Monday, December 26, 2011

Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971)

One more Frankenstein movie! Well, almost.

Lounge singer with unbelievable cleavage (Regina Carrol) is looking for her sister who took in with the terrifying underworld of surfer dudes. Unbeknownst to her, sis's head was chopped off by Chaney Jr. That's ok, though. His boss, Dr. Duryea (J. Carrol Naish), can put them back on. Does it all the time. Ya see, he runs a museum of murder and needs freshly decapitated women to keep his exhibit fresh, or something like that. Or is it that he is the last member of the Frankenstein family and he needs to experiment? And what's up with the idiot bikers? And what, is Dracula being played by Greg Brady?

I could try to piece together the story line of this turd, but it's not worth the effort. What happened is this was supposed to be a biker movie with different lead actors, then it was turned into a monster movie with earlier footage was clumsily spliced in. There is little to no mystery, no horror, and little to distinguish itself. I watched it for no reason than because it was the last film of two horror icons: Great talent J. Carrol Naish and great nothing Lon Chaney Jr. Chaney played a mute head-chopping monster and Naish was a shell of his former self. Skip it. Need proof? Take a look at the Monster. They weren't even trying. AMRU 2.

Instead I will spend my time on Regina Carrol, the only thing here worth looking at. The movie starts with her singing a silly lounge song and I presumed it was dubbed in as she was clearly just eye candy. Turns out, she actually sang the song. So, nice set of lungs. Regina starred in a variety of explotation flicks like Satan's Sadists, Angel's Wild Women, and Girls for Rent. Dracula vs. Frankenstein, despite being in a similar vein, had almost no nudity to speak of. By the way, Regina's husband directed all of them.

Regina retired from Hollywood in the late 70's but continued to perform on stage. She died of cancer at age 49. Less than four months later, director hubby remarried. Less than three years after that, he tragically died when someone popped a cap in his ass.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Trip to the Moon (1902)

Or, Le Voyage dans la Luna. Oh, la la!

Wizened old scientist proposes a trip to the moon to other wizened old scientists amidst fanfare and women with nice butts. One scientist disagrees but is convinced when he is pelted with books.

They visit the worksite where workers are building their space bullet and cause trouble. Later, the ship is ready for launch. The old men are loaded into the ship assisted by woman with decidedly less than nice butts. They wave to the camera.

A civil war general orders the launch and they are shot to the moon. The trip takes several seconds. The moon is not happy.

The scientists marvel at their surroundings and the sight of an Earthrise. They are narrowly missed by a meteor and decide to take a nap. The stars and planets and whatnot come out, and they awake when it begins to snow. They go underground and find moon mushrooms. They are confronted by exploding moon men and are captured, and taken them to their leader. They blow up said leader and make their escape.

They climb into their bullet craft, push it over a cliff, and land in the ocean. On Earth. A moon man comes along for the ride. They are welcomed as returning heroes and do a dance with the moon man. The end.

Georges Melies wrote, directed, produced, and starred in one of the earliest examples of science fiction. Melies, however, didn't make much money on it. Seems some bastard named Edison pirated his movie and showed it all over America.

The movie seems to be something of a farce. The scientists are comedic, foolish old men. The notion of going to the moon (67 years away, across unthinkable scientific advancement) was laughable back in aught 2. But the movie stands up. Not because of anything it predicted. Just about everything was wrong, not that he cared. The moon does not rotate with respect to the Earth, therefore there cannot be an Earthrise. Not the point, here. But because it was inventive, imaginative, and whimsical. It's a pleasure to watch. I've watched it about four times so far. AMRU 4.

Monday, December 12, 2011

To Be or Not to Be (1942)

Husband and wife stage actors Joseph and Maria Tura (Jack Benny and Carole Lombard) are in Warsaw when a young pilot (Robert Stack) falls in love with Maria. She tells him to visit her dressing room when her husband starts his soliloquy. You know the one. Very famous.

Anyhow, when the Nazi's invade, Lt. Sobinski flies to England to help with the war effort there. Professor Siletsky, working for military intelligence, lets slip that he will be going undercover to Warsaw, Sobinski asks him to deliver the message "To Be or Not to Be" to Maria. When it becomes clear that Siletsky has never heard of the great Maria Tura, our young Lieutenant becomes convinced he is a double agent. He flies to Warsaw ahead of him to warn the underground. The theatre company uses their theatrical skills to thwart the Nazis.

It was fairly brave of Hollywood to release a movie, early in US involvement (filmed before, actually), that showed the plight of civilians caught up in the crossfire. Heroic Americans Doing Everything Right was de rigueur when they strayed from fluffball musicals. Still, they weren't brave enough to use the word Jew. They implied the Hebrew heritage, but never said it.

This is a comedy, folks. In fact, my 11 year old declared it the funniest of dad's crappy old movies, high praise indeed. It's an interesting blend of grave seriousness and screwball comedy, and done so well that they augment each other rather than detract. Jack Benny, whom I've never seen before, was hilarious. I remember back in the day people trying to explain who Jack was by impersonating him. "Oh, he acted gay", I'd say. Seriously, look at a Benny impersonation and not think that! Anyhow, he was great and the chemistry with Poor Carole was pitch perfect. She would die before the movie was released.

And of course, Lionel Atwill pops up unexpectedly yet again! I didn't notice his name in the credits, but instead recognized him dressed as a Nazi. It was a small role. The movie encouraged me to see the Mel Brooks remake, which wasn't bad. But, sorry Mel, it doesn't hold a candle to the original. AMRU 4. By the way, Brooks isn't afraid to use the word Jew ...
"Maria Tura: It's becoming ridiculous the way you grab attention. Whenever I start to tell a story, you finish it. If I go on a diet, you lose the weight. If I have a cold, you cough. And if we should ever have a baby, I'm not so sure I'd be the mother.
Josef Tura: I'm satisfied to be the father."

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Mummy (1932)

The tomb of an unknown mummy (Boris Karloff) is found in Egypt along with some strange artifacts. When translating a magic spell, a young archaeologist accidentally revives Imhotep, who steals the scroll and lumbers away, leaving the archaeologist a babbling idiot.

What does a high priest freshly revived from the dead do? Well, Imhotep does what anyone would would do. Go looking for chicks. He assists in locating the tomb of his long dead girlfriend, but her dusty goodness trips his trigger no longer. Instead he puts his spell on an archaeologist's hot daughter. She must be the REINCARNATION of his lost love. Yea, we'll go with that.

Way to rip off Dracula, people. We got the risen monster from another age, the reincarnated love theme, the Mina/Jonathan couple, Van Helsing, even the control from a far scenario (ala Potter/Voldermort). Throw in Renfield and sleeping in the dirt from the homeland, and we have a perfect match. It does have one thing Drac didn't, that being a bonefide hottie in Zita Johann. Apparently she exploded on the scene in Hollywood and in three years pissed everybody off and was all but gone.

Not only was this the first time I saw The Mummy, it was the first time I saw ANY mummy movie. Back in the day I had these monster action figures. Drac, Frankie, Wolf Man, Mummy, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. I was a Dracula fan back in the day, but it was clear even then that he and the and the Monster were the rock stars of the bunch. In that vein, The Mummy was clearly the fill in keyboard player. The next movie was eight years later and was a remake rather than a sequel.

