Monday, December 31, 2012

Macabre (1958)

Townsfolk blame a doctor (William Prince) for the death of his wife. They say he was drunk. The dead wife's sister (daughters of the town's richest man) has also died young and the calls for 'oll Doc Barrett to head on out reach fever-pitch. Doc's daughter turns up missing then his secretary receives a strange call saying that she is with the dead and has five hours before she suffocates. The frantic search begins.

Everyone is a suspect. Is the motive revenge? Inheritance? Or ... no, it's one of them two, almost certain. Anyhow, details emerge and new questions are raised. The suspects include the doctor's secretary, his new fiancee, the cop (played all butch by Thurston Howell himself), the undertaker, the baker, the candlestick maker ... the list goes on.

This is William Castle's first gimmick-horror. A $1000 life insurance policy was given to every participant in case they died of a fright (and that does play into the story). I'm sure Lloyd's of London had no problems issuing such a policy as Macabre is almost entirely unscary. The story plays out as a who-done-it (or, more accurately, a who-doin'-it) and falls closer to mystery/thriller than horror, but let's not split hairs.

TMC ran a bio of he man then featured this gem. He finally got to make the kind of movie he wanted to and had to mortgage his house to do so. It was a huge hit. He would go on to make a host of cheesy money-makers that I will eventually see.

So, how does the mystery/thriller work? Well, it does keep you guessing, but in the end it'll leave true mystery fans unsatisfied. For me, I found it well worth the investment in time. AMRU 3.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Angry Red Planet (1959)

Earth loses contact with a rocket to Mars and is presumed lost. When it reappears, they find two survivors: the hysterical requisite hottie (Naura Hayden) and Colonel O'Bannion (Gerald Mohr) who is infected by a strange, bad makeup and an even worse Bogart impersonation. They grill the hottie to find out how to cure him.

Flashback time. Our intrepid crew lands on the red planet and sees that everything is eerily still. As if the plants were being controlled. Controlled to be ... still. Whatever, they venture out and are attacked by a carnivorous plant, then by a giant mouse-spider-bat-crab monster, finally by an ameboa. A big one. With a rotating eye. They try to return to Earth but they are held in place, as if there were a controlling force. Forcing them to ... well, whatever.

Finally they are allowed to return to Earth and the Hottie remembers enough so save the suave Colonel while they play the Martian's "don't ever come here" warning message. And they all lived happily ever after. Except the people who died.

High on the list of cheesy special effects is CineMagic! Here, black and white video is saturated with red to make it look ... well, bad. Then they have the actors interact with hand drawn props that look only slightly worse than the live action. Marvelous! There's nothing like being kicked in the groin to make you forget your splitting headache.

Oh, exagerating, am I? Judge for yourself:

Bad acting, cheeseball script, horrible special effects, and the stereotype of 50's B cinema. The plot holes were big enough to drive a giant mouse-spider-bat-crab monster through. While on the surface wearing space suits, one character gives his gun (Cleo) a kiss, demonstrating that the helmets don't have glass. And it only starts there.Despite the unbelievably bad effects and cotton candy plot, I kinda liked it. No, it won't make the year's best of list, but even though I fell asleep during it (had to re-watch the last 25 minutes on Amazon Prime after Neflix axed it), I have to say I'm glad I watched it. AMRU 3.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Great Train Robbery (1903)

Bandits rob train. Posse chases bandits. Bandits are shot. Roll credits.

Here, at 11 minutes, is Hollywood's first western. And filmed in 1903, it depicts almost contemporary events. Other than that, not much to say about this one, other than the jaw-dropping scene at the end where a desperado fires his gun straight at the audience. That was Peter Jackson-type stuff back in the day. Other than that, short, linear, and public domain. AMRU 3.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Unknown (1927)

Alonzo (Lon Chaney) is an armless knife thrower in a travelling gypsy circus. He is in love with the owner's daughter, the hot Nanon (Joan Crawford). Lucky for Alonzo, Nanon has a terrible fear of being embraced by men, and therefore feels safe around him. But he has a competitor: Malabar the strong man (Norman Kerry). Surely she would never fall for him.

Here is where we learn some secrets. Alonzo is not who, and what, he appears. The cops are searching for a man with two thumbs on one hand who has been committing thefts wherever the circus goes. And as Alonzo's obsession for Nanon grows we learn more of what he is willing to do to get her.

Here is the best silent movie I've ever seen.

Sound, I feel, is essential to telling a story. Silent cinema is a serious handicap that is almost impossible to overcome. But Lon Chaney was it's master. Dialog is unnecessary when looking at his expression. There is no doubt what is going through his mind. I wish I hadn't deleted it from my DVR.

Apart from Chaney's uncanny acting talent, what else is interesting? Until 1973 the only copies that existed were very poor quality bootleg versions, when it was revealed that a quality copy was found five years earlier but was hard to find because it was marked "Unknown". There are a couple scripted scenes that I'm unsure were ever filmed. If they were, I would love to see them. The movie is barely an hour long. Crawford long said that watching Chaney is where she truly learned to act.

There is not much more to say. Had Lon been born ten years later, and lived twenty years older, he would have been the undisputed king of Hollywood, but his lifestyle would be the end of him. Lon Chaney died of lung cancer three years after the movie's release. Director Tod Browning intended on using him in the title role of Dracula. The 6'2" Creighton wasn't a shadow of his 5'9" father. AMRU 4.5.
"Hands! Men's hands! How I hate them!"

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)

Obsessed London wax artist Ivan Igor (Lionel Atwill) is going broke and doesn't seem to care. Business partner certainly does and has a solution. Burn the house down for the insurance money. They fight but the poor artist is knocked unconscious.

Years later in New York, Igor reappears with a new museum, but because of injuries sustained in the fire, he cannot walk or use his hands. He trains young artists to do his sculpting for him. A young socialite dies and the reporter covering the story (Glenda Farrell), also the roommate of the fiancee (Fay Wray) of one of Igor's young artists, happens to notice that the Joan of Arc sculpture resembles the dead socialite, and that her body was stolen from the morgue ... well, you get the picture.

After seeing Vincent Price's House of Wax, I wanted to see this version for comparison. Apart from a couple character constructs, there is little difference in the stories. The biggest difference was the tone. As the main character is a 30's reporter, there was lots of that quick witted, wise-crackie, Front Page-esque dialog. The tone, in fact, was very similar to Doctor X, also starring Atwill and Wray and released the year before. Another similarity was that both were filmed in the two-strip technicolor process, which I happen to like.

Mystery of the Wax Museum is listed as a pre-code film, that is, released prior to the full enforcement of the MPAA production code, but I'm not sure what rule it violated. There is a reference to a bootlegger, but who cares. Only thing I can think is that some of Igor's sculptures were (horrors!) topless. Got that sexy clay going on.

Atwill excelled, as he frequently does, in his role. Wray got second billing, but didn't get much screen time or any good dialog to speak of. Her job was to scream when Igor tries to turn her into Marie Antoinette. This was really Farrell's movie, being in the lion's share of the frames and getting almost all the clever dialog.

