Nobody who went that night had any idea what they were in for.
Category Archives: MGM
Directed by Norman Taurog
Produced by Ted Richmond
Written by Si Rose & Seaman Jacobs
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Film Editor: Fredric Steinkamp
Music by Leith Stevens
Cast: Elvis Presley (Mike Edwards), Joan O’Brien (Diane Warren), Gary Lockwood (Danny Burke), Vicky Tiu (Sue-Lin), Yvonne Craig (Dorothy Johnson), H. M. Wynant (Vince Bradley), Kam Tong (Walter Ling), Kurt Russell
After Elvis Presley movies like Blue Hawaii (1960) were big hits while more serious stuff such as Flaming Star (1960) underperformed, the King’s move career settled into a pattern. Give Elvis a unique profession — circus performer, race driver, crop-duster (in this one), rodeo cowboy, Navy frogman, etc., throw in a couple of girls, a handful of songs, color and Panavision. The kids’ll love it.
When that routine worked, it really worked. Viva Las Vegas (1964) or Roustabout (1965), for instance. When it didn’t, well, it was Elvis — and for a lot of folks, that was enough.
Which brings us to It Happened At The World’s Fair (1963). Elvis and Gary Lockwood are crop duster pilots who end up in Seattle. Thanks to a little girl (Vicky Tiu) he’s babysitting, Elvis meets a lovely nurse (Joan O’Brien). As he tries to get involved with the nurse, he ends up involved with some crooks and smuggled furs, too.
What really sets this one off is its location shooting at the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle, also called the Century 21 Exposition. It was shot in September 1962, a month before the fair ended. The picture’s like a Metrocolor and Panavision time capsule of a pretty amazing time — monorails, the Space Needle, GM’s Firebird III dream car, the Pavilion of Electric Power, computers and some really cool-looking mobile homes. The Fair footage is gorgeous, and the Blu-Ray’s picture incredible quality gives you a chance to really study all that’s going on. It’s surprising you don’t see people gawking at the King as he makes his way from ride to game to food joint to the dispensary.
By this time, the music in Elvis’ movies could be pretty hit or miss. The best tune here is probably “One Broken Heart For Sale,” which with a bit more bite to it, could’ve been a good one. Written by Otis Blackwell and Winfield Scott, it was the first Elvis RCA single to not hit the Top Five (it made it to 11). I’ve always felt the songs hurt Elvis’ movies as much as anything. If every tune was as good as, say, “Mean Woman Blues,” “Viva Las Vegas” or even “A Little Less Conversation,” the pictures would’ve had more life to ’em. Face it, some of that stuff is embarrassing to listen to — imagine having to get up there and sing it like you mean it. Poor Elvis. Plus, not only are some of the songs pretty lacking, but there’s too many of ’em — two or three strong ones is a lot better than 10 forgettable ones. (Remember, when Elvis staged his comeback in ’68, he did it through great music, not another movie.)
It’s really easy to slam these movies. There’s not a lot to them. But you can look at them as the last reel of the studio system — Hollywood was a very different place by the time the 70s came along. These pictures were put together by real pros — from director Norman Taurog to cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg (got an Oscar for ’59’s Gigi). Maybe someone like Ruttenberg was just trying to pay his bills or prepare for retirement (his last picture was Speedway), but he was incapable of making a shabby-looking movie.
And for me, that’s the real benefit of Warner Archive’s Blu-Ray of It Happened At The World’s Fair. The movie just shines. The 1962 World’s Fair was a place of hope and promise for the future, and it comes through perfectly here. This Blu-Ray reminded me how blessed we are to have old movies look this good today. (Do you remember what something like this looked like on your local station’s afternoon movie — or even VHS?) It’s bright and sharp with gorgeous color. The sound rings loud and clear in glorious mono. The DVD looked fine, but this is a whole new level. The only extra is a trailer, which is fun.
Is It Happened At The World’s Fair Elvis’ best movie? Not even close. I’d put it somewhere in the middle. It’s fun and pretty to look at — and it gives us a great peek at the World’s Fair. And, of course, there’s Elvis. That’s plenty to recommend it.
Directed by Norman Taurog
Starring Elvis Presley, Joan O’Brien, Gary Lockwood, Vicky Tiu, Yvonne Craig, Kurt Russell
Warner Archive is bringing Elvis to Blu-Ray this June with Norman Taurog’s It Happened At The World’s Fair (1963). Elvis plays a crop duster pilot named Mike Edwards who ends up at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair.
This one doesn’t have any of Elvis’ best songs and the plot’s nothing to write home about, but the mobile homes are really swank in a mid-century modern sort of way and the whole thing was shot by Joseph Ruttenburg, who did lots of great-looking movies for MGM. His last was Speedway (1968). It should look terrific on Blu-Ray. Can’t wait!
Dig that original mono copy of the soundtrack LP!
My favorite movie opened in LA on this day in 1969 — in spectacular 70mm!
