Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Film Review: HIPS, HIPS, HOORAY! (1934)

"Why the Hell isn't this on DVD yet?" -- Number 79

HIPS, HIPS, HOORAY! (1934 RKO) Starring Bert Wheeler, Robert Woolsey, Dorothy Lee, Thelma Todd, Ruth Etting, Phyllis Barry, George Meeker, Matt Briggs, Dorothy Granger.  Directed by Mark Sandrich.

Bert and Bob are penniless street vendors literally living out of their car and trying to stay one step ahead of the law while peddling their flavored lipsticks.  They put on airs to beauty supplier Todd and offer their "services" with a dual motivation: Bert's taken a shine to Todd's employee Lee and, of course, their dire financial straits.  Todd, whose business is on the verge of ruin herself thanks to double-dealing Meeker, accepts the offer.  When Woolsey's attache case gets mistaken for an identical one carrying "securities", the cops renew their pursuit of our heroes, following them to a pool hall and even cross-country after their impromptu representation of Todd's company in a race (shades of CANNONBALL!).

Thinly plotted and gleefully silly at every turn, HIPS, HIPS, HOORAY! is the favorite Wheeler and Woolsey film of many film buffs.  While I prefer COCKEYED CAVALIERS,  HIPS, HIPS, HOORAY is another entertaining Bert and Bob vehicle from the team's 1933-34 peak.  Both 1934 films are boosted by the team's de facto "third member" Lee (who appeared in 13 of their 21 films), their best director Sandrich, and the incomparable Todd, who has dark hair (a seldom-seen look for her) in several scenes.

The film's pre-Code vintage is confirmed in the very first scene, with a room full of naked lovelies freshening up in transparent bathtubs (hair and shampoo bottles obscuring strategic body parts, of course) while Ruth Etting sings "Keep Romance Alive".  Very reminiscent of the "Clean as a Whistle, Fresh as a Daisy" number from MEET THE BARON but given a touch of class by America's "Sweetheart of Song" Etting. 

Etting disappears after her song, but she's too ladylike for the proceedings anyway.  With its setting in the cosmetics world, HIPS, HIPS, HOORAY boasts more scantily clad women than any other Wheeler and Woolsey feature.  Lee, Todd and Etting are joined by Dorothy Granger (taking dictation from Woolsey, who's channeling Rufus T. Firefly), June Brewster, Phyllis Barry, Marion Byron and Jean Carmen.  A highlight is the duo conducting a "guess the flavor" lipstick contest, with Woolsey going horizontal and stiffening (symbolism fully intended) in a manner worthy of Tex Avery's Wolf.

Like the earliest Wheeler and Woolsey vehicles (i.e. HALF SHOT AT SUNRISE and HOOK, LINE & SINKER) HIPS, HIPS, HOORAY! finds fast-talking Woolsey and naive romantic Wheeler facing unfavorable odds but triumphing in the end through sheer derring-do.  It's a shame that Sandrich (TOP HAT) only directed the team twice.  He really clicks with Bert and Bob, providing many inspired comedic moments to go with the musical interludes.  Kalmer and Ruby's "Just Keep on Doin' what You're Doin'" (originally intended for Zeppo Marx in DUCK SOUP) would become the team's best-remembered song.  It's the soundtrack to Bert's moonlight serenade and is reprised during an office trashing dance with all four principals and the film's coda.

Ruth Etting, keepin' romance alive
The film loses steam during the car chase, with an over-reliance on Woolsey's "Whoa-ohh!" catchphrase and  intentionally outlandish rearscreen projection.  But as long as the boys are one step ahead of their pursuers on foot, HIPS, HIPS, HOORAY! provides almost as many laughs as ladies, with Bert and Bob's incredibly resourceful car (at various times a giant coffee machine, twin beds, chicken coop and veritable banana tree) and unsuccessful attempt to hustle the cops at pool among the more memorable gags.  A well-paced, amusing and naughty example of 1930's comedy, HIPS, HIPS, HOORAY! might be the best Wheeler and Woolsey film to show the uninitiated.