So, how does it stack up to the 1953 remake? I'd match Atwill's performance up against Price, which is high praise, but overall the silly tone and mystery focus of the former has it falling short. Still a worthwhile watch, but doesn't offer much that the remake doesn't do better. AMRU 3.
"I offer you immortality, my child. Think of it: in a thousand years you shall be as lovely as you are now!"

Monday, November 12, 2012

Black Sunday (1960)

or "La Maschera del Demonio" (The Mask of Satan).

Two doctors travelling to a medical conference take a shortcut through a forest and come upon the tomb of the evil witch Ava (Barbara Steele), put to death by her brother two hundred years before. She cursed the descendants of her brother prior to having a spikey mask nailed to her face then burned. Ouch.

One bumbling doctor breaks the cross that was keeping her in her coffin then bleeds on her causing her to come back to life. Duh, people! Evil Asa then raises her boy-toy from the grave (using a mystical technique called "telling him to"). The doctors meet Princess Katia (also Barbara Steele), a cursed descendant of Asa's brother, then they part company until hot living princess' dad is attacked by the boy-toy of the evil dead princess. Is there a bumbling doctor in the house? I mean, haunted castle?

Great sets, moody and atmospheric, and well paced, Black Sunday was Mario Bava's masterpiece. The cinematography was excellent. I should have seen it prior to the other three I watched, but there was a problem with the Netflix copy. They were hashing to the 1977 movie which at almost two and a half hours, was not going to be budgeted on my calendar any time soon (an hour and a half was doable - I'm a busy little boy). Once corrected, this became the last movie I saw before Halloween.

If any Bava fans I did offend with my prior lukewarm reviews, note this is not the glowingist of reviews. Dubbing muddles the acting and partially spoils my viewing experience. Still, it's a wonderfully looking movie with a decent story, and Barbara Steele was hot. AMRU 3.5.
"You will never escape my vengeance, or of Satan's! My revenge will seek you out, and with the blood of your sons, and of their sons, and their sons, I will continue to live forever! They will restore me to life you now rob from me!"

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Crimson Cult (1968)

or Curse of the Crimson Alter. Have I mentioned that I hate it when they pointlessly change movie names?

Randy antique dealer Robert Manning (Mark Eden) is looking for his missing brother so he visits is last known location, a spooky mansion that appears to have an orgy going on. Lord Morley (Christopher Lee) never heard of him but he was welcome to stay and have a look around. He spends half his time looking for his brother and the other half trying to nail Morley's hot niece Eve (Virginia Wetherell), even though she's fifteen years younger than him.

So there's this legend of the blue witch Lavinia (Barbara Steele), Karloff as a witchcraft expert (along with his trusty man servant Kato), Alfred as a weirdo butler, and strange cut sequences to some bizarre S&M cult. At first the movie makes little sense, but it all works out, I suppose. As unremarkable as this Lovecrafty story is, it did hold my interest. Maybe it was the teaming of legends Karloff and Lee, maybe the supporting cast (underused Steele and Michael Gough), or maybe it was the chick in pasties with the whip. Who can say? Not a quality flick by any stretch, but I'm certainly glad I saw it. AMRU 3.
"It's like Boris Karloff is going to pop up at any moment."

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Black Sabbath (1963)

Black Sabbath (originally "I tre volti della paura", or "The three faces of fear") is three separate stories of terror, introduced by Boris Karloff. The first is "The Drop of Water".

Just as she is retiring for the evening, a chubby MILF nurse (Jacqueline Pierreux) gets a frantic call. The elderly medium who she is nursemaid for has passed away and the housekeeper wants nothing to do with preparing the body, what with her strange ways and all. So, she goes back to take care of things. While changing the clothes on the corpse, she notices a nice ring. No harm in taking a souvenir from the dead, is there? Nothing could possibly go wrong.

Part two is called "The Telephone". Hot chick (Michèle Mercier) returns home and starts receiving threatening calls from a man she knows is dead. She calls a friend she is estranged from for comfort. The friend comes over and gives her a tranquilizer to help her sleep. Dead guy pays them a visit.

Part three is "The Wurdalak", where a traveller (Mark Damon) finds a headless horseman (like on the poster, except he was very dead), removes a knife from his back (thus contaminating the crime scene), and visits a local inn. There he learns all about the terrible wurdalak (or "vampire") that has been terrorizing the village. Dad (Boris, again) went out to kill him (apparently successfully) but warned that if he returned even a minute past 10 PM on the fifth day that he too would be a wurdalak. So, pops returns a minute past 10 on the fifth day and is acting strange. Our traveller has other things on his mind, principally hot sister Sdenka (Susy Andersen).

There are differences between the American version and the original Italian. In "The Telephone", for "a man she knows is dead" substitute "a man she thinks is in jail", for "friend she is estranged from" substitute "lesbian lover", and "hot chick" you can substitute "whore". Really makes no difference to the story, agree? Must protect our delicate American sensibilities.

Karloff's introductions were rather comedic in nature and apparently were much longer when filmed, but AIP decided to cut them. The metal band got their name from this movie's title because there were more people in line to see it than their show. The American title itself was an homage to Black Sunday, Mario Bava's masterpiece. I'm just thankful they didn't title it Black, Sabbath, Black.

Not bad. Atmospheric and good looking, and the segments weren't long enough to become tedious. One more interesting piece of trivia: This is the only film where Boris Karloff appears as a vampire (or "Wurdalak"). AMRU 3.
"What's the matter, woman? Can't I fondle my own grandson?"

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Kill Baby, Kill (1966)

Inspector Kruger (Piero Lulli) orders the autopsy of an apparent suicide victim against the wishes of the townsfolk, who wants her body in the ground as soon as possible. Dr. Eswai (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) is called in to perform the operation. Hot chick Monica (Erika Blanc), returning home after many years, serves as witness. Together they find gold coins inside the victim's heart. Strange indeed!

Well, apparently when the ghost of a little dead girl appear to people, they will die soon. The village witch (Fabienne Dali) and the Burgermeister (not Yul Brynner) do their best to save them. Story has it that years ago the little girl died and the horrible townsfolk didn't stop to help her. Doctor Eswai and hot Monica investigate.

I realize Mario Bava is a legend, and this is among his more respected movies, and that Hollywood insisted on tinkering with movies for the American release, and that acting performances are at best muted by the dubbing process, but I have to review what I see on the screen. And what I saw was rather lackluster. The story came across as convoluted and uninteresting. Sorry Bava fans.

Here's what was interesting. The creepy looking girl ghost was played by a creepy looking boy. There is no credit for him. The producers ran out of cash less than half way through so Bava and the cast finished it without being paid. The original title in Italy was "Operazione paura" which appears to translate to "Operation Fear". Not a very good title, so you can see why they went with the completely stupid Kill Baby, Kill.

This marks the third "Imperative, Noun, Imperative" film titles I've done, and I imagine it'll be a while before I do another (Scream, Blacula, Scream won't be watched anytime soon). Without giving too much away (there really is a lot more to the story), I have to admit the title is functional. AMRU 2.5.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Faust (1926)

A German Folk Tale

The demon Mephisto (Emil Jannings) wants dominion over the Earth. An Archangel makes a bet with him that if he can corrupt the soul of the elderly alchemist Faust (Gosta Ekman), he may rule the Earth. Not much of a downside for Mephisto.

