August 2009


How could anyone not love George Burns and Gracie Allen? They were adorable, hysterically funny, and they loved each other so much.

I first discovered the pair through their Vaudeville work. I find the whole world that was Vaudeville to be completely fascinating, and George and Gracie are probably my favorite act that I’ve found.

The pair met in 1922 and performed on the Vaudeville circuit together. When their act first started, it was Gracie who was the straight man, but George quickly discovered that it worked better the other way around. The two fell in love while working together and were married in 1926.

By the early 1930s, Vaudeville was starting to die out, and George and Gracie had to find other ways to perform. While most of their work at this time was on the radio, they did make a few films, usually playing supporting roles, but always giving wonderful and bright support.

We’re Not Dressing (Norman Taurog, 1934)
We’re Not Dressing is a wonderfully strange little musical. It’s set on an uninhabited island after a shipwreck, and features Bing Crosby singing, Carole Lombard trying to sing at points, Ethel Merman and Leon Errol being goofy, and Ray Milland as one half of a duo of gold digging princes. Oh, and there’s a bear who sometime wears roller skates. So yeah, George and Gracie are actually the most normal thing in the movie. They play a couple of scientists (I think, I’m not sure we’re ever actually clear on what they do). They get a few really amazing Vaudeville-type bits, like Gracie’s “Moose Trap”. It’s a weird movie, and I kind of love it a lot, but Burns and Allen really make their scenes great.

Six of a Kind (Leo McCarey, 1934)
Despite the fact that this movie was directed by the amazing Leo McCarey, I’m not that crazy about it. I know it might be somewhat blasphemous, but I am not a WC Fields fan. He kind of grates on my nerves, especially in this movie. Though, admittedly, this is one film where he does that the least. It’s an interesting idea, making a movie using three great comedic duos: Burns and Allen, Charles Ruggles and Mary Boland, and Fields and Alison Skipworth. All the couple balance each other out pretty well. Gracie is easily the best thing about this movie, especially when she’s causing all manner of problems for Ruggles (like, oh, making him fall off a cliff).

A Damsel In Distress (George Stevens, 1937)
I’m not too crazy about this movie either. I find the story and pacing to be incredibly messy, and I think the romance between Fred Astaire and Joan Fontaine is really flat. Yet again, Burns and Allen are the high point of the movie. The trio of Astaire, Allen, and Burns is actually quite excellent. The movie might have been a lot better if more time was focused on it. And it would have been wonderful to see them in more movies together. They could have been Fred’s partners after he split from Ginger!

By Katie Richardson

While I didn’t have a lot of time to work on the site over the summer, I did find time to fall completely and totally in love with a sexy little show called True Blood. I’ve always enjoyed vampires, but I am a little bit picky when it comes to the subject. (I find Twilight offensive in so very many ways). But True Blood is just all kinds of awesome. And it made me think about all the great vampire movies that came out of the classic era. Of course there are the well known ones, like Dracula with Bela Lugosi, and the silent masterpiece Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror. But there are some pretty good vampire movies that aren’t too well known.  So, in honor of my True Blood love, and the fact that the second season will be over in less than two weeks, I’ve decided to write about two of my favorite obscure classic vampire films. One lost silent, and its remake.

London After Midnight (Todd Browning, 1927)
Sadly, the only print of London After Midnight was destroyed in a fire in the 1960s. The only material that exists are several publicity shots and a shooting script. This was enough to create a very thorough reconstruction, however.

The film stars Lon Chaney, easily one of the finest actors of the silent era. Really, one of the finest actors in film history. His makeup is, as usual, wonderful, and even through stills you can tell that his character is quite chilling.

The leading man in this movie is Conrad Nagel. Regular readers of this site will know that I’m a huge fan of his. I think that’s one of the saddest things about the loss of this film. Nagel was a wonderful actor, but he’s so little known today, and a lot of his films are lost. It’s just a huge shame that this is yet another of his performances that’s forever gone.

So, even though the film is lost, a very good reconstruction exists. From the shooting script we can see that it has a pretty good story. From its publicity stills, we can tell that it was probably quite creepy. And the presence of Chaney and Nagel assure that the acting was good.

Mark of the Vampire (Todd Browning, 1935)
Mark of the Vampire is a remake of London After Midnight. Being made by the same director, it is apparently an extremely faithful remake, almost shot for shot.

It isn’t a brilliant movie, but I think it’s a lot better than its IMDb rating would have you believe. It’s a little bit hammy, but at the end of the day Todd Browning really knew horror, and despite the ham, the most has a wonderful atmosphere.

It also has an incredible cast. Lionel Barrymore and Bela Lugosi are they big names in this one, and both give good performances. That’s to be expected from them, though, especially Barrymore, who was really never anything but good. The rest of the cast is filled with wonderful character actors. Elizabeth Allan is the female lead, and Lionel Atwill and Jean Hersholt play support.

By Katie Richardson

I bet you all thought the site was dead, huh? Well, for the summer, I guess it was. My work and family schedule got so crazy that weeks would go by without me being able to get near a computer, so I really couldn’t run the site. 😦

But with the school year back in full swing, putting my co-workers and family back into a normal schedule, I am now back on my normal schedule, with plenty of regular computer time.

It will naturally be a little slow going while we all try to get back on track. But in the next few weeks be expecting to see new reviews from us here at Obscure Classics. Maybe we’ll even be adding a new member or two to the team. We’ll also try to get the weekly debates off the ground, and see if we can’t get the podcast running again. My brother and I will also be releasing a (non-obscure classics) film podcast which I will post the links to whenever we get around to finally getting it up. We’ve already recorded one, but there were some MASSIVE technical difficulties, and the audio track wasn’t even usable.

So just hang in there with us, we’ll be back to normal soon.