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Jive Junction

Jive Junction(1943)

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Jive Junction (1943)

Over the years, a fervent cult has been nurtured around the output of film directorEdgar G. Ulmer (1904-1972), an iconoclastic talent that circumstances pushed outof the major studios' orbit. A native of Austria, he had done set design for someof the leading lights of German cinema during the '20s, and he made a remarkableAmerican directorial bow with the atmospheric Boris Karloff/Bela Lugosi shocker The Black Cat (1934). As it developed, however, Ulmer would fallinto an affair with a married script girl at Universal named Shirley Kassler Alexander.Her husband just happened to be a nephew of Universal boss Carl Laemmle, and thefurious mogul used his influence to end Ulmer's career in Hollywood.

Ulmer turned to those remaining companies comprising the New York film industry,and he helmed a string of Yiddish-language features over the next few years. Themid-40s lead him to labor for the low-end production house known as Producers Releasing Corp. (PRC). There, Ulmer turned out a string of programmers whose stylish look belied their modest budgets and stood out as unique genre efforts for their era,such as Bluebeard (1944) and Detour (1945).As he came to be regarded as their genius-in-residence, PRC had Ulmer try his handat every imaginable type of script. When his approach genuinely meshed with the material, it resulted in minor masterpieces like Strange Illusion(1945), a film noir variation on Shakespeare's Hamlet; when itdidn't, it resulted in interesting curiosities like the wartime musical JiveJunction (1943).

The script (co-written by a young Irving Wallace) concerned a teenage musical prodigynamed Peter Crane (Dickie Moore) who is making an awkward transfer from his conservatory training to a more traditional high school existence. His arrogant attitude in music class does little to endear him to his new schoolmates, and the jocks snigger athis refusal to fight for fear of damaging his hands. These problems get trivialized,however, when he comes home to find his mother weeping at the news that his officerfather had been killed overseas.

Hoping to bring Peter out of his funk, classmate Claire Emerson (Tina Thayer) sharesher ambition to form a student girls' band providing swing music for servicemen,and states that it could really fly if Peter agreed to conduct. At first uneasy with the notion of swapping Bach for boogie-woogie, Peter warms to the idea. Beforelong, he's bargaining with Maglodian (William Halligan), a caretaker crony of hisfather, to convert an unused estate's barn into the hopping G.I. canteen of the film's title.

If you can envision Ulmer's somber stylization applied to a peppy, tune-filled, flag-waving wartime musical, you'll have a good sense of how Jive Junctionturned out. While the film's tone overall is far too foreboding, Ulmer had a lifelongappreciation for classical music, and it's evident in the film's "longhair"moments. In fact, it wasn't uncommon for Ulmer to utilize a baton when putting actors through their paces. "He would direct the actors the way you direct music," recalled Helen Beverly, the lead in Ulmer's The Light Ahead(1939). "The timing, you know, he would lead you and you would know when itwas to be slow and when the other actor was to wait and not to jump in, he wouldgive them the cue when to speak. That was amazing to me."

Moore, the familiar juvenile of the '30s and '40s who was just a year removed fromgiving Shirley Temple her first screen kiss in Miss Annie Rooney(1942), did a serviceable job as the young protagonist. The film's musical numberswere set up to showcase a juvenile soprano named Gerra Young, and while her effortsaren't unpleasant, Jive Junction didn't advance her screen career(this remains her only film credit). During the final act's battle of the bands,Peter's aged conductor mentor comes to the kids' rescue. The role is played by FriedrichFeher, who had portrayed the narrator of the German impressionistic classic TheCabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920).

Producer: Leon Fromkess
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Screenplay: Walter Doniger, Malvin Wald, Irving Wallace
Cinematography: Ira H. Morgan
Film Editing: Robert Crandall
Art Direction: Frank Sylos
Music: Leo Erdody, Lew Porter
Cast: Dickie Moore (Peter Crane), Tina Thayer (Claire), Gerra Young (Gerra Young),John Michaels (Jimmy), Jack Wagner (Grant Saunders), Jan Wiley (Miss Forbes).

by Jay Steinberg

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