Hollywood Goes to War: Hollywood Canteen, This Is the Army & Stage Door Canteen

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My original intention was to have this posted on the Fourth of July (I never call it Independence Day) and have a nice little patriotic theme going. I’m a little late. I intended to have it in the bag and scheduled to go the morning of July 4th, but Netflix sent me a damaged disc last week and that set me back a few days while waiting for a replacement. Plus, schoolwork. Plus, workwork. Plus, I hate myself and can’t do anything right. Well, there’s always next year for the other movies I had intended to review!

So here’s the deal: during World War II, Hollywood and the government rallied together with all kinds of fundraisers and, basically, what amounted to propaganda films in order to work the country up into a patriotic fervor. The idea was to inspire Americans to give the war their fullest support and to encourage them do all they could over here to support the boys over there. I thought it would be fun to watch a bunch of these films in a relatively short time and then talk about them. Whether it’ll be fun for anyone to read is another matter.

Oh, and be sure to check out what I had to say about another patriotic WWII-era film– Star Spangled Rhythm! Now, here we go…

61jd6LUCHDLHollywood Canteen
1944, Warner Bros. Pictures
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The Hollywood Canteen was a real place located in (duh) Hollywood, California. It opened in October 3, 1942 and closed November 22, 1945. It catered exclusively to servicemen and featured dancing, food and entertainment. On any given night, you could find members of Hollywood performing, cooking, cleaning, serving food or simply chatting with the servicemen. Actors Bette Davis and John Garfield are considered the driving forces behind the Hollywood Canteen. Basically, any notable musician or actor volunteered his or her time at the Canteen.

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King Kong Escapes [Blu-ray Review]

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King Kong Escapes [Blu-ray]
2014, Universal Home Studios Entertainment
Original Release: 1968, Universal Pictures/Toho Co., Ltd.
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I have many geeky interests but in regards to the likes of King Kong and Godzilla, it’s always been a passing interest. I have not seen all of the Toho monster films and while I’ve seen the original 1933 King Kong (and just recently King Kong vs. Godzilla), I don’t profess any great love or knowledge of the character or the various King Kong remakes that have happened over the years. I’ve never even had an interest in watching the Peter Jackson version of King Kong.

I typically rent movies either via the public library or Netflix but I bought this one. Why? Well, the truth is I forgot the DVD was available through Netflix (it was even in my queue), so I ended up ordering the Blu-ray version through Amazon for $9.96. That’s okay though because I then remembered that Toho had teamed up with none other than Rankin/Bass Productions in the making of this movie. Yep! The same company that brought us countless classic holiday specials featuring Rudolph, Santa and Frosty also had a hand in producing a Japanese monster movie with the studio that created Godzilla.

Oh! By the way, one interesting and annoying thing about this release is that is has no menu screen! If you pop this disc in, you’re done. You better have your popcorn popped, have already gone to the bathroom and be ready to watch the movie. That is, unless you’re willing to sit through all of the copyright and legal notices so that you can pause the movie and then go do whatever else you have to do.

It’s 2014. Who sets up a movie disc like this? I could understand maybe if this was a cheap public domain release but this was released through Universal so I would’ve thought they’d do a better job by giving us a start menu and at least a theatrical trailer.

Anyway…

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How awesome is this poster?

Let’s go back to Toho for a minute. Immediately after the success of King Kong vs. Godzilla, Toho wanted to do another King Kong vs. Godzilla movie and build an entire series around Kong except they couldn’t secure the rights from RKO Pictures to do so. A few years go by and by this point Rankin/Bass had licensed the character for a King Kong cartoon that aired on ABC from 1966-1969. Rankin/Bass and Toho decided to work together to produce a new Kong movie that would be loosely based on the cartoon (though this movie is pretty violent at times) and also take inspiration from the original 1933 King Kong film.

All you have to do is look at King Kong and his robotic counterpart Mechani-Kong to see the Rankin/Bass influence. Mechani-Kong is pretty cartoony-looking and King Kong reminds me a lot of Bumble from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Having King Kong battle Godzilla is a greatly insane and insanely great idea but I prefer King Kong Escapes. Both movies are pretty ridiculous but this one held my attention. King Kong vs. Godzilla is a bad movie. The fight scenes are fun to watch but overall, it’s not good. King Kong Escapes fares better as it really does have that Saturday morning cartoon feel to it. Sure, the evil Dr. Who (not the Doctor Who) shoots a woman to death, but his whole deal is so silly that the plot really does belong on Saturday mornings.

