I have to think about this one, was expecting Marlene in her glory, but she plays the loving wife of a vindictive Herbert Marshall who becomes a stage star to pay his medical bills then risks her family for a fling with Cary Grant. Sternberg can’t help dragging his stars through the mud, but at least we get the image of Dietrich in an ape suit.

AMC Theaters 1200 AD (2023, Damon Packard)

Heavily AI-assisted parody of the Nicole Kidman AMC ads, a grudgingly multiplex-supporting voiceover with face-melting visuals.

The Man Who Couldn’t Miss Screenings (2023, Damon Packard)

Both better and worse than AMC Theaters. It’s mainly a slo-mo “Comfortably Numb” music video, toggling between a laptop dude arguing with his angry wife about the importance of screenings and a a street scene where an electric car has burst into flames, with an Albert Pyun tribute postscript. For me, who has not overdosed on 2023 AI imagery, the mutant characters and text, everything looking like a botched render, it’s all aesthetically interesting.

Pool Sharks (1915, Edwin Middleton)

Two absurd men fight at a picnic, Proto-WC-Fields vs Checkered Suit Guy, leading to a game of stop-motion pool. Checkered Suit Guy might’ve been Billy West sideman Bud Ross.

The Golf Specialist (1930, Monte Brice)

A house detective’s hotwife flirts with every guy then her husband beats them up. She goes to watch WCF golf – he never hits the ball, being upstaged by his idiot caddy. WCF with his worst mustache yet, thriving from here out in the sound era, drawing laughs by being mean to children and dogs. Hotwife Shirley Grey went on to costar with Lugosi in Hammer’s first horror film, The Mystery of the Mary Celeste.

The Barber Shop (1933, Arthur Ripley)

Fields in his element, muttering comic insults at people. He encourages his pun-loving young son, and collects two upright basses as setup for some late prop humor. A wanted bank robber (Cocoanuts flimflam man Cyril Ring) comes in to crank up the drama, not that we needed suspense when we’re getting lines like “I belong to the bare-hand wolf-chokers association.”

The Pharmacist (1933, Arthur Ripley)

Sound is awful on this one, and rude things are done to a cockatoo. Another crime story / police chase into the shop, whole place gets shot up. Unsatisfying ending involving the daughter’s boyfriend. Maybe I watched one too many of these in a row. Daughter’s boyfriend Grady Sutton is maybe the only person to appear in both My Man Godfrey and Rock & Roll High School, the daughter would go on to play “Saloon Floozie” in a Marlene Dietrich movie.

Will Sloan in Screen Slate:

As with the Marx Brothers, Fields’s work enjoyed a revival in the ‘60s and ‘70s among college kids who took him as an anti-authoritarian hero. He has been less visible in recent years, but he would have been well known to the writers of shows like Saturday Night Live, SCTV, Late Night with David Letterman, and The Simpsons in their most important years. If his contemporary presence is indirect, it is still prevalent.

Also watched in January:

A follow-up 14 years later.

Porky in the North Woods (1936)

Porky’s wildlife refuge is an animal paradise, but an illegal french trapper invades, mutilates the forest creatures then whups porky’s ass, so the forest army fights back. The commentary guy knows all the song snippets Carl Stalling is playing and tears up listening to them.

Porky’s Poultry Plant (1936)

Such fast cutting as chicken farmer Porky hops into a prop plane to defend the chicks from hawks. Tash’s first WB cartoon. Comm says original Porky voice actor Joe Dougherty brought his actual speech impediment to the role before Mel Blanc took over… structural ripoff of Disney’s Silly Symphonies but more modern and violent… Tashlin is described as a “rumpled unsociable fellow.”

Now That Summer is Gone (1938)

Less-fun musical picture, a squirrel who loves gambling loses the family acorn supply to a grifter – his dad in disguise, teaching him a lesson. Writer Fred Neiman’s only credit before leaving the cartoon game (I dutifully wrote that down from the commentary, but who is Fred Neiman?).

Kosher acorns:

Puss n’ Booty (1943)

Back to black & white… the cat has eaten a pet bird and hidden the evidence so the family orders a new canary. After a prolonged cat & bird game, the bird eats the cat – good twist – remade with Tweety & Sylvester in 1948. The Jerry Beck commentary mainly wants to tell us exactly which animators worked on which shots.

