Sunday, January 30, 2022

Bronco Billy

Bronco Billy
Directed by
Clint Eastwood
Written by Dennis Hacklin
Starring Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke, Geoffrey Lewis, Scatman Crouthers
IMDB Entry

Think of Clint Eastwood, and the word “western” immediately comes to mind. He developed a reputation as a taciturn man of action, a traditional western hero in the untraditional 60s. But Eastwood also had a lighter side, and showed far more depth in his characterizations as time went by. And one of the more interesting characters was in Bronco Billy.

Bronco Billy McCoy (Eastwood) is the owner and main attraction of an old fashioned wild west show, the type that went out of fashion long before the movie was set. He claims to be the fastest gun in the west, and ends each performance with a knife throwing act. When he accidently nicks his assistant, she leaves and he is forced to turn to Antoinette Lily (Sondra Locke), an heiress who has been abandoned by her new husband, John Arlington (Geoffrey Lewis). Antoinette is forced to take the place in the act.

His show is not making any money, but Billy continues on, mostly to keep the dream alive, and to provide jobs (rarely paid) for the various misfits, ex-cons,  and alcoholics who make up the crew.

The movie shows a true lover for the imaginary west of movies.* Eastwood shows his softer side, usually avoiding a battle unless provoked.

Sondra Locke – who had a relationship with Eastwood at the time – is good, but Scatman Crouthers is just fine as the show’s ringmaster and announcer. For a short time, Crouthers was in the middle of a career peak, playing notable character roles.

The movie was a modest success, both critically and financially, but Eastwood was looking for more. It may be because he felt it was one of his most personal works.

Definitely worth seeing out.

*I don’t think it’s coincidence that the character shares his name with Broncho Billy Anderson, one of the first western stars, who appeared in The Great Train Robbery.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Leap Year

Directed by
James Cruze, Roscoe Arbuckle
Written by Walter Woods, from a story by Sarah Y. Mason
Starring Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Mary Thurman, Lucien Littlefield, John McKinnon, Harriet Hammond, Gertrude Short, Maude Wayne
IMDB Entry

Leap Year
I’ve been curious about this film for decades.

Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle* was one of the bigger names of silent comedy. He gave Buster Keaton his start, and was one of Mack Sennett’s biggest stars. Few remember that. They mostly remember the scandal.

To recap, a woman, Virginia Rappe, died after a Hollywood party and a friend of hers claimed Arbuckle raped her, the weight of his body causing her death. It was a sensation. The Hearst papers ran with it,** Arbuckle was eventually acquitted,*** but his career was ruined.

His studio, Paramount had seven films of his in the can and ready to go when the scandal hit. For obvious reasons, they decided not to release them.

I always wondered what the films were like. How would have Arbuckle’s career unfolded if it hadn’t been for the scandal?  I had thought they were lost forever.

Turns out, though several of them were lost, people were able to track down prints of the rest.

Leap Year is the most easily available (on Youtube and  It was released in Finland in 1924 so there were prints, and by 1981 it was finally shown in America.

Stanley Piper (Arbuckle) is the nephew of the rich, crotchety Jeremiah Piper (Lucien Littlefield), a hypochondriac who has a full-time nurse, Phyllis Brown (Mary Thurman). Stanley is in love with Phyllis, but through a series of misunderstandings, three women (Harriet Hammone, Gertrude Short, and Maude Wayne) believe that Stanley is proposing to them; all accept. Stanley can’t get them to understand, as well as confusing Phyllis, who is not happy with the situation. The women show up at Stanley’s house and he has to devise ways to break up and keep the women apart from each other.  But every attempt only make them more attracted to him.

How is it? Pretty run-of-the-mill. Slapstick and misunderstanding abound and the plot twists are pretty obvious and contrived. But I’m sure it would have been successful if it could have been released in 1921. On the other hand, I doubt it would be remembered as a classic silent comedy and would not have put Arbuckle up in James Agee’s pantheon.

Arbuckle does make an effective leading man. His weight works against him, but Stanley is basically a decent guy, and he is handsome enough to pull off the role believably.

The film was directed by James Cruze, a veteran silent film director and actor who worked until his 1938, his best-known film these days The Great Gabbo, probably the original evil ventriloquist’s dummy trope.

Arbuckle couldn’t recover from the scandal. He had occasional acting roles, usually in films directed by his friends (who all stood by him during the trials) then switched to directing using the pseudonym William Goodrich. By the late 20s, he directed a series of short subjects under that name for Educational Pictures.**** By 1932, the scandal was far enough in the past for him to get a contract for more short subjects, which did well enough for Warner Brothers to sign him to star in a feature.

He died the day after he signed the contract.

*He did not like his nickname

**Hearst is reported as saying it “sold more newspapers than any event since the sinking of the Lusitania."

***The jury saying “Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel that a great injustice has been done him. We feel also that it was only our plain duty to give him this exoneration, under the evidence, for there was not the slightest proof adduced to connect him in any way with the commission of a crime."

****Leading to one of the funniest mistranslations I’d ever come across.  I have a French-language film encyclopedia which reported he did “educational films,” not understanding that “Educational” was the name of the film company. The idea that the scandal-ruined Arbuckle would be directing films for schools always seemed absurd. Educational Pictures had nothing to do with education; it was a small, low-budget producer of short subjects. Buster Keaton worked there when MGM dropped him and they also were where many bigger stars got their first roles.  They were out of business by 1940

Sunday, January 2, 2022

A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong

A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong

Directed by
Richard Boden
Written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields
Starring Derek Jacobi, Diana Rigg, Henry Shields, Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, Nancy Zamit
IMDB Entry

A Christmas Carol has been adapted hundreds of times. There are debates as to who played the best Scrooge. But there is nothing to match A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong.

It starts out as a standard adaptation, with Derek Jacobi as Scrooge. But as it gets started, the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society abducts the BBC Studios and Jacobi and puts on their own production.

As the title states, everything goes wrong. Marley’s corpse falls out of the coffin, the door to Scrooge’s office won’t open (so he walks around to the side of the set), Diana Rigg (the aunt of one of the actresses) can’t make it on time to narrate, so has to do it on her cell phone. Bob Cratchit can’t remember his lines, so they are written (blatantly) all over the set. Props fail and stagehands struggle to make them work and the camera manages to show them whenever they aren’t supposed to be shown. There is dissention as to who will play Scrooge, ridiculous special effects, CGI failures, and pratfalls galore.

The result is hilarious. If you’ve ever been involved in a theater production, it’s even funnier as the actors try to pretend that everything is fine and they’re not in the middle of a disaster.  It’s pure slapstick, and perfectly done.

It's available on Youtube.