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Beckford

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1947 Part 3
CHEYENNE
This is a lively, good natured western set in the 1860’s. With a fine cast and solid Warner Brothers production polish. The cleverly spun multi-tracked script has an agreeable habit of springing unexpected new characters and plot angles on us at regular intervals – in the process, keeping everything at full simmer.
Let’s face it. The word “Cheyenne” makes for an ideal western movie title. Packing a concentrated wallop of all the things most western fans crave. Just hearing the word you’re halfway to the Old West. And I was surprised to see that this exact title doesn’t seem to have been used for any earlier movies. Of course, Cheyenne’s name had been integrated into the monikers of plenty of B-westerns. But no one, it seems, had ever thought to utilize this single perfect bull's-eye of a word as a movie title all on its own. Anyway, they finally got around to it in 1947. The picture plays out in the wild Wyoming of 1867. Setting its energetic action in Laramie, Cheyenne and various picturesque points between.
In Laramie slick gambler Jim Wylie (Dennis Morgan) has no sooner won a thousand bucks in a saloon card game than he’s collared by Wells Fargo agent Webb Yancey (Barton MacLane) who seems to wield some sort of legal authority. Apparently Wylie’s wanted in connection with a Nevada shooting (self-defence according to him). Yancey makes the gambler an offer. If he agrees to go undercover and help expose and capture a mysterious bandit called The Poet, all charges will be dropped. It seems that lately Wells Fargo strongboxes full of money have been arriving at their destinations empty - except for a taunting rhymed note signed by “The Poet”, each message serving as another galling “Gotcha”. Why Wells Fargo thinks Wylie‘s the man for the job is not all that clear. Except, of course, he’s smooth, handsome and apparently even better with guns than he is with cards. Bottom line: Wylie somewhat reluctantly signs on.
Next thing we know he’s on a stage to Cheyenne. Much of the film was shot on location in Arizona. And the wonderfully dramatic rock formations on view make you want to be there – sans travel-related hassles - to gasp at them in person. Wylie’s not the only passenger onboard. Also occupying the extra-small space with him are two females. Both beautiful, of course. After all, this is a movie. And both displaying different levels of receptiveness to the guy’s playful flirting. Flashy Emily Carson (Janis Paige) is up for anything - starting with sharing the contents of her flask. The other lady, Ann Kincaid (Jane Wyman) is decidedly more reserved, obviously smart but keeping her cards much closer to her vest. She could be a schoolmarm or a master criminal. But she’s not about to buy into smooth talker Wylie’s line.
The wheels have barely started rolling when the stage is attacked by a gang of bandits. This grizzled contingent’s led by Sundance (Arthur Kennedy). And scruffy though they may be, the gang does exhibit a certain degree of cowboy pedigree in that it includes former B-western icons Tom Tyler and Bob Steele (as Pecos and Bucky).
When the strongbox is busted open, guess what – there’s nothing inside but a mocking note from The Poet. Apparently this isn’t the first time said Poet has beat these guys out of loot. They grab Wylie’s thousand dollar stake as a consolation prize. But the gang’s still not happy. One guy grumbles about Sundance’s leadership abilities and immediately gets gunned down for his trouble. The actor is John Alvin, a familiar face in 40’s films. According to the cast list, his intriguing character name is Single Jack, so I guess there’d at least be a minimum of mourners.
Jane Wyman had spent her first decade at Warners mainly playing pert sideline wisecrackers. A couple of mid-40’s loan-outs – to Paramount (“The Lost Weekend”) and MGM (“The Yearling”) had suddenly rebranded her as a first-rate dramatic actress. Warners got busy figuring out exactly how to exploit Wyman’s newfound status. The eventual result was 1948’s triumphant “Johnny Belinda”, which earned the lady an Oscar. The role in “Cheyenne” was probably just viewed as something to keep their hot property busy in the meantime. But – right from our first glimpse of her – Wyman glows with newly assured star presence. Not that she’s forgotten how to land a snappy retort. Her Ann is less than impressed by Wylie’s seemingly easy acquiescence to the stage robbers. When they finally arrive in town, he asks her if she needs help with her bags. Training her eyes on him, she says, “No … you must be a nervous wreck after what you’ve been through”.
