Movies Till Dawn: Vintage Distractions

“My Little Chickadee” (1940, Kino Lorber) The lawless Western town of Greasewood City is no match for the twin Dionysian forces of saloon singer and free thinker Flower Belle (Mae West) and garrulous con man Cuthbert J. Twillie (W.C. Fields), especially after both join forces in arranged matrimony. Former Keystone Cop and frequent Fields director Edward F. Cline’s Western spoof is by no means a high point for either of the leads, who apparently clashed over script control and Fields’ real-life dipsomania (as well as studio interference over their mature brands of humor), but as with pizza and many other inherently satisfying things, even minor West and Fields has its merits. West and Fields are afforded more than an ample share of quotable lines (West: “Two and two is four and five with get you ten if you know how to work it”; Fields: “Tell me, prairie flower, can you give me the inside info on yon damsel with the hothouse cognomen?”) and get fine support from, among others, inveterate scene-stealers like Margaret Hamilton, Donald Meek, and Ruth Donnelly (though the less said about vaudevillian George Moran’s Native American sidekick, the better). Kino’s Blu-ray offers a 4K restoration which is undoubtedly the best presentation of this film to date; commentary by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Josh Nelson addresses many of the behind-the-scenes stories about the film as well as West’s career and contentious relationships with the censors (Fields is more or less an afterthought here) and trailers for other Fields and West titles.

For Those Who Think Young” (1964, Scorpion Releasing/Kino Lorber) United Artists took a swing at American International Pictures’ beach party series with this amiable sand-and-surf pic. AIP chief Samuel Z. Arkoff gave it the gas face, citing the title, drawn from the advertising slogan by the movie’s co-financiers, Pepsi-Cola, as its chief detriment, but the picture itself has enough frosting to keep drive-in movie fans engaged. The primary draw is Bob Denver as the Maynard Krebsian Kelp, weirdo-beardo sidekick to the film’s nominal hero (a post-“Gidget” James Darren as an oily rich kid named Ding); Kelp injects a much-needed element of Beat/sensimilla-influenced anarchy to the proceedings, especially during his tribal freakout number, “Ho Daddy, Surf’s Up,” for which he’s joined by Nancy Sinatra (whose presence, along with that of Dean Martin’s daughter, Claudia, is undoubtedly due to the fact that the pic was produced by Frank Sinatra’s film company, Essex). The premise is, as usual, dismissiable – Darren seeks to squire nice girl Pamela Tiffin by taking her to a club targeted by his moral-minded granddad (beefy Robert Middleton) – but “Young” is also front-loaded with oddball casting – Ellen Burstyn (billed as Ellen McRae) as a tippling researcher, Paul Lynde and forgotten comic Woody Woodbury, ancient vaudeville vet Mousie Garner, and a flotilla of Depression Era stars, including Robert Armstrong (“King Kong”), Allen Jenkins, and an uncredited George Raft – as well as several AIP beach party loan-outs (like Susan Hart and real surfer Micky Dora), “77 Sunset Strip” star Roger Smith, and a Buick Riviera tricked out by George Barris. Songs are minimal, but you do get a sort of surf supergroup with Paul Johnson of the Belairs and Richard Delvy of the Challengers backing future Oscar-winning songwriter Jimmy Griffin of Bread on “I’m Gonna Walk All Over This Land.” Long unavailable on home video, the Scorpion Releasing Blu-ray looks and sounds sharp and includes the original theatrical trailer.

It Happened at the World’s Fair” (1963, Warner Archives Collection) In his first of a 10-picture distribution deal with MGM, commercial pilot Elvis is left in financial hot water by the ill-considered gambling ventures of deadbeat partner Gary Lockwood (“2001: A Space Odyssey”) and sets out in search of the necessary funding to get their plane out of hock; his wandering brings him to the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, where he courts both Joan O’Brien and Yvonne Craig and plays big brother to (future First Lady of Hawaii) grader schooler Vicky Tiu, who has been inexplicably abandoned by uncle Kam Tong. Elvis diehards will most likely be the most appreciative audience for “World’s Fair” – the soundtrack is decidedly unremarkable, with the #11 single “One Broken Heart for Sale” the standout – but it’s better than many of the MGM titles that followed (“Harum Scarum,” “Double Trouble), and you do get location footage of the World’s Fair and Space Needle (though Elvis and Lockwood are in Camarillo, CA for the extended hitchhiking scenes), and glimpses of Memphis Mafiosi Red West and Joe Esposito; a then-11-year-old Kurt Russell is the little kid Elvis pays to kick him in the shin. The Warner Archives Collection Blu-ray includes the theatrical trailer.

Thank you to Warner Archives for providing a free Blu-ray for this review.

The Daydreamer” (1966, Scorpion Releasing) Curious morality play from Rankin-Bass, the stop-motion animation specialists behind the well-loved holiday TV specials like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Several of the actors who supplied voices for that effort and other R-B projects lend their talents here, but the real draw is the impressive list of name actors on hand to give voice to characters from Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tales: Boris Karloff and Sessue Hayakawa as the Rat and Mole, respectively; Tallulah Bankhead as a sea witch; Hayley Mills as a sort of Little Mermaid, and Burl Ives as her father, Neptune; and Ed Wynn as the royal fleeced by two tailors (Terry-Thomas and Victor Borge) in a take on “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” These elements are cleverly rendered and performed, though the stories themselves have a rueful bite (like the original Anderson stories), as shown in the story of the mermaid, who is cast out of her underwater home for helping the young Anderson (Paul O’Keefe). The live-action sequences, which feature Jack Gilford as Anderson’s father and Margaret Hamilton as a crabby customer (who’s joined by fellow “Wizard of Oz” castmate Ray Bolger as the Pie Man), are also oddly structured – Anderson is portrayed as a singularly selfish kid – but as the Sandman (Cyril Ritchard), his guide of sorts from waking to dreaming (and live-action to animation) notes, all the kvetching and turmoil does result in Anderson’s future career as a writer (a stretch, but the core message – quit complaining and grow up – has its merits). The cast and impressive animation more than smooth over any rough patches in the plot, and Scorpion’s Blu-ray features a wealth of information on all things Rankin-Bass by historian Lee Gambin and R-B expert Rick Goldschmidt.

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury, and George Newall, who created both "Schoolhouse Rock" and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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