The Perry Mason Movie Series

After some delay, Warner Archives has released a 2-disc set of all six of the Perry Mason films from 1934 through 1937. To commemorate the release, I thought I’d bring over one of my old posts from the SBBN archives, a quickie summary of all six Mason films from 2009. This was written back before I knew how to post pictures properly, plus the imported comments will be in the wrong order, so please forgive the aesthetic chaos. Please note: The screen grabs in this post are from movies recorded off TCM, they are NOT from the Warner Archive set. *** Erle Stanley Gardner’s lawyer-slash-detective character Perry Mason was created in 1933, and within a year Warner Bros. created a film series based on the books. The first film, The Case of the Howling Dog (1934), was based on a serialized novel published in Liberty Magazine earlier that same year. In all, six Perry Mason films were made before Mason disappeared from the big screen. In the 1940s, the character appeared on CBS radio for 12 years, voiced primarily by John Larkin. Gardner disliked the radio series and refused to allow it to be made into a TV show in the 1950s, so CBS revamped the radio show and turned it into the soap Edge of Night — also starring John Larkin, but not as Mason — and the soap ran for another 30 years. A few years after Edge of Night premiered, Gardner forgave CBS and helped create a … Continue reading

Halloween Cheesecake: Clara Bow and Esther Ralston

Over the years, I have collected a bunch of Halloween-themed pictures, and was a bit irked at myself when I realized I didn’t have a specific set I wanted to post this year. Long ago, someone on a now-abandoned LiveJournal had posted starlets in Halloween cheesecake pics, and several pics of different starlets used the same props — a large moon and a fuzzy black cat, if I recall.  It was fascinating to see the same props used over and over again and I would have loved to have posted the set, but despite getting lost in Google images for a week, I didn’t find those photos. What I did find deep in my hard drive were a whole series of Clara Bow pictures with the same crazy thing goin’ on: In a cute little checkered short-all outfit and some depressed ghosts:   Same pumpkin, with Clara now in a black teddy: Clara in the same teddy with some very, very creepy props can be seen in my next Halloween Cheesecake post here. Here’s the same Halloween background, new enormous pumpkin, and yet another outfit: (Second photo courtesy johnhannas on Tumblr)   In a search for more pictures on the interhole, within minutes, I found this article from a 1927 magazine: I have a 1000px version here if you want to read the caption. Magazine scan courtesy the Flickr of silent_screen_queen. While at that Flickr account, I saw this:   Esther Ralston with the same huge pumpkin and background.  Check … Continue reading

The Laughing Devil in His Sneer: Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show

Dick Clark was especially cranky that August afternoon in 1966. For a decade he had been asking harmless questions of both guests and giggly teens on “American Bandstand,” but today’s silly subject irritated him, made him self conscious. A professional study had recently claimed most men within a few years would be wearing long hair. Sensing perhaps that his own mathematically correct hair was no longer hip, he must have felt this new singer, a young man stalwartly holding on to a magnificent late-era rockabilly pompadour in the age of shaggy hair, was a kindred spirit. After the rocker threw a sexy hey-baby head swagger at the girls, Clark asked him his thoughts on long hair. The kid managed an answer of a sort, too nervous to make much sense but also entirely uninterested in the subject. Frustrated, Clark bared his sharp teeth in an attempted smile, then asked the singer the title of his new album. More nervous than you’d expect a tall, rebellious kid clad in deliberate brooding black to be, he stammered out: “The album is called ‘The Neil of…’ uh, ‘The Neil of…,’ no, it’s called ‘The Feel of Neil Diamond.’” For decades, Diamond has spun the romantic tale of that all-black wardrobe of his early days as a manifestation of his intense performance insecurity. But amidst a culture that dictated bright clothing, his dark monochrome look was bound to generate attention. When he played the Hollywood Bowl in 1966 he strode on stage in black … Continue reading

Matter of fact, it’s all dark.

