Simpson Sunday: Chief Edward G. Wiggum

Edward G Robinson

Season 5, Episode 17: Bart Gets an Elephant

Clancy Wiggum, Springfield’s ineffective police chief, is one of the dozens of Simpsons characters voiced by actor Hank Azaria. Although Edward G. Robinson is best known for playing gangsters who have little regard for the law, Azaria has said that the voice he created for Chief Wiggum is basically his imitation of Edward G. Robinson. In the season 5 episode “Bart Gets an Elephant,” the writers included a joke about the inspiration for this character’s voice.

Chief Wiggum Edward G. Robinson

Noir City Comes to Detroit

noir-city-detroitOn the weekend of September 23-25, 2016, Eddie Muller, founder of the Film Noir Foundation and known as the Czar of Noir, brought the renowned Noir City festival to Detroit’s historic Redford Theater. Over the course of the weekend, visitors had the chance to see up to seven noir classics, each introduced by Muller. Every day, there was a double feature consisting of one well-known noir classic paired with one that isn’t so widely known, all presented in beautiful 35mm prints. Each of the bigger titles were movies I’d seen before and really liked, but I was actually more excited for the second billings since I’d never seen any of them before.

The festival kicked off on Friday night with a double feature of The Killers and 99 River Street. In 99 River Street, the events of the film take place over the course of one night and I don’t really know why, but I love movies that are structured like that. John Payne stars as a boxer-turned-cab driver who is married to an unhappy wife. Over the course of one night, he discovers that his wife has been having an affair, gets framed for his wife’s murder, and unwittingly becomes entangled in a publicity stunt for a new play starring an actress friend of his, played by Evelyn Keyes. When Keyes’ character feels bad about unwittingly leading him into a publicity stunt, she quits the play to help him clear his name. For the most part, I loved this movie. Gritty and compelling, but with a happy ending that I would normally not like in a noir, but considering it’s about a guy having the worst night ever, I can forgive it. I figured that guy deserved to have something good happen to him.

Saturday’s double feature was Double Indemnity and The ProwlerDouble Indemnity is definitely a favorite of mine, but The Prowler ended up being the biggest highlight of the festival for me. If you have never seen The Prowler, imagine an even more subversive Double Indemnity, only with a one-sided murder plot and a main female character who actually has a conscience.

When I hear classic film fans talk about how old films weren’t always wholesome and sweet, they’re typically referring to the pre-code era, but The Prowler definitely pushed some 1950s-era boundaries. Not only is the plot full of elements that test the limits of the production codes, its production involved two famous victims of Hollywood blacklisting: Joseph Losey and Dalton Trumbo. Trumbo was not only an uncredited writer, but also provided the voice Evelyn Keyes’ character’s husband. At the time The Prowler was produced, Trumbo was such a Hollywood outcast, the fact that he was providing the voice for a character in the movie had to be an extremely well-kept secret. In his introduction, Muller said that not even Evelyn Keyes knew Trumbo provided that voice until a long time after the fact.

Night owls had the chance to catch a late-night screening of David Lynch’s neo-noir classic Blue Velvet on Saturday. Although I’m a big David Lynch fan and really like Blue Velvet, I simply did not have the energy to stay up for it. But I was back at the Redford early Sunday afternoon for a double feature of The Lady from Shanghai and Woman on the Run.

It had been ages since I’d seen The Lady from Shanghai, and since it’s a movie you really have to concentrate on, seeing it in a theater is absolutely perfect. Woman on the Run was extremely enjoyable. I love Ann Sheridan, but I haven’t seen much of her post-1940s work, so this was a real treat. She is absolutely fantastic in it and the movie is full of twists and turns to keep things interesting from beginning to end.

Many people know Eddie Muller from his introductions on Turner Classic Movies, but if you ever have the chance to see him in person at an event, I very highly recommend going. Whether it’s at a Noir City festival or at an event like the TCM Film Festival, he is always extremely engaging, entertaining, passionate, and knowledgeable about the subject at hand. As someone who has been actively involved in trying to preserve and restore some of the more overlooked noir gems, Muller has some absolutely incredible stories to tell. Between the excellent line-up and Muller’s expertise, it was an absolutely fantastic weekend. The Redford’s volunteers have already started putting the gears in motion to do this again next year and I’m already looking forward to seeing next year’s line-up.

Simpson Sunday: The Clown Singer

The Jazz Singer Marquee

Season 3, Episode 6: Like Father, Like Clown

After Bart helps Krusty the Clown avoid jail time for a crime he didn’t commit, Krusty (reluctantly) agrees to have dinner with the Simpson family as a way to thank Bart. As they’re having dinner, the family realizes that Krusty is Jewish, which leads to Krusty talking about his difficult relationship with his father.

Simpsons Krusty With Father

In a parody of 1927’s The Jazz Singer, Krusty reveals how he became estranged from his father over his choice of career. Krusty’s father, a prominent and highly respected Rabbi, had hoped his son would follow in his footsteps and become a Rabbi himself. But even from a young age, Krusty knew he wanted to be a clown and entertain people. Despite his father’s disapproval, Krusty kept practicing his act in secret, which gains popularity around the community. But when Krusty’s father attends an event where his son is the entertainment, he is horrified (and the writers made sure to include a reference to The Jazz Singer in his tirade.)

Krusty's Dad Simpsons Jazz Singer Reference

Simpson Sunday: A Word of Warning from Marge

Edward Van Sloan Frankenstein Introduction

Season 2, Episode 3: Treehouse of Horror

The Simpsons kicked off their annual “Treehouse of Horror” episodes during the show’s second season. Unlike regular episodes, “Treehouse of Horror” episodes consist of a few short horror-themed stories featuring characters from the show. The first “Treehouse of Horror” opened with Marge Simpson stepping out in front of a red curtain to warn viewers about how scary this episode is, an homage to Edward Van Sloan’s introduction to 1931’s Frankenstein. 

