Thursday, November 23, 2017

A THANKSGIVING TRADITION CONTINUES!: BABES IN TOYLAND (aka MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS) (1934)

NOTE: This is a re-post of an entry I originally posted on Thanksgiving, 2010.


SPECIAL NOTE: If you’ve been looking at the blog lately and wondering where all the photos went, well, google “Photobucket charges” and you’ll find out why. Photobucket changed their policy from being a free photo host to charging a significant fee. I’m still trying to figure out how to proceed. I’d like this blog to have a robust selection of images as it always has. I’ll work out some solution. In the meantime, unfortunately this year's posting of this review must appear without photos.


RATING: *** & ¾ out of ****

AUTHOR’S NOTE #1: I’m running a review of this film today because the film is a Thanksgiving tradition in the New York Tri-State area where I grew up and still live. WPIX Channel 11 has run this film almost every year on Thanksgiving for the past 40 or so years (and is doing so again today) and I can not underestimate the impact this film had on me, truly an annual "event" I looked forward to year after year as a child.

AUTHOR’S NOTE #2: As of this writing I’m still debating whether to include this film among the main Laurel & Hardy horror-comedy entries or whether to place it in the “horror-onable mention” section. The film is not a horror-comedy per se – in fact, it is a children’s fantasy that makes ample use of classic fairy tale characters. Furthermore, a major motif in the film is Santa and his toymakers readying Christmas gifts for the children in the off-season. But its horrific moments and characters are quite palpable and place it in a unique category all its own. More on that in the review...

PLOT: The peace and tranquility of the citizens of Toyland (where all the famous nursery rhyme and fairy tale characters live along with Santa Claus and all his helpers) is threatened by its one bad apple: sinister Silas Barnaby (Henry Brandon), a creepy landlord who holds the mortgages on most of the homes in the land, including the shoe-shaped home belonging to the old woman (who lived in a shoe). He also rules the frightening “Bogeyland” and the monstrous “Bogeymen” that inhabit it, a place where criminals are banished as punishment for major crimes. Barnaby is sweet on the old woman’s daughter Little Bo Peep. When Mother Widow Peep (Florence Roberts) can’t meet the mortgage payment on the shoe, Barnaby offers to forget the whole matter if she’ll consent to offering Bo Peep’s hand in marriage to Barnaby. Neither Mother nor Bo Peep, who is in love with Tom Tom the Piper’s Son (Felix Knight) are willing to submit to Barnaby’s demand and so he threatens to evict everyone out of the shoe. Enter two of the shoe’s tenants, Stannie Dumm (Stan Laurel) and Ollie Dee (Oliver Hardy), who vow to get a loan from their boss the toymaker (William Burress) to prevent such a travesty. That doesn’t go over too well as the “boys” get in a heap of trouble with the toymaker after Santa does a spot check at the toy factory. St. Nick wants to see how things are coming along and learns that Stannie got his wooden soldiers order all mixed up – instead of 600 soldiers at one foot high, 100 soldiers each six feet high have been created! A series of triumphs and reversals follow for Stannie, Ollie, Bo Peep and Tom Tom and when it becomes apparent that Barnaby can no longer “trick” his way to achieving his evil desires, he enlists the aid of the ferocious half-men, half-monster Bogeymen to rout Toyland. Can our heroes find a way to defeat these abominable creatures, and what will become of Bo Peep, Tom Tom and the wooden soldiers?

REVIEW: Testament to the role this film has played in my life: I’ve seen it so many times I didn't even need to re-watch it to review it! Without question, this film, based on the Victor Herbert operetta is one of the most unique films ever made – as both a comedy film by major stars and as a holiday classic it stands pretty much alone. Only the all-star “Alice in Wonderland” which also stars Charlotte Henry in the title role (along with Cary Grant, W.C. Fields, Leon Errol, Jack Oakie, Sterling Holloway, Edward Everett Horton, Charles Ruggles and others) comes close but ultimately it's no cigar – while that earlier film shares “Babe’s” weird and spooky oddness it lacks the charm and humor of the Laurel & Hardy opus which despite several terror-filled sequences is filled with hope and optimism. And “Alice” certainly doesn’t evoke any warm-fuzzy holiday feelings... it is most decidedly not a holiday classic.

