Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

August 31, 2022

TAKE THE STAND (1934), starring Jack LaRue and Thelma Todd

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 1:50 am

Murder mysteries were quite a staple in the early days of sound film, and hundreds were made both by the B-programmer divisions of the established studios and by independent production companies that distributed through the states rights market. They tended to be largely talk (or if set in old dark houses, they’d also have atmospheric creepy production design), and because of that, could be shot on a handful of small sets, with different combinations of the cast shot from different angles, and audiences would be paying attention to the dialogue and the performers, not the furniture.

A fine example of an indie murder mystery from the early 30’s period is TAKE THE STAND, which moves quickly, has a colorful cast, has a raw urban feel to it (though shot entirely on small sets and with no outside or location shots at all, except for about 15 seconds of stock footage of a hockey game), and keeps one guessing until the end. The great movie tough-guy Jack LaRue plays a muckraking journalist and radio broadcaster, who through his columns and radio broadcasts casts aspersions on all kinds of business people, pillars of society, bankers, gangsters, couples in the society pages, etc. Not by name, but by innuendo. He even threatens to out someone he describes as a “soprano crooner” (yes, this is a pre-code film). In the first ten minutes of the film, we see a number of his columns on screen, along with the reactions of the people hurt by the claims. Then for the next twenty-five minutes, we see the various victims of the gossip trying to find and threaten LaRue, all of them of course saying or doing something that could later be considered a threat to kill him. This gives master character actor LaRue the chance to strut around, putting the others in their place, and it’s a joy to see a pro like him at work.

At about the 35 minute point (the film runs just short of 70 minutes), LaRue is killed while broadcasting (or so it seems)….in a room locked from the inside….and we hear a shot on his broadcast, and his begging “don’t shoot,” but it seems as though he’s been stabbed….and there is no knife in the locked room. Pretty much every suspect is out in the hall at the time of the murder, listening to the broadcast from a room with a speaker, after having been at his office trying to stop him from doing that night’s broadcast.

Each person is grilled by the police, and of course everyone was right near the scene of the murder and everyone hated the victim. People who watch murder mysteries regularly might catch a few tossed-off details earlier in the film, which would perhaps provide a special motive unlike the others for one character, and the opportunity for another character. Still, though, how the murder is committed is quite novel….although it was more novel in 1934 before it’s been used fifty times in later films.

The great lady of early 30’s film, Thelma Todd, loved for her Laurel and Hardy work and for her comedy shorts with Zasu Pitts and later with Patsy Kelly, plays LaRue’s assistant, who runs his office, and she does a fine job of seeming alternately sympathetic and suspicious. Also, as the over-eager sidekick of the gangster character is KSE fave Vince Barnett (see B&W pic of him brow-beating Thelma Todd), the bald, usually mustachioed, jittery scene-stealer who had his own comedy shorts at one time and appeared in hundreds of films as a supporting player. He’s constantly asking his employer, “ya want me to rub him out, boss? Ha, do ya?” and the like.

TAKE THE STAND does what it needs to do quickly and efficiently. Director Phil Rosen had a long and productive career, often in crime films and mysteries (including some Monogram Charlie Chans), and never keeps any scene running too long. After a long day at work in a sweaty print-shop or driving a cab or bagging groceries or whatever the typical reader of this blog would have been doing to pay the rent in 1934, TAKE THE STAND is the perfect escapist murder-mystery entertainment, much easier to enjoy than reading a mystery novel, and with unforgettable character actors like Jack LaRue (see pic), Thelma Todd, and Vince Barnett. And thanks to Mr. Public Domain, it’s ready for YOU to watch online the next time you’ve got a spare 70 minutes.

