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.