Where can I even begin? This is one of those films that has to be seen – mere words cannot convey the wonders this film undolds. I suppose I’ll get the intentional and unintentional scares out of the way first:

Silas Barnaby, as performed with relish and flourish by Henry Brandon (real name: Kleinbach) is a dastardly villain of the highest order. He has a huge “creepy” and “spooky” factor, not unlike many of the fiends Bela Lugosi and Vincent Price essayed over their illustrious careers. It is a performance for the ages. Brandon treads that line between funny and purely evil that not many actors since have accomplished (Heath Ledger’s interpretation of Batman’s nemesis “The Joker” is the most recent example I can think of but there have been few and far between). Most amazing of all, Brandon did it at the tender age of 22. That is an amazing accomplishment not just because he’s playing a character much older but also because of all he was able to bring to the character – if you didn’t know Brandon’s real age you’d swear that he had already witnessed decades of villainy to inspire his portrayal. Brandon played many other notable roles through the years (including a part in the Martin & Lewis horror-comedy “Scared Stiff”) and even acted up until the year before his death in 1990 but when all is said and done it is not a stretch to claim that history will put Barnaby at the top of his most memorable roles. Brandon returned to the character three years later and that turn was just as memorable as the original. In the short “Our Gang Follies of 1938” (filmed and released in 1937) Brandon is the Opera House impresario who signs famed Little Rascal Alfalfa to a crooked contract whose deception is worthy of those the devil dealt in “The Devil & Tom Walker,” “The Devil & Daniel Webster,” “Damn Yankees,” “Bedazzled” and so many other tales. The unbreakable contract requires Alfalfa to sing “The Barber of Seville” at his opera house… forever! The character is never called “Barnaby” by name in the short, but in the script he is identified as such.

Barnaby has a manservant, naturally, and as the illogic in old movies usually goes, the villains always pick ineffective manservants like hunchbacks and mutes (sometimes they’re both at the same time). Here, the manservant is a diminutive dwarf played by John George. He is oddly creepy in his own right (which may be the context more than anything – the costumes in this film are creepy as is the lighting and Barnaby’s villainy and lair, and since George appears in those scenes, his character takes on those attributes as well… except when Barnaby laces into him, resulting in some audience sympathy toward the character). He is also somewhat reminiscent of Angelo Rossitto, another dwarf actor with a lengthy career who often appeared in the same manservant capacity, most notably alongside Bela Lugosi in various films including the East Side Kids horror-comedy, “Spooks Run Wild.” Rossitto also appears in "Babes," as one of the little pigs as well as one of the sandmen fairies during the lullaby scene (more on both below).

Barnaby’s minions, “The Bogeymen” are horrific monster-men designed to give children (and maybe a few adults) nightmares. Less frightening once you get past a certain age and spot the rubber faces and the pillow pads within their shaggy suits, they are also fairly unique considering the year the movie came out. The most natural comparisons would be movie werewolves and ape men but most of those types of films (such as “Werewolf of London” and “The Wolf Man” and “The Ape Man”) came out after “Babes.” Prior to “Babes,” the most notable example was “The Island of Lost Souls” a year earlier and perhaps some of Lon Chaney Sr.’s silent monster films. Like Barnaby, the Bogeymen (or at least A BogeyMAN) would return in an “Our Gang” short. Well, at least the costume and mask (without an actor inside) would, as Alfalfa, Buckwheat and Porky are scared witless by a Bogeyman that flings out of a hidden panel during an unplanned (and unrealized by the kids) journey through a spooky carnival funhouse in the last Hal Roach-produced “Our Gang” short , “Hide & Shriek” (1938). Not to be outdone, Barnaby is also evoked in an early scene that has "detektive" Alfalfa showing off his expertise at disguises - answering the door dressed as Barnaby complete with hat, cape and cane!

Barnaby and the Bogey Men are the obviously scary elements, but the whole production has an (appropriately) surreal and otherworldly sensibility that sometimes borders on the eerie, with even some of the favorite children’s characters rendered in slightly “off” costumes and masks that are downright spooky at times. These include the Three Little Pigs, played by dwarves (including the aforementioned cult film favorite Angelo Rossitto) and children (including Payne B. Johnson who is still with us as of this writing – I had the pleasure of meeting him at the 2006 Sons of the Desert convention in Atlanta, GA) in garish costumes. The masks make the faces of the pigs seem a little scary – they look old and wrinkled and not capable of showing much emotion (especially since you can’t really see their eyes), which heightens the bizarre feeling (a pig jumping up and down and clapping its hands in victory with an emotionless face is an odd thing indeed. There is also man in a cat suit (Pete Gordon, who played the Chinese cook in Laurel & Hardy’s horror-comedy classic “The Live Ghost”) with a fiddle, naturally, who comes off slightly scary – mostly unintentionally although there is one cheat scare when Ollie is explaining to Stan about the Bogeyman’s horrible claws… just as the “cat” puts its paw on Stan’s shoulder!