Morgan and Wyman’s next encounter involves a comic (and slightly racy) misunderstanding over a portable hotel bathtub – and the whole sequence emerges as a nice exhibition of both actors’ skills at light comedy – verbal and physical.
Janis Paige’s Emily turns out to be the newly engaged star attraction at the town’s main saloon. She sings “Goin’ Back to Old Cheyenne” (it’s her own excellent voice too) while strutting along the surface of the long saloon bar. And does it all decked out in an abbreviated chorus girl costume made of just enough material to support the weight of several gauzy butterfly wings, all precariously attached.
“Cheyenne” probably represents the best use the studio ever made of Janis Paige; she’s cheery, likeable and sexy throughout. Her character also continues to be prominent in the film – and each reappearance is thoroughly welcome. At one point Wylie runs into her on the street. The lady’s dressed to stop traffic - drowning in excess flounces and gaudy accessories, complete with provocatively swaying bustle.
Wylie takes one look at the get-up and observes, with a smile, “What’s the matter? Did somebody pass away in your family?”
The plot thickens when Wylie invades Sundance’s headquarters brandishing a gun and demanding his thousand dollars back. Putting a complicated scheme into effect, he claims he’s The Poet and wants to work with them at some point. The gang doesn’t quite believe he’s who he purports to be. But Sundance says, “I know somebody who’ll know”. He calls that somebody from a back room. And – guess what – it’s Ann, who’s apparently identified herself to Sundance’s bunch as The Poet’s wife. It’s an anything can happen moment. But Ann rushes over to embrace Wylie, “What are you doing here, dear?”. Playing loving wife for the benefit of all concerned. Sundance is provisionally convinced and returns the thousand on the promise of imminent collaboration with the Poet on some big jobs.
Wiley and Ann leave together and Sundance says, “If he is who he says he is we can work him like a gold mine. If he isn’t he knows enough to hang us”. And he sends Pecos and Bucky to tail the couple.
Wylie and Ann form an uneasy alliance, both of them seeming to have an interest in The Poet, though full motivations on both sides aren’t immediately clear. With Sundance’s boys watching them closely, the two are forced to pose as a married couple. First in town, where they have to contend with a comically suspicious landlady. Then at a remote ramshackle location where Sundance and company make an unexpected and potentially threatening appearance.
The duo claims to be honeymooning. So a semi-convinced Sundance allows them some privacy at night, explaining to his boys “You know how women are. Like bears – they can’t get enough honey”.
The course of romantic developments between Wylie and Ann – up one moment and down the next - is charted, rather oddly, via footage devoted to an ongoing game of shoeless footsie between the two. With varying degrees of responsiveness on her part. I imagine 40’s audiences were duly titillated.
The film’s general tone is light-hearted and playful but the action scenes are really solid. An eventual shoot-out at that deserted station where Wylie and Ann are “honeymooning” is really terrific. Staged with tremendous imagination and calling for crackerjack agility from both actors and camera operators. And - throughout the movie - stuntmen take some really hard falls. One looks to have come dangerously close to being crushed by a horse.
Interesting new characters keep cropping up. Bruce Bennett is Ed Landers, Wells Fargo’s Cheyenne representative – a man who may have things to hide. He’s cordial on the surface – but has a contemptuous streak that breaks through from time to time. Behind the back of a colleague, he casually refers to the guy as ‘too stupid to scratch fleas”.
Alan Hale shows up well into the picture. And – as always – his appearance is a treat. Wylie rides into town and asks the first person he sees (Hale) “Where’s the Sheriff?”
