The Leon Errol Salute series: Number Three
THE JITTERS (1938 RKO Short) Starring Leon Errol, Vivian Tobin, Richard Lane, Alphonse Martel, Jack Rice. Written by Leslie Goodwins and Charles E. Roberts. Directed by Leslie Goodwins.
The introduction to our Leon Errol series is at this link.
The tables have turned! For once, Leon Errol is wondering where his wife (Tobin) was last night. Her answer: she was practicing for the finals of a dance contest with temperamental instructor Maurice (Martel) at The Ambassador. Leon, who doesn't jitterbug, is jealous, and becomes even moreso when he's sent out to have dinner alone. Understandably left without much of an appetite for steak, Mr. Errol opts for liquid nourishment instead, and his waiter (Rice) joins him.
It's Rice's alcohol-fueled suggestion to join 'em and then beat 'em that inspires tipsy Leon. Fortified by a couple of hours' worth of doubles (he started with three), Errol wobbles into The Ambassador, intending to give his perceived rival a punch in the nose. After staggering down the wide staircase to the amusement of several patrons, Leon Errol finds himself mistaken for instructor Maurice just prior to the scheduled introductory class on the titular dance.
Well, hey, Cab Calloway did sing that whiskey, wine and gin in your jug would have you ready to jitterbug.....
THE JITTERS is cited by many as the best of Errol's 98 shorts for RKO Radio Pictures. The disagreement with his wife gives us a few spoonerisms ("You can't drag our good game in the nutter!") from a sober Leon. Veteran Errol watchers will find another layer of humor in watching the boozing carouser act like such a fuddy duddy, and even newcomers can see the overindulgence coming once he's left to his own devices for dinner.
What follows is an entire second reel showcasing Errol's still-considerable skill at physical comedy. Certainly one of the best on film for one of the century's most famous drunk acts. Dean Martin and Foster Brooks could compete with Errol's intoxicated vocal delivery, but an ambulatory Leon was simply untouchable.
Leon wobbles on his cane while he's standing still, so you can imagine the sight of him walking down the studio staircase. With his broken, dangling cigarette remaining unsmoked throughout, Errol also shows off his take on the classic "mirror" routine (using a real mirror) before "instructing" a class full of dedicated women who vainly try to follow his increasingly shaky swayings in the climactic scene for two hilarious minutes. The ladies are way too sober to have much of a chance, but they all gamely try. It's one of the funniest scenes that I have ever seen in any short subject.
THE JITTERS is cited by many as the very best of Leon Errol's 98 shorts for RKO Radio Pictures. If it isn't, it certainly can't be far from the top spot: preserving a lengthy version of one of his finest Ziegfeld routines for posterity and doing so in a very inspired setting. IMO the best possible introduction to Mr. Errol's work. (**** out of four)
I apologize for the poor qualify of the screencaps; as you can see we really, really need this one remastered and easier to find.
Saturday, February 25, 2017
Monday, February 20, 2017
MAVERICK Mondays: Number 21
MAVERICK: "The Day They Hanged Bret Maverick" (1958 ABC/Warner Brothers TV) Starring James Garner as Bret Maverick, Whitney Blake as Molly Clifford, Ray Teal as Sheriff Tucker, Jay Novello as Oliver Poole, Robert Griffin as the Mayor, Burt Mustin as Henry, John Cliff as Cliff Sharp. Written and Directed by Douglas Heyes.
Bret Maverick rides into Elbow Bend, New Mexico shortly after a mysterious gunman robs a Wells Fargo office of $40,000 in nearby Hallelujah. The criminal kills the clerk as he rides off, then plants his gun, hat and a few small bills from the robbery in Bret's hotel room. Maverick soon finds himself framed for the robbery and convicted on testimony from three eyewitnesses. Bret's facing the gallows--but while Sheriff Tucker has his man, he doesn't have most of the stolen money, and the gambler's reticence in revealing its "hiding place" gives Maverick an ace in the hole.