So.....why isn't this on DVD yet?

Kind of a surprise that 6 Wheeler and Woolseys made it out via Warner Archive before this one, arguably their best-loved and most remembered pre-Coder.  Even more surprising that arguably the team's worst film (THE RAINMAKERS) beat this one to DVD.  The long absence of RKO's most popular comedy team from DVD has been addressed here previously, but that's been changing in recent years thanks to WA.  With the long-sought after DIPLOMANIACS among the recent arrivals, the release of HIPS, HIPS, HOORAY! by the Archive now seems to be a mere matter of time.

Wanna buy a DVD?

Why it should be on DVD:

Would make a perfect two-fer with COCKEYED CAVALIERS, which featuring a lot of the same personnel, similarly memorable musical numbers and was also directed by Sandrich.  I'd daresay this hypothetical 2-for-1 DVD would be all the Bert and Bob a casual fan needs.

No offense, Bob, but I'd rather see the ladies in underwear--not you!

HIPS, HIPS, HOORAY! turns up occasionally on TCM and on Warner Archive Instant.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


"Why the Hell isn't this on DVD yet?" -- Number 78

THE COSMIC MONSTER (a.k.a. THE STRANGE WORLD OF PLANET X) (1958 DCA/Eros Films) Starring Forrest Tucker, Gaby Andre, Martin Benson, Wyndham Goldie, Alec Mango, Hugh Latimer, Geoffrey Chater, Patricia Sinclair.  Directed by Gilbert Gunn.

Mango and Tucker are conducting experiments on magnetic fields in a rural laboratory in south England.  Despite their reservations about "a woman" helping out with this "highly skilled work", project director Goldie appoints Andre to work with the two men.  The only initial hazard is occasional interference with the town's radio and TV reception, but then the obsessed Mango accidentally blows a hole in the ionosphere.  The resulting unintended consequences: a mysterious stranger anxious to fit in quickly among the townspeople, a formerly harmless hobo turns violent, and insects grow larger than human beings!

Mack Tuck!

The final film in Tucker's late Fifties British sci-fi trilogy, THE COSMIC MONSTER (originally titled THE STRANGE WORLD OF PLANET X in the U.K.) reached North American theatres on a double bill with THE CRAWLING EYE in 1958. While the special effects remain modestly budgeted at best and our boy Mack Tuck makes his moves on beautiful Andre (who is distractingly dubbed), MONSTER lacks both the atmosphere and the cheesy fun of its predecessor.

Gunn fails to build the sense of genuine dread that Quentin Lawrence successfully brought to THE CRAWLING EYE and screenwriter Paul Ryder's script lacks the interesting character backstories that helped keep Lawrence's film compelling during its own talky stages.  The action is unimaginatively staged when it commences in the final reel, and at one point we glimpse a U.S. Army vehicle heading to save the day despite our setting.  Also, why use bullets and not insecticides?

About to make his move..think she'll go for it?

COSMIC MONSTER does manage to hang with THE CRAWLING EYE in one regard: copious amounts of alcohol consumption.  Much time is spent at the pub hoisting pint after pint while everyone sits and talks (and talks, and talks); too bad no party ever develops (despite the band advertised on the local pub's sidewalk sign) because Gunn's drudging pace could stand some punching up.  At least the drinking games you can play at home on your own won't suffer.

So you think I'm tentative, huh?  We'll see...
Tucker gave forceful performances in both THE CRAWLING EYE (as a scientist who was also a man of action when necessary) and THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN (as a crass "ugly American" butting heads marvelously with Peter Cushing) but seems tentative and less effective in this script, more of a spectator than a doer.  While the first two films remain well-remembered genre classics a half century later, THE COSMIC MONSTER has been largely forgotten on this side of the pond.  It's worth a look for aficionados of the bug-movie subgenre, but on the whole it's pretty forgettable.

So....why isn't this on DVD yet? (In the U.S.)

Isn't well-made or memorable; as the last of Forrest Tucker's British genre films, it's also clearly the least.

Attaboy Tuck!!!! Woo hoo!

