Tuesday, July 5, 2016

FORGOTTEN FUNNYMEN: WHEELER AND WOOLSEY

When people think of the top comedy teams of the 1930's, they tend to think of the usual suspects like, Laurel and Hardy, The Three Stooges and The Marx Brothers, however the most popular team of that era gets little in the way of recognition from fans today.

   Bert Wheeler (1895-1968) and Robert Woolsey (1888-1938) were the most recognized comedy team in the pre-code era, spawning several films and countless imitators.

Bert and Bob
Before I go in to the careers of Bert and Bob, I must give a personal history. Back in my childhood days, I used to frequent a local library's book sale. I would go, primarily looking for a Disney movie on VHS and a cheap DVD of a Hollywood classic, I had discovered the Marx Brothers about four years earlier and took a liking to classic films. While browsing the shelves, I found a very nice coffee table book entitled, "The RKO Story". I squealed with delight and could not wait to rush home and read it. While flipping through the pages, I discovered a comedy team that I had never heard of: Wheeler and Woolsey. They caught my eye, but sadly, at that time, their films were not widely available on DVD...yet.

   When I got to high school, I figured that it would be a great time to finally see a Wheeler and Woolsey film. I was on a rewards system, and if I did very well, I would purchase a DVD of my choosing. I still remember the DVDs that I ordered, they were "Hook, Line and Sinker" from Digiview (Horrible Print), "Half Shot at Sunrise" on a very good Alpha DVD and "Caught Plastered" which came from the now-defunct Nostalgia Family Video. Suffice to say, I enjoyed all three films immensely. Now on to the history of our boys.
   In 1927, prolific Broadway producer Florenz Ziegfield produced "Rio Rita", one of the most lavish and expensive Broadway productions of its time. In the cast of this epic were Bebe Daniels, a popular silent film actress, John Boles, a well known stage actor and Wheeler and Woolsey, Wheeler being the curly-haired babyface and Woolsey being the cigar chomping idea-man.


Dorothy Lee
The play was such a smash hit that, the newly-formed RKO Radio Pictures produced a film version. The film adaptation was just as lavish as the stage version, and all of the main players returned to their original stage roles. Outshining the leads were the antics of Wheeler and Woolsey, also returning from the stage version, and many critics thought they were the highlight of the evening. On an interesting side note, "Rio Rita" was one of the earliest sound films to have a sequence shot in Technicolor.
    Bert and Bob were such a success, that RKO landed them a contract. Their first outing was "The Cuckoos", an adaptation of "The Ramblers" which starred another forgotten comedy team, Bobby Clark and Paul McCullough (More on them in another article). The film was a smash and solidified Wheeler and Woolsey as screen favorites.
   Over the course of the next three years, Wheeler and Woolsey made an astounding ten pictures for RKO, including "Hook, Line and Sinker", "Cracked Nuts" (Which features an early performance by Boris Karloff), an adaptation of the George and Ira Gershwin play "Girl Crazy" and two solo features, "Too Many Cooks" with Bert and "Everything's Rosie" with Bob. Interestingly, "Rosie" is an adaptation of the W.C. Fields vehicle "Poppy", of which Robert Woolsey had a supporting role in the stage version.