Hale (character name Fred Durkin) points to the nearby cemetery.
“And that’s the deputy lyin’ beside him. I’m the second deputy – but I don’t work at it. Too many risks”.
His permanent goal, it seems, is to remain at a comfortable distance from wherever the buck stops.
Informed soon after about a crime scene, Durkin agrees to investigate - provided “there ain’t no gunplay; I don’t wanna go shoutin’ up to heaven. I like it right here in Wyoming”.
Late in the film, when he’s ordered to proceed directly to where The Poet is and arrest him, Hale turns the whole thing into a comic symphony of procrastination; along the way inventing Stations of the Cross at each of which he can down one more fortifying shot of whiskey.
“Cheyenne”’s filled with great little touches. I like the way various characters’ plots and plans seem initially bewildering but in retrospect quite ingenious. I remain impressed by Wylie’s clever use of a little colt to suss out the loyalty of one of his confederates. And I also like the way some things aren’t overly explained. For instance – even after all is said and done - some doubt is preserved about the real marital status of Jane Wyman’s character and the actual romantic allegiances of Bruce Bennett’s; there’s even an element of uncertainty about exactly how Janis Paige’s flashy saloon girl fits into the finished fabric. At picture’s end, the how and why of all their entanglements maintain just enough mystery to keep us speculating.
A note about Max Steiner’s music score. For the most part it gives the picture a nice buckboard bounce. However, the movie involves multiple stagecoach sequences. And every time a stage rears into view, the soundtrack pelts us with the same in your face musical theme. The sheer predictability of its appearance soon becomes not just annoying but absurd. The thing just keeps erupting like some sort of musical hand-buzzer. Perpetually unwelcome.
Let me reiterate, though, that “Cheyenne” is a pretty swell movie. I like the story, the cast, the pace - in fact the whole jaunty feeling of the thing. I’ve watched and enjoyed it a couple of times. And if it comes out on Blu-ray I’ll snap it up pronto. But for regular viewers of 40’s films, there’s a definite shadow of what might have been hanging over the picture. Errol Flynn had made a series of super-successful westerns for Warner, several of them named after western towns – “Dodge City”, “Virginia City”, “San Antonio”. And I’d be willing to bet that “Cheyenne” was developed with Flynn in mind. I like Dennis Morgan – and he acquits himself nicely as the picture’s star. But he’s not Errol Flynn. And I can’t help imagining that extra level of devil-may-care charisma Flynn would have brought to every one of the film’s situations. The cool face-offs with the villains, the bantering camaraderie with Hale, the tongue in cheek romancing that could turn on a dime into genuine ardour. And – of course – the man’s one of a kind handling of action and derring-do. Whether it was by Flynn’s wish, the studio’s – or a combination of both – around the time “Cheyenne” was made, the actor was engaged in a series of uncharacteristic departures from his usual image. With laudable intentions perhaps. But the resulting three films were all duds. “Never Let Me Go”, a lame rom-com, “Cry Wolf”, a sub-Nancy Drew mystery, whose real crime was the total misuse of Flynn and Barbara Stanwyck. And “Escape Me Never”, melodramatic period treacle that devotes much time to watching Flynn (indigestibly cast as a strolling musician and would-be composer of ballets) dawdling around the Dolomite mountains in lederhosen. I’d say it’s the worst picture Flynn ever made at Warner Brothers. And I can’t help wishing he’d somehow skipped any or all of these and made “Cheyenne” instead. Had Flynn been on board, Warners would probably have filmed it in color (the Dennis Morgan version’s in black & white). And with Errol Flynn, Technicolor (and hopefully some judicious rejigging of the Max Steiner score), this one could have been a classic. An all-flags flying treat and probably a box-office bonanza.
Oh well, there is no Flynn version. But the one we have is still fun – and if you’ve got 99 minutes to spare it offers a breezy, enjoyable way of spending them. Next time I watch it, I’m hoping it’ll be in Blu-ray.
 
