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The┬áBickering Critics – Anita and George

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Thelma Todd and Patsy Kelly in “Beauty and the Bus” (1933) – reviewed by George

Once he fired Zasu Pitts for asking for a raise, Hal Roach had to find another partner for Thelma (he wasn’t about to lose the popular all-female shorts), and he settled on Patsy Kelly, frequently (and accurately) described as pugnacious. In this, their first short subject together, they play girls who have bought raffle tickets at the local movie house to possibly win a new car.
The Intermission for the drawing has begun, and the girls are late. The house lights are up, so looking for two seats together should be a snap, but not with a crowd amped up by the raffle’s conclusion. They finally get seats, the theater manager calls a young boy to the stage to draw the winning ticket, and Patsy fans out her tickets (accumulated over the last several weeks). The number on top is 801.
The boy settles on one ticket, and the manager reads it. “108!'” he cries out. Patsy tears up her tickets and throws the shards over her head. And then the manager laughs, and says that he was reading the ticket upside dow. “The winning number ia 801!”
The girls get down on the floor and gather pieces of paper until they find the right ones and claim the car.
And if all that wasn’t slapstick enough, just wait for their first drive, where they wreck many cars, including one belonging to a slightly effeminate driver (Don Barclay), who only finds it difficult to fight back for a short while, and an entire truck driven by what the credits call “Irate Truck Driver” (Tiny Sanford). And of course there’s a Motorcycle Officer (Eddie Baker) who is determined to give the girls a ticket.
Funny, but sorry, not recommended. Yes, it’s a personal quirk I guess, but I do not like or enjoy destruction comedy. And wrecking cars and destroying their loads definitely falls into that woeful category.
No Writing credit given (perhaps nobody wanted to claim authorship), Directed by Gus Meins.

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The Marx Brothers in “Go West” (1940) – reviewed by George

The Marx brothers in a western? Well, a comic western, with more laughs from the dialogue than usual, but thankfully still great slapstick moments. Of course in this context there’s no place for a society lady, so no Margaret Dumont (shed a tear here).
In 1851 Horace Greeley uttered a phrase that changed U.S. History. He said, “Go west, young man, go west.” Here is the story of three men who made him sorry he said it.
S. Quintin Quale (Groucho) wants to go west, but the railroad ticket is $70, while he has only $60. How to con the extra $10? Well, he sees the Panello brothers, Joe and “Rusty” (Chico and Harpo), and he tells them some crazy stuff so he can sell them a Davy Crockett hat with the longest tail you’ve ever seen. This back and forth is great and will really have you laughing (and all three make the train).
And not that far away Terry Turner (John Carroll) is meeting with the railroad tycoons to sell them a deed to Dead Man’s Gulch as a route through the mountains straight to the Pacific, and they buy it, or they buy the promise of it; Terry doesn’t have it on him. But they pay $50,000 for it (on delivery). Now, out West, Terry’s girlfriend Eve Wilson (Diana Lewis) is waiting for her Grandfather Dan Wilson (Tully Marshall), who will not approve her marriage to Terry until Terry has some money. Well, does Terry now have some money or not? The deed actually belongs to Dan, who thinks it worthless.
Dan is as usual digging around in the Gulch and finds the Panello brothers doing the same. So he tells them that digging is futile: “Ain’t no gold in Deadman’s Gulch.” Dan owns the gulch because a Turner sold it to him years ago, knowing it was worthless, so you see why he’s not particularly fond of Terry. Dan just gives the deed to the Panellos, so he can move on to greener digs. AND he says, “If you see a Turner, shoot first!”
The upshot being that while there’s no gold, there’s still that low elevation, so it’s more valuable than anybody but Terry ever figured.
And now the entire cast winds up in California for some great shenanigans in obtaining the deed and a frantic train trip back to where the deed can be handed over (if you’ve got it).
Really funny and the train trip has some real suspense as well as big laughs. Recommended.
Original Screen Play by Irving Brecher, Directed by Edward Buzzell.