Hips, Hips, Hooray! (1934)
In 1933, due to dispute in contract and with production head David O. Selznick, the boys went over to Columbia to shoot "So This is Africa", a parody of thirties jungle pictures. This was to be the only film the boys produced for Columbia, and the only film they made outside of RKO.
     When Wheeler and Woolsey returned to RKO, they starred in two fantastic comedies, one of them, one of the best political satires of all time and the other, one of the sexiest comedies ever made."Diplomaniacs" concerns two barbers on an Indian reservation who are called upon to go to the Geneva Peace Conference and stop an impending war. The film is regarded as a classic today, and deserves to be on the same shelf as other satirical films like "Duck Soup" and "Million Dollar Legs". In "Hips, Hips, Hooray", the boys are flavored lipstick salesmen who have no luck. Luck beckons in the form of Dorothy Lee, one of Bert and Bob's most frequent co-stars, and Thelma Todd, a ravishing beauty who also had a great sense of humor and whose life ended tragically due to poisoning by Carbon Monoxide, a mystery that still plagues Hollywood today. One of the most inventive comedy sequences ever filmed, was the taste testing scene where Wheeler and Woolsey try to guess the flavor of lipstick by kissing a scantily clad store model.
Thelma Todd
While the boys were a hit with audiences, their raunchy humor and their risque antics spelt trouble for the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America,who felt pressure from several religious organizations to put a stop to scandalous imagery from being projected on movie screens. The Motion Picture Production Code put an end to films featuring risque content,including but not limited to, sexual acts or talk insinuating sex, scantily clad persons (especially women) and extreme displays of violence.
   Many fans consider the code to be the death knell for the team. After 1934, Bert and Bob's films continued to get worse and worse, and started to losemoney for the studio. The one highlight of this era was 1934's "Kentucky Kernels", which featured such stars as Margaret Dumont, a Marx Brothers favorite, and little "Spanky" McFarland, from Hal Roach's famous "Our Gang" shorts.

In 1936, Robert Woolsey, a longtime cigar smoker, developed a kidney ailment, this illness contributed to the downfall of the team. Bob struggled to finish 1937's "On Again-Off Again" and "High Flyers". After production wrapped on "Flyers", Woolsey was confined to a bed for one year, and at this time developed a bad drinking habit. Robert Woolsey died on October 31, 1938. He was only 49 years old.
  After the death of Woolsey, Bert struggled to make a name for himself as a solo performer, teaming up regularly with friend and co-star Dottie Lee. Bert continued to make minor film and television appearences, but never again achieved the level of success of his earlier screen career. His last
major role was as Smokey Joe on the popular western television program "Brave Eagle". Bert Wheeler died penniless of emphysema on January 18, 1968.
  Since Wheeler and Woolsey's popular films were deemed tasteless by the 1950's and due to the fact that they rarely made any two-reel shorts, their pictures were forgotten and remained so for nearly four decades. In the 1980's with the rise of home video, Wheeler and Woolsey's films were made available again to enjoy in VHS, Betamax and Laserdisc formats, and in 2013 Warner Archive, the made-on-demand DVD arm of Warner Bros. released 15 of the team's features and now future generations can enjoy the antics of one of the greatest comedy teams of all time.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Peaceful Pages ASMR - Actual Medical Professional .... or Best Actress Ever!!

       For those of you who know me, you know that I am a follower of one of the biggest phenomenons sweeping the internet: ASMR. ASMR, which stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response is, in layman's terms, a scientific phenomenon in the body, primarily the head, which causes the being experiencing it, to feel relaxation.
       YouTube has become a hotspot for ASMR, wherein content creators (referred to as "ASMRtists" in the community) post videos of themselves performing actions associated with ASMR. From the typical whispering video, to the atypical roleplay, all while giving the viewer a headrush, or "Tingles" as they are known as in the trades. These videos may vary in quality, based on the technology that is used to record the content, to mainly the artist's own enthusiasm for creating such material.
      The artist that I will be spotlighting today has gotten little in the way of any mainstream attention. While everyone flocks to the internet to experience GentleWhispering doing another suit-fitting roleplay, or Heather Feather showing off her latest Yu-Gi-Oh card collection, I tune to the delightfully different and refreshing content of an artist known as "Peaceful Pages ASMR".

Peaceful Pages ASMR (a.k.a. Annie)
    "Peaceful Pages", whose name is apparently Annie, is a wonderful and underrated contributor to the ASMR community. Not much is known about her, aside from the fact that she is a mother who lives in Canada. I totally respect that she doesn't commit to the unwritten rules of ASMR, which are that you have to be tech savvy and have a 3Dio microphone (Those weird mics that look like something Spock from Star Trek would use to communicate with aliens.) She is very humble, and rarely posts content. That is not to say she isn't motivated to do so, I truly believe that she doesn't want to be one of "Those" artists that churn out 3 videos a week and beg everybody to donate to their Paypal accounts. 
     My primary fascination with her work is her medical themed roleplays and two immediately come to mind. 

