway made a big impression as the Falcon on film and Sherlock Holmes on radio (taking over from Basil Rathbone), and his charm and wit and style pretty much make any film he is in worth watching. The Conquest character–evidently well-known in the UK as there is no attempt to “introduce” his character in the film–has elements of Boston Blackie and the Thin Man and The Shadow (the interplay with his jealous fiancee is very Shadow-like) and Ellery Queen. He is a financially stable dabbler in detection and has a nemesis within the police force who always seeks to get him out of the way. This film should get some kind of record as the mystery begins in an outrageous manner within the first ten seconds of the film! I couldn’t believe it, but you have to take films like this one with a LOT of willing suspension of disbelief, and if you go along for the ride, it’s quite a bit of fun. There’s still one thing I’m not sure about, though. In the scene where Conway spanks Eva Bartok, what is that little clown-like figure in the corner of the room? It’s only seen once and never explained. I rewound the tape to watch the scene a few times to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. What’s going on here? In conclusion, a solid little mystery here, and one of Tom Conway’s last starring roles.

online review by Bill Shute from May 2003

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There’s not a wasted shot or moment or line of dialogue in the film, and Knowles was able to use some of the ingenuity he picked up as Hitchcock’s DP, which comes in handy with this being a relatively low-budget film. For instance, the neon light flash coming through the window (you never see the actual light outside) at random intervals in the room at Park Plaza 605 is an effect that cost next to nothing, but adds a bit of tension and mystery as it hits upon both the characters and the furniture and the walls of the room. Watching the film again, I noticed many small touches like that.

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Those who enjoy the Falcon films with Tom Conway and those who enjoy the 50’s British crime/mystery second-feature should find NORMAN CONQUEST a worthwhile investment of 75 minutes. Some online commentators have found the film’s plot ridiculous (ridiculous sometimes means more entertaining, since this is definitely NOT a police procedural) and others have complained about Conway’s age, but both of those qualities are endearing to me. The cup is half-full, not half-empty.

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The British DVD of the film (undoubtedly a better print than my copy!)

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One of the Norman Conquest novels by Berkeley Gray

 

April 22, 2020

Stay-At-Home Film #5, HIGH SEASON FOR SPIES / Comando de asesinos (Spain, 1966) starring Peter Van Eyck and Antonio Vilar, directed by Julio Coll

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HIGH SEASON FOR SPIES / Comando de asesinos (Spain, 1966)

starring Peter Van Eyck and Antonio Vilar

directed by Julio Coll

Spanish language, shot on location in Lisbon, Portugal

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The light-hearted, action-filled 1966 Spanish spy-espionage film COMANDO DE ASESINOS / HIGH SEASON FOR SPIES was quite a pleasant suprise. Director JULIO COLL is responsible for the 1964 PYRO with Barry Sullivan and Martha Hyer (mentioned in my recent comments on MISTRESS OF THE WORLD here, a few weeks ago) and the 1968 THE NARCO MEN (released in the US in 1970, when I became aware of it) with Tom Tryon, so with him at the helm and Peter Van Eyck as one of the stars, I sought the film out, and I’m glad I did.

Essentially, it’s the story of a scientist with a new formula for an advanced form of steel, who is being pursued by many different criminal organizations and foreign spies (that’s why the German title suggest SIX GUNS after the professor). The two leads, Peter Van Eyck as an American (!!!) intelligence agent, and Antonio Vilar as “Dick Haskins” (the film is based on a novel about that character), a kind of British-spy parody who has his own TV show in the UK and is somewhat bumbling, but gets the job done and manages to outflank his enemies through his off-the-wall strategies! Haskins is kind of loopy but sauve, and Vilar (who I’ve seen in other films in diverse roles—for instance, he’s the co-star of HAVE A GOOD FUNERAL MY FRIEND, SARTANA WILL PAY with Gianni Garko) does that kind of comedy well. Van Eyck is also perfect for this role, with his urbane charm and a gift for comedy that wasn’t taken advantage of that often.

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The film is shot on location in Lisbon, and makes a point of showing us many of the tourist spots, so it’s a priceless view of 1965 Lisbon, many people’s favorite European city.

