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."