Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving from El!

Looking very mischievous, El's ready to give this turkey a Thanksgiving it won't forget!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

4 Devils (1928)

Janet Gaynor, Nancy Drexel, Charles Morton, and Barry Norton as the "4 Devils"

When the subject of lost films comes up, there are a number of movies that top just about everyone’s list.
For some, it’s the Lon Chaney feature “London After Midnight”, others want to see uncut versions of Orson Wells “The Magnificent Ambersons” or Erich Von Stroheim’s "Greed", but my choice as the lost film I most want to see is F.W. Murnau’s “4 Devils”.

Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau (his real last name was Plumpe, he took the name Murnau after the German town Murnau am Staffelsee) was considered one of Germany’s top directors when in 1926 he was lured away to the United States by William Fox. Fox gave Murnau carte blanche to produce the films he wanted, time and expense was not a concern. The first film,Sunrise (1927), is recognized today as one of the greatest movies in the history of cinema. A critical success at the time, the film was not so well received by the public and consequently the powers that be at Fox started to clamp down on Murnau and the funding would be controlled more closely on his next project.

“4 Devils” was based on the story “Die Fire Djaevle: excentrisk novella” published in 1895 and written by Herman Joachim Bang. An earlier film version appears to have been made in Denmark by Alfred Lind in 1911 and this version was shown at Cinefest in 2001 (hat tip to Eric Stott). Murnau started production on his adaptation in early 1928, with Ernest Palmer handling the cinematography. The stars of the film, and the characters they portrayed, were Janet Gaynor (Marion), Charles Morton (Charles), Nancy Drexel (Louise), Barry Norton (Adolf), Mary Duncan (the vamp), J. Farrell Macdonald (the clown). A synopsis from the American Film Institute catalog contains a pretty concise summary:

A kindly old clown rescues four children (Charles, Adolf, Marion, and Louise) from the brutal tutelage of a circus owner and brings up the quartet himself, training them to be acrobats. Years pass, and the children form a successful trapeze act known as the Four Devils. Charles and Marion are engaged, but while at the Cirque Olympia in Paris, Charles becomes infatuated with a beautiful vamp. Marion learns of the affair and becomes distracted; working without a net for a dangerous finale, she falls. Marion is not killed, however, and Charles is brought to his senses by the near tragedy.

It is known that 4 different endings for the movie were originally shot. The first, showing that Charles and Marion die in the fall at the film’s climax, was previewed on July 2nd and questionnaires were filled out by members of the audience as to their reaction of the motion picture. 49 of these sheets exist in the Murnau archive at the Deutsche Kinemathek, Berlin and mention that the film should remain as it is regardless of the “down” ending. But the advice wasn’t heeded by Fox as the movie with the happy ending premiered on October 3rd 1928 at the Gaiety Theater in New York.

It was decided in early 1929 that approximately the last 2 reels of “4 Devils” should be re-shot with talking sequences to cash in on the sound revolution that was starting to take over the industry. The part talkie version was premiered on June 10th, 1929 in Los Angeles. Murnau had nothing to do with the newly filmed section and the scenes were directed by A.H. Van Buren and A. F. Erickson, the latter being Murnau’s assistant director during the movie’s initial production.

As for reviews, Variety said “4 Devils” was "an elegantly produced, photographed, and directed picture by Fox, of high value regular release quality, and missing the super height class only because it is missing any one big kick." Mordaunt Hall in the New York Times singled out the director’s work, “It is, however, the unfaltering manner in which Mr. Murnau attacks his scenes that is responsible for this picture's greatness. One forgets the actors and thinks of the characters.” and “one could go through the whole list of players congratulating one after another, and they probably all know that they owe a great deal to that artist among directors, F. W. Murnau.” Harrison’s Reports was not impressed, “It is hard to tell what success “Four Devils” will have at the box office, but as an entertainment it doesn’t seem to ‘click’ “. Harrison’s also gave a short review of the sound version and stated, “As far as entertainment quality is concerned, the part-talk version is not better than the silent version”.

So what happened to “4 Devils”? In 1937, a fire destroyed nearly all the pre-1935 camera negatives held at the Fox Film archive in Little Ferry, New Jersey and “4 Devils” was probably one of them. Seeing as the film was released in both a silent and sound version you would think that it may have survived in some version, but that does not seem to be the case. The most substantial rumor is that star Mary Duncan had a print that she watched much later and was so upset with her perceived poor performance that she threw the film in the Pacific Ocean. While that story may sound far fetched, Martin Koerber (noted for being the restoration director on the 2001 re-issue of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”) wrote on the Association of Moving Image Archivists email list:

“I think that Mary Duncan had the studio print since 1948 or 1949 is a fact, as

this is documented in the Fox files. So part one of this story is not an urban

legend. However part two seems to be one. The story has variants including her

throwing the film into her pool, or sticking a match to it. All quite

unbelievable, considering that anyone working in the industry in the1920s knew the

films were nitrate and could be dangerous if not handles correctly.”

While we may not be able to enjoy the “4 Devils” today, I certainly recommend Janet Bergstrom’s excellent documentary "Murnau's 4 Devils: Traces of a Lost Film" which will be included as an extra in the “Murnau, Borzage & Fox” DVD box set scheduled for release on December 9th. This documentary contains much more information about the production, a very thorough overview of the Murnau film, and is filled with rare photographs and memorabilia. The box set will also contain two coffee table books, one being on the "4 Devils". Not to be missed.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Glass movie slides - silent films

Here we have another batch of glass movie slides but this time they are all from silent films. I know for sure "The Winning of Barbara Worth" exists, but I am not sure of the others. Anyone else know??

Monday, November 17, 2008

A very dapper El!