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Director Coll is certainly an Orson Welles fan—-the opening scene (which I’ll let you experience for yourself) is as stylized and bizarrely shot as something out of THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI or the “shadow on the docks moving toward us while walking away” shot from MR. ARKADIN. And speaking of ARKADIN, Van Eyck was one of the stars of that film, and there is a scene with Van Eyck in a German sports car on a desolate lot/track that clearly references one of the final scenes in Arkadin….using the same actor, Peter Van Eyck, who was in the original. One assumes that both director and star got a laught out of that, and it certainly brought a smile to my face.

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I’ve never seen an English version of this film on offer in collector’s circles the last 30 years, and the posters/lobby cards I can find online tend to be either German or Spanish. My copy is in Spanish, with minimal but accurate subtitles, which are important because there is a lot of verbal jousting between the two leads, and it’s deliciously played. I need to see more comic performances from Van Eyck, someone who always seems to bring the right tone to a part.

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Check him out in the Hammer film THE SNORKEL for a change of pace that’s not comedic in any way!

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HIGH SEASON FOR SPIES is not a typical Euro-spy film, and though a comedy, it’s not as broadly played as something like IN LIKE FLINT. The meat of the film is the two leads alternately helping other while trying to one-up each other….or trying to interest the same woman.

In lockdown mode here, I must say that I was completely entertained by HIGH SEASON FOR SPIES / Comando de asesinos, watching it twice in the last week and then checking out a number of scenes again this afternoon. If you can find it….and love Lisbon or Peter Van Eyck or the variations on the Euro-spy genre, then it’s well worth your time.

April 20, 2020

coming in June 2020, the new book-length poem from Bill Shute, Tomorrow Won’t Bring The Rain (KSE #416)

tomorrow cover

BILL  SHUTE

TOMORROW WON’T BRING THE RAIN

KSE #416

54 pages, perfect-bound, ISBN 9798639051586

a new book-length open-field poem, in three sections

composed June 2019-April 2020 in Bexar County, Texas

I’m hoping that this will be available by June 2020, but that may not be in my power to control in the present Coronavirus environment, where poetry (and books of any kind) are considered non-essential.

This was begun immediately after the completion of RIVERSIDE FUGUE.

As always, I hope you find it interesting and worthwhile

More details in June, when it’s ready at the printers….

“Silence is my substitute for counterpoint”  –Morton Feldman

April 19, 2020

Stay-At-Home Film #4, TWIST ALL NIGHT (aka Continental Twist), starring Louis Prima (US, 1961)

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TWIST ALL NIGHT (also released as CONTINENTAL TWIST)

starring Louis Prima, Sam Butera and The Witnesses, and June Wilkinson

released in 1961 by American International Pictures as a pick-up from Prima’s own production company (with his then-wife Keely Smith)

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I’ve rarely met a twist record, or twist movie, I didn’t like, and I’ve been collecting both as long as I can remember. Outside of the names most associated with The Twist—-its creator, Hank Ballard, and its best-known musical exponents, Chubby Checker and Joey Dee–hundreds of other artists made twist records, the world over (just yesterday I was listening to the fine twist LP by society bandleader Lester Lanin!). Perhaps the most under-rated is the one by Steve Alaimo, which you should find a copy of immediately. Louis Prima also seized upon the twist, doing a twist album for Dot (as did his spouse Keely Smith) and also this low-budget twist film, an independent production released by AIP.

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When I went to do a little research on the film for this write-up, imagine my surprise when I see that I had reviewed it online 18 years ago! Here’s that review:

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LOW BUDGET TWIST MUSICAL, GREAT FOR FANS OF LOUIS PRIMA

This z-grade Twist musical stars (and was made by the production company of) the great trumpeter/vocalist/band-leader/personality Louis Prima, backed by the equally great Sam Butera and the Witnesses. In fact, Butera gets a lot of screen time here.

The old “small club is about to lose its lease but people who believe in the music band together to keep the club open and in the meantime win everyone over to their music” plot is trotted out once again– it was used in the mid-50s rock’n’roll movies and in early 40s swing movies too, and it works well here. But then, you are watching a movie like this because you like the Twist and/or Louis Prima’s music, and on that level it delivers the goods. Legendary Playboy model June Wilkinson looks beautiful as Prima’s girlfriend, the music is hot, and as a vehicle for Prima’s antics the film is a complete success. Some people complain that Prima–who made his recording debut in the early-mid 1930s!–is much too old to do the twist, but he is one of the fathers of rock’n’roll (especially those “jive” artists such as Jimmy Cavallo, Charlie Gracie, Mike Pedicin, etc.) and since his act is based on self-parody anyway and he never takes himself seriously, I can’t see anyone having a problem with that.

