Thursday, May 31, 2012

Coming This Week: Huge Animation DVD Review!

This one’s SO BIG, it’s broken into TWO PARTS!  (…Just because no one should do THAT much Blog reading uninterrupted!) 

Both parts should appear by Saturday, so be here for that, won’t you? 

Perhaps, like me, you will gain newfound appreciation for this particular series! 

Monday, May 28, 2012

“Realizations: It’s Not Easy Being… Geek!”

Summary:  Remember the kid telling the parent that “History” is harder now, because there’s SO MUCH MORE OF IT, than when YOU went to school?

I’ve finally realized the definitive reason for the existence of “The Internet”!   

...Yeah, sometimes I catch-on slowly! 

It struck me as a bolt from the blue, while reading THIS BLOG POST on Alfred Hitchcock. 

I’ll spare you all the suspense and simply say that: “We can’t be EXPERTS on things anymore, simply because there are TOO MANY THINGS to be expert on!”

While I’ll never really consider myself a true “film buff” (A code word, perhaps, for self-anointed expert?), I have posted several items concerning Alfred Hitchcock – and have at least one more “in the can” waiting for the proper moment to loose upon the unsuspecting Blog-o-sphere. 

Despite this, nearly everything in the Blog post referenced above was NEWS to me!  I didn’t know Hitch made romantic comedies (to give myself something of a break, the Blogger seemed to regard this as being generally outside of common knowledge as well) – and it occurs to me that, her place in film history notwithstanding, I’ve probably never seen a single film featuring Carole Lombard! 

…So much for my ever becoming an “expert” on film – or even the subset of “Classic” or “Golden Age of Hollywood” film that more appeals to me.  

No matter how much I post on DVDs of the Warner Bros. films of James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, and Edward G. Robinson, with a smattering of Errol Flynn – and my less-discussed other preferred areas of concentration: Alfred Hitchcock, John Wayne westerns, Abbott and Costello, and the catch-all designation of “Thirties Horror Thru Fifties Sci-Fi”… there’s still WAY TOO MUCH for me to ever become anything resembling an “expert” on film.   My respect goes to those who are.   

Yeah, I might be able to tell you some interesting things about those specific artists, films, and/or genres… but (Sniff!) you’ll need “The Internet” far more than you’ll ever need me!   …I didn’t even get some recent film questions on JEOPARDY.  

Funny… that wasn’t always the case. 

Comic books serve as a far better example of the point. 

I was not part of the formative years of fandom, but I did find my way in at a point where – with lots of diligent study and the willingness to make many personal contacts with those in (or formerly in) the field, you could accumulate enough knowledge on the subject of comic books in general to become an “expert”.  That is, someone to whom others would go with questions. 

At that point, there was “The Golden Age” and “The Silver Age”, and whatever “transitional designations” one cared to name the periods that surrounded them.  And some sort of “modern” age was beginning.  I called it “The Direct Age”, in tribute to the “Direct Market” that was on its way to becoming the driving force behind the distribution of the comic book.  Wonder why no one else went with that…

Nevertheless, I accumulated a considerable wealth of knowledge and, for a time, immodestly considered myself to be an “expert”. 

Now?  Not so much.  More like, not at ALL!  Because there’s TOO MUCH material to be (…at least by my own standards) any sort of an “expert” on.  Too much I’ve neither seen nor experienced.  Some of it, in terms of current material, best left “unexperienced”. 

...Of course, by that, we don't mean ANYTHING pictured in this post! We love ALL of these! 

Today, I’d say the best we can do is become (or remain) self-declared “experts” in OUR OWN SPECIFIC AREAS OF CONCENTRATION… and let “The Internet” do the rest. 

Our favored “Areas of Geekery”, be they comic books, animation, TV, film, music, sports, etc. have grown to such huge and unwieldy proportions that, if “The Internet” did not exist, Al Gore would have to invent it – just to hold all this stuff!  A volume of “Stuff” that is now beyond the capacity of anyone with a reasonable definition of “a life”. 