Having said all that, it's a worthy effort, and well worth watching. There is a back story flashback scene done in the style of D.W. Griffith silent film, and other cool elements. Sure, I'll hit the rest in the line eventually. Don't hold your breath, though. AMRU 3.5.
"Anck-es-en-Amon, my love has lasted longer than the temples of our gods. No man ever suffered as I did for you."

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Red Balloon (1956)

It's an old story. Boy meets Balloon. Boy loses Balloon. Gang attacks Balloon and pops it's cherry-redness. Boy drowns his sorrows in the company of many anonymous balloons. We've heard it a thousand times before.

In a book I am reading (overdue) on film appreciation, it mentions that most American's have been introduced to french cinema with this movie when it was played in schools. Vaguely, I remember watching a film having something to do with balloons that had very little dialogue. I wondered what nostalgic memories it would evoke.

So, the story is thus (ignore that crap I wrote earlier): A boy walking to school finds an unusual red balloon. He can't bring it into school so he tells it to wait for him, and it does. The balloon becomes his friend and follows him where he goes. They have some adventures, but the balloon is threatened by a gang of kids.

What's really interesting about this is the control the director seemed to have over the balloon. Clearly it was rigged, and in one place you can see how, but mostly the effect was excellent. Also, the cinematography was stellar. The city (Paris, I'm guessing) was showcased expertly. Interestingly, it won the Academy Award for best original screenplay even though the entire script could fit on a post-it note.

Winning that, and the Cannes award for short subjects, didn't seem to totally launch career of the young Albert Lamorisse. He did a couple more shots, one feature film, then died in a helicopter crash in Iran. Eight years later, the film he was making was released. His legacy as a filmmaker may be overshadowed by another accomplishment: he invented the board game Risk.

The Red Balloon is charming, visually interesting, and brief (34 minutes). Had I seen it as a child I may be giving it a higher score, but apparently I didn't. AMRU 3.5.

Friday, November 25, 2011

House of Frankenstein (1944)

Or, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man 2.

Not really, but almost. The evil doctor Niemann (Boris Karloff) and his faithful assistant Igor ... I mean Daniel (J. Carrol Naish) escape from prison, commandeer a travelling circus, and head for Visaria in order to take up the good doctor Frankenstein's work. Said circus also happens to feature the bones of Dracula (John Carradine), which if you take the stake out, his evil body reappears.

While searching for Frankenstein's notes in his demolished mansion, they stumble across the body of the Monster (Glenn Strange) and the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr). Stop me if you heard this one before. Anyhow, Niemann promises Daniel a proper body so that he can woo this hot gypsy chick, promises to keep Dracula's coffin safe during the day, and promises Wolfie that he will kill him. Instead, the douche, he totally uses his new circle of friends to work on his real project: getting the monster back to full strength and killing the people who sent him to prison. And what would a Frankenstein flick be without Lionel Atwill in there someplace. Once again, he plays an inspector.

So, Karloff took a break from Broadway to appear in the movie, but apparently Lugosi wasn't free. Seems he took up Boris' role. Therefore, Carradine becomes a lackluster Dracula. And speaking of which, what, was he in the movie a whole four minutes? The only reason I can imagine for his appearance is to make the movie poster more crowded with monsters and to introduce him for the next movie. I understand there was a thought to include The Mummy as well, but that would have been ridiculous.

A few interesting points: As this movie mostly takes place in "Visaria", which sounds like "Vasaria" where Ghost Of was set, the evil doctor house is that of the other brother's, and he was the least evil of all the Frankenstein's. Nobody from the actual family appears, unless you count the Monster. George Zucco had a small part as the circus owner. I had to go online to find out what role he played. It was all too brief. And, Chaney, Strange, and Naish all died in 1973. Chaney and Naish's collective last movie was the schlocky Dracula vs. Frankenstein, which I totally have to watch.

Thirteen years after the advent of Universal's reign as the king of horror, we are seeing their demise. The appearance of a large, slow moving creature isn't enough to scare audiences anymore and compensating with a monster mash has limited appeal. There is one more, however, but I will explore that with the Dracula line. Eventually.

Despite this, I actually found House Of to be a bit of a rebound for the franchise. It was fun. Doesn't touch the early work, but every bit as good as Son Of. AMRU 3.5.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)

Grave robbers rob the grave of Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) and find his corpse covered with wolfbane. When they remove it, he awakens, transforms, and goes on a rampage. He awakes in a Cardiff hospital. They think he's crazy because he claims to be a dead man.

He escapes to find the gypsy woman (Maria Ouspenskaya) who's son he killed in his last film. She'll help him! She tells him to find the mysterious Doctor Frankenstein! If anyone knows the answer, it'll be him. So, off they go, to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of ... oh, I'll say Vasaria.

Well, Frankie's dead so Larry chugs through the ruins of Castle Frankenstein (which I guess is the mansion from Ghost of) looking for the the late doctors notes, and finds the monster, himself (Bela Lugosi, why not, it was his brain). Frozen in ice. Of course he's still alive. Can't kill a good monster.

So, Larry meets up with the Baroness Elsa Frankenstein (Ilona Massey) who now sports a German accent. Into the mix is the dashing doctor Mannering from the Cardiff hospital and Lionel Atwill as the mayor. Larry convinces her to show the location on her dad's notebook in hopes of finding a way to drain the life from his body. You see, Larry wants to die.

The image of the monster, stumbling around with out-stretched hands is from here. You see, the monster was supposed to be blind. That happened at the end of Ghost of, but they forgot to mention it here. Also, the monster could talk but all of his lines were cut. Go figure.

They swapped actresses for Elsa Frankenstein, but for a good reason. Evelyn Ankers from Ghost of also played Talbot's love interest in The Wolf Man. That would be just weird. Weirder still was the idea of trying to have one actor (Lon) play both lead monsters. That idea was thankfully scrapped.

So, the long slow decline of the Frankenstein franchise continues. Certainly not unwatchable, but disjointed and not as interesting as the previous efforts. AMRU 3. And, yes. Elsa Frankenstein does meet the Wolf Man.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

It's a Gift (1934)

Harold Bissonette (W.C. Fields) is a hen-pecked grocery store owner who aspires to own an orange grove in California. He gets that opportunity when a rich relative dies.

That's all we need about the story. Mostly, it's a vehicle for Fields' comedy and the story is secondary. Considered to be his best movie, I have to say that fact doesn't motivate me to seek out much more of his work. What was funny, was funny, but the bits that failed, were tedious. In one scene Fields' character is trying to get some sleep on a porch swing and is constantly interrupted by neighbors, milk men, insurance salesmen, and Baby LeRoy. That's a scene that could have been shortened by about a century.