Unless you like Prima and the Twist, though, you’d probably hate the film. It’s shot on two minimal sets, basically, and is as static as a Barry Mahon film. However, for me that only adds to the charm (who needs complex camera work when you are basically seeing Prima do his show and do some light comedy?). Perhaps someone will release this on DVD?

(review originally published in 2002)

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Watching the film again in late April 2020, I find it a wonderfully entertaining B&W blast, with wall-to-wall music, the jive-talking antics of Prima and Butera, echoing their legendary stage act without the viewer having to travel to Vegas or Atlantic City, and the charm of June Wilkinson, who has worked in many aspects of the entertainment industry since the late 1950’s, and who has both an upbeat screen presence and good comic timing.

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Someone else who’s written about the film online suggested that Prima and Butera should have been in a haunted house movie with the Bowery Boys, and if that concept appeals to you, and you like basic raw rock and roll delivered with a jive attitude, you can’t help but enjoy this 76 minute feature, which never wears out its welcome and has outrageous plot complications that will put a smile on your face after a long workday. It will also annoy holier-than-thou philistines who will point out how primitive and noisy and shallow it is, not realizing that those are exactly the film’s selling points. Louis Prima knew how to market himself and what his public enjoyed, and he gave it to them in spades.

If you’d like to see his twist-era shtick in a film that’s on the same garage-y level as ROCK BABY ROCK IT!, then here’s your chance.

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Director William J. Hole, Jr., worked primarily in television….a lot!…but his name was ringing a bell in the back of my mind, and checking his filmography, I now see why…he was director of the classic GHOST OF DRAGSTRIP HOLLOW, as well as other films I’ve enjoyed that seem aimed at the same kind of audience, SPEED CRAZY with Brett Halsey, and THE DEVIL’S HAND with Robert Alda and Linda Christian. He also directed fine episodes of SURFSIDE SIX and BOURBON STREET BEAT….and if that’s not enough, he was associate producer of 449 (!!!!!) episodes of PEYTON PLACE.

He no doubt was reliable and punctual and got the film in the can quickly and moved on to better-paying studio projects.

I’ve watched this film every 3 years or so for the last 25 years. It delivers the goods…if these are the kind of goods you want.

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Below is a link to a clip from the film that will show you EXACTLY what you’re going to get, along with some on-the-money remarks about Prima and the film from the late great Nick Tosches, always a champion of Prima as an unsung hero of rock and roll, which he certainly was!

 

April 11, 2020

Stay-At-Home Film #3: TUTTO SUL ROSSO (Italy, 1968), starring Brett Halsey

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TUTTO SUL ROSSO (All On The Red), Italy 1968

Italian language (subtitled in English)

starring Brett Halsey, Barbara Zimmerman, Gordon Mitchell, Piero Lulli, Josè Greci (note: Ms. Greci was billed in some sword and sandal films as “Susan Paget” and “Liz Havilland”!!!)

written and directed by Aldo Florio (mostly an assistant director, his best-known film for American audiences would probably be FIVE GIANTS FROM TEXAS (1966), starring Guy Madison, which got a VHS release in the late 80’s from Trans-World Entertainment…)

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No IMDB reviews (yet) for this entertaining heist-caper film set in the world of Italian casinos. It’s not as technically involved with the intricate details of the swindle as, say, GRAND SLAM, but it should appeal to people who enjoy European genre films of the late 60’s, fans of Brett Halsey (and who isn’t?), and fans of films such as FIVE AGAINST THE HOUSE.

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Halsey plays American casino professional and free-lance thief Mike Chapman, always looking for his next big score. In the opening pre-credit sequence, which must run five minutes, Halsey is disguised as an eccentric priest who is in a train cabin with three other men (they are on one side, he is on the other) and the Father slowly eats a modest lunch, piece by piece, taking each item out of his lunch basket. I had no idea what this film was about when I came into it, so I didn’t know where this sequence was going. Let’s just say you’ll be very surprised what the Padre eventually takes out of his lunch basket.

