,As a photographer, I am excited that this coming Wednesday, June 15th, photography is on tap all day on TCM. The station is dedicating more than twelve hours to nine films where photographers are the lead characters. As a photographer, I have always had a special interest in films that have photographers integrated into the story. The films vary in quality, but they are an interesting group. Below is a bit about the lineup.
It all begins at 6AM (all times are eastern) with one on Buster Keaton’s last great films, The Cameraman. Buster is a street photographer who develops a crush on a beautiful girl (Marceline Day) who works for MGM. To be near her, he tosses the still camera to become a newsreel cameraman. Along with The Great Stone Face there are some wonderful location scenes of Manhattan and Yankee Stadium.
One of my favorite Bob Hope film’s arrives at 7:30AM, My Favorite Brunette. Bob is a baby photographer who has deep desires to be a private eye like his neighbor in the next office, Sam McCloud, played by Alan Ladd in a cameo appearance. Bob ends up being framed for a murder. Dorothy Lamour, Peter Lorre, Jack La Rue join in the fun. Oh yeah, look for a guy named Bing Crosby making a last minute appearance as the disappointed executioner.
Up next is the first of three films on the schedule I have never seen. It’s called, They Wanted to Marry and stars Betty Furness and Gordon Jones. Jones is a newspaper photographer who sneaks into a socialite’s wedding where he meets the bride’s sister, Betty Furness. They fall in love. How sweet. Does not sound promising but I will still check it out.
Of the three films I never seen, Watch the Birdie, the fourth film of the day, is what Jeremy Arnold wrote, in an article for TCM, was “inspired by Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman.” By this time, 1950, Keaton was working as a gagman for MGM and worked with Skelton on this film and several of his others. In Watch the Birdie, Skelton stars as a photographer who “in the course of trying to become a newspaper cameraman, comes to the rescue of Arlene Dahl, the head of a housing project that is being sabotaged by Leon Ames.”(1) From the reviews I have read, they were mixed, it’s not top notch Red but does have its share of laughs.
Strangely enough the oddest film of the group in an Elvis flick. Live a Little, Love a Little from 1968 came toward the end of Elvis’ film career. By 1968, after a series of bland films like Clambake, Spinout, Speedway and Double Trouble Elvis was out of synch with the late 60’s youth generation releasing one tepid soundtrack album after another while rock groups were blazing psychedelic trails with LP’s like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The ever controlling Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’ manager, was willing to try something a little more adventurous. Well, not too adventurous, but it does give Elvis a chance to be somewhat hipper than usual with some mild salty dialogue, a bed scene with his leading lady, the lovely Michele Carey, and a far out, groovy psychedelic song (Edge of Reality) to sing during an acid 60’s style dream sequence. It’s actually the most interesting part of the film. The best of four songs though, is A Little Less Conversation, a minor hit at the time, but some twenty five years later a re-mixed version was a huge hit in the U.S. and even hit number one in England. In the movie, Elvis plays a photographer with two jobs. One boss is an ultra-conservative, portrayed by 1920’s heartthrob Rudy Vallee. Elvis’ second job is for a Playboy style magazine featuring, if not quite nudity, more female skin than expected in an Elvis film. Needless to say, he needs to keep secret each job from the other. The film is based on Dan Greenberg’s novel, Kiss My Firm, But Pliant Lips.
Up next, is I Love Melvin (1:30PM), a cute if unexceptional musical that reunites Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds after their classic Singin’ in the Rain. Needless to say, this is not in the same class. O’Connor is a photographer’s assistant working for Look magazine. He meets Debs, an aspiring actress, who in order to impress her promises to get her on the cover of Look. The musical numbers are engaging. Look for Robert Taylor in a cameo appearance.
The third of the three films I have not seen is something called, One More Tomorrow (3PM). Its star Ann Sheridan as a photographer for a financially struggling liberal magazine. Dennis Morgan is a rich playboy who falls for the lady and want to help out financially. Sheridan though has her doubts considering Morgan’s family rich and conservative background. Also in the cast, are Jack Carson, Alexis Smith and Jane Wyman. Adapted from Philip Barry’s play Animal Kingdom, a socially conscience tale that was watered down in this version. A 1932 pre-code version starred Leslie Howard, Ann Harding and Myrna Loy. The film was made in 1943, however, Warner’s did not release it until almost three years later fearing the film would be a flop.
Next up is James Cagney in Picture Snatcher (4:30PM). Cagney, just released from prison, wants to go straight. He gets a job as a photographer for a tabloid newspaper. While the job is honest, Cagney’s moral ethics in getting his big picture remain shady. His biggest scoop is sneaking a forbidden camera into prison during the execution of a female murderer. The film was inspired by the real life famed photograph of the execution of convicted murderess Ruth Snyder (she killed her husband) in Sing Sing back in 1928. The photograph by Tom Howard made the front page of the New York Daily News.
Last up is the 1938 film, Too Hot to Handle (6PM) where Clark Gable and Walter Pidgeon play friendly rivals as newsreel cameramen wanting to scoop each other out of the latest story. Into the mix come the beautiful Myna Loy as a sort Amelia Earhart type who comes between the two men. Too Hot to Handle has adventure, comedy and Clark Gable whose screen personality dominates most of the film.
So put your Nikon, Canon or iPhone down for the day and take shot at these films.
(1) Jeremy Arnold – Watch the Birdie article on TCM website.