Why it should be on DVD: (IN THE U.S.)

THE STRANGE WORLD OF PLANET X/THE COSMIC MONSTER would still be a nice fit on a two-fer with its old tag team partner THE CRAWLING EYE, or maybe paired with another cheesy bug film of the era like THE MONSTER FROM GREEN HELL.   This made TCM's schedule for the first time last summer during Sci-Fi Thursdays and hasn't repeated yet, so be on the lookout for a rerun if you're interested.

The film is also available for viewing at YouTube.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Television Review: QUINCY, M.E.: "Dead Stop" (1981)

QUINCY, M.E. : THE HILARIOUS YEARS (Seasons 5 through 8)  

Number 4: "Dead Stop" Season 7 (1981)

Starring Jack Klugman, Robert Ito, John S. Ragin, Garry Walberg, Val Bisolgio, special guest stars Tony Burton, Jack Ging, Sandy McPeak, Henry Beckman, Salome Jens, Red West. Directed by Ray Danton.

The soapbox was covered with shoe prints by the halfway point of QUINCY, M.E's penultimate season.  A cautionary tale (come to think of it, practically all QUINCY's were at this point) about the dangers of toxic waste, DEAD STOP opens with the prime time version of truck drivin' music as truckers Hank and Mickey notice their Freightliner still has leaking rear brakes after a failed pit stop. As there's no way they'll make it to the planned destination, Hank feels they should turn back, but cash-desperate Mickey has a better idea. Remembering specific instructions to "dump it in a dry spot", he has a spot "as dry as the Sahara" for their cargo. "He hired us to dump it, so who the Hell cares where?" Highway footage tells us that this dry spot is going to be near the Los Angeles freeway exit.

If Mickey's devil-may-care attitude isn't foreboding enough, the mysterious cargo is in heavy, sealed black barrels, except for one which is leaking. When the leakage hits the ground and splashes Hank's shoes, a smoky, acid-like residue rises in a menacing manner. Hank coughs violently.

I presume we've been given ample warning signs at this point, as director Danton forgoes overhead lightning, storm clouds or a black cat crossing the path. Nah, spoke too soon. With Mickey's prodding, they finish up by rolling the barrels down a hill, with a tight shot on the resulting collisions causing more residue to rise with a sinister hissing sound.

Two days later Hank's wife notices he's running a fever and continuing to cough, but he insists on making that night's run. "You know how hard it is for us wildcatters to get work!" Glassy eyed, hacking Hank tells Mickey during the drive that he's finished moonlighting, then immediately follows this declaration with a seizure behind the wheel. "Judas Priest!" Mickey exclaims, but Rob Halford's motorcycle is nowhere to be found; just a runaway Freightliner that ends up turned over on an embankment, landing on its drivers side before passenger Mickey can control it. Yup, that probably IS going to finish Hank's nocturnal wallet stuffing.

Heading out to to the highway....a chance before I fallllllll......
Next the Mickster's in the hospital, bringing up his late friend while going over accident details with Beckman, an investigator who urges him to "stay close". As for poor Hank, he ends up on The Big Q's slab. Broken ribs, hazy, dark red lungs, and curiously, chemical burns on his shins and arms. No evidence of pneumonia, infection or heart disease. Quince and Sam discover that he was driving "with a severe lung disease"; he inhaled phosphorus trichloride, which caused the seizure and his death, before the accident.

Gotta say that for all the laughs from Quincy's hypertension and preaching during The Hilarious Years, there's always useful information too. Phosphorus trichloride is classified as highly toxic and corrosive, and reacts violently when mixed with water, hence, the strict instructions to dump it in a dry spot. All very educational, no joke.

Na na na na na na na na na....Klug Man!

The Q-Mobile is seen arriving at the widow's home in the next scene. I always wished they had some cool, Batmanesque music to accompany this footage, but it usually came unscored.  Too bad.  Oh, well, education aside, at this point there's a little frustration for the audience.  After Quincy interviews Hank's wife and goes over the trucker's manifest, we've had 16 minutes of setup for the latest crusade, and not one Outrage! yet. I'm getting almost as impatient as Mickey.