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Barbara Britton and Richard Denning are Pam and Jerry North in “Mr. and Mrs. North”, Episodes 31 and 32 (1953) – reviewed by George

Episode 31: Hot Mink
A team of con artists, Myra and Bruce Rennie (Jeanne Cagney and Hayden Rorke) is falling out. He got the money, but she never got her cut. And he’s already focused on the next target – a rich man’s daughter, Kathy McMahan (Cathy Downs). Myra says if she doesn’t get her money by tonight Bruce is going to be sorry. I couldn’t decide which one was going to end up dead.
Then a series of mixups about a mink coat Jerry bought Pam for her birthday get the Norths mixed up in the con – and a murder.
Based on the Original Characters Created by Frances and Richard Lockridge, Written by John Meredyth Lucas, Directed by Ralph Francis Murphy.

Episode 32: Seven Sacred Rubies
Begins in India where an illegal transaction is taking place: the purchase of stolen rubies by an airline pilot. When he pays, the shopkeeper passes over the rubies and the pounding on the door begins. “Open up! Police!” The two men jump up, and as the shopkeeper heads for the back room, the pilot rushes to the door, and ends up almost knocked out by the door as the lone policeman bursts in and shoots the shopkeeper three times in the back. The pilot leaps forward and slugs the policeman, then grabs the money out of the dead man’s hand and leaves. We see the plane land in NYC and cut to a couple standing outside the U.S. Customs Office. The man is the pilot Tod (Glen Langan) and the woman is Marta (Adele Jergens). Marta says, “It’ll be better if he doesn’t see you with me.” And Tod leaves.
Tod clears customs and comes out into Marta’s arms. Marta is worried because Dennis was counting on those rubies, but John says that Dennis will just have to do without them. And he says he has some business, where will she be at 4? “Showing some merchandise to Mrs. Gerald North.” She gives him the address, and he says he’ll pick her up there.
The merchandise is from R.C. Dennis Ltd., Importers, and Dennis is a woman, a dangerous woman (Lela Bliss).
Of course everyone ends up at the North apartment, and Tod hides the rubies in a jar of maraschino cherries Jerry is using to make Manhattans. Good episode.
Written by Donn Mullally and Irwin Lieberman, Directed by Ralph Francis Murphy.

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Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) – reviewed by George

First, hats off to Christopher Bond, whose 1973 play introduced the Benjamin Barker origin tale, the dead wife, the stolen daughter – and the rival barber Pirelli.
And now, a brief discussion of stage as opposed to film. While stage relies mainly on inventiveness, film relies on imagination, making them two different experiences, but basically eliciting the same reactions.
This film, starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen is spectacular and emotional and encompasses the world. The only small set is Sweeney’s barber shop. But the most striking thing is that Depp, Bonham Carter, and Cohen had never sung before (except I imagine in the shower or with the radio blaring). Even Johnny didn’t know if he could do it. And they are all very good.
This is clearly the best of the film versions (I have not viewed and may not view “Bloodthirsty Butchers”). And here I realize that I am expected to rate the five versions reviewed this week. Don’t bother with the 1936 film or with the “In Concert” TV program. But do see Ray Winstone’s vastly different Sweeney, just see it after you’ve seen the two best versions: first, the amazing stage version filmed for TV with George Hearn and Angela Lansbury, and then the detailed film version with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. Both of these have in common the outstanding Sondheim score. Other actors in this movie: Alan Rickman as the Judge, Timothy Spall as the Beadle, Jamie Campbell Bower as Anthony, Jayne Wisener as Johanna, Edward Sanders as Toby, and Laura Michelle Kelly as the Beggar Woman.
As long as productions of this quality continue, Sweeney will never die.
This film’s production credits: Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Based on the Musical by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler, Originally Staged by Harold Prince, From an Adaptation by Christopher Bond, Screenplay by John Logan, Directed by Tim Burton.

