Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Gunfighter (1950)

Tired gunfighter (Gregory Peck) just wants to retire but every young upstart looking to make a name for himself won't leave him alone.

After taking out yet another kid, he heads out of town with the kid's brothers on his tail. Now in Cayenne, he meets up with his old buddy, now Marshal, and tries to look up his old flame who isn't too keen for the gunfighter lifestyle. While in town his celebrity status becomes the event of the day.

300+ movies and Gregory Peck #1. How did that happen? There are other Hollywood legends not yet covered, but this one is surprising. I have a list of names to cross off and hope to chop it down to size in the coming year.

Ok, back to the story. Sound familiar? Yea, it pops up now and again. Blazing Saddles, a Twilight Zone episode (I'm certain, but can't find it). It's something of a western stereotype, but this, I believe, is it's first incarnation.

More psychological in nature, it's a new direction for Westerns. Not really a romance nor action/adventure, although those elements are not absent, The Gunfighter is a pleasant, well made, somewhat predictable diversion. I recorded it on a complete lark off of TCM. It wasn't a box office success. Filmmakers, jokingly, blamed Peck's historically accurate but silly looking mustache. I thought it looked fine. AMRU 3.5.
"He don't look so tough to me.
Yeah, yeah. That's the way it always starts. He don't look so tough to somebody."

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Birds (1963)

Attractive (spoiled) socialite (Tippi Hedren) travels to a small coastal California village to play a prank on a man (Rod Taylor) who earlier played a prank on her. As love blooms, all of the birds go crazy.

This could have been just an unconventional monster flick with a bolted-on love story, but not in Hitchcock's hands. We learn and really care about the flawed characters as the situation becomes more dire.

Before I praise The Birds some more, allow me to pick some nits. When birds attack, children and adults alike run around like nuts rather than run for cover. Three scenes in particular come to mind, but I shan't spoil anything. The characters simply don't behave believably. Hedren herself asked why she would do something and Hitchcock responded "Because I told you to."

Additionally, I detect no larger meaning to the horror. Just birds gone crazy. No cold war tension, environmental disaster, no science gone too far cautionary moral. Maybe that isn't a flaw in of itself, but what we have is a budding romance and crazy birds. That's all. It seems incomplete.

Now, that said, The Birds is a wonderful tale. Great pacing, character development, and well written dialog. A very young Suzanne Pleshette was quite adorable (although it was hard watching her light up cigarettes knowing she will die young of lung cancer). Jessica Tandy played the overprotective mother, lending to the idea that she was always old. AMRU 4.

Side note: since I saw Psycho I have been targeting this movie. I would record it and it would be deleted from my tiny DVR before I got a chance to see it. I recorded it again, and again it was deleted. On my third try I had a DVR failure and it didn't record. Luckily, this is a movie that TCM loves to run. On the forth try, I finally got to see it.

Wild Strawberries (1957)

An elderly doctor (Victor Sjostrom) travels to the town where his son lives to receive an honorarium. Along the way he passes places from his youth, and reevaluates his life now that it's near the end.

I was hesitant at first to watch this because, well, Ingmar Bergman. His reputation for confoundingly symbolic movies is legendary, but I found this very accessible. Old Doctor Borg's journey is both physical and spiritual as he explores his life and loneliness. His relationship with his son, mother, and daughter-in-law, his dead wife, his live in housekeeper, with society at large, as with life itself.

He has dreams that trouble him, as they did 1950's literalistic American audiences, no doubt. He sees and interacts with images of his past and maybe seeing the error of his ways. In this manner it feels like a version of A Christmas Carol, similar to The Phantom Carriage (directed by and staring a young Sjostrom). The people he crosses paths with provide a real world illustration of his past mistakes.

One cannot go into all of the meanings and metaphors of a Bergman film here (certainly not with a Philistine at the helm), but suffice it to say Wild Strawberries leaves you thinking. While also being very watchable. AMRU 4.
"As professor emeritus, you ought to know why it hurts. But you don't know. You know so much, and you don't know anything."

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Seven Chances (1925)

Man (Buster Keaton) in financial trouble stands to inherit seven million dollars if he is married by 7:00 PM. Comic mayhem to follow.

Sound familiar? It should. The theme had been done many times before and since. Not a film Keaton was eager to do, he never-the-less injects his comic genius. The chase scene alone is worth the price of admission. Not the masterpiece that The General is, but still very amusing. AMRU 3.5.

