Friday, December 24, 2021

The Christmas Tradition Continues

For those of you hoping I would continue with the annual tradition of featuring holiday glamour photos of Hollywood eye candy, you won't be disappointed. Randomly selected from the archive.... here you go!

Gabrielle Ray
Ann Sheridan
Patricia Ellis
Carole Lombard
Elizabeth Taylor, the girl who had everything.
The Bogart family celebrated the holiday.
Una Merkel
Can't go a year without sexpot Clara Bow.
Betty Grable and yes, her legs.
June Haver gift wrapped and ready.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

It was Christmas in July (July 1964 to be exact) when news first broke industry trade, reporting that Jalor Productions was about to film a low-budget science-fiction film titled – we kid you not – Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Despite warnings from producers and others along New York’s film row that “it couldn’t be done,” Paul L. Jacobson (president of Jalor) pulled off a minor miracle by completing a ten-day lensing schedule, requiring 14 sets and 100 percent union crews under a budget of $200,000. What developed was a holiday movie for the kiddies that has since built a cult following.

Renowned as a holiday cult classic, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians tells the story of the depressed children of Mars, who watch too much Earth TV. To bring them out of their funk, the Martian leaders travel to Earth to kidnap two local kids and Santa Claus himself, forcibly keeping them in a factory to make toys. But you cannot manufacture happiness, and Santa must teach his alien overseers the true meaning of Christmas. The premise might come across as hokey for those who never saw the movie, but one has to remember the film was created for children under the age of ten who prefer their movies laced not with LSD… but with ice-cream and tickle-rays. The movie generated decent box office revenue upon initial release, but fell into the public domain and ultimately faded into obscurity. Years later a new audience discovered the film when it was critiqued on Mystery Science Theater 3000 in 1991, giving the movie new life and a cult following who now screen the movie annually at home as part of their holiday yule log. 

Filmed at Michael Myerberg’s Long Island Studios (an abandoned aircraft hangar from WWII where such productions as A Thousand Clowns and A Carol for Another Christmas were also produced) with Nicholas Webster as director, prevailing labor conditions in New York City still make film historians today wonder if many involved in the production were paid under the table. Even with cast and crew paid not one penny over scale, reportedly, Jacobson ensured crewmen were not required for one particular day’s shooting.

Embassy Pictures quickly picked up the distribution rights, premiering the movie in an estimated 100 theaters in Chicago and Milwaukee, beginning November 21 and 22. As part of a national promo push, a music campaign tied with RCA Victor’s new Al Hirt record, “Hooray for Santa Claus,” was sent out across the country throughout the same month. That song, complete with bouncing ball, was featured prominently during the film’s closing credits. In Chicago and Milwaukee alone the film grossed $135,700 during opening weekend. As the weeks continued through the holiday season, and as the film continued to get distributed across the country, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians turned a tidy profit because of the low-budget production costs. The movie opened in New York City the weekend of December 16.

The movie was not without competition when a Florida showman, K. Gordon Murray, felt that the holiday offering was encroaching upon his territory. For the past four years he built up business for a 1959 Mexican production, Santa Claus, which concerns Satan (yes, the Devil himself) who sends his minion, Pitch, to foil Santa’s holiday plans. Pitch, in turn, recruits three naughty boys to help him set death traps for Santa. In 1964 alone Murray was renting out English-dubbed versions of the Mexican film (Murray himself supplied his own voice for one of the characters) and expanded from 30 prints to 100 in an effort to compete against Murray’s new production. The film’s unusual booking pattern was limited to seven weeks a year, three in November and four in December. The rest of the year it sat in a Miami film vault. Murray was first exposed to Santa Claus when it was an entry in the 1959 San Francisco Film Festival at which was named the “Best Family Film” of the year. 