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Capt Cheese Pro

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MV5BYzI3NTYxZTctNTc4Yy00MzVjLTlkMWUtNzc2OWE0MjBiZWVhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjc0MzMzNjA@._V1_.jpg
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and wasn't this Anthony Quinn's first credited role?
 

Beckford

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and wasn't this Anthony Quinn's first credited role?
No. Quinn entered films in the mid-30's and made a vivid impression in a number of supporting roles over the next several years. His name is featured on the (beautiful) posters for a lot of late 30's Paramount pictures - "Daughter of Shanghai", "Dangerous to Know", "King of Chinatown", "Island of Lost Men" (all Anna May Wong vehicles) and "Last Train from Madrid" with Dorothy Lamour and Lew Ayres (which I believe Kino plans to release on Blu-ray). Quinn is also prominent (and certainly billed) in early 40's classics like "Blood and Sand" "Road to Morocco" and "The Ox-Bow Incident". Nice that full-fledged (and richly deserved) stardom finally arrived for the man in the 50's.
 

Robin9

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Yesterday I watched the Warner Archive DVD-R of The Unfinished Dance. I'd love this film to be given a new high definition master with particular attention being paid to the soundtrack - and then generating a Blu-ray disc.
 

Matt Hough

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Yesterday I watched the Warner Archive DVD-R of The Unfinished Dance. I'd love this film to be given a new high definition master with particular attention being paid to the soundtrack - and then generating a Blu-ray disc.
Many years ago in a second hand store, I found and bought the original MGM soundtrack album for this film. (I think I paid $1.) It was a stack of 78s, and I've never listened to it because I don't have a turntable that does 78s. But I still have the album with Margaret and Cyd on the cover. Was it the second MGM soundtrack album after Till the Clouds Roll By? I know it was one of the earliest ones.
 

Beckford

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Many years ago in a second hand store, I found and bought the original MGM soundtrack album for this film. (I think I paid $1.) It was a stack of 78s, and I've never listened to it because I don't have a turntable that does 78s. But I still have the album with Margaret and Cyd on the cover. Was it the second MGM soundtrack album after Till the Clouds Roll By? I know it was one of the earliest ones.
MGM kicked off its record division in 1946 with the soundtrack (on 78 rpm) of "Till the Clouds Roll By" (MGM-1). And though they released a variety of items, the label - like the studio - was probably most famous in those days for its movie musicals. And - yes - "The Unfinished Dance"(MGM-4) was indeed their second soundtrack release, followed by "Good News"(MGM-17), "The Pirate"(MGM-21) and "Big City"(MGM-23), another Margaret O'Brien vehicle. "Till the Clouds Roll By", "Good News" and "The Pirate" eventually found their way to LP. But I think the two Margaret O'Brien titles only ever existed on 78.
 

