Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Movie Roundup #17: "...and looking very relaxed, Adolph HItler on vibes..."

The Bonzos

Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band - 40th Anniversary Celebration (2006)

It usually strikes me as a bit sad when members of an ancient rock band that split up many years ago decide to reunite and take their greying bodies out on a concert tour, trying to revisit all the familiar songs they had when they were much younger and really cared.  This DVD is not one of those sad cases.

This marks a reunion concert by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, a British unit of the late 60's and early 70's who specialized in satiric humor and psychedelic rock tunes crossed with 1920's jazz and pop.  They were very popular in England in their day and their wacky, surrealist humor really made them popular among other well-known cultural icons. Paul McCartney produced their one hit single "I'm The Urban Spaceman" and the band performed their song "Deathcab For Cutie" in the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour film. After they broke up, one of the band's lead singers and writers, Neil Innes, fell in with Monty Python, writing songs for most of the Python movies as well as doing the music for and starring as one of the Rutles in Eric Idle's Beatles parody All You Need Is Cash.

For this one off 40th anniversary show all the living original members returned.  Innes, Roger Ruskin Spear, "Rhino" Rodney Slater, Vernon Dudley Bohay Nowell, Sam Spoons, "Legs" Larry Smith, and Bob Kerr were all grayer and scragglier than they once were, but still up to playing their old songs and running about the stage with crazy props and costumes doing wild old vaudeville gags.  Innes played MC and did most of the singing, still possessed of the great shouting tenor voice he always had. The most glaring absence was Vivian Stanshall, the band's other lead singer and the most mericliess satirist, who passed away in 1995.

Bolstered by a few extra musicians the band started out with the 20's songs they played in their early days like "Whispering" and "The Sheik Of Araby" featuring spoons and musical saw solos.  Then they slid into their original work,  Innes cheerfully belting his great old songs like "The Equestrian Statue" and "We Are Normal".  This part of the show was titled heavily towards Stanshall's more comic numbers and since he wasn't there to do them, several popular British comedians, all from the generation that would have grown up with the Bonzos, enthusiastically filled in. Adrian Edmondson grunted his way through the operatic attack on suburban life "My Pink Half Of The Drainpipe" and ran around in a parrot costume for "Mr. Slater's Parrot".  Stephen Fry got to do the more upper class monologues like "Rhinocractic Oaths", Paul Merton, a new name to me, sang "Monster Mash" and Phil Jupitus, a round presence I also didn't know bellowed out the bodybuilding song "Mr. Apollo" and rolled on the floor while moaning the Elvis sendup "Canyons Of Your Mind".

I bought all of the Bonzo albums back in the day after the group had broken up and never saw them in their heyday.  It was a pleasure to finally see them perform, older but still full of crazy energy.

Carnegie Hall (1947)

When someone says "They don't make them like that anymore." this movie is a prime example.  Actually a two hour plus film concentrating on classical music is something they rarely made  even in 1947.  Back then high musical culture in the movies usually meant having someone like pianist Jose Iturbi play a classical piece in some MGM musical then come back later in the picture and play some boogie woogie to show he's really a down to earth guy.

 This independent production is a different animal, being full of unadulterated performances by the leading classical starts of the time like Rise Stevens and Artur Rubenstein.  These come in the services of a simple plot about a mother who works at Carnegie Hall and raises her son to be a classical pianist.  Unfortunately he encounters a pretty girl singer and dance bands and goes off to make his way in the popular music world.  He does this by joining the band of singer Vaughan Monroe, a stiff baritone vocalist remembered today if at all for "Ghost Riders In The Sky".  It's a bit odd today to see him regarded as a symbol of hip modern music but he's probably the best the producers could afford after shelling out for all the high-priced classical talent. Harry James shows up and plays trumpet near the end so that's an improvement.  The dramatic parts are wel carried well especially by Marsha Hunt as the mother, playing her more loving than domineering. William Prince is the son and Frank McHugh, sporting a bushy mustache and an Irish accent, is around as a family friend. It's a decent show and an interesting showcase for a lot of great classical names.

Actually, "jail bait" in this film refers to a gun, but the producers had other things on their minds.
Jail Bait (1954)

Thanks to Tim Burton and Plan 9 From Outer Space Ed Wood has come to be seen as the patron saint of bad movie making but all of his movies weren't as outlandish as the famous ones that featured cross dressing, Tor Johnson and a fake Bela Lugosi.  Jail Bait is a good example of that, a cheap little crime film that on the whole isn't too hard to take. Its plot concerns the son of a prominent plastic surgeon who falls in with a small time gangster and goes out to rob a theater. The robbery goes badly and the gangster ends up going to the surgeon to get a new face. As you might expect that doesn't end well.

Outside of the presence of Wood regular Dolores Fuller as the surgeon's daughter and some odd, stilted dialogue there is nothing that marks this as what has come to be known as "an Ed Wood film".  There are familiar players of the period like Lyle Talbot and Timothy Farrell in the leads and the production looks low budget but that's par for the course in this kind of cheapie.  The oddest features are what was recycled for this film. The music score was a repetitive guitar and piano theme by future Hanna-Barbera composer Hoyt Curtin that was used the previous year in the film Mesa Of Lost Women. Even odder, when a excerpt of the theater's stage show is shown, it's actually a comedy routine from the minstrel film, Yes Sir, Mr. Bones. Otherwise the film is most notable for being the screen debut of future Hercules Steve Reeves.  It's not a great movie but it's not long enough to be an obnoxious groaner either.

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