One scene that was edited out of many television prints through the years had Tom Tom, having been banished to Bogeyland after being falsely accused of pignapping (Barnaby framed him of of course) comforting Bo Peep, who had traveled into Bogeyland after her true love. Tom Tom sings Bo Peep to sleep with a lullaby while fairies (played by dwarves again… perhaps the producers of the still-a-few-years-away “Wizard of Oz” took notice of these diminutive thesps with big talents) dance overhead in spectral, see-through form. The ghostly figures make the scene more eerie than magical for me.

Oddest of all however has to be... Mickey Mouse. You heard that right, Mickey Mouse. PLAYED BY A MONKEY! I always personally loved the monkey-in-a-mouse suit character, but I know others who were totally frightened by it. It is weird to say the least (I still wonder how the heck the monkey was able to breathe in that costume). The character is a mix of the plucky and resourceful Mickey from the 1930s black & white cartoons combined with the offbeat, bouncy movements of a typical monkey (the character gets a major moment of its own during the climactic battle with the Bogeymen, piloting a toy zeppelin and dropping explosives onto the monsters from overhead). The Hal Roach Studios (producers of the film) had a long-standing relationship with the Disney studio and their “stars” occasionally crossed over (Laurel & Hardy are prominent in the classic “Mickey’s Polo Team” and in the same year as “Babes” Mickey and Stan & Ollie co-starred again in the all-star MGM feature, “Hollywood Party”). This friendly co-existence between Disney and Roach also extended to Disney granting Roach the rights to use the smash hit song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” in “Babes” (the award-winning animated “Three Little Pigs” Disney short having debuted the year before).

I have always found this film absolutely delightful. As a child I don’t remember being scared by the spookier elements; it’s only as I grew older that I realized how frightening some elements in this film are. But I am still delighted by it, for two reasons. First, Laurel & Hardy are simply sublime as usual in this film. Their comedy is warm, funny and at times magically surreal and the screen characters audiences had become used to remain intact in the middle of this high fantasy. Perhaps since I had seen so many other features and shorts by the duo as a child I knew that they “always came back” for another adventure, so I was certain that they would help defeat the marauding monsters (despite fearful moments of real terror and concern – such as when the Bogeymen snatch Toyland’s children from their beds). I also grew up in a time where Hollywood saw the value in the darker side of the fairy tale. Overcoming fears and learning important lessons through scary allegories were hallmarks of children’s stories. Disney knew this well – during Hollywood’s golden age his “Snow White & the Seven Dwarves” and “Pinocchio” didn’t pull any punches in the “scares” department. This approach lasted at least through the early 1970s with Gene Wilder’s masterful portrayal of the alternately whimsical/frightening title character of “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.” Somewhere along the line, the “gatekeepers” decided that scares had to be skirted in children’s fantasies, leaving whole generations with much more homogenized stories lacking true heart and humanity.

“Babes in Toyland” has a slippery history. Hal Roach originally bought the rights to do a film version of the Herbert operetta "Babes" then realized it had very little plot, at least not one that would easily accommodate a feature film (it was fine for the stage where it worked perfectly as a lovely revue of childhood memories of the toy chest set to song). So Roach conceived a story with Stan and Ollie as “Simple Simon and the Pie Man.” The villain was a spider who turned into a man and put “hate” into the wooden soldiers so they could ravage the town and eliminate “love and happiness.” It sounds a lot like the Beatles’ classic animated feature “Yellow Submarine” which would be released 32 years later… but as envisioned by Roach, the studio would have been hard-pressed to convey the abstract elements of his idea and there hardly seems room for typical Stan and Ollie antics within. Thankfully Laurel, the creative architect of most of the team’s films (he wrote gags and stories and often directed many scenes – mostly uncredited) won out over Roach and collaborated with his own writers and gagmen to deliver the film we know and love today. As odd as it may sound, to me Laurel’s version anticipates Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy (condensed from a combined ten plus hours to “Babe’s” compact 78 minutes) with the unlikely heroes (Stan & Ollie/Frodo & Samwise) routing the mephistophelean villain (Barnaby/Saruman) and his minions (The Bogeymen/The Orcs). But maybe that’s just me...