Speaking of LeRoy, how did this three year old get star billing? Who's idea was that? Hard times indeed when you are washed up in Hollywood by age four. I didn't expect Fields to be dominated by an overbearing wife. That wasn't my image of him. Well, I'm not going to spend a lot of time with this one. I liked the parts I liked and it was nice to see a W.C. Fields movie, but overall, AMRU 2.5.
Norman: What's the matter, Pop? Don'tcha love me anymore?
Harold: [he raises his hand to hit Norman] Certainly I love you.
Amelia: Don't you strike that child!
Harold: Well, he's not gonna tell me I don't love him.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

The villagers aren't satisfied with the destruction of the monster. Now they want to destroy the castle and kill Ygor again (apparently a broken neck and several bullets to the body aren't enough to kill him). Ygor (Bela Lugosi) runs to the laboratory while the castle is being destroyed and discovers the body of the monster (Lon Chaney Jr, this time) still living, encased in sulfur. The monster is weakened but they escape the destruction.

Ygor and his pal decide to make their way to another village where the OTHER son of Frankenstein lives, who apparently lives in Pemberley. Ludwig Frankenstein (Cedric Hardwicke) is a brain specialists. What is it with these people? Anyhow, Ygor decides to blackmail Ludwig into recharging the Monster's batteries, promising to tell everyone of the dark family secret. How the misadventures of the Frankenstein family could still be a secret by the forth movie is a mystery to me.

Anyhow, Ludwig agrees to hear him out and is desperate to isolate his comfy life from the family curse. But this Frankenstein isn't so eager to dabble in the black arts, even though brains is his specialty. Instead he decides to destroy the monster. His colleague, Doctor Bohmer (Lionel Atwill) sees this as murder and refuses to assist. Back story: Dr. Bohmer's scientific reputation was apparently ruined when an experiment went wrong. Sorry, no details other than that.

Then Ludwig gets an idea! What if he put the brain of a recently deceased nice person into the monster's body? That would solve everybody's problems! No more reckless monster. And what luck! He happens to have a dead assistant conveniently lying around with a perfectly good brain. Ygor has a better idea. Put HIS brain into the monster! Then Ygor and Buddy can be one and the same! Frankenstein doesn't like this idea but Ygor convinces Bohmer to go along.

All in all, not a bad movie. Certainly every bit as good as Son of. The weakest part, of course, is old friend Creighton. On the surface he appears to be the perfect choice. Large frame, ugly mug, and bad in the verbal department. But Karloff showed that even when covered with makeup and limited to grunts, real acting skill shows through. Also, they looked much different. The other-worldly stare and hollow cheeks being replaced by Chaney's chubby face and half-baked eyes. This story centered around Ludwig and Ygor for obvious reasons.

Even though Atwill's character didn't die in the last one, he played a very different part here. Ralph Bellamy once again plays a cop in search of a monster played by Chaney. Apparently filming started right after The Wolf Man wrapped. Karloff didn't return because he was appearing on Broadway and had no interest in reprising the role. He would later have a role in House of.

One thing that might be missing is the Gothic scenery. The Evil laboratory, the creepy castle, the desolate grave yard. A lower budget made concessions and we have a nice house, a surgical operating room, and a courthouse.

One plot point has the monster befriending a small girl. This gave him a level of humanity to audiences of the day, but seemed a little creepy in this age. I'll leave that one right there. AMRU 3.5.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Un Chien Andalou (1929)

Young film director Luis Bunuel and artist Salvador Dali collaborated to make a film guaranteed to provoke. Supposedly artist and director carried rocks in their pockets at the premier to defend themselves if the audience hated the movie. To their disappointment, they liked it.

The movie was inspired by two images: Brunel's dream of clouds slicing the image of the moon like a razor slicing an eye, and Dali's dream of ants crawling on a hand. Yummy. The razor-eye scene is over in the first two minutes and only confusing images remain for the balance of the film.

There is no narrative. Just jarring, dreamlike images that bare little context. I won't attempt to describe them. At 16 minutes and available on netflix and here, you can watch it yourself. You can't understand it unless you see it. And, in many cases, if you do see it.

In fact, that was part of the point. According to the director, the intent was to include "no idea or image that might lend itself to a rational explanation". On that mark, I believe they succeeded. An interesting side note: the two actors, Simone Mareuil and Pierre Batcheff both ended their own lives. I'm sure the film does not bear the blame.

So, what to rate it? Can I say that the movie enriched my life or furthered my film education? Nope. But it's nice and short and a quick way to knock off a fairly influential movie. I'll give it a luke warm 3.0 and let you decide for yourself.

By the way, the title translates to "An Andalusian Dog" so, take that for what it's worth. Also, the eye being cut with a razor is that of a dead calf's.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Happy Halloween!

Well, I have to say not bad. I got four versions of Frankenstein in before the month's end. Still, there are many more, it would have been nice to do some of them. Maybe I still will. Let's see if I can't get this in before any monsters arrive. Too late!

Anyhow, Wolf von Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone) travels to the village of his father's to claim his birthright. In today's episode, that village is called 'Frankenstein'. Shouldn't be too hard to remember (it was called 'Goldstadt' in the first two films). Wolfie laments that people have taken to calling the monster by his surname. Sounds like someone I know. Wolfie, hot wife, and annoying child arrive by train and are greeted by less than hospitable townsfolk. He offers his condolences and tries to reassure them that they have nothing to fear, but they aren't buying anything. Neither are we.

The good people settle in their sparsely decorated scary castle in hopes of proving their good will, while the village council will have none of that. While strolling around his dad's partially destroyed laboratory, he meets Ygor (Bela Lugosi), who shows him his secret. That being his dad's monster (Boris Karloff), sleeping soundly, right in the middle of the room. Jeez, talk about being oblivious.

Seems Ygor and Monster have struck up a friendship. Monster trusts Ygor and "does things" for him. Nudge nudge, wink wink. But monster was struck by lightening and now all he does is sleep. Doctor, fix!

Lionel Atwill played Inspector Krough, the most memorable character after maybe Ygor. He seems to crop up in movies I am looking at, like the title character in Doctor X (anyone got a copy I can borrow?) plus three more Frankenstein movies, never as the same character. Between him and Dwight Frye (who was in four, maybe five Frankensteins), the franchise seems almost Star Trekian in how they recycle their actors. Frye is unconfirmed in Son of.

Anyways, back to Atwill. A respected stage actor had a successful screen career, but threw an orgy-christmas party one year and that ended everything for him. Watch Young Frankenstein and pay attention to the inspector who plays darts with Gene Wilder. That's Kenneth Mars doing a better than fair Atwill/Krough impersonation. Mars died in February. Remember him also as the Nazi screenwriter from The Producers.

A nod must be given to Bela. When his good roles are listed, Ygor is mentioned alongside Dracula and Murder from White Zombie. His crappy roles are too numerous to mention. Interesting to note that his hunch-backedness was actually two inches taller than the monster. A good job was done camouflaging that fact.

Rathbone will forever be remembered for the detective in the silly hat, but he also played in a large number of Horror movies, apparently not liking them much. His slow burn from reasoned outsider to bombastic scientist was the model for Gene Wilder's version.

It's annoying how significant details of the story are changed with each new version (Highlander anyone?) like the look and proximity of the laboratory, and the presence of a castle to begin with. And what's up with the empty castle anyhow? Props department closed that week? They used bare walls and clever shadows to express moods. Not sure it worked all that well.

Still, reasonable story, good acting, and a strong addition to the franchise. AMRU 3.5.
"One doesn't easily forget, Herr Baron, an arm torn out by the roots."

