Sunday, June 12, 2016

Tonight's Movie: This Way Please (1937) at UCLA

It was a wonderful evening tonight at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater, featuring a 35mm double bill in the current Marquee Movies series.

The Marquee Movies series focuses on movies about seeing movies, with tonight's titles being the Busby Berkeley spectacular FOOTLIGHT PARADE (1933), followed by the lesser-known THIS WAY PLEASE (1937). Both films are about the live "prologues" preceding films shown in '30s movie palaces.

Leading off the evening were two movie-related shorts, the Pete Smith short MOVIE PESTS (1944), shown in 16mm, and REGINALD DENNY ANNOUNCES "GREATER TALKIE MOVIE SEASON" (1930) in 35mm.

The Pete Smith short was mildly amusing, with some recognizable movie audience problems; I'd love to see him take on today's issues with those who play on their cell phones during movies! Jacqueline White (THE NARROW MARGIN) is a member of the audience.

The Denny piece was a brief ad announcing some upcoming talking pictures. It was unique in that the normally smooth-talking Denny was apparently trying to come across as though he were chatting informally, so there were multiple brief pauses as he searched his mind to "remember" titles. Odd but fun.

I've seen FOOTLIGHT PARADE multiple times and reviewed it here in 2008. However, it was my first time to see it on a big screen since I was a teenager, so that was a thrill!

That said, the 35mm print was not on a par with the prints usually screened at UCLA; while it didn't have any dialogue skips, it was fairly scratched up. I think it must be the same print a friend of mine saw at the Orpheum in Downtown L.A. a couple years ago.

I didn't really mind it, though; a movie jerking forward and missing dialogue is the only real "deal killer" for me. Although it's great to see perfect prints, there's still something kind of magical about a rough 35. As my friend Will recently said on Twitter, after explaining he prefers an unrestored 35mm print to digital, "Seeing a classic on 35mm feels like an experience I'm sharing w/ everyone who's watched that print, ever. I feel their presence with me."

There was enthusiastic applause throughout the film, including at the conclusion of the mind-blowing "By a Waterfall," followed by some cheers and bravos as the movie came to the end. The audiences at UCLA are usually very appreciative, but everyone seemed to especially want to express their admiration for the performers and Berkeley's amazing dance designs tonight.

What made the screening extra-special was the presence in the audience of Joan Blondell and Dick Powell's son, Norman Powell, and members of the extended family. As I overheard one of the family comment after the film, not only were Norman's parents in the movie, but his birth father, George Barnes, filmed it. (According to Blondell's biography, the oft-married Barnes was not interested in parenthood and gave up his rights to Powell, who adopted Norman.)

What's more, when the family was welcomed before the screening, it was also announced that there will be a Joan Blondell retrospective at UCLA this fall! Something tells me I'm going to be spending a lot of time at the Billy Wilder Theater later in the year...!

The crowd thinned out considerably before the second film of the evening, but THIS WAY PLEASE (1937), while lightweight, had its compensations, starting with the fact that it was a shimmering, beautiful 35mm print.

The movie is a great chance to see beautiful young Betty Grable -- and her deservedly famous legs -- about three years before she hit the top level of stardom at 20th Century-Fox. In this Paramount film she plays Jane, who badly needs a job and gets one as an usherette at a movie palace.

In fun scenes which somewhat call to mind Universal's THE GOOD FAIRY (1935) of a couple years previously, we see uniformed usherettes marching into the lobby for inspection and later at work with their flashlights. I suppose they so often needed to seat people in the dark because it was fairly common then to walk in during the middle of a program and stay until it circled back to where one came in; tonight's Pete Smith short also featured people being seated during a movie which had already started.

Charles "Buddy" Rogers (FOLLOW THRU) is the matinee idol who sings on stage in between movies. Jane is torn between mooning over him or falling for Stu (Lee Bowman), the chief of the ushers.

The movie is also a rare chance to see radio stars Jim and Marian Jordan (Fibber McGee and Molly) and Mary Livingstone on a big screen; all have substantial roles. When I was young we had LP albums with Fibber McGee and Molly shows; back then I envisioned them in my "mind's eye" as looking like Ozzie and Harriet, so it was fun to see what they actually looked like!

THIS WAY PLEASE isn't an especially scintillating film, but it's only 75 minutes long and I rather enjoyed it, especially as I'm a Grable fan. Although I would have liked more musical numbers, she gets the chance to do a little tapping which was great to watch. The chance to see a rarely screened Paramount film is always a plus, and I also liked the movie theater setting.

The cast also includes Ned Sparks, Cecil Cunningham, and Porter Hall. There are a number of chorus girls who get nice extended closeups, one of which is Ellen Drew.

THIS WAY PLEASE was directed by Robert Florey and filmed in black and white by Harry Fischbeck.

Thanks to UCLA for another great night at the movies!


Blogger Ashley said...

1:43 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for the Fibber McGee and Molly movie links, Ashley!

Best wishes,

3:08 PM  
Blogger Seth said...

"Fibber McGee and Molly" is one of my favorite old time radio shows; unfortunately, they never translated very well to the big screen. Still, I'd be interested in seeing them (and the rest of this interesting cast) in "This Way Please."

Of the films Ashley links to, "Look Who's Laughing" is best (they also incorporated the movie premiere into radio storylines), then "Here We Go Again" and "Heavenly Days."

Warner also has "The Great Gildersleeve Movie Collection," based on the FM&M spinoff character. I've only seen "Gildersleeve's Ghost " on TCM once a few years ago, and it was fairly good.

And if you want to catch up on their radio program, the Internet Archive has most, if not all, available programs for streaming or download. You might be interested to know that Bill Thompson (voice of Mr. Smee in Disney's "Peter Pan") was a show regular, along with other prominent voice actors, such as Arthur Q. Bryan (Elmer Fudd).

9:14 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Seth, thank you so much for adding your knowledge to this post!

I recorded some GILDERSLEEVE movies from TCM not that long ago -- particularly intrigued that a very young Nancy Gates is in a couple.

Thank you for the recommendation of the Internet Archive! I've been trying to listen to more "old time radio." During the Noir City Fest I listened to a big CD set of Phil Harris & Alice Faye programs. :)

Best wishes,

5:28 PM  
Blogger Seth said...

Well, if you're interested in listening to more OTR, the Internet Archive has quite a lot, if you know the programs you're looking for. There's also a couple of "curated" internet radio stations I'd suggest: and

Generally, there's good crossover between radio and classic movies. Not only are there shows that adapted films for radio (Screen Directors' Playhouse, Lux Radio Theater hosted by C.B. DeMille), but plenty of Hollywood stars had their own shows or guested on other programs.

And if I may offer suggestions for titles to expand your listening, you might enjoy Rathbone and Bruce in Sherlock Holmes (followed by Tim Conway as Holmes after Basil left the series), Dick Powell as Richard Diamond, Private Detective, and Bogie and Bacall in Bold Venture. Jack Benny is hilarious, and so is Groucho Marx in You Bet Your Life. And Gunsmoke, Suspense, and Escape are so atmospheric and enveloping, plus you get to regularly hear some of radio's greatest voices, like William Conrad and Paul Frees.

I could go on, but that should keep you busy enough....

6:29 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, Seth! I'm going to try to listen to more shows in the car -- I can listen to them from my smart phone over the car speakers.

I do have a couple sets of Richard Diamond CDs and really liked them. I also have a set of SUSPENSE from a friend which I haven't dipped into yet.

Best wishes,

10:17 AM  

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