I Got Plenty of Mutton (1944)

WWII meat shortages… Hungry wolf in cabin tries making bone broth, steams a single pea, then goes after the sheep since the sheep dog is off at war. Dressing as a sexy sheep to fool the protective ram backfires, the ram keeps chasing him even after revealed as a wolf, and 15 years before Some Like It Hot.

Brother Brat (1944)

Today’s tough women in the warplane-riveting workforce need someone to watch their horrific kids while at work, so Porky is enlisted. Baby Butch torments a cat, wrecks the house, and almost murders Porky with a cleaver – I’m not sure what the wartime lesson is here.

The Lady Said No (1946)

This is… not a Looney Tune, it’s a Daffy Ditty… a stop-motion musical about a sexual harasser in Mexico. He takes the girl who only says no to a restaurant, then she says no to him going back to his old life, and no to birth control, and he’s distraught to find himself a father of a hundred babies. Replacement animation with moving camera, impressive work for a silly little movie.

The Thirteenth Chair (1929)

After London After Midnight came three more Lon Chaney pictures including West of Zanzibar. Now, Browning’s love for headscarves leads him to India, and his love for Hungary leads him to Bela Lugosi. This is quite good for a 1929 sound film, but it hurts to exchange the long, lingering silent facial expressions for inane upper-class British conversational pleasantries. There’s no transitional period, the movie is crammed wall-to-wall with dialogue as if spectators were paying by the word.

Madame LaGrange is played by an actress named Wycherly, which would’ve been a cooler name for her medium character. Yes, we’re back in Mystic territory, and to prove her authenticity she explains the mechanics of the usual tricks used by mediums, then proceeds to her spiritual work uncovering a murderer. Someone dies during the first of two lights-out seances (during which the movie achieves maximum talkie-ness, becoming a radio play) so Inspector Lugosi arrives, and star Conrad Nagel’s girl Leila Hyams emerges as chief suspect, but it turns out some other blonde lady killed both guys.

Dracula (1931)

Written about this before… watching now with the Philip Glass / Kronos Quartet score, hell yes. The music is mixed higher than the dialogue, as it should be. Now that I’ve seen Thirteenth Chair I have to say this is extremely awesome in comparison, dispensing with the constant dialogue and returning to beautiful image-making with big Lugosi close-ups.

Freaks (1932)

Wrote about this before, too. More movie-worthy characters in this hour-long film than in Browning’s whole pre-Dracula career combined. Over 50 years later Angelo had a plum role in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Before Dracula, Browning made that Outside The Law non-remake, before Freaks came boxing drama Iron Man, and afterwards was Fast Workers… a comedy?

Mark of the Vampire (1935)

John Fordian Dr. Donald Meek busts into an inn just as idiot tourists are getting the talk about why we don’t go out at night (bad idea to watch the same night as Dracula since it’s all the same vampire explanations to incredulous people). Inspector Atwill, a large mustache man, arrives to investigate a mysterious death. Fedor and Irena are survivors, swoop-haired Otto is her guardian. Meanwhile, Dracula himself (played as a wordless zombie monster with no suave dialogue) and his undead daughter Luna lurk in a nearby castle. Professor Barrymore arrives to do some Acting, a welcome diversion, while Irena’s dead dad Sir Karell has become a zombie Drac-follower, and Irena has begun acting vampy herself.

Somehow the plot gets even more convoluted, and Browning and Lugosi’s involvement becomes an in-joke, because the “vampires” have only been performers in Barrymore’s Holmesian plot to make swoop-haired Otto confess to killing his friend, hypnotized into re-committing his crime. Good performances in this, though nothing else really works, and the rubber-bats-on-strings technology hadn’t improved since ’31. I liked how no two people manage to pronounce the character names the same way.

Clanker, the Jump-Scare Cat:

The Devil Doll (1936)

Nobody told me this would be a Bride of Frankenstein ripoff cowritten by Eric von Stroheim. Maybe bitter that another director remade Tod’s Unholy Three with Lon Chaney, he goes ahead and rips that off too. Lionel Barrymore is a banker who got backstabbed by his partners and sent to prison, escapes to get revenge – wrongly(?)-accused man becoming a murderer on the run.