Bill Shute, originally published elsewhere online in 2019

August 24, 2022

WHITE LIGHTNIN’ ROAD (1967), directed by Ron Ormond

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 2:04 am

The perfect 60’s Southern drive-in car racing and moonshine film, from Ron Ormond

With WHITE LIGHTNIN’ ROAD, writer-director-producer-photographer-editor-actor Ron Ormond created the ultimate low-budget, 1960’s Southern drive-in car racing film. Ormond’s mid-60s output is quite impressive (see my reviews of GIRL FROM TOBACCO ROW, FORTY ACRE FEUD, and PLEASE DON’T TOUCH ME), working in genres much beloved by Southern and rural audiences and giving them products that mirrored their tastes and environment. Ormond’s work is well-remembered by people who saw the films way back when (I saw some of them), but not too well known today as other exploitation filmmakers from the same period, which is ironic since WHITE LIGHTNIN’ ROAD and the three films mentioned above are all still not hard to find on inexpensive and good quality VHS tapes as of this writing. This film is rooted in car racing, with a moonshine subplot thrown in in honor of THUNDER ROAD, although the viewer also gets a crime subplot (with Ron Ormond himself as “Slick,” the gangster running a crooked auto parts syndicate!), a shotgun wedding, and a cat-fight between the two main female characters. Earl “Snake” Richards once again stars (he was in GIRL FROM TOBACCO ROW) and he is as perfect of a Southern drive-in film hero as Earl Owensby or Joe Don Baker. Richards, also known as Earl Sinks, was vocalist with the Crickets in the period after their break with Buddy Holly (this happening while Holly was still alive, after BH went to New York, and the Crickets decided to stay in Lubbock and work in Clovis) and sang lead on the original version of “I Fought The Law.” In the post-Crickets period he moved more toward country, and made many fine country records. He also had a lot of success as a country songwriter, and continued in the publishing world for decades. He had a brief period in films, but he made his mark–he was really an extension of the late-50s, Elvis-inspired leading men found in drive-in films, with the slicked-back hair, curled lip, and tough-guy attitude. Here he is NOT the hero, but ironically he is far more attractive than the hero, Joe, who is a bit bland and who has a strange accent in the film’s early scenes (I know there are places in Louisiana and Virginia with odd accents, but I wonder if the actor playing Joe is actually a Southerner, or if he’s just self-conscious and screwing up his line readings because he is nervous). Tim Ormond has perhaps his best role in an Ormond family film as the young boy who hangs around the racetrack and befriends Joe (and even helps him in his fights against Snake!). Tim Ormond provides a viewpoint character for the children in the audience (as he did in GIRL FROM TOBACCO ROW)–and he also gets the last shot in the film (no doubt a present from his parents, the filmmakers!). Legendary model Arlene Hunter appears as Ruby, the love interest who is desired by Snake but who wants Joe for herself, Joe of course not being interested in her. She eventually marries Snake in the shotgun wedding mentioned earlier. The rural photography is beautiful with lots of striking color, and the racing is well-photographed. Ormond actually staged his own races so there is not the usual five people depicted in a reaction shot looking at a race that is stock footage. The musical score is a grab bag–evidently using all kinds of library music available to him, we hear the old flamenco guitar from JAIL BAIT (which Ormond used in other films too) for ten seconds or so, the amplified harmonica music from the Mulcays used in other Ormond films, music that sounds like it could have come from old Lash LaRue films from 1949 produced by Ormond, and various canned music that could be used in circuses or bank commercials! There’s no consistency to the nature of the music, although the music does drive the action and is well-suited to most scenes. It’s interesting that Ormond DID NOT use any country music in this film. This film should have a large audience. I would think that any network than runs NASCAR or Dukes of Hazzard re-runs could show this film and have it do well–virtually everyone in today’s audience would not have seen it! All of the Ormond family’s 1960s films (I haven’t yet mentioned THE EXOTIC ONES aka The Monster and The Stripper, which has a dedicated cult following and was released in 1968) hold up very well today and are very entertaining. Someone should look into re-mastering the whole lot of them for DVD and getting them into wide circulation. Tim Ormond is still around today (June Carr Ormond is still alive as of this writing, but she is getting up there in age!–note: she passed away in 2006), so perhaps he could provide commentaries and extra material. WHITE LIGHTNIN’ ROAD is a wonderful time capsule that takes us back to the Golden Age of rural drive-in cinema. If you lean toward that form of entertainment, you should find a copy of this immediately and show it to your friends. Bravo to the Ormond Organization! They totally achieved what they set out to do…and how many people in ANY line of work can claim that???