They say 70mm prints of Where Eagles Dare (1969) were in stereo, while 35mm prints were mono. Not sure if that’s true. However, one thing is certain — the stereo sound on the laserdisc (which includes the intermission) is much better than the Blu-Ray. The Blu-Ray looks wonderful, thankfully.
Tex Avery Screwball Classics Volume 1 was terrific, and here comes number two, which might be even better. It will contain stunning new restorations of:
Little Rural Riding Hood
The Cuckoo Clock
One Cab’s Family
Cat That Hated People
The Flea Circus
Field And Scream
The First Bad Man
Droopy’s Double Trouble
Three Little Pups
House Of Tomorrow
Car Of Tomorrow
TV Of Tomorrow
The documentary Tex Avery: King Of Cartoons will be included. Coming in December. Very funny stuff, and absolutely essential.
Directed by Denis Sanders
Starring Elvis Presley, James Burton, Glen D. Hardin, Charlie Hodge, Jerry Scheff, Ron Tutt, John Wilkinson, The Imperials, The Sweet Inspirations
Warner Archive is bringing back a very cool thing — the original theatrical cut of the Elvis concert movie That’s The Way It Is (1970) on DVD and the 2001 re-edited “Special Edition” on Blu-Ray. This twin-pack came out in 2014 and has been missing for quite a while.
The 1970 theatrical film plays like a documentary, covering the rehearsals and buildup to Elvis’ return to live performance at the International Hotel in Las Vegas (in August of 1970), while the 2001 cut is more of a straight-up concert movie. Both are terrific — Elvis was at the top of his game, his TCB band was incredible and it was all captured in Panavision by the great DP Lucien Ballard, in-between Sam Peckinpah movies.
Highly, highly recommended. (My wife and I named our daughter Presley, which might indicate a bit of a bias where Elvis is concerned.)
I discovered Frederick Bean “Tex” Avery in high school. While my classmates were spending their after-school hours at football practice, rehearsing for some school play, working at McDonald’s or God knows what else it was that they did, I was watching Tom & Jerry cartoons on one of the TV stations out of Philadelphia. Scattered in-between shorts like Texas Tom (1950) or The Flying Cat (1952) would be something from a guy named Tex Avery.
It didn’t take long to figure out that the Sony Betamax needed to be brought into play, and armed with it and a copy of Leonard Maltin’s book Of Mice And Magic, I was checking off Avery cartoons like Deputy Droopy (1955) as I captured them. Maybe this made me a bit of an obsessive shut-in loser, but I sure laughed a lot.
What makes Tex Avery’s cartoons so good, and him the widely-acknowledged King Of Cartoons, was his experimentation. How fast could a gag be and still register in the mind of the audience? How over-the-top could a reaction be and still be relatable? How many visual puns can you cram into six minutes? The pace of his pictures just got faster and faster, and if you watch the Tom & Jerry cartoons in chronological order, you can see that Avery’s experiments were rubbing off on William Hanna and Joseph Barbera.
All that insider baseball is great, but who would care if the cartoons themselves weren’t so damn funny? There’s terrific evidence of just how funny they are in Warner Archive’s new Blu-Ray Tex Avery Screwball Classics Volume 1.
You get —
Tex Avery Classics
Red Hot Riding Hood (1943)
Who Killed Who? (1943)
What’s Buzzin’ Buzzard? (1943)
Batty Baseball (1944)
The Hick Chick (1946)
Bad Luck Blackie (1949)
Garden Gopher (1950)
The Peachy Cobbler (1950)
Symphony In Slang (1951)
Screwball Squirrel (1944)
The Screwy Truant (1945)
Big Heel-Watha (1944)
Lonesome Lenny (1946)
George & Junior
Hound Hunters (1947)
Red Hot Rangers (1947)
Wags To Riches (1949)
The Chump Champ (1950)
Daredevil Droopy (1951)
This red-hot helping of wonderfulness looks and sounds fabulous, better than I’ve ever seen these things look. I found myself pausing them to study the beautiful backgrounds from MGM’s incredible stable of artists. And I really appreciated the way the disc was set up — you can watch ’em straight through, one at a time, or grouped as you see them above. A tremendous amount of care went into this set, and a big fat thanks to everyone involved.
But maybe the best thing about this Blu-Ray is the “Volume 1” in its title. I’m already waiting for Volume 2.
Tex Avery Screwball Classics Volume 1 is absolutely essential. How’d we all make it this long without this thing?
If you’ve gone through life without seeing a Laurel & Hardy short like Big Business (1929) or The Music Box (1932), I feel really sorry for you. Luckily, Kit Parker is ready to help you exit that world of darkness with Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations, a four-disc Blu-Ray set full of terrific shorts and features from Stan and Ollie.
