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The Rainbow Pass

The Rainbow Pass(1937)

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teaser The Rainbow Pass (1937)

The Rainbow Pass (1937)
Killer-Dog (1936)
The Jonker Diamond (1936)
Harnessed Rhythm (1936)
The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning (1937)

Director Jacques Tourneur was born in Paris in 1904 to a renowned filmmaker father, Maurice Tourneur. When Jacques was nine he traveled to America with his father, who successfully transitioned from directing silents in his native France to a career as a well-regarded Hollywood auteur especially known for his impressive set design and lighting.

Tourneur, Jr. began his film career modestly, as an office boy at MGM in 1924. He also acted and served as a script clerk for some of his father's films. After returning to France to work for a time, Tourneur's first film in Hollywood was MGM's A Tale of Two Cities (1935) where he served as a second -unit director and met the producer Val Lewton who would prove so influential in his later career. In 1936 he began directing short subject films for the studio and eventually progressed to a string of distinctive B-movie horror films for RKO.

A gifted director in his own right, Jacques Tourneur was known, like his father, for his subtlety and attention to a sustained mood and for his success with themes of mystery and fantasy. Jacques Tourneur was especially adept at creating a foreboding mood in a string of atmospheric, low-key films as famous for what they did not show as for what they did. Cat People (1942) and I Walked with a Zombie (1943), that he made alongside the head of RKO's horror unit Lewton, are key examples of his distinctive style. But Tourneur excelled at other genres as well, as demonstrated in his mastery of film noir in the 1947 classic Out of the Past, starring Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer, and also evident by his skills directing swashbucklers (The Flame and the Arrow, 1950) and sword-and-sandal fare (The Giant of Marathon, 1959).

Tourneur also demonstrated a lighter touch early in his career when he made a series of short films, shown as part of the programs of newsreels, cartoons and shots that would run before the film feature at the height of American movie-going in the post-Depression years. Such one and two reel shorts provided a way for fledgling directors like Tourneur to practice their skills.

The five short films Tourneur directed between 1936 and 1937 covered a remarkable diversity of topics ranging from the Chinese theater, to diamond cutting to the training of a Kentucky racehorse.

In Killer-Dog (1936), narrated by the versatile Pete Smith, a faithful dog companion to a farm girl wrongfully accused of murdering sheep is brought to trial. Smith, who narrates a number of the Tourneur shorts, was a chief of publicity at MGM who also produced and narrated a number of short films, entitled "Pete Smith Specialties."

Producer: Pete Smith
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Cast: Pete Smith (narrator), Ralph Byrd (Father), Betty Ross Clarke (Mother), Sally Martin (Young daughter), Babs Nelson (Betty Lou).

The Jonker Diamond (1936) concerns the determined adventurer Jacobus Jonker who spent 18 miserable years beginning in 1905 in a South African 'diamond rush' looking for the magnificent gem that would insure his fortune. Jonker was rewarded on the eve of his retirement from diamond hunting, when his son discovered a 726-karat diamond. The mega-gem was eventually purchased by famed New York jeweler Harry Winston and cut by renowned diamond cutter La Zarre Kaplan into an array of gorgeous gems, a detailed, tension-fraught process dramatized in The Jonker Diamond.

Producer: Pete Smith
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Screenplay: Pete Smith
Cast: Pete Smith (narrator), Nat Carr (La Zarre Kaplan), John Hyams (Harry Winston), Hugh Marlowe (Younger Jonker), Louis Mason (Jacobus Jonker).

In the MGM Sports Parade Subject 11-minute short Harnessed Rhythm (1936), the voice of narrator Pete Smith is heard again recounting the tale of Kentucky colt Dixie Dan, as the horse is trained to be a world-class harness race horse, a process charted in terrific, engrossing detail and climaxing with a racing sequence that contains a startling surprise ending.

Producer: Pete Smith
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Cast: Pete Smith (narrator), Dixie Dan.

One of the most amusing of Tourneur's shorts, The Boss Didn't Say Good Morning (1937), follows a less educational format but maintains the sense of wit and energy seen in Tourneur's other shorts. In this charming short written by Douglas Foster and Carey Wilson (one of the 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) who also narrates the film, Tourneur visualizes how a simple workplace misunderstanding throws a man's entire existence into disarray. Happy and content family man John Jones (Jack Mulhall) finds his cheerful good morning to his boss rebuffed one morning at the office. Jones then spends his entire weekend in a gloomy funk, certain he has done something to offend his boss and is going to be fired. He takes his depression out on his family and friends before another sudden turnabout by film's end.

Producer: Carey Wilson
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Screenplay: Douglas Foster, Carey Wilson
Cast: Carey Wilson (narrator), Donald Haines (Office Boy), Ernie Alexander (Office Worker), Granville Bates (Mr. Boss), Sheila Bromley (Mrs. John Jones), John Ince (Mr. Hackenbush).

A return to the ethnographic short, The Rainbow Pass (1937) takes viewers within the elaborate rituals of the Chinese theater where a family of three watches the play "The Rainbow Pass" in a bustling theater where the audience's responses to the action are as fascinating as the ostensible entertainment. A film about the power of theater to carry its audience to another place, the short carries intimations of how the cinema in Tourneur's hands would one day also inspire a similar imaginative journey in his audience.

Director: Jacques Tourneur
Screenplay: Richard Goldstone
Music: Herbert Stothart
Cast: Carey Wilson (narrator), Ching Wah Lee (Yuan), Bessie Loo (Yuan's Wife), Walter Soo Hoo (Yuan's Son).

by Felicia Feaster

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