Wednesday, 4 August 2010

More stars than there are in the heavens - Reviews #50

Here's a review of the star-spotters' dream that is The Stolen Jools, plus where the genre went next and some stuff about my computer habits which I've decided to bore you with.

SHORT: The Stolen Jools (William C. McGann, 1931) is a slapdash early talkie short, but for any fan of the period it's a must, with arguably the finest collection of stars ever assembled for a film. Or at least for a film bankrolled by a cigarette company to fund a TB clinic. Sure, the plot is woeful and the writing is sloppy, even inane, with stars repeatedly introduced by someone saying "Aren't you..." and then their name, while the best bits are over way too soon. But you do get Buster Keaton being knocked over, Wheeler & Woolsey taking the law onto their own hands, Jack Oakie telling a cop that Fay Wray is Jack Oakie, a fun in-joke about Winnie Lightner's signature tune Singing in the Bathtub, and Joe E. Brown yelling. The cast also includes stars Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck (and then-husband Frank Fay), Bebe Daniels (and spouse Ben Lyon), Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, Laurel & Hardy, Edward G. Robinson, Norma Shearer (it's her "jools" that get pinched), Victor McLaglen, Edmund Lowe, Warner Baxter, Richard Dix, Maurice Chevalier, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Loretta Young, Richard Barthelmess, character actors Eugene Pallette, Charles Butterworth, George E. Stone, J. Farrell MacDonald, Gabby Hayes and the entire Our Gang gang. It wasn't the first all-star movie, Warner's The Show of Shows (featuring Lightner's hit song) and Paramount on Parade were earlier full-length features that did a similar thing, but those films were restricted to showcasing a studio's roster of famous faces. The charitable nature of The Stolen Jools meant the biggest stars from MGM, Warner, Paramount and RKO could all appear - pretty exciting for inherently trivial star-spotters like myself.

The all-star model would reach its artistic and commercial zenith during World War Two, albeit within the constraints of the studio system, in the shape of Warner's Thank Your Lucky Stars - perhaps the most purely entertaining film I've ever seen - and Paramount's Star-Spangled Rhythm, along with lesser entries like Hollywood Canteen (Warner), Stage Door Canteen (RKO) and Follow the Boys (Universal). These big-budget extravaganzas weren't made solely for philanthropic purposes, but performers do seem to have been lent from one studio to the next with more grace than usual. The all-star film enjoyed a colourful renaissance in the '60s with How the West Was Won, The Longest Day and It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, though there were no cast-iron classics to speak of.

I watched tons of Daffy and Bugs cartoons on YouTube last year and was enjoying some classic Lee & Herring on the comp just the other day, but Stolen Jools is the first film I've caught on the internet this year. It seems revealing - or perhaps merely an indictment of users' attention-spans - that at the time of writing 45,000 people have watched the first section of the movie, and only 4,000 bothered to catch the final part. Perhaps they just tuned in to see Wallace Beery. You can watch the film here. The print quality is poor, but we're lucky to have this curio at all, since it was considered lost for many years - even if in all honesty it merits a (2).

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