No one does on-the-edge vein-popping anger better than Gordon Mitchell, and here he is the owner  of a casino who has been trying to get Halsey to work for him in GM’s various crooked schemes, but Halsey prefers being a free agent. After making a big score against Mitchell in the first section of the film, Halsey then teams with an on-again, off-again partner, Belinda Duval, played by Barbara Zimmerman (was Margaret Lee not available?), a name new to me. BZ made four films in Europe in the 1968-71 period, and that’s all the credits she has (under that name, at least). As she’s dubbed in the film I can’t tell you if she is of North American or European origin. Half the film she’s a blonde, and half the film she’s a redhead. Halsey then enlists an old friend, Laszlo (played well by a nervous Piero Lulli), who has fallen on hard times (he’s become an alcoholic after the breakup of a relationship with a lounge singer, Yvette, played by peplum film regular Josè Greci) to assist them in an ambitious scheme to rip off a large casino through fixing the roulette wheel and having Halsey pose as another croupier, a Vegas pro named Reikovic).

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The first half of the film sets up the scam, and then when it seems foolproof, things start falling apart—-Mitchell realizes Halsey ripped him off and seeks revenge and the stolen money, the lounge singer re-appears (and sings a song!) and Laszlo falls off the wagon (Halsey agreed to hire him if he’s not drink), there are other peripheral characters who are being fleeced while attempting to fleece the ones doing the fleecing (or are they), Mitchell kidnaps Belinda, and the film’s final 25 minutes or so are non-stop action and twists with a surprising and violent and downbeat ending.

The title TUTTO SUL ROSSO (All On The Red) is perfectly chosen, as it’s clever and appealing in a seductive and ambiguous way before you know what the film is about, and once you do know, it both indicates the setting (the roulette tables) and symbolizes Halsey’s character’s putting everything HE has on a longshot bet. Does he succeed? Yes and no–you’ll have to see it for yourself.

The film manages to inject comedy at the right moments, and there are actually three nightclub entertainment sequences, a good way to lighten the tension between tense and action-filled scenes and to pad the running time, going back to 1940’s crime films (both Columbia and Monogram liked to work nightclub sequences into crime programmers). Brett Halsey brings his magnetic charm and Euro action-adventure credentials to this role (I just saw him in a 50’s Highway Patrol episode the other day, and have seen and enjoyed many of his 60’s-80’s European films) and was an excellent choice for the part.

Unlike Halsey’s SPY IN YOUR EYE, this did not get an American theatrical release, and unlike his ESPIONAGE IN LISBON, it did not play American television. I’m not sure it was even dubbed into English (my copy is in Italian, taped off European cable TV). It should definitely be better known. It’s not what could be called a Eurospy film—-it’s more of a crime-heist film. I can’t really fault the film in any way, and it kept my attention for 90 minutes, putting a smile on my face during Halsey’s priest sequence at the film’s start, and keeping me on the edge of my chair for the final 25 minutes. As Joe Bob Briggs would say, check it out!

April 9, 2020

Stay-At-Home Film #2: KING THRUSHBEARD (presented by K. Gordon Murray, 1954/1968)

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KING THRUSHBEARD

released in the USA, probably primarily to TV, in 1968 by K. GORDON MURRAY, who created an English language dialogue track at his Soundlab in Coral Gables, Florida….Murray did not dub the songs into English–they were left in the original German

original source film , König Drosselbart , released in West Germany in 1954, directed by Herbert B. Fredersdorf, inspired by the fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm

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In the late 1960’s, K. Gordon Murray’s kiddie matinee empire was slipping. He could still re-release some of the better kiddie films for Saturday theatrical showings, but some of the later acquisitions (The Princess and The Swineherd, and also Table, Donkey and Stick) dated back to early-to-mid 1950’s Germany, and some were even in black and white, such as the film under consideration today, KING THRUSHBEARD, which has no verified theatrical showings in the US (not to say they weren’t any in some off-the-beaten-path areas….Murray used a lot of “filler” to complete playbills, and I could imagine this going out with one of the Santa Claus shorts to some backwater town, but I have not evidence of that), and went straight to TV.