After presenting this movie, TCM ran the documentary "So Funny It Hurt: Buster Keaton & MGM". It was a compassionate documentary (read: biased) that retold how Keaton gave up artistic freedom for financial stability by signing with MGM. It also lovingly told of the personal tragedies that befell him, like infidelity, alcoholism, and poor financial handling. I am more likely to blame his fall from grace on the conversion to sound, him becoming a second banana in poor combinations, and his personal demons. But we can blame MGM if we want. TCM presets some excellent biographies. This wasn't one, but wasn't exactly a waste of time either. I'll keep an eye out for a better one.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Repulsion (1965)

Pretty-pretty Carol (Catherine Deneuve) can't help but attract the attention of men, but she has something of an aversion to them. One might call it a repulsion. She is disturbed by her sister's relationship with a married man. When sis and stud-muffin go for an extended holiday, Carol's problems deepen.

Claustrophobic photography, odd angles, strange soundtrack, this slow burn takes some time to build up. Catherine is initially unimpressive (acting-wise, anyhow) as she sleep walks through her scenes. But things get going, and boy do they ever. Carol's descent into madness is frighteningly dark and disturbingly realistic.

I don't wish to give too much away, but this physiological thriller expands the definition of Horror (for me, anyhow). There are many elements that contribute to the storytelling. The viewer is left with questions, like what is and isn't real, what happened in Carol's past, and what happens next. The pacing and non-Hollywood style will put off some, but this is a singular movie. Expertly crafted and great conversation fodder. AMRU 4.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Devil-Doll (1936)

Two convicts escape together. One wants to exact revenge on his business partners who conspired to get him falsely imprisoned. The other wants to continue his work trying to make people little so that they eat less. When convict number 2 dies abruptly, convict 1 uses the talent of his creepy wife to complete his plan.

Wow, what crappy acting. I'm starting to think Lionel Barrymore wasn't the actor I thought he was. Seems the only part he can play is Lionel Barrymore. Still, he wasn't the worst offender in this one. Young hottie Maureen O'Sullivan did a good job playing a young hottie.

Allegedly classified as horror, it comes off more like a melodrama. The title makes it sound like an early version of Child's Play, but it's more of an early (and better) version of Attack of the Puppet People.

You see, shrinking people to six inches tall is fairly easy (obviously) but it seems their brain shrinks as well, making them incapable of free will. Lucky for convict 2, they can be controlled by staring at them with a constipated look on your face. Let's pack up the meth lab and head to Paris for some good old-fashioned revenge! Wait, how does an escaped convict and an off the grid swamp-scientist afford that? Best not to ask such questions.

Here is Tod Browning's penultimate (that's fancy-talk for second to last) directorial effort. I've seen a fair number of them and still not sure what to make of him. Seems he does well with good talent around him, and not so much otherwise. Freaks supposedly ruined his career, but he was pushing 60 by the time he did his last seven years later. Maybe TCM will run a bio on him sometime.

It's a fair, very watchable movie, that's not terribly crafted. The oversized sets for the little people to climb on were well done. And the special effects, while not amazing, were good for the day. Not Tod Browning's worst work. AMRU 3.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

London After Midnight (1927)

Five years after the suicide of a wealthy man, strange people lease his mansion. Maybe they're vampires!

Lon Chaney and Tod Browning made ten movies together and London After Midnight was their most successful, if not the highest praised. Come the sound era, it fell into obscurity, and was remade by Browning as Mark of the Vampire in 1935. The only known print was destroyed when an MGM vault caught fire, making it the most sought after lost film. Imagine my excitement when TCM put it on their Halloween schedule! Imagine my disappointment when I learned that I was to watch forty-five minutes of production stills and title cards.

There are a large number of high quality photos of the production and the producers did a fair job of combining them with new title cards and a better than fair score. However, the stills were frequently reused causing the story to became muddled. A noble effort for the materials at hand, but it came off as cheesy at times.

Interesting to film historians and recovering philistines like myself, but fairly hard to watch by any measure. If you have difficulty with movies that don't talk, movies that don't move is a non-starter. Glad I watched it, I suppose, and will wait for a copy to be rediscovered. Check your attics! AMRU 3.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Monster (1925)

Local milquetoast aspires to be a detective. He investigates the case of a missing millionaire at an abandoned sanitarium.

This mediocre horror-themed comedy appears inspired by, but not nearly as good as, Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr. Lon Chaney doesn't appear until a half hour into the movie and isn't given much interesting to do. There's fair atmosphere and some amusing haunted house gags, and did hold my attention for the duration, but it's simply not horror nor is it an exceptional comedy.