Ah, but ask and ye shall receive! "People don't seem to realize how dangerous it is! No one seems to care!" "If it rains, this could produce a gas that could kill (voice cracks) hundreds of people!" Thanks, Q. I knew you wouldn't let me down!

Meanwhile Mickey bravely deals with his grief and injuries, continuing the night job (I'm sure Hank would have wanted him to) with new partner West, who wears a cowboy hat and speaks in a thick drawl.  At Mickey's insistence, they use the "new, better" dumping spot to shorten the route time. Once again, we have leakage and more hydrochloric acid rising. Damn, someone is doing a shitty job sealing these things. There's the first person to fire if you ask me. Mickey unwisely takes his gloves off after inhaling a spill, kicks the leaky barrels downhill, and once more ominous music cues up as the smoky residue rises, thicker this time.

The Big Q is back at the original wrecked truck, talking to investigator Beckman. Sure enough, we have some inefficiency. "There are 3 million truckers on the road, and only 180 of us!" We expect another Outrage! at this information, but Quince is strangely docile. That is, until he gets to the Los Angeles County Health Department and Anthony Giovelli. "Not one legitimate ounce of that stuff" in his manifest! 20,000 plants out there and only 750 are registered!" "Any plant that produces hazardous waste should be RESPONSIBLE for it!"

Quincy gets a sympathetic ear here though. Giovelli wants to do something, but admits he's lucky if he catches "one out of a hundred" making an illegal discharge. Manifesting only works if there's intent to comply with the law to begin with. "There are 20,000" plants out there, and Giovelli only has 8 investigators. The Big Q is too overwhelmed to vent his rage! "I had no idea!" I have a feeling that Quincy's going to be leaving Sam in charge of the autopsies again for more than a few days......

Yup, the coroner becomes an investigator, taking half the plants on Giovelli's list for himself and visiting Witten Chemicals. Solvents, Acids and Alkalies since 1968. Walk in trade welcome!  Quincy, however, isn't so welcome, and Mr. Witten spews venom at him right off the bat, telling him he has no right to just "come in and see my manifest"! Well, the man does have a point, since this is technically not the Big Q's job.

Director Ray Danton makes sure to have his camera linger on the Confederate flag proudly displayed on Witten's wall.  Since we're in Los Angeles, and Witten lacks even a hint of a southern accent (he actually sounds more like he's from Jersey than anything) there's only one plausible reason for it to be here: Danton is subtly giving us a demonstration of movie shorthand for "Bad Guy".  Genius!

Quince lights into Witten with his third Outrage!: "You're either gonna talk to me or you're gonna talk to a Lieutenant downtown!"  Hearing that, Witten gives in quickly and gives The Big Q the trucking company's address.

One question: Would Witten be all that frightened by the "Lieutenant downtown" if he knew it was THIS man?

Q has Giovelli with him as he arrives at Hellworth Trucking.  Mr. Hellworth meets them outside the door, so we won't get to check his office for bad guy shorthand indicators.  Guess the ominous name will have to do.

Mr. Hellworth is credited at as actor Kenneth O'Brien.  According to imdb, he supposedly passed away in 1985, but they aren't fooling yours truly.  He obviously faked his death, changed his name and now performs as porn star "Dirty Harry":

Anyway, Dirty Harry Hellworth tries the Sergeant Schultz defense to no avail, as Q and Giovelli have a search warrant and the threat of a murder charge ready to go.  Hellworth caves faster than his Confederate compadre and agrees to take them to the dumping site.  Once there, Hellworth panics, and not because Giovelli plans to "hang him up by his thumbs" and make an example of him.  Rather it's because of his discovery that Hank's latest delivery "ain't here".  Finding Mickey is a priority now, because Giovelli informs us that if the phosphorus trichloride comes in contact with moisture, the result could be catastrophically deadly.  Right on cue, thunder rumbles ominously (there's that word again) in the overcast sky.