Beckford

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1948 Part 1
TARZAN AND THE MERMAIDS
It’s somewhat surprising that none of the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzans have made it to Blu-ray.
Considering the fantasy-loving fan-boy universe we live in, I’d guess there are still plenty of Tarzan and Burroughs enthusiasts out there. No telling whether the stumbling block is complicated right issues, substandard elements, cultural dissonance or some combination of these and other factors. Blu-rays have emerged for several of the post-Weissmuller titles (including the acclaimed “Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure” with Gordon Scott) and appear to have been brisk sellers.
Johnny Weissmuller did six Tarzans at Metro, then six more at RKO. “Tarzan and the Mermaids” was the twelfth and last. In many ways it’s a departure from the its predecessors. For one thing, unlike the others, it’s filmed completely on location. Not in Africa, mind you. But in Mexico.
The late 40’s represented the height of what’s now considered Mexican cinema’s Golden Age. During the war, the U.S. conferred favored ally status on Mexico and - to help bolster relations - poured large infusions of cash and equipment into the country’s economy. That nation’s film industry was uniquely positioned to make the most of these new resources.
Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein had spent considerable time in Mexico in the early 30’s working on his ambitious (and ultimately unfinished) opus “Que Viva Mexico!”. While there, he mixed freely with Mexico’s artistic community. And a new generation of Mexican artists, becoming more familiar with his body of work, fell in love with the intensity and beauty of the director’s sweepingly dramatic visual style. Hallmarks of that style, adapted and transmuted into something distinctly Mexican, become very much a part of the blossoming Golden Age.
Director Emilio Fernandez, a particular admirer of Eisenstein, emerged at the forefront of the movement. Along with his favorite cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa. In the 30’s Figueroa had received a grant to study in Hollywood, where he became a protégé of Gregg Toland, who photographed “Citizen Kane”, “The Grapes of Wrath” and “The Best Years of Our Lives”. On his return to Mexico, Figueroa, building beautifully on what he’d learned, emerged as an exciting new cinematic force. Fernandez-Figueroa collaborations like “Maria Candelaria”, “Enamorada” and “Maclovia”, filmed largely outdoors with a kind of sweeping pictorial dynamism, look as fresh and stunning now as they did when new. An impressed John Ford engaged Figueroa as DP for his Henry Fonda drama “The Fugitive” (shot on location in Mexico). And though most other aspects of that film proved problematic, the visuals were consistently amazing.
RKO and producer Sol Lesser had already formulated plans to shoot their next Tarzan movie in Mexico. Jack Draper, an American with a long history in the Mexican film industry, was assigned cinematographic duties. But Lesser & co wanted to bring Gabriel Figueroa into the project as well. The man was in understandably high demand but somehow RKO and Lesser were able to coax him on board as associate cinematographer, with primary input on the outdoor sequences - of which there would be many.
With direction in the hands of Hollywood veteran Robert Florey, filming commenced in Mexico under the auspices of the Churubusco Studio. This was a world class facility, with significant U.S. input, and a specific affiliation with RKO. Considerable location shooting took place in the then sparsely populated Acapulco region and other scenic locales. With hopes of capturing onscreen the lush beauty and monumental scale of genuine jungle and coastal areas. Director Florey sometimes lost patience with Figueroa’s slow, deliberate pace. But it was hard to argue with the results. Through his lens, the settings emerged with dreamlike beauty. Wonderfully apt for a fantasy-tinged adventure film. And a striking departure from the airless soundstage sets and tired stock footage that had gradually become the norm in Tarzan features.
Of course, though the opening narration tells us this is Africa, the film is absolutely alive with Latin American flavour. And that’s beyond the proliferation of Mexican actors and extras. Costumes, sets, music and locations have us all but expecting Tarzan to forego ungawa and just say olé.
The plot runs along the lines of one of those lost kingdom novels from Haggard or Burroughs. In this case, the hidden realm’s called Aquatania, supposedly nestled in a tiny but lush looking corner of the African coast. In spite of the movie’s title, there are no actual mermaids on view. The domain is mostly populated by photogenic young pearl divers, male and female, all presented as being exquisitely at home in and under the water. Their affinity for all things aquatic gives them some sort of claim, I suppose, toward being merpeople. But viewers demanding actual fish tailed Ariels will not find them here. Still, the presence of so many beautiful people - constantly engaged in fluid, graceful movement - certainly raises things to a rarefied level of experience that at least approaches fantasy. And this is, after all, a Tarzan movie. Isn’t his presence alone enough to qualify the picture as fantasy? How many jungle orphans raised by apes do you meet everyday?
