Saturday Breakfast Serial 014 – Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. (1941) Chapter 2: The Prisoner Vanishes

dt2Welcome back! It’s Saturday morning again which means it’s Saturday Breakfast Serial Time! This week, it’s Chapter Two of Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. (You can find Chapter One here.)

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the transition of serials from silent to sound, a transition which would begin to give the serials more of the look and feel of the ones that are more familiar to us today. In that post, I wrote about Tarzan the Mighty, one of the first serials to include partial sound, including the first recorded “Tarzan yell”. That was not however, actually the first serial to include partial sound, as that distinction actually goes to King of the Kongo which was produced by Mascot pictures in 1929 and released a few months prior to TtM.

Though the serial itself is not really considered all that interesting, it’s history (and its place in history) certainly makes it so. One of the first things you need to know about sound recording for film at the time is that as opposed to the sound actually being a part of the film itself, the sound accompaniment was actually recorded onto disks that were sent along with the film and had to be synced up and played alongside the film itself. This meant that in order for there to be sound with the movie, one not only had to have a copy of the film, but the disks also, and that is where the problem with King of the Kongo and a restoration of the entire film begins, because although a complete copy of the film itself is still known to exist, most of the accompanying disks have been lost or destroyed, meaning that we will probably never have a full restoration of this important piece of cinema history.

Of course, I have to use the word “probably” there, as one never knows what might be found in the future. As a matter of fact, it’s in a lot of ways a tribute to coincidence that we have as much of a restoration of the serial with its sound today as we do. I’m not going to go into the entire story of the restoration and preservation of what does exist here, but for those truly interested, at least part of the story (and some very interesting insight into the world of film collecting and preservation) can be found here.

kk1Here’s a list, thanks to Wikipedia, of what sound for this serial is known to survive, and its preservation status as of June of last year:

Chapter 1 (three reels) • Into the Unknown (no sound known to exist)
Chapter 2 (two reels) • Terrors of the Jungle (no sound)
Chapter 3 (two reels) • Temple of Beasts (no sound)
Chapter 4 (two reels) • Gorilla Warfare (sound disc for reel 2 survives)
Chapter 5 (two reels) • Danger in the Dark (full sound survives, restoration finished 2013)
Chapter 6 (two reels) • The Fight at Lions Pit (both discs survive) National Film Preservation Foundation project begins Fall 2014
Chapter 7 (two reels) • The Fatal Moment (sound disc for reel 2 survives)
Chapter 8 (two reels) • Sentenced to Death (sound disc for reel 2 survives)
Chapter 9 (two reels) • Desperate Choices (sound disc for reel 1 survives)
Chapter 10 (two reels) • Jungle Justice (National Film Preservation Foundation restoration project going on as of 6/14)

Here’s a short clip from chapter 5 of the serial with the sound restored:

One other thing that should be noted about King of the Kongo is that one of its stars, unlike many silent movie actors, went on to have a very successful career in talking pictures as well. That actor? None other than horror film legend Boris Karloff!

Okay, time to move on with our own ongoing serial, Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. After last week’s rather explosive ending, it’ll be interesting to see where our heroes have wound up!

Next time: Chapter 3: Doom Patrol, and a look at the studio that produced King of the Kongo, Mascot Pictures.

But Will It Actually Be Fantastic? – Here’s The Brand-New Trailer For The Fantastic Four (2015)

ff1I’ve been leery of this Fantastic Four reboot ever since it was first announced. I wasn’t a huge fan of Josh Trank‘s Chronicle, though I’m certainly willing to admit that it was good for what it was. I simply didn’t enjoy what it was, and the thought of Trank taking over the (admittedly not great, but in my mind not as bad as a lot of people seem to have thought) Fantastic Four franchise was not something that I found heartening.

