Friday, January 29, 2016


THE LITTLEST HOBO (1958; Charles R. Rondeau)
I'm kind of a sucker for dog movies and I love discovering new ones. Warner Archive helped me find a couple of my favorites in GOOD-BYE, MY LADY and IT'S A DOG'S LIFE. THE LITTLEST HOBO basically plays like a wonderful little silent movie, with a bits of human dialogue here and there. This pooch tale centers around a meandering German Shepherd who arrives in Los Angeles by train and gets into various adventures. He ends up saving a little lamb from a slaughterhouse, rescuing other dogs from the dogcatcher, and even helping a blind man across the street. This film is highlighted by an amazing canine performance. I cannot imagine how you train a dog to not only drag a lamb on a rope leash but to also swim with the lamb. It's really remarkable stuff. The movie isn't all cuteness or anything either, there is a good deal of peril that the dog must deal with. From angry police officers to hungry hobos, he's got his work cut out for him as far as keeping on the move is concerned.
Another neat thing about the movie is its old Los Angeles locations. There are many interesting spots, but one of my favorites featured a place near the Los Angeles shipyard (I believe) that had gigantic stacks of old trolley train cars. It's one of those things in a movie that is not only a sight to behold and a unique backdrop, but also something that made me go and look up when the public transit in Los Angeles changed as to put all these cars out of service.
One way that I know that I'm really syncing with a film is when I start to fantasize about programming it at some repertory theater somewhere. THE LITTLEST HOBO absolutely had that kind of effect on me. It's just the kind of movie that you watch and immediately want to share with other people. I wanted to show it to my daughter right away and I also started to think about what film (or films) I'd program with it as a double bill if I ever had the chance. The first thing that came to mind was another old favorite of mine, THE LITTLE FUGITIVE. That film features a little boy lost in the Coney Island section of New York for a day and I feel like it would line up well with THE LITTLEST HOBO. Anyway, this movie is delightful and will certainly be among my favorite discoveries of 2016.
You can buy this DVD here:
Warner Archive posted a short clip of the film here:

GENERAL SPANKY(1936; Gordon Douglas/Fred C. Newmeyer)
The only "Our Gang" feature film ever made, GENERAL SPANKY see's its DVD debut with this Warner Archive disc. While I certainly saw my fair share of Hal Roach's many "Our Gang" shorts when I was a kid, I was not necessarily a crazy big fan I must admit. That said, I do find George "Spanky" McFarland to be one heck of a talented little comedic performer. GENERAL SPANKY is period piece and not at all a feature-length version of one of the short subjects.The Civil War era backdrop is an interesting one although it makes for some kind of uncomfortable scenarios dealing with slaves. Buckwheat is actually a slave in the film and though his "owner" is jovially ornery with him, I still found it a bit off putting. There's even a sequence where he gets lost on a riverboat and walks around asking white men, "Will you be my master?". He even asks Spanky. Though Spanky turns him down, it does lead to them joining up and eventually fleeing the riverboat together. The movie does certainly have some fun "Our Gang"-style moments of mischief and those I enjoyed of course.
Here's a quick clip from the movie:
GENERAL SPANKY can be purchased on DVD here:

TWO GUYS FROM MILWAUKEE (1946; David Butler)

A Balkan prince (Dennis Morgan) ditches out on his handlers whilst in New York City to try to find a more "authentic" experience. He quickly befriends a local cabbie (Jack Carson) who gets him authentically drunk on boilermakers whilst enjoying the local cuisine (hamburgers). The prince stays at the cabbie's place and things blow-up a bit as he is declared missing/kidnapped in the city and he finds himself falling for the cabbie's girl. I.A.L. ("Izzy) Diamond helps with the script on this lovely little twist on a "Prince and the Pauper" kinda tale. The movie has the feel of a 2nd tier (but still quite enjoyable) Billy Wilder farce and certainly Diamond (who worked with Billy Wilder a lot) had something to do with that. It also features a moment which oddly plays into the idea of "going viral" and fame brought about by YouTube and so forth. Of course this moment deals with radio as that was the broadcast medium of the time, but I found it an interesting commentary on the here and now. Warner Archive also released the follow-up film TWO GUYS FROM TEXAS as well.


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