DISASTERS, SPECIAL EFFECTS, 2nd UNIT DIRECTORS and STUNT MEN
In previous programs of this nature (there have been two on Stunt Men, one on Disasters, and off-shoot programs devoted to westerns and serials) we have covered highlights from such films as The Charge of the Light Brigade, Suez, Deluge, Old San Francisco and many others. Since we have already covered many of the best examples of specific categories, we're not trying tonight to pinpoint specific individuals -- e.g., Yakima Canutt or Ralph Ceder -- as we have in the past. Instead we've just aimed at a colorful and spectacular roundup of outstanding highlights, none of which we've shown before. Excerpts from Dante's Inferno were included in our last disaster show, but not the sequence we are using tonight. Volcano was shown about four years ago to a rather small Film Group audience but I imagine that it will be new to most of you.
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VOLCANO (Sterling, 1959) 2 reels
Although this collection of natural disasters at Patacutin, Krakatoa etc. doesn't have the dynamic punch of Youngson's Fire Wind and Flood, which we used to introduce our last disaster compilation, it's still an interesting and impressive record of carnage, although as we'll see, nature can be outdone by Hollywood's special effects boys.
ONE MILLION B.C. (UA-Hal Roach-1940) Dirs: D.W. Griffith and Hal Roach, with Victor Mature, Carole Landis, John Hubbard, Lon Chaney jr.
The ill-fated and much re-edited Griffith "comeback" film is of considerable academic interest in that it is largely a remake of his Biograph 2-reeler Brute Force, employing the same flashback story-pattern, and the same use of normal animals with "makeup" to simulate prehistoric beasts. Of course, it also used trick photography and much process work to make lizards and other reptitles appear giant-sized. Few films have been such a boon to the makers of cheap quickies, for it has been in continuous use ever since as stook material. The excerpt is of the volcanic eruption and earthquake.
FAIR WIND TO JAVA (Republic, 1953) Dir: Joseph Kane; with Fred MacMurray, Vera Ralston, Victor McLaglen.
This climactic reel (in b/w, though originally in Trucolor) with its volcano and giant tidal wave, is an excellent example of the superb miniature work and special effects achieved at Republic by Howard and Theodore Lydecker, work that was too often hidden in serialsm westerns and "B" pictures for it to get the attention it rated. It also marks the first appearance of Vera Ralston on a Huff society program. The trailer for Fair Wind to Java billed her "as exotic Kim-Kim, whose beauty drove men mad!" In this excerpt at least, neither beauty nor madness are much in evidence. However, perhaps that referred to the Republic stockholders who were finally forced to stop complaining about Miss R (after John Wayne had refused to play with her again!) when Herbert Yates, company presidents married her.
DANTE'S INFERNO (Fox, 1935) Dir: Harry Lachmann; with Spencer Tracy, Claire Trevor, Henry B. Walthall. Camera: Rudolph Mate
Presumably hell rates a nod as a "disaster area", so this marvellous sequence extolling the art director and the cameraman rather more than 2nd unit directors or stuntmen - certainly warrants inclusion in this program. Frequently cut on its last theatrical revivals, and currently on tv, this excerpt - the inferno sequence - is fully complete in this print. One of the most stunning visual sequences ever devised, it's a pity it had to be lost in the middle of a frequently very exciting but dramatically very banal and cliche-ridden yarn of the rise and fall of a fairground barker.
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JASPER'S PARADISE (Paramount, 1943) Produced and directed by George Pal
A rather nightmarish Pal puppetoon, something of a forerunner to Stairway to Heaven. Quite a novelty too in that (to my knowledge) for the first time, heaven is destroyed by an earthquake! The voice of the angelic giant Ginger-Bread Man appears to be that of Clinton Rosemond, the murder-rape suspect from They Won't Forget.
THE SPOILERS (Universal, 1942) Pro: Frank Lloyd; dir: Ray Enright
With John Wayne, Randolph Scott, Marlene Dietrich, Harry Carey, Richard Barthelmess, William Farnum.
The fourth of the (to date) five versions of the classic Rex Beach adventure, this had the wildest stunt fight of them all, obviously carefully "choreographed" in advance, and equally obviously employing a multitude of doubles, but still expertly staged and brilliantly out for maximum excitement -- and maximum concealment of those doubles!
