Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Man who Knew Too Much (1956)

A vacationing couple (Stewart and Day) and their son have a chance encounter with a strange french man in Morocco. Soon he is murdered but delivers a critical message to husband Benjamin. The authorities want to know the message, but the baddies have his little boy. So, the befuddled doctor husband and hottie singer-wife run around amateur sleuthing to save the day, and their boy.

Those familiar with Hitch’s 1934 film of the same name pretty much know the story. Bits were added and things were given to the wife to do, but the basic story line is intact. While the original was somewhat unpolished and suffered from poor audio and video quality, this version suffered from pacing issues and too familiar of a story. I think I’d have liked it better had I not seen the original.

Hitch called the first Man the work of a talented amateur, but preferred it over this, the higher budget and more polished version. My issue here however has to do with certain scenes being dragged out way too long. We see the thing, we understand what might happen, we hear the music build, then stare at my watch. Building suspense, Hitch would say. Just get on with it! I would.

What worked was Doris Day, who is utterly charming in every scene. Her signature song Que Sera, Sera came from here, which Day initially wasn’t very fond of. What didn’t work was Stewart, who is very Jekyll and Hyde with me. Love him in some movies, not so much in others. This one not so much. It's not that he's a poor actor, it's just that he can be so one-note. In so many films he plays exactly the same character in different circumstances, and I don't find it charming.

The Man Who Knew Too Much is a serviceable film, but brought little original to the table. Much more watchable than the 1934 version, but simply not that interesting. Especially compared to the other films Hitch was making at the time. AMRU 3.
“If you ever get hungry, our garden back home is full of snails. We tried everything to get rid of them. We never thought of a Frenchman!”

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Black Cat (1934)

A young, newly married couple (David Manners and Julie Bishop) honeymoon in Hungary when they meet up with the creepy Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Bela Lugosi). They share a carriage ride that crashes in the rain. So, creepy doctor, creepy assistant, and our young couple walk to the creepy house of the creepy Poelzig (Boris Karloff). Our creeps have a backstory that involves a prisoner of war camp that stood exactly where the creepy house now does. Oh, and something about stealing Vitus’ wife and daughter. And there’s this deal where Vitus is terrified of cats. Black cats, specifically.

Based on the title of the Poe story of the same name, The Black Cat bears no resemblance to the source material. Fans may remember Manners as the dashing leading man from Dracula and The Mummy films. He also played supporting characters in better films. His lack of real acting talent encouraged him to leave Hollywood before he reached forty. Fans might not remember Julie Bishop or Jacqueline Wells, or Diane Duval, or whatever other name she acted under. I had never seen her in anything before. This is the first of eight films starring the two biggest names in horror at the time (Boris and Bela, that is), and was a huge commercial success despite, or maybe because of, its controversial, satanic themes.

What a weird-ass film! Not too sure what to make of it. Director Edgar G. Ulmer was becoming recognized for his work when he started seeing the wife of a studio producer, who also happened to be the nephew of Carl Laemmle himself. Maybe it was that, or just being a strange dude, but he walked away from his contract and concentrated on independent projects. He would later do The Man from Planet X and Detour.

Strange tone, ambiguous story elements, and reasonably short. If you are looking for a good, atmospheric early horror film other than the biggies, and before they became parodies of themselves, The Black Cat fits the bill. AMRU 3.5.
“Come, Vitus. Are we men or are we children? Of what use are all these melodramatic gestures? You say your soul was killed, that you have been dead all these years. And what of me? Did we not both die here in Marmaros 15 years ago? Are we any the less victims of the war than those whose bodies were torn asunder? Are we not both the living dead? And now you come to me, playing at being an avenging angel, childishly thirsting for my blood. We understand each other too well. We know too much of life. We shall play a little game, Vitus. A game of death, if you like…”

Monday, May 29, 2017

Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1942)

What, Sherlock again? There’s fourteen of these suckers and I am determined to get through them by years end. So, this time Holmes and Yo-Yo transport a scientist out of Switzerland before he and his Secret Weapon fall into the hands of the Gestapo. This proves difficult because even eccentric scientists need a booty call every now and again. So when man and machine turn up missing, our heroes must track down both before the Evil Moriarty discovers their secrets. Based ever so loosely on The Adventure of the Dancing Men.

Ah, the middle section where I find something interesting about an actor or behind-the-scene happening. Yea, this is totally where I do that. It seems this Holmes series was factory production and they click off like clockwork. So …. good job, guys!

Crossing studios and eras, the Sherlock Holmes series is amazingly consistent in quality and tone, which is especially surprising as they don’t yet share writers or directors. In fact, different actors have played Moriarty. The story, humor, and atmosphere are what we come to expect. Chalk another nice watch for Holmes. AMRU 3.5.
“Brilliant man, Sherlock Holmes. Too bad he was honest.”

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942)

The inner council requests the help of Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) because the citizens of London are being terrorized by radio broadcasts from Nazis. Wait, what?

That’s right, Nazis. Holmes and Watson (Nigel Bruce) are transported about fifty years to the (then) present day to do their part in the war effort. This is possible because “the immortal character of fiction created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is ageless, invincible and unchanging”, so, yea. That. Not sure how a modern day Sherlock played to audiences back then, but since it’s been seventy five years since the movie came out, it still plays somewhat as a period piece.