“One of these days I’m going to write a song that makes someone want to cry.” — Neil Diamond, Teen Screen Magazine, March 1967   When The Neil Diamond Collection arrived in the mail last month, I had forgotten I ever ordered it. For most of my 39-ish years, Neil Diamond was simply never on my radar except as a familiar cultural presence, some dude I heard twice a year on the radio but knew nothing about.  Yet something lead me to order that Neil Diamond CD. Curiosity, maybe, or an accident of random firing neurons. Perhaps it was the booze. Oh, did I mention I had consumed half a bottle of Machete before ordering The Neil Diamond Collection? Because I had consumed half a bottle of Machete before ordering The Neil Diamond Collection. My only memory of this is peering at the Amazon screen through eyes gummed up from drink and 12-hour-old mascara. It was a proud moment. Roughly one week later, sober and trusting that every package delivered to the house contained either happiness or fun or, on really good days, both, I opened the box to find Neil Diamond staring at me. That photo bothered me, induced an unidentifiable, inexplicable, but very real disturbance. A few days later my husband, who knew I was in the throes of some weird ennui-induced thing improbably triggered by a greatest hits album, kindly turned the album cover around. Now it was a slightly older photo from Diamond’s Greek Theater engagement … Continue reading

The Bette Davis Project #16: Wagon Train: “The Elizabeth McQueeny Story”

Bette Davis guest starred in three episodes of “Wagon Train,” and BBFF Ivan tipped me off to a rerun of her second appearance in “The Elizabeth McQueeny Story”. This 1959 episode featured Ward Bond in the lead as wagon master Seth Adams leading a wagon train to, er, somewhere in the west. I don’t really know. Bette looks like she’s going to laugh when she makes her appearance as the fabulous Madame Elizabeth McQueeny, matron to ten lovely girls who are going west to establish a finishing school. They come with high recommendations and are to accompany the train as it heads west. It takes a few days but Adams, being the smartest of the bunch, figures out that the Madame is actually planning on setting up a dance hall. Those aren’t students, they’re dancing goils! Acting, theater, and dance halls seem to be used as euphemisms for cat houses and prostitutes, but sometimes when the show says “dancer,” it really means “dancer.” Made for kind of an uneven episode, but there was some fun dialogue: ADAMS: “You’ll be entertaining a lot of men.” ELIZABETH: “I am a lot of woman.” Soon after setting out, the train runs into a group of native peoples who turn over a bedraggled and soused man who claims to be one Count Roberto de Falconi, played by Robert Strauss, who is epically hot in this episode. He’s no Animal Kasava here, is what I’m sayin’. Bette looks pretty damn great herself, although I notice … Continue reading

The Bette Davis Project #15: The Star (1952)

The Star (1952) tries so hard to be the All About Eve of film, to mix real life with cinematic license, but it never quite succeeds at its lofty intentions. It’s possible The Star was conceived as pastiche, but I truly doubt it. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a worthwhile film, because it is campy and fun and sometimes ridiculous, with one incredible scene that makes the boring bits worth trudging through. Bette plays aging film actress Margaret Elliot (sheesh, just call her Margo already). As the film opens, we see her as she stands sadly outside an auction house as her belongings are sold to pay her numerous debts. She catches her own agent leaving the auction with some of her stuff, which is hilarious in the same way Bette waiting for Anita Louise to die in That Certain Woman is. Margaret wants the lead in the upcoming film The Fatal Winter and insists her agent works on it for her, but you get the feeling he won’t. Afterward, she heads to her ex-husband’s house to visit her daughter Gretchen (Natalie Wood). Gretchen wants to go back to living with her mother, but because of financial concerns she can’t. Gretchen also insists that the kids at school bully her because Margaret isn’t really a star, which doesn’t seem particularly likely, but Gretchen has to be put-upon and that’s her particular cross to bear, apparently. Before Margaret leaves, her ex’s new wife accosts her with the “I didn’t steal your … Continue reading

Bette Davis Project #13: That Certain Woman (1937)

That Certain Woman (1937) is, thus far, one of my favorite Bette films and a real delight to stumble upon during this Project. Sadly, my copy of the film is poor, which you’ll confirm by looking at my screencaps. It’s available on DVD now, so if you get a chance to see this film, do! That Certain Woman is one of the few 1930s Bette melodramas that distinguishes itself from the others that so often feel like Kay Francis’ castoffs. For some reason, the copy TCM has covers the edges of the title screen with a grey border so you can’t see the usual “First National Picture” credit on the bottom. No idea why. I assume it’s a re-release print with some copyright issue.   The plot of That Certain Woman is compelling in a way that your usual WB programmer isn’t. Bette is Mary Donnell, who we first see going to the cemetery on a cold, rainy evening in 1933. She’s followed there by a reporter who confronts her: She’s the former Mrs. Al Haines, widowed exactly four years earlier when her gangster husband was killed in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. The reporter is doing a “where are they now” series on people involved in the massacre, but Mary won’t have anything to do with it. She’s got a job as a secretary now, a new life, and is as far away from the mob as she can be. Unfortunately, the reporter knows about her new life and … Continue reading