The Battle Of The Century (1927, making its video debut)
Berth Marks (1929)
Hog Wild (1930)
Come Clean (1931)
One Good Turn (1931)
The Music Box (1932, Oscar winner for best short)
The Chimp (1932)
County Hospital (1932)
Their First Mistake (1932)
Towed In A Hole (1932)
Twice Two (1933)
Me And My Pal (1933)
The Midnight Patrol (1933)
Busy Bodies (1933)
Sons Of The Desert (1933)
Way Out West (1937)
Restored from the best 35mm to be found on the planet (thanks to the efforts of Jeff Joseph/SabuCat, UCLA Film & Television Archive and Library of Congress), this set will also include commentaries, interviews, stills and The Tree In A Test Tube (1942), a color short produced by the U. S. Department of Agriculture. It’s coming in June. Essential stuff.
UPDATED 1/23/2020: In what will surely be one of the greatest Blu-Ray releases of all time, Warner Archive has announced that Tex Avery’s cartoons are making their way to Blu-Ray.
Tex Avery Screwball Classics, Volume 1 will contain —
Red Hot Riding Hood
Who Killed Who?
What’s Buzzin Buzzard?
The Hick Chick
Bad Luck Blackie
The Peachy Cobbler
Symphony In Slang
Screwy Squirrel in:
The Screwy Truant
George & Junior in:
Red Hot Rangers
Wags To Riches
The Chump Champ
Coming in February. These things are essential now, ya hear?
Directed by Fritz Lang
Produced by John Houseman
Screen Play by Jan Lustig & Margaret Fitts
Based on the novel by J. Meade Falkner
Director Of Photography: Robert Planck
Film Editor: Albert Akst
Music by Miklos Rozsa
Cast: Stewart Granger (Jeremy Fox.), Jon Whiteley (John Mohune), George Sanders (Lord Greenwood), Joan Greenwood (Lady Greenwood), Viveca Lindfors (Mrs. Minton), Liliane Montevecchi (Gypsy), Jack Elam (Damen)
Fritz Lang’s Moonfleet (1955) is a movie people seem to delight in tearing down. It helps that it’s a long way from Lang’s best work — there’s plenty to criticize. But me, I’ll take Lang’s bad over About Anybody Else’s good. And there’s a lot for movie nuts to appreciate here.
If Disney had asked Fritz Lang to direct Treasure Island (1950), you might’ve ended up with something like Moonfleet. There’s a young boy. There are smugglers instead of pirates. And there are lots and lots of opportunities for the kind of deep, dark, moody scenes Lang excelled at.
The story suits Lang so well it’s hard to believe he was brought in as a director-for-hire just a few weeks before the cameras rolled. You see, MGM hated Lang. Fury (1936), his first film for the studio — his first American film period, had been a big hit. But they hated him so much they didn’t work with him again until Moonfleet. They gave him a paltry budget, a script he wasn’t allowed to fine-tune and no approval of the final cut. Lang was not the dictatorial artist here, he was an employee, plain and simple.
Lang was never loved in Hollywood. From studio heads to actors to crew members, few people worked with him more than once.
Lang: “In Moonfleet we tried to create a period film entirely in the studio; we shot everything there, even the exteriors.”
Along with being assigned a set-bound period picture with very little time to prepare for it, Lang was handed CinemaScope as part of the package. The director was not a fan of the process, and as Moonfleet shows, it threw a monkey wrench into Lang’s style. ‘Scope pictures at the time relied on longer takes and fewer closeups, giving Lang a helluva time when it came to his usual way of cutting, and types of shots, to create rhythm and suspense. He’d never make another ‘Scope picture.
John Mohune, an orphan (Jon Whitely), arrives in the village of Moonfleet looking for Jeremy Fox (Stewart Granger), an old flame of his deceased mother. Fox is a gentleman wrapped up with a group of smugglers (one of them is Jack Elam!) — and with little time, aptitude or interest, for caring for a young boy. But the search for a hidden diamond brings them together — and makes them the targets of pirates, soldiers and the greedy, crooked Lord and Lady Greenwood (George Sanders and Joan Greenwood). Sanders comes off like his Nazi creep in Man Hunt (1941), just with a wig.
There are some terrific scenes here and there, particularly the ones set in the church graveyard and tombs. Lang keeps the picture planted in the boy’s point of view, much in the way William Cameron Menzies did with Jimmy Hunt in Invaders From Mars (1953), and it works well. It’s probably why I liked this so much as a kid (when I didn’t know, or care, who Fritz Lang was). After all, to a young boy, what’s cooler that pirates and thieves and skeletons? Some lazy editing — the last 10 minutes must’ve been cut at four o’clock on a Friday afternoon — makes it quite obvious that Lang wasn’t able to see his movie across the finish line. But when it’s good, it’s really good, and when it’s not good, well, it’s still good.
Warner Archive has done Lang and DP Robert Planck a great service with their new Blu-Ray of Moonfleet. We can now appreciate the somber color palette (the Eastmancolor looks quite good), the glorious painted backdrops and the sheer enormity of some of the MGM sound stages. Maybe that makes this more of a treat for those who want to look at how the movie was made rather than just watch it. But what’s wrong with that? Lang’s movies have always appealed more to us Film Geeks anyway.
Highly recommended. (Remember, it has Jack Elam as a pirate.)