Remember the days when a night at the movies comprised a full three to four hours of varied entertainment? The attraction was not just the colossal main feature, but the supporting program: the newsreel, the cartoon, the shorts and the before-interval picture or "B" feature. Here's a book where you can re-live those wonderful times. No less than 140 varied features (from Hollywood’s main studios to Poverty Row) are discussed, all with full cast and technical credits plus other background information. And to round the book out, also included are no less than 28 cartoons and 9 shorts!
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YOUR COLOSSAL MAIN FEATURE PLUS FULL SUPPORT PROGRAM
Let's go back in time for a moment and pretend you are looking in on an average neighborhood theater manager in a big city like New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh or Detroit, in the classic days when Hollywood movies were the number one entertainment choice of the citizenry.
On the one hand, our manager was obviously anxious to please his patrons by booking a highly advertised, ready-sold, "colossal" main feature such as "Jezebel", "A Star Is Born", "The Rains Came", "High Noon", "I'm No Angel", "The Great Ziegfeld", "100 Men and a Girl", "Mad About Music", "Manhattan Melodrama", "One Night of Love", "Rio Rita", "Road to Zanzibar", "Mr Deeds Goes To Town", "Mr Smith Goes To Washington", "Little Miss Marker", "The Mark of Zorro", "The Merry Widow", "The Great Waltz", "King of Jazz", "Ball of Fire", "Mutiny on the Bounty" or “Alexander's Ragtime Band".
On the other hand, patrons were supremely anxious to obtain "value" for their admittance money. They wanted a program that ran not less than three or even four hours. They demanded not only a colossal main feature, but a supporting program comprising a lesser movie with a running time of 70 minutes or perhaps slightly less, plus a cartoon, plus a short subject of one or two reels.
So here are detailed not only main attractions (including all those listed above), but some of the lesser movies that clamored for the manager’s attention. The choice usually depended on the cost of the main feature. The more expensive the main attraction, the less money was available to hire a series entry like "Fly-Away Baby" (released by Warner Brothers as an entry in their Torchy Blane series). Instead, the manager would opt for a movie he could hire at the lowest possible flat rate, such as "Death from a Distance" (released through Chesterfield, a Poverty Row company that specialized in "B" movies), or "Caribbean Mystery" (a 20th Century-Fox release that the studio had no faith in), or "Bowery at Midnight" (Bela Lugosi in a Monogram picture), or "Trouble in Texas" (Tex Ritter and Rita Hayworth in a Grand National release), but not RKO's highly popular (and therefore comparatively expensive) "Mexican Spitfire" series starring the exotically excitable Lupe Velez.
These of course are just a few of the movies discussed and detailed in "Your Colossal Main Feature Plus Full Support Program".
In addition to a wide selection of both main and supporting features, the book also examines some of the typical cartoons and short subjects available.
Here is just one of the 177 entries in this magnificent book:
ROAD TO ZANZIBAR
Bing Crosby (Chuck Reardon), Bob Hope (Fearless [Hubert] Frazier), Dorothy Lamour (Donna Latour), Una Merkel (Julia Quimby), Eric Blore (Charles Kimble), Iris Adrian (French soubrette in cafe), Lionel Royce (Monsieur Leben), Buck Woods (Taonga), Leigh Whipper (Scarface), Ernest Whitman (Whiteface), Noble Johnson (chief), Leo Gorcey (boy), Joan Marsh (Dimples), Luis Alberni (proprietor — native booth), Robert Middlemass (police inspector), Norma Varden (Clara Kimble), Paul Porcasi (Turk at slave mart), Ethel Loreen Greer (fat lady), Georges Renavent (Saunders), Jules Strongbow (Solomon), Priscilla White, LaVerne Vess (Curzon Sisters — iron jaw act), Harry C. Johnson, Harry C. Johnson Jr (acrobats), Alan Bridge (policeman), Henry Roquemore (proprietor in cafe), James B. Carson (waiter), Eddy Conrad (barber), Charlie Gemora (gorilla), Ken Carpenter (commentator), Richard Keene (clerk), Douglass Dumbrille (slave trader).