In this promo shot from the early 30's, Mr. Brendel shows us what the most stylish and modern man will be wearing this season.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Glenda Farrell

Glenda Farrell is another of those Warner Brothers/First National/Vitaphone stars that I have loved since my early days of watching films. The quick talking, street smart characters she played in films like "Havana Widows" and "I've Got Your Number" solidified a place in my pre-code heart for all time.

Not a lot of films that she appeared in are available on the home video market but check out the schedule on our BELOVED Turner Classic Movies as they frequently play the films she appeared in.

Lifelong friends, Joan Blondell and Glenda Farrell out and about and looking very glamorous at an event in the early 30's.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Happy Landing (1938)

Today we would never think that a figure skating idol could be one of the largest grossing money makers in Hollywood, starring in many large productions for a major studio, but this is just what happened to Sonja Henie.

Henie was already a household name, being the Olympic gold medal champion in the 1928, 1932, and 1936 winter games making her an international figure skating star. A desire to be in motion pictures from a young age, ultimately led to her being signed by 20th Century Fox studio head, Darryl F. Zanuck, to appear in films for the company. Her first film, “One In A Million” (1936) was a success and she would go on to appear in 9 more films for the corporation.

1938’s “Happy Landing” is kind of a screwball-comedy-on-ice with Cesar Romero as the big band leader (and ultimate cad) Duke Sargent, Don Ameche plays the friend/manager Jimmy Hall and Ethel Merman rounds out the cast as Sargent’s nutty and overbearing love/hate interest, Flo Kelly.

The film opens as Jimmy Hall is getting ready to fly Duke Sargent over to Paris for a musical engagement. The plane they are flying in goes off course and ends up landing in Norway where the forever skirt-chasing Sargent meets Trudy Ericksen (Henie). Sargent, who seems to only be inspired to write music while wooing women, writes a song for Trudy and makes her believe that he is in love with her.

Jimmy and Trudy go to a town celebration and a Norwegian custom (made up for the film of course) states that if you dance with a girl twice then you are engaged to her!! Duke’s friend Jimmy finds out about the custom and informs his clueless friend that he is about to be hitched so they both flee Norway for Paris leaving the heartbroken Trudy behind.

Eventually Jimmy and Duke return to New York City and the lovelorn Trudy travels to the metropolis to win Duke back but he’s involved with his old flame, Flo Kelly, and rejects Trudy. This leads to Jimmy spending more time with Trudy and when they decide to go skating in Central Park, Jimmy sees her real talent as an ice skater and decides to promote her talent and her career takes off.

Now as a skating star, Trudy realizes that she loves Jimmy and he adores her, but through a series of misunderstandings Trudy believes that Jimmy actually is in love with Flo! Of course, in true Hollywood fashion, it all works out in the end and everyone lives happily ever after.

Our hero, El Brendel, appears in just one short section of the film. He plays Yonnie, the bandleader in Central Park who sings the comedic tune “Yonnie and His Oompa” which was written by Samuel Pokrass and Jack Yellen (Yellen wrote many tunes including “Happy Days Are Here Again” and “Ain’t She Sweet” as well as writing songs for many movies including another of Brendel’s 1938 films, “Little Miss Broadway” with Shirley Temple).

According to published reports at the time of the movie’s filming, Miss Henie received $80,000 for “Happy Landing” and was contracted to be paid $125,000 for each of her next 3 films, but in the January 31st, 1938 issue of Time Magazine thought that maybe those extra films might be poor judgment on Zanuck’s part:

“Happy Landing (Twentieth Century-Fox), is blonde, Figure Skater Sonja Henie's third motion picture, makes it clear that Producer Darryl Zanuck must soon find some other way of keeping Miss Henie's films fresh than by putting them on ice. To give Sonja presentable, even spectacular, settings in which to display her twinkling, silver-bladed eurhythmy is a set designer's holiday. But to blend a plot with her icebound talents is something not even a Zanuck budget seems to be able to accomplish. Happy Landing makes Miss Henie a million-dollar sideshow on a cheapskate circuit.”

But Variety said "Glitteringly performed," the third box-office hit of skating champion Sonja Henie "has just about everything...comedy, suspense, romance...action, music, dancing" and an "amusing story." and Harrison’s Reports singled out her skating, “Very Good. It is Miss Henie’s marvelous skating routines that make it exciting. She does not appear often, but when she does, it is something to see. She executes the most difficult feats on the ice with the utmost ease and grace.”

The working titles of this film were Bread, Butter and Rhythm, Hot and Happy and Happy Ending and in 1938 Henie was ranked by Motion Picture Herald poll of exhibitors as the third biggest money-making star of the year. It also is interesting to note that El Brendel’s name does not appear on any advertisements for this film or in the movie’s opening titles. It is only in the ending titles is he mentioned.

One final note about El’s acting situation at this time. From the Mansfield Ohio News-Journal of February 10th, 1938 in the column “Hollywood Speaks” by Robbin Coons, a short interview right after the release of “Happy Landing” the subject of Brendel not having any more major roles and being “washed-up” as far as Hollywood was concerned was mentioned to El and he replied:

“I wish I could be washed up the way some of these stars are. Hollywood says they’re finished so they go out and collect all kinds of money—washed up, heh?”

Friday, November 7, 2008

Unpublished Lon Chaney photos?

These are 2 negatives from Lon Chaney's 1924 film "He Who Gets Slapped". Although they are in somewhat rough shape from decomposition, I don't believe these have been published anywhere before.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

"What Happens When You Turn on the Heat!"

I just love these studio promo photos that had stars in funny situations. From the studio snipe on the back:

"El Brendel, Fox comedy star, decides to entertain company by playing a record, Turn On The Heat" from "Sunny Side Up," in which he was featured. Note the record finish."