Category Archives: Directed by Louis J. Gasnier

Tell Your Children (1936, Louis J. Gasnier)

Tell Your Children, or Reefer Madness, is sort of mundanely bad. Sure, Carl Pierson’s editing somehow pads shots to make the sixty-six minute movie drag even more than it does because of the terrible script and bad acting, but the script is just dumb and bad. There’s nothing exciting about it, other than to see how the movie is going to be anti-pot propaganda without any facts or any quality in the delivered message movie. For instance, Joseph Forte’s school principal who lectures parents (and the audience) about the evils of “demon weed” marihauna… Forte’s giving the performance like he’s a cheesy villain. It’s a weird take on the character, who otherwise might have been—if not sympathetic—at least… sensible. Forte comes off like a loudmouthed dips hit.

Though no one comes through the film well. Lillian Miles and Dorothy Short are the least terrible. They’re also not amusing. Together with Thelma White, they’re the film’s main female characters. Kenneth Craig, Dave O’Brien, Carleton Young, and Warren McCollum are the men. The men get more to do, so much even though Short’s top-billed she’s got a lot less to do in the film than little brother McCollum. See, Young and White run a dope spot. People come by and smoke marijuana cigarettes, presumably paying for them at some point but the film never shows any cash changing hands between the teenage pot junkies and their older dealers. O’Brien and Miles are recruiters. They try to get the high school kids to go. They hang out at the local soda joint, where the seedy owner helps transition kids from egg creams to ganja. Again, unclear how the business actually works, except of course it wouldn’t work because Children is just sixty-six minutes of bullshit.

Craig and Short are the straight-edge kids. They don’t go to the dope spot, even though McCollum starts going daily. All these kids are in Forte’s school and he takes an interest in them—at least as far as their possible marijuana use goes, but not if there’s home abuse—and Forte doesn’t notice anything with McCollum. Neither does sister Short. Even after McCollum runs somebody over because he’s hopped up on dope. The implied marijuana crisis never comes to anything.

Because it’s a really dumb, bad script. Plotting, dialogue, pacing, everything.

Then Pierson’s editing—especially his terrible use of sound—makes it even worse.

Back to the story. Somehow straight-laced Craig ends up at the dope spot and Miles seduces him, which is fine with O’Brien because he’s got the hots for short. The trysts lead to tragedy, mostly because O’Brien’s used so much reefer he’s lost his mind.

There’s a somewhat adequate trial sequence—the film’s not competently made, but you can tell director Gasnier isn’t working in the best conditions. He’s got some decent medium and long shots, he just doesn’t have sound on them. When he goes in for close-ups and the actors are poorly delivering the script’s lousy exposition… well, Gasnier’s just possibly okay in very different circumstances; he’s very clearly not a miracle worker. Because if he were a miracle worker, Tell Your Children wouldn’t be such an inept piece of crap. Sure, it’s lying propaganda, but it’s also an inept piece of crap. The latter is way more important than the former, as it’s so inept you can’t imagine it working as propaganda.

It’s a bad movie. It’s occasionally funny in that badness, but mostly it’s just bad.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Louis J. Gasnier; screenplay by Arthur Hoerl and Paul Franklin, based on a story by Lawrence Meade; director of photography, Jack Greenhalgh; edited by Carl Pierson; produced by George A. Hirliman; released by Motion Picture Ventures.

Starring Dorothy Short (Mary), Kenneth Craig (Bill), Lillian Miles (Blanche), Dave O’Brien (Ralph), Thelma White (Mae), Carleton Young (Jack), Warren McCollum (Jimmy), Patricia Royale (Agnes), Harry Harvey Jr. (Junior), and Joseph Forte (Dr. Carroll).


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The Perils of Pauline (1914, Louis J. Gasnier and Donald MacKenzie), the European version

What remains of The Perils of Pauline is not The Perils of Pauline. This European version is a condensation of the actual serial. The nine chapter European version is about half the original length of the serial. And it’s also not a good translation. English to French to English again. So the European version of Perils of Pauline is not an accurate representation of the original serial. At least, I really hope it’s not.

Because The Perils of Pauline is a major disappointment. And once it’s not being disappointing anymore, it’s just being tedious. Because every chapter is basically the same. Pearl White is the title character. The perils in the title refer to her guardian’s attempts to kill her. He wants her money. So he tries to kill her again and again, hiring people to do it, trying to do it himself. Sometimes there are a couple attempts on White’s life in a chapter. Whoever shrunk the original Pauline down packs in the set pieces.

Then their Panzer’s plan is a flop or Crane Wilbur comes to rescue White. He’s her cousin and fiancé. His father was White’s previous guardian. Panzer was the father’s secretary, a ex-con looking to go straight and get rewarded for his effort. The first chapter sets it all up and there are no reminders of it later. Apparently the condesors chopped out all the character arcs; if there were any.