First stop is scientist Marcel (Henry Walthall, the yellow shut-in of Griffith’s House with Closed Shutters) to borrow his shrinking formula. He’s working on miniaturization to alleviate world hunger (isn’t this the plot of Downsizing?) but has a heart attack while shrinking the maid, so his devoted wife Malita (Rafaela Ottiano, who’d worked with Barrymore on Grand Hotel) comes along to continue his research by shrinking some bankers, Lionel hiding in plain sight as an old woman running a doll shop.

First off is nervous mustache banker Arthur Hohl (a cop in The Whole Town’s Talking), then they use a devil-doll to rob the house of Robert Greig (who played butler-typed in Preston Sturges movies). The dolls are mind-controlled by their masters (I missed Marcel’s explanation for this) and this doll-heist setpiece is cool enough to justify the entire movie.. Barrymore wants to see his beloved family members now that he’s out, so he pays disguised visits to his blind mom (Lucy Beaumont, who’d played Lionel’s brother John’s mom in The Beloved Rogue) and his lovely grown daughter (Maureen O’Sullivan started acting at the dawn of sound cinema and died in 1998 in Scottsdale, so she may well have watched Fargo in Arizona like we did).

Malita and tiny assassin:

The third banker is Pedro de Cordoba (a circus player in Hitchcock’s Saboteur), who surrounds himself with police then sweatily confesses that he railroaded Barrymore right as his doll-sized colleague was about to stab him with paralysis/shrink syrup. Malita helpfully/fatally blows up the lab/shop because Barrymore’s mission is done but she wants to go on shrinking things. Happy-ish ending for Barrymore, who meets his daughter and her beau Toto atop the Eiffel Tower, but after all the murdering he’s got to stay on the run. Browning’s penultimate film – he’d turn in one more comedy before forced retirement.

Oft-adapted Sherlock Holmes story – there are three versions just on my must-see list – but I’ve never known what it’s about until now. In fact I’m struggling to recall if I’ve ever seen any Holmes movie, besides the time I watched the first half of Wilder’s Private Life. It’s set on the southwest peninsula of English on the “moors,” AKA the heath, which are either highlands or lowlands, tundra-related, and don’t seem very well defined. Now I’m suspicious about other vague British landscape terms: fens and bogs and derries and what not.

But on these particular moors, Sir Charles is dead, and young Richard Greene (tormented zombie of Tales from the Crypt) has arrived to inherit the estate, asking for assistance from Holmes (Basil Rathbone, evil mesmerist of Tales of Terror) and unimpressive mustache guy Watson (Nigel Bruce, third-billed in Limelight) because of the suspicious wolfy deaths in the area.

Colorful characters: suspicious John Carradine looks after the house, Barlowe Borland is a sideburnsed maniac who enjoys suing his friends, and beardy Dr. Mortimer (Lionel Atwill, star of Doctor X and The Devil is a Woman) is like oh btw I dabble in the occult, and a minute later they’re all having a seance.

Then there’s pretty girl Wendy Barrie (Dead End) and her brother Morton Lowry, a murderous dog-keeper. His dogs bump off a local convict who’d stolen Basker’s clothes. Holmes is seemingly absent from all this, having sent Watson ahead, but has actually been observing in disguise.

Watson, his unamused friends, Holmes:

Killer on the heath moors:

Christoph Huber in Cinema Scope:

Though only billed respectively second and fourth… Rathbone and Bruce’s immediate success spawned the only long-running Holmes film cycle. Rathbone brings unprecedented authority to the part, conveying both the arrogance accompanying Holmes’ intellectual superiority and the irony necessary to complement Sherlock’s full mystique. Meanwhile, scene-stealer Bruce, not quite as (in)famously bumbling as later Watsons, deserves credit for solving an eternal dilemma: his endearing interpretation humanizes the duo’s relationship in a manner similar to Watson’s exaggeratedly humble narration of the stories, and gives the doctor something to do when not participating in the action, just admiring his friend’s brainy prowess.

From the Criterion Screwball collection. I’m not great at recognizing or remembering Loretta Young (The Bishop’s Wife) or Tyrone Power (Nightmare Alley), and besides a driving gig for Stepin Fetchit and a sputtering junior reporter scene for Elisha Cook Jr., we didn’t know any of the supporting cast. Fortunately Don Ameche plays Tyrone’s news editor, anchoring the film with his trusty mustache.