        The one that got me hooked was her "Hair Loss Consultation" video. I do believe she is the first ASMRtist to go after such a niche market. Now, in this video, she is shown at a desk, welcoming and going over treatment plans with her client (us). She then proceeds to ask us questions relating to our health and treatment plans that we have had in the past. For props, she has latex gloves, to apply the treatment on us. She also finds time to inject humor into the video, which many artists rarely do. When she told us to wear a ballcap, she stated that it was the perfect excuse to purchase a new one, and then scales back her remarks to apologize when realizing our collection is sufficient.
       The next video is her "Hospital Admission". In this video, which clocks in at an impressive 48 minutes, Annie is a nurse, talking with a patient (us again) about how we got here. She is totally sympathetic of our situation and guides us through our medical histories. This time, the audience of this video is clearly male as she refers to us as "Mr. Smith", truthfully a generic name if ever there was one, however the rest of the video more than makes up for that. Annie is very thorough and we as the patient are very lucky to have Annie as our nurse, she is a complete professional and rarely stumbles.
     Throughout these videos, I felt more than just tingles. I felt like I was transported into the office of some medical professional. As stated, Annie is very thorough in her roleplays, rarely mis-stepping and unintentionally gives the viewer a sense of realism. Annie does not sugarcoat the medical profession. If we do not want our hair loss treated, we still have to pay $50 for the consultation. It is at this point where all other medical themed ASMR roleplays fall flat. Other artists, with the exception of Dmitri (MassageASMR), come off as miracle workers. I know I am nitpicking when I am criticizing my ASMR videos for their accuracy and realism, but having as much time on my hands as I do, it gives me time to analyze almost anything the far reaches of the internet has to offer.
     Many times while watching Annie's videos, I found myself asking: Is she an actual medical professional, or could she possibly be the best actress since Vivien Leigh? In her most recent update video, I heard her say she was attending a university of some sort, however the audio quality of the video left much to be desired and was barely coherent, perhaps it was intended to be an unintelligible whisper video? 
     Anyway, friends and fans, please support artists like Annie, the true underdogs of the ASMR community, and ditch the bubble-gum pop world of Maria, Heather and (shudder) Amal. Annie seems to be a real down to earth person, and she will go far in the ASMR world. I just hope she never forgets the little people.





EDIT (6/27/2016): I have received some backlash for the posting of this article, I feel it is my duty to clarify certain comments that were made. I respect and admire the work of Maria (GentleWhispering) and I think she is wonderful at her craft, however I feel that most of the press and publicity of ASMR goes direct to her, that is why I chose to select Annie as my subject, she gets little in the way of attention from the ASMR community and I felt the need to highlight her talents and contributions. This article was in no way meant to offend or alienate followers of Maria, HeatherFeather or any of the other popular artists. As with all great forms of art, some get more attention than others and I believe it is important to highlight every artist who gives their time, energy and creativity to provide content for the audience. Annie is a marvelous person and I would hate for anyone to send her hurtful comments regarding this article, she was in no way responsible for the creation of this post, other than being the focus of it. I would also like to apologize to Annie, if my article has hurt her in any way, it was not my intention to start a war, however all art forms have their fair share of politics and sadly ASMR is not excluded.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

I'm back.

Hello all, I apologize for my absence as there has been a lot of things going on in my life, my grandmother has fallen ill and we have been fighting to save her. I have also been working on myself recently, I have been working to get myself a steady job through a fabulous organization (Southeastern Employment Services), and I may start attending college to pursue my dreams of having a career in the film industry, but, do not fret my friends, I have not forgotten you, I am here to stay. Here is a recent trip I took to a very cool place in Middletown called "Wild Bill's Nostalgia Store". Enjoy my friends, and there will be more news to come regarding my grandmother and all other updates. See you soon. - Geno.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

MOVIE REVIEW: "Hips, Hips, Hooray!" (1934)