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, however, was not restricted to seven weeks and continued to run in theaters across the country through February. The movie ran mostly during matinees (rarely evening hours) but that did not stop the movie from receiving additional box office revenue the next year courtesy of limited distribution during the re-release, then made available for television beginning in 1970. The movie also secured a three-picture contract with Jacobson and Myerberg in 1965, none of which met fruition. In 1972 Jacobson entered into partnership with Jules Power, producer of the Mr. Wizard television series, to produce a series of low-budget theatrical pictures; none of which met fruition. If you are starting to see a pattern, you are not mistaken. Jacobson attempted to produce so cheaply that his business partners hesitated greenlighting any projects on the table. By 1973 Jacobson was insisting any movie could be produced under $500,000, a larger figure after his business partners insisted on meeting union requirements. Regardless of his attempts to produce a second, third and fourth pictures, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians ultimately became the only movie written and/or produced by Paul L. Jacobson, who died in Port Washington, New York, in 2015.

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians celebrates 55 years this December and you may even catch a glimpse of Santa Claus wandering the hallways during the weekend. The movie was Pia Zadora’s film debut; she played a Martian child. The movie also features the first documented appearance of Mrs. Claus (pre-dating the Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer television special by three weeks). The movie was also the inspiration for Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972), produced by R&S Film Enterprises in Dania, Florida.

Because the movie fell into the public domain, you can find copies of this holiday offering in varied quality from 16mm transfers. To be fair, I have yet to see a bad print transfer. But in December 2012, Kino Lorber released the movie on both DVD and BluRay from a superior 35mm print, to ensure the highest quality. As a child, I enjoyed the movie every year when telecast over PBS, so naturally I purchased the Kino release (pictured on the left, referred to as "Special Edition"). If you have never seen the movie, and remember no one is twisting your arm to make you watch it, accept my recommendation to watch the film this holiday for your amusement. 

Small postscript: the Kino DVD appears to be out of print. The BluRay is still available on Amazon.

Friday, December 10, 2021

OVER HERE! New York City During World War II

I have often said that American history can often be both fascinating and entertaining depending on the presenter. When we visit a museum, the tour guide can make the cost of admission worth it. And, when attending conventions and film festivals, subjects I am only casually interested in become fantastic presentations when the person delivering the slide show presentation does a great job. Case in point Lorraine B. Diehl's book, OVER HERE! New York City During World War II, published in 2010. 

Paying a visit to a used book store some time ago, I found myself combating the urge to not leave empty handed. (It is a weakness of mine.) So I left with a few books, one of which was Diehl's book that is wonderfully nostalgic. The book documented how men between the ages of 21 and 35 had to register for the draft more than a full year before the U.S. entered the war, and President Roosevelt in September of 1940 asking that a super dry dock be constructed in New York Harbor to handle the 45,000-ton battleships under construction in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. While many have the misconception that America went into war mode the day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, this book reveals how the country knew it was only a matter of time and legislation, materials and policies were already being put into place far in advance.

From Rockefeller Center's Victory Gardens and Manhattan's swanky nightclubs to metal-scrap drives and carless streets, the book captures a perspective that is not dry or dull. Rich in detail, from Macy's blackout boutique to Mickey Mouse gas masks for kids, this is a great read both fascinating and entertaining at the same time. Great prose, laid out simply like a Ken Burns documentary, loaded with rare photos from archives, this is a must for anyone who wants to enjoy a good read. Treat yourself this Christmas and grab a today today.

Friday, December 3, 2021

It's a Wonderful Life Bloopers

Christmas time is nostalgia time. Watching old holiday favorites often remind us of life's lessons we should remember throughout the year. Miracle on 34th Street (1947) challenges the status quo with a madman who might be a genius, a psychiatrist abusing his position to convict an innocent man, and a divorced woman painted in a good light.  It’s A Wonderful Life demonstrates the old proverb that we don’t understand the value of something until we lose it. It’s A Wonderful Life didn’t start out as a Christmas movie tradition until decades of TV re-airings. Having watched the movie for what was probably the 20th time in 20 years, I would like to endorse the re-mastered version from Paramount DVD which reveals intricate details such as snow on automobiles and George’s hair that gets more grey over the years. (This might explain why he is wearing a headpiece which briefly falls off in the swimming pool when the Charleston dance ends in disaster… you have to really watch for that…) Anyway, for those who have seen the film umpteen times might find fun is catching the following bloopers when the film is screened once again. 