A Watchable, early, haunted house/mad scientist film, but otherwise unremarkable. Ben Mankewitz totally oversold this sucker. AMRU 3, mostly because Lon Chaney.
"Use your ingenuity"

Monday, November 3, 2014

Village of the Damned (1960)

Without warning, all of the citizens of a small English village mysteriously pass out. When they awake, many of the women find themselves pregnant. Months later, they all give birth to blond haired, creepy eyed, gifted children.

Village of the Damned proves that money is not required to make a quality movie. Not even a quality science fiction movie. Devoid of big name actors or special effects, Village of the Damned cost either $200k or $320k to make depending on the source, a pittance even for 1960. They relied on quality actors, an excellent story, and a solid script.

Science fiction films are sometimes very bad with the science. No so here. When something is left unexplained, they at least analyze it intelligently. Also, mysterious pregnancies like these would raise serious societal questions. Infidelity? Virgin births? Promiscuity? While these angles never become the focus of the story, they are not ignored. Items for us to consider are exactly how were the woman impregnated? Invisible magic or molested by an unseen beast? That was left to our imagination.

Village of the Damned is a very well crafted movie. Better horror films were released the same year, but few low budget movies of the era can compare. It has a smart script and creepy story and delivers on all promises. AMRU 3.5.
"You have to be taught to leave us alone."

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Uninvited (1944)

Brother and Sisters (Ray Miland and Ruth Hussey) purchase a beautiful mansion on the seacoast for great price. It's cheap because it's haunted.

What follows is a mystery punctuated with some genuinely spooky scenes. The former owner's granddaughter desperately wants to visit the house even though grandpa says it's dangerous. The history of the house, slowly pieced together, helps explain the occurrences and direct the course of action.

TCM host Ben Mankiewicz pointed out that the golden age of Hollywood produced few quality Ghost/Haunted House movies. Most that they did were comedies. The Uninvited stands alone as a quality, serious ghost movie.

Batman's Alfred has a key role. Remember him from The Mole People? The IMDB entry includes the keywords closeted and suspected Lesbian. I presume they are referring to the Ruth Hussey character, but I think they are reading too much into the unmarried sister angle.

What does come off as odd is when 40ish Miland starts hitting on 20ish granddaughter. Pretty-pretty Gail Russell battled a few ghosts of her own. Alcoholism gripped her life and she succumbed to a heart attack at age 36.

Atmospheric, well acted, and a complex story, The Uninvited is a very well crafted film. The story creeps without relying on jump-scares or feeling manipulative. It has the feel of a costume drama-period piece, without actually being one, but I don't hold that against it. I wouldn't object to a second viewing, but I'll settle on AMRU 3.5
"We will do nothing tonight that the priest wouldn't approve of."

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Phantom Carriage (1921)

A young Salvation Army worker is dying on New Year's eve and requests to see the first man to visit the shelter. That man lies drunk in a graveyard. He tells his drinking buddies that whomever dies at the stroke of midnight is fated to drive Death's carriage to collect the souls of the departed. When he is killed in a fight, the carriage arrives and David Holm is then shown the wickedness of his ways.

Slightly Christmas Carol in theme, and very temperance in tone, The Phantom Carriage is a landmark of early Swedish cinema, and of the horror genre. The special effects (mostly double exposure to show the translucent carriage) was groundbreaking for the day.

The story is not easily summed up and the storytelling is quite nonlinear. But the meaning of the glances and the sequence of events is never in doubt. Director Victor Sjostrom was wonderful in the lead role. Ingmar Bergman was strongly influenced by the film, and I'm sure it's no coincidence that Victor appeared in Bergman's Wild Strawberries (1957).

There is much to say about this film, but I hate to stray too far from the irreverent. Apparently a homeless shelter in Sweden is called a "Slumstation", and "The End" is written as "Slut". Insert Bevis style giggling here. The Phantom Carriage transcends such nonsense, but sometimes I can't help myself.

An excellent film that isn't diminished by silent cinema, but I do recommend finding a copy with a good score. Great atmosphere, excellent acting, and a rewarding viewing experience. AMRU 4.
"Captive, come forth from thy prison!"

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Peeping Tom (1960)

Would-be film maker works the less glamorous side of cinema while exploring his personal project: filming women's dying expression of terror. Spoiler Alert! He's the killer!