Marge Simpson THOH Intro

Apparently, the show’s writers were such big fans of the Edward Van Sloan Frankenstein introduction, they decided to pay tribute to it again in “Treehouse of Horror V” in season 6. Only in this introduction, she says that this episode is so scary, Congress has banned them from showing it so instead, they’ll be showing the 1947 movie 200 Miles to Oregon with Glenn Ford (although according to IMDB, it does not appear that there actually is a 1947 Glenn Ford movie titled 200 Miles to Oregon.)

What’s on TCM: October 2016

Christopher Lee Dracula

Happy October, everyone! Hope you have lots of space on the DVR, because there is a lot to look forward to in the upcoming month.

Naturally, since it’s October, there are a whole lot of horror movies on the schedule. Since I’m really digging horror movies at the moment, I’m totally excited about this. Every Friday night this month will be dedicated to classic horror films. Christopher Lee is the Star of the Month, so although not all of his films were horror, his work in those films are very well represented. And, as if that weren’t enough, they’re also doing a Monster of the Month tribute to Frankenstein every Sunday night.

Last October, TCM did an amazing spotlight on trailblazing women in the film industry, focusing on women who worked as directors. They’re doing another trailblazing women spotlight this month, but this time, they’ll be focusing on highlighting actresses who were more than just actresses. These are actresses who became moguls, fought against prejudice, made significant contributions during WWII, fought for social change, and so much more. Don’t miss this year’s trailblazing women spotlight every Tuesday and Thursday night, the lineup looks fantastic.

Without further ado, let’s get a better look at the schedule.


DVD Review: Pioneers of African-American Cinema

Oscar Micheaux

When segregation was prevalent in America, even films were impacted. In some areas, black people had their own movie theaters to attend, while other movie theaters had designated screenings and sections for black moviegoers. Films were also produced specifically for black audiences. These films were often referred to as “race films,” although the term “race film” applied to any film aimed at minority audiences, not just black audiences. These films featured casts full of black actors and had black people involved behind the camera as well. Kino Lorber has recently released a DVD/blu-ray set of these films in their new Pioneers of African-American Cinema collection.

Pioneers of African-American Cinema includes 19 feature-length films, 12 shorts, plus several brief fragments and home movies. Thanks to a very successful Kickstarter campaign, Kino was able to put this set together using the best known existing source material and beautifully restore everything as well as they possibly could. Many of the films included in this set have never been released on home video before.

Pioneers of African American CinemaAs you watch the films in this collection, it’s abundantly clear that these were not made within the mainstream Hollywood system. They were produced on lower budgets with non-professional actors, but there is a tremendous amount of soul and artistic vision behind them. While many of the films in this collection were intended as entertainment for entertainment’s sake, such as The Bronze Buckaroo and Dirty Gertie From Harlem U.S.A., many others deal with deeper themes like spirituality, class, racism, and social issues in ways you don’t see in more mainstream Hollywood productions of the era. The work of Oscar Micheaux, who is known for his commitment to producing films that showed African-American characters in a positive light, is very well represented here.

But even the films that were intended to be pure entertainment still open the door to interesting discussions of race. Two Knights of Vaudeville is a comedy short, very similar to what you might expect to see in a Mack Sennett or Hal Roach short. While Luther Pollard, a manager and producer at Ebony Films, stated it proved that black performers could be just as funny as white ones without relying on stereotypes like eating watermelon or stealing chickens, just a few years after its original release, some criticized it because they felt the characters were an embarrassing reflection on the race.

One of the most fascinating things about this collection is that not all of the films in it were produced with the intention of them ever being shown in a conventional movie theater.  The collection includes some home movies, plus three films by James and Eloyce Gist, a couple of evangelists who produced their own films to incorporate into sermons. These films, Hellbound TrainVerdict: Not Guilty, and Heaven-Bound Travels, naturally deal with morality, spirituality, and other religious themes.

Anyone with an interest in film history is aware of how many films have been lost due to lack of preservation, but these films by African American filmmakers have a particularly low survival rate. Not everything featured in this collection is known to exist in its complete form. Some films, such as The Symbol of the Unconquered, are mostly complete with some missing segments while others, like By Right of Birth and Regeneration, only exist in brief fragments. Some of the fragments are in pretty rough shape. The fact that so many of these extremely important films are together in one collection, regardless of their completeness or overall picture quality, is just one of the many reasons why this set so fantastic. This is the most comprehensive film collection of this sort ever produced. For far too long, these films have been under-preserved, but now we have a beautifully produced collection that makes this overlooked part of film history readily available to the public. If you have an interest in seeing various portrayals of race in film, you’re certainly going to want to get this set. But even if you just have a deep interest in American film history, there’s a lot of very interesting things to see here.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this set from Kino Lorber.


Simpson Sundays: Maude Bates

Norman Bates Hole in Wall Psycho

Season 4, Episode 21: Marge in Chains

In this episode, Marge is arrested for shoplifting after she mistakenly forgets to pay for something at the Kwik-E-Mart. Springfield is a small town, so news of her arrest quickly tarnishes her reputation. Even the town’s most religious family, the Flanders, feels like they can’t trust Marge anymore. When Marge visits their home and leaves to wash her hands, Maude follows and goes into a neighboring room and removing a picture that’s covering a hole in the wall so she can keep an eye on her, much like how Norman Bates watches Marion Crane undress in her motel room in Psycho.