Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fantastic Voyage (1966)

An attempt on the life of a diplomat has left him in a coma. The area of the brain damaged cannot easily be operated on. It's easier, apparently, to shrink down a submarine and crew to microscopic size to make the repairs.

I was mystified how poorly remembered this sci-fi classic is. Until I watched it, that is. It begins with all the techo-cheese of a 60's sci-fi TV show. White noise, spinning tape drives, and, oh yea, that high-tech typewriter. At one point the General walks from fuzzy CRT to CRT to ask a different person on screen what the patient's heart rate or temperature was. Star Trek had a much better grasp on that sort of thing. Still, it ventured into a new realm and showed us something never before seen in the genre: the miracle of the human body at microscopic scale. And what does that magical realm look like? A little like a low rent carnival funhouse.

We marvel at the cast marveling at the miracle of green screen. We gasp in excitement as Raquel Welch is attacked by white blood cells, and the men frantically try to tear them off, mostly from her ample breasts. Every turn a new unexpected challenge awaits. The script was researched well enough that parts were viewed in college medical classes for years.

Fantastic Voyage, while something of a snoozer, did attempt something new, and there is virtue in that. Even if it appears severely dated to modern eyes. Dated, cheesy, and a bit dull, but innovative and slightly smarter than most. AMRU 3.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Against All Flags (1952)

Brian Hawke (Errol Flynn) goes under cover to learn the secret of the pirate republic. Along the way the pirate mistress 'Spitfire' Stevens (Maureen O'Hara) catches his eye. Generic 50's Technicolor RomCom Action/Adventure pirate movie ensues.

The sets were lavish, the costumes anachronistically colorful, the acting terrible. I caught the beginning on TCM while waiting for the wife to get off work, and decided I'd wait it out. Usually when I do this I eventually find myself being drawn in. Here, well, We'll see. Now back to the film.

Flynn played the dashing gentleman/pirate/spy with a dash of smarmy smugness and apparently more booze than a pirate's bachelor party. They had to ban alcohol from the set. He'd be dead in seven years. O'Hara (still living) played the spitfire well with her sharp tongue and piercing stares. But the intentionally bad, dinner-theateresque acting undermines the performance. There is a scene when the pirate Brasiliano (Anthony Quinn) strikes her that was laughable at best. Still, total hottie.

Big names, high production value, very genre acting. When Flynn broke an ankle they filmed an entire other movie with the sets. Not a terrible way to spend 90 minutes on a Friday night, however. AMRU 3.
"Again?"

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sherlock Jr (1924)

A movie projectionist fantasies about being a detective. When he is framed for stealing a watch by his romantic rival, he does his own investigation. He fails and dejectedly goes back to his hum-drum life as a projectionist. He falls asleep in the projection booth and dreams himself onto the screen, where a similar adventure unfolds, with him as the heroic detective.

My enjoyment of The General emboldened me to try another Keaton silent comedy. Sherlock Jr was just as successful. Short (under 45 minutes), great picture quality, and excellent story telling. Again, Keaton nearly loses his fool head, quite literally as he fractures his neck in one stunt. I'm sure if my boys were willing to invest ten minutes to this film, they would have loved it. The humor and action totally holds up.

Buster's real-life dad was in the film! That's kinda interesting. He also played a Union General in The General. He was a vaudeville performer and later became an angry drunk. Buster displays some nice pool shooting, if accomplished using lots of edits. He practiced for four months with a pool expert.

Amusing, fast paced story. The movie within the movie proved a great technique for telling one story. Keaton used it well to showcase his talents. I am left with the feeling that I liked it slightly less than The General, but don't interpret that as a slight. Both are amazingly entertaining. For a silent film. AMRU 4.

"I did NOT mean it to be surrealistic. I just wanted it to look like a dream."

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Gaslight (1940)

Twenty years after the unsolved murder of a singing diva, her hot young nephew (hot young Anton Walbrook) moves back into the stylish London house where it happened, with his new wife (Diana Wynyard). The dashing retired detective (dashing Frank Pettingell), stunned by the the master's resemblance to the dead woman's nephew, snoops around.

Principally we have the same story here, told somewhat differently. Both are based on the same play and this production appears to be truer to the source material. I recommend both movies equally and if you are to see both, I suggest the 1944 Hollywood version first. While Hollywood doesn't keep you in suspense very long, there is no doubt who the bad man is here.So, if you intend on watching either of these films, STOP READING NOW! Spoilers Abound as I compare and contrast.

Ok, then. Here we go.

The first interesting difference is familiar relations. Ingrid's Paula was in the house when her aunt, her legal guardian, was murdered. We see her taken away from the scene, learn a little of her life, then return ten years later. The detective, smitten by the aunt as a young boy, is amazed by the resemblance. We sympathize with her because of the additional details and because, well, she's Ingrid Bergman.

Diana's Bella has no connection to the house and we little to her. We first see her after moving back in and know her only as a frail woman with an angry husband. It's the retired detective who recognizes Anton's Paul Mallen as Louis Barre, who used to live in the same place twenty years prior.

A second change is that we are left to wonder if Paula is crazy. Initially we don't see Boyer manipulate her and can't be sure if she is indeed crazy or not. There is no question with Walbrook. From the onset he is cruel and deceptive. The only mystery is motive.

Also there is an interesting difference in the maid and husband relationship. Hollywood, deep in the throes of Hays Code censorship, hints at an inappropriate relationship. The English production explores that a wee bit more. They go to a burlesque show together. Nudge, nudge.