There’s trouble, though, in this glistening paradise. Natives of the tiny pearl-diving community live in thrall to a priest called Palanth who’s recently taken up residence on a dismal pile of rocks across the bay. Said pile includes a temple built on and inside it – constructed along conspicuously Aztec lines.
The priest is played – in a stroke of bang-on casting – by George Zucco, one of vintage cinema’s most treasured villains. Zucco had sown dread through any number of 40’s horror films and was also, I’d say, the best Moriarty Basil Rathbone ever faced. There was implicit menace in the actor’s mere presence. One gets the impression that - when it came to carrying out evil deeds - his characters would shrink at nothing. And if the look of him didn’t unsettle you, there was always the thrillingly ominous tone of his voice. Here we get ample opportunity to watch and hear him, prowling and pronouncing his way around the rockpile with ice cold dignity.
The island temple contains a statue of the local god, Balu, bedecked in ceremonial finery. Through what the narrator refers to as hocus-pocus, Palanth has seemingly found a way to bring the statue to life at regular intervals. At such times, he summons the Aquatanians to the island to view (from a distance) the temporarily – but quite eerily - mobile god. The priest also uses the occasions to dish out edicts and give the Aquatanians their latest to-do lists. Primarily, Balu (via spokesman Palanth) demands that the residents satisfy his seemingly insatiable appetite for pearls, pearls and more pearls.
The locals seem to be surprisingly okay with that; as we soon learn, they don’t actually gather the pearls for profit, but rather for pleasure. As one character says, these folks don’t see commercial value in them, just beauty. The Aquatanians appear to have all their needs met via the lush vegetation and idyllic location. If Balu wants pearls, then pearls he shall have.
After the crowd disperses, we get an inside look at Zucco’s Balu shenanigans. Turns out he’s got a confederate - a guy decked out in the statue’s fancy garb. Down in the temple bowels, the imposter removes the impressive head-dress, then the rest of the get-up. Revealing conventional modern duds underneath; he even whips out a cigarette. This is definitely not a god. When Palanth appears the pair start to chew the fat and – guess what – the accomplice seems to be a German. There are no outright Hitler salutes but – what with the shifty disguise, the shady behaviour and the resting bitch face - this guy definitely reads as a bad egg.
That’s quickly confirmed when Herr Deutschland concisely sums up his shady relationship with Palanth.
“I get pearls and you get power”. Seems that every once in a while the German guy canoes away from the back of the island (apparently the dark side of the moon as far as Aquatanians are concerned, since they never seem to notice this) to peddle his pearls at civilization’s nearest outpost.
It also appears Von Nasty has more than baubles on his mind. Somehow, he’s spotted Aquatanian beauty Mara and is demanding that the populace present her to him as his bride. Everybody (including Mara’s Dolores del Rio like mother) seems to be fully on board with this, having bought into Zucco’s hocus-pocus hook line and sinker. But not Mara. Not only does she smell something rotten in Aquatania. She’s also in love with a young man who’s been driven out of the community for also questioning Balu’s authority.
The ceremony leading up to Mara’s “wedding” is mounted in grand style, with gift-laden canoes full of Aquatanians paddling picturesquely out to Montezuma Rock. Once on the island, Mara is reluctantly led toward the summit. Using vertiginous overhead shots, alternating with close-ups of Mara’s anxious face, then of two sinister eyes peering out of Balu’s mask, Figueroa’s probing camera relentlessly ramps up the drama. Suddenly the girl breaks away and plunges from high in the rocks, not to her death but – in a desperate attempt at escape - into the sea. Just watching someone execute a dangerous dive usually guarantees a climactic rush of excitement; this time the impact’s double because the move comes out of the blue - and the stakes for Mara are so high. A tense, elaborately choreographed chase sequence follows - much of it underwater. But in the end Mara eludes her massed pursuers.