Well, that and Tucker's greed. Taking on coroner Poole as a third partner, the Sheriff strikes a deal with the tight-lipped gambler: he'll fake the hanging and allow Maverick to slip out of town in exchange for revealing the booty's location only to the two of them. While Poole oversees the burial of the empty coffin, Bret escapes from his captor. The two accomplices surely can't tell the townspeople the truth, and shortly after they arrive back in Hallelujah, Maverick's widow arrives to visit her husband's grave.
Douglas Heyes opened MAVERICK's second season with Bret's biggest pickle yet, and the elder Maverick sibling gets to show off his deductive skills away from the poker table. The Day They Hanged Bret Maverick commences with a lengthy and largely wordless sequence (the only line, spoken by the Sheriff: "Any strangers ride into town tonight?") that ends with Bret behind bars and facing his final evening on earth.
Bret takes that one opening from the dishonest Sheriff (ever-dependable Ray Teal) and escapes. Knowing that Tucker and Poole are compromised allows Bret to return to Hallelujah in disguise in this segment's funniest scene--as his "shorter, less handsome'" twin brother. Turns out that's a good thing, since Maverick learns that in death he's also taken on all of Cliff Sharp's crimes along with his identity. "Bret Maverick" is now reduced to a murderer's alias, so clearing his name isn't just a desire--it's now a necessity.
Heyes' ingeniously plotted script gives Bret plenty of opportunities to adjust his tactics to changing game conditions. Each new revelation makes tracking down the $40,000 that much more imperative: lest Bret spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulder, facing a hanging just about anywhere he goes if his "true identity" is discovered. Mrs. Sharp mistakes him for a lawman, and in fact Bret basically is, having to play undercover detective in order to find the man who framed him and the money stolen by that man. By the time all is said and done, Maverick's ability to read people has saved his life twice and taken him to the money that eluded the "real" law men.
The professional gambler having higher morals than the upstanding citizens? It's a satirical well often mined by MAVERICK, and seldom more ironically than in The Day They Hanged Bret Maverick. In one of Heyes' best bits of business, a betting pool emerges in Hallelujah's saloon on whether their doomed scapegoat will reveal the location of the loot before his last breath--with nary a voice in opposition. The Sheriff also reveals that is heavenly Hallelujah's first court-sanctioned execution. implying that lynchings weren't uncommon before. So much for there being "a little bit of good in the worst of us", as the Mayor says repeatedly.
As he often does, Bret Maverick gets to point out their hypocrisy in the end: it not for the greedy, corrupt officials who are now behind bars, an innocent man would have been hanged. The Day They Hanged Bret Maverick ends with the Sheriff is in jail for setting an innocent man free, and Molly Sharp is facing trial despite the fact that Cliff Sharp is dead and the money is returned, eliminating all possible charges. "Now what's going to happen?" is Coroner Poole's frequent question, and whatever does apparently won't be dictated by any logic. Hallelujah is no place for a poker player. Little wonder Bret, Bart and the former's mustachioed twin all avoided it in future segments.
HOW'D BRET DO AT POKER?
No poker for Bret, though he plays solitaire in his jail cell and cuts cards once with the "widow" later. Perhaps it's a good thing that Bret didn't make it to the table in the opener of MAVERICK's sophomore season, given the way his luck is going: a coin flip with brother Bart started him on his path to Hallelujah in the first place. He doesn't start "running good" again until he wins the cut with Molly Sharp at the dinner table.
HOW MANY TIMES DOES BRET GET A GUN PULLED ON HIM?
Twelve, with nine of those being the posse from Elbow Bend that rouses him out of bed in his hotel room. Not sure if that's a record; something new to start tracking?
Two stand out. How did Bret fire seven shots without reloading at the farmhouse? More glaringly, how did he get his hat back before he located Cliff Sharp?
WISDOM FROM PAPPY?