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Sweeney Todd, The Director’s Cut (2006) – reviewed by George

Love that title!
This TV version for the BBC is more human, with a more sympathetic Sweeney, at least until he starts slitting throats as well as shaving them.
This non-musical version starts with close-ups of a face being shaved with an old style razor, and it is not uncomfortable until the razor starts on the upper lip. Then after the credits are completed, we see that it is Sweeney (Ray Winstone) shaving himself.
The opening emphasizes the cruelty and filth of London in the 1830’s, with a woman being paraded around in a cart on the way to Newgate. Men in the street are throwing stones at her, and Mrs. Lovett (Essie Davis) tries to stop one. He throws his stone at her feet with a glare of pure hate, and after a few moments of embarrassment she faints. Sweeney goes to her aid, lifting her up and getting her off the street. Then he goes on, passing a barred prison window with young boys holding out their hands for coins. He gives a few, but it’s clear the stench of the cell is overpowering.
Later when Sweeney finishes with what he thinks is his last customer, a man rushes in for a shave. He (Anthony O’Donnell) is a gaoler, and as they talk he expresses the notion that the children are the very worst, but are the easiest prisoners to break. Sweeney slits his throat almost unthinkingly, and then, horrified by what he has done, closes his curtain (ground floor shop), drags the body downstairs, and saws it into small, manageable pieces for disposal.
Sweeney’s back story will explain his actions.
Later he meets Matthew (Tom Hardy) when two other constables bring him to Sweeney to get a bullet removed from the area between the neck and shoulder. Remember, in those days a barber was the closest thing to a surgeon for most people.
Sweeney’s father (David Bradley) turns up and we get that back story, and feel sure that Sweeney will dispatch the old man. But he gives him a shave and then slips him a few coins as he’s leaving. He does kill his next customer, and the die (so to speak) is cast.
Then three things in quick succession: Matthew comes by to thank Sweeney, Mrs. Lovett comes to Sweeney for an abortion, and Sweeney goes to the prison to buy a boy to help around the shop. The boy is Tobias (Ben Walker). And (one more thing) Judge Fielding (David Warner) comes round for a shave and has a nice scene with Sweeney talking about everybody actually doing his job, and that’s the way the world works best. Hah! says I, since what the Judge considers a good job is not what any person who lives by the notion that other people share the same rights he enjoys would consider “good”.
This is an excellent version of the tale, creative and new, and seems only distantly related to the other films.
Written by Joshua St. Johnston, Directed by David Moore.

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Sweeney Todd – the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, In Concert (2001) – reviewed by George

Presented by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and the Symphony Chrorus.
This recital-like performance was held in the Symphony’s own theater, which has no pit. If you should step off the apron of the stage you would fall into the first row. So the huge orchestra is on stage and the actor-singers are limited to a runaway far downstage, and an aisle cut through the middle of the orchestra, which leads to another runway at the back.
The cast: Sweeney (George Hearn), Mrs. Lovett (Patti Lu Pone), Tobias (Neil Patrick Harris), Judge Turpin (Timothy Nolen), Anthony (Davis Gaines), Johanna (Lisa Vroman), The Beggar Woman (Victoria Clark), Beadle Bamford (John Aler), and Pirelli (Stanford Olsen).
All the performances are good (Neil Patrick is a standout), but the space constraints placed on the cast – I found it weird, and I didn’t like it.
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by Hugh Wheeler From an Adaptation by Christopher Bond, Directed by Lonny Price.