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

The monster's name isn't Frankenstein. We know that, right? Just like Nick Charles isn't the thin man, the monster is known simply as the monster. Where did that misconception come from? Maybe from Bride of Frankenstein.

Now, the Barron DID have a wife but this movie isn't about her. It's about Henry trying to get on with his life when he is visited by another (non-dead) ex-professor. The mysterious Doctor Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) arrives but the Barron (Colin Clive again) gets all passive-aggressive and sends him away. Apparently Pretorius is also on the quest to learn the secret of life and thinks it would be nifty if they could compare notes.

When Pretorius bumps into the monster (not dead as previously thought) while hanging around a crypt, he offers to make him a lady friend. Monster likes that idea. So, the monster kidnaps the bride of Frankenstein ... that is to say, the Barron's wife, and they coerce Henry into helping.

A couple things to note: Bride of Frankenstein is a comedy. All classic horror have moments of campyness and levity but Bride goes beyond that. Una O'Connor (my favorite ugly chick) looking up to see the monster standing behind her had distinct shades of Abbot and Costello. And the scene with the blind hermit was played at least partially for laughs.

Also, Dwight Frye, everyone's favorite Igor (never actually played a character with that name) returns. His character Fritz died in Frankenstein so this time his name is Karl. He also played Dracula's Renfield. Seems like his characters don't hang along all that much. In real life he died at my age. They got a new Elizabeth. Apparently Mae Clarke was having some serious mental difficulty at the time. Colin was rewarded with the younger Valerie Hobson. Her next project was as the wife of the title character in Warewolf of London.

Elements of Bride were actually taken from the Shelley novel. There was some talk about making the monster a lady friend but never acted upon. Also, the monster spoke in the book. In fact, he was a total bore. Karloff's monster spoke in short, choppy sentences. Fire bad!

Towards the end of the movie the Bride is unveiled, as a bug-eyed but still somewhat hot Elsa Lanchester with Marge Simpsonesque hair. Further confusing the name of the monster, Pretorius declares her the Bride of Frankenstein! Elsa also played Mary Shelley in an awful prologue where she introduces the story. Funny that an Elizabethan writer would introduce a story that includes telephones and electric lights.

Bride is one of few sequels that is regarded higher than the original (IMdb rates them both an 8), and certainly it's a classic work. But for my money, I like the original better. More serious treatment with some ambiguity about the monster's nature. AMRU 4.
"To a new world of Gods and Monsters!"

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Frankenstein (1931)

Once again, good Doctor Frankenstein (Colin Clive) turns his back on polite society and his hot fiancee in pursuit of the secret of life. Fiancee, buddy, and old college professor arrive with great concern. Doc shows them what he's been working on. It's alive, it's alive, yea, yea. Then he finds out that the brain was donated by an ... Abby something ... and realizes the folly of his ways. He leaves the task of offing his ugly creation to his old college professor to get married.

But it's the prof that's off'd and the monster escapes, tosses a little girl into the drink, and finds his maker. The villagers (as they are want to do) take up torches and pitch forks, chase the monster into a windmill, then burn it to the ground. And everyone lives happily ever after. Except the people who die.

A classic work of horror, there is very little to pick nits about. Maybe that the good doctor was actually taller than his monster. Or that he traded first names with his college chum. But the differences between this and the Elizabethan novel only start there. For fans who think this may be the movie that least resembles it's literary progenitor, go watch Forrest Gump then read the Winston Groom novel. There, as here, the movie is better.

Colin Clive was excellent as the obsessed doctor. He appeared in one sequel then promptly died. I always thought Boris Karloff was chosen for the role because he was a big, brutal man. In real life, however, he was rather slight of build and refined in nature. The high boots, shoulder pads, and tall head made him look menacing, but still, he wasn't much larger than many of the villagers. Also, he was forty four when he filmed his star making role. Talk about being a late bloomer.

Excellent film making. Great atmosphere and performances all around. It's quite daunting to act when you are covered in makeup and can't talk, but Boris was something special. He was a frightful monster but one that you could pity. ANRU 4.5.
"Dangerous? Poor old Waldman. Have you never wanted to do anything that was dangerous? Where should we be if no one tried to find out what lies beyond? Have your never wanted to look beyond the clouds and the stars, or to know what causes the trees to bud? And what changes the darkness into light? But if you talk like that, people call you crazy. Well, if I could discover just one of these things, what eternity is, for example, I wouldn't care if they did think I was crazy."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Frankenstein (1910)

Filmed back when people didn't bother much to hold on to film after the first run, Frankenstein was the first ever filmed treatment of the Mary Shelley story. Keeping somewhat to the story (in a very abbreviated format), we see 'oll Vic make a monster, be disgusted by it, run to his love, get tormented by said monster, then deal with it. End scene. All in about sixteen minutes. Or thirteen and a half.

One interesting thing is how the monster gets created. The stitching of body parts is all but de rigueur, but the book never says exactly how. Here, the creature is created in a very alchemical way. They filmed a effigy being burned then played it backwards to show it being spawned by fire. Not bad.

The movie was lost then rediscovered in the 1960's. The movie was filmed like a stage play. The actors are seen in center stage with no close ups. Somewhat crude, even by 1910 standards. IMdb lists the run time at 16 minutes, but the online version flashes before your eyes two and a half minutes short of that. It doesn't appear to be missing anything, except maybe an understandable ending.

What truly is missing is a complete restoration. The existing footage is thin and choppy, at best. That might be asking too much, as this version is little more than a novelty. There may be more worthy projects. AMRU 3.

Watch it here.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Cat and the Canary (1927)

Rich man is judged insane by his relatives, because, he believes, they want his money. Always scheming against him, he feels like the proverbial caged canary. When he passes, he arranges for his will to be read twenty years from his passing. The relatives and their decedents meet in his spooky old house just before midnight for the reading. Nice setting.

The pretty lady in the poster (Laura La Plante) is named as the sole heir. But there is one catch. She must be declared sane by a psychiatrist or the estate will go to someone else named in this other letter. Things are further complicated when it is learned that the other person named has learned this and may be plotting against her. Next, we insert an escaped lunatic ...

This bonafide haunted house movie is based on a 1922 play and was remade several times, most notably by Bob Hope twelve years later. It was made most recently in the late 70's as, I think, soft-core porn. That should be interesting.

Anyhow, it's a well made silent horror (with comic subtones) that could use some restoring. The netflix version is more than a little scratched. Still, enjoyable and well worth my time. AMRU 3.

Next up will be a challenge for me. I will try to get in as many of one line of film as possible before Halloween. Let's see what I can do.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Black Sleep (1956)

Doctor Ramsey (Herbert Rudley) is condemned to die for a murder he did not commit. He is visited by his old medical school professor, Sir Cadman (Basil Rathbone), who gives him a drug to make the final execution painless. Painless, indeed!

Ramsey dies of an apparent heart attack and the body is delivered to Cadman, who gives him an antidote to wake the dead doctor up. Odd way to recruit assistants, but who am I to judge?

Well, the good Doctor Cadman brings the good doctor Ramsey to his eerie castle to perform horrible brain experiments on anonymous "volunteers". Things are going well until the troublesome hottie Laurie (Patricia Blair) interferes. It seems the evil Mungo (Lon Cheney Jr.) who is always trying to kill her, is her father. He got that way after Cadman experimented with his brain. Spoil sport.