Bloopers are listed in chronological order.

When Mary leans across the drugstore counter to whisper in George's bad ear, there is a small piece of tape on the edge of the counter right in front of her hand, presumably to show the actors where to position themselves for the camera shot.

While the old man is in the chair mourning over the loss of his son, the cigar disappears and then reappears in his mouth when he orders young George to deliver a prescription.

When the old pharmacist hits young George, the amount of blood coming from George's ear changes back and forth from lots of blood, little blood and lots of blood.

During a confrontation between old man Potter and Peter Bailey at the Building and Loan, Potter's bodyguard stands behind the wheelchair on its left side. But in the close-up shot of Potter, the arms and hands of his bodyguard can be seen extending from the right side of the wheelchair. In the next full screen shot, the bodyguard back on the left side of the wheelchair.

Same scene as last…. When George visits his father in his office and finds him arguing with Potter, his father is standing behind his desk talking to Potter. There is a cut away form this but upon return George's father is now on the same side of the desk as Potter.

James Stewart and Donna Reed
When George, Bert and Ernie chat in the street, they suddenly stop due to the appearance of Violet (played by Gloria Grahame) in her "this is what I wear when I don't care how I look" dress. The camera cuts back to them and we see a dark haired woman in a hat pass in front of Ernie's taxi. As Violet crosses the street, we see another shot of the boys staring after her -- and the dark haired woman passes in front of the taxi again… and again.

As George and Mary prepare to drive Martini's family to their new home, Mary (in a close up in the car) is holding the goat's horn/antler. The scene cuts to an extreme long shot in which her hand is nowhere near the goat.

When George arrives at home and finds Mary lying in bed, he puts his right hand on her right hand and kisses her. In the next shot, he is caressing her head with his right hand.

Moments after George passes out newspapers heralding his brother winning the Congressional Medal of Honor, George enters the Building and Loan with a Christmas wreath on his arm. On hearing that he has a phone call from his brother Harry, he tosses the wreath on a table and picks up the phone. In the next shot, the wreath still back on his arm.

When Uncle Billy walks up to the teller window, there is no one in line. In the next cut, there is a line of people behind him.

In the scene where Violette gets a "loan" of $20.00 from George Bailey, his pipe is in his mouth. When he reaches for the money to pay Violet, the pipe vanishes.

When George is kicking stuff in the living room of his house, after yelling at his children, his hair is messed up. After his wife scolds him, it's miraculously combed again.

When George Bailey crashes his car into the tree after leaving "Martini's Place," notice its position against the tree; an upward direct angle with both headlights. Then the car is seen next to the tree and one of the headlights is missing. (My wife caught that one.)

When George Bailey is going to jump off the bridge, watch the snow carefully. In one of the shots where Clarence is shouting in the water the snow all of a sudden quits, then it goes back to snowing when George jumps in.

In the scene after Bailey becomes nonexistent and they go to the bar, Clarence and Bailey are thrown out, but when they land they have switched positions.

When Bert the cop is struggling with Clarence and Clarence disappears, you can see Ernie's shadow which shows him pointing and gesturing with his hand before he actually does it.

When George first finds his brother's grave, the death date is visible. After arguing with Clarence he has to wipe snow from the base of the stone to reveal the date.

On Christmas Eve, when he is hugging Tommy, George is clean shaven. By the time he climbs the stairs to check on ZuZu, he has a heavy 5 o'clock shadow on his face.

A hat being held by someone donating money in the Bailey house first has a little snow, then a lot of snow, then no snow.

I'm not going to reveal where this one is. See if you can find this one…  
At one point George (James Stewart) called Violet (Gloria Grahame), Gloria.

Photo on Left: James Stewart and Gloria Grahame.