Then came the casting news. At the time of the announcement, most of the cast were unknown quantities to me, but my problem wasn’t so much a question of their acting abilities – and having subsequently seen Miles Teller, who is playing Reed Richards in the movie in Whiplash and watching him hold his own against the incredible J.K. Simmons in that film, I have no doubt that he, at least, given the appropriate material certainly has the chops to carry the load- but in their relative youth. Yes, I understand the studio’s desire to go with a younger cast to draw in the proper demographic but, and this is where I call in that “given the appropriate material” phrase above, especially in casting Teller as Richards they simply seemed too young to really fit my image of the Fantastic Four.

ff2Of course, here again is where I have to acknowledge that as an old fart who grew up on and with the original Lee/Kirby FF run and has followed their adventures ever since, I am, again, not the target demographic for this movie. And honestly, I’m okay with that. As I’ve noted before, both in my writing and in discussions with people on adaptations in general, I am not a stickler who says “but the book has blah-blah-blah…” or “but the comics have yadda yadda…”. I’m definitely willing to accept the fact that changes are necessary in bringing anything created for another medium to the screen. My only real requirements are that the movie stay true to the essence of the characters (that was my huge problem with Man of Steel, for instance – it seemed a complete betrayal of everything that makes Superman actually Superman), that it hew somewhere close to the appropriate tone for the material being presented, and that it tell a good story.

Which brings us to the second part of my resistance/hesitancy to this movie – tone. As I said above, I was not a huge fan of Trank’s Chronicle in large part because of its dark tone, and that is exactly what I feared he would bring to the FF movie, and I have seen absolutely nothing to assuage that fear, including reports that Fox executives themselves have used the expression “Chronicle 2” to describe the movie, and the director’s own admission that he has been influenced in making this movie by the films of David Cronenberg, a director whose films have always been kind of hit-or-miss for me, and who seems wildly inappropriate for what I think of when I think of a Fantastic Four movie.

ff-trailerWhen you add to that the reported changes in the very origins of the characters – drawn more from Marvel’s Ultimate Universe stories (and there’s a reason that series didn’t last long) than the classic tales, and the reported more “grounded” and “realistic” take that seems to be the direction that Fox seems to be wanting to take the franchise in, well, it simply hasn’t seemed to bode well for a movie that has the word “Fantastic” in its very title.

Still, with all of that said, I’ve been willing to give the movie at least some benefit of the doubt until we actually saw some footage. After all, up to this point, we haven’t really seen anything concrete from the film itself, not even a still.

Until today.

Yep, finally today we got the first official trailer for the movie, and here it is:

Obviously, there’s not a lot to go on here, as – appropriately I suppose for a first trailer – it really is more of a hint, a tease for what the movie will be. And we all know that trailers, especially the first one out of the gate, can be quite misleading when it comes to the final product. This is a trailer full of hints and glimpses, and I’m hesitant to make much of a judgement from it. However, there is one thing I would like to note.

ff3The Fantastic Four is the cornerstone of the Marvel Universe. Everything that has come since, everything that made Marvel Comics truly Marvel Comics springs from the FF. It was the trendsetter. It was the wellspring. It was – and this is really not hyperbole – the comic that changed everything, and its very likely that without its success, we would not have the other Marvel creations that we love today. No Spider-Man, no X-Men, no Captain America, no Iron Man, no Thor, no Avengers, no you-name-it. If you think I’m exaggerating, then remember that when Stan Lee first created the FF, he was on the verge of quitting the comics field altogether, and FF#1 was, in a way, his last attempt to try to create something new, something different, and had he not challenged himself (and co-creator Jack Kirby) to do that, well…

ff4Yes, in the early pages of the Fantastic Four comic Lee was shooting for a more “realistic” tone to his own comic – at least in comparison to rival DC’s output at the time – but that was also a relative thing. The other aspect of those early comics, however, was that Lee and Kirby never lost sight of the fact that they were writing comic books. That they were writing fantasy stories (after all, even the words “fantasy” and “fantastic” have the same root) that were meant to excite and enthrall their audience, and to inflame the imagination of their readers,  – there’s a reason that Marvel at the time was able to give themselves the moniker “The House of Ideas” without it seeming ridiculous, and that Marvel is said to have created a “modern mythology”- and that is the biggest thing that I wonder about when I look at this trailer. Because it doesn’t strike me, again at admittedly only a first glimpse, as the kind of movie that is going to inspire that sense of wonder, that continual sense of “where do we go from here?”.

