Sunday, June 1, 2008

Save Universal films!

By now, you've probably heard about the massive fire at Universal Studios. In looking at a list of the movies Universal put out in the 1930s, it surprised me to discover just how few I had heard of. That's partly because Universal have been bad about licensing their movies to be shown on TV, and partly because so few of them have ended up on DVD. You'd think that with all the cable channels Universal owns (USA, Bravo, SciFi, Chiller, and Sleuth, amongst others) showing informercials in the overnight hours, there would at least be a place for Universal to show some of its old movies, even broken up with commercials. But no.

So I'd like to mention one of the few that has shown up on TCM, and suggest it be released to DVD: Remember Last Night? It was released a year after The Thin Man, and is a clear knock-off of the genre, in that you've got a heavy-drinking couple who solve a murder mystery, in a light comedic atmosphere. But where Nick and Nora Charles were urbane, our heroes (played by Robert Young and Constance Cummings) are much wilder. They start off at a society party where everybody's drinking cocktails -- drinking so many, in fact, that everybody gets far more drunk than Nick and Nora ever did. (These opening scenes may be somewhat uncomfortable to modern audiences as drunk driving is presented as a funny thing, and the characters do a bit in blackface.) However, when they wake up hung over, they discover that a member of their party has been murdered! And nobody can remember much of anything about what happened the previous night! Thankfully, though, there's police detective Edward Arnold, who is a friend of Robert Young's; if anybody can solve this case, he can. Of course, Young and Cummings aren't going to make it easy for him; they're determined to solve the case their own way. Eventually, the case gets solved in part with the help of hypnotist Gustave von Seyffertitz.

People newer to old movies would probably be better served starting with the original The Thin Man or screwball comedies like My Man Godfrey (both of which are available on DVD) before lobbying for a lesser-known movie like Remember Last Night? to be released to DVD. Those who, like me, are movie mavens, however, will probably get a kick out of this movie, especially out of some of the cast and crew. In addition to the few stars mentioned above, character actors like Gregory Ratoff (Max Fabian from All About Eve) and Edward Brophy (the murderer in the original Mad Love) appear; the butler is played by eternal butler Arthur Treacher (later of fish-and-chips fame). The director of this comedy? James Whale. That's right -- the same guy who directed the classic 1931 version of Frankenstein and whose last days would be chronicled in Gods and Monsters.

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