A plague is inflicted upon Faust's village and he is powerless to stop it. After losing all hope, he learns that he can have great power by making a pact with the Devil. He does so, but the villagers distrust him when they learn of his new found Satanist leanings. So instead, he has the demon make him young, rich, and sexy. Woo hoo!

After leading the life of Hefner, he decides he wants to go back home. There he meets young Gretchen (Camilla Horn) and falls hopelessly in love. Mephisto agrees to help and everyone lives happily ever after. Promise.

This is F.W. Murnau's best remembered movie after Nosferatu, but in my estimation, this is his best. A box office flop, it was the most complex German production to date. Early on while watching it I thought it would be ripe for a sound remake (in fact there are many, plus several made prior) but soon I realized there was no need. The barrier presented by silent cinema was lifted by tremendous visual storytelling. The Kino edition was wonderfully restored and a retelling of this interpretation would be an exercise in futility.

Readers may remember Jannings from The Blue Angel. The Nazi sympathizer would continue his successful career until god struck him down with cancer. Young Gosta playing Old Faust was enthralled by the local cuisine of Germany and took home a passionate love of cocaine. Twelve years later he would be dead. Director Murnau survived being a World War I combat pilot only to die in a car accident at age 42. Ingenue Camilla lived to the ripe old age of 93.

Great visual appeal and marvelous storytelling. And there is way more to the story than I am letting on. AMRU 4.5.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Dunwich Horror (1970)

Wizened professor Armitage (Ed Begley Jr's dad) is studying the occultist book The Necronomicon and entrusts hot air-headed student (Look at me, I'm Sandra Dee) to return it to the protective glass case. But creepy stranger Al ... I mean Wilbur Whateley (Dean Stockwell) wants to paw his hands on it and Dee thinks what harm could it do? Killjoy Armitage arrives in the nick of time and puts an end to playtime.

But Wilbur is not so easily deterred. Young Wilbur wants to complete his Dad's work, that he was summarily executed for. That is, to bring the Old Ones back. All he needs is an evil book of the occult and a hot, air-headed chick. So he uses his blank stare and porn movie fro and stash to charm Nancy into returning with him to his spooky old house in the spooky old village of Dunwich. Armitage to the rescue!

Ed Begley Jr's dad died about three months after the movie's release and old friend Sam Jaffee (from The Day the Earth Stood Still) played Grandpa Whateley, not one of his more memorable rolls. Hey, and Talia Shire (Rocky and some mobster movie) had a small, forgettable roll.

H.P. Lovecraft's famous short story is turned into a Lovecrafty generic horror movie. Dee supposedly had a nude scene but I didn't see it, and wasn't going to rewind to look for it. The unbearably cheesy opening titles set the tone for this draggy and mostly uninteresting film. What? Roger Corman was involved? Couldn't be! AMRU 2.5.

Monday, October 15, 2012

I Married a Witch (1942)

A distant ancestor of aspiring Governor Wallace Wooley (Fredric March) condemned a witch (Veronica Lake) and her father to death and planted an oak tree planted above their graves to trap their souls. Before she died, she cursed the Wooley family to only marry the wrong woman. Centuries later, the tree is struck by lightening and the souls of the witches are freed. Jennifer decides to take on a new body so that she can torment poor Wallace. Susan Hayward played his shrewish fiancee. The magician from The Mummy's Hand played her father.

Way to spoil an ending in a film title! Anyhow, Lake was a huge star back in the '40s and not so much thereafter. Apparently she was very difficult to work with. Despite their on-screen chemistry, she and March did not work well together. She would do things like hide weights on herself for scenes where he would have to carry her. Reportedly, he referred to the movie as "I Married a Bitch." Apparently Joel McCrea (remember him from Bird of Paradise?) was set to play opposite her, but after working with her in Sullivan's Travels, he decided to skip it, saying life is too short to do two movies with Lake.

On set behavior aside, I can see how the diminutive Lake became a star. She was both charming and adorable. Her film roles dried up in the later part of the decade as her difficult reputation grew, and she went into television. She did two more movies, one in '66 and another in '70 to no particular acclaim. She died in '73 of hepatitis at age 50, alcoholism and unstable behavior hastening her end.

The movie was bright, cheerful, and entertaining. Internal drama aside, Lake and March worked well together. AMRU 3.5.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Burn, Witch, Burn (1962)

Hansom Professor Norman (Peter Wyngarde) is quickly making his name at a private college, but his wife Tansy (Janet Blair) isn't socializing very well. It seems she spends way too much time at the cottage rather than playing bridge with the other professor's wives. Turns out in order to ensure hubby's continued success, dear Tansy has turned to witchcraft.

Now Norman here is a Psychology professor and a science-minded type, and the use of superstitious charms simply will not do. No siree bob. He makes his wife get rid of all her magic and nothing bad will happen.

Act II: Bad stuff happens. Nuff said.

This movie was originally Night of the Eagle, but when brought to America, they wisely decided that this title simply would not do. They needed something that still described the film yet appealed to America's particular Retarded quality. Hence Burn, Witch, Burn. Describes the movie perfectly. There is fire, a witch, and more fire. The poster too is perfect. There's no graveyard scene, and there are no demons from hell, and the world isn't terrorized, nor is there a dark menacing figure in the background, but Tansy did wear a nightgown to bed and they spelled the actors names properly. Perfect fit once again.

Here are a few interesting things. The hot college student who has a crush on our hansom professor was played by an actress four years older than him. His hot wife was a full twelve years his senior. Also, the movie follows a custom followed by The Wicker Man, but I won't say what for fear of spoilage. One more thing about Wyngarde who plays Norman, it seems his career hit the skids when he was arrested with a truck driver in a bus station bathroom. Didn't say what he did. I'm guessing insider trading.

Interesting also is that the conflict isn't witchcraft verses Christianity. It's superstition verses science. Modern religion is never brought up. Also, this is an excellent example of "wouldn't it be cool if you had a hot witch for a wife?" Well, yes it would, if you would just shut up and let her do her job. Don't be a Darrin.

Superb acting, good story, nice job all around. AMRU 4.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Wicker Man (1973)

Sergeant Howie from the mainland (Edward Woodward) receives an anonymous letter that a child on Summerisle has gone missing and nobody appears to care. He flies in to investigate.

At first the locals deny the girls existence, then when he finds out she does, he is told she has died. And the mystery deepens from there. But what concerns Howie most is the strange, unchristian behavior of the locals. Christopher Lee plays Lord Summerisle in a silly wig and sideburns, and Britt Ekland is hot dancing naked.

The main point of conflict here is Howie's tightly wound Christian beliefs against the pre-Christian sensibilities of the island folk. His authority is clearly limited to the investigation at hand but his judgement of the people rises above that.

Every now and again, I am pointed to The Wicker Man as a seminal work of horror. IMdb gives it high marks, and if you listen to the actors, they declare it one of the greats. Cinfantastique magazine called it the Citizen Kane of horror, which is more than a stretch. I don't count Kane as the greatest film ever, but it's flawless movie making was remarkable. There were more than a few flaws in Wicker. Lucky for it, the story was more interesting.