Ok, not much of a spoiler. There isn't any question starting from the opening moments. Peeping Top is a complex, layered film. The script, acting, and dialog are exceptional. Director Michael Powell crafts a wonderful film. We follow Mark Lewis through his career, his attempt of a social life, and his extra curricular activities.

Released the same year as Hitchcock's Psycho, it's hard not to draw comparisons. Both movies follow a socially awkward antagonist (with parent issues). But while Psycho was heralded as Hitchcock's masterpiece, Peeping Tom ruined Powell's career.

The film's reception was harsh in the extreme, and it was a commercial failure. Exactly why mystifies me. Was it more graphic, more sexually explicit, more upsetting than Psycho? Maybe marginally. There are elements of pornography, voyeurism, and prostitution. Maybe Norman Bates was more palatable villain than Mark Lewis. Maybe we liked Lewis, sympathised with him just a little too much. It took a decade for critics to reevaluate the film.

Peeping Tom is a well crafted, innovative film, that would hold up to a second viewing. It is not to be skipped. AMRU 4.
"I don't trust a man who walks quietly."

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Public Enemy (1931)

Local thug (James Cagney) earns a living as a thug.

The 30's had many gangster films, some fairly interesting. Like Scarface, we watch the rise and fall of a ruthless thug in the guise of a cautionary tale. Unlike Scarface, the story is only mildly amusing. Rife with clumsy camera work, the clumsy story showcases Cagney's better than fair acting and signature mannerisms (see Johnny Dangerously). Being early in the soundie era, the actors had to over project their voices.

Jean Harlow appears in a very early role. Not sure how she got to be such a sex symbol. For my money, I'd take old friend Joan Blondell. Or even Mae Clarke, whom some may remember as the young ingenue in Frankenstein. She got the pineapple treatment here.

A key film in the genre and definitely worth a viewing. Just don't expect to have your socks knocked off. AMRU 3.
"Why that dirty, no good, yellow-bellied stool. I'm gonna give it to him right in the head the first time I see him."

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Moon is Blue (1953)

Donald (William Holden) pursues a chaste and unusually honest young woman. His ex-girlfriend and her father (David Niven) interfere with the evening.

I know this film, as most people do, from the 11th season episode of M*A*S*H. where Hawkeye and Hunnicut are trying to get a copy of this movie, believing it to be a "blue movie". They are disappointed by this RomCom, but I wasn't.

As many movies based on a play, it is rather wordy. The story is focused on the relationships between the characters. Accepting it for what it is, I was quite charmed. Very sharp, witty, clever dialog. Good acting and better photography than you normally get from a play conversion. Controversial in it's time, it's rather tame by today's standards. Patty asks frank questions, discusses her virginity, and the men are left to question their own motivations.

By the time of the M*A*S*H episode, the film was just under 30 years old. The two leads had passed by then, and in four more years every actor with a speaking role, and the director, would be gone. Our virginal lead took her own life. It's been almost 32 years since the episode, and the M*A*S*H cast is doing quite a bit better. Maybe they learned of the dangers of the whiskey and cigarette diet, what with them being doctors and all.

Don't watch this if you expect overt sexuality. Or hate movies with a lot of talking. If what I wrote appeals to you, make a point to find it (won't be easy). I left it on my DVR in hopes of convincing the wife to give it a try. No dice, and it expired. AMRU 4. There was a lot of wonderful dialog in this movie. I can't pick one quote, so I will go with ...
"You talk too much."

Sunday, August 31, 2014

On The Waterfront (1954)

The docks are controlled by the union, which is to say, the mob. The few make all the money while doing no work and the many work like dogs and barely scrape out a living. How is this careful balance managed? By throwing the complainers off of buildings.

Terry Malloy (Brando) coulda had class. He coulda been a contender. He coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what he is. The union thugs use him to draw above-referenced rat to the rooftop so that he can be tossed off of it. Malloy thought they were just going to lean on him. Furthering his ambivalence to the status quo, he starts to fall for the rat's hot little sister. Also, there's this rabble-rousing priest.

Man have I a lot to say about this picture.

First, the primary conflict is the pigeons verses the hawks. Malloy is a pigeon who might be able to become a hawk if he plays along. The hawks are exploiting the pigeons and the moral thing is to testify against them. To be a rat. Allow me to introduce Elia Kazan to the audience.