Not a bad movie, on the whole. Low budget and not terribly original, but worth the time spent watching it. This was Bela Lugosi's last film (Plan 9 does not count) and he looked mostly dead as the mute butler. John Carradine had a small but memorable role and Creighton was serviceable as the mute brute. What Tor Johnson was doing in the film, I have no idea. I don't think he had more that 30 seconds of screen time. I guess they wanted to get as many famous horror names in as possible. Karloff had more sense, but what was Basil's excuse?

Akim Tamiroff had a memorable role as a gypsy who retrieves the volunteers for Rathbone's experiments. The role was offered to Peter Lorre, but he asked for too much money. I can totally see him in the role, but Tamiroff was diabolically excellent. I'll keep an eye out for more of his work.

All in all, vaguely creepy, nice atmosphere, and nice to see all the familiar faces. Totally unoriginal and lacking a little punch, but better than some I've given a 3.0 to.
"Mungo only pawn in game of life."
No, wait. that was a different movie.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Some Like it Hot (1959)

Joe and Jerry (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) are down on their luck musicians. The only job offered is for an all girls band in Florida. When they become witness to the Valentine's Day massacre, they decide to borrow some dresses and take that gig.

So, on the train they go with a bunch of women trying hard not to stand out. There they meet troubled hottie Sugar Kane, played by troubled hottie Marilyn Monroe. George Raft played a gangster, like in that other movie that featured the Valentine's Day massacre.

Anyhow, they get in and out of trouble, meet strange and interesting people, and find true love, of a sort. Curtis and Lemmon were great, the dialog was crisp, and the hottie was hot. Way to camouflage a pregnancy, Marilyn. She'd be dead in three years.

Monroe, I understand, was an utter train wreck on the set. Always late, couldn't remember her lines, difficult to the end. She wasn't invited to the wrap party. Billy Wilder hated her, though used her notoriety for his own gain. He considered Mitzi Gaynor for the role.

Banned in Kansas and condemned by the Catholic Church, Some Like it Hot was a well written, well made, and wonderfully crafted movie. AMRU 4. By the way, the title refers to how they like their Jazz. Sugar liked it hot.
"Well, nobody's perfect."

Sunday, October 9, 2011

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Ooh, this is a tough sell. On the one hand, my son was (prior to his current military obsession) a Sci-Fi nut. And no Sci-Fi film comes close to the pedigree of 2001. One of America's greatest directors teaming with one of the world's greatest Sci-Fi writers have produced arguably the greatest movie in the genre. AFI clearly thinks so. IMdb, for what it's worth, ranks it 13th, but let's face it. IMdb isn't the most scholarly of sources. Besides, two Star Wars movies rank higher despite that they are principally fantasy. Anyhow, Peter and I sat down to watch this monster.

What a wholly unwatchable movie! Now, it was amazingly innovative. They were producing this BEFORE the moon landing and getting a lot of interesting details right. They showed how advanced technology would be actually used by regular people. That stuff was great. So, what is it all about?

Well, there's this giant black block that teaches monkeys to kill each other, then it turns up under the surface of our moon. Trying to figure out what it does, they discover that it is transmitting a signal to a moon of Jupiter. So they send a team armed with an awesomely reliable computer to take a look-see.

Along the way, Astronauts Dave and Frank get this silly idea that HAL is faulty, and decide to shut him down. HAL no likey this idea, so he takes matters into his own ... um ... hands.

Kubrick's 2001 is a magnificent accomplishment. The visual imagery, the choreography, the soundtrack, it's a singular experience. However, from a purely entertainment standpoint, it's an endurance test. The first dialog is spoken 24 minutes into the movie. And the back end, the last half hour or so, well, drink a cup of coffee or two. I nodded off and had to rewatch it.

So, what's it all about? I mean, what is it REALLY all about? What is the ultimate message of the movie? Read the book. It makes some sense and is a lot less tedious. It's an amazingly well crafted movie and intensely influential but, man, AMRU 3 is all I can muster.
"My god, it's full of stars!"

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Gilda (1946)

Ah, the character of the Alpha-Female. You know, the Mary from There's Something About and Laura from the same. The larger than life, non-ingenue as the target of desire, object of obsession. Love 'em.

Here, an American down on his luck in Argentina (Glenn Ford) gets held up after winning at craps. He is saved by a strange man in a while suit (George Macready). The strange Ballin Mundson tells Johnny to do his gambling at a local illegal casino but to leave his trick dice behind.

Johnny does so but doesn't leave his cheating ways completely behind. He is brought up to the owner for a dressing down and finds the owner is his strange friend. Johnny fast talks his way into a job. Over time, he gains more trust and responsibility. He is in charge when Ballin goes for a trip. When Ballin returns he introduces his new wife Gilda (Rita Hayworth).

Wow, that's a lot of plot summary, and we only got into about ten minutes of the film. Well, Johnny and Gilda have a past and it didn't end well the last time. How will this play out? A lot of side stories, a lot of confusing dialog, and fun for all ages. I started watching one work night just before netflix was taking it off the streaming queue. I had to stop it about a third into it and needed to see the rest. Netflix saw no need to return it to streaming, so it became my second to last DVD I got from them. The last, by the way, was Black Swan.

Hayworth was born Margarita Carmen Cansino, but underwent ethnicity reassignment surgery to become a whitey-American. During filming she was on her second of five tragic marriages, this time with Orson Welles. She would die at 68 of Alzheimer's.

Taut, well acted, and always interesting, the back two-thirds lived up to the first. IMdb puts it in the Film-Noir genre, furthering my belief that I have absolutely no clue what that means. It was played seriously and there was the element of tragic love (Glenn Ford had five tragic marriages, by the way) and crime played a part, but it wasn't a detective movie. Whatever. AMRU 4.
Johnny Farrell: Doesn't it bother you at all that you're married?
Gilda: What I want to know is, does it bother you?

Gilda: If I'd been a ranch, they would've named me "The Bar Nothing".

Gilda: Got a light?
Uncle Pio: Yes, Mrs. Mundson. It is so crowded here and yet so lonely.
Gilda: How did you know?
Uncle Pio: You smoke too much. I noticed only frustrated people smoke too much and only the lonely people are frustrated.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bird of Paradise (1932)

What is it with me and movies from 1932? Seriously!

Anyhow, a yacht full of preppies sail to one of those tropical paradises you hear so much about. The natives swim out to to fight over the trash yon white men so graciously dump overboard. A shark invades the party, so our hero (Joel McCrea) decides to make it go away by chumming the waters. He falls in but is rescued by a beautiful native (Dolores del Rio) and falls for her as well.

Well, despite his being rich and blond, and her being brunette and savage; he speaking ivy league, she speaking booga-booga, their attraction grows. Throw into the mix that she is the daughter of the king and was promised to a neighboring prince, things don't look good for our future cowboy.

The main claim to fame for Bird of Paradise is Dolores' nude swim scene, but don't get too excited, though. You can see the seam down her back at one point. She runs around topless save for a lei that stays annoyingly in the way no matter what she does, even while leaning over.