But maybe the movie would have been better had the original negatives not been immediately destroyed and the film cut to ribbons upon release. Apparently, British Lion was sold during the production of the movie and the new owners hated the film. Much has been restored, but there are apparently still missing scenes and significant film and audio quality issues.

I think what interests people most, apart from the delightful nudity, is it's ambiguity. Who exactly is the villain? The pagan island folk or the moralistic cop? Maybe a matter of opinion. Also, this may be the first film to accurately depict pre-christian culture and ceremonies.

The Citizen Kane of nothing, but still a movie very much worth watching. AMRU 3.5. Britt Ekland was hot.
"Sergeant Howie: Your lordship seems strangely... unconcerned.
Lord Summerisle: Well I'm confident your suspicions are wrong, Sergeant. We don't commit murder here. We're a deeply religious people.
Sergeant Howie: Religious? With ruined churches, no ministers, no priests... and children dancing naked!
Lord Summerisle: They do love their divinity lessons.
Sergeant Howie: [outraged] But they are... a-are NAKED!
Lord Summerisle: Naturally! It's much too dangerous to jump through fire with their clothes on!"

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Mummy's Hand (1940)

A down-on-his-luck anthropologist (Dick Foran) comes across an ancient vase in a bazaar that may hold the key to the location of the tomb of a princess. He convinces his good buddy (Wallace Ford) to buy it and they take it to the Cairo Museum, but it is declared a fake by Dr. Andoheb (George Zucco). Turns out, however, that the good doctor moonlights as the newly anointed High Priest of Karnak and isn't too keen on whitey pillaging the sacred artifacts of his homeland. Not to be deterred, our heroes con a magician (Cecil Kellaway) into financing their expedition.

Let's have some mummy back story, shall we? Way back when Kharis (Tom Tyler) tried to steal the sacred Tana leaves in order to bring his true love, Princess Ananka, back to life. He is caught, buried alive, and said leaves were used to keep him that way to ensure his torture. The tomb our heroes are looking for is hers, but the mummy they find is his. And Andoheb gives it a mega-dose of Tana to turn him into "an uncontrolled monster, a soulless demon with the desire to kill and kill".

It's a comedy, ladies and gentlemen. Not a pure comedy, but certainly played for laughs in equal measure to thrills. Ford played something akin to Costello to Foran's not Abbot. Foran is more leading man then straight man. Gosh, think he'll hit it off with the magician's pretty daughter? Yes, of course. Don't be stupid. Perhaps you remember Ford as Phroso the Clown in Freaks.

Why did it take eight years for a sequel? I'm guessing the Frank and Drac show ran a bit thin and they needed to expand their horror horizons. Here's where they'd use the word "Reboot" had it existed. Why his 'hand'? Not sure. Maybe because he would get more use of his arm and foot once he got more of that luscious tana oil. Not much for laughs or thrills, nor much originality in the story. Maybe I should try to track each time the lumbering monster carries away the fainted maiden leaving the heroes to frantically search for her. Still, it was worth watching. AMRU 3.

Word of note: when planning the "theme" for this October, I had decided on vampires. Then I thought Mummies. Finally I decided on witches. Then I watched this. Way to stick to a plan, Fred.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Three on a Match (1932)

Three women who went to school together serendipitously meet up again. Mary (Joan Blondell) was the bad girl who spent time in reform school, Ruth (Bette Davis) went to secretary school, and Vivian (Ann Dvorak) who went to finishing school and married rich. Vivian has a bit of a crisis and runs off with a dashing young neer-do-well. This troubles here newly refound school chums greatly.

Viv's new beau (we'll call him Michael) has run up some gambling debts, so he tries to blackmail her ex by threatening to tell the press that his new wife was a bad girl who spent time in reform school. This doesn't work so he decides to kidnap their son. When the gamblers find out what Michael has done, they take over and raise the stakes.

Pronoun trouble, I know. It all makes sense on screen. Anyhow Bogart was one of the heavies. The two biggest names had fairly small parts. Bogie had five more years before anyone took him seriously. About the same for Davis.

Joan Blondell was a total hottie back in the day. I had seen her in a couple other movies during her old and fat days. Dvorak was a rising star back in the day but tried to have her contract terminated when she found out that she was being paid the same as the actor playing her 5 year old son. Davis was almost an afterthought here, not really playing a part in the story.

Well, this pre-code gem was supposed to be something but I didn't find it terribly interesting. Pre-code because it dealt with adultery, drug addiction, and briefly in a montage sequence it showed two women dancing. Horrors! Something of a snooze-fest, actually. AMRU 3. Speaking of horror ...

Monday, September 24, 2012

Psycho (1960)

Poor Marion (Janet Leigh)! Her boyfriend is too poor to get a divorce, so she makes a rash decision. She grabs forty grand from her employer and makes a mad dash for California. Along the way she takes shelter at the Bates motel. Young Norman (Anthony Perkins) is quite fond of the Milfish Marion, but Mother disapproves. So after a brief rendezvous in the shower, Norman is left to clean things up.

Soon Marion's boy toy and her cuter sister Lila (Vera Miles) are on the hunt for the naughty girl. Also in hot pursuit is a detective looking for the cash.

In the past I've summed up the kind of horror movies I like as being "Pre-Psycho". It seemed to me that horror made a dramatic shift, one towards a more psychological form. I still believe this, but this boys film education has me to reconsidering my appreciation. What Psycho did was progress styles and themes already in existence, case in point Diabolique. The signature Hitchcock style makes every tense scene seem so much more so, almost unbearably so. He just drags the emotion out of you. Here it worked.

Perkins' acting is worth a second look. Creepy, frightened, timid, and sexually repressed, his nuanced performance was out of this world. He deserved a nomination. Leigh got one her shower scene, which is nice. It was one hell of a scene. I remember seeing it on television back in the day. I don't remember being scared, but I do remember seeing something a young boy seldom saw back then. Leigh's out of focus breasts. I didn't see it this time. Can't explain it. Also in the scene was another American film first: a toilet. John Waters thanks you, Mister Hitchcock.

Now, this is Hitchcock, so there's a twist, and it's a twist just about all of the pulse wearing public is aware of. But I say no more of the plot. Respect. AMRU 4.
"A boy's best friend is his mother."

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Rocky (1976)

Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) is a bum. He could have been somebody, but instead he does odd jobs for gangsters. It's a living. His life is turned upside down when the reining world champ wants to fight him. You see, the contender had to drop out because of a scheduling conflict and nobody else wants to go up against Apollo Creed. So, for the nation's bicentennial, Creed chooses a working man. This is the land of opportunity, after all.

So Rocky goes into training. The old man (Burgess Meredith) who hates him so much agrees to be his manager, he goes running in the early hours without a filming permit, eats raw eggs, and punches meat. You know, standard training stuff. In the midst of all this, Rocky is wooing his asshole friend's weirdo sister.

For some, it is unthinkable that a Rocky film actually won an Oscar for best picture. Also keep in mind that Sylvester was nominated for best actor AND best original screenplay. Unthinkable, but true. What was unthinkable to me was that I had never seen it.

