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.