Apart from these and other minor changes (venue changes from 12 Pemlico Square to 9 Thorton Square, the character name changes, and the Hollywood addition of a society busy-body), there are remarkable similarities. Many key scenes are replicated in both, and the acting, sets, and photography are both top notch. All in all, the only real difference between the two is the Hollywood shine on the latter. Both are very much worth your time. We should be thankful that this film was not lost to us forever. AMRU 4.
"How did you get in here?"
"Interesting things about us ghosts, we don't have to bother with doors."

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Gaslight (1944)

Ten years after the unsolved murder of a singing diva, her hot young niece (hot young Ingrid Bergman) moves back into the stylish London house where it happened, with her new husband (Charles Boyer). A dashing detective (dashing Joseph Cotten), stunned by the niece's resemblance to her aunt, reopens the cold case.

Gaslight is based on a play (Gas Light, or Angel Street), and had already been made into a movie four years earlier. Under the terms of the agreement, the producers ordered the destruction of all prints of the previous film. They failed to get them all, and the 1940 version has lapsed into the public domain. I saw it next.

Gas lights, that is, the lighting mechanism where natural gas was piped into houses for lighting purposes, certainly plays a large role in the story. Not only do they pepper the screen with shots of men lighting them, they even play into the story. Our protagonist becomes convinced that someone else is in the house because the lights dim, as if someone lit one elsewhere. They also add great ambiance and all gothic horror movies should have had them rather than foolish candelabras and sometimes even electric lights, totally ruining the mood. Had they not been expensive, and occasionally suffocate people, burn down houses, and even blow them up, they'd be a great addition to any home! Act now, supplies are limited!

I learned a few things from watching this movie. First, that I am actually capable of saying the words "Angela Lansbury was hot". What a naughty bit of crumpet, she was! At 17 she quit her job in a local shop and launched her movie career. Secondly, and more importantly, I learned that I apparently have absolutely no friggin' clue what film-noir is. I'm classifying this sucker as a mystery (although not a terribly mysterious one). Melodrama, sure. Entertaining and well made movie, you bet! Film-noir? Doesn't smell like it to me. There is a detective and an element of claustrophobia, but hard boiled, pessimistic, and minimalist? It's set in the fashionable district of Victorian/Edwardian London. You know, the stuff dreams are made of. AMRU 4.
"I knew from the first moment I saw you that you were dangerous to me."
"I knew from the first moment I saw you that you were dangerous to her."

Monday, April 28, 2014

Batman: The Movie (1966)

Four supervillans team up to take over the world. Their objective is to dehydrate world leaders at the United World Building then extort for their return: one billion dollars!

Wow, this was terrible. I grew up with the series and saw this movie at one point, but I really found this a chore to sit through. Yea, you are supposed to laugh at the stupidity (the plastic shark attack, the bomb scene, the lousy acting, the absurd plot, cheesy costumes, the works) but there is only so much I can take. Was there an actor who moved less like an action hero than Adam West?

The movie was supposed to precede the series as its introduction, but when the TV show was moved up, they delayed the film until after the first season. Recorded off of TV Land, this sat on my DVR for almost two months before I got the courage up to watch it. The host, Svengoolie, said the film was edited for length to run in the allotted two hour slot. The original 105 minutes would have only left 15 for commercials and terrible jokes. Thank god for small favors, I don't think I could have watched much more of this.

Here is a movie that cannot have EWW done on it. The video would be longer than the film. The story and dialog was a constant stream of absurdities. You do not buy into the plot, even for a moment. It's as if the filmmakers looked at every scene and asked "is it stupid enough?"

If you embrace it's campy appeal then you will disagree with me. I'm good with that. But would I have considered watching this had I known how bad it was? Nope. AMRU 2.
"Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb"

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Seventh Victim (1943)

A young woman (Kim Hunter) must leave school because her sister disappeared and stopped paying the tuition. Setting out to look for her, she finds her sister's friends don't always tell the truth, and that she has gotten herself involved in something nefarious.

Perhaps two parts Noir mystery and one part Horror, but I'm inclined to overlook that. Finally I have seen all nine of Val Lewton's horror-esque films. He did five others completely outside the genre before dropping dead. Eventually I'll hit those as well.

Here's something curious. Tom Conway played the same character as in Cat People, curiouser still if you saw Cat People. Jean Brooks and he were in nine films together. Her other Lewton film, The Leopard Man, was not one of them. She would die at my age. Booze is short on nutrition.

Let's talk of Vallie, shall we? Born in Crimea back when it was illegally occupied by Russian forces, his family moved to America looking for a better life. RKO was reeling financially and needed someone who could churn out economically successful films on a tight budget and schedule. Showing the great decision making skills that got them into this mess, they chose a young man who never before produced a film. Oddly, it worked.

Seldom do I focus on producers. Ok, never do I focus on producers. But Val Lewton was not your average producer. He had a much larger hand in the creation of his films than usual. He personally worked on the scripts, was involved with the art direction, carefully chose who he wanted to work with, and his films all had his signature style whether they were directed by Jacques Tourneur or Robert Wise. The films have great atmosphere, are well crafted, and by and large very enjoyable. Avid readers may remember the one I gave a failing grade to.

One of my objectives when starting this blog (I had several) was to find these forgotten gems. Great, nuanced films I had never heard of. Here exactly is what I was looking for.

The Seventh Victim has some thrilling parts, lots of mystery, and that Lewton atmosphere. While it is as well crafted as Lewton's other works, I will say the film could have made use of some more horror elements. I will say no more because I did enjoy it. Maybe fifth best of his nine and AMRU 3.5. I just wish the devil worshipers were more satan-y.