The other side of this film’s checkered past has to do with its release history. (it’s so confusing in fact that I’m not even fully certain if the following is entirely accurate). The film was sold off by Roach to an independent distributor named Robert Lippert. It was reissued to theaters several times over the years under various names such as “March of the Toys,” “March of the Wooden Soldiers” (its most commonly known moniker) and the non-sequitur non de plum, “Revenge is Sweet.” It made the rounds of schools where it was shown to students on 16mm projectors. Ultimately it wound up on TV, where it became a staple broadcast around the holidays (run on or near Thanksgiving or Christmas and sometimes both). When the growing popularity of VCR’s made videotapes as attractive to buy as they were to rent, several companies released the film under the mistaken notion that the film was in the public domain. The truth was that the Tribune Broadcasting Company (owners of WGN in Chicago and WPIX in New York City) had an ownership stake. At some point they lost the rights and the Samuel Goldwyn Company snatched them up, colorizing the film for home video release and then a national syndication deal (which Tribune signed on for). This colorized version is broadcast on TV to this day. Meanwhile, the DVD age ushered in more home video releases by companies assuming the film was in the public domain (these included a newly colorized version from Legend Films that was an improvement over the original color job but still looks like kids using their Crayolas over old film frames to this reviewer). When MGM bought out Goldwyn’s assets, they ended up owning a film they had released and distributed in the first place. A couple years back they gave the world a wonderful Christmas present in the form of a DVD of the film in its pristine, original black & white form… complete with all scenes intact and the original “Babes in Toyland” title cards!

The film as it stands is an amazing, unique achievement. The comedy of Stan & Ollie is in high gear and one can’t help but laugh and smile from ear to ear when they are onscreen. The horrific aspects are appropriate for a classic approach to fairy tales, the benevolent Toyland characters are warmly drawn and the rescue of Toyland by Stan, Ollie and the Wooden Soldiers is rousing indeed. While some of the songs sung by the romantic leads have a tendency to slow the film down in spots (the one thing that keeps me from giving it a full four star review), they don’t overpower it. The overall plot, while taking a few meandering detours still has a beginning, middle and end and adheres to the old adage from Chekhov wherein he states that if a gun is shown in the first act, it better go off in the third. The gun here is the wooden soldiers, and the resonance is the fact that the hero’s seeming mistake (Stan’s botching of the wooden soldiers order) is the very thing that ends up saving the day. Kind of like Frodo taking that ring...

BEST DIALOGUE AND GAGS (normally I separate these categories but in this film, as in most Laurel & Hardy sound films the verbal and visual gags are often intertwined)

Stan explains to Ollie that he borrowed money from their piggy bank to replace a “pee wee” – a little wooden peg that when hit with a stick returns like a boomerang. Unless you are Ollie, who pompously insists that anything Stan can do he can do… but he can’t! To add insult to injury, Ollie also learns he can’t do Stan’s finger tricks either.

Ollie and Stan have chased Barnaby down a well. “You better come up, dead or alive,” says Stan, alluding to the King’s edict that Barnaby is a wanted fugitive (when the King announces the award for bringing back Barnaby "Dead or Alive," Stan asks "Can't you make up your mind how you want him?"). “Now how can he come up dead when he’s alive,” protests Ollie. “Let’s drop a rock on him,” counters Stan. “Then he’ll come up dead when he’s alive!”

Stan and Ollie have a plan: Stan will show up at Barnaby’s door with a big box – a Christmas present! Inside is Ollie, who plans to sneak out once inside to find and destroy the shoe’s mortgage. Barnaby asks, “Christmas present… in the middle of July?” “We always like to do our Christmas shopping early,” retorts Stan. Their plan backfires when Stan says goodnight to Ollie and Ollie pops his head out of the crate, leading to them being put on trial.

When Ollie gets "dunked" in the lake as punishment for the attempted robbery of the mortgage, he hands Stan his watch for safe keeping. Distressed by the dunking Bo Peep consents to become Barnaby's wife... which means that the charges are withdrawn and Stan doesn't have to get dunked! Ollie doesn't like this and pushes Stan into the lake... and a soaked Stan emerges pulling Ollie's waterlogged watch out of his pocket!

When Bo Peep gives in to Barnaby’s marriage proposal, Ollie explains that Stan is so upset he’s not even going to the wedding. “Upset,” exclaims Stan. “I’m housebroken!” When Mother Peep determines to speak to Barnaby to try to change his mind, Stan says "Her talking to him is just a matter of pouring one ear into another and coming out the other side... can't be done!"

The boys realize that they can pass Stan off as Bo Peep as long as he keeps his face covered by the veil. Their ruse is a success, but Stan is surprised when he can’t leave with Ollie. Ollie explains that now that Stan’s married, he has to stay with Barnaby. “But I don’t love him,” Stan wails!

During Tom Tom’s trial for pignapping, Stan and Ollie sit on the sidelines. The evidence (a plate of sausage links) is placed near where they sit. Stan asks Ollie what it is and Ollie explains that the sausage used to be Elmer the pig (allegedly at least). Stan takes a bite and says it doesn’t take like pig – it tastes like pork to him! This inspires Ollie to take a bite and brings Tom Tom’s innocence to the forefront as Ollie exclaims, “why that’s neither pig nor pork… it’s beef!”

