Finally, there's one glorious moment where the Lone Ranger gallops across the town's rooftops on his white horse, Silver, as the rousing William Tell overture kicks in. One moment. It's exciting, thrilling, and fleeting, except for the loud soundtrack, which continues well past its purpose.
I don't understand Hollywood's creative-mangling; its keenness for techno-virtuosity and loud breakage, and deaf ear for a logically plotted and dramatically characterized narrative to carry it. All these sound and fury moments have become repetitious and only pander to audiences gorged on sugar but who have forgotten what sweet really tastes like. How ironic is it that as the movies get BIGGER, they play smaller.
Two misguided moments have Tonto first taking a shovel to John Reid's head for a cheap chuckle--he's the future Lone Ranger, played by Armie Hammer--and then dragging his head through road apples for another kiddie-quality grin. I'm dumbfounded. I don't know why this script etiquette of writing antagonistic relationships between buddy-characters who actually got along swimmingly in their original incarnations is now always part of Hollywood's re-imagining process. It undermines the intrinsic nature of why the original series works. The abysmal Wild Wild West remake with Will Smith and Kevin Kline is another sad example of this lazy scripting staple. Note to Hollywood: maybe try finding comedy through the characters and not artificially by dumbing them down with rehashed pratfall situations and trumped up relationships in EVERY movie.
By now you should get a good sense of how much I feel this movie fails its promise. I'll go a step further and even say it stinks. I realize "stinks" is not a Pulitzer Prize worthy word for a reviewer to use, but it best sums up the failure of yet another expensive franchise reboot that deserves better than Gore Verbinski's beautifully directed but gaseous, blockbuster-less, movie.
Its failed ideas include another brothel-madame-with-a-quirky-twist--Helena Bonham Carter doing her standard weird woman role accompanied by an ivory leg holding an amazingly accurate shotgun; then there’s a varmint (William Fichtner) who likes to eat people's hearts raw; then there are his evil but comedic henchmen, a la Pirates of the Caribbean, with feminine dress-up habits and especially grimy appearances; and, of course, there’s Johnny Depp's Tonto providing his patented greasepaint antics like wearing a bird cage on his head, or feeding his dead-bird-hat, or speaking to a horse that likes to sit in trees and transcend gravity at opportune moments when that ability is most needed for the action.
And that action isn't bad, just pointless because it’s devoid of any emotional punch when every character is written as fiberboard instead of oak, and consigned to doing familiar shticks in a strikingly colorless frontier. This story is cynical when it needs to be sincere, and Tonto and the Lone Ranger are caricatures when they need to be heroes. The U.S. Cavalry is present to fire off their Gatling Guns. Native Americans are present to be massacred by those guns. The power-hungry railroad tycoon wannabe (Tom Wilkinson) is here to be overbearingly power-hungry, although Wilkinson does have a knack for such dastardly roles.
Perhaps this movie didn't start out poorly? Perhaps the “memos” mori and apparent overhanding rewrites pounded the original story’s whole grain into mush? When John Reid holds up John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government as his bible you get the sense this young and idealistic, newly minted, attorney is in for a letdown, forcing him to become the legendary masked lawman to realize the justice he seeks. The letdown comes, but it’s buried under a ton of screeching metal and loose storylines that don’t fortify his transformation. When Tonto’s bizarre behavior is explained by a compelling backstory, it comes at a time we can’t appreciate it; it’s lost in the loud bangs and rush to blow things up with lots of dynamite.
And the biggest letdown is for us, the fans of the Western and Cowboy genres. That's Western, as in not the Caribbean.
This interview conducted by Professor Kinema (Jim Knusch) with actor Jeff Morrow originally appeared in Psychotronic Video magazine (Fall, 1993). Professor Kinema expands on his article for Zombos' Closet.
Jeff Morrow's film career began with the substantial role of Paulus, a Roman centurian, in the 20th Century Fox CinemaScope epic The Robe in 1953. He introduces Richard Burton to the Roman outpost in Jerusalem, calling it "the worst slime hole in the Empire." He is also one of the soldiers who casts lots for Jesus's robe, and he eventually has a sword fight with the star.
The Robe was the first Fox production to be released with the label In CinemaScope (also Technicolor and 4-track stereo). Various wide screen techniques had been experimented with since the early days of cinema. CinemaScope was Fox's trade name for an anamorphic wide screen process based on Henri Chretien's 1926 Anamorphoscope, which used an optical system called Hypergonar. A few early Fox films utilized what was then called Fox Grandeur, a 70mm anamorphic process. 1929's Fox Movietone Follies was one of them. According to Guinness Film Facts and Feats by Patrick Robertson, although Follies was lensed in 70mm Fox Grandeur, it was released in conventional frame format. John Wayne's The Big Trail (1930), and Happy Days (1930), Betty Grable's first screen appearance, were also released in Fox Grandeur wide screen.