After traveling many miles inland on the riverways, the exhausted fugitive is found by Tarzan. Remember him? This is, after all, a Tarzan movie. He and Jane nurse the girl back to health (round the clock comedian Cheetah’s more hindrance than help), eventually learning her story. In spite of Mara’s arrival, things chez Tarzan seem pretty placid. The man himself comes off as utterly laid back. While ladylike Brenda Joyce (as Jane) fusses around her various sticks of home-made furniture like a TV mom from the 50’s. Definitely not projecting any of nature girl Maureen O’Sullivan’s satiny sensuality. Observers have sometimes described 50’s Jane, Virginia Huston – prim and houseproud in “Tarzan’s Peril”(1951) - as June Cleaver transported to the jungle. Brenda Joyce’s not quite that immutably suburban. But give her a string of pearls and a hoover and she might just make it as June’s understudy.
Cheetah’s slapstick routines, apparently deemed by head office as insufficiently hilarious, are augmented by some human comic relief. In the curiously unamusing form of Benjy, a kind of jungle postman who seems to lose most of his letters. Jane’s apparently been waiting months for a missive from Boy (he’s at school in England). Benjy - as is his apparently loveable wont - has mislaid it somewhere. No great shock that laid-back Tarzan doesn’t seem much bothered. But I must admit to surprise when Jane accepts the situation just as placidly, cheerily proffering snacks to the culprit.
Benjy, a character prone to breaking into song at the slightest provocation, is played by John Suarez, an American crooner and band singer. He’d drifted into films, counterfeiting a Mexican accent for RKO in a couple of Tim Holt westerns. So – what the heck - he trots it out again for this Mexican-inflected version of Africa.
Some might argue that the film features a little (or maybe a lot) more of Benjy’s warbling than anybody really needed. Especially since he kind of talk-sings down to the level of the silly proto- calypso ditties he’s given. You wouldn’t guess that Suarez was actually a pretty terrific vocalist. Among other things, he made the first recording of the standard “Red Roses for a Blue Lady”. A Bowery Boys footnote: their 1950 film “Blues Busters’(1950), kicks into action when Huntz Hall’s tonsillectomy suddenly gives him a fabulous Crosby-type singing voice. Hall tosses off a number of songs during the show, all voice-doubled by John Suarez, in superb vocal form and without the slightest trace of an accent. One of those songs, “Bluebirds Keep Singing in the Rain” is so catchy I’d have given it an Oscar nomination (not that the snooty Academy generally paid much attention to pictures from Monogram). Check out the film sometime. Or at least the YouTube video of Huntz Hall “singing’ the song.
Tarzan finally springs into action when Mara’s countrymen track the girl down and carry her back to Old Virginny Aquatania. When Tarzan sets off to save her, Jane tears herself away from household chores and joins the pursuit. Tarzan’s rescue party gets a few more conscripts including Benjy and an affable British commissioner on the trail of pearl smugglers. Also Mara’s boyfriend Tico (remember that guy who’d been tossed out of Aquatania?) has turned up and – still pining for a reunion – enthusiastically joins the jungle rescue team. Weissmuller was getting pretty fleshy at this point so male pinup duties are basically allotted to Uruguayan hunk Gustavo Rojo (as Tico), mostly seen strutting around in little more than a loincloth. Oddly enough, Cheetah doesn’t get to go. Perhaps film-makers felt the chimp just couldn’t be trusted to behave herself in the heady free-range Mexican atmosphere. Whatever, like Nana in Disney’s “Peter Pan”, she’s fated to stay behind while all of her cohorts hightail it toward adventure.
From then on, the picture scoots merrily along with action, alluring visuals and mucho music. The languorous beauty of the tropical scenery and the fantasy-pull of the lost kingdom motif kick in full throttle. And though Tarzan and Jane certainly aren’t rendered extraneous, there’s so much sensory overload that - at times – the two almost seem simply swept along as part of the pageant.
One spectacular sequence pictures boatmen as they follow the river through a really huge cavern. The camera turns boat and occupants into tiny figures, dramatically silhouetted against the cavern’s massive walls. The effect packs such a visual punch you’ll be tempted to do an instant rewind.
DeMille got a lot of publicity mileage out of his fake octopus in the expensive “Reap the Wild Wind”. At one point “Tarzan and the Mermaids” finds Weissmuller in a skilfully staged underwater battle with a very serviceably counterfeited octopus. It may not be bigger than DeMille’s – but it’s definitely better.
And then there’s the film’s splendid musical score. It’s from Dimitri Tiomkin, one of the great golden age film composers (“Lost Horizon”, “High Noon”, “Land of the Pharaohs”). And the maestro provides a musical canvas worthy of a major epic – exotic, melodic and immense. Absolutely deserving of a soundtrack album.