Quincy, not The Department of Health Services' Giovelli, will be probing the situation from here.  That's right, we can't just trust Giovelli to do his job, but we can leave Good Old Sam with all the corpses for a few more days.  You don't mind, do you Sam?

Thrilled as always to be working 75 hour weeks in Quincy's absence!  Meanwhile, The Q-Mobile is back at the widow's house, and she offers to help him track down her late husband's co-pilot.  Quincy is to hit the road with her at 6 A.M. sharp.

It is remarkably light outside for 6 AM the next morning, with a weird soundtrack shift to acoustic guitar and piano.  Combine the somber tones with this screen image:

And one starts to get that Brokeback vibe.  Furthering that, Quince's P.O.V. reveals an overly friendly hitchhiker waving and giving a thumbs up to our favorite coroner, despite the fact that Q hasn't a vehicle. 

But this is already a Very Special Episode, we already have our subject of social commentary, and Q has no time for 'experimentation' right now.  Just a tense but polite wave back and that's it.

As mentioned, time's a wastin', so out with the piano, in with the synth and electric guitars and some more ersatz truckin' music as Hank's widow Jens arrives.

He's got that look in his eyes.....

Hey, don't get carried away there Quince.  The body's barely cold!  Her hubby was just on the slab in front of you less than 20 screen minutes ago!

A second false alarm, though, showing that The Big Q is too focused on the race against time for any macking with either gender.  Besides, it's been very clear since the Hilarious Years started that R. Quincy only swings one way, and only with ladies at least thirty years younger than him--until Season 8 and The Killjoy, that is.  Since Jens (46 at the time) is too age-appropriate for our hero, the dialogue on the way to the truck stop serves to educate Quincy and us about the hardships of life on the road as the jaunty soundtrack shifts to something very "Top of the World"-ish.  (???)

Quincy had no idea about the trucker's hardships or about CB lingo, but he becomes a budding pro by the time we get to the destination on the ways of 10-4's and feeding the Smokeys.  (One more nagging question: she appears to be driving Hank's old truck.  How the Hell is it fully operational so soon after being rolled over?  Sloppy, sloppy.....)

At the truck stop, coffee is ordered and we're joined by Tony Burton (in between ROCKYs II and III) and West, who is far more reluctant to be sociable once he hears that the meeting involves Hank and Mickey's "illegal" hauling of toxic waste.  Quince even comes close to an Outrage! but falls short with his pleading tone.  "This could kill hundreds of people!"  With West's lips sealed, though, little headway is made.

Jens has a thought on where Mickey might be.  Sally's Place.

If the business sign doesn't confirm the motel's "no tell" status, Sally probably will. 

And if she doesn't, her companion for the morning most assuredly will, 'cause he can't be ridin' for free.

He's a friend of Jens' late husband, and with his assistance they eventually find a slab-ready Mickey face down in his room.  Which leads us into a truly amazing scene.  We're 40 minutes into the episode, and The Big Q is actually back at his day job, wearing scrubs.  Never fear, folks--we aren't staying here, it's just a convenient place for Quincy to be found when Burton comes through, forcing the truth out of squirrelly West and setting off the M.E.'s latest race against time!

And we're off to the formerly mysterious dumping grounds.  We're really lucky, too, because we've had threatening rumbles and dark clouds from the skies for days now, but the long promised rain still hasn't arrived.  Therefore hundreds are still alive.  We're especially lucky not to have those corpses numbering in the triple digits with Q not at his day job for the better part of a week.  He's too busy, folks, out supervising the toxic waste team.

Uh, Quince--can I have my job back now?

You can question who really ought to be in charge out here, but once again, Quincy, M.E. comes through, bellowing instructions while the crew members and firemen get all the barrels under a large tarp, which is in place literally seconds before that rain finally hits hard.

Is there anything a coroner can't do?

Well, he has trouble saying without spraying....