Elia Kazan was a talented director of both stage and screen. His work speaks for itself. And when the House Un-American Activities Committee was looking for rats for their commie witch hunt, Elia raised his hand and said "Me first!" When he was presented with an honorary Oscar many years later, some in the audience conspicuously remained silent.

So, when we compare this film to High Noon, where bad men enter the town and scared men refuse to stand up to them, we see the obverse side of the same coin. Does a hero stand up to outsiders who present a danger or speak out on the danger that is there already? The devil is in the details and may people have their opinions the seriousness of the perceived threats.

That out of the way, let's discuss Brando and his performance. One of the greatest performances or terribly overrated? Depends on if you're a commie or not, I presume. For me, it was an eye-opener. When you see clips of the film he appears awkward and unconvincing. He's acting like Brando. But taken as a whole, it was quite impressive. Conflicted is the key word here. Every day Brando left the set early to see his therapist leaving the rest of the actors to work without the star. Rod Steiger never forgave him.

Oh, here's a pet peeve of mine. Girl locks herself in her apartment and yells to the hero to go away. He breaks down the door and she fights him off. He forces her to kiss her and true love blooms. "But your honor, that worked out great in On the Waterfront!" Yea, let's leave that crap in the last century.

Great script, great acting, wonderfully shot, solid story. The ending, however, suffered from a surplus of sap. The few flaws (Malloy's spidey senses totally fail him late in the movie) were overlooked or invisible to the Academy. It won eight Oscars. AMRU 4. Kazan was an exceptional director. And a rat.
"Conscience... that stuff can drive you nuts!"

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Graduate (1967)

Young Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) returns from college a track star and academic achiever. His affluent parents want to show him off but he wants to be alone. He is manipulated into a relationship with one of his parents friends (Anne Bancroft) but starts to fall for her daughter. Hilarity ensues.

The Graduate is a study in manipulation. Mrs. Robinson expertly coerces Benjamin into a relationship he clearly is not comfortable with. His parents want nothing more than to show him off like a trained monkey. Benjamin's initial lack of direction and purpose blossoms into full-blown helplessness.

This sometimes cringe-worthy situation is not all the movie has to offer. It sports a wonderfully crisp and poignant script. The advice from Ben's father's well-intentioned friends, his awkwardness at every stage in the affair, all expertly written. Now I know why Buck Henry would host SNL so often way back in the day. The dialog is pitch perfect.

Also noteworthy is the cinematography. Maybe something I wouldn't have noticed a couple years ago, it was quite impressive. Director Mike Nichols expertly filled the frame in a way that told the story as well as the dialog.

I was not familiar with Nichols but looking at his resume, this is an oversight. He has only 22 directorial credits and they range from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf to Charlie Wilson's War. Take a gander, quite an impressive list.

And I haven't even touched on the acting. Hoffman as bumbling Benjamin was only six years younger than Bancroft, but you'd never know it. You believe the twenty year age gap. Truly a remarkable piece of film making. Pity it took me this long to see it. AMRU 4.5.
"You look to me like the kind of guy who has to fight 'em off. And doesn't he look to you like the kind of guy that has to fight them off?
Yes, he does."

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fantastic Voyage (1966)

An attempt on the life of a diplomat has left him in a coma. The area of the brain damaged cannot easily be operated on. It's easier, apparently, to shrink down a submarine and crew to microscopic size to make the repairs.

I was mystified how poorly remembered this sci-fi classic is. Until I watched it, that is. It begins with all the techo-cheese of a 60's sci-fi TV show. White noise, spinning tape drives, and, oh yea, that high-tech typewriter. At one point the General walks from fuzzy CRT to CRT to ask a different person on screen what the patient's heart rate or temperature was. Star Trek had a much better grasp on that sort of thing. Still, it ventured into a new realm and showed us something never before seen in the genre: the miracle of the human body at microscopic scale. And what does that magical realm look like? A little like a low rent carnival funhouse.

We marvel at the cast marveling at the miracle of green screen. We gasp in excitement as Raquel Welch is attacked by white blood cells, and the men frantically try to tear them off, mostly from her ample breasts. Every turn a new unexpected challenge awaits. The script was researched well enough that parts were viewed in college medical classes for years.

Fantastic Voyage, while something of a snoozer, did attempt something new, and there is virtue in that. Even if it appears severely dated to modern eyes. Dated, cheesy, and a bit dull, but innovative and slightly smarter than most. AMRU 3.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Against All Flags (1952)

Brian Hawke (Errol Flynn) goes under cover to learn the secret of the pirate republic. Along the way the pirate mistress 'Spitfire' Stevens (Maureen O'Hara) catches his eye. Generic 50's Technicolor RomCom Action/Adventure pirate movie ensues.