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Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1982) – reviewed by George

Nice touch: the credits are shown over old woodcuts.
“He shaved the faces of gentlemen, who never thereafter were heard of again.”
London 1846:
This Stephen Sondheim opera gives Sweeney (George Hearn) more backstory and thus motivation. He and his wife were very happy, but a rich man intervened. He was the powerful Judge Turpin (Edmund Lyndeck) who abused his power and with his friend, the equally crooked Beadle Bamford (Calvin Remsberg), got Sweeney arrested on trumped up charges and transported to Botany Bay, because the judge wanted Mrs. Sweeney. Years later, Sweeney escaped on a raft and was picked up by a naval vessel, and one of the sailors, Anthony (Cris Groenendaal), befriended him.
When the ship returns to London, Sweeney and Anthony disembark together as buddies, but are headed in different directions. Sweeney wants to wreak revenge on the Judge and the Beadle, and Anthony wants to see the town.
Sweeney meets widowed Mrs. Nellie Lovett (Angela Lansbury), who recognizes him as his real self, Benjamin Barker, barber, and the two fall in together easily. Nellie informs him that Mrs. Barker killed herself to escape the Judge’s clutches, and that the Judge has adopted Sweeney’s daughter Johanna (Betsy Joslyn), and has the same future planned for her that he forced on Mrs. Barker. And the day that the Beadle came for the child, Nellie hid Ben’s barber equipment, and now returns it to him. The set includes one truly fancy gleaming razor.
The cast also includes a rival barber Pirelli (Sal Mistretta) and his assistant Tobias (Ken Jennings) and a Beggar Woman (Sara Woods) who sings about London as a city on fire. And very early on Sweeney’s customers start ending up in Nellie’s meat pies.
I called it an opera, and yes there is dialogue, but the music, the story itself, and the songs sung as duets, quintets, quartets, it’s all very operatic. And vastly entertaining.
Yesterday’s Sweeney was a film. This is a Broadway show filmed for television, and the stagecraft is superb. Sets are moved about by anonymous men (stagehands? chorus members?) very quickly so that there’s never a delay, and the performances seem to me to be untoppable. A special nod to Lansbury, whose energy and personality earn her the top billing she receives. And of course my admiration goes to Sondheim, a truly brilliant man.
Recommended loudly and vigorously.
Dance and Movement by Larry Fuller, Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by Hugh Wheeler, Based Upon the Play “Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” by Christopher Bond, The Production Directed for the Stage by Harold Prince, Directed for Television by Terry Hughes.

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Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1936) – reviewed by George

In the 1900’s a man enters a barber shop for a shave and sees a rather grim drawing on the wall. It shows a grinning barber about to use a cleaver (instead of a razor) on a customer. The man is both disturbed and curious, and the barber says, “That was the greatest barber who ever lived. He was a true artist. Upon this very spot over a hundred years ago he proved it to the world. It was the strangest story in the time of steamships.”
And now back to Sweeney’s day, and two sailors are meeting with their girls outside Sweeney’s shop, as he looks on. One of the couples is Mark (Bruce Seton) and Joanna (Eve Lister). Sweeney is attracted to Joanna, and embarks on a killing spree to get her for himself.
And next door is Mrs. Lovatt’s (Stella Rho) Pie Shop. Eventually Mrs. Lovatt will accept Sweeney’s gifts of meat for her pies, but is never a full accomplice.
The stumbling blocks that keep him from Joanna are her guardian Stephen Oakley (D.J. Williams) and a crooked Beadle (Ben Souten).
This is a black and white horror movie and is only 1:07 long, but it serves as a very good introduction to the legend of the murderous barber (I couldn’t find anything that definitely said he existed). And is it a joke or a coincidence? Sweeney is played here by an actor named Tod Slaughter.