Bill Shute, originally published elsewhere online in 2004

August 17, 2022

KING CURTIS, The Complete Atco Singles (Real Gone Music, 3-cd box set)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 1:46 am

1-1 The Birth Of The Blues
1-2 Jest Smoochin’
1-3 Ific
1-4 You Made Me Love You
1-5 Castle Rock
1-6 Chili
1-7 Honeydripper (Part 1)
1-8 Honeydripper (Part 2)
1-9 Heavenly Blues
1-10 Restless Guitar
1-11 Spanish Harlem
1-12 Boss
1-13 Quicksand
1-14 On Broadway
1-15 You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling
1-16 Make The World Go Away
1-17 Dancing In The Streets
1-18 He’ll Have To Go
1-19 Pots And Pans (Part 1)
1-20 Pots And Pans (Part 2)
1-21 Something On Your Mind
1-22 Soul Theme
2-1 Jump Back
2-2 When Something Is Wrong With My Baby
2-3 You Don’t Miss Your Water
2-4 Green Onions
2-5 Memphis Soul Stew
2-6 Blue Nocturne
2-7 Ode To Billie Joe
2-8 In The Pocket
2-9 For What It’s Worth
2-10 Cook-Out
2-11 I Was Made To Love Her
2-12 I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)
2-13 (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay
2-14 This Is Soul
2-15 Valley Of The Dolls
2-16 8th Wonder
2-17 I Heard It Thru The Grapevine
2-18 A Whiter Shade Of Pale
2-19 Harper Valley P.T.A.
2-20 Makin’ Hey
2-21 The Christmas Song
2-22 What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve
3-1 Games People Play
3-2 Foot Pattin’, Part II
3-3 Instant Groove
3-4 Sweet Inspiration
3-5 La Jeanne
3-6 Little Green Apples
3-7 Rocky Roll
3-8 C. C. Rider
3-9 Patty Cake
3-10 Pop Corn Willy
3-11 Teasin’
3-12 Soulin’
3-13 Get Ready
3-14 Bridge Over Troubled Water
3-15 Whole Lotta Love
3-16 Floatin’
3-17 Changes – Part II
3-18 Changes – Part I
3-19 Changes – Part I (Live)
3-20 Changes – Part II (Live)
3-21 Ridin’ Thumb – Part 1
3-22 Ridin’ Thumb – Part 2

     The distinctive raspy-but-controlled sound of Texas-born saxophonist Curtis “King Curtis” Ousley is found on many of The Coasters’ classics as well as on records by everyone from Buddy Holly to Aretha Franklin to LaVern Baker to Bobby Darin. However, as a long-standing sideman on records for Atlantic, it was perhaps inevitable he’d be recording solo for them too, and this wonderful 3-cd set collects in chronological order ALL of his singles for Atco during two periods, 1957-58 and 1966-71.

     King Curtis usually played tenor sax, often working in the upper register which gave him a unique sound, as many of his colleagues worked the lower register for a more guttural feel. He also played a curious instrument called the “saxello,” similar to a soprano sax but with a curved neck and a tipped bell. He played that with the kind of attack you’d expect from an R&B tenor player, which of course made him instantly recognizable.

     The first set of singles, from the late 50’s, are much like the typical rockin’ R&B singles of the period (except for a cover of “You Made Me Love You,” which can best be described as “smoochy”), with the raw sax sound up front, the kind of thing that excited Alan Freed so much about King Curtis.

     We then skip nine years, as 56 of the set’s 66 tracks date from his final period at Atco, up through his death in 1971. They range from funky blues-rock (some featuring Duane Allman) like his hit “Memphis Soul Stew,” through many covers of hits from the day (“Little Green Apples,” etc.), and a number of those contain strings, sounding not unlike Quincy Jones film soundtrack music, but with Curtis as soloist.

     King Curtis always has that unique tone, and fans will enjoy hearing him perform in any style, Getting all of this material in the original mono 45 mixes is a treat, and this set would be the perfect listening for your next road trip.