Eventually the bad guys capture Jane too, propelling Tarzan into one of those “Now Tarzan Go to War!” moments. From here on in, he definitely means business. Having stolen onto the rock island, Tarzan prowls around inside the impressive temple interior (these inside the edifice moments are probably among the few scenes filmed within the walls of Churubusco Studios). He finds the Balu costume, dons it and uses the ploy to reveal the priest’s duplicity. At which point, the Aquatanians help him rescue Mara and Jane.
Next comes an epic outdoor celebration that basically amounts to an extended production number.
Decoratively arranged groupings of extras. Stunning vistas. Unusual camera angles. Benjy even gets to toss off a decent tune, not a comic throwaway for once but a full-fledged love song, with camera-ready maidens arranged around him in Ziegfeld tableau style. Much of the proceedings play out on and under the water. It would have taken only a few tweaks to turn this into an Esther Williams musical.
High point is an incredible massed pearl diving sequence. With close-up figures standing sentinel-like in dramatic profile, multiple divers plunge one by one from high rocks into the ocean. Overhead cameras are once more used to dizzying effect. Some moments made me think of Busby Berkeley’s “By a Waterfall” number from “Footlight Parade”.
There’s still another action segment ahead as Palanth’s German confederate returns from his latest business trip with heavily armed reinforcements. It all culminates in a pitched battle in and around the rocky island. At one point Tarzan has to make an unbelievable dive from a towering cliff into the sea. It’s a stunning moment. Though, tragically, the stuntman who performed the feat was fatally injured. A sobering event that must have cast a terrible pall on the production from then on.
The presence of relative newcomer Linda Christian (as Mara) proved to be an asset in more ways than one. The Mexican born beauty looked terrific onscreen but she also carried off her acting duties in highly acceptable style. The lady even seems to have done her own underwater swimming, something the role calls for repeatedly. But it was Christian’s promotional value that proved, perhaps, the biggest boon to the picture. In Acapulco, during filming of “Mermaids”, she met movie idol Tyrone Power. A second meeting in Rome sparked a romance covered with feverish enthusiasm by press around the world. By the time “Tarzan and the Mermaids” was released, all that gossip had fanned audience interest in Ms Christian to quite a pitch. Definitely a golden gift for the film’s publicists, who played up her presence in all the promotional material. Viewers who might not otherwise have gone to a Tarzan movie showed up just to get a gander at the girl who’d landed Ty. The couple actually married in Rome in 1949 in a ceremony carried off with the splendiferous sis-boom-bah of a royal wedding; it’s often credited as the event that first brought Italy’s paparazzi phenomenon to a full, rolling boil.
Can’t leave the subject of Linda Christian without recounting a possibly apocryphal anecdote that’s always tickled me. Seems in the mid 40’s young Linda had been a protégée of Errol Flynn’s. Apparently he offered to pay to have a couple of crooked teeth straightened. But Linda, never at a loss when it came to capitalizing on circumstances, took the opportunity to acquire extensive (and expensive) dental work. The hefty bill was promptly presented to a rather startled Flynn. A few years later, spotting her at some Hollywood event, Flynn purportedly said, “Smile, baby. I want to see those choppers. They took their first bite out of me”.
Of the Weissmuller Tarzans, the three I like best are “Tarzan and His Mate”(’34), “Tarzan Escapes”’36) and this one. If they ever get around to releasing the series on Blu-ray, they’ll probably do it in spaced out chronological increments. With “Tarzan and the Mermaids” as the likely caboose on that particular train. I only hope that I, Warner Archive and physical media in general all survive long enough to see it happen.
 
Last edited:

dana martin

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Dana Martin
well though I might add this as it is one of my most wanted "Grail" titles starts in the 40's and finishes the Classic Hanna-Barbera era.

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with the following

Mouse Cleaning
Casanova Cat
His Mouse Friday

all restored an uncut included

and from That's My Mommy to Tot Watchers presented in CinemaScope
 

Capt Cheese Pro

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Todd Doc Sigmier
Stranger on the Third Floor
The Seventh Victim
I Walked with a Zombie
All Through the Night
Mr. Skeffington
Arsenic and Old Lace
Lady in the Lake
Nora Prentiss
Strange Cargo

Ok basically anything I own from the 40s that's with WB I want on Blu-ray. I could sit here all day listing them all :)
Oh Yeah,
Arsenic and Old Lace
Lady in the Lake I would love to see those in BD!!
 

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