Dead Stop takes a while to get to our first Outrage! and the final act is strangely anti-climactic, but Danton adds plenty of ominous foreshadowing and cliched symbolism, keeping this lower decibel QUINCY, M.E. entertaining.  Also an interesting soundtrack to go with the usual surfeit of chuckles and a little help with your next chemistry exam.  It isn't as over the top as other Hilarious Years entries, and therefore doesn't have quite as many big belly laughs, but it's a solid, re-watchable episode.  
(***1/2 out of four)

Monday, April 02, 2012

Film Review: DEATH IN SMALL DOSES (1957)

"Why the Hell isn't THIS on DVD yet?" -- Number 77


DEATH IN SMALL DOSES (1957 Allied Artists) Starring Peter Graves, Mala Powers, Chuck Connors, Robert Williams, Roy Engel, Merry Anders, Harry Lauter, John Dierkes.  Directed by Joseph M. Newman.

FDA agent Graves goes undercover as a driver in training for a Los Angeles trucking company to crack a case involving the trafficking of "bennies" (amphetamines).  The bennies are being supplied to truckers for long distance runs with the result being a number of fatal accidents.  Moving into Powers' boardinghouse upon arrival, Graves doesn't have to wait long for suspicious activity.  Manic co-worker Connors seems to be on a constant unnatural high, Dierkes freaks out and attacks a Teamster brother with a meat hook, and long-timer Engel turns up dead shortly after warning the newcomer about the dangers of having pills for co-pilots.  The increasingly addicted Connors becomes Graves' new partner and unwittingly outs waitress Anders as a connection.  Meanwhile, Powers takes a shine to the "rookie" from out of town.

As a cautionary drug tale of its era, DEATH IN SMALL DOSES isn't as exploitative as HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL, but it does contain a lot more sensationalism than (say) a MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM.   Drivers are dependent enough on their "co-pilots" to have a vial in one hand while the other is on the steering wheel, and violent attacks and hallucinations occur with amazing frequency.  Typical of the era's B's from Allied Artists, it is consistently entertaining, particularly the performances.  The MVP is ex-Boston Celtic and Chicago Cub Connors.  Just a year away from his stoic signature role as THE RIFLEMAN, Connors literally can't stand still, constantly grinning ear to ear and delivering his hep patter at a mile a minute.

Connors and Graves make a fun Mutt and Jeff pair in their scenes together.  The former's nonstop animation contrasts hilariously with Squaresville resident Graves, whose woodenness is almost on the Adam West as BATMAN level.  Watching poker-faced Graves here makes it easy to see why he appeared to be having a blast in AIRPLANE! a quarter century later.

As you'd expect from pros like Graves, Powers, Connors and director Newman (Allied's THE GEORGE RAFT STORY), DEATH IN SMALL DOSES is professionally made and acted, a cut above exploitation.  Particularly unsettling is Connors' wild driving on no sleep.  Hey, that convertible suddenly forced into a game of chicken with a transport truck could be you or me!

But is it so well done that I hesitate to bestow it with the Camp Classic label?  Nah.  Not when we have pep pills inducing murderous rages.  That meat hook attack starts one workday(!) and later, such homicidal intent is even premeditated, as Connors steals a steak knife with the intent of using it later because that wheel is HIS, Baby!  Even REEFER MADNESS didn't go that far.  DEATH IN SMALL DOSES is way too competent to reach that level, but it isn't exactly Everything You Wanted to Know About Bennies but were Afraid to Ask either.  Saying it is a "hilarious howl" like TV Guide is overstating it a bit, but it does provide a lot of smiles before our most entertaining addict crashes.

So.....why isn't this on DVD yet?

A low budget Allied Artists cautionary tale overshadowed by more teen-oriented and unabashedly exploitative tales from the same era, DEATH IN SMALL DOSES just fell through the cracks, never even receiving a VHS release and rarely airing on TV.

Why it should be on DVD:

Both TV Guide and The Psychotronic Video Guide call it a must-see, two sources disparate enough to provide all the references you need, right?  Fans of Chuck Connors are especially encouraged to search for this one; he singlehandedly ensures that a good time will be had by all.  DEATH IN SMALL DOSES recently had its Turner Classic Movies premiere, so be on the lookout for a repeat showing in the near future.