Throughout this Blog, you’ll find lots of material on the subsets of film listed above, Dell and Gold Key Comics, all Disney comic-book publishers post-Gold Key, DC Comics from the ‘60s thru ‘90s, certain areas of ‘60s TV, and specific products of modern TV animation such as THE SIMPSONS, FAMILY GUY, DC Comics Animated product and other ‘90s Warner series, etc.  As the Blog’s header states: “The Things that Interest Me”.
"Star Trek rules!"  "No! Lost in Space does!"

When I become an old man by the fireside (…or maybe the “glow” of a personal electronic device), I’ll still be available for discourse on those subjects.  But, for the rest of it, please consult “The Internet because no one can be a “true expert” these days!  

There’s just too darned much stuff to allow that anymore, sonny!  

Saturday, May 26, 2012

DVD Review: Taxi (1932)

Taxi (1932)

(Released: January 24, 2012 by The Warner Archive Collection)  

Another looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

Summary:  The most iconic film you never heard of! 

We all know that, despite what popular folklore would have you believe, Humphrey Bogart never actually said Play it again, Sam!”

And, even though he never actually said it, we know what film the bogus-Bogie quote comes from: Casablanca. 

Similarly, every would-be impressionist would also have you believe that James Cagney said: You dirty rat! You killed my brother!” He didn’t actually say that either. 

Ah, but can you name the film he is alleged to have said it in? 

Bet‘cha can’t… unless you look up to the top of this post!  ...Or down at this poster!

Viewing “Taxi” for the first time, I could identify TWO actual quotes that might have morphed into the Cagney faux-quote of legend. They are:

That dirty rat kills Danny, an’ you help him get away with it!” At 57:40 of the 01:08:55 film.

Or, even more likely… (Cagney with gun drawn)

Come out an’ take it, ya dirty yellow-bellied rat – or I’ll give it to ya right through the door!”  At 01:03:91. 

So, with another of life’s mysteries apparently solved, let’s move on to other aspects of the film. 

“Taxi” is early enough in the canon of Warner Bros. talking pictures that it opens with: “Warner Bros. Pictures and the Vitaphone Corp. Present” – with the familiar Warner Bros. Shield – its lowermost point superimposed over the “Vitaphone Pennant” logo. 

Both Shield and Pennant are transparent, overlaying the opening shot of a bustling New York street.  This may be one of the earliest appearances of “The Shield”, as other films of this vintage, such as Edward G. Robinson’s “Little Caesar” and “Five Star Final” (the latter referenced in this very film!), did not display it.

The setting is 1932 New York City, and one wonders if the title of the film is really just “Taxi”, as animated graphics, superimposed over a bustling Manhattan street, come at you in rapid fashion: “Taxi” “Taxi” “Taxi”! 

Might the actual title of the piece be “Taxi! Taxi! Taxi!?  Or, is it simply so nice, you say it thrice”!

The opening also offers a magnificent cheat, in that we cut to a huge-type newspaper headline that says: “WAR DECLARED!”

(GASP! Goes the collective audience, still WW I weary, and with WW II still to come!)

Then, we pan down to lower font type: “Rival taxicab companies contest bitterly for City’s business!”

…Guess the joke’s on us, eh? 

But that is, at least, the partial basis for “Taxi”, as the mighty and unscrupulous “Consolidated Cab Company” moves to squeeze out the independent drivers by means fair or foul.  Mostly foul. 

They harass, block, or outright smash the vehicles of the indies, and use other strong-arm tactics to take over the whole ball o’ wax.  …Um, one could say they don’t play “FARE”!  Taxi!  Fare!  Get it?  That’s a joke, son! 

Apologies for the Foghorn Leghorn image here… I just couldn’t help myself.  And, Foghorn *IS* a Warner Bros. star, after all. 

When beloved old cabbie “Pop Riley” is killed in such an incident, fiery young cabbie Matt Nolan (Cagney) is driven to unite the indies into action against Consolidated.  A series of events leads to Nolan’s romance with “Pop Riley’s” daughter Sue (Loretta Young), and the murder of Nolan’s brother Danny.  This, of course, takes us to the quote/non-quote about “Dirty Rats and Brothers”. 