So, how low budget was this film? How much of a risk was it to make? When the studio found out that Stallone demanded to star in it, they cut the budget in half, to 1 million. More than that, the producers were told that if it went a cent over budget, they would be personally responsible. They had to front a hundred grand of their own money to get the film made. It became the highest grossing film of the year.

Rocky is a slow burn, spending much more time on the love interest than the fight. When the fight comes into focus, it's seen through the filter of the budding romance. So, one of the most iconic sports movie ever (and the only to win best picture) was in fact a romance.

And a good film at that. I hadn't seen any of it's best picture competitors, but it's a fair selection. It's gritty, character driven story rings true even when elements become far fetched. I'll consider a second viewing. AMRU 3.5.
"I think we make a real sharp couple of coconuts - I'm dumb, you're shy, whaddaya think, huh?"

Monday, September 3, 2012

What's Up, Tiger Lily? (1966)

Secret Agent tries to help a nation get a spot on the globe by stealing an egg salad recipe. Fastest summation ever.

What this REALLY is, is a convoluted Japanese spy movie that an American studio bought the rights to but decided they couldn't do anything with it. So, they gave it to Woody Allen to play with. What he did was dub the voices to completely change the plot to something completely foolish. Mission accomplished.

Along the way the studio fattened the movie up by including scenes with crappy 60's band The Lovin' Spoonful.What we are left with is an amusing diversion with a very MST3K feel to it. What needs to be known is that the original movie was Key of Keys and was quite popular in Japan, and this was Allen's first directorial credit. Not bad. Keeps your interest. Not going to fall to the floor laughing, but worth an occasional snicker. AMRU 3.
"Woody, since the story is a bit difficult to follow, would you mind giving the audience and myself a brief rundown on what's gone on so far?"

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Land that Time Forgot (1975)

World War One German U-boat sinks a passenger ship. A small number of survivors attack the U-boat and take it over (it could happen). They set sail for the closest friendly port but the nasty Germans tamper with the compass and head south instead of west. Out of provisions and fuel, they discover an island. And island that time has forgotten about, apparently.

They decide on an uneasy alliance while they try to refine petroleum from a tar pit into sub fuel. Meanwhile, they explore their new home. Apparently the more upstream you go, the more "evolved" things become. So, that's why there are dinosaurs living alongside hominids. Explains everything.

I watched this for two reasons. First, I vaguely remember seeing a similar movie as a kid and wondered if this was it (it was), and secondly, because of an old britcom my wife was watching. A Fine Romance is about a middle aged Judi Dench and the passionless relationship she is in (interestingly, with her real life husband). Old Judi has a hot young sister played by Susan Penhaligon, who six years earlier was a survivor of a passenger ship torpedoed by a German U-boat and later had to run away from giant puppet dinosaurs.

As I mentioned, I did see this movie as a kid (8ish) but I remembered nothing of the story. I would see a scene and just knew what would happen next, and it would. Well, not much else to say here. Amusing, nostalgic, not much else. No good quotes to end with. AMRU 3.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Innocents (1961)

A young pretty governess (middle aged pretty Deborah Kerr) is put in charge of two rich orphans by their unconcerned uncle. Seems the old governess died quite unexpectedly. She's not sure she is up to the challenge but uncle doesn't give a rat's ass. Just don't pester him about it.

Well, young miss Giddens starts to see people that aren't there. She then learn more about the dead ex-governess and her relationship with the dead ex-valet; and his influence on the children. Maybe they are still exerting their influence on them. They aren't saying but she knows they see them as well.

Loosely based on Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, The Innocents was exquisitely filmed, excellently written, and wonderfully acted. Movies sometimes throw in faux Victorian dialog and period costumes to give an air of respectability (I'm looking at you, Isle of the Dead!), but The Innocents truly earns it. Few, if any, startle moments, but the taut story line keeps your attention focused. Are ghosts haunting these poor (innocent) children, or is our governess going batty? Can't be sure.

Sadly, I can't think anything else to say about it. No good quotes to close out with, either. It does, however, make me want to read the book. AMRU 4.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

Hunky mountain man Adam Pontipee (hunky Howard Keel) needs a wife, so he heads into town to fetch one. Of course with the women folk being in short supply in the old west, he is assured there are none available. Not to be dissuaded, Adam sets out to do just that.

Adam happens upon young, pretty Milly (Jane Powell) and after forty seconds of convincing, she agrees to be his wife. Once to the Pontipee homestead, she quickly learns that her fate is less of a mountain wife and more indentured servant to Adam and his six boorish brothers. She hatches a plan to con her unsuspecting friends in town to share in her personal hell. But first she must civilize these ginger barbarians.

What a silly-ass movie! Not exactly a girl-power kind of film. At one point the men kidnap the six women and keep them prisoner over the winter to woo their hearts. Ah, traditional marriage! Here's what I found interesting:

MGM was convinced it would be a flop so they cut the budget and made sets instead of shooting on location. The cheesy sets added to it's camp appeal and it was a huge cash cow for the studio. The movie featured catwoman Julie Newmar as one of the captured women. Also, I realized after seeing it that two principle actors were in horror movies I've seen (Keel in The Day of the Triffids and Russ Tamblyn in The Haunting).

The choreographed numbers were quite impressive, if you like that sort of thing. There was a long take wood chopping song number that was technically impressive. Also a barn raising dance number that took almost half of the shooting schedule. Musicals aren't exactly my bag, but it still held my interest. My wife likes them and otherwise hates old movies, so I took the opportunity to watch it with her. AMRU 3.
"A man can't sleep when he sleeps with sheep."

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Ghost Parade (1931)

The owners of an old mansion are eager to sell, but strange things are going on, noises from empty rooms and whatnot. Maybe the ghost of and uncle who died during the civil war?

Nope, it's the buyers trying to get the house cheap because they know there is oil on the property. There, I spoiled this crap hole of a movie. Now you won't have to see it!

Maybe that's not fair, but Mack Stennett (producer of over eleven hundred shorts, mostly silent) once lamented that the public was getting harder and harder to make laugh. That attitude of rising to the occasion can be seen in full force here. What could be funnier that someone walking down the stairs slowly realizing that someone in a costume was behind them, but being to stereo typically frightened to turn around and look ...

Over, and over, and over again!

Seriously, this sucker got tedious at 18 minutes! Nuff said about this stinker.

Mack Stennett was one of the founders of Keystone, producers of many early comedies featuring the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle, and, of course, the Keystone Kops. Considered a fairly good actor, mostly by himself, he appeared in over 350 of his own shorts. Luckily few after 1916. For anyone unfamiliar with early comedy shorts, the production pace was unbelievable. Some years he would produce over forty shorts. This schedule left little time for such frivolities like script, rehearsals, and retakes. The end result? Well, lets just say audiences are becoming harder and harder to please.

Skip this one, shall we? What interested me is the haunted house theme. I am interested in when certain cliche's were first used. Nothing of interest here, however.

AMRU 2.0.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

Good Doctor Jekyll (Fredric March) wants to experiment into the darker side of human nature, when ... oh, what's that? You know the story already?