He couldn’t advertise the “storybook color” of a B&W film, and in some of these German films from the late period, he did not bother to dub the songs into English (in some of the earlier films, new lyrics were written to match the lips of the actors and new performances were recorded, which could not have been cheap to do). Yes, the songs are in German!

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The fairy tale KING THRUSHBEARD by the Brothers Grimm is still popular, and you can find various adaptations from the last 30 years online. This adaptation is from a 1954 German film that Murray acquired. I’d imagine he got it for a song (an untranslated song in German!), being that it was a 14 year old foreign black and white film. Presumably, he was able to make money on the acquisition and the dubbing costs through TV rentals as part of children’s film packages. Other than dubbing (and there was an existing music and sound effects track, so all that was needed was dialogue) and some minimal and primitive beginning and end titles (which spell some of the names wrong), the only cost was striking 16mm prints for TV stations. If this did not play theatrically in the US, then no 35mm prints may have been made. My copy looks like a transfer from 16mm. I’d assume that in the 1968/69 period, Murray was making more money off of drive-in showings of SHANTY TRAMP and SAVAGES FROM HELL (both original productions, made in Florida) than he was making from films such as KING THRUSHBEARD, but Murray was the man who’d created the mystique of the great showman with his own “wonder world,” so he perhaps felt the need to keep the product coming, coasting on the fumes of his earlier success.

I was ten years old in 1968 and already had a taste both for older black and white films and for foreign dubbed films (I was already a fan of the sword and sandal films shown on my local UHF stations), but I don’t remember KING THRUSHBEARD playing on any station I had access to. I think I would have enjoyed it, though. As for the average child, I’m not so sure. It would depend on how sheltered and insulated the child was on the one hand (come into it with low expectations and be easily impressed), or how off-the-wall the child’s tastes were.

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Since no one reading this is 10 years old, and 1968 is now 52 years ago, how does the film hold up today? Well, just imagine you found in the bottom of a box at some junk store, below old copies of Life magazine and old gas station road maps, a dusty, yellowing 1954 book of stories from the Brothers Grimm, awkwardly translated into English, with black and white photographs illustrating the text. Then imagine  you start falling asleep while reading it, and in that netherworld between waking and sleep, you find the stories coming to life in dated black and white, with stilted translated dialogue and with dated, semi-classical “storybook” music playing in the background. It takes you to another world–not a “real” world (whatever that is), but a stylized replication of a fantasy world seen through the lens of a particular era (early 1950’s) in a certain culture (West Germany—-both halves of the then-Germany produced very interesting and unique and distinctive children’s films in that era), and then run through the meat-grinder, then on its last legs, of K. Gordon Murray’s Florida-based children’s film operation. Somehow, songs sung in German totally fit such a “storybook” film based on a work by the Brothers Grimm and I’d imagine that had I seen this as a ten-year-old, I’d probably have felt unconsciously something like “the characters are German, so they are singing German songs–no problem there.”

In today’s strange world, KING THRUSHBEARD, the K.  Gordon Murray import version, is oddly comforting and entertaining. Let’s hope a copy of it survives for future generations to gaze at in wonder….

If you’d like to read about another German children’s import “presented by” K.  Gordon Murray, this time a color film made in East Germany in the 1960’s, here a link to my review of THE GOLDEN GOOSE at BTC, originally published in August 2019:

Bill Shute review of K. Gordon Murray’s THE GOLDEN GOOSE at BTC

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April 8, 2020

Stand By For Crime! (radio crime series, circa 1953)

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As those of you who read my reviews over at BTC know, I have always been a devoted fan of what’s called “old time radio,” the surviving drama and comedy and mystery and music and variety shows broadcast between the early 1930’s and 1962, when YOURS TRULY, JOHNNY DOLLAR went off the air on CBS, generally considered to be the end of the radio drama era.

No one would consider STAND BY FOR CRIME! to be an all-time classic, but upon listening to an episode today while working, I just had to alert others to the show…and one particular episode.

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It stars the real-life husband and wife couple of Glenn Langan and Adele Jergens, who met during the making the 1949 Lippert production TREASURE OF MONTE CRISTO (which is available on one of those VCI/Kit Parker Films DVD collections devoted to obscure noir films). Langan plays Chuck Morgan, a radio newscaster/crime reporter at station KPO in Los Angeles. Jergens plays his secretary, Carol Curtis, whom he annoying calls “glamourpuss” multiple times in each episode.

