only made three movies, but left an undeniable mark on American acting,
the other got his start on the circus and vaudeville circuit — extinct
toiling ground for a performer today — and went on to crank out
lighthearted fare largely forgotten today.
I’m talking first, of course, about James Dean, who channeled his own personal demons and estranged relationships into instinctive and raw work of surprising vulnerability in East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause. His death at 24 years of age in an auto accident sealed in the public’s mind his impetuous, headstrong image, and though the films are available on DVD, if one prefers the big screen, they’re both screening through Tuesday night, August 29, at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles,
located at 7165 Beverly Blvd., one block west of La Brea. The double
feature costs $7 for general admission, $6 for students with ID and $4
for seniors and children.
Alas, Joe E. Brown, on the other hand, captured no
such lasting appeal; he’s perhaps best known to mainstream audiences as
millionaire Osgood Fielding III in Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot.
For classic film fans, a new two-disc DVD set attempts to right that
wrong, offering up a look at some of the movies of an actor who
seamlessly pulled off a variety of physical comedy and in his later
years won hearts by bucking up the spirits of American G.I.s abroad.
Most of Brown’s best — movies like Top Speed, Elmer the Great and Alibi Ike — aren’t included here, but one can certainly do much worse than the value this set affords.
The first disc features 1938’s Wide Open Faces and The Gladiator,
the latter of which is probably the best film herein. In it, Brown
plays Hugo Kipp, a gangly college student who is injected by a mad
scientist with a serum that imbues him with extraordinary athletic
prowess. This allows Kipp to capture the attention of pretty coed Iris
Bennett (June Travis), among many other benefits. The second disc
includes Flirting with Fate, in which Brown is cast as the
desperate manager of a vaudevillian act. Stranded in South America, he
schemes to take out a life insurance policy and then attempt to get
himself “killed” by bandit chieftain Sancho (Leo Carrillo). Mayhem
ensues. The final film is the awfully titled Earthworm Tractors,
which finds Brown amusingly exercising his gift for gab as a
fast-talking salesman, an archetype of the era. While actor biographies
and trailers are a welcome addition on the set, even more history on
Brown and some interview footage with film historians and/or critics
would be a welcome addition. Still, four classic, heretofore
commercially unavailable movies for under $20 isn’t a bad deal for