Well, you thought that I was going to stop blogging until the new year, eh? Well, you are WRONG!! Yesterday, I recieved a DVD set via FedEx called "Wheeler & Woolsey: RKO Comedy Classics Collection". I love early 1930's comedy of the pre-code era, what is the pre-code era, you are asking, well let me explain. In 1934, after the release of King Kong, Duck Soup and many others, times in Hollywood were changing, there was a new censorship code put in place, referred to as the "Hay's Code", which forced many of the big studios to stop inserting the following things into their films: sex, drugs and glorification of wrong-doing. Many people felt at the time, and to this day, that this was the beginning of the end. Such was he case with the, now long forgotten, comedy team of Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey. Wheeler & Woolsey were vaudevillians and most vaudeville acts depicted sexual acts or innuendos. Their first screen outing was RKO's lavish 1929 cinematic version of the popular stage production of Rio Rita. Bert & Bob stole the show and took the comedy world by storm, by 1931 they had already filmed the successful The Cuckoos, Half Shot at Sunrise, and Hook, Line and Sinker. This film was the beginnining of the end of their careers. Bert & Bob's comedy was founded on sexual innuendos, but now that the code had enforced the banning of such risque material, they had to switch gears and make their comedy mor "kiddie" orientated. This film is often seen as their last great movie. Although, this was before the code was being strictly enforced. The basic plot of the film is this, Andy Williams (Wheeler) and Dr. Bob Dudley (Woolsey) convince Amelia Frisby, the owner of a beauty supply business to hire them as salesman to promote her new flavored lipstick, and hilarity ensues. The film is full of double entendres, and scantily clad women throughout. take a look at this scene from the film, which speaks for itself:


Monday, December 16, 2013

A Christmas Miracle

Hello all, I've been away on many swashbuckling adventures, more on those on a later post. I recently ordered a package from ebay and I've been waiting for it for days now. Today I heard a knock on my door and when I looked out the window I saw the USPS truck, so I thought that my package was finally here. I open the door and I looked down and saw a small box, now I ordered 36 Disney tapes and I thought to myself that it couldn't be those, and I saw where it was from, it said Florida, but my order was from South Dakota. I was dumbfounded as I opened the box and I saw two very rare Disney tapes inside.
I was in awe, I was not expecting them and my mother was astounded too. She glanced at the address on the box and she remembered recieving a phone call from this mysterious figure who revealed himself to be Herb Contos, an ebay seller who I told I would pay for the tapes when I had the money, I explained my financial situation and he agreed to wait for payment. a month went by and I saw the lot of 36 tapes and I bought those instead. So i was about to forget about the above tapes. Well, he knew my status and he remembered a humbling time in his life when he was in dire straits, and he sent the tapes to me anyway. This experience has proven to me that there are still great people in this world. This was a true Christmas miracle. It's like God was listening to me and he delivered the gift in the form of Mr. Contos. I am on a path to believing in the lord, as I have been hesitant due to my father's passing when I was six years old. Well, I must be off, I have more adventures to embark upon so until next time my friends, my commorades, good night. Also, I bid you all a beautiful Christmas and a glorious New Year. Enjoy your holidays, but remember to be safe and be responsible. Have fun, but not TOO much fun. ;)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

MOVIE REVIEW: "Hercules Unchained" (1959)