The sets were lavish, the costumes anachronistically colorful, the acting terrible. I caught the beginning on TCM while waiting for the wife to get off work, and decided I'd wait it out. Usually when I do this I eventually find myself being drawn in. Here, well, We'll see. Now back to the film.

Flynn played the dashing gentleman/pirate/spy with a dash of smarmy smugness and apparently more booze than a pirate's bachelor party. They had to ban alcohol from the set. He'd be dead in seven years. O'Hara (still living) played the spitfire well with her sharp tongue and piercing stares. But the intentionally bad, dinner-theateresque acting undermines the performance. There is a scene when the pirate Brasiliano (Anthony Quinn) strikes her that was laughable at best. Still, total hottie.

Big names, high production value, very genre acting. When Flynn broke an ankle they filmed an entire other movie with the sets. Not a terrible way to spend 90 minutes on a Friday night, however. AMRU 3.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sherlock Jr (1924)

A movie projectionist fantasies about being a detective. When he is framed for stealing a watch by his romantic rival, he does his own investigation. He fails and dejectedly goes back to his hum-drum life as a projectionist. He falls asleep in the projection booth and dreams himself onto the screen, where a similar adventure unfolds, with him as the heroic detective.

My enjoyment of The General emboldened me to try another Keaton silent comedy. Sherlock Jr was just as successful. Short (under 45 minutes), great picture quality, and excellent story telling. Again, Keaton nearly loses his fool head, quite literally as he fractures his neck in one stunt. I'm sure if my boys were willing to invest ten minutes to this film, they would have loved it. The humor and action totally holds up.

Buster's real-life dad was in the film! That's kinda interesting. He also played a Union General in The General. He was a vaudeville performer and later became an angry drunk. Buster displays some nice pool shooting, if accomplished using lots of edits. He practiced for four months with a pool expert.

Amusing, fast paced story. The movie within the movie proved a great technique for telling one story. Keaton used it well to showcase his talents. I am left with the feeling that I liked it slightly less than The General, but don't interpret that as a slight. Both are amazingly entertaining. For a silent film. AMRU 4.

"I did NOT mean it to be surrealistic. I just wanted it to look like a dream."

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Gaslight (1940)

Twenty years after the unsolved murder of a singing diva, her hot young nephew (hot young Anton Walbrook) moves back into the stylish London house where it happened, with his new wife (Diana Wynyard). The dashing retired detective (dashing Frank Pettingell), stunned by the the master's resemblance to the dead woman's nephew, snoops around.

Principally we have the same story here, told somewhat differently. Both are based on the same play and this production appears to be truer to the source material. I recommend both movies equally and if you are to see both, I suggest the 1944 Hollywood version first. While Hollywood doesn't keep you in suspense very long, there is no doubt who the bad man is here.So, if you intend on watching either of these films, STOP READING NOW! Spoilers Abound as I compare and contrast.

Ok, then. Here we go.

The first interesting difference is familiar relations. Ingrid's Paula was in the house when her aunt, her legal guardian, was murdered. We see her taken away from the scene, learn a little of her life, then return ten years later. The detective, smitten by the aunt as a young boy, is amazed by the resemblance. We sympathize with her because of the additional details and because, well, she's Ingrid Bergman.

Diana's Bella has no connection to the house and we little to her. We first see her after moving back in and know her only as a frail woman with an angry husband. It's the retired detective who recognizes Anton's Paul Mallen as Louis Barre, who used to live in the same place twenty years prior.

A second change is that we are left to wonder if Paula is crazy. Initially we don't see Boyer manipulate her and can't be sure if she is indeed crazy or not. There is no question with Walbrook. From the onset he is cruel and deceptive. The only mystery is motive.

Also there is an interesting difference in the maid and husband relationship. Hollywood, deep in the throes of Hays Code censorship, hints at an inappropriate relationship. The English production explores that a wee bit more. They go to a burlesque show together. Nudge, nudge.

Apart from these and other minor changes (venue changes from 12 Pemlico Square to 9 Thorton Square, the character name changes, and the Hollywood addition of a society busy-body), there are remarkable similarities. Many key scenes are replicated in both, and the acting, sets, and photography are both top notch. All in all, the only real difference between the two is the Hollywood shine on the latter. Both are very much worth your time. We should be thankful that this film was not lost to us forever. AMRU 4.
"How did you get in here?"
"Interesting things about us ghosts, we don't have to bother with doors."