When I described the “taxi wars” as the partial basis for “Taxi”, it is because it starts out as exactly that, and then moves almost completely away from the taxicab business, and into a murder/revenge crime melodrama – where it remains until its end. 

The narrative of “Taxi” almost certainly influenced THIS LATER WARNER FILM, which exhibits the same structure – starting out as a look into a certain type of “rolling business with indies vs. establishment” shifting toward murder as its main plot element.

Indeed, certain elements of “Taxi” may stand out more than its overall story.  Here are a few oddities I found: 

Cagney’s Nolan takes Sue to a movie: “Her Hour of Love” starring Donald Cook and Evelyn Knapp.  Thing is, there is NO SUCH MOVIE and Cook and Knapp filmed one made-up scene to give the lovebirds something to watch.  Ya think they would have worked in footage of an existing WB film, rather than incur the expense of doing this. 

Oddly, sharing the exterior movie theatre marquee with “Her Hour of Love” is “Five Star Final”, an ACTUAL 1931 Warner Bros. film, starring Edward G. Robinson and a pre-Frankenstein Boris Karloff!  Since they used both the title and Robinson’s name for a throwaway establishing shot, one wonders why they stopped short of using a clip from “Five Star Final” for the scene.

Nolan and Sue complete with another finalist couple in a dance contest – the male contestant played by an uncredited George Raft – Cagney’s co-star in the great Warner prison picture “Each Dawn I Die” (1939)!

And, during that “dance contest” sequence, a brief snippet of “Yankee Doodle” plays… a tune that would intersect with Cagney in a much more significant way later on.

Robert Emmett O’Connor, who ironically got Cagney into big-time crime in The Public Enemy (1931) and, conversely, played an Irish Cop in Cagney’s Picture Snatcher (1933), is also an Irish Cop in “Taxi”.  He is probably the best celluloid Irish Cop ever. 

Leila Bennett is also a standout as Sue’s friend “Ruby”.

Observant fans of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies will notice the mechanical sound of the “platform elevator” that often carries Bugs Bunny up and out of his rabbit hole, as the background sound effect of an elevator that carries Nolan and Sue on their way to obtain a marriage license.  Look (actually, listen) for it at about 30:05. 

On that topic, Looney Tunes’ film editor Treg Brown clearly raided Warner Bros. movies for many of the sound effects heard in those cartoons… cannons firing, gunshots, gates crashing down, arrows flying, etc.  The more old Warner films I watch, from this perspective, the more I notice that.

Great quote from Cagney’s Nolan, during his stormy, up-and-down romance with Sue:

I wouldn’t go with dat dame, if she was the last woman on Earth… an’ I just got outta the Navy!”  …That last clause REALLY makes it, wouldn’t you say? 

Lastly, the notables are not without their downside, as Cagney and company visit a Harlem nightclub called “Cottenpicken’s”, where the décor is adorned with images of watermelon, dice, and the like.  Regrettable, but that was Hollywood in the ‘30s. 

 Taxi” is a release of “The Warner Archive Collection”.  Please GO HERE to read more about this relatively new enterprise from Warner Home Entertainment.  . 

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.  


It’s Warner Archives:   That means virtually nothing in the way of Extra Features. No commentary, subtitles, logical chapter skips – or even MENUS specifically designed for this movie.  No background or “Making Of” featurette. No “Warner Night at the Movies” that I’ve loved so much in other packages!  And, there is a needlessly limited choice of devices on which to play it (no computers), vs. standard DVD. 