THE RAINS CAME (20th Century Fox, 1939) Dir: Clarence Brown
With Tyrone Power, George Brent, Myrna Loy, Brenda Joyce, Joseph Schildkraut; Nigel Bruce, Maria Ouspenskaya, H.B. Warner
It's curious how Fox managed to make some of the dullest historical pageants and romances in the thirties and early 40's -- and enliven them with some classic special effects sequences. Actually The Rains Came was well above the usual Vox standards, but nevertheless one could have done with far more of this expert earthquake and flood sequence. So exactly was it copied in the CinemaScope remake, The Rains of Ranchipur, that more than one critic was tooled into thinking that the old footage had merely been manipulated optically, and tinted.
SEVEN SINNERS (Universal, 1940) Dir: Tay Garnett
With John Wayne, Marlene Dietrich, Brod Crawford, Oscar Homolka
As a contrast to the "Spoilers" scrap, this wildly uninhibited, unrealistic and near-slapstick affair is a joy to behold. It's a stuntman's field-day, and David Sharpe can be seen diving and falling all over the screen.
TYPHOON OVER NAGASAKI (1956) Dir: Yves Ciampi; camera: Henri Alekan
With Jean Marais, Danielle Darrieux, Kishi Keiko, Gert
Even in its original language, this Japanese-French co-production was rated a disappointment and merely a luxurious pot-boiler. Dubbed for this country, its minor dramatic values became even more minor, and the film was relegated to tv without a theatrical release -- despite big stars, color, and a hefty running time. However, none of these criticisms really reflect on the climactic typhoon sequence, which is excellently done -- and in typical Japanese fashion, given about a quarter of the picture's total running time!
SAN FRANCISCO (MGM, 1916) Dir: W.S. Van Dyke
With Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Jeanette MacDonald, Jack Holt
Surely one needs to say little about this famous sequence, especially now that one learns that Robert Preston is to star in a musical remake! A breath-taking, piece of filmcraft, in which special effects are rivalled for honors by some really dynamic editing. Much of it quite obviously derives from Eisenstein, and Potemkin and 10 Days in particular. If someone other than Van Dyke had directed, we might have heard much more about it; but because he was a "fast" director (as well as being one of Hollywood's finest) he has been quite unjustly relegated to the ranks of the Hollywood hacks.
ERRATUM: in tonight's program, this sequence will immediately follow The Rains Came
IN OLD CHICAGO (20th Century Fox, 1938) Dir: Henry King; cam: Peverell Marley
Fire sequence staged by Bruce Humberstone, photographed by Daniel Clark; special effects by Fred Sersen,, Ralph Hammeras, Louis White
With Tyrone Power, Don Ameche, Alice Faye, Alice Brady, June Storey, Tom Brown, Brian Donlevy, Sidney Blackmer, Andy Devine, Madame Sul Te Wan, Francis Ford.
With a subject as big as the Chicago fire, writers Lamar Trotti and Sonya Levien still couldn't resist gilding the lily a bit. Patterning their picture after San Francisco as much as possible, they brought in melodramatic political schemings which added suspense and action to the climactic fire, and they even went so far as to have one of the O'Leary boys mayor of Chicago at the time of the fire! However, it was a fast-paced and enjoyable piece of hokum, and there was no stinting in the final sequence -- even though it seems longer and bigger than
it is by cutaways to other action and an excess of mob scenes. But why carp? It's still a marvellous piece of movie magic, and the last really great disaster scene that the movies gave us. However - although it has been kept quiet astrologers have reported that sometime in 1964 New York will sink beneath the sea, up as far as 57th St. So those of you who have 8mm or 16mm cameras and who work or live below 57th St. -- keep them handy, and maybe we'll have some really exclusive footage for our NEXT disaster show (in an uptown location!)
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NEXT TUESDAY: D.W. Griffith's The Greatest Question (1920) with Lillian Gish, Bobby Harron, Ralph Graves: and Spook Spoofing (Roach, 28), Everlasting Triangle (Edison, 1915)
GEORGE CANHAM As many of you already know, one of our most devoted members, and a good friend to so many of us, George Canham, died last week.
On display you will find a copy of the obituary printed in the Jersey Journals, and a copy of a note sent last week to a few of his friends. Since he was so more than merely a member, we are preparing a little brochure dedicated to him, and will have this available very shortly.
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