Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Now I Wear Coyote Underwear

There's a new dirt-cheap Bob Hope Collection from BCI packaging together the various Hope films that he either owned or bought from the studios. (Road to Rio, Road to Bali, The Lemon Drop Kid, Son of Paleface, The Seven Little Foys, My Favorite Brunette, The Private Navy of Sergeant O'Farrell, and a couple of others.) These movies have all been released and packaged together before, but the package says that the two Road movies, My Favorite Brunette, and Son of Paleface are all "Newly Restored Masters." (BCI released these four films on the now-defunct HD-DVD format, and that's why they were remastered and not the others.) Son of Paleface is by some distance the best movie in this set, and while it looks more or less the same to me as the other DVD releases -- which, fortunately, came from a good print -- the previous DVD release had some sound distortion problems, especially in the loud music, which this version does not have. So at the price, it's worth picking up either if you want Son of Paleface or if you just want an overview of Bob Hope's career from the late '40s to his bad late '50s and '60s period. (The Seven Little Foys is the last decent film in the set, and it's from 1955.)

Son of Paleface was Frank Tashlin's second film as a director -- his first, appropriately enough, was The First Time, which TCM will be showing in July -- and I just found out that he wrote an article for the New York Times about his experiences making the movie. Not a whole lot of insight into the production, since it's basically a humor piece, but it's still valuable as a behind-the-scenes account of the greatest and most subversive sequel before Gremlins 2, so I'm transcribing it here. He doesn't mention his animation background here, of course.

New York Times
October 5, 1952
"Son of Paleface" Went Thataway

By Frank Tashlin
Mr. Tashlin is the director and co-scenarist of "Son of Paleface," now at the Paramount.

Inasmuch as a certain lady reporter was in Culver City at the time, documenting the appetite and habits of a dog, the script of "Son of Paleface," Paramount production 10104, Revised, Final, White, came out of the Paramount mimeographing department unheralded. It consisted of a blue cover, 112 pages, weighing less than a pound.

During the preparation of the script the writers -- Robert L. Welch, Joseph Quillan and myself -- had eaten at Chasens at least three times and not one of us had been called "darling" by anyone. Even the East Coast myth of front-office interference was absent. Barney Balaban, Y. Frank Freeman, Don Hartman and D.A. Doran approved the script, set aside enough money to operate Oak Ridge for a day and signed contracts for four veteran performers to appear in the Technicolor production. After writing apologetic letters to the Paramount stockholders, these front-office gentlemen hied themselves to the Hollywood hills.

Bob Hope was veteran of thirty motion pictures; Jane Russell had pleased veterans in seven motion pictures; and Roy Rogers and Trigger had explored the vastness of Corrigan's ranch in eighty-eight motion pictures. The director of "Son of Paleface" was the veteran of one motion picture.

Previously -- as do most motion picture writers -- I had regarded directors as an evil, necessary to bring words and plot to their final two dimensions -- sour, growly gentlemen, critical of every page of script. With the star of shooting began an awareness of their problems; and, as director, I became extremely critical of two-thirds of the script -- the third I authored I insisted would play beautifully. I'm still insisting, though the floor of Eda Warren's cutting room, in some cases, proved otherwise.

Putting Mr. Hope through his paces has difficulties for the director. His thirty-picture memory draws a bead on the particular joke you are trying to sell him. He remembers a similar routine in "Road to Singapore." A fast rewrite is called for and the material is given what you hope is a new twist. No. Mr. Hope recalls that he did that twist in "Sorrowful Jones." His narrowed eyes, squinting at you down that much maligned nose, is a withering experience. Your puttees curl and your megaphone sags. Lunchtime is spent in digging for a new piece of business and Mr. Hope's approbation.

With Miss Russell I decided on a daring innovation. I photographed her legs.

The approach to directing Roy Rogers is the approach used by Cecil B. DeMille in his picturization of the Old and New Testament -- no deviation from the Sacred Word is allowed. The tenets in this case are contained in the unwritten Code of the West -- notwithstanding the birth rate in Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona, etc., motion-picture cowboys cannot indulge in "Fade Out" bussing. From Tom Mix to Roy Rogers, the present King of the Cowboys, this commandment has held fast. Horse kissing is perfectly permissible -- girl kissing, never.

The script called for Miss Russell to fall in love with Mr. Rogers. A serenade below her balcony was to culminate in an embrace. But at the last moment this was eliminated from the script... by breakfast-food lobbyists who claimed Young America might change their eating habits if ever their hero was seen caressing anything but his horse's furry nozzle.

My inexperience as a director reached nervous proportions the day Mr. DeMille arrived on the set, having consented to play a small part as a kind of Western Matthew Brady. This guest shot was in retaliation for a similar appearance made by Mr. Hope in a sequence of DeMille's "The Greatest Show On Earth." Directing Mr. DeMille (veteran of more than seventy motion pictures) in how to do the scene was like telling Washington how to spend money. Mr. DeMille saw the scene playing one way -- I saw it playing just the opposite. A crisis developed, with everyone taking sides. But I'll show them -- I'll do it my way in another picture.

As a youngster I remember the admiration I held for Frank Buck. His handling of wild animals filled me with awe. I realize now that my hero-worship was not misplaced. Animal direction is a craft all its own. In "Son of Paleface," besides Trigger, we had two vultures (the script called for buzzards, but the available Hollywood buzzards were at that moment occupied). Besides the vultures, we also had two penguins.

Contrary to a certain lady reporter, none of the creatures ate bananas -- and none insisted on lobster thermidor.


J Lee said...

The "I photographed her legs" line certainly says more about Tashlin's proclivities than the Times' readers were likely to know about in 1952.

Thad said...

Excellent find Jaime. Son of Paleface is probably the greatest sequel in history.

Anonymous said...

I remember reading a Tashlin remark somewhere that seeing Paleface inspired him to become a director. His statement was, best as I remember, that when he saw his Paleface screenplay as filmed, "I could've shot Norman McLeod." Apparently, McLeod toned down things down quite a bit from the original script.

Several years back, the television station I worked for had the same package of Hope films that BCI is now distributing, and the TV package included an excellent transfer of My Favorite Brunette. (Hope owned the movie and retained the original materials on it even after the copyright lapsed.) For whatever reason, though, BCI has chosen to stick with their fuzzy old public domain master up until--apparently--now.


Anonymous said...

Norman Z. McLeod was once an animator and/or story person in silent film. His best films remain his two Marx Bros. examples, "Horse Feathers" and "Monkey Business." Wonder if he had anything to do with that crudely drawn cartoon horse running into view under the main title of "Horse Feathers?"

Brent McKee said...

I've always seen this movie as Trigger's best role. The horse gets some of the funniest bits, and (I have to say it) shows more range than Roy Rogers ever did.

Anonymous said...

Just to show that cartoons aren't the only films that can suffer from video noise reduction technology applied with too heavy a hand, watch BCI's old SON OF PALEFACE during the saloon scene, when Junior reacts to the "Paleface Special" he drinks. When Junior's pipe uncurls, the noise reduction partially erases it! BCI's new transfer corrects that error. It's noticeably less contrasty, too.

Oh, and MY FAVORITE BRUNETTE is the first good transfer I've ever seen of this title. Not Warner or Fox caliber, maybe, but very nice.


Anonymous said...

Jaime, brilliant find.
This is a magnificent post, how generous of you to share your knowledge.