Old pal Creighton also has a small role, but he has no lines and his ugly mug isn't on screen enough to ruin the film. This was back when he was credited with the name he was born with, rather than the one his dad was born with.

All in all, not a terribly interesting movie. It's saving grace is the ending. Slightly less Hollywood than you might expect. AMRU 2.5.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Scarface (1932)

Tony Comonte (Paul Muni), alias Scarface, is a two bit hood on the rise. George Raft is his buddy, Guino, and Ann Dvorak is his creepy looking sister. He murders and back-stabs his way to taking over the south side crime syndicate. Now the north side boss (Boris Karloff) is in his sights.

The movie opens with a disclaimer. They make it clear that the violence depicted is not to glorify gang rule, but as an indictment of it. Porn movies should open with similar words as an indictment of the objectification of women. Yea, that should cover it. The movie is fairly violent, definitely by 1930's standards. They edited it down several times to pass pre-code muster. I'd love to see a director's cut.

Here are a few neat things: the movie had the first ever film depiction of the Tommy Gun. Al Capone, who is intentionally confused the the titular character, loved the movie. He owned a copy. Betamax, I think. Tony and the gang see a play, which I slowly recognize as the source for the mediocre Crawford flick Rain, which came out the same year and by the same studio. Hmmmm.

Well, not much else to say. It kept my interest. Some funny parts, and certainly some historical importance. I pushed it to the top of my list because Netflix said they were taking it away from streaming, but they never did. Whatever. They've been having a lot of PR issues lately. Far be it for me to pile on. Anyhow, I enjoyed it. The best part might have been the look on my wife's face when I told her that I let the kids watch Scarface. AMRU 3.5.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Dr. Strangelove (1964)

or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Brigadier General Jack Ripper (Sterling Hayden) has sent the codes to start a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, then barricaded himself in his base, and convinced his soldiers that anyone who attacks are Russians. His plan is to provoke a response from the USSR forcing the Pentagon to make the decision to finish the job or else withstand a Soviet retaliation. The foppish British Captain Mandrake (Peter Sellers) tries to talk him down. Sellers also plays the President and the titular doctor.

Yet another movie I knew well, but knew nothing about. I knew it was anti-war, that Peter Sellers played multiple rolls, and that it was a screwball comedy, but that was it. It shouldn't have taken me this long to have seen it.

Theory is that the US military changed some of the procedures to insure this scenario cannot happen, but that sounds like Hollywood hokum to me. Nobody knew what the cockpit of a B52 looked like but there was one published photograph. The set designers concocted what they thought it should look like and apparently weren't too far off. Obviously, the military were not going to offer any assistance.

The movie features George C. Scott, a very young James Earl Jones, and Slim Pickens as everyone's favorite cowboy pilot. It's nuanced enough to defy description and funny enough to see a second time. AMRU 4.
"Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!"

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)

We know the story. Doctor Jekyll (Spencer Tracy) is experimenting in the true nature of man. The father of his hottie fiancee (Lana Turner) disapproves, but Jekyll can't help himself. Quite by accident he bumps into a low born cockney girl in the street (Ingrid Bergman) and falls deeply in lust. But he is a good man and mustn't allow base instincts take over. So he just kisses her. Nighty-night.

Well, where Jekyll must be a proper gentleman, good friend Hyde has no such requirements. Hyde coerces his concubine into being a kept woman and things slowly get out of hand. Again, you know the story. Tragedy for all.

For the most part, this was a remake of the famed 1931 version rather than the Stevenson work, and suffered the consequence of comparison. Tracy was eager to take the role but was embarrassed by it after fan reaction was rather harsh. Also, Bergman as a cockney barmaid? Hmmm. That's a bit of a stretch. Hotness allows one to get with many crimes and she did have it to spare.

There is one scene where a fevered Jekyll is struggling with his lust for the Bergman character and his duty to his fiancee. He is seen driving two horses, one dark and one white, with a manic expression on his face. Then the horses turn into Bergman and Turner, seemingly topless, with frantic, worried looks on their faces. How's that for slipping it by the sensors? This photo doesn't do it justice, but it's the best I could find.

This version was killed by the critics when it was released, but in fairness it's not bad. I haven't seen the Fredric March version yet, so I'll hold off final judgement, but it was definitely worth a look. AMRU 3.5.

One final comment about the media. I requested a set of disks from the library and when it was available, I didn't remember what it was or why I ordered it. I discovered that it was a four movie set, two of which were on my see list. This and House of Wax. With both movies, the DVD menu promised that the older version was on the flip side, but the set had Freaks and The Haunting instead. This matched the case, so I'm guessing someone bought the resale rights to the movies and didn't bother to change the menu.

Monday, September 5, 2011

House of Wax (1953)

Professor Jarrod (Vincent Price) is an eccentric artist who runs a mildly successful wax museum. He speaks of his creations as if they were living, breathing people. He lines up a new business partner because his old wants out, but his old partner can't wait. So he burns down the museum for the insurance money. Prof dies in the fire.

After a hair-brained hottie is murdered and her body is stolen from the morgue, the dead Professor Jarrod re-emerges to start a new museum, one that panders to the public's taste for the macabre. Hotties roommate (and new intern's fiancee) notices an usually strong resemblance between her and the new Joan of Arc exhibit. Nobody takes her seriously.

Hair-brained hottie's roommate was played by Phyllis Kirk (no relation to the Captain). She was a delightful damsel in distress here and would go on in four years to be a pitiful excuse of a Nora Charles in the TV version of The Thin Man. Want another pointless Star Trek reference? One of the Can-Can girls would go on to play Yeoman Janice Rand. One of Jarrod's handymen struck me as very familiar. Turns out he was a young Charles Bronson.

This is a remake of 1933's Mystery of the Wax Museum, and the disk menu said that version was on side two, but it wasn't. Same thing happened with another movie in the set.

This, I believe, was Price's first horror role. At least his first staring role. And it's a good one. Low budget, I suppose, but well made. It was filmed in 3D, which is weird because the director had only one eye. It wasn't 3D on my end so I can't say how effective having a yo-yo flung in my face worked out.

Somewhat elevated and understated in style, much like The Fly, I liked it about as much. Won't scare anybody, or surprise them very much, but it won't bore you either. AMRU 3.5.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

From Here to Eternity (1953)

Private Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) transfers from his bugle corp to a fighting unit in Hawaii. He was a boxer and doesn't want to box anymore, personal reasons. He is reunited with old friend, forty year old buck private Maggio (Frank Sinatra). His new CO is Captain Holmes, but the unit is run by hard-ass Sargent Warden (Burt Lancaster).

It seems Captain Holmes needs another boxer and won't take no for an answer. Prewitt takes all the abuse he can dish out. While off duty, Prewitt and Maggio seek out the company of the ladies. And by "company", we mean "have polite conversation with while they wear overly complicated dresses", nudge nudge, wink wink. Prewitt falls for one such lady (Donna Reed) even though her bland conversation and total lack of exposed skin is available to any man willing to pay for it.

Well, Maggio strikes up a great friendship with Sargent Fatso (Ernest Bognine, Mermaid Man, boys and girls!), Sargent Warden falls for single girl "Mrs. Captain Holmes" (Deborah Kerr), Prewitt learns to play nice, some young Japanese gentlemen stop by for a picnic, and everyone lives happily ever after. Except the people who die.

So, the question is this. Is From Here to Eternity a war movie masquerading as a love story, or a love story masquerading as a war movie? More on that later.

Montgomery Clift was totally miscast as Prewitt. I didn't believe him as a soldier, let alone a boxer. The fact that he got nominated for an acting Oscar either means academy voters were enthralled with this movie or I don't know anything about acting. I'm open to either interpretation.

The famous scene, you know the one, with Lancaster and Kerr (not a cur!) making out on the beach totally didn't play out as I expected. They run into the surf, wash ashore while kissing, run to their blankets, and Lancaster accuses her of being a slut. Not what I expected.

It won a ton of Oscars, and deserved them I would guess. It is a very well made movie with some good acting. Sinatra was good in his role. Oscar worthy, I don't know, but good. AMRU 3.5.

And to answer my question, totally the latter.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Pink Panther (1963)

Hot Princess Dahla (Claudia Cardinale) owns one heck of a jewel. She is on vacation and brings it along. Famed jewel thief Charles Lytton (David Niven) takes an interest. Charles' playboy nephew (Robert Wagner) arrives to complicate matters. Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers) is on the case.

A while ago I got my boys interested in Clouseau. We watched the 1970's slapstick movies and even dabbled in the crappy 1980's versions before Netflix saw fit to take them away. They became fans. I thought I might be able to convince my boys to see the somewhat drier original. Two out of three, not bad.

Here are some funny facts: Clouseau had a wife (Capucine), there was no Cato, no Dreyfus, no silly accent. Or at least, not over the top. Much of that came with A Shot in the Dark, which came out three months later and wasn't supposed to be a Clouseau movie to begin with. More on that after I see it.

Actually, The Pink Panther wasn't supposed to be a Clouseau movie. The story centered around Lytton, but Sellers, quite literally, stole the show. Niven thought this could turn into a series of movies for him, much like The Thin Man. Interestingly, Niven played a Nick Charles parody in Murder by Death, also starring Peter Sellers.

Well made and slapstick in it's day, but in a time when a pie in the face is considered understated, it can be a little slow to the younger viewers. That said, A Shot in the Dark won't be too hard of a sell to the boys. For two of them, anyways. AMRU 3.5. Mmmmm, Elke Sommer ....

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Curse of the Cat People (1944)

The makers of Cat People got together and said "That seemed to have worked. Let's do a sequel." But instead they made a different movie and called it Curse of the Cat People.

The principle actors are back but now the story surrounds little Amy. She's a strange girl who doesn't play with the other children and believes in a fantasy world. Mom and Dad grow concerned. Amy befriends a crazy old shut-in, talks to ghosts, and is watched over by calypso singer Sir Lancelot. I won't say more lest I spoil the original. I'll say this, though. Ollie never does learn to act.

Curse of the Cat People has no cat people and, in my estimation, no curse either. What it does have are nuanced scenes and good atmosphere. But there is little to confuse with the original. Or horror movies in general. It's a thriller, I suppose, but despite elements of the supernatural, not horror. It falls short of the original, but still well worth watching. AMRU 3.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cat People (1942)

Flavorless dork Ollie (Kent Smith) sees the exotic Irena (Simone Simon) at the zoo and falls in love. Creepily, he invites her up to his apartment and she, as a friendless stranger in an unfamiliar city, agrees. Love blooms.

But Irena has a problem. Apparently her Serbian village was cursed many years ago and if she were to become "intimate", she would turn into a savage cat-beast and devour her true love. Ollie comforts her by saying things like, that's foolish, and you should have your head examined, and that's foolish. For some reason that doesn't comfort her much, but they get married anyhow.

By the way, "intimate", in 1942's Hollywood lingo, meant to kiss. We don't see the actual marriage ceremony, so I'm not sure how that went over.

Anyhow, hot Irena agrees to see the shrink (Tom Conway) who'd like to test that, and some other, theories out, nudge, nudge, wink, wink. When marriage troubles start to get poor Ollie down, he starts to seek out the company of plain-jane co-worker, Alice. Also, jealousy too will summon the evil cat-beast.

Is it all in her head? Will Poor Ollie ever learn to act? Will the Doc get his comeupance? Dark and moody, you should watch to find out.

I was sure I had saw Kent Smith before. His blank stares and cardboard acting struck me as familiar, but I hadn't seen anything else he was in. He had a very Buster Crabbe quality about him. Simone Simon, despite being the advanced age of 32, was absolutely captivating. Her accent was adorable. She alone is worth the cost of admission.

But the movie has more to offer. It's slower pace and ambiguous ending differed greatly from the genre of the 30's. Producer Val Lewton was also responsible for I walked with a Zombie and The Body Snatcher which had a similar tone. I will look for more of his work.

I like to end with a good quote, but the one I wanted to use I can't find. The doctor asks Irena something like "You think if I were to kiss you, you would turn into a vicious animal?" and Irena responds "I know that I wouldn't want you to". Cute. AMRU 4.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Horrors of the Black Museum (1959)

Pretty woman receives a pair of binoculars as a gift from an anonymous admirer. When she puts them to her eyes, metal spikes spring out and pierce her brain. We all scream in horror as we watch ... her friend scream in horror.

Police are stumped by the murders. The foppish Bancroft (Michael Gough) and his curly haired boyfriend enjoy lording over the police with their haughty, condescending attitudes. It seems Bancroft is a murder writer and the killings make great fodder for his work. He has his own subterranean dungeon replete with implements of torture. I wonder ...

The culprit (whoever that is) starts having to commit murders not for his writing career (if that's what he, or she, did for a living) but to cover his (or her) tracks. When his (or her) girlfriend gets mouthy he (or she) is left with no alternative but to ... ok, ok, Alfred the Butler is the murderer. There, I said it. Not that it was much of a mystery.

Despite having the same Victorian feel as The Fly, Horrors is set in the modern day. Unlike The Fly, it has no staying power. The first of the murders is the most clever and there are few mysteries for the viewer to unravel. I suppose I'm glad I watched it. The production quality wasn't bad but was a little boring in parts. I'll be a little generous. AMRU 3.
"No woman can hold her tongue. They're a vicious, unreliable breed!"

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Sting (1973)

Movies before the year of my birth is such an arbitrary date.

It's the 1930's Chicago, and Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) is a young, hunky grifter. While doing a con with James Earl Jones' father, they make a big score. The owner of that score is a big time New York mobster he decides to pay them a visit. Exit senior Jones. Hooker wants pay-back. And not to be killed. He needs help.

Hooker enlists the help of Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman). He is wise and jaded. Together they concoct a sting. It has something to do with horse racing. What follows is two hours of the construction and operation of an elaborate scam, the details of which we learn as we go.

A movie like this, a very dense two hours nine, requires some endurance from younger viewers. My 15 year old gave up on it after a half, so I paused it and made him watch the rest later. He liked it a lot. What I liked was the amazing supporting cast. Robert Shaw (Jaws), Ray Walston (Martian and Fast Times), Charles Durning (just about everything), Eileen Brennan (Murder by Death) to name a few. Even Harold Gould, who was on Soap, when Jody was in the hospital having a sex change, (I just finished watching the entire series - a big moment in my life).