In short, it doesn’t seem to be the kind of creation from which the Marvel Universe, be it the classic one or the current cinematic universe, would spring.

I know, that seems like an awful lot to put on what is, at the end of the day, just a two-hour(ish) movie. But then again, this is a movie that is calling itself The Fantastic Four, and with that title comes – whether the studio or the creators want it or not – a certain heritage and legacy that wouldn’t accompany something like oh, say for instance, Chronicle 2.

ff5Of course, in the end, as I noted above, the movie is going to be what it’s going to be. And whether it succeeds or fails it will have to do so on its own merits as a movie. It’s not – as some often exaggerate – going to “wipe out a part of my childhood”, and it’s not going to erase or destroy what has come before it. It simply will be what it is, and even if it winds up completely terrible, well, the world will go on, and there will be – as is extremely obvious from the huge slate of comic book and superhero movies which are scheduled to follow it – plenty of other chances for Hollywood to “get it right”.

But I really would like to go see this movie and experience something Fantastic.

Sight and Sound Top 250 – #244 The Thin Blue Line (1988)

A short(ish) introduction – As I noted recently, I’m changing the way that I post these essays. Instead of attempting to get them up in a once-per-week-on-Tuesday format, instead I’ll be watching and posting them more in an as-the-spirit-leads time frame. What will this mean in practice? Well, as you’ve probably noticed, it’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve actually posted anything from the list as I’ve been concentrating on other things, but this week I actually have a couple of different ones that will likely go up. The hope is that in changing to this format, I’ll be able to spend the time writing and researching those films that need more “processing” time without the limits imposed by the strict once-a-week format, yet also allowing myself the chance to take a movie like this one, which I watched yesterday and would like to go ahead and write about and get up on the blog while its still fresh in my mind and do that without having to wait for some pre-ordained schedule. In a way, admittedly, it’s more of a psychological change for me than anything that will be readily apparent to you as a reader, but it’s one that hopefully will lead to a better writing style on these for me, and a better reading experience for you. Anyway, with all of that (possibly unnecessarily, but I did want to try to give a little explanation for the change) said, this time out we’re looking at #244 on the list, Errol Morris‘s The Thin Blue Line. And as always, I want to note that you can find a full introduction to what the Sight and Sound Top 250 list is, and a look at the complete list of the movies on it, along with links to the ones I’ve already written about here. And, if you want to be sure not to miss any of these posts, be sure to head on over to the Facebook page and give it a “like”or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I post anytime one of these – or anything else on the blog, along with just random other links and thoughts that may not make it into full posts – goes up.

tbl1Errol Morris has had a very interesting career as a film maker. Especially early on, it seems that he would begin a project devoted to one topic, and then in the process of examining and researching that topic find a different thread that he considered more interesting, thus leading him to ultimately produce something completely different than what he set out to create. This is certainly what happened in the case of what has to be considered his most famous and influential work, 1988’s The Thin Blue Line.

In 1985, Morris, along with being a documentary film maker, was making his living as a private investigator for a private detective agency that specialized in Wall Street cases. It was during this time that he became interested in the figure of Dr. James Grigson, who was a psychiatrist in Dallas, TX. Dr. Grigson had become known as “Dr. Death”, because along with his regular practice, he had become something of a “go-to guy” when Texas prosecutors were trying a case and were seeking the death penalty. Under Texas law at the time (and it may still be the case, I don’t know), the death penalty could only be issued if the jury were convinced that the defendant was not only guilty, but would commit further violent crimes in the future if he were not put to death. For 15 years Dr. Grigson had been testifying for such cases, and in most cases his report for the courts would be that he was “one hundred per cent certain” that the defendant would kill again if he were to be released. He thus became a very important part of the Texas prosecutors’ arsenal.

tbl3Obviously, as both a film maker and as an investigator, such a figure was bound to catch Morris’s eye, and he quickly decided that he had found the subject of his next documentary. However, during the course of researching Dr. Death and the cases he had been involved in, Morris found himself even more intrigued by one of those cases in particular, that of Randall Dale Adams.