SPOTTED IN THE CAST: My favorite Our Gang/Little Rascals kid, Scotty Beckett has a small part. He made several movies apart from the Gang shorts, but his only other recurring part was as Winky in the “Rocky Jones, Space Ranger” TV series. He worked until 1957 then tragically died eleven years later due to a drug overdose.

Ellen Corby will forever be known as the grandmother on “The Waltons” but her roles are numerous. They include bit parts in two Laurel & Hardy classics (“Sons of the Desert” and “Babes in Toyland,” aka “March of the Wooden Soldiers”), playing a maid in Abbott & Costello’s “The Noose Hangs High” appearing in Jerry Lewis’ “Visit to a Small Planet” and three major horror-comedy roles: playing one of the Gravesend clan in “The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters,” Mother Lurch in the classic “Addams Family” TV series, and Luther Hegg’s childhood schoolteacher in “The Ghost & Mr. Chicken.” In addition to her acting roles, apparently Corby was also a script supervisor at the Roach Studios on numerous Laurel & Hardy, Our Gang, Charley Chase, Thelma Todd & Zasu Pitts/Patsy Kelly, etc., shorts and was also married at the time to Hal Roach cinematographer Francis Corby.

Ironically, Billy Bletcher started out in silent movies, but his career would be made via his deep baritone voice. He appeared in many vintage comedy shorts alongside Laurel & Hardy, the Little Rascals (including “Hide & Shriek”), W.C. Fields and others; classic animated shorts from Disney and Warner Brothers, did a couple voices in “The Wizard of Oz,” and appeared in Red Skelton’s horror-comedy “Whistling in the Dark.” His voice was often utilized to portray villains (he was the voice of The Big Bad Wolf) as well as ghosts and other spooky characters (he lent his talents to the classic Mickey/Donald/Goofy horror-cartoon, “Lonesome Ghosts”).

FURTHER READING: There are many great books on Laurel & Hardy out there but I will single out three that particularly highlight “Babes.” The coffee table book "Laurel & Hardy" by John McCabe and Richard W. Bann has some great production and promotional stills from “Babes.” Randy Skretvedt’s essential, impeccably researched “Laurel & Hardy: the Magic Behind the Movies” goes into deep detail about the behind-the-scenes trials and triumphs of this film, from Roach’s ill-conceived plot to young Henry Brandon getting into bar brawls when off-camera. Scott MacGillivray’s equally essential “Laurel & Hardy: from the Forties Forward” presents the story of the film’s second (and third and fourth and fifth, etc.) life as theatrical reissue, television staple and home video release. Just click on the above titles to access Amazon.com links for each book.

You'll also want to check out the following link to a Village Voice article that is more of a remembrance of the impact this film had on so many kids growing up with it on TV in the New York area – click here to read it.

BUY THE FILM: There are lots of versions out there – some unauthorized, some colorized, some butcherized (as in edited). But I really can only endorse the official MGM DVD release in glorious black & white which you can order from Amazon when you click here.

WATCH THE FILM: Here's the original trailer for “Babes in Toyland” (note that it uses Henry Brandon’s real name and also exaggerates the running time, claiming the film contains 12 minutes more than it actually does) ENJOY!... and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 13, 2017

EL BRENDEL MEETS LAUREL & HARDY’S HAUNTED DEAN!

Greetings Scared Silly fans! Hope you are all enjoying what’s left of 2017.

I wanted to share this episode of the TV show, My Little Margie, which comes to us courtesy of the public domain.

My Little Margie, originally a summer replacement series for I Love Lucy, was one of the sitcoms following in Lucy’s wake with the focus being on a female character. It, too proved successful and the cast (with Gale Storm in the title role) even performed in a concurrent radio show version.

For horror-comedy fans, My Little Margie is notable for a few reasons:

- It was produced by Hal Roach and filmed on the Hal Roach Studios lot... where so many classic horror-comedies starring Laurel & Hardy, Our Gang/The Little Rascals, Harold Lloyd, and more were filmed before.

- One of the regulars was Hillary Brooke, famous co-star for those other horror-comedy stalwarts, Abbott & Costello (whose TV show was also filmed on the Hal Roach Studios lot); and another was Willie Best (who figures prominently in several horror-comedy classics including Wheeler & Woolsey’s The Nitwits and Mummy’s Boys, The Ghost Breakers with Bob Hope, The Smiling Ghost, Milton Berle’s Whispering Ghosts, and Laurel & Hardy’s A-Haunting We Will Go);

- Guest stars included Zasu Pitts, another Hal Roach Studios regular who, when teamed with the luminous Thelma Todd, appeared in the horror-comedy short, Sealskin; Gil Lamb (a veteran of comedy shorts who appeared in two episodes of the show), Frank Ferguson - immortalized as MacDougal in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein; and Andy Clyde, ever-popular star of decades’ worth of short subjects (for the likes of Mack Sennett, Columbia and others), including a number of horror-comedy efforts including Spook to Me.