When a film like Jekyll and Hyde (or Jee-kal) is a heralded as this, why anyone would do what seems like a shot for shot remake only ten years later is a mystery to me. I mentioned in my write up of the 1941 version that it was a remake of this. I was wrong. They both are versions of a play based on the story. Either way, the scenes, sets, and story line matched too closely. And now that I've seen both, I can't help but compare.

The biggest difference is where Tracy's Hyde was a big jerk, March's was truly evil. Where Tracy's performance was competent and workmanlike, March was astounding. Every nuance, every subtle jesture was totally separate between gentleman and brute. This may have been the best acting performance I've seen to date.

As this version was "pre-code", Ivy Peterson (Miriam Hopkins) was free to be a prostitute. It was Jekyll's lust for Ivy that encouraged him to experiment on himself. And lustworthy she is. I wish I could find a better still. We're talking serious side-boob. Here Jekyll is busted by his uptight college.

Artsy camera direction what with the POV shots and fancy overlays and wipes, tremendous acting, and awesome makeup (the transformation scene was out of this world), this movie ruined two otherwise good movies simply because of comparison (Werewolf of London was the other). AMRU 4.
"Perhaps you prefer a gentleman. One of those fine-mannered and honorable gentlemen. Those panting hypocrites who like your legs but talk about your garters."

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Doctor X (1932)

"... Doctor X will build a creature ..."

No he won't. Sixth movie referenced in the song Science Fiction/Double Feature. Eleven down and item from the bucket list complete.

People are being strangled and partially eaten during the full moon. Papers are calling it the Moon Killer Murders. The police are investigating. They speak with eminent Doctor Xavier (Lionel Atwill), or Doctor X to his homies. He runs a prestigious medical academy and the police both need his expert opinion and suspect that the murder is one of them. So, they interview his posse.

And what a motley crew they are, just bubbling with suspicion. Into the mix arrives a reporter trying to get a scoop and the good doctor's hot daughter (Fay Wray). The cops give Doc X 48 hours to unmask the killer or else they'll start doing their job. Doc invites his five suspects to his spooky mansion for an experiment. Along for the ride are the amusing butler and maid.

Since I started this-here blog, I've greatly expanded my sources of movies. Initially all I had was the trusty public library plus my own humble collection. Then I went to Netflix. Last Christmas I got a Roku box that allowed me to watch Netflix and Amazon Prime from the bedroom, as well as sources of public domain movies via Pub-D-Hub and the like. At the beginning of this month I made the giant leap into the 21st century and subscribed to digital cable. Within that first week two movies I haven't been able to lay my filthy hands on were on TCM. Doctor X was the first.

Doc X was filmed in an early two color Technicolor process that lacks the vibrant colors we know today but worked well in the horror genre. For years the movie was only shown in black and white but the color version was discovered and restored, and that's what TCM is showing. It looked great.

Technically a comic horror, and in many ways a crime drama, Doctor X is both somewhat interesting and somewhat amusing. The early thirties comedy showed through with great comebacks as "What that? Haaaaaay!" Were this movie not in color and not on the Science Fiction/Double Feature list, it would be quite skipable. But that's not the case and it was nice to see Fay in color and Lionel in a leading man role. AMRU 3.
Cop: No one goes in there except stiffs.
Taylor: Oh yea? What's keeping you out here?
Cop: What the? Haaaaay!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Bedlam (1946)

The hot young protege Nell (Anna Lee) of fat Lord Mortimer (Billy "big as a" House) is horrified to see the treatment of patients at an asylum, and after a chance encounter with a Quaker, a strange thing happens to her: she starts giving a crap for someone besides herself. She pressures fatty into mandating reforms at Bedlam asylum and this sits none-too-well with apothecary general Sims (Boris Karloff). So, after hot Nell burns bridges with Big Morty, he and Sims conspire to have troublemaker Nell committed. Serves her right.

My Isle of the Dead DVD from the library was apparently a double feature. Another non-conventional horror movie by Val Lewton, but this time a bit better then than before. Above grade dialog (compared to choppy and sometimes downright Ed Woodian-like of Isle) and excellent sets and costumes. Plus strong acting performances all around. Not too Horror-like, but it had an Evil Karloff and the insanity angle, so it's in the club. Like Isle it was inspired by famous paintings (go look it up on Wikipedia, I ain't got time here!) and they even recreated some in scenes. It'll all go over your head unless you're into art, but suffice to say it's a well crafted film.

Hot Nell is wearing the dress Scarlet made from curtains in Gone with the Wind. Oh, how I hate that movie. One thing I found interesting is how they made Quakers seem downright interesting. I liked Bedlam much better than Isle, but alas, it gets the same score. I can't imagine seeing it a second time. AMRU 3.
"If you ask me, M'Lord, he's a stench in the nostrils, a sewer of ugliness, and a gutter brimming with slop."

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Isle of the Dead (1945)

During the First Balkan War, right after commanding his bestus buddy ever to shoot himself in the head, the good General Pherides (Boris Karloff) decides to put flowers on his wife's grave. Said grave is on a nearby island and he brings new bestus buddy ever, an American reporter, along for the ride.

After spending the night at a rural estate, they wake to find that one of the other guests has died of ... wait for it ... the Plague!

Well, Pherides decides to take command of this band of civilians and quarantine the group until the disease has, well, run it's course. Along the way we get to know the odd collection of guests trapped on this Isle where people Die. The man who puts his faith in Hermes, while erroneously thinking he is the god of medicine, the young(ish) hottie(ish) who hates Pherides for his famous cruelty, and the old housekeeper who thinks the hottie is a vrykolakas, some sort of Greek vampire like thing.

So, what are the horror elements here? (psst. spoilers) First, there's Boris. Next, there is death both by plague and murder. There's the element of the supernatural. Finally there is premature burial. Can't go wrong there, right? I'm not so sure. Good 'oll Val Lewton did a different kind of horror. Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie are great examples of excellent movies that stretch the genre. Here, it falls short for a couple of reasons. Not once, even or a second, did the viewer entertain the notion that pretty Thea was the undead. The only thing that legitimately lends to the argument is one decent startle moment. Other than that, it was Karloff does Wuthering Heights.

But this movie was intended, made, and billed as horror, so I give it my horror label. It is also the least entertaining Lewton film so far. And Martin Scorsese called it one of the scariest horror movies of all time. Clearly he was thinking of Karloff's curly hair wig. AMRU 3.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Third Man (1949)

Writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) travels to Vienna, still ravaged by the war, to visit his boyhood friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles). It seems Holly's pulp novels aren't selling all that well and jumped at the opportunity to mooch off his old friend. Sadly for him, good 'oll Harry is dead. Seems he walked out in front of a truck. Bad news for Holly.

The local police chief, who didn't seem to have bent too far backwards investigating the death, isn't too torn up over it. Seems he has quite a lower opinion of Lime than Holly. Something to do with penicillin and the black market. So, with nothing better to do, and to redeem the good name of his buddy, he decides to start asking questions. Soon he discovers discrepancies in the police report. It says two men helped Lime to the side of the road but a witness clearly saw three. Maybe Lime's death was no accident. Maybe it was murder. And the first person to ask is The Third Man.