"There's more than one way to please a lady." Not the wittiest Pappyism, nor the most profound. But it certainly fits. Bret's charm is a great equalizer against Cliff's combination of money and menace.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Nagging questions aside, MAVERICK was a finely tuned machine at the outset of its sophomore season. As was often the case with Heyes, his script stands up to repeat viewings, with many lines becoming funnier the second or third time around. A solid tone-setter for not only this show's finest year, but one of the best ever for any scripted series. (*** out of four)
MAVERICK airs Saturday mornings at 9 A.M. Central on MeTV.
Thursday, February 09, 2017
GET CHRISTIE LOVE!: "Pawn Ticket for Murder" (Universal/ABC-TV: Original Air Date 10/2/74) Starring Teresa Graves as Detective Christie Love, Charles Cioffi as Captain Reardon, Andy Romano as Joe Caruso, Dennis Rucker as Belmont. Guest Stars: Quinn Redeker as Lester Wheeler, Scott Brady as Sergeant Gus Marker, Dick O'Neill as Alex Dawson, Sid Haig as Nick Varga, Kenneth Tobey as Charlie Red, John Steadman (uncredited) as Tex Crandall, Richard Stahl as the Maitre D', George Ives as Butler, Al Stevenson as Max, William Bramley as Bartender, John Elerick as Policeman. Written by Joseph Polizzi. Directed by Mark Warren.
Series overview for Get Christie Love! HERE
Homeless wino Crandall is looking for a warm place to sleep it off and settles in the alley behind Dawson's pawn shop. Unfortunately he ends up fatally stabbed as an accidental earwitness to the bookmaking business Dawson is fronting for the well connected Lester Wheeler. After the derelict's body is found on skid row, his homicide is delegated to Detective Love by old-school Sergeant Gus Marker. Legendary within the L.A.P.D. and more than a little sexist, Marker feels that the seemingly open-and-shut case is a perfect way to keep the "little girl" to "out of trouble".
Postmortem lividity indicates that Tex was moved after death, his stab wound matches an expensive large Bowie knife and his body shows no signs of asphalt marks, pointing to a crime much less routine than Marker believes. Dismissive of Christie's theories and preoccupied with his ongoing investigation of Wheeler's gambling ring, the Sergeant gives Love full authority to follow up on her intuition--not knowing that Tex's killing can be tied to the shady businessman he's targeting.
GET CHRISTIE LOVE! would soon become too sanitized for its own good, but Pawn Ticket for Murder is a solid example of David L. Wolper's original conception of the series. Savvy and hard working, Detective Love mostly solves her cases through good old fashioned legwork. However, this early installment (the fourth to air) doesn't skimp on the action, with Christie forced into a shootout with the same cleaner who murdered Tex while she's interviewing the late derelict's best friend. (In keeping with Graves' desire not to have Christie kill anyone onscreen, the hitman is still alive after he's shot, and was apparently hit by fire from Love's backup.)
Further bite is provided as Detective Love deals with discrimination based on gender and race in Pawn Ticket for Murder. She brushes off the former from Marker with a few curt remarks initially. When the Wheeler connection is discovered, the Sarge tries to pull rank and take over Christie's case--a definite no-go, Sugar! Christie pushes back aggressively and with inspiration, actually using The Legend's sexism against him ("stealing cases from a woman!") to force the 50/50 partnership that she should have had all along.
With good practical reason. The script by Polizzi (Downbeat for a Dead Man) neatly sets up several situations for Love to infiltrate locales (the neighborhood bar, pawnshop, bookmaking operation) that her youth and femininity make her welcome in. Sergeant Marker would stick out like a sore thumb. For that matter, so would Reardon.
|Graves and Stahl|
But our heroine doesn't blend in everywhere, and Christie's opportunity to be conspicuous is the best scene of the installment. GET CHRISTIE LOVE! was mostly colorblind, even when the Detective ended up in a small town (Highway to Murder). But entering Wheeler's orbit requires gaining access to him during his downtime--at a clearly restricted (just not heavy-handedly stated as such) country club. The bigoted maitre'd (superbly cast Richard Stahl) mistakes the Detective for the help, barely manages to stop himself before revealing the club's unspoken policy, and struggles mightily to keep his cool while Christie trolls him politely but mercilessly. Subtle and hilarious, t's a perfectly executed scene by Stahl, Graves and director Mark Warren.
