Friday, April 10, 2015

A. Arnold Gillesie, night 2

TCM's Friday night spotlight for April is MGM special effects man A. Arnold Gillespie. I mentioned last week that two modern-day special effects artists would be appearing "along with Ben Mankiewicz". I probably should have made more mention of this last Saturday after seeing some of the introductions to the movies.

I thought TCM's presentation was excellent. Baron and Burtt told Ben and all of us how some of the key sequences in those old movies were done with the limited technology they had back in the day -- no computers of course. Some of this is stuff we should probably already know, espeically for anybody who's seen enough movies about filmmaking or about vintage radio which used many similar techniques for sound effects. Still, being able to show the scenes on screen while discussing it, and in more detail than we'd often get, is well worth the price of "only" getting a bunch of MGM movies that some avid TCM watchers would complain are shown over and over.

Tonight is the second night of the spotlight, with another four movies being shown for the two men to tell us how the effects were done:

First, at 8:00 PM, is Test Pilot, with Clark Gable as the title pilot who has an emergency landing in the Midwest where he meets farm girl Myrna Loy; Spencer Tracy plays Gable's best friend and mechanic. Obviously, with an airplane movie, there is a lot of opportunity for effects involving crashes or the planes in the air.

That's followed at 10:15 PM by Boom Town, another Gable/Tracy movie about oil drilling. You can probably figure there is some good scope for oil rig explosions here. Fire is incredibly tough to work with.

At 12:30 PM, we get Spencer Tracy again in Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, based on the true story of James Doolittle who led the bombing raids over Tokyo at the beginning of the US involvement in World War II. More air scenes and bombing destruction should be the basis for ample Gillespie work here.

Finally, at 3:00 AM, we have The Good Earth, for which the biggest special effects need should be the plague of locusts. As the makers of The Swarm would discover 40 years later, insects are also difficult to work with, because they're nowhere near as trainable as Lassie.

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