What makes this episode, Corpus Delecti of particular interest:

- It was directed by Hal Yates, veteran short subject director whose horror-comedy entries include Host to a Ghost (starring Edgar Kennedy), Ghost Buster (featuring Gil Lamb), and a pair of Leon Errol horror-comedy shorts, The Spook Speaks and Spooky Wooky.

- This episode's guest-star is El Brendel, the Swedish-dialect comic who was a stalwart of Columbia short subjects including such horror-comedy efforts as Sweet Spirits of the Nighter and Boobs in the Night.

- The episode features the old “a pair of human eyes peeping through the eye holes cut out of a painting” gag. Notable here is that the painting is actually of the character Dean Williams from Laurel & Hardy’s A Chump at Oxford, which has an “horror-onable mention” spooky scene of its own.

The thing about the painting is that the eyes were intact for A Chump at Oxford, but were actually cut out for this particular gag to be used in the 1948 Hal Roach Jr./Robert F. McGowan feature, Who Killed Doc Robbin (an unsuccessful attempt to jumpstart a new series of “kid gang” comedies along the lines of Our Gang/The Little Rascals), and this 1955 My Little Margie episode.

(Incidentally, my friends Josh and Danny Bacher, very talented performers in their own right, actually own the painting in question and I’ve been privileged to see it, complete with its souless eyeholes, up close and personal-like).

So now, without further ado, please enjoy Corpus Delecti!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A HALLOWEEN GREETING FROM SCARED SILLY!

Happy Halloween, Scared Silly fans! I figured this was the most appropriate day for me to de-lurk.

Alas, this year has been my most challenging yet. As it has played out, I’ve been dealing with both professional and personal issues that have prevented me from digging back into the Scared Silly project with the fervor I’d hoped for this year. For that I am truly sorry.

As previously mentioned, Scared Silly is a labor of love and a hobby project. I have no publisher lined up yet, so there’s no real deadline. And… unfortunately… life happens. This year will go down as the one that really took a lot out of me, probably more than any year since I became an adult (in a manner of speaking). Here’s hoping I can get back on track in a big way in 2018.

Additionally, if you’ve been looking at the blog lately and wondering where all the photos went, well, google “Photobucket charges” and you’ll find out why. Photobucket changed their policy from being a free photo host to charging a significant fee. I’m still trying to figure out how to proceed. I’d like this blog to have a robust selection of images as it always has. I’ll work out some solution.

In the meantime, thank you, everyone, for all your continued support, and understanding. And remember, this Halloween and always, there’s a fine line between laughing and screaming, screaming and laughing… so whatever you’re doing, scream with laughter today and every day!!!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

THE SPIRITS OF '76 - 2017 EDITION!

Bud Abbott Lou Costello

NOTE: This is an encore edition of a post I originally wrote in 2010:

Here’s a film that will be going into the “horror-onable mention” section of my book. It’s not a “horror-comedy” per se – it’s more of a fantasy-romance, but it does involve ghosts (albeit friendly ghosts) who take the opportunity to put a good scare in some folks as needed. For me, Abbott & Costello’s “The Time of Their Lives” is every bit as classic a movie as “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein;” even if it has more in common with “Topper.”

It’s also tied into the American Revolution, hence this post falling on America’s Independence Day. The film’s script is very well written. It tells the tale of Horatio Prim (Costello), a bumbling but masterful tinker in 1780 who longs to marry Nora, the housemaid of wealthy estate owner Tom Danbury. To that end, Horatio procures a letter of commendation from General George Washington in hopes of obtaining permission to marry Nora from Tom. Unfortunately, Horatio has a rival for Nora in butler Cuthbert (Abbott), who causes him trouble no end. But the real trouble comes from Danbury himself, who is secretly a traitor out to aid Benedict Arnold. Both Nora and Danbury’s fiancé, Melody (the luminous Marjorie Reynolds) learn of Danbury’s plot. Nora is captured and Danbury confiscates the commendation letter from her (she had been holding it for Horatio) and hides it in the mantelpiece clock, but Melody manages to escape on horseback in an effort to warn George Washington. She soon encounters Horatio, and the two are framed as traitors, executed and dumped into a well.