Happen to know what a zither is? If not, it's a traditional eastern European stringed instrument that makes a uniquely annoying sound, certainly not the kind one would master in hopes of impressing the lady-folk. In the world of western cinema, there is room for exactly one film to make exclusive use of it, and this is that film. If there exists another movie in creation that uses this instrument exclusively, that movie should be torn up, burned, then the ashes fed to rabid snakes.

That said, this noir film seems to work well with the comically upbeat zither. In fact, most of the movie works well. The acting was fine, the setting and atmosphere were great, the story had me guessing, and the hottie (Alda Valli as Lime's grieving girlfriend) was hot.

Not wanting to spoil anything, I'm going to leave it there. It's a very good mystery that bears rewatching. AMRU 4.
"Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

Saturday, May 12, 2012

She (1935)

Hunky Leo (Randolph Scott) visits his rich uncle. Uncle has some cock-and-bull story about his ancient ancestor who searched for the Flame of Life, some sort of fountain of youth, somewhere in the Arctic, and how young Leo looks exactly like him. This means Leo has to go hunt for it, along with Uncle's trusty man-servant. Leo plays along because Uncle is going to die soon, and maybe he'll meet a hottie and have an adventure.

Off they go to the Great White North where they enlist a grumpy guide and his hot daughter. After the guide causes an avalanche that kills everyone except the principle characters, Leo, man-servant, and hottie follow a tunnel into the ice when they are captured by cave men. After some ill timed heroics, our party is rescued and brought to Ming's palace, apparently ruled by the Evil Queen from Snow White (Helen Gahagan).

Actually, it is She. She Who Must Be Obeyed, more formally. See, She had bathed in the Flame of Life and was the lover of Leo's great-great-great-grand whatever, and now she thinks Leo is his reincarnation. All looks good for Hunky Leo. Wonder if his hottie travel companion will complicate things?

Originally this was to be filmed in color, and it would have look spectacular with a little technicolor, what with the sets and elaborate production numbers. But, alas, the budget was cut and color was lost. Unlike Them!, color would have really helped this movie. But what we have is a thrilling action-adventure ... melodrama. For all of the elaborate sets and costumes, the movie is burdened by lots of "feelings" dialog. I don't know how the original book read, but this version (one of about ten) could have benefited from a Heroic Adventure focus.

Definitely interesting, but a second viewing won't be forthcoming. AMRU 3.
"I am yesterday, today, and tomorrow. I am sorrow and longing an hope unfulfilled. I am She Who Must Be Obeyed!"
"No one can say o'll Dugmore ever let a white man down." 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Island of Lost Souls (1932)

Dashing Edward Parker (Richard Arlen) is the victim of a shipwreck. Lucky for him, he is picked up by a passing ship that has a doctor as a passenger. Foolish of him, he punches the captain (Stanley Fields) over how he treated a dog-eared man. So, Captain gets back at him by dropping him off, along with the good doctor and his cargo of exotic animals, at his first port of call instead of taking him back to California, where his hot blond Fiancee' (Leila Hyams) waits patiently for him.

The island's owner, Doctor Moreau (Charles Laughton), isn't too keen to have an unexpected visitor, but appears helpful enough. Maybe Mister Parker can aid him somehow in his research! Gosh, the natives look awfully peculiar ...

This is the film first attempt at H.G. Wells' "The Island of Doctor Moreau", and maybe the best. Wells himself was still alive to hate it and caution people from seeing it. Spoil sport. Anyhow, Paramount was trying to come up with a movie more shocking, more terrifying than anything Universal was producing at the time. They may have over reached. This was after the Hays code was in effect, but before they started enforcing it. Somehow themes of rape, vivisection, and bestiality got through the censors.

The end result is a fantastic movie with great acting and atmosphere to spare. When Paramount tried to re-release it a couple years later, the board said, umm, No. It was banned in Britain for twenty six years. Localities everywhere insisted that various scenes and lines cut ("Do you know what it means to feel like God?") making the movie a distributed patchwork. Luckily, there is a complete version that modern audiences can watch. Under different circumstances, classic horror lists might post Lost Souls above Dracula and Frankenstein (IMdb ranks it higher than Dracula).

And much of the credit goes to Laughton. No conflicted mad scientist is he. He simply LOVES what he does and doesn't for a moment doubt the outcome. Know that feeling you get when you're wearing something absolutely luxurious to the touch and eat something decadently delicious? That's how Moreau feels when he carves up living beings without anesthesia and listens to them scream. Simply delightful.

Bela Lugosi had a small but exceptional role as the Sayer of the Law. Not willing to wear makeup to be Frankenstein, it would seem he recanted to be all but indistinguishable here, recognizable only by his voice. Mark this as one of his best rolls. Also, recognize the name of Hyams? She also appeared in another banned pre-code movie, Freaks, which I recently watched again. Available on Amazon Prime. Luckily the controversy didn't stunt her career. She continued to work until the ripe old age of 31.

Before returning the disk to the library, I watched all of the commentary (man, does Landis love the sound of his own voice!) and rewatched it with commentary (in a mob scene, a beast-man accidentally lights the head of another beast-man!). Unfortunately that was before I purchased my Samsung LED. The picture on my old CRT was dying and some of the subtleties of the movie were lost. AMRU 4.5.
"Dr. Moreau: What is the law?
Sayer of the Law: Not to eat meat, that is the law. Are we not men?
Beasts (in unison): We are Devo!"

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The African Queen (1951)

The straight laced Reverend Sayer (Robert Morley) and his sister Rose (Katharine Hepburn) run a missionary deep in Africa during the onset of the first world war. Their only contact with the world outside is through Charlie (Humphrey Bogart), the captain of the African Queen, one of the few steam ships capable of navigating the treacherous rivers of central Africa. Because of his importance for delivering supplies and news, they tolerate his uncouth ways.

Soon, the German army arrives to offer their assistance. That is, they burn the native's huts and conscript them into the German army. This displeases the Missionaries Sayer very much. Well, after tubby drops dead, good 'oll Charlie shows up again. After deciding that time on a river boat with the gin swilling Charlie is slightly better than being murdered by proto-Nazis, she goes with him. Then, when Rose learns that the German position in Africa is fortified by the presence of a gun boat that patrols a large lake, she decides to settle the score.

Go figure, it's a color film! I remember seeing it in my youth (leeches, bleck!) and apparently it was on a black and white TV. Anyhow, the thing that struck me most was the appearance of the two A-list actors. Bogart appeared scrawny and Hepburn old. Both actors were a bit long in the tooth come 1951, and Bogart was never an imposing physical specimen, but it was interesting they chose to be depicted as they actually were. Maybe that honesty that led the Academy to give Humph the only Oscar he would ever receive. Or maybe they felt he needed to be rewarded for his body of work. Either way, he'd be gone in six years. Smoking is bad, hmmm Ok?

Despite it's reputation, and the reputation of it's actors and director, I found The African Queen to be a bit dull. Still worth seeing, but a little bit of a disappointment. AMRU 3.
"Well I ain't sorry for you no more, ya crazy, psalm-singing, skinny old maid!"

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)

Trapeze artist Holly (Betty Hutton) has finally won the coveted center ring, but boss man boyfriend Brad (Charlton Heston) has sawdust in his veins, you see. To help the show he hires hotshot Sebastian (Cornel Wilde) and gives him the center ring. But he promised that to her! What, does he have sawdust in his veins?