Bette Davis Project #12: Front Page Woman (1935)

Front Page Woman (1935) was released a mere six weeks after The Girl from 10th Avenue, and it shows. These two programmers share six cast members and even some of the same sets. Long-time readers will remember how tired I have become of George Brent playing the guy trying to keep a woman in the home where she belongs. Well, folks, Front Page Woman is by far the worst offender in that category… thus far. Ellen (Davis) is a young reporter assigned to cover the execution of a murderer at midnight. Boyfriend and fellow reporter Curt (Brent) doesn’t think a woman should be reporting on such a thing and, true to 1935, Ellen faints to prove how right he was. I’m surprised she didn’t lose a heel while running or fend off the bad guy by hitting him with her purse. Maybe I should mention that Curt and the other reporters deliberately set out to upset her with graphic talk about the execution. Curt writes two news stories, one for his paper and one for Ellen’s to cover for her womanly inability to report the news, but a screw-up causes the exact story to go into both papers. Ellen thinks he deliberately sabotaged her, and he might as well have: At a 3-alarm fire, Ellen is not allowed in to the area to report on the news because she’s a woman. Curt adds to this problem by lying to the police officers that she’s not even a reporter in the … Continue reading

Bette Davis Project #11: The Girl From 10th Avenue (1935)

The Girl from 10th Avenue (1935) is one of those quickie Warner Bros programmers that at times rises above its mediocre goals. But many of these Warner Bros weeklies do, truth be told, and between cost-cutting and bored actors, so many of these films just do not impress. Bette Davis is Miriam, a shop girl who happens to be standing outside the church where a fabulous society wedding between Valentine French and John Marland is taking place. Also standing in the mob outside is Geoff Sherwood, the lawyer that Valentine threw off so she could marry the rich John Marland. He’s drunk and belligerent and, when the cops decide maybe they should take him in, Miriam grabs him and steers him to a spaghetti restaurant, away from the cops. There Geoff decides he needs looking after, so he offers her $100 to watch him for a week. She tells him to go to hell at first, but eventually relents. Next thing they know, they’re married. Geoff doesn’t recall the marriage (booze) and Miriam considers just leaving and annulling the marriage (common sense), but to help get him sober, they agree to stay together with the caveat that either can leave at any time. Geoff rebuilds his career while Miriam works on becoming socially acceptable, as though she was ever crude and awful and unacceptable in the first place. But okay, let’s go with it. Miriam becomes fashionable and sophisticated:   Fabulous much?   Of course, this happens just as Valentine … Continue reading

Bette Davis Project #10: The Great Lie (1941)

Why The Great Lie wasn’t made in 1933 with Kay Francis is beyond me, because this is so obviously a Kay vehicle that it’s impossible to see it any other way. The fact is, however, that it never could have been a Kay movie: it’s based on a Polan Banks novel from 1936 when both Kay and her style of movies were fading out of popularity. The fact that these light-on-plot women’s weepies weren’t all that popular in the 1940s makes it even more strange that Warner Bros. would choose this film for Bette Davis in 1941 when she was at the peak of her career. The plot is your basic unnecessarily complicated affair: Pete (George Brent, of course) marries tempestuous pianist Sandra (Mary Astor), a glamorous and world-famous diva who enjoys to party as much as he does. After a week of marriage and wild, apartment-wrecking soirees, Pete finds out they’re not really married, as Sandra’s divorce wasn’t yet final. Learning this, he takes his own plane to Maryland to talk to Maggie (Bette), the woman he was supposed to marry but didn’t, because she (rightly) thought he was an alcoholic and he (idiotically) refused to stop drinking. Maggie caught cold when she read about Pete’s marriage and spent a day walking in the freezing rain.   Maggie chews Pete’s ass out for showing up a week after he married just so he could whine that he’s made a blunder, which is why Pete doesn’t tell Maggie that he’s … Continue reading