Hello dear friends, it has been awhile hasn't it, well I have just returned from a viewing of the 1959 epic Hercules Unchained, starring bodybuilder Steve Reeves.
For those of you who were too young to remember, Hercules films, along with other films about heroes from Greek mythology, were all the rage back in the late 50's. These foreign import films were known in the trades as "Sword & Sandal" and were marketed as exploitation films. Most film snobs look down on these movies, I think due mainly to how they were treated in North America. These were originally Italian made films, made before the "Spaghetti Westerns", that depicted heroes from Italian and Greek mythology like Maciste, Hercules, Ursus, Samson and Goliath. When they were exported to the U.S they were often re-titled, re-edited and dubbed over. Most of these were distributed by low budget film distributors like AIP (American International Pictures), with the exception of a few like the film being reviewed today. Sadly, today many of these films are offered to the public in shoddy public domain movie collections (i.e Mill Creek's 50 movie packs) and are usually either 16mm dupes or VHS transfers, mostly in full frame. Most of these films when first released were in Cinemascope (Widescreen) formats, so it was a disservice to view a full frame presentation of a film originally meant to be viewed in widescreen.
            Hercules Unchained (Italian title: Ercole e la regina di Lidia, Hercules and the Queen of Lydia) was a sequel to the very popular 1958 film Hercules (or The labours of Hercules), which also starred Reeves, and a good portion of the sequel's main cast members. The plot follows Hercules (Reeves), his wife Iole (Sylva Koscina) and Ulysses (Gabriele Antonini) as they take a trip to Thebes where a war is brewing between two brothers, Eteocles (Sergio Fantoni) and Polynices (Mimmo Palmara), who want the throne. Hercules is asked by an elder to bring peace between the two, so Hercules is off to carryout his deed. He, along with Ulysses stop to rest a moment before continuing on with their quest. Hercules drinks water from an enchanted spring and forgets everything about himself. He and Ulysses are captured by Queen Omphale's (Sylvia Lopez) band of knights. At Omphale's palace he falls under her spell and falls in love with her, while Ulysses is desperately trying to convince Hercules of who he is. In every attempt he is thwarted by Omphale's men and he is escorted back to his dungeon. Iole is now victim to Eteocles', and he imprisons her to feed her to his savage tigers. Visitors from Thebes arrive at Omphale's palace and give Hercules greater understanding of who he is. He finally comes to his senses and unleashes an all out attack against Omphale's guards, using his strength to fend them off. At last moment, Omphale attempts to close the gates only to have Hercules use his mighty power to prop them open. Along with Ulysses and the Thebians, Hercules escapes, leaving Omphale to fall to her death (which given the fact that this was one of Lopez's last films before her untimely November 1959 death to leukemia makes the scene all the more unsettling). Hercules arrives in Thebes just in time to stop the war and save his wife in one of the greatest film climaxes since Ben Hur. The film ends with Hercules promising his wife eternal love and the high priest Creon (Carlo D'angelo) gaining ownership of the throne.
                At the end of the day, I can most certainly recommend Hercules Unchained, though there were moments of the film that could have been handled better by U.S exhibitors, like some poor editing choices and some over zealous dubbing, the film is still highly recommended. I would, however, insit that one seeks out the original widescreen Italian version (with English subtitles, if available) to truly appreciate the scope and the beauty of this film. I am now an official fan of the "Sword & Sandal" genre, which is officially referred to as the Peplum film genre. I have many more of them to see, but I fear that they may not meet my expectations that were set high by this film. This is a very underrated grandiose spectacle, it truly does not belong in the exploitation genre, it is as good, or even better than the aforementioned Ben Hur. If you see the film, you won't be disappointed, it has all the beauty and charm of one of the major Hollywood blockbusters of the time. If you love an action packed story, than this is the one for you, but if you love romance and simplicity than this is also for you. The story is superb, and acting is excellent. Hercules Unchained gets a definate 4 out of 4 stars from me. You won't want to pass up the opportunity to see it. Now I must be off, to search for the 1958 predecessor film Hercules, have a great day all and give the film a chance, you won't be disappointed. Cherrio everyone. -Geno C.

Friday, November 15, 2013

"Leonard Part 6", what could have been.