Well, Sebastian (the Great) does his best to show off as well as take after Holly with a vein of another kind. Whatever will Holly do? After all, it's not like she has sawdust in her veins! Oh, yea, and then there's Buttons the Clown (James Stewart) who never takes his makeup off. What's up with that?

This movie had everything! A love triangle, the spectacle of the tawdriest show on earth, a behind the scenes look at how they set up the tents, a three hour run time! Everything short of elephant poop. What more could you ask for? What, don't you have sawdust in your veins?

The principle attraction for me was the fact that it won Best Picture over High Noon (AMRU 3.5) and I had to see how a circus movie could do such a thing. I have to guess that the controversy over the underlying theme of High Noon along with a popular fascination of the topic swayed the day. Calling it tedious is something of an understatement. It was just over two and a half hours, but many dull scenes could have been cut to bring it much closer to 2, if not under. It had one side story after another, with Gloria Grahame (actual hottie) and Dorothy Lamour (you know, from the Hope and Crosby movies) having smallish rolls. Plus there was this gangster sub-plot that seemed to go nowhere.

Anyhow, having said all that, it wasn't too bad of a movie. Clearly no High Noon, but still worth seeing. AMRU 3. Brew some coffee.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Invaders from Mars (1953)

Little David sees a flying saucer and his indulgent father goes to take a look. He returns angry and with a peculiar X scar on the back of his head. Two cops investigate and they too return hostile and scarred. Soon, Mom follows suit. Who will save the day? Why, hunky Doctor Astronomer and his hotty Doctor Girlfriend, that's who.

The second "Everyone's been taken over, why won't anyone believe me" movies and oddly sandwiching This Side of Paradise episode of Star Trek, which had a similar theme. Here astronomer and girlfriend DO believe little David, and make wild speculations where the saucers are from or what they want. Apparently, they are from Mars and want to take over Earth because they screwed up their planet. Yea, lets go with that.

What a strange little film! Terms like surreal and dream-like come to mind. In fact, the entire story in the British release was supposed to be the boy's dream. And of course the early color process makes everything look alien. It might have originally been planned as a 3D movie, or not. Either way, it was a strange movie. The HEAD Martian has giant green trolls (see above) under his control in addition to various surgically altered parents.

How does McCarthyism and the Red Scare play into this movie's theme and appeal? What do I look like, a film historian? I'll give it my glad-I-saw-it rating and leave it at that.
"Please God, let them find Mom and Dad before something bad happens. I don't want them to die too."

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) is a crazy man with a crazy story. They send in psychiatrists to check him out. Seems he is a small town doctor who discovered that some townsfolk started to believe their loved ones are not who they seem.

Seems that there are these pods showing up, and after a while, human-like creatures emerge from them with indistinct features. Slowly over time, they take on someones likeness and take their place.

I knew the story. I saw the remake when I was young. It's had the lowest of low tech special effects, but still, I was on the edge of my seat. It came as a very pleasant surprise.

McCarthy not only lived to appear in the remake 22 years later, but continued to work, even appearing a movie that came out this year. All despite dying about a year and a half ago (96 years old). I saw him recently in Matinee, a movie I had to see before Netflix took it away from me. He played a character in the movie that John Goodman's character was promoting.

His hottie girlfriend was played by Dana Wynter. Interestingly, the good doctor's grade school girlfriend was sixteen years younger than him. She passed on about a year ago. Oh, yea. And her character was married.

As much as I really enjoyed the Body Snatchers, there was one plot hole that bothered me. So, giving proper respect, SPOILER ALERT - SPOILER ALERT - SPOILER ALERT:

Pods are creating human replicas. We never find out what happens to the original person, which is fine. However, later in the movie hottie girlfriend is "transformed" when she falls asleep for just a moment. There are no replicants around to replace her and she tries to convince Miles not to be afraid. Why the second method of replacing people?

Anyhow, this classic was a pleasant surprise. Drama, good acting, excellent pacing, creepy story. It has earned it's place in the realm of great sci-fi. AMRU 4.
"They're here already! You're next! You're next, You're next...!"

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Cocoanuts (1929)

Hammer (Groucho Marx) is the owner of a failing Florida hotel. There's a bit of a love story, some songs, a jewel thief, but mostly it's a throw-away story designed around the Marx Brothers comedy. Chico and Harpo pretend to be interested in buying the hotel but in actuality just want to lift items from the guests, of which there are very few. Margaret Dumont is one.

All in all (dare I be sacrilegious) it's a very skipable movie. As the earliest true talkie I've seen, the sound quality was rather poor. They filmmakers had to soak the paper used in various scenes to keep the crinkling sound from overloading the recording equipment. It looked like cloth.

There were some funny scenes but not one of their best works. I saw their last and now their first. I'm sure the ones in the middle are much better. AMRU 2.5.
Hammer: Now here is a little peninsula and here is a viaduct leading over to the mainland.
Chico: Why a duck?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Jazz Singer (1927)

Young Jackie Rabinowitz is the son of a Jewish Cantor (apparently the dude who sings at Temple). He is expected to take over the family business, but young Jackie has different plans. After being punished for singing in a pub, he runs away and recasts himself as jazz singer Jack Robin (Al Jolson). Over time his new life as a rising star and his family ties collide when he must make a choice.

This is the movie that heralded in the era of the talkies, and overnight they became a craze. Interestingly enough, The Jazz Singer is not a talkie. Here is a little movie knowledge, courtesy a film philistine: sound films are not sound films because of spoken dialog. What distinguishes them is that the audio track is encoded on the film itself and synchronized with the moving pictures. Later Charlie Chaplin movies had no recorded dialog but were technically not silent because a synchronized sound system was used.

What happened here is that between songs, Jolson had to open his trap. He was supposed to go straight into his next song, but instead said a few words to the crowd. Those words? "Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain't heard nothin' yet!" Truer words were never before spoken. Studio head Sam Warner insisted it be kept in the movie. Warner would die one day before the movie was released. He was 40.

As for the rest of the dialog: title cards. Seems obvious now to record ALL the dialog, but they didn't. There was a second scene were Jolson chats with his mother between songs. Which leads to another interesting aspect of the movie. The depiction of Jewish life. Not just having Jewish people, and admitting that they were Jewish, but actually depicting issues that matter to Jews regarding their culture. Remember, in To Be or Not To Be, fourteen years later, they never even used the word Jew once, and I considered it brave.

Another thing ... well ... let's just say that the logic and appeal of the minstrel show is lost on modern audiences. Me, in particular. Was it the collision of the realization that black music was pretty awesome and the fear of allowing them to play to white audiences? Was it meant to mock black performance? I don't even aspire to understand. But apparently Jolson in blackface served another purpose. It illustrated the dichotomy between the character's Jewish heritage and his desire to succeed in the wider American culture. Or so Wikipedia says. What do I know? The neighborhood I grew up in had about the same number of minorities as your average country club.

Anyhow, this was a movie worth seeing. Maybe worth seeing again. AMRU 3.5. Thank you Pub-D-Hub.
"He sounds like Jakie, but he looks like his shadow!"