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U.S. poster

After the release of this movie, Toho had plans to incorporate King Kong into 1968’s Destroy All Monsters but their license was about the expire so they did not. They did end up using Gorosaurus in that movie though (that’s the dinosaur on the Japanese poster). In the early ’90s, Toho briefly considered using Mechani-Kong to battle Godzilla but, again, licensing issues prevented that.

It’s a shame, too, because the two Toho King Kong movies are interesting. You can put Kong in more situations than you can with Godzilla, I think. Godzilla is so slow and immobile. He basically just shuffles along waiting to smack something with his tail or unleash his atomic breath on but Kong can run, jump, climb and swing his fists (but sorry, no electricity-based powers for this version of Kong).

For the Rankin/Bass connection, this movie was worth $10 to me. For anyone else who is a monster movie fan, this is worth a look.

The Horn Blows at Midnight [DVD Review]

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The Horn Blows at Midnight [DVD]
2013, Warner Archive Collection
Original Release: 1945, Warner Bros. Pictures
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There was a time when I once thought I’d never see a Jack Benny movie. Luckily, pretty much anything and everything makes its way onto DVD at some time or another and movies that were once $100+ on VHS are now $15 on DVD. As I mentioned in my review of The Meanest Man in the World, it’s a good time to be a Jack Benny fan. While his first movie appearance was in 1930 and his last in 1967, Jack really only dabbled in feature films. Benny chose to devote most of his energy to his radio show, and later his TV show, but from the late-1930’s to mid-1940’s he was able to deliver a handful of enjoyable comedies that are now finally back in print on video for anyone to enjoy. Turner Classic Movies has shown the movie over the years but they would do so at such odd late hours that I had never been able to watch it.

In the grand scheme of things, The Horn Blows at Midnight is an obscure film. In regards to Benny fans, the movie is pretty famous (or infamous) as after its release and failure at the box office, film’s disappointing display at the box office (though it did turn a small profit) and mediocre reviews became a running gag for years to come on Jack’s radio & TV shows. Benny would often make jokes that The Horn Blows at Midnight killed his movie career and that it was a terrible movie. I don’t think that’s entirely correct. While it was the last film to star Jack Benny (he would only make film cameos from here on out), I’m certain he could’ve secured more starring roles if he wished. He was probably discouraged from doing so since this film did not fare so well.

Odd thing is, despite the film not being a success in theaters, The Horn Blows at Midnight would be re-enacted on radio and television with Benny again assuming the leading role.

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Original movie poster

The truth is the movie is not awful. I actually liked it. It’s your typical 1940’s screwball comedy. Jack plays a trumpet player in a radio show orchestra who ends up having a dream that that he’s Athanael, an trumpet-playing angel sent down to destroy earth by playing his trumpet at midnight. God has given up on earth, you see. That’s kind of dark but Benny’s sweet-natured and naive Athanael helps to provide the laughs as he’s forced to deal with thieves, lusty women, angry hotel managers, fallen angels and restaurant bills.

Speaking of lusty women, I’m surprised even an angel could resist the advances of the gorgeous Dolores Moran!

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Dolores Moran. Yes, please.

 

Alexis Smith co-stars as the angel Elizabeth and is portrayed as a girlfriend of sorts for Athanael. Throughout her career, Smith would co-star with other Hollywood big names such as Humphrey Bogart, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Paul Neuman, Kirk Douglas and Cary Grant.

The Horn Blows at Midnight is an entertaining film. It is essential viewing for Jack Benny fans to see what all the fuss was about and I recommend it to anyone who likes screwball comedies from the Golden Age of Hollywood.

King Kong vs. Godzilla [Review]

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King Kong vs. Godzilla
1963, Universal-International Pictures/Toho Co., Ltd.
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Tonight, for the first time ever, I watched King Kong vs. Godzilla. Yes, I’ve fallen prey to the current case of Godzilla fever that is sweeping the country what with the latest American version of Godzilla doing quite well at the box office. I’m not a huge Godzilla fan but I don’t have a bad word to say about him either so I’ve gotten interested in checking out a lot of the Godzilla movies. I saw the original Godzilla movie years ago as a kid and when the original series of films hit DVD about 10+ years ago (For the first time, I think?), I tried a few of those but I couldn’t get into them at the time. I know for sure I watched Son of Godzilla all the way through and didn’t like it but I don’t recall what else I watched.