Wikipedia sums up Adams’ case this way:

Adams was serving a life sentence that had been commuted from a death sentence on a legal technicality for the 1976 murder of Robert Wood, a Dallas police officer. Adams told Morris that he had been framed, and that David Harris, who was present at the time of the murder and was the principal witness for the prosecution, had in fact killed Wood.

This led to Morris doing more research into the case, interviewing the principals involved, reading the transcripts of the trial and meeting with David Harris at a bar, all of which led to Morris believing that the wrong man had been convicted, and that it was likely that Adams was actually innocent.

tbl2During his investigation of the case and the making of the film, Morris conducted a series of interviews with most of the principals of the case, many of whom told stories and recollections that either contradicted each other or their earlier testimony. Using these interviews and recreations of the crime itself, Morris finally completed his documentary on the Adams case, and it was released in 1988 as The Thin Blue Line. Meanwhile, Adams’ death sentence had been overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1980 and commuted to life in prison by then Governor of Texas, Bill Clements, and, subsequent to the release of the film, Adams had his conviction overturned by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the case was returned to Dallas County for a retrial. The district attorney’s office declined to prosecute the case again and Adams was ordered released as a result of a habeas corpus hearing in 1989. Morris’s unedited interviews were used as part of the defense case in this trial. Eventually Harris confessed to the killing, but he actually wound up being put to death for a different, completely unrelated murder.

tbl4Okay, so that’s the story, but what about the film itself? Well, to say the least, it’s an interesting concoction that is hard to watch now in the same context as it would have been upon its initial release. After all, subsequent to this we have had any number of movies and television shows that have followed in its footsteps, recreating and investigating unsolved mysteries, some of them immediate, some of them decades old. Therefore it behooves one to take a step back and look at just what Morris was creating here and how successful he was in his time.

tbl6It’s interesting to note that Morris himself did not want the film to be considered a documentary (though that is how it has subsequently come to be labeled), and Mirmax, the movie’s distributor, did its best to market the movie as “a new kind of movie mystery” as can be seen by the tagline on the poster above. When taken in that context, the movie actually comes across rather flat, especially since it never actually reaches the point of actually accusing or condemning Harris in the direct fashion that a modern viewer might expect it to. As a matter of fact, none of the various recreations of the shooting scenario that are presented throughout the film ever show one which depict Harris as the actual shooter.

tbl7In the end, I suppose that I have to say that the movie actually works better now when viewed as a historical document than as a film, per se. That’s not to say that it’s bad movie, just that it’s one that really is impossible to view with anywhere near it’s full impact without consideration for its original time and place, and simply as a stand-alone creation. Does that make it a failure? Hardly. This is a film that must be given its due. But, at the same time, because of its very nature and the assumptions that it makes of the audience’s familiarity with the Adams case itself it requires perhaps more from the modern viewer than it should to really be considered one of the all-time greats.

Here’s the trailer for The Thin Blue Line:

 

 

 

Saturday Breakfast Serial 013 – Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. (1941) Chapter 1: The Invisible Trail

dt1Welcome back! It’s Saturday morning again which means it’s Saturday Breakfast Serial Time! Today we begin a new serial, Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc.

This was actually the fourth and last of Republic’s Dick Tracy serials, and is largely considered the best of them all. Ralph Byrd stars as Tracy, who here is portrayed as an FBI agent rather than a police detective, who must take on his most elusive foe yet: The Ghost – who is not only the head of a criminal syndicate, but also appears to have the incredible power to turn himself invisible.

In general, the Dick Tracy serials were incredibly well received at the time, and are considered some of the best of Republic’s serial output. This one consisted of a total of 15 chapters and was originally released toward the end of 1941, carrying over into 1942.