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Gaslight (1944)

Ten years after the unsolved murder of a singing diva, her hot young niece (hot young Ingrid Bergman) moves back into the stylish London house where it happened, with her new husband (Charles Boyer). A dashing detective (dashing Joseph Cotten), stunned by the niece's resemblance to her aunt, reopens the cold case.

Gaslight is based on a play (Gas Light, or Angel Street), and had already been made into a movie four years earlier. Under the terms of the agreement, the producers ordered the destruction of all prints of the previous film. They failed to get them all, and the 1940 version has lapsed into the public domain. I saw it next.

Gas lights, that is, the lighting mechanism where natural gas was piped into houses for lighting purposes, certainly plays a large role in the story. Not only do they pepper the screen with shots of men lighting them, they even play into the story. Our protagonist becomes convinced that someone else is in the house because the lights dim, as if someone lit one elsewhere. They also add great ambiance and all gothic horror movies should have had them rather than foolish candelabras and sometimes even electric lights, totally ruining the mood. Had they not been expensive, and occasionally suffocate people, burn down houses, and even blow them up, they'd be a great addition to any home! Act now, supplies are limited!

I learned a few things from watching this movie. First, that I am actually capable of saying the words "Angela Lansbury was hot". What a naughty bit of crumpet, she was! At 17 she quit her job in a local shop and launched her movie career. Secondly, and more importantly, I learned that I apparently have absolutely no friggin' clue what film-noir is. I'm classifying this sucker as a mystery (although not a terribly mysterious one). Melodrama, sure. Entertaining and well made movie, you bet! Film-noir? Doesn't smell like it to me. There is a detective and an element of claustrophobia, but hard boiled, pessimistic, and minimalist? It's set in the fashionable district of Victorian/Edwardian London. You know, the stuff dreams are made of. AMRU 4.
"I knew from the first moment I saw you that you were dangerous to me."
"I knew from the first moment I saw you that you were dangerous to her."

Monday, April 28, 2014

Batman: The Movie (1966)

Four supervillans team up to take over the world. Their objective is to dehydrate world leaders at the United World Building then extort for their return: one billion dollars!

Wow, this was terrible. I grew up with the series and saw this movie at one point, but I really found this a chore to sit through. Yea, you are supposed to laugh at the stupidity (the plastic shark attack, the bomb scene, the lousy acting, the absurd plot, cheesy costumes, the works) but there is only so much I can take. Was there an actor who moved less like an action hero than Adam West?

The movie was supposed to precede the series as its introduction, but when the TV show was moved up, they delayed the film until after the first season. Recorded off of TV Land, this sat on my DVR for almost two months before I got the courage up to watch it. The host, Svengoolie, said the film was edited for length to run in the allotted two hour slot. The original 105 minutes would have only left 15 for commercials and terrible jokes. Thank god for small favors, I don't think I could have watched much more of this.

Here is a movie that cannot have EWW done on it. The video would be longer than the film. The story and dialog was a constant stream of absurdities. You do not buy into the plot, even for a moment. It's as if the filmmakers looked at every scene and asked "is it stupid enough?"

If you embrace it's campy appeal then you will disagree with me. I'm good with that. But would I have considered watching this had I known how bad it was? Nope. AMRU 2.
"Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb"

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Seventh Victim (1943)

A young woman (Kim Hunter) must leave school because her sister disappeared and stopped paying the tuition. Setting out to look for her, she finds her sister's friends don't always tell the truth, and that she has gotten herself involved in something nefarious.

Perhaps two parts Noir mystery and one part Horror, but I'm inclined to overlook that. Finally I have seen all nine of Val Lewton's horror-esque films. He did five others completely outside the genre before dropping dead. Eventually I'll hit those as well.

Here's something curious. Tom Conway played the same character as in Cat People, curiouser still if you saw Cat People. Jean Brooks and he were in nine films together. Her other Lewton film, The Leopard Man, was not one of them. She would die at my age. Booze is short on nutrition.

Let's talk of Vallie, shall we? Born in Crimea back when it was illegally occupied by Russian forces, his family moved to America looking for a better life. RKO was reeling financially and needed someone who could churn out economically successful films on a tight budget and schedule. Showing the great decision making skills that got them into this mess, they chose a young man who never before produced a film. Oddly, it worked.

