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Pre-Code Wellman and Godard’s Code Unknown

Pre-Code Wellman and Godard’s Code Unknown (photo)

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William “Wild Bill” Wellman was always more renowned for his reportedly rough and tumble extra-cinematic resume (delinquent, pilot, stuntman) than for his mostly orthodox films — from his nearly 40-year career, only a handful of astute genre epics remain lodged in the cultural front-brain today: “Nothing Sacred” and “A Star Is Born” (both 1937), “Beau Geste” (1939), and “The Ox-Bow Incident” (1943). They’re all beautifully judged, visually eloquent and delicately acted films (compare Fredric March in “A Star Is Born” to the rest of his mannered ’30s work, and you get a taste of Wellman’s touch), particularly “Ox-Bow,” wherein Dana Andrews and Henry Fonda are unnervingly in touch with the wages of frontier violence.

Still, Wellman worked long enough in the studio system to assure a certain homogeneity to most of his work, and so the payload of early Wellmans delivered in Warner/TCM’s new Forbidden Hollywood Collection Volume Three have as much historical pre-Code transgressiveness to recommend them as they do Wellman’s nascent skill with performers and his knack for character depth. This is no small thing, and pre-Code talkies aren’t just prurient campfests: along with the healthy reminder that characters as well as viewers during the “Golden Age” still fucked, pissed, farted, did dope and dealt out prejudice like the rest of us, there’s the simple fact that sexual exploitation was a ubiquitous social state in the early century, and before the Production Code got enforced in 1934, movies could treat it frankly and without euphemisms.

All the same, Wellman’s first Vitaphone years are revealed here to have been peppered with moments of unanticipated grace and poetry, in the era when a studio workman would rap out four or more films in a given year. The most notorious feature, 1933’s “Heroes for Sale,” remains a scalding Job’s-tale litany of American degradation, from being wrecked on the fields of WWI to morphine junkiehood to getting screwed by the new capitalism to being a Depression hobo. But it’s also a stilted and abbreviated point-puncher, hardly abetted by neckless star Richard Barthelmess’ half-lidded stiffness.

Far better are “The Purchase Price” (1932), a eyebrow-rocketing fallen-woman hand-wringer with Barbara Stanwyck that hits on Hardy-esque wife-bartering, and “Frisco Jenny” (1932), a lively and convoluted melodrama in which the forgotten Ruth Chatterton (with Jeanette MacDonald’s eyes and a deep, vinegary voice) goes from cynical and pregnant San Francisco barmaid to earthquake survivor and full-on whore-mongeress, given to enduring her girls’ complaints about their furniture expenses (such as the “wear and tear!” on a divan), rolling her eyes at coppers and hiding a murder-weapon handgun by sinking it into a buttercream cake.

“Midnight Mary” (1933) covers much of the same territory but with Loretta Young and a bigger helping of tuxedoed gangsters, but “Wild Boys of the Road” (1933) is another matter, a mesmerizing portrait of the Depression landscape, following two uptempo high schoolers (Frankie Darro and Edwin Phillips) who, after living in “Animal House” hedonism before the stock market crash, decide to hit the road rather than leach off their starving parents, and endure (with a girl they pick up along the way, played by Rochelle Hudson) every travail of the desperate homeless, from police brutality, rape and murder to shantytown betrayal and institutional injustice. Is this the first official youth rebellion movie? (Interestingly, Hudson went on to play Natalie Wood’s mother in “Rebel Without a Cause.”)

03312009_wildboydoftheroad.jpgWith its Hooverville warfare and righteous socialism, the film never forgets that its tough-talking protagonists are still children in way over their heads, and Wellman connives amazingly touching moments out of his young cast, who look at each other with forlorn doubt, and whose eyes get colder as the film presses on. Darro, who was cast as snotnose punks deep into his 40s, is a revelation of shame-faced sympathy beneath the proto-Cagney demeanor of the day; just watch him when, at the outset of hard times, he sells his beloved jalopy of a car and buckles on the inside when the mechanic admits he’ll just sell her for scrap. Wellman sees this film not merely as a social issue drama but as an iconic trial — witness the magnificent vision of a hundred homeless boys standing on top of a moving train hurling rocks at the railyard dicks who tried to roust them.


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.