Not everything goes down smoothly. Hitman Nick Varga (the opening scene's stabber) observes Love probing the crime scene from a window and later witnesses her interrogations of the bartender and Charlie Red. So shouldn't a savvy crook like Wheeler be especially suspicious that an African-American female seeking him out at that country club (or just showing up at the pawn shop, for that matter) just might be the investigating officer working undercover?
There's also the nagging feeling that Christie is left way too vulnerable to sniper fire during the finale at the gravel pit. Nothing nefarious going on internally, though--Detective Love has won the respect of her most hard boiled colleague long before she helps Marker nab his quarry of two years. No wonder he ends up platonically sending roses in appreciation when all is said and done.
The ubiquitous Sid Haig is largely wasted in a one-dimensional role as the fearsome henchman, but Kenneth Tobey is effective as the victim's friend Charlie Red. In keeping with the rest of the proceedings, Detective Love is a clear winner in the interrogation room: Red is much more responsive to Christie's compassion than Marker's forcefulness.
For some reason, John Steadman (THE LONGEST YARD, CHEECH AND CHONG'S NEXT MOVIE) is uncredited as Tex Crandall.
ONE LUMP, OR MORE?
Just one, for Mr. Wheeler at his country club. No martial arts, either, making this installment one that can do without the obligatory for the most part.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Detective Love is mistaken for the mail girl inside her own department and "the help" outside of it. She promptly solves the murder she was assigned and cracks a two year case that LAPD's top men had no answers for. For good measure, Christie efficiently helps the unit's Vice Squad with a major tip and handles prejudgements of all types with professionalism and charm. The series would soon become way too tame for its own good, but Pawn Ticket for Murder comes close to realizing the potential of the show's original concept. (*** out of four)
Thursday, January 12, 2017
"Your lives are meaningless compared to HONDO!"
HONDO: "Hondo and The War Hawks" (1967 ABC-TV/MGM/Batjac Productions) Episode 7; Original Air Date: October 20, 1967. Starring Ralph Taeger as Hondo Lane, Noah Beery Jr. as Buffalo Baker, Kathie Browne as Angie Dow, Gary Clarke as Captain Richards, Michael Pate as Chief Vittoro, Buddy Foster as Johnny Dow, William Bryant as Colonel Crook, Glenn Langan as Victor Tribolet. Guest Stars John Carroll as Colonel "Buckeye" Jack Smith, Jim Davis as Krantz, Lawrence Montaigne as Soldado, Ed McCready as the Sergeant. Written by Donn Mullally. Directed by Michael D. (Mickey) Moore.
Series Overview for HONDO: TV's Unlikeliest Cult Hit at this link
Hondo is giving the Apaches marksmanship lessons on order from Colonel Crook. The purpose is twofold: to strengthen their hunting skills and Chief Vittoro's tribal leadership by discouraging any insurgency. It's a controversial order within the confines of the Fort, though. Captain Richards is none too pleased with it after he finds the entire Holbrook family dead, massacred by renegades led by Vittoro's would-be usurper Saldado. Richards grows warier when Crook is summoned to Washington, D.C. and flamboyant "Buckeye" Jack Smith is his temporary replacement, an assignment arranged by well connected freighting magnate Victor Tribolet.
With his hand-picked commander on the way, Tribolet plots to engineer a full-scale war. Relaying inside information on ammunition deliveries (via henchman Krantz) to the ambitious Soldado, Tribolet plans to freight firepower to both sides once hotter heads prevail. After Smith imperils months of meticulously managed trust by ordering all Apaches to surrender their arms, Hondo disobeys the new Colonel's directive and rides to Tucson to retrieve Crook. This insubordination lands Lane in the guardhouse just as Soldado sets a trap for Smith and Richards by volunteering to be the first to turn in all of his people's weapons.