Anachronisms aside, The Voice of Terror is a better than fair mystery (there's a spy) with all the wit and charm of the earlier films. Given my druthers, I’d prefer it set in Victorian London, but while America escaped the war to the cinemas, England had no such option. We had difficulty getting meat and gasoline, they were eating acorns. Universal did a good job picking up the franchise. AMRU 3.5.
“There's an east wind coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet. It will be cold and bitter, Watson. And a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it's God's own wind nonetheless and a greener, better, stronger land that will lie in the sunshine when the storm is cleared.”

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

In a Lonely Place (1950)

Troubled but talented screenwriter Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart) is assigned to adapt a terrible novel for the screen. Hot coat check girl Mildred (Martha Stewart - No, not THAT Martha Stewart!) loves the book, so he invites her back to his place for her to describe the story to him. Or whatever else. He gets nowhere with the girl or the script so he sends her packing via taxi. When she turns up dead, Dix is the prime suspect. The only witness for his whereabouts is a hot neighbor (Gloria Grahame) who noticed him from her window. Love blooms.

So, rather than a who-done-it, we’ve got a did-he-do-it. We’re used to the old and decrepit Bogart playing the romantic lead, and he is no stranger to morally ambiguous characters, so this is right up his alley. But maybe a bit more morally ambiguous than we are used to. At the onset the audience and his alibi-then-lover are certain of his innocence but soon we both become unsure as his darker nature reveals itself. His relationship with too-young-for-him Graham rings true. Besides, she was about a year older than his real life wife.

Speaking of Graham, perhaps you recall me retelling of a certain friction between her and her second husband, director Nicholas Ray. Graham and Ray’s marriage was on the rocks while he was directing her here. You remember, dabbling with the step-son. That's a recipe for disaster.

Despite being the sole suspect for the murder, and Dixon’s violent tendencies which frequently get him into trouble, his friends all repeated say how much they love Dix. They love Dix so much! They'd never say no to Dix. Yea, sometimes I’m twelve.

In a Lonely Place is sometimes dark, sometimes amusing, and has great atmosphere. Don’t expect Bogart to be his regular hero character. He is far more real here. An excellent film-noir. AMRU 4.
“There's no sacrifice too great for a chance at immortality.”

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939)

Dr. Moriarty (George Zucco) is released from prison because, you know, reasons, and vows one last plan to ruin Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) before retiring. Why he says this to Holmes directly is beyond me. Anyhow, Holmes is appropriately suspicious when two cases cross his desk. The captain of Scotland Yard asks for help when he receives a vague threat regarding the Crown Jewels. But that’s not nearly as interesting as the hot young woman (Ida Lupino) who fears for her brother’s life because of a silly drawing. Suspicious boyfriend is suspicious.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was based on a 1899 stage play which starred a young Charlie Chaplin in a small role. Cratchit boy Terry Kilburn plays that character here. I understand the two stories bear little resemblance. One strange thing here is that Holmes lives not at 221B Baker street with boy-toy Watson (Nigel Bruce) but instead in a great mansion with servants and stuff. The films opening was overshadowed by the Nazis invading Poland the same day. Way to ruin a party, Hitler!

Despite this story being new to me, it falls short of The Hound. There was the atmosphere and amusing moments, but little mystery. Because of some inside information it’s not hard for us to guess the outline of Moriarty’s plan. Sherlock, however, is mostly perplexed. Rather than solve the mystery, he follows all the wrong leads, then runs to the climax to wrestle with Moriarty.

Amusing and entertaining, The Adventures is a fun watch and worthy successor to The Hound. It was the last for 20th Century, the franchise being picked up by Universal three years later (with some changes!) AMRU 3.5.
“You've a magnificent brain, Moriarty. I admire it. I admire it so much I'd like to present it pickled in alcohol to the London Medical Society.”

Monday, April 24, 2017

Rebecca (1940)

A pretty young woman (Joan Fontaine) is the travelling companion of a wealthy busybody (Florence Bates). While in Monte Carlo they cross paths with dashing rich man (Laurence Olivier). He is mourning his dead wife and thus acts aloof and antisocial. Despite this, pretty woman and dashing widower spend time together and get married. He takes her back to his expansive estate

Skittish and unsure, the new Mrs. de Winter has to contend with a distant husband, a household staff that seems not to embrace her, and the spectre of the dead OLD Mrs. de Winter (Rebecca). George Sanders plays the George Sanders character, Leo G. Carroll played the Leo G. Carroll character, and Nigel Bruce plays the Nigel Bruce character. Nice when that all works out.

What a peculiar film! Apparently faithful to the source material, the pace was hurried to get all the facts in place. Also, the extensive use of matte paintings and miniature sets, while impressive, were very apparent. But it was the film’s frantic pace that initially troubled me. Over time, however, it slowly won me over to this, Hitchcock’s first Hollywood film only Best Picture.

Rebecca is one of the earliest Hitchcock films I’ve seen and it has the polish characteristic of his later work, but somehow feels a little different. Set in the modern day (1940), it seems a little like a period piece. Austere mansion, polite society, elevated language, and not expressly a genre picture. That said, it does resemble Suspicion a bit, Fontaine’s (and Bruce’s) other Hitch Flick.

In the end. as I said, I did come around. It’s an interesting and very good picture. The scene between Fontaine's unnamed character and Mrs. Danvers is truly bizarre. For my money, not THE best picture of 1940, but up there. AMRU 3.5.
“I've been thinking...
Now why would you want to go and do that for?”