This is a relatively low-budget radio show, so most of the episodes are narrated by Morgan who leads us into and provides the frame for shorter dramatic scenes with other actors. Sound effects are kept to a minimum, and the music is the old-fashioned organ accompaniment that was common in 30’s radio but somewhat old-fashioned by 1953. It required only one musician, though, and I would not be surprised to find, if I listened to ten episodes in a row, that there is a library of maybe 30 or 40 organ cues used in all episodes, put down on tape in an hour and then re-used whenever needed.

The episode I just listened to (I’ve heard most of the 26 surviving episodes at one time or another over the decades) is a gem, THE COMMUNIST MENACE. Chuck Morgan is getting ready to do his evening broadcast when the station owner gives him some new copy to read. After perusing the material, he storms into the owner/manager’s office and refuses to read it because it’s “pure Red propaganda.” The owner demands he read it on air (I wish we listeners could have heard a few lines ourselves), and then Chuck threatens to quit rather than read it. Then, when the owner sees he is serious, he tells Chuck the real reason for asking  him to do the Red broadcast. Have you ever seen one of those police films (I’ve seen this plot going back to the 1920’s!) where an officer agrees to be framed for some crooked act, taking a bribe or whatever, and is fired in public and only the chief and the officer know what’s going on, that it’s all phony. He loses all his friends, he gets spit on in the street, he doesn’t get service at the local hash-house in the neighborhood, and even his family members don’t want anything to do with him. He is shamed in the local newspaper and everyone knows he’s crooked. Eventually, broke and alone and defeated, he agrees to go over to the criminal side, but he’s really a plant, a deep undercover agent infiltrating the organization. That’s what’s going on here, but it’s the Communist Party, not the mob (this plot has been used in dozens of westerns too). Evidently, the FBI knows there is a Mr. Big Communist out there in L.A. but they do not know who it is. Good Citizen that he is, the radio station owner decides to volunteer his star reporter to go undercover and he agrees. He’s insulted, beaten up in the street, loses his friends, and can’t get a job. Then one night, a woman in a bar with a foreign accent chats him up, and when he says, “I have no friends,” she offers to introduce him to some “new friends.” Anyone familiar with I WAS A COMMUNIST FOR THE FBI can fill in the rest of the story. This kind of hyperventilating, hard-boiled Red Scare entertainment has always been enjoyable for me–as a ten or twelve year old I saw on TV films like THE WHIP HAND and MY SON JOHN, and I later read old 1950’s comics of a similar bent. In the last year, I reviewed a classic Columbia picture, shot on location in Boston, called WALK EAST ON BEACON (1952), based on a magazine story by J. Edgar Hoover himself. You can read that review here:              Bill Shute review of WALK EAST ON BEACON

It’s an excellent film that anyone who enjoys a hard-boiled Cold War police procedural will love–and the Boston location shooting circa 1952 is priceless. Agents even pose as Howard Johnson’s ice-cream men! It’s on You Tube–look for it.

If you don’t want something of feature film length, though, check out the 25 minute episode of STAND BY FOR CRIME called “The Communist Menace” at the link below. If you like it, there are 25 more episodes you can enjoy, and it will feed them to you one after the other without your having to do a thing. SO….

While you are stuck at  home, why not listen to some episodes of this vintage early 50’s cold-war era crime melodrama acted by a very talented couple who bring their salty B-movie personas to the show, making each episode sparkle and crackle with over-the-top hard-boiled excitement….if that’s what you want. I certainly do!

26 episodes of STAND BY FOR CRIME!

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April 7, 2020

Jack Kerouac, “Book of Sketches” (Penguin)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 6:42 pm
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JACK KEROUAC

“BOOK OF SKETCHES”

Penguin Poets, published in 2006, written 1952-1957, 413 pages

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More “books” of previously unpublished and uncollected material by Jack Kerouac have been published since his passing than were published in his lifetime. Not all of it has been essential or flattering to his reputation, and I think we all know the financial reasons for the publishing of so many works that I won’t discuss in a public forum, but the Kerouac reader is certainly lucky to have access to so many fugitive pieces, and to be honest, most of the posthumously-published books can be gotten fairly cheaply since they are not really in-demand.