Very few studios had experimented with wide screen formats. At the time, since there really wasn't a financially sound reason to continue with the added expense of filming in wide screen, experimentation stopped as normal screen dimensions were deemed adequate. In the early 1950s the threat of television began reducing theater attendance and Fox execs took the wide screen format off the shelf, dusted it off, and re-introduced it in an effort to lure movie-goers from their living rooms back into the theater.
Jeff Morrow, Richard Burton, and Victor Mature in The Robe
The first 20th Century Fox production to actually finish production in CinemaScope (and also Technicolor and 4-track sound) was How to Marry a Millionaire. However, it was decided that instead of displaying the ample physical dimensions of Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable, and Lauren Bacall in this new process, a more down to earth--and family friendly--biblical story was chosen instead to highlight it. The Robe had its very publicized world premier at the Roxy Theater in NYC on September 16, 1953. Formal dress was required. Two personalized tickets, a theater program and souvenir booklet for the event are in the Kinema Archives (one of these tickets is shown at the beginning of this article). The Robe was the first CinemaScope production to be nominated for an Oscar, but lost out to From Here to Eternity. Fox was so sure The Robe would be a hit they started filming the sequel, Demetrious and the Gladiators (with Victor Mature, Michael Rennie, and Jay Robinson) before post production of The Robe was completed.
The Jeff Morrow Interview (continued)
PK: What are your recollections of working on The Robe and those you worked with in front of as well as behind the camera?
Jeff: I was required to have a 5-day unshaven beard and wear bulky armor. Henry Koster, the director, was pleasant to work with. I admired Richard Burton as an actor. He also had extensive stage experience. Of the scenes I had with him I mostly remember the sword fight. Wearing bulky armor naturally made it difficult. I felt that it was lively and well done.
PK: And it did get notice?
Jeff: Yes, that's right.
PK: What are your recollections of working in CinemaScope?
Jeff: The decision to shoot in CinemaScope happened after the casting and costume fitting. Consequently, to make the necessary changeovers in set design, lighting, and in other technical areas, it caused a delay of three weeks. Of course, we all stayed on salary, since actors were paid that way in those years with very few exceptions. The schedule stretched to 10 to 11 weeks of shooting. Being in what was the premier wide screen production (also in Technicolor as well as 4-track stereo) generated much excitement in all of us. Even though I was coming to Hollywood from the stage, I was aware that the individual setups did take a bit longer than they would have taken. We were all aware of the fact that The Robe would cause a lot of attention for those who were appearing in it.
To me the outstanding character was Jay Robinson as Caligula. I'll never forget him. Yes, he acted eccentrically. One day while having lunch in the studio commisary, Jay went to a table that he had been sitting at for several days. This day, one of the 20th Century Fox studio execs was sitting in what he considered his seat. Well, Jay, in his costume as Caligula, ranted and raved about him sitting there. He made such a fuss and caused a totally stunned movie exec to move to another table. The exec could not believe that someone would dare shout orders at him. In this case, it was a Roman emperor.
With the kind permission of Brian Bukantis (Arena Publishing) and the author Dr. Vollin (Freddie Poe), I'm happy to be able to reprint Dr. V's article, They Tore Down Paradise...And Put Up a Parking Lot, which originally appeared in the May issue of Movie Collector's World, No. 683, 2005. Here's Part 5.
Dr. Vollin (left) with Johnny Dee
I asked John “Who was the most impressive movie star you ever met?”
He told me he was never in awe of the actors or actresses he met. He always conducted himself as a professional and kept his cool around Hollywood bigwigs.
“Freddie, I always knew my place around these people. I was Johnny Dee, manager of the Poli Palace in downtown Worcester and they were Hollywood movie stars. I just always kept that perspective in mind. I catered to them and entertained them, but I didn’t throw myself at them. Get the picture?”
I asked John if he could remember a specific story he could tell me. He told me a lot of stories, but the one that stuck out in my mind was the day he spent entertaining Anthony Quinn who was doing a promotional tour in New Haven Connecticut.
“Loew’s contacted me and told me I would be taking Anthony Quinn around town. They told me to show Quinn some sites and see if there was anything special he wanted to do. So I asked Mr. Quinn if there was any place special he would like to go. Quinn asked if there were any art museums in the area? I brought him to the Yale Art Museum. He looked at all the artwork and then we left. On the way back, while crossing through the city’s commons, Quinn said, "Hey John, do you mind if I lie down under this tree for awhile?" I said, "No, of course not." "Quinn sat down on the grass under an elm tree, I sat down beside him and we just shot the breeze for awhile. Not that it was a big deal, but it’s a nice memory.”
“John, who was your favorite actor of all time?” I asked.
Johnny Dee with Anne Blythe
“I’d have to say Clark Gable, but I never met him in person. Robert Taylor was a great guy, he had it all. He had a great look too. We had Bob Hope here in Worcester in the 1970s. The mayor was giving him the Key To The City. Hope was going to perform at the Showcase and I was the Master Of Ceremonies. That was a terrible night, because when I came out onto the stage to introduce him, I looked out into the audience and it was empty, well not empty but there were many seats that were not filled. That was embarrassing. I mean, come on, it was Bob Hope. It should have been a full house.”