Byrd, who had already appeared as Tracy in Republic’s three previous serials, would go on to play the character in two follow-up full length motion pictures, and in a later television series which only lasted for one season due to the untimely death of the star.

Okay, let’s get things kicked off, shall we? I’ll be back next week to continue our overview of the history of movie serials, but for now let’s just dive (and I do mean dive!) right into the action:

Next time: Chapter 2: The Prisoner Vanishes

Classic Television Thursday #020 – Playhouse 90: Forbidden Area (1956)

p90What do I need to say here? Charlton Heston, Vincent Price, Tab Hunter, Diana Lynn, and Victor Jory, all starring in a screenplay adapted by Rod Serling and directed by John Frankenheimer.

What could possibly bring all of this talent together? It’s “Forbidden Area”, the premiere episode of Playhouse 90, the acclaimed 1950s television anthology series.

Oh, and did I mention that it was broadcast live? And hosted by Jack Palance?

Yeah, I’m just going to get out of the way of this one, and let you enjoy it.

 

 

 

 

Saturday Breakfast Serial 012 – The Crimson Ghost (1946) Chapter 12: The Invisible Trail

cg1Welcome back! It’s Saturday morning again which means it’s time for the next chapter of our ongoing serial The Crimson Ghost and more movie serial history. (Previous Chapters: 1  2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11)

I’m gonna get out of the way pretty quickly here this morning so that we can get right on to the final chapter of The Crimson Ghost.

Just a quick reminder that I’m still taking nominations for the next serial that will run in this spot beginning next week, and probably will be until Thursday or so. Right now, the top contenders appear to be The Shadow of the Eagle (1932), King of the Rocket Men (1949), Zorro Rides Again (1937), Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. (1947), Tiger Woman (1944), The Miracle Rider (1935), Terry and the Pirates (1940), Blackhawk (1952), or Ghost of Zorro (1949). I’m also considering running one of the silent foreign serials that I discussed earlier, Les Vampires (1915).

Obviously, though, as I noted above, I still haven’t made a decision, and I welcome any other nominations or votes on which to feature next. Just let me know what you folks would like to see either in the comments below, or over on the Durnmoose Movie Musings Facebook page.

Okay, let’s get on with the show -here’s  Chapter 12 of The Crimson Ghost: “The Invisible Trail”

Next time: ?

Classic Television Thursday #019 – Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Cunningham Heritage (1954)

holmes2Considering the perennial popularity of the character, I was rather surprised to find out that up until the recent CBS series Elementary, there has been only one American television series based on the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Produced for syndication in 1954 the series, simply titled Sherlock Holmes, starred Ronald Howard as Holmes and Howard Marion Crawford as Dr. Watson. The series was produced  by Sheldon Reynolds and filmed in France by Guild Films.

holmes1A total of 39 episodes were produced. Most of them were original stories written specifically for the series, though a few were based, at least loosely, upon Conan-Doyle’s stories. Less irascible, but still with the unpredictable flair that is requisite in any portrayal of Holmes, Howard presents a relatively youthful and blithe portrayal of Holmes who retains a certain charm of character that is more relatable the infinitely obsessed and at times quite distancing modern interpretations. As Watson, Crawford, though clearly outmatched by Holmes’ keen powers of observation and deduction, is nowhere near the bumbling blitherer he was often relegated to in earlier Homes interpretations. As in the novels and short stories, this Watson is keen of intellect (and thus an appropriate companion for Holmes), who is simply outpaced by the detective.

All-in-all, this series is quite entertaining, and a worthwhile watch for any Holmes fan. Here’s the first episode, from October, 1954, “The Case of the Cunningham Heritage”. The first part of the episode, you’ll note, is a fairly straightforward adaptation of the first meeting of Watson and Holmes from A Study in Scarlet, though it does eventually veer from that plot into a completely original story.

The good news is that since this series has actually become part of the Public Domain, all of the episodes are pretty readily available for viewing, and have actually had a number of different DVD releases, as well as being pretty easy to locate on YouTube and are also available for download at the Internet Archives.