It’s here that the fantasy element kicks in. Horatio and Melody are now ghosts who haunt the grounds of the estate and will continue to do so until they can prove their innocence. They just need to somehow get the letter into the hands of the authorities who can rewrite the history books so the truth can be known. This becomes a more hopeful quest 166 years later when the estate is restored to its original condition, and that includes the original furniture. When the restoration is complete, the new owner invites some guests for the weekend to celebrate. Among the guests are psychiatrist Dr. Ralph Greenway, a descendent of Cuthbert (also played by Abbott). Horatio and Melody decide to have some fun “scaring” the guests. Horatio takes particular delight in spooking Greenway. A séance is held wherein the identity of the ghosts and their plight is revealed, resulting in the living doing what they can to help set Horatio and Melody free.

The film has grown in status over the years and has quite a following (and may have even inspired a line in the classic Gordon Lightfoot song, "If You Could Read My Mind"). In fact, while embraced by many Bud & Lou fans, it’s also been touted as “the Abbott & Costello movie for people who hate Abbott & Costello movies.” This is due to the exceptional dramatic acting of both Lou and Bud that full-bloodedly brings their well-written roles to life. They are both so good in this that it’s hard to say whether one outshines the other (although I might give the slight edge to Abbott whose rarely used talent for character acting is on full display here). It stands out from the majority of the team’s other films which primarily feature a variation on their con man/patsy burlesque characters. It’s one of the few films where the team stretched beyond their usual archetypes and managed to pull it off (for examples where this departure from the norm didn’t work in my opinion, catch “Little Giant” and “Dance With Me Henry.” Or don’t). It also includes a wonderful supporting cast, including horror-comedy stalwart Gale Sondergaard as the maid of the restored estate who definitely believes in ghosts. And it features beautiful sets, wonderful costume designs and marvelous special effects - a top-notch production all around.

If you haven't guessed by now, I consider "The Time of Their Lives" a wonderful film to watch on Independence Day... or any day, for that matter! Here’s the trailer for your enjoyment:

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

HEY ALL YOU MUGS… DON’T MISS THIS EVENT OF CINEDRAMATIC PROPORTIONS!

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Greetings Scared Silly fans. With my apologies for the break I’ve been taking from the project, there are, as always, several reasons it is on the backburner. One is my continued work on the Bowery Boys documentary, Bowery Rhapsody: the Rise & Redemption of Hollywood’s Original ‘Brat Pack,’ whose creator (and my fellow Executive Producer on the film as well as President/Owner of Handshake Away Productions), Colette Joel graciously brought me on-board. The moving parts needed to create a documentary film are many, and time-consuming. Being deeply involved in the inner workings, however, I can assure everyone that the final result will be more than worth the wait.

As readers of this blog know, I am a major fan of the Bowery Boys movie team as well as their earlier iterations, the Dead End Kids, Little Tough Guys and East Side Kids. Naturally, I am particularly fond of the East Side Kids and Bowery Boys films where the gang got mixed up with (both real and imagined) ghosts, monsters, haunted houses and all manner of macabre mayhem. But of course, with a career (counting all their incarnations) spanning 20 years and nearly 100 films, their horror-comedy output only tells part of the tale,

This year marks what would have been the 100th birthday of Leo Gorcey, one of the two actors (along with Huntz Hall) who are arguably the most well-known (and for a majority of fans, most popular) among the ever-rotating cast of gang members. One of the true joys of working on the documentary project for me has been getting to know the children and grandchildren of the original Dead End Kids. All of them are terrific folks with unique perspectives on their famous forebearers’ legacies, both as performers and patriarchs.

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Leo Gorcey’s son, Leo Jr., and his daughter, Brandy are both very active in helping to keep their father’s memory alive. Leo Jr.’s memoir, Me and the Dead End Kid, has been in print for nearly 15 years. Brandy has made some personal appearances bringing special, one-of-a-kind memorabilia relating to her dad and his cohorts to events across the country This Memorial Day weekend, Brandy and Leo’s granddaughter, Madonna will be in attendance at the classic movie showcase and convention, Cinevent in Columbus, Ohio to help celebrate Leo Gorcey Sr.’s birthday.

Brandy and Madonna will display their prized collection of personal photos and memories of Gorcey at their booth. They’ll also offer select merchandise for sale, including Leo Gorcey’s tongue-in-cheek autobiography, An Original Dead End Kid Presents: Dead End Yells, Wedding Bells, Cockle Shells, and Dizzy Spells; Best of all, to commemorate what would be her father’s 100th birthday, Brandy will give a brief introduction to a screening of the East Side Kids classic, Clancy Street Boys. The fun-filled film will be preceded by the first public showing of a teaser trailer for the upcoming documentary on Gorcey and his cinematic cohorts, Bowery Rhapsody: the Rise & Redemption of Hollywood’s Original ‘Brat Pack.’