Original Japanese theatrical poster

Other than some video footage and still shots, I know for a fact I had never watched King Kong vs. Godzilla. It’s an interesting idea but this is a different version of King Kong than the one that was originally featured in the 1933 RKO film. Most notably, this King Kong is just as much of a giant monster as Godzilla is. Had they kept King Kong at a height comparable to his original incarnation, ‘zilla could’ve squashed him like a bug. Also, with this version, electricity makes Kong stronger apparently.

The film was originally released in 1962 in Japan by the Toho Company (the home studio of Godzilla) but was prepped for a U.S. release with added scenes and eventually was distributed by Universal-International Pictures in co-operation with Toho. The story is basically a re-working of the original King Kong film with a subplot about Godzilla stomping his way through Japan thrown in. Kong is definitely the lead character in this film. There’s a brief scuffle between Kong and Godzilla about half-way into the movie but it’s pretty disappointing and abruptly ends with Kong simply walking away after Godzilla uses his fire breath on him.

Luckily, the final 10 minutes of the movie are completely devoted to a fun but silly brawl between the two monsters. The army tires of trying to deal with both Kong and Godzilla they decided to airlift an unconscious King Kong via BALLOONS into Godzilla’s vicinity with the hope that both creatures will destroy each other. It’s a rock-throwing, tail-whipping, chest-pounding battle for supremacy!

The version I watched is the GoodTimes Video released from 2001. Not sure how that worked out since Universal is the company that released the movie in the U.S. and released their own DVD in 2009 and on Blu-ray in 2014. I was thinking the GoodTimes release probably came from a lower quality source of film but according to Wikipedia, this film was not well preserved at all. That’s obvious during the opening minutes as it really does look like you’re watching an old reel or a worn-out VHS copy. It’s actually a bit charming. At least it’s not annoying like when modern-day films try to have that worn-out look on purpose.

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GoodTimes DVD release (2001)

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Universal Studios DVD release (2009)

Also according to Wikipedia, King Kong vs. Godzilla is the highest-grossing Godzilla movie of all time in Japan. A sequel was planned but never got off the ground. That project morphed into Frankenstein vs. Godzilla but that, too, was canceled and Mothra vs. Godzilla turned out to be the next Godzilla movie released. Toho did release one more King Kong movie called King Kong Escapes, but more on that at a later date.

Overall, you have to love the cheesy special effects and seeing guys stomp around and punch each other while wearing rubber/furry suits. The movie is a bit slow but it does have some humorous moments and the big fight at the end is pretty entertaining. Not a great film or even something I would give a full recommendation for but it does have its moments.

The Meanest Man in the World [DVD Review]

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The Meanest Man in the World
2013, 20th Century Fox
Original Release: 1943, 20th Century Fox
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Alongside Bob Hope, Jack Benny is one of my favorite actors/comedians. The Jack Benny Program radio show (1932-1955) is one of my favorite programs of all time… and that’s including all TV shows, modern and classic. His TV show (1950-1965) is really fun as well.

Thankfully, whether on Turner Classic Movies or via DVD, Jack Benny movies are slowly finding their way to the public once more. Charley’s Aunt was released on DVD a few years ago, Buck Benny Rides Again has no official DVD release but you can buy it on DVD-R through various independent sellers, To Be or Not to Be not only has a DVD release but it is also the first Benny movie to receive a Blu-ray release. Additionally,George Washington Slept HereThe Horn Blows at Midnight have been available in the DVD-R format through the Warner Archive Collection since 2013 while 20th Century Fox gave The Meanest Man in the World the DVD-R treatment in the same year.

As far as Jack’s major starring roles go, we really only need to see Man About Town (co-starring Dorothy Lamour!) and Love Thy Neighbor (co-starring Fred Allen!) to get some type of DVD/R release.

Today, the focus is on The Meanest Man in the World. I didn’t realize this movie was available for purchase… it was released in April 2013. I’ve known of it for years and I think it might even be available for viewing somewhere on the Internet Archive but I’ve never seen any footage from it. So when I signed up for my Amazon Student account (free 2-day shipping, yay for going back to college) and discovered the DVD-R release of this movie, I knew what I had to order as my inaugural free shipping purchase. The only thing that ticks me off is the DVD case arrived cracked.

The running time is a bit disappointing. Only 57 minutes, but back in those days many movies were run as double features so you’d get all kinds of stuff clocking in just over/under one hour. This is a B-movie but Jack was an A-list radio guy so it’s a shame we couldn’t have had 20 or 25 more minutes of film.

