Friday, July 27, 2007

British Noir, 1: Hell is A City

Hell is a City, 1960, 96 minutes, Hammer Films, Starring Stanley Baker, Maxine Audley, John Crawford, Vanda Godsell, Charles Houston, Peter Madden, Warren Mitchell, Donald Pleasence, Joseph Tomelty, Billie Whitelaw. Cinematography Arthur Grant, Editor James Needs, Original Music Stanley Black, Written by Val Guest from a novel by Maurice Procter, Produced by Michael Carreras, Directed by Val Guest.

Recently I picked up the book Hardboiled Hollywood, by Max Décharné at the library for some easy reading on the subways. The book analyses the background of a dozen or so gangster movies, films noir, etc.. Per the title, most of the films were made in Hollywood, but there were 2 chapters on British Films (the author lives part of the time in London). The first was Hell Is a City, which I had really never heard of before. It is a hard-boiled British police procedural starring Stanley Baker, with Donald Pleasance and Billie Whitelaw in the cast, directed by Val Guest (best known for the science fiction films Quartermass and the Pit and The Day the Earth Caught Fire) and shot on location in Manchester. Made by Hammer Films, who are much more well known for their horror films from the same period, but who did quite a few crime films as well. Sounded like something worth checking out. As it turns out, there are copies of a DVD (with commentary by the Director) going for sale at Amazon resellers for under three dollars, which came out to about $5.50 with shipping. So who could say no to that?

I’m glad I did, it is a nice crime story, with very good performances by Baker, Pleasance, Whitelaw and John Crawford (an American living in England at the time) who plays an escaped convict who returns to Manchester to get some loot from the robbery that put him in prison in the first place. He has also said when arrested that he would have revenge on Baker for arresting him in the first place. Baker is a detective with a miserable home life; he constantly argues with his wife, at one point saying she should justify her existence by having a couple of kids! Whitelaw is an old girlfriend of Crawford’s, now married to Pleasance. Soon after escaping, Crawford leads a robbery of a payroll being delivered for Pleasance, and in the course of the robbery a woman working for Pleasance is killed Complications ensue, but I am not going to discuss the entire plot as it is worth discovering on your own.

This film is well shot, with lots of great atmospheric location work in Manchester, including some scenes in a local pub and a nice rooftop chase scene at the end. The film aside from whatever plot machinations are going on, gives you a nice feel for life in the times, and a very particular feel for the Manchester location.

The commentary track by Guest and Ted Newsom is entertaining, though Guest as writer-director, is a little self-serving, claiming ideas were his that came from the book. For example, he says the book was set in Canada, this despite author Maurice Procter’s history as a police inspector in Manchester before turning to writing. But overall, it was good to here from his point of view on the film, while he still had a chance to tell it. There is also an alternative ending to the movie, which was actually from the book, but was not used in the released film.

All in all, well worth checking out.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Sweet Sue

Dave Apollon with his Philippine string band and some amazing mandoling playing.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Spent Grain

This Salty Dog comic strip is inspired by an episode of The Twilight Zone, the episode where the couple wakes up in a deserted town which turns out to be a childs' toy set. It appeared to me while brewing a batch of beer that the mash tun looked like a desert landscape. Click to enlarge to readable size.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Floradora Boys

1929: Weird musical bit featuring the former silent comics Lloyd Hamilton, Lupino Lane, Ben Turpin and Hienie Conklin. For more great stuff, check out

Saturday, July 21, 2007

A Hard Day's Night

Peter Sellers performs Laurence Olivier as Richard the Third reciting A Hard Day's Night.

The Weizenheimer Kids

A Salty Dog comic strip that kids comic strip history, with this Katzenjammer Kids knockoff that theorizes on how such and odd ingredient as Isinglass (fish bladders!) became a common ingredient in the making of beer, for clarification. Click on image for full, readable size.

Lanespotting #2

Here he is in an unbilled appearance as an Amarillo Radio Operator in the Richard Barthelmess-starring Central Airport, from 1993.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Many a Slip

Another Charley Bowers short.