Joining Brandy and Madonna at their booth will be author Leonard Getz, who wrote a fine book on the team entitled, From Broadway to the Bowery. I originally met Len at a book signing and subsequently during filming of our documentary, of which Len is a part. Click here to read more about Len and his book.

It’s shaping up to be quite the event, and if you’ve never attended Cinevent before, they are offering a ticket give-away for first time attendees. Just click here and here for details.

In the meantime, here are some great East Side Kids and Bowery Boys trailers for films in the horror-comedy genre… ENJOY!

EAST SIDE KIDS:



BOWERY BOYS:






“HORROR-ONABLE" MENTIONS:



Monday, March 20, 2017

HERE WE GO 'RONDO-GAIN!

Rondo Hatton

Springtime means new beginnings... and another round of Rondo Award nominations! The latest nominations (for achievements in horror entertainment, merchandising, journalism and fandom during 2016) were recently announced.  And yes, for at least the sixth time (!!!), this humble little blog about spooks and kooks, ghouls and fools, and creeps and clowns has been nominated for a Rondo award!!!

Like some previous years, I don't necessarily think this blog is worthy of such an honor for my 2016 output. Due to working hard on Colette Joel's Bowery Boys documentary which I'm helping to produce, as well as a Thomas & Friendsweb series I'm co-writing, 2016's Scared Silly efforts were limited to "encore posts," vintage trailers and cartoons, and just a smattering of new reviews. 

The Rondo Awards are the brainchild of David Colton. They are named after Rondo Hatton (you can learn more about Rondo Hatton by watching the video clip below) and are awards given to those who in some way are keeping the love for and appreciation of classic horror alive.  You can learn more details about the Rondo Awards and view this year's ballot by clicking here.

"Scared Silly" has been nominated in the "best blog" category, and it is my hope that if you like this blog, you will vote for it.

There are TONS of friends of Scared Silly who have been nominated in various categories, and before the voting is through I hope I can post more about them and encourage you to check out all their great projects, and to vote for them if you're so inclined.

Votes are due by midnight, Sunday, April 16th, 2017. All voting is done by email only so you must email your picks directly to David Colton at taraco@aol.com

Until then, here's a nice piece on Rondo Hatton courtesy of Me-TV's resident horror movie host, Svengoolie - ENJOY:

Monday, January 16, 2017

THE EAST COAST IS THE MOST FOR FUN SCREENINGS OF GOOFY GHOSTS!

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If you live in the New York/New Jersey area, you’ll soon have not one but two chances to enjoy classic horror-comedy films on the big screen, including another screening introduced by yours, truly!

First up is “Scared Silent,” which is part of the annual “Cruel and Unusual Comedy” film festival at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. This series has been going on for a number of years now and features hilarious and often astonishing silent comedy shorts (not to mention fascinating from a historical standpoint). As usual, the films feature sublime live keyboard accompaniment by Ben Model, and commentary/intros (sometimes even post-screening Q&A) from Ben and film historian Steve Massa, who are both major experts on the subject. The series is facilitated by MOMA's film curator, a noted film historian/critic in his own right, Dave Kehr. Each screening features a group of shorts programmed around a clever, connecting theme. On Thursday, January 19th at 4PM, and again on Wednesday, January 25th at 7PM, the “Scared Silent” program will be shown. Featured stars include Our Gang (aka The Little Rascals), Alice Howell, Edward Everett Horton, Gale Henry and the Ton of Fun (pictured below – they were a comedy trio long before the Three Stooges – if you can imagine a knockabout teaming of Fatty Arbuckle, Oliver Hardy and Curly Howard you’ll get the idea). Click on this link for more details.

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Next up, on Sunday, February 5th at 2PM is my annual guest-speaking gig at the West Orange Classic Film Festival. This will be my fourth year in a row speaking at the festival. It all began for me in 2014 with a sold-out screening of Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, and now it’s coming full circle with this year’s presentation of Abbott & Costello’s Hold That Ghost. As always, I’ll be introducing the film and doing a Q&A afterward. It’s one of Bud and Lou’s best, and simply one of the greatest horror-comedy films of all-time. Thanks go out once again to the festival’s organizer, Ken Mandel for inviting me to take part. Note that this is a “reserved seat” screening so it’s encouraged that you purchase your tickets ahead of time on Fandango. Just click here, then click on “2:00pm” to reserve your seat (NOTE: you might also have to enter the zip code, 07052). See you there!

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