Years before Sam Fuller would hit the scene with Power of the Press, all newspaper men are portrayed as celebrity scandal chasers, and Tyrone is the sneakiest of the bunch. Loretta is a rich celeb with an off-again engagement to a count (George Sanders with a silly accent). After Tyrone tricks her into giving him a story, she takes revenge by claiming she’s marrying the reporter so he’ll be hounded by salesmen and other reporters using his own tricks against him. Not as inventive as it might be (and what’s with the hick sheriff’s office six minutes outside NYC whose prison doors keep falling off) and we couldn’t make out half the dialogue, but at least the energy stays high.

Some things I wrote down:

absolute pre-war depravity
urgent manual camera movement mixed with drone shots, real bizarre
a cinephile nazi movie
german Inland Empire

Tom Schilling is our man, falling for barmaid law student Saskia Rosendahl (both actors from Never Look Away), getting fired from his cigarette advertising job, dealing with the suicide of rich political friend Albrecht Schuch (the new All Quiet on the Western Front). This would make a cool double-feature with Transit by Graf’s Dreileben buddy Petzold, both movies ending with a person waiting hopefully in a cafe waiting for someone who will never appear.

Frames within frames:

Hidden name on an artboard, gone when cutting to the next angle:

Hell of an accidental death for our man:

A Dream Walking (1934, Dave Fleischer)

The soundtrack makes good use of the title song as Olive goes sleepwalking across rooftops into a construction site, while P and B beat each other up for the chance to be her rescuer. P “wins” and takes credit, but O gets home safely on her own. Some good 3D movement through the girder grid. Wimpy’s voice is different than I remembered it.

Adventures of Popeye (1935, Dave Fleischer)

Something different, a live-action child holding a Popeye comic gets beat up by the local bully, Popeye jumps out of the book and runs a clip show of action scenes from previous shorts, the kid gets the message, eats his spinach and pummels the bully.

Minnie the Moocher (1932, Dave Fleischer)

Betty thinks her parents are cruel for making her eat sauerbraten, so she runs away with Bimbo. They hide in a cave where Cab Calloway and his band perform the title song (they appeared in person over the opening titles but an animated walrus is his stand-in here) and this scares them into returning home. Anyway we’ve learned that Betty’ parents are German immigrants, so the name Boop might’ve been an Ellis Island misspelling of Boos or Rupp or Hoppe.

The Merry Musicians (1936, Aleksandr Ptushko)

Puppet animation: four old mistreated animals run away from home and form a traveling band, playing the same song over and over. Needing a place to stay, they find a house of thieves in the woods and scare away its residents, and live happily ever after. Not as much fun as it sounds.

The Barber of Seville (1944, Shamus Culhane)

I haven’t seen one of these in a while – is Woody meant to be chaotic evil? He goes into a barber shop to get a Victory Haircut to support the troops, but the shop is vacant so he takes over, terrorizing anyone who walks in. He does sing Figaro in the last scene.

Who Killed Cock Robin? (1935, David Hand)

How many Disney murder mystery musicals are there? A lady wren seems like a Mae West caricature. The cops respond to the crime with a wave of random brutality (actual lyric “We don’t know who is guilty so we’re gonna hang ’em all”). Turns out Cupid shot the robin, who was only dazed, wakes up to kiss Mae Wren in court. Travis Wilkerson later made a film with the same title. Oscar nominated, beaten by the same director/studio’s Three Orphan Kittens.

The Band Concert (1935, Wilfred Jackson)

Another orchestra toon, people were really into orchestras back then. Mickey’s conducting the William Tell Overture, and an early-model Donald interferes, as does a bumblebee and finally a tornado. Much violence ensues, excellent animation. The first technicolor Mickey, won an award at the third Venice Film Festival.

Clock Cleaners (1937, Ben Sharpsteen)

Literally clock cleaners, like with feather dusters on a clock tower, none of them especially competent. A nesting stork interferes. Some better aerial antics than the Popeye sleepwalking thing.

The Brave Little Tailor (1938, Bill Roberts)

A misunderstanding has Mickey appointed the town giant slayer, offered millions of “pazuzas” and the hand of the princess if he succeeds. I must’ve seen this short a hundred times as a kid, one of the few readily-available Disneys. MM getting swallowed is still a cool scene, and the giant swatting at MM in the same way that MM was swatting flies in the opening scene is nice. Our guy prevails, and the town harnesses giant-snores for wind power. Another oscar-nominated Disney short that lost to a rival Disney short, the far inferior Ferdinand the Bull.