No Theatrical Trailer:  I know that Warner Archives releases are “No Frills”, but one could always count on the inclusion of a Theatrical Trailer at the very least!  No trailer is included in this release of “Taxi”.  I’ll be generous and allow for the possibility that, as a 1932 film – and still an early talking picture, a trailer may no longer exist.  If that is the case, though, it should be noted somewhere on the disc’s packaging or menu.   
A Chaser, but No Trailer!
Menu: (Singular):  The Main (and only) Menu takes a step back for this series of releases.  (Humphrey Bogart’s 1945 film “Conflict”, released by WAC on the same day – and REVIEWED HERE, exhibits the same regression in menu design.  So this can be considered a backward trend.).  Recent WAC menus offered a nice departure from the original standard, stark dark blue Warner Archives menu.  To the left, there was an attractive photo of “The Warner Bros. Theatre” (Was there actually such a thing?), with the marquee reading: “Now Playing: [Insert Name of Film Here], and a large image of the DVD box cover is pictured on the right of the menu. 
The Plain Old Blue Menu!

For this latest series of releases, it’s just an image of an indistinct brick building at left, the iconic Warner Water Tower at right, with a medium blue sky backdrop.  There is NO picture of the DVD box cover – or ANY mention of the particular film you have purchased!  Only the options to “Play Trailer” (though NO trailer in this case) and “Play Movie” are offered on this single generic menu.


It’s Warner Archives:   That means we get a film that would probably not garner sufficient support for a general release.  Given a choice between “Taxi” as a Warner Archive Collection release, or no release at all, I’ll gladly take a WAC version.

I fear, as the DVD market contracts (what with downloading and most of the “best material” having already been released), more and more of the remaining as-of-yet-unreleased material will come via avenues such as this one.  But, up to now, we’ve sure gotten a LOT of great stuff.  More than I could have ever imagined some years ago.  So, if the “last of it” arrives in this form… so be it. 

Chapter Skips:  Oddly, unlike the concurrent release of Bogart’s Conflictwhich regressed to the fixed 10-minute interval Chapter Skips of the earliest WAC releases, this presentation of Taxi” offers Chapter Skips that work more logically within the film.  Why one release returns us to the “10-minute intervals” and another from the same batch offers a more logical approach is unknown, but it does merit Taxi” a PRO for Chapter Skips in this review.  

Robo-Promos:  The usual “Warner Archive Collection” Robo-Promo, standard on earlier releases, appears to have been eliminated.  

Warnings: The overabundance of Warnings, present on standard Warner commercial releases (as in THIS ONE), has not manifested itself on Warner Archive Collection product.   

 The Film:   A Cagney Curio that may very well be (as I said up top) the most iconic film you never heard of, due to the origin of the oft-mimicked “Dirty Rat” quote. 

The Cast: 

·         James Cagney as “Matt Nolan”.  (Our Leading Man!)

·         Loretta Young as “Sue Riley Nolan”.  (Our Leading Lady!)

·         George E. Stone as “Skeets”. (Nothing to do with Booster Gold!) 

·         Ray Cooke as “Danny Nolan”.  (The “Killed Brother”)

·         David Landau as “Buck Gerard”.  (The “Dirty Rat”)

·         Guy Kibbee as “Pop Riley”. (Who GETS “Popped”)

·         Leila Bennett as “Ruby” (The Best “Noo Yawk” Gal Pal you could ever have!)

·         Robert Emmett O’Connor “Cop”. (Heavy on the “Irish”)

·         George Raft as “Male Dance Contestant”. (Each Dawn I Dance!)


Taxi”, being a product of “The Warner Archive Collection”, and not a standard Warner Home Video release, must be reviewed and rated by a new and different set of standards.   

There are no extras (…not even a darned Theatrical Trailer, in this case), and print quality is usually as good as the source material – with only minimal efforts at remastering.  In the case of “Taxi”, the print is sharper and more vivid than any film from 1932 has a right to be. 

As a film, “Taxi” is not memorable, nor will it ever be deemed a classic.  As a story, it does not “hang together” particularly well, but the viewing of ANY Cagney film is always time well spent.  …Even if “this time” is not as “well spent” as others.  You DO get the origin of one of the most iconic non-quotes ever to emerge from Hollywood, so take THAT away at the very least! 

Taxi” is recommended for fans of James Cagney and the type of Depression Era / Crime films that were Warner Bros’ specialty.