An arrogant but accomplished senior officer arrives to threaten the uneasy peace in Arizona territory. On the surface, it's the same setup presented in Hondo and the Savage, but Donn Mullally's lone HONDO offers a much more nuanced script, realizing richer possibilities while offering effective (and timeless) political commentary. Like General Rutledge, "Buckeye Jack" shows ignorance of the territory, but the relentless self-promoter (as Buffalo derisively details) Smith is the less humble--and therefore, more dangerous--of the two. Rutledge arrived at Fort Lowell having "never fought" Native Americans before. Smith, fresh off a successful campaign against the Sioux, is much more assured that he can bend any Apache to his will coming in. Even moreso after Soldado's quick response to the Colonel's directive.
By bringing Vittoro (absent from Savage) back to the forefront, Mullally is able to present wide ranging points of view from both sides. When Richards expresses displeasure with Crook's plan, the Chief points out to the skeptical Captain that his braves are also training to support Richards. In the wake of back-to-back wagon attacks, Smith's order certainly seems understandable to an outsider (if not to Crook). And given the history between the army and the Apache, even mutineer Soldado isn't entirely unjustified in his distrust of any reliance on the "white man".
While Soldado's following isn't insignificant (note the braves who depart with the renegade when he's ordered away by Vittoro), he lacks the numbers to overthrow his Chief. Nevertheless, Soldado is a more formidable challenger than Silva--emboldened enough by his successes to brazenly call the Chief an "old woman" twice in front of Hondo and other tribal leaders. It is arguable whose methods are less admirable (both kill unarmed settlers) but Soldado, who uses Buckeye's arrogance against him, clearly appears to be tactically superior to Silva. Little surprise that his coup d'état comes closer to succeeding.
For all the shades of grey Mullaly provides, there's still a couple of one-dimensional villains in Hondo and the War Hawks. Victor Tribolet, making his first appearance as the brother of the freighting tycoon played in the pilot by Michael Rennie. With Rennie unavailable for the series, a well-cast Glenn Langan (THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN) made the first of his five appearances, during which he would become a major thorn in Hondo's side, albeit one defined mainly by greed. Tribolet was Langan's last television role, but he returned for a minor role in Fenady's feature CHISUM in 1970.
Jim Davis returns from the two-part pilot as henchman Krantz, mainly to ask the questions answered by Tribolet's expository lines. Krantz doesn't fare any better with his fists here than he did previously, though, remaining winless in the HONDO ring. Whether he faced former mining boss Gallagher, Buffalo or Lane, the result was always the same on this series--the future Jock Ewing got his ass kicked. No wonder he didn't return after this third go-round.
Finally, Mullaly's ironic closing note is a perfect capper, keeping our true heroes unsung. Proving that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, it's blustery Buckeye Jack who ends up with full credit for "diffusing a volatile situation" back in D.C., stealing Colonel Crook's medal out from under him in the process. Arrogant myopia resulting in top honors and a cushy desk job in the nation's capital after royally screwing up and almost getting everyone killed--gee, good thing that could never really happen....
WHO'S THE REAL HERO HERE?
Chief of the Chircahua and Apache Nation Vittoro, makes his sixth appearance in the first seven shows (he would appear in only three of the remaining ten) and gets to ride to the rescue again--for the third time, after Hondo and the Eagle Claw and Hondo and the War Cry.
HOW MANY CANS OF WHOOPASS?
Hondo gets the better of Saldado twice, needing only one punch the first time. He also gets into a tag team battle against Tribolet's henchman, in which Lane knocks henchman Krantz into a watering trough before the fight is quelled. And as usual, the battle royale was hosted by Fort Lowell's favorite thirst quencher. Speaking of.....
IS THE CANTINA STILL STANDING?
Yes, but the front window was shattered during that donnybrook, which saw Hondo and Buffalo on one side and Tribolet's minions on the other. A smashed window is always flashy, but all in all, there was less property damage than usual in the end. Several tables and chairs were overturned but still intact.