Next came the big question. “John did you save anything from the old Poli Palace, like the posters or stills, or anything like that?”
“No, I never did. I should have but I never did. One kid used to come to the Poli all the time and ask me for the movie posters. He wanted all the horror ones (Dr. V note: I know who that was). I used to give him stacks of the stuff. I mean, what did I care. I had piles of them all over the place and giving them away just meant that I would have smaller piles. Why? Are they worth anything?”
“Oh, yeah," I told him, "they bring a pretty penny on today’s market. Some collectors pay thousands for certain posters and sometimes hundreds of thousands.”
Johnny Dee with Macdonald Carey (second from left)
“Your kidding? I should have kept some, but to tell you the truth, I had some serious family matters to attend to at the time and saving movie posters never crossed my mind. My family was and is the most important thing in my life. All I was concerned with at the time was this matter. You understand. But when I go home, I’m gonna look around and see if I have anything.”
“John, one more thing: I was sick when they destroyed the Palace to make the Showcase. I can imagine how you felt.”
“You were sick, I was heartbroken. After all, that had been like home to me for almost 40 years. I had a lot of great memories there.” said John with a tear welling up in his eye.
The next morning I was sitting in Honey Dew waiting for John to show up. When he arrived he was carrying an old file folder. I greeted John as he entered. John put the folder down on the counter top.
“Freddie, I found these old photos I thought might interest you.”
I reached into the folder and pulled out a pile of black and white 8x10 photographs. John wasn’t kidding when he said he had met a plethora of stars. Here he was, Johnny Dee, rubbing elbows with Jayne Mansfield, Tina Louise, Ann Blythe, Denise Darcell, Rosemary LaPlanche, Lauren Bacall and others. Not to mention an autographed still of Cary Grant, personally inscribed: To Johnny Dee, Cary Grant.
Johnny Dee (on left) with Jayne Mansfield
I was in awe, especially with the photo of John with Jayne Mansfield; that blew my movie loving mind. That photo was too cool. How many of us can even say that we saw Mansfield in person, nevermind having your picture taken with her! These were some serious photos John told me I could take home and copy for my article. However, the photos were not in the best of condition. Many were cracked and splitting with age. Without asking John (and I should have), I repaired the photos the best I could with archival tape, placed them in plastic sleeves and put them in a black three-ring binder. On the cover I inscribed, using a silver paint pen, Johnny Dee - Poli Palace.
Johnny Dee (on right) with Denise Darcell
A few days later I gave the photos back to John. John thanked me for fixing them up and putting them in the binder. I told him the photos were well worth preserving as they are a part of movie history, not to mention evidence of his illustrious career as Worcester’s premiere theater manager. I asked him if he ever regrets leaving Connecticut and settling in Worcester. John said he loved Worcester and was glad he came here. He said he met many lovely families from Worcester and raised a family of his own here. John, along with his lovely wife of 50 years, Patricia, live just two streets down from me. Johnny Dee assures me as soon as the weather breaks, he is going to stop by and visit the House Of Poe to see my collection. I meet with Johnny Dee everyday now at Honey Dew and we reminisce about Worcester, easier times, classic movies and all the grand old movie theaters of a bygone era.
AFTERWORDS: Meeting with my new old friend Johnny Dee every morning is a great pleasure. John is certainly a Worcester icon and an important part of its historic past. Many mornings, over coffee, I have observed just how popular he really is. John is constantly acknowledging or saying “hi” to people. Many of them are old friends from his days at the Palace and some are new friends, who have no idea of his colorful, interesting past. People just see Johnny Dee as a “sweet little old Italian guy”.
His showbiz-style personality still shines through, making everyone he greets feel like an old friend. I always believed people meet for a reason and not by chance. The reason for me finding Johnny Dee after all these years was not just to do this article, although it has connected us in a special way. I believe the fate of our meeting lies in the future. I not only found the former manager of the Poli Palace, but a new friend, and a very special human being.
With the completion of this piece I found myself longing for the old days. I suppose living in the past is not a healthy life to live. But like a Twilight Zone episode, I can’t help but wanting to go back, if not forever, at least for a day, an hour, or perhaps for a few minutes. I guess it’s just time slipping through my fingers. But I can still visit those old theaters in my mind, where no wrecking ball can ever reach them, where I sit peacefully watching movies for all of eternity.
I want to thank THE WORCESTER TELEGRAM for their old theater photos, and photos of the ELM, POLI, CAPITOL, PLYMOUTH, PHILLIPS, WARNER and FINE ARTS, are property of the WORCESTER TELEGRAM photo archives and may not be reprinted without permission of the WORCESTER TELEGRAM editor. I also would like to thank the staff at the WORCESTER PUBLIC LIBRARY for their help and putting up with my many visits. And, of course, a very special thank you to Johnny Dee for sharing his memories and making me feel young again, sitting in the dark, watching the movies of my dreams.
“I’ll be seeing you in all those old familiar places” – Freddie Poe aka Dr Vollin MD