Night on Bald Mountain (1933, Alexander Alexeieff)

Animated engravings? Ah, it’s pinscreens, invented by the director and his wife. Blobby 3D rotations, back-and-forth repetition, transformations, what looks like a photographed miniature town. This goes in a bunch of different directions, all set to familiar music. Can’t say I got what it’s going for (ghosts rampant on the mountainside?) but it’s a change of pace from the Disney stuff.

Fétiche / The Mascot (1933, Ladislas Starewicz)

No subtitles, but a feverish kid is haunted by the roomful of dolls he’s resting in, seeing them come alive in glorious stop-motion. A wizard conjures an orange, fought over by a cat and monkey.
Dollmaker mom takes the dolls out to the city, presumably to sell, but if you’re sewing together evil dolls with souls, it’s a mistake to create a knife-wielding thug. He arranges an escape from the moving car, but rather than a fun Toy Story 2 romp through Fontenay-sous-Bois, they get trashed and broken and lost, only the cute dog surviving to the shop, though he escapes his buyer immediately and then it does become Toy Story 2. The blending of controlled puppetry and live-action chaos is beautifully done. Suddenly the devil is there, resurrecting the skeletons of eaten animals, summoning creatures made of paper and shoes and vegetables to his lair, where they party all night. Our doggy comes too, with his prize orange, which he never bites into, so it keeps getting stolen. Some of his old housemates are there helping cause havoc. The devil tries to sow discord and provide entertainment but gets his ass beaten to death – as does everyone else when puppet cops with clubs start brutalizing the innocent. The dog makes it home with his two uncredited-actor people (while Ladislas, who appears for ten seconds in the film, gives himself a prominent opening credit).

L’Idee (1932, Berthold Bartosch)

Guy has a good idea – his idea is for a miniature naked woman he can hold. He puts her in an envelope and mails her to the society of overdressed men, who don’t appreciate her at all, wishing her to be overdressed. The dreamer reimagines her fullsized then goes to town square to convince others that his naked-woman idea is good, but they are dicks and have him arrested and killed. A creepy guy who hangs out in crypts rediscovers the idea in the modern era and has her mass-produced on paper, and this idea givess an overdressed guy a new idea: that he should send people to war in order to get rich. Thousands die, while the original idea re-merges with the cosmos. Dour black and white animation, hard to tell what technique was used from my low-res copy, but the wikis say it’s multiple layers on glass with paper backgrounds.

The Little Match Girl (1937, Arthur Davis)

The barefoot girl’s matches are battered by a merry bustling new year’s crowd. She finds a quiet spot and starts lighting matches in a futile attempt to stave off the cold. From other versions I’ve seen, I don’t remember her lovely fantasies (having shoes and a doll and a parade of naked angels, etc) getting destroyed by a violent storm as she dies.

Galathea (1935, Lotte Reiniger)

An excellent followup to L’Idee, about a guy who sculpts a naked woman who comes to life, to the distress of his wife. He assumes he’s got a new sex slave, but Galathea trashes his studio and runs off. When the sculptor hears that she’s carousing at the pub he brings her home, where the wife tries to solve the problem by putting clothes on Gal, but that doesn’t go well. While everyone’s fighting, Gal transforms back into a statue and all the town’s women get their men back. Shadow-puppet animation of course, nice and crisp looking.

Daffy Duck in Hollywood (1938, Tex Avery)

Daffy causes chaos at a movie studio, then cuts a bunch of random pictures together onto a single reel, driving an Italian pig director insane.

I thought this would be a cut above the other Marx Brothers movies since Zeppo isn’t in it, but there’s… opera. Right there in the title. Also the film’s editor doesn’t know what “comic timing” means. And anyway it’s not all madness and opera, the Zeppo romance plot is just shifted to some alternate nobodies. The Marxes made five features for Paramount, and this was the first of their plottier, less anarchic MGM era.

The lovely Rosa is Kitty Carlisle, not really a nobody, her career spanned through Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can. Her hopelessly unfamous singer boyfriend Ricardo is Allan Jones of Show Boat, and the jealous spotlight-hogging star Rodolfo is Walter Woolf King (who also sang in Laurel & Hardy movies). The Bros are mostly reduced to opera singer managers in order to keep the plot moving. Once they get to the opera house finale and start swinging across the stage on ropes, it looks high-rent for one of these.

L-R: Ricardo, Rodolfo, Rosa

Harpo innocent: