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Archive for September 9th, 2011

by Sam Juliano

They are the most beloved comedy duo of all-time.  Yet for all their classics in the form both in shorts and features, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy’s most popular movie is an odd hybrid that nearly wasn’t made at all.  In November 1933, Hal Roach bought the rights to Victor Herbert’s 1903 operetta Babes in Toyland, which seemed to ooze with success and prestige.  In addition to the pre-eminence of Herbert, who also composed the music to Naughty Marietta, there was the potential of some marvelous characters that were sure to captivate the younger set.  Included among these were the Evil Spider, the Moth Queen, the Brown Bear, Bo-Beep the careless shepherdess, and the Master Toymaker.  The elements were in place, but to that point there wasn’t any story to move forward on.  Indeed the stage version that came before was basically a plotless revue.  At that point Roach, in what years later could be rightly seen as a stroke a genius, convinced the peak-of-their power comedy stars to join the project.  At the start Stan Laurel wasn’t overly keen and insisted on re-working elements of the screenplay before agreeing to sign up. The end result is an intriguing amalgam of comedy, fantasy and opera, which features an array of instantly recognisable characters from European nursery rhymes and fairy tales, and American cartoons, presented in a manner reminiscent of the British pantomime tradition. There’s a distinct ‘stagey’ feel to some of the sequences and setpieces that successfully conveys the theatrical elements of the original operetta presentation and adds to the pantomine-like atmosphere.  When the gates of Toyland open at the film’s opening, it’s much like curtains being drawn back at the start of a theatrical performance.  Toyland itself is laid out like a giant pantomine set but with detailed and realistic structures replacing the more-familiar two-dimensional cutouts and painted backdrops.  The lavish sets and costumes serve the story well while the rather bizarre architecture of Toyland and the otherworldly strangeness of the many characters who live there, give the film a darker context of unease, which invariably distinguish the finest fairy tales and nursery rhymes. (more…)

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Ivy – 1947, Sam Wood

by Allan Fish

(USA 1947 99m) not on DVD

My grandfather clock…

p  William Cameron Menzies  d  Sam Wood  w  Charles Bennett  novel  Belloc Lowndes  ph  Russell Metty  ed  Ralph Dawson  m  Daniele Amfitheatrof  art  William Cameron Menzies  cos  Travis Banton

Joan Fontaine (Ivy Lexton), Herbert Marshall (Miles Rushworth), Patric Knowles (Roger Gretorex), Richard Ney (Jervis Lexton), Cedric Hardwicke (Inspector Orpington), Lucile Watson (Mrs Gretorex), Sara Allgood (Martha Huntley), Henry Stephenson (Judge), Rosalind Ivan (Emily), Isobel Elsom (Miss Chattle), Una O’Connor (Mrs Thrawn), Lilian Fontaine (Lady Flora), Alan Napier (Sir Jonathan Wright), Gavin Muir (sergeant), Norma Varden (Joan Rodney), Paul Cavanagh (Dr Berwick),

It was a film I waited a long time to finally see, courtesy of a DVD-R taken from an old VHS recording off TV God only knows when.  It’s a film that’s pretty much glossed over in the few film guides and histories in which it appears.  Not a bad film as such, but nothing remotely to get excited about.  Or so you might think…

            Ivy is based on a novel by the same author as The Lodger and also follows a killer.  In that case a largely fictional take on the most infamous killer of all, in this case a purely fictional take on a lady poisoner of the first decade of the 20th century.  Enter Ivy Lexton, married to Jervis whose fortune she has delighted in spending until he has very little left and they are left to share a dingy garret in some suburban house.  She already has set her cap at doctor Roger Gretorex before she goes to see a British pilot try to win the £1,000 prize offered by a newspaper to complete the first cross channel flight.  As history tells us, they didn’t make it – just as they are about to take off the silhouette of Bleriot’s plane comes towards them – but Ivy certainly hits her own jackpot, in the case of charming the rich Miles Rushworth.  She persuades him to get Jervis a job in an office, discards Roger who gets supremely jealous and begins to think she has no way out until she hits upon the idea of poisoning Jervis with substances from Roger’s pharmacy (he’s a doctor) and getting the blame put on Roger, while she seduces Miles on his yacht.  (more…)

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