Penguin issued three collections a decade or two ago, all of which are of interest: BOOK OF BLUES, BOOK OF HAIKUS, and the one I’m discussing today, BOOK OF SKETCHES. I did not buy any of those books new. I waited until I stumbled across them at Half-Price Books or another used bookstore at 1/3 the cover price. I probably picked up SKETCHES around 2010-2012 at a local HPB. At the time, I skimmed it, gave a close read to perhaps 1/3 of the pieces at random, thought “that’s nice to have,” and put it on the shelf. Recently, working at home due to COVID-19 and not going out very much, I’ve been rediscovering books I did not give adequate attention to when I got them, and the BOOK OF SKETCHES is one of them I’ve been sampling for the last 10 days.

The last few evenings I’ve been re-reading the initial “sketches,” the first hundred pages or so, and they have really connected with me. Essentially, what you’ve got here is JK’s free-associational close-description of his immediate environment. For the first 98 pages of the book, that’s his sister Caroline’s house in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, where she lived with her husband Paul and their son. Kerouac does not refer to himself as “I” but “Jack” in the 3rd person, and mostly it’s just a flow of naturalistic detail. The “form” is basically the dimensions of his pocket notebook, which provides line-breaks.

For instance, here is an excerpt from a random page:

 

a green glass dish–

for candy–  a glass 

ashtray–   & two

brass candle holders–

these things  lumi-

nescent in the glow 

from the windows

in still, fan-buzzing,

lazy Carolina afternoon

time.  On the 

radio a loud pro-

longed static from

nearby disturbances

rasps a half

minute–

       On the wall

above the husband’s

diningtable chair

hangs a knickknack

shelf, with 3 levels,

   tiny Chinese vase

   bowl with cover–

copper horse eques-

trian &  still in its

petite mysterious

    shelf–  & Chinese

porcelain rice-girl

with hugehat   &

double baskets

 

Another page in this section spends a page or two on the shades of the pink paint on the dining room wall of his sister’s home, catching both the painting anomalies and the variation in the shadows on the wall!

Among the 400+ pages, there are a number of different settings–Montreal, New York, Denver, Kansas, San Francisco,  and any number of characters along the way, the people on the street, in diners, children playing, etc. It truly is like an artist’s sketchbook, which is what Kerouac set out to do. Are these “finished” pieces intended for publication? Of course not.

However, Kerouac had a fine eye for detail, a fine ear for sound. I’m reminded of some of the more phenomenological detail-oriented sections of a book like LONESOME TRAVELER. If the intention was to catch the now, the detail in-the-moment, these sketches succeed admirably. Perhaps he intended to use some of this as raw material to  fuel the memory for place-specific details in future writings–perhaps not. It matters not because the end result is something of value for the reader, not just for the writer. Considering you can get a copy of this for under $5, it’s really an essential purchase for anyone who enjoys that side of Kerouac. I certainly do. I also appreciate an open-form book such as this. Perhaps the one Kerouac book I would take to the proverbial desert island would be SOME OF THE DHARMA, also an open-form work.

It’s not for everyone, but the BOOK OF SKETCHES is a unique and precious work for me. There are so many sections of varying lengths that whenever you’ve got 5 minutes or 30 minutes or whatever, you can be taken away to the scene where JK is jotting phrases in his notebook. If the above sounds interesting, pick up a copy… right now, I see six copies available for six dollars and under POSTPAID in the US on Ebay…and the chunky 5″ x 6″ size makes it convenient to take along with you.

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April 6, 2020

Stay-At-Home Film #1: MISTRESS OF THE WORLD (Germany, 1960)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 7:05 pm
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Recently on the KSE Facebook page, I listed 20 albums I listened to over a 4 or 5 day period. Since I’m now “working at home” due to the Coronavirus and try not to go out much, I was listening to more music than ever. I do “work” all day from home and am connected to Zoom, but there’s no commute, etc., so I wind up with more time for myself. Some of that time each day, I’m exercising. I’m also watching more films.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to share some info on the next 20 films I will watch. Comments will be kept to a minimum. I hope to introduce you to a number of worthwhile films you might not be aware of, or if you’ve heard of them, might not have seen. Here is the first:


 

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MISTRESS OF THE WORLD (aka in German: Die Herrin der Welt, French: Les mystères d’Angkor, Italian: Il mistero dei tre continenti), Germany 1960. Notice that the Mexican lobby card above changes MISTRESS to MYSTERIES, as surely MYSTERIES OF THE WORLD would sell more tickets than MISTRESS!