A DOG'S LIFE:
Sam is present throughout, but for once he's just an observer. He does get to hang back with Buffalo during Lane's trip to Tucson, and for once, the canine's presence in the watering hole doesn't start a fight.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
A very well developed entry, probably the best illustrating the precarity of the Vittoro/Crook alliance. Also commendably introducing another challenging obstacle to maintaining it in Tribolet. Another of Fenady's intriguimg supporting casts: Langan's hissable villain became a frequent foil and Carroll's TV debut was also his first appearance onscreen in eight long years. This installment's social commentary has aged every bit as well as its bitterly ironic coda. (***1/2 out of four)
HONDO currently airs every Sunday morning at 6:30 AM Central on getTV.
Friday, December 30, 2016
Why the Hell isn't this on DVD yet?--Number 99
POP ALWAYS PAYS (1940 RKO Radio Pictures) Starring Leon Errol, Dennis O'Keefe, Adele Pearce, Walter Catlett, Marjorie Gatesman, Robert Middlemass, Tom Kennedy, Effie Anderson, Erskine Sanford. Written by Charles E. Roberts. Directed by Leslie Goodwins.
Businessman Errol isn't wild about daughter Pearce's chosen mate, profligate O'Keefe. To stop them from marrying, Leon lays down the law: he won't approve of the wedding until O'Keefe has one thousand dollars in a savings account (approximately $17,600 in today's dollars). Underestimating the suitor's determination, "Pop" confidently offers to match the sum once O'Keefe reaches his goal.
As you might guess, ol' Rubberlegs soon regrets that decision. With Pearce's prodding, O'Keefe sells his overpriced car and frugally begins fattening his savings account. Meanwhile, Errol experiences a severe financial slump. Rejected for a bank loan and facing a forced merger with rival Middlemass, Leon resorts to a desperate measure--the attempted robbery of his own home.
Along with Edgar Kennedy, Errol was a go-to guy for RKO short subjects for two decades, and the prolific comedian also frequently headlined "B" movies for the studio. On its surface, POP ALWAYS PAYS appears to be a padded two-reeler sans the London Bridge theme song (sort of: Errol sings it briefly at once point). But look deeper, and fans of the flexibly limbed star will find several atypical elements this time around.
|No, there's no vodka in it!!!|
While a change of pace, POP ALWAYS PAYS is still a decent display of the man's genius even without Leon's regular shtick, providing him plenty of opportunities for impeccably timed comic denials and double takes as he weaves an increasingly tangled web of deception. In another new wrinkle, it isn't Elisabeth Risdon or Dorothy Grainger playing Mrs. Errol this time. Marjorie Gateson does the honors instead, with chemistry strong enough to make you wish they'd worked together more often.
Next door neighbor Catlett manages a seemingly impossible task: stealing a scene from Errol. To be fair, Walter is playing a truly hilarious freeloader who doesn't even have a car and has been bumming rides from Errol for a decade. Catlett invites himself over for breakfast, "borrows" sugar and two cans of coffee, and takes full advantage of a household distraction by making off with Leon's pot roast and noodles dinner--all in the first 15 minutes. These two old pros went way back: Catlett teamed with Errol onstage in Ziegfield's SALLY (1924) and they later reunited for the RKO vehicles HAT CHECK HONEY (1944) and RIVERBOAT RHYTHM (1946).
|O'Keefe and Pearce...at the time, anyway|
|He won't have to kill that boy for another twenty years|
SO...WHY ISN'T THIS ON DVD?
There's plenty of "B" movies just over an hour long from the 1930's and 1940's that aren't out on home video, so this RKO quickie isn't unique.
WHY IT SHOULD BE ON DVD:
As mentioned, we need all the Leon Errol we can get on home video. His 98 RKO shorts (rarely aired these days) sadly lack a proper release, with only about a dozen available courtesy VCI. While we did get the MEXICAN SPITFIRE collection out a few years back from Warner Archive, that still leaves plenty of Leon's best in limbo.
Without the customary boozing and marital misunderstandings, POP ALWAYS PAYS avoids the repetition that plagued the Errol shorts from time to time. While no classic, it is a fun way to spend an hour. It aired on TCM in November and is worth DVR'ing if and when it returns.
The introduction to our Leon Errol Salute series is at this link.