As many of you well know, unless your new to me, I am a tremendous fan of comedian and actor, Bill Cosby. About a month ago I had the pleasure of sitting down to view Leonard Part 6 a film he made in 1987 for Columbia Pictures. By now many of you are asking, "Part SIX what about the first five parts?", well if you see the film you will know that the first five were "Confiscated by National Security". The film was made at a big time in his career, his hit sitcom The Cosby Show was breaking all new records and scoring ratings, and Mr. Cosby was at the top of his game. In the summer of 1986 or so, Cosby was vacationing in France when an idea for a movie popped into his head, he consulted Columbia Pictures and they green lit the picture. The film was not only written by Cosby (and Jonathon Reynolds), but he was the producer as well. The movie is basically a spy film, a genre Cosby was familiar with being in the hit 60's series I Spy as well as a 1978 made for TV film Top Secret, only this time Cosby chose to spoof the genre (Albeit with more finesse than Mike Myers' annoying Austin Powers films). In this film, Cosby,  plays Leonard Parker, a retired secret agent turned bon-vivant restaurateur who is called back to the spy game to defeat the evil vegetarian, Medusa Johnson (played by Cosby favorite and voice of the Oracle from the Matrix films, Gloria Foster), who is set to take over the world with her vast army of killer animals and muscular henchman.
David Maier (Left) Gloria Foster (Center) and Bill Cosby (Right)


Her motive is not clear and what she intends to do is not thoroughly explained. On the other side of the spectrum, Cosby must also deal with domestic difficulties, like his daughter (Victoria Rowell, in her film debut years before her role as Drucilla Winters in the soap opera The Young and the Restless) dating a 66 year old theatre director (Moses Gunn) and patching things up with his estranged wife Allison (Pat Colbert). I personally felt that this film didn't need the two subplots but I guess they were capitalizing on him being America's #1 dad at the time. This film also tries to capitalize on Cosby's being an ad-man (for years and to this day ridiculed for Jell-O pudding pops), by having Cosby use or walk by a product that was paying for the film's production. The products shown are Lava soap, Alka-Seltzer and most notoriously, Coca-Cola (since Columbia was owned by Coke at the time). This film also provides the viewer the only chance to see Mr. Cosby dance in ballet slippers and ride out of the movie on the back of an ostrich. The film, sad to say,

turned out to be a total disaster. Cosby, himself, went on talk shows telling potential moviegoers to keep away from the film like the plague. They did and Columbia, to this day, has never made back the film's reported $24,000,000 budget. The film was released on VHS and LaserDisc, but nobody bought it. They just sat on store shelves collecting dust. The movie earned five Golden Raspberry awards, which Cosby had made out of real gold and marble, which set the Fox network back about $20k. Cosby brought the awards with him on The Tonight Show and stated that he "Swept the Awards". He laughed off his failure, but that didn't (and hasn't) changed his opinions on the film. The film, however, had an impressive ad campaign with three TV spots, one of which is presented below:
video
There were other ads for the film, like an ad from Ponderosa Steakhouse for a mini spy camera that you could have gotten with your meal, take a look at the kid wearing the spy getup from the movie. I feel if the
film had been done properly, without the studio interference, it could've been successful. I could imagine there being prequels like the Star Wars films like Leonard Part 1: The First Adventure, it could have been a huge franchise for Cosby and Columbia, spawning more films and loads of merchandise like a Leonard action figure with accessories such as ballet slippers and an ostrich. Also Leonard lunchboxes and a die-cast model of the armored Porsche used in the film. For kids uninterested in The Cosby Show, this could've brought Cosby a bigger fan base, and fortune (not that The Cosby Show wasn't raking in the dough). This film could have taken Cosby places and would've made him more than just a sitcom dad. I think the only reason Leonard flopped was because of the fact that, Cosby had no creative control and also maybe the world wasn't ready for a film like Leonard Part 6. I think now, since the Austin Powers films have come and gone, that Cosby's effort should come back to the spotlight. It definitely does not deserve to be in IMDB's bottom 100 list (at #63), I think that if watched with an open mind, it is not half bad. I screened the film for my older sister and she enjoyed it so much, that she wanted to see it again. I'm not saying that Leonard Part 6 is the greatest film ever, but it is not the worst either. And unlike the aforementioned Mike Myers in  Austin Powers, Bill Cosby has actual talent. He is a very underrated actor, as far as I am concerned, if you see him in Disney's 1981 The Devil & Max Devlin, he gives a great dramatic showing as the embodiment of Satan. More on that film on a later post. Well, I must be going, gotta get in another viewing of Leonard, before the day is out. Cheers to all of you, and give Leonard Part 6 a chance, you won't be disappointed. Catch you later. - Geno C.