Bill Shute, originally published in Ugly Things magazine in 2015

August 10, 2022

PLEASE DON’T TOUCH ME! (1963), directed by Ron Ormond, starring Lash LaRue

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 1:09 am

classic “frigid wife” exploitation from Ron Ormond

The more of Ron Ormond’s 1960’s output I see, the more I’m impressed. This gem comes from 1963, and re-teams Ormond with his longtime partner Lash LaRue, with LaRue playing a psychiatrist who, with the assistance of a hypnotist, helps to cure a young wife of her frigidity, caused by a sexual assault as a teenager. The first scene of the film depicting the attack is accompanied by the guitar music from Ed Wood’s JAIL BAIT; after that we get an overly long lecture on psychology; after that we get at least five minutes of mondo footage; and somewhere in the midst of all this we get a cheesy swirling disc, as seen in the pre-feature intros of K. Gordon Murray’s “Young America Horror Club.” The rest of the film is a bit more restrained, but still outrageous, as La Rue brings in hypnotist Ormond McGill (presumably playing himself), who had previously appeared in Ormond’s vaudeville anthology VARIETIES ON PARADE, to put the wife into a trance, get her to remember her attack, and then convince herself that it was just a scene in a movie and that she should forget it! Besides the guitar music lifted from JAIL BAIT (and also used elsewhere), there’s a lot of fine harmonica duets (heavily echoed) from Jimmy and Mildred Mulcay, who appeared in the earlier VARIETIES and also in the later GIRL FROM TOBACCO ROW and THE EXOTIC ONES (aka THE MONSTER AND THE STRIPPER). The effect of echoed harmonica music on the dramatic scenes is quite distinctive and gives the film a strange, unnerving feel in spots. If you’ve enjoyed FRIGID WIFE, TEST TUBE BABIES, or ANY Ron Ormond film, you MUST see this wonderful film, sure to become a cult classic when it gets more circulation. Legit VHS copies are still available (well, they were in 2004, when this was written) at low prices, so grab them while you can.

Bill Shute, originally published elsewhere online in 2004

August 3, 2022

BARS OF HATE (1935), starring Regis Toomey and Snub Pollard, produced by Sam Katzman

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fast-moving, low-budget 30’s crime programmer, with large role for Snub Pollard

Regis Toomey was one of the most reliable leading men of early 1930’s Poverty Row, and he continued to appear in films and television well into the 1960’s. His friendly persona always made him sympathetic, even when playing an ex-con, and he was convincing in any number of different roles and situations. Here he is paired with the great former silent comedian Snub Pollard, in what must be one of his largest roles of the sound era (along with his roles as sidekick to Tex Ritter), as a pickpocket/safe cracker. Directed by journeyman Al Herman, who helmed many films I’ve enjoyed over the years (Phantom of 42nd Street, and the serials The Clutching Hand, and The Black Coin), for Sam Katzman’s Victory Pictures, BARS OF HATE (an irrelevant title if there ever was one–there is someone behind bars, but he is only mentioned and never seen, although his situation motivates the plot) is the model poverty row action film: it starts out in high gear and keeps moving throughout. This formula still works today–I recently saw CELLULAR with a full theater, and crowd completely ate up a similar combination of non-stop action tempered with light comedy. The films begins with a montage of faces yelling out “stop” and “get him” after Snub Pollard steals a woman’s pocketbook. Simultaneously, Regis Toomey is speeding and starts to evade a policeman who puts on his siren and follows on a motorcycle. Snub breaks from those attempting to restrain him, Regis cuts down an alley, and soon enough the two men are together. It turns out that the pocketbook contains something that various criminals are after, so when Toomey and Pollard find the girl to give her the purse, the crooks are also after her… and the next forty minutes are spent with one chase and escape after another, much of it filmed on the streets of Los Angeles. Fuzzy Knight does a nice job as a bumbling crook assigned to watch Snub Pollard, and Sheila Terry (best known to many for the two westerns she made with John Wayne in 1934) is a perky female lead. The always-elegant Robert Warwick plays the governor, and he’s only in it for about three minutes at the end. While rather loose and spontaneous in structure and feel, this film moves along at a quick pace and never really lets up from the first scene. It’s almost a model of how to make a poverty row action film– if it had more stunts and less dialogue from the leading man, it could be a Richard Talmadge film! I especially liked seeing Snub Pollard being given such a large and significant role. One of the joys of watching 1930s movies is never knowing exactly when Snub will show up in a scene, more often than not it seems unbilled! His many fans should seek this film out. The print I saw was in excellent shape also…it had a lot of splices in the last three or four minutes, but looked like it was shot yesterday.

Bill Shute, originally published elsewhere online in 2004

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