The Kate Smith Show, April 23, 1952

Hank Williams, Anita Carter, Roy Acuff, and even a bit of chatting by June Carter Cash. This long clip was posted by Gatorrock786 on Utube.

Wood Aged Beer

Salty dog comic strip on wood-aged beer. Click on for full readable size.

Celebrity Endorsements of the Past

T for Texas

Jimmie Rodgers from his only short film, The Singing Brakeman, 1929.

Celebrity Endorsements of the Past

Tony Hancock egg commercial, early 60's.


Charles Lane, character actor in over 250 movies and hundreds of television shows, died July 9 at 102 years old. He was one of the last survivors of the San Francisco Earthquake. Many of his appearances were as a tight-fisted banker or miser of one kind or another. Here he is a posed still from one of his more well-known films, It's A Wonderful Life.

Celebrity Endorsements of the Past

So Two Dogs Sit Down at a Bar...

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Swamp Root

Okay, after that, some happy music. Once again (it was here and then disappeared), Harmonica Frank Floyd in the original recording of Swamp Root, Sun Records, Memphis Tennesse, 1950's.

For more Harmonica Frank, check out this great blog, Big Rock Candy Mountain.

The Saddest Music in the World

There is some pretty sad music in Guy Maddin's film of that name, with Isabella Rosellini as the Beer Baroness with a glass leg full of beer, but I submit that this is the one of the saddest songs that was ever recorded (in France in 1934), released on CD as part of a compilation of French Accordion Musette music from Fremeux and Associates, Accordeon 1925-1942, Vol. 2. The singer is Edgar Detrait, who can actually yodel sadly. The accordianist is someone named Grock. Actually someone told me once it sounds like Edith Piaf Yodelling, and I can see the connection.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Shut Up and Drink Your Beer

Here is Luke Will's Rhythm Busters' recording of "Shut Up and Drink Your Beer," a philosophy I am often in sympathy with...this is from the compilation album Stompin' Singers and Western Swingers, Disc #3: It Ain't Far to The Bar from Proper Records.

More Charley Bowers

A clip from "It's a Bird" (1930), the only acting appearance by Charley Bowers in the talkies, though this clip centers on the amazing metal-eating bird.

Charley Bowers

A typically disturbing image from Charley Bowers.

't Smisje Kerst

This label was done for a Christmas (Kerst) beer done by the Regenboog brewery, right outside of Brugge, Belgium. The original recipe was actually adapted from a batch of homebrew I made. The whole story of the brewing is here. (You will need Acrobat Reader)

Palette Fatigue

Turner Classic Movies Alert

Saturday, July 21 at 7:38 a.m., Turner Classic movies will be showing Buzzin' Around, a 1933 Vitaphone short starring Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, his nephew Al St. John, and Pete the Pup, formerly with the Our Gang comedies.

Buzzin' Around was one of 6 comeback shorts that Arbuckle did after being offscreen for over a decade after the scandal that most people today remember him for (despite his being found not guilty 3 times in court). Unfortunately, the comeback did not do him much good, as Roscoe Arbuckle died of a heart attack a few months after this film was released.

The film was shot on location in Brooklyn, and includes some great location shots near the Avenue M subway station. As far as I know, this is the first time any of the Arbuckle talkie shorts have been shown on Turner Classic Movies, though back in the day that TNT showed old films there were shown then.

Anyway, there is a nice write-up about vintage shooting on the NYC subways at this site from which the great frame blow-up of Al, Roscoe and Petey at left comes from. So set your Tivo, DVD-Rs or VHS recorders for this.

Another great site devoted to Roscoe Arbuckle is Arbucklemania.

To find out what shorts are being squeezed into the TCM schedule between their regular films, check out the forum on TCM's website.

Split Thy Skull 2007

A Dali-Esque Pastiche for Mugs Ale House Barleywine Festival

Harold Lloyd Tribute

Done for a Leuven Beer Festival.

In Her Mind's Eye

Poodle and Dachshund - Sophie and Ludwig (my two dogs)