MODs of the Week: Shemp Howard, Wonder Woman, Dracula and Philip Marlowe Walk Into a Bar...
Silent comedy fans and Stoogephiles, take note: Warner Archives' two-disc Vitaphone Comedy Collection Volume One features comedian Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and Shemp Howard in 19 two-reel shorts made for Warner Bros. with the Vitaphone system between 1932 and 1934. The six Arbuckle shorts - his only sound efforts - were intended as comeback vehicles after the ruination of his film career in the wake of a 1921 rape scandal, and are highlighted by the comic' deft physicality and childlike glee: in "Hey, Pop!" (1932), he deftly navigates a kitchen full of utensils, while "How've You Bean" (1933) offers a swell recreation of the molasses gag from 1919's "The Butcher Boy" with Buster Keaton. Perennial foil Al "Fuzzy" St. John (also Arbuckle's nephew), Fritz Hubert and Pete the Pup from the "Our Gang" series offer support, while Shemp Howard, fresh from his brothers' act as the Stooges with Ted Healy, turns up in bit roles in "Close Relations" and "In the Dough." Arbuckle died shortly after completing his final short, and the rest of the collection is devoted to Howard, who quickly rose in the Vitagraph ranks from minor player to second banana on the strength of his verbal asides and rubber-faced mugging. He's front and center only a few times, most notably opposite Jack Haley in the energetic "Salt Water Daffy" (1933) and his occasional screen partner Harry Gribbon in "Art Trouble" (1934), which also features James Stewart in his screen debut. Though Howard's trademark anarchic presence is afforded little screen time in many of the other shorts, he enlivens showcases afforded to Ben Blue (an acquired taste if there ever was one), Gus Shy and dialect comics George Givot and Charles Judels, who co-star with future Blondie Penny Singleton, billed under her real name (Dorothy McNulty) in "How'd Ya Like That?" (1933). Howard remained with Vitagraph until 1937, after which he eventually re-joined the Three Stooges in 1946. A second volume of his Vitagraph shorts is expected from Warner Archives this year. (more after the break)
trademark golden lasso is nowhere to be found) and martial arts than her Amazonian abilities as she pursues suave heel Ricardo Montalban. Those who favor the campier Carter version will probably find this take, which was a staple of syndicated TV broadcasts for the next decade, somewhat lacking, though TV movie habitues will find its low wattage derring-do an amusing time-waster. The same could be said for Killer By Night (CBS Home Entertainment), a 1972 crime drama pilot with medico Robert Wagner and police detective Greg Morris who discover that their respective pursuits of a diptheria carrier and a cop killer have much in common. It's nothing you haven't seen before, but there's a swell score by Quincy Jones and a cast of familiar supporting actors, including Robert Lansing, Theodore Bikel, Mercedes McCambridge, Diane Baker, Robert Cornthwaite and Ivor Francis, all of whom contribute to the picture's TV-as-comfort-food vibe.
While we're on the mystery tip, Fox Cinema Archives has The Brasher Doubloon (1947), a largely unseen adaptation of Raymond Chandler's The High Wall, with George Montgomery as the author's iconic detective, Philip Marlowe. Previously filmed in 1942 as Time to Kill, part of the Michael Shayne series with Lloyd Nolan, this version isn't much of an improvement - Montgomery is too youthful and untried as Marlowe, and his co-star, teenaged college student turned actress Nancy Guild, is out of her league as a femme fatale - but prolific director John Brahm provides enough noirish atmosphere to smooth over the rough spots, and there's a terrific array of character types, including Fritz Kortner, Marvin Miller and a young Conrad Janis, who put roadblocks in Marlowe's pursuit of the titular coin. Fox's DVD-R is, unfortunately, full-screen, which undercuts much of Brahm's compositions.
Lastly, Alpha has Brain of Blood (1972), one of cult/schlock director Al (Satan's Sadists) Adamson's lesser- known but no less loopy horror-science fiction hybrids. The usual array of faded Hollywood leading men who populated Adamson's pictures are also on display here, including Reed Hadley as a terminally ill Middle Eastern potentate who calls on Kent Taylor's certifably deranged doctor to transplate his brain into a healthier body. The plan hits a snag when Taylor's monstrous assistant (John Bloom) accidently kills the intended donor, spurring the doctor to pop Hadley's brain into Bloom's hideous noggin; the expected degree of mayhem quickly ensues. Adamson's kitchen-sink approach, which always seems moments away from spinning the entire production out of control, is the picture's chief appeal, though there are those that will undoubtedly be pleased by the presence of Angelo (Freaks) Rossitto as Taylor's dwarf assistant, Adamson'sly always game spouse/leading lady Regina Carrol as a hapless secret agent, and the marvelous monikered Zandor Vorkov (the Afro'd Prince of Darkness in Adamson's Dracula vs. Frankenstein) as an even less lucky aide to Hadley. Alpha also has In Search of Dracula, a hodgepodge attempt to translate Raymond McNally and Radu Florescu's book of the same name into documentary format, which is largely undone by a scattershot barrage of clips from Hammer Films and other screen vampire stories. Christopher Lee lends a considerable degree of class by serving as both narrator and playing both Bram Stoker's Vampire King and the real Vlad Dracula against the film's Scandinavian locations. -- Paul Gaita