Such as it is, The Meanest Man in Town may be light on plot and silly but it’s a good kind of silly. It even co-stars Eddie “Rochester” Anderson. Anderson’s character of Rochester was Benny’s faithful butler/valet through the majority of Jack’s radio & TV run. Of course, he’s only billed as Rochester here, which I think is kind of odd. He’s not playing the character of Rochester in the movie, yet here he is being credited as his radio show character’s name. Getting back on the track, the movie is silly and will not be mistaken as a comedy classic but it features Jack and “Rochester” and all I wanted and expected was some good one-liners from (and between) these two and that’s exactly what I got.

It’s a fun, breezy way to spend an hour. Who in the world doesn’t love to see Jack making a fool of himself to win over some girl? It’s not as good as George Washington Slept Here and To Be or Not to Be but I think it’s better than Buck Benny Rides Again and it could’ve been even better if it had a longer running time.

Thumbs up!

Cartoons From the 1980s That I Want On DVD – UPDATE

Five years ago on this very blog I made a couple of posts about ’80s cartoons that I wanted to see on DVD. I thought it’d be fun to look back and see where things stand now, so here’s the rundown as to what’s been released since on video/streaming since then…

Available:

Alvin and the Chipmunks – Still no full season releases but there are TONS of DVD sets out there featuring various episodes loosely tied together by some type of theme (movie spoofs, holiday, the Chipettes, etc).

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero – This would the DIC series (also known as Series 2) that ran from 1989-1992. Shout! Factory released the series in two season sets back in 2012. My thoughts on the show are here and here.

Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos – Warner Bros. has a cool online store called the Warner Archive Collection. Basically, instead of going through the cost of mass producing DVD for shows & movies and then getting them into stores such as Target or Walmart, they manufacture them on demand as orders come in. They’ve also started a subscription streaming service. They specialize in releasing rare and obscure TV shows and movies. They hold the rights to a lot of Ruby-Spears cartoons so when they announced in 2011 that Karate Kommandos was available, I quickly picked it up and you can read about that here.

M.A.S.K. - The entire series was released in one box set back in 2011. It was, and still is, pretty expensive so I still haven’t bought it.

Pac-Man – Released in 2012 through Warner Archive.

Dragon’s Lair – Released in 2011 through Warner Archive.

Mister T - Released in 2011 through Warner Archive.

It’s Punky Brewster - The show never received a DVD dedicated to itself entirely but all but one episode (due to licensing rights) were made available as bonus features on the DVD releases of the Punky Brewster live-action show.

Superman – This is the short-lived 1988 cartoon produced by Ruby-Spears. It was released on DVD in 2009. My thoughts here.

Still not available:

Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling – I always assumed WWE owned the complete rights to this show but I discovered in my research that WWE shares the rights with a company called DHX Media. WWE is back on good terms with Hulk Hogan… so what are they waiting for?! Give us a DVD release! Honestly, I think by this point the best thing to do is to put the show on the WWE Network streaming service. The hardcore fans that subscribe to the network would eat this up.

Kidd Video – Okay, maybe the world doesn’t need a Kidd Video DVD set but that theme song is killer so Netflix or some other streaming service should step up and put the show out there.

Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies – There has always been a high demand for this show. It was popular when it was on TV, it’s popular now and it won Daytime Emmy awards while it was on the air. So it’s not like it’s an awful show that’s in demand. It’s a GOOD show that’s in demand. So why has it STILL not made it to video? Copyright/licensing issues. There’s still so many hurdles to clear with the show’s constant use of live-action footage and music that I doubt we’ll ever see a full season release. Oh well. You can always check out YouTube for a few episodes.

Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends – Okay, this one is kind of iffy. It hasn’t been released on Region 1 DVD in North America, but… the series did show up on Netflix back in 2011. After viewing the entire series on Netflix, I wrote about it here.

The Karate Kid - Apparently at one point it was available on Netflix, Hulu and the like but it’s disappeared since.

Teen Wolf – Not even an appearance on Hulu as of yet!

Shirt Tales – Still no Shirt Tales!

 

All told, I think we’re moving a long pretty well with my wishlist! Maybe in five more years, everything will have had a video release though I think a streaming service such as Netflix, Hulu or Amazon would be a much better option for the more obscure stuff like Shirt Tales, Teen Wolf, Karate Kid and Kidd Video.