Great script, perfect story (that is, it makes complete sense from every character's perspective), top notch acting, and excellent sets and production. I can't say enough about it. Seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, plus three nods. AMRU 4.5.
Hooker: He's not as tough as he thinks.
Gondorff: Neither are we.

Lonnegan: Your boss is quite a card player, Mr. Kelly; how does he do it?
Hooker: He cheats.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Rain (1932)

A possible cholera outbreak on a passenger boat forces them to stop over in Pago Pago until they get the all clear. The passengers include the Davidson's, religious missionaries, and Sadie Thompson (Joan Crawford), a nasty, dirty whore.

Well, they all rent rooms in a general store, while many US marines rent room in Sadie Thompson. This doesn't go over at all well with reformer Alfred Davidson (Walter Huston). He aims to reform her, which is what reformers do, after all. What follows is a battle of wits and a battle of wills. Who will win out? Before you guess, remember that this sucker is pre-code.

Well, Joan looked ridiculous, the movie dragged, and the atmosphere was a drab as the weather (it "rained" a lot). But it wasn't a total loss. It was kinda interesting at time. I picked this up at the library. It was a double feature with Lady of Burlesque, billed as Hollywood Divas, what with Crawford and Barbara Stanwyck. Had I realized that both movies were available streaming from Netflix, I wouldn't have bothered. Rain, I managed to choke through, but the other barely got 20 minutes of my time. AMRU 2.5.
"I've no doubt you've a sufficiently good opinion of yourself to bear mine with equanimity."

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Old Dark House (1932)

A bickering young couple and their wise-cracking friend are travelling down a remote road during a very bad storm. Their car gets stuck, so they decide to seek shelter in an Old Dark House. Stop me if you've heard this one.

Made two years before The Ghost Walks, this very well may be the progenitor of all haunted house movies, at least in the talkie era. It's interesting to note, however, that it's not a haunted house movie.

Over the years I've developed a few working definitions. The word Horror implies how you are made to feel, but I believe a horror movie needs another element: a monster. That monster can be a giant gorilla, a zombie, a witch doctor, alien, demon, robot, mad man, or even a virus. Some embodiment of evil. For a Haunted House movie, the house itself must be more than a setting. It must also be a character and a monster. At the risk of spoiling a better than fair movie, the this house is the setting. Nothing more.

So, our bickering couple is Philip (Raymond Massey) and Margaret (Gloria Stuart) Waverton. Gloria you may remember as the really old lady from Titanic (the Hunky Leo version). She passed away last September, two months after her 100th birthday. Wise-cracking friend Roger is played by Melvyn Douglas. They are less than graciously greeted by mute man-servant Morgan (Boris Karloff). Brother and sister Femm allow them to stay, but make it clear that they are not to make themselves comfortable.

Soon a second couple arrive with the same problem. Sir William Porterhouse (Charles Laughton) and his girl Gladys.

After some gin and potatoes, we eventually learn that Morgan is a bit of a monster, the family has some major secrets, and that Gladys is hanging around tubby Porterhouse for his money. She's just waiting for a hansom wise-cracking man to come along.

There is a statement at the beginning assuring people that this is indeed the same Karloff from the Frankenstein movie. Boris was asked to be in William Castle's remake, but declined because he didn't like the script. Seems like that was a good call.

Between 1931 and 1935, James Whale directed this, the two good Frankenstein movies, and The Invisible Man. As horror became passe, he continued producing good work throughout the 30's. Then it all ended. Maybe because he failed to keep the closet door completely shut, studios turned their back on him. He resorted to a life of fabulous pool parties and took his life at 67. It was 16 years since his last feature film.

Decent acting, clever dialog, creepy setting, and well made. Still, it's a comedy first and horror second. It was highly touted and I'm glad I watched it, but like The Haunting, it didn't quite live up to expectations. AMRU 3.
[feels the fabric of Margaret's gown] "fine stuff, but it'll rot."
[touches Margaret's skin] "finer stuff still, but it'll rot too!"

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Diabolique (1955)

Michel is the headmaster of a boarding school. He is a cruel, disagreeable man. His wife and his mistress conspire to do him in.

During school break, they lure him away from the school, where they drug him then drown him in a bathtub. Next step is to sneak him back to the school and drop him into the disgusting pool. After a few days, his body should surface and his death be ruled an accidental drowning.

But, when the body fails to surface, the pool is drained and the body is gone.

Strange things happen while our two heroes try to figure out what happened. Watch the movie if you want to find out what happened.

At first I thought the blond (Simone Signoret) was the wife and the brunette (Vera Clouzot) was the girlfriend. Vera looked younger and prettier than Simone. Vera was, in fact, almost ten years older than Simone. And, incidentally, the wife of the director. She would die only five years later causing her husband to sink into depression.

The ending of this movie is a bit of a surprise and I am very annoyed to say that most of it was ruined when I watched the 100 Years of Horror documentary. Apparently they missed the anti-spoiler message. They didn't ruin the end of any other movie. Damn you, Count Dooku.

The French title was "Les Diaboliques", meaning The Devils, apparently referring to the plotting women. The American title becomes singular, I presume referring to the headmaster, who was truly horrible. And interesting shift in emphasis, if that's what it was.

The mood, the acting, the pacing, the story: everything was just about perfect. Had the ending not been spoiled, I would have enjoyed it even more. The surprise ending makes a second viewing less interesting, but I don't care. AMRU 4.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Haunting (1963)

College Professor wants to do research into the paranormal. Specifically, he wants to study a haunted house. So he hires a couple hot research assistants and sets up shop inside the most haunted house in New England: Hill House. Nephew of the owner tags along for fun.

So, in they cart their expensive research equipment. No inferred cameras and motion sensor, but good stuff none-the-less. No, there aren't any tape recorders or thermal detectors either. Basically, he brings in blank sheets of paper. There, his highly trained staff ply their trade. Well, actually, the only qualification they seem to have is ignorance of the house and a willingness to work cheap. And, come to think of it, I never see them writing on that paper. So much for a well thought out experiment.

So, our ingenue protagonist is young Nell (Julie Harris, 38). She's never been out on her own before and seems to come chuck full with her own baggage. The other assistant is worldly Theo (Claire Bloom, 32). She likey Nell. At least as much as 1963 Hollywood would allow. Their fearless leader is Doctor Markway (Richard Johnson, 36), hunky married man. Russ Tamblyn plays nephew Luke. He don't believe in ghosts.

Well our gang has pleasant conversation, creepy things happen, Nell falls for Doctor, Nell argues with Theo, really creepy things happen, Nell goes insane, and they all live happily ever after. Except the people who die.

The Haunting is a very respected horror movie. A quick search of IMdb for keyword Haunted House and Horror Movie, it ranks sixth all time (right behind Zombieland, go figure). I had high hopes. I wasn't too disappointed, but it failed to live up to it's reputation. It wasn't very creepy, the ending was weak, and the history of the house was never fully explained. Still, it earns a respectable AMRU 3. Maybe I'll read the book.
"The dead are not quiet in Hill House."