Director: VICTOR SCHERTZINGER. Screenplay: Frank Butler, Don Hartman. Based on an unpublished story, “Find Colonel Fawcett” by Don Hartman and Sy Bartlett. Photography: Ted Tetzlaff. Film editor: Alma Macrorie. Art directors: Hans Dreier, Robert Usher. Costumes: Edith Head. Music director: Victor Young. Musical numbers staged by LeRoy Prinz. Music advisor: Arthur Franklin. Songs: “You Lucky People You” (Crosby), “It’s Always You” (Crosby, reprised Crosby, Hope, Lamour), “You’re Dangerous” (Lamour), “On the Road to Zanzibar” (Crosby and male African chorus), “Birds of a Feather” (Adrian and chorus), all by James Van Heusen (music) and Johnny Burke (lyrics). Sound recording: Earl Hayman, Don Johnson. Western Electric Sound System. Producer: Paul Jones.
Copyright 11 April 1941 by Paramount Pictures Inc. New York opening at the Paramount: 9 April 1941. U.S. release: 11 April 1941. Australian release: 29 May 1941. Sydney opening at the Prince Edward: 21 May 1941 (ran 6 weeks). 8,220 feet. 91 minutes.
SYNOPSIS: Chuck Reardon (Bing Crosby) and Fearless Frazier (Bob Hope) are American sideshow artists in darkest Africa. Chuck is always figuring out some wild money-making scheme while Fearless wants only to get back home. Two stranded girls (Dorothy Lamour, Una Merkel) persuade the boys to take them on a long safari. They run into cannibals, wild beasts, and other hazards.
NOTES: A top box-office grosser in the U.S.A./Canada, and number 25 at Australian ticket windows for 1941.
VIEWERS' GUIDE: Okay for all (with reservations).
COMMENT: The second of the “Road” films. Like the first, Road to Singapore, it will be a disappointment to viewers who are expecting the lively wit, the crazy asides to the camera, the side-splitting “in” jokes, the pungent satire and amusingly pell-mell situations of the later entries in the series. True, there are maybe six or seven attempts at wild spoofery, including an on-screen reference to orchestras suddenly blooming in the middle of the jungle, and the wacky use of sub-titles — one of them deliciously censored — in the madcap scene with the cannibals. But many of the gags, alas, are rather weak. And they are not made any funnier by the often too-strenuous efforts of Hope and Crosby to put them over.
Aside from a few mildly amusing quips, it’s painfully obvious that the principals are being made to work too hard to raise laughs. The strain shows in their exaggerated, top-of-the-voice portrayals.
Shertzinger’s often colorless direction with its long takes and routine camera placements, must also take its share of the blame. In fact, Schertzinger doesn’t really come to life until halfway through, when he suddenly introduces an off-camera commentary. The action that follows, capped by that great scene in which the boys beat the graveyard drums that inadvertently summon the cannibals, is much more inventively staged and far more lively.
Oddly, Lamour comes off best in the acting stakes. Her performance is light and charming and not overdone. Miss Merkel is okay. She is forced to spend the film in Lamour’s shadow. The support players, however, — Douglass Dumbrille, Iris Adrian, the lovely Joan Marsh, Eric Blore, — have remarkably little to do.
Production values are often helped out by spectacular stock footage (the circus fire, porters winding through the jungle, the massed attack of warriors).
Photography and other technical credits are smooth as they come.
OTHER VIEWS: Paramount had little faith in "Road to Singapore". It was an uninspired comedy vehicle, given over to Crosby and Hope after George Burns and Fred MacMurray had flatly rejected it. The film had very little plot, its gags were decidedly unfunny, and its meager collection of songs was nothing to write home about. Yet, to the astonishment of everyone, except its two male stars, the film became a runaway success.
Not surprisingly, this unexpected surge of boxoffice gold prompted the studio to build a whole comedy series around the zany antics of Hope and Crosby. Before long, the two were teamed once again with Dorothy Lamour in a second Road adventure. But whereas the first movie of the series had been a relatively mild little comic exercise, the second, "Road to Zanzibar", was a wild, madcap affair in which Hope and Crosby were allowed to ad-lib most of their lines, break up in front of the camera, and generally raise nearly every other conceivable kind of havoc on the set.
— Robert Bookbinder: "The Films of Bing Crosby".