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The Marx Brothers in “At the Circus” (1939) – reviewed by George

Jeff Wilson (Kenny Baker), owner of The Wilson Wonder Circus, is in love with Julie Randall (Florence Rice), but he has a special fondness for Gibraltar, the gorilla. Jeff, a wealthy young man from Newport, just loves owning and running a circus, and after all, Gibraltar is like an extra large dog.
Julie seems to be the star of the show. She works with a beautifully trained white horse and wears an all-white riding outfit and sings to the horse and dances with it. The song’s lyrics are instructions to the horse, and it really looks like they’re doing the same steps in the routine.
Jeff is happily watching from outside the ring and Peerless Pauline (Eve Arden) comes over to sneer. “Who ever heard of singing in a horse act?” I wanted Jeff to reply, “We all have now.” But once again I wasn’t asked.
Next up is Goliath the Mighty, Strongest Man on Earth (Nat Pendleton). His helper is “Punchy” (Harpo), and the show of strength turns out to be funny.
Outside the tent Antonio (Chico) is looking for Jeff and finds him talking to Mr. Carter (James Burke), who turns out to have loaned the money to Jeff to buy the circus. Gee, I thought being from Newport meant he was rich, but sadly not so. Carter is busy calling in his note, convinced that Jeff cannot pay and he can take the circus. Jeff reminds Carter that the loan isn’t due until Saturday, and Carter says he’s sorry, but he’s in trouble, and he needs the dough. You know it’s a lie and he only wants the circus, but Jeff says that he’ll give him the money on the train tonight; he should have enough money after today’s shows. You look at Carter and you see sabotage coming, But Antonio has heard the last bit of talk and he knows that Jeff is in trouble. “Trouble”, he says, and he looks in his little flimsy book of phone numbers under “T” where he reads “Trouble – J. Cheever Loophole (Groucho) – Lawyer”. And he sends a telegram: “Meet me tonight Luxton Railroad Station. Circus Needs Good Lawyer. Antonio.”
As the circus is being loaded onto the train, Julie sits in the coffee shop reading a newspaper. The headlne is “Mrs. Susanna Dukesbury Disinherits Nephew – Jeff Wilson Gives Up Greenbacks for Bare Backs”
So there’s the basis of the film. Who’s working for Carter and who is faithful to Jeff? And can Loophole actually make a difference? And of course Mrs. Dukesbury is played by Margaret Dumont, so romancing her will be high on Loophole’s list.
There are many great surprises and a lot of funny situations on the way to the happy ending you know is coming, one of the best involving Fritz Feld as a European symphony conductor.
Now: I have never seen a goofy caption in a movie before (remember, I always watch with subtitles on), but when Groucho says, “No thanks – bad luck – Three on a Midget.” the caption reads “No thanks – bad luck – Three, I’m a Midget.” Unique, huh?”
Need a better picture? Okay, The midget is holding a lighter and Chico is passing him around to light the guys’┬ácigars.
Best Line: Pauline has hidden the stolen money on her person, and Groucho says,. “There must be some way of getting that money without getting in trouble with the Hays Office.” (Screen censor of the time).
Screen Play by Irving Brecher, Directed by Edward Buzzell.

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Barbara Britton and Richard Denning are Pam and Jerry in “Mr. and Mrs. North” Episodes 27, 28, and 29 (1953) – reviewed by George

Episode 27: Pretty Baby
Jerry comes home from work to find Pam excited and full of news. “I’ve got a baby!” she cries. Jerry gets excited and happy too, but he says, “Honey, you don’t say it like that. You say I’m going to have a baby.” But Pam meant what she said – someone left a baby with a note, “Please take care of my baby. I’ll be back for him later.”
The baby is really cute – alert, sitting up, and looking around. And he coos! He’s about 2 and a half feet long – how old would that be?
But when he takes Jerry’s watch, fob and all, and Jerry takes it back, the baby starts to cry and the crying is heard by a man in the alley who climbs up the fire escape and into one of the Norths’s windows.
The doorbell rings and they leave the baby to answer the door, so the man just walks in , takes the baby back down the fire escape, and leaves.
The woman at the door is the baby’s very agitated mother, Ruth Barrett (Gloria Henry) who wants to reclaim him NOW, but he’s gone. Jerry calls the police and a super officious, rude, not understanding on purpose, and continually threatening arrest, Policewoman Cannon (Marie Blake) arrives. Other than “arrest”, her favorite word is “neglect”. Meanwhile the kidnapper is assuring the baby he’ll be back with his parents soon, but then the two of them hook up with a gang of guys straight out of Damon Runyon.
The father, Chuck Barrett is played by Wally Cassel, and the Guys (no Dolls) are played by Allen Jenkins, Chick Chandler, and Frank Scannell. And the baby is played by Robert Kenzel.
Based on the Original Characters Created by Frances and Richard Lockridge, Written by M. Coates Webster, Directed by Ralph Francis Murphy.