Directed by William Dieterle (film completed by cinematographer Richard Angst)

Starring Martha Hyer, Carlos Thompson, Sabu, Lino Ventura, Micheline Presle

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Running time of the French language version, 122 minutes.

I acquired a French-language copy of this unique film about five years ago. Watching about half of it then, I felt it was curiously old-fashioned and it reminded me in some ways of a 1930’s or 1940’s serial, minus the cliffhanger chapter endings and the over-the-top mysterious masked villain. Stuck at home now, I decided to give it another try a few days ago, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Also, doing a little research, I see that it was a remake of a 1919 German serial! One wonders if it was made after the success of Fritz Lang’s two-part Indian epic from 1958 starring Debra Paget. That too felt like a serial and was directed by a German who’d been working in Hollywood for decades but who came back home to direct an old-fashioned genre film with an exotic international setting. William Dieterle directed many successful films in the Hollywood studio system, perhaps most memorably the 1939 version of the HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME starring Charles Laughton. Evidently, he walked off this film during location shooting in Cambodia during the final days of shooting and the cinematographer finished it.

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It starts off as almost a science-fiction film then veers off into espionage then (during the parts in Marseilles, France, with Lino Ventura doing his patented tough cop-abusing-suspects while maintaining his cool routine) police action then Southeast Asian mystery then goes in an almost spiritual direction shot on location at the Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia.

One of a number of interesting foreign films made by Martha Hyer in the 1960’s (also recommended are PYRO with Barry Sullivan, made in Spain, and HOUSE OF 1000 DOLLS with George Nader and Vincent Price, made “offshore” in Asia by legendary producer Harry Alan Towers), MISTRESS OF THE WORLD also gives a meaty part to Indian-American actor SABU, for once wearing a business suit, playing a scientist, and not playing the usual “movie Indian” in jungle adventures and Kipling-esque tales. In some ways, he is truly the hero of the film, along with the Argentinian actor Carlos Thompson. For the final half hour of the film, he shaves his head and becomes a holy man in the Angkor Wat temple, negotiating the climactic scenes at the film’s end. He was probably quite proud of his work here.

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There are multiple versions of the film. In Germany, like the Lang film mentioned above, this was presented as two feature films over two nights, running for a total of three hours. There is also a version running around 90 minutes, presumably focusing on the “action.” The French print (where, understandably, Micheline Presle is top-billed) I own runs 122 minutes. With the episodic nature of the film, one could add or subtract any number of scenes that don’t involve key plot points and no one would be the wiser.

Another observation about MISTRESS OF THE WORLD is that I can’t remember a film I’ve seen in the last 6 months that features key characters killed off out of the blue when one is least expecting it. This happens to three of them. I actually cried aloud, “what?,” even though no one else was in the room.

Sinister Cinema offers an English-language version of this, taken from 16mm, probably a TV print. The French-language version I have features rich color, an excellent transfer, and looks like it was shot yesterday.

As a conscious homage to serial-style film making, in the pre- James Bond/Dr. No era, we can forgive the outrageously hyperbolic music that telegraphs suspense with a sledgehammer anytime a sinister character walks into a room or someone crosses a busy street.

Stuck at home, I also appreciated the travelogue aspect of the film, in beautiful color and widescreen….I’m not going to be getting to Stockholm, Marseilles, Nice, Bangkok, and Cambodia soon, and all these areas are full of choice local details and culture in their presentation here.

I came into this film with few expectations, but it kept me occupied for over two hours, it threw me many curves, it was well-paced but also leisurely in a good way, and it ended on a positive note with even a twist of spiritual depth to it.

For an old-fashioned adventure film that’s got both feet planted firmly in the 1950’s (despite its 1960 release date), MISTRESS OF THE WORLD was quite good and worthwhile. Catch it if you can find it and you’re so inclined….

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