The first chapter has Wilbur’s father, played by Edward José, dying. He’s just made a deal with White–she can have a year to have adventures, then settle down and marry Wilbur. Once that bit of narrative necessity is done, José dies. One of his last wishes is for White to get her year of adventure. Sounds like a really cool setup for a serial.

Except White’s idea of adventure is kind of bland. The first chapter has this great hot air balloon escape sequence. White has to save herself. Then she gets scared of heights and has to wait for Wilbur. There aren’t any cliffhangers in Perils of Pauline. There are thrills, but every chapter has White safely in Wilbur’s waiting arms. Sometimes there’s funny stuff with Panzer freaking out to see his latest attempt has failed, but there’s acknowlegment of his behavior from White and Wilbur. Everything White does for a year goes wrong–she’s kidnapped, she’s shot at, she’s almost drown, the Navy shoots at her–all the bad stuff. All the perils.

She and Wilbur never suspect Panzer. They never acknowledge White’s been in danger before. The second chapter starts with White getting out of town because of her new fame–after surviving the hot air balloon incident, which also had her almost burning alive. That acknowledgment is it until the last chapter. And then it’s only because the serial’s over. Again, no idea if it’s the condensed version or the way Perils really played.

Most of the chapters have White wanting to do something, Panzer encouraging her because he wants to kill her in a fantastic way (and usually one where her body would never be found and therefor not declared dead), Wilbur objecting because why doesn’t White just want to settle down and marry him. He’s wonderful. He always rescues her.

And Perils even acknowledges it–Panzer and frequent henchman Francis Carlyle–plot to get Wilbur out of the way in at least one chapter. Carlyle starts the serial as a recently out of prison acquantiance of Panzer’s coming to shake him down since Panzer’s working for these millionaires. Panzer’s reluctant in the first chapter, then he’s full villain, compulsively plotting. Plotting poorly, yes, but plotting nonetheless.

White wants to do something, Wilbur says no, Panzer says she should, White ignores Wilbur’s advice, gets in trouble, Wilbur saves her, Panzer freaks, the end. Four or five of the chapters are that sequence of events. Except it sounds like White is doing things in Perils. And she rarely does anything. She usually just waits around for Wilbur to save her. White never acknowledges her propensity for danger either, much less Wilbur’s many times rescuing her.

She also talks about wanting to get married. But Wilbur and White don’t really have any chemistry. After the first episode, all their interactions are arguments or action rescues. Those moments aren’t magnificent holdovers from the original serial. They’re tedious sequences where Wilbur and White have the same discussion over and over. Panzer and Carlyle are the ones who get to have fun, not Wilbur, not White.

While sometimes Panzer’s plots are stupid, they’re always full of spectacle. Until the last chapter, then his attempts are pedestrian and the spectacle is coincidence. The last chapter has a lot of other problems, but Perils does Panzer wrong. Panzer’s a good villain. He’s a lot better when he’s not conflicted, just scheming. And he has some amazing freakouts. One chapter has him seeing White alive, screaming and running around. Wilbur and White just look at each other and smile. The staff are so wacky.

There’s are a lot of clues, watching Perils of Pauline’s nine chapter version, about the original serial. Most of the time, you’re giving Perils’s directors and writers the benefit of the doubt. But not when White all of a sudden starts being helpless around the staff. Maybe she’s always a jerk to the staff, maybe it’s in the full version. Or maybe it’s just the one time thing. Maybe it isn’t missing anything.

As is, The Perils of Pauline is a disappointing, deliberate mess. Chaos would be preferrable. Some narrative imagination in the condensation cutting, which doesn’t seem a likely–or even desired–quality in whoever’s doing the editing.

The serial’s got adequate direction from Gasnier and MacKenzie. Basic setups but good composition. The action sequences with stunts, the special effects stuff, usually pretty solid. When it wants to impress visually, Perils can and does. The thrilling set pieces are cool and well-executed.

White’s fine. Perils–at least this version of it–gives her very little to do. Panzer’s fine with sometimes better moments. Wilbur’s never fine and never has any good moments. Director MacKenzie also pops up in front of the camera; he plays a vulgar sailor who Panzer hires to con White. The character’s a lot of fun, as opposed to when Perils brings in the devious gypsy band (in blackface). They’re not fun. Most of the other performances are fine. Including some of the unfortunately uncredited ones.

At the end, Perils wraps things up with a lackluster final chapter. You could watch the first and last chapters and get the same story. And you’d be just as disappointed by the finale, it’s so lacking in thrills.

Maybe–and, really, hopefully–the real Perils of Pauline was good. But this condensed version isn’t.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Louis J. Gasnier and Donald MacKenzie; screenplay by Charles W. Goddard and Basil Dickey, based on the novel by Goddard; director of photography, Arthur C. Miller; released by the Eclectic Film Company.

Starring Pearl White (Pauline), Crane Wilbur (Harry), Paul Panzer (Koerner), Francis Carlyle (Hicks), Clifford Bruce (Gypsy leader), Donald MacKenzie (Blinky Bill, the pirate), Jack Standing (Lt. Summers), and Edward José (Sanford Marvin).


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