Episode 28: The Man Who Came to Murder
At The Honeymoon Inn the proprietor Maggie (Lee Patrick) is visited by her old boyfriend John, or maybe Jim, Thornton (Jack Rutherford), fresh out of prison and eager to marry her.
“Oh no”, she sighs. “I can’t marry you. It’s been too long.”
Then the Norths arrive. They spent their honeymoon here five years ago, and come back every year, this time to celebrate their 5th anniversary. Maggie greets them gushingly, “My favorite guests!” Chef Francois (George Givot) also rushes in to greet them, along with Agnes the dogsbody (June Alpino) – is she the maid or the kitchen helper or what? And as the Norths sign in, Maggie takes advantage of the interruption to slip away with John (or Jim). Maggie needs to tell him that she now loves Sheriff Frank Logan (James Hayward), and that she has given everything to HIM – even the key to the safety deposit box, and now Thornton plotzes. “There’s $50,000 in that box!!” I guess he should have told her before now. And it’s her turn to yell. “That’s crooked money! And you didn’t tell me! I could be arrested!”
Sheriff Frank arrives at the kitchen door to talk to Francois. He has extradition papers to serve: France wants him back because he has four wives!
Later the dead body of the Sheriff is found in the pantry room, and Thornton is arrested by Deputy Sheriff Tom Wattles (Charles Cane). And the episode ends with the arrival of Inspector Toussaint (Jean Del Val).
Then the credits for “A Good Buy” from October 17, 1952 are shown. But IMDB to the rescue! This episode, from April 10, 1953, was Written by Reginald Denham and Directed by Ralph Francis Murphy (who else?).

Episode 29: Breakout
Jerry is having trouble sleeping and Pam stops by the office to tell him she went to see his doctor and got him some sleeping pills. She has to wake him up to tell him, seems he can sleep during the day at work. He appreciates her help, but now that he’s conscious he has to get through the mail, and he finds a letter from Dave Girard (Lyle Talbot), currently in the State Prison, offering Jerry first refusal on his autobiography. Jerry wastes no time calling Warden Haines (Paul Harvey) at the State Prison to obtain visiting rights. Pam is unimpressed, but Jerry explains that Girard was a top racketeer for many, many years (until he forgot to pay his income tax), and his book is a sure bet to sell two million copies. Now that Pam understands she wants to go too.
But at the prison, Girard, older and fatter than the Gen Pop, is being threatened by two hoods, Yarr (Lawrence Dobkin) and Taggart (Joseph Vitale). He foolishly promises retribution, and Warden Haines is even more foolish.
When the Norths wangle a meeting with Girard, Jerry is happy to tell him that the warden has agreed to relieve him of his regular duties in order to give him more time to work on the rough draft.
And then the alarm sounds, the prison goes into lockdown, and Yarr and Taggart kidnap Girard and the Norths, saying they are protecting them. They take them to the Infirmary, and lock up the place, while the warden is taking up a position where he can talk to the bad guys, and a group of guards can maybe kill them with sniper fire.
But Yarr and Taggart are really tough and pose an immediate danger to their three captives, whom they want to use to bargain themselves into a car and some open gates. However, Yarr would rather kill them all if he can do it and still get away. A lot of suspense for a thirty minute show.
Written by Herbert Purdum, Directed by Ralph Francis Murphy.

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