Seldom do I focus on producers. Ok, never do I focus on producers. But Val Lewton was not your average producer. He had a much larger hand in the creation of his films than usual. He personally worked on the scripts, was involved with the art direction, carefully chose who he wanted to work with, and his films all had his signature style whether they were directed by Jacques Tourneur or Robert Wise. The films have great atmosphere, are well crafted, and by and large very enjoyable. Avid readers may remember the one I gave a failing grade to.

One of my objectives when starting this blog (I had several) was to find these forgotten gems. Great, nuanced films I had never heard of. Here exactly is what I was looking for.

The Seventh Victim has some thrilling parts, lots of mystery, and that Lewton atmosphere. While it is as well crafted as Lewton's other works, I will say the film could have made use of some more horror elements. I will say no more because I did enjoy it. Maybe fifth best of his nine and AMRU 3.5. I just wish the devil worshipers were more satan-y.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Attack of the Puppet People (1958)

Loopy doll maker hires a new secretary. She isn't interested because he seems to think his dolls are real people. He begs her to take the job because ... it's the fifties.

She confesses her suspicions to a salesman who laughs in her face. They date (because that makes sense) and shortly after he proposes, he mysteriously disappears. Just like a bunch of other people. After she accuses her boss of turning people into dolls, he shrinks her and adds her to his collection. See, he wasn't crazy. Just lonely.

Well crafted, well paced, predictable, unimaginative, uninspired, watchable. You know what would have made this better? If the puppet people actually attacked something. Or if the scene in the poster took place. Or threw a hint of sexual perversion, or cold war fear, or drama, or action. A well crafted baloney on white is still a baloney on white. Hey, sometimes I get hungry.

A key element in any Sci-Fi film is the hardware. Sounds harsh, but for the most part that's true. Puppet People has hardware, but it's barely described. There was the analogy to how a projector makes images larger, but Willie Wonka did a better job on the exposition.

Director Bert Gordon took a break from making giant-people movies to make a little-person movie, but has our protagonists go to the drive-in to see one of his films. Anything else interesting here? Nope. Maybe I'd say John Agar deserved a better movie, but let's face facts. This was right in his wheelhouse. AMRU 3.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The General (1926)

Johnnie Gray (Buster Keaton) is a train engineer at the onset of the War of Northern Aggression. Wishing to win the favor of his love, he is first in line at the recruitment office. Because he is more valuable as an engineer, they refuse to enlist him. But they don't tell him why.

When he tells his love they wouldn't enlist him, she doesn't believe him, having been told he never got in line. She won't see him again. A year later Johnnie's train (The General) is captured by Northern scalawags, the pretty Annabelle Lee along with it. Johnnie pursues them alone.

A silent comedy where the star's trademark is to not change his expression. Hmm. How's that going to work. Surprisingly well it turns out. Frequently I found myself chuckling to the slapstick comedy. It totally won me over. It is interesting to note that the setting for this film was more recent to the filmmakers than the end of World War II is for us.

In addition to Keaton's comic genius, this is a fascinating movie to watch. The action sequences were well shot, the pacing was good, and some of the stunts were ... well, I'm surprised Keaton didn't break his fool head ten times over. No lawyer today would allow anything close to this. You can start with the scene of the train rolling directly into town without any kind of barrier. From there, you have Keaton falling down repeatedly on the tracks, jumping from car to car, rolling down a rocky slide directly into the path of an oncoming train, and sitting on the connecting rod while the engine is in motion.

Hey, my first Buster Keaton! Yea, he was in Sunset Blvd, but as a cameo. The writer, director, star of this movie gave himself tenth billing. I read once that Michael Keaton took his sir name out of respect. Can't find a reference to that now. Michael's real last name is Douglas.

The General shows that sound, while a useful tool in storytelling, is not essential. The Netflix copy is crisp but after a brief inspection, it appears the Amazon Prime copy is slightly better, if four minutes shorter. Skip the public domain copies haunting the internet. The subtle nuances, the acrobatics, the action sequences, and the big battle pay-off deserve a quality copy. AMRU 4. Look for the most expensive single scene in the silent film era.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

Young German students are urged to enlist for honor and glory, then find out the true meaning of trench warfare.

I had not seriously considered this movie because I mistakenly presumed it was either German with subtitles or, even worse, silent. I also thought it was very long. TCM aired it recently and because it sparked an interest with my 17 year old anti-war military buff son, we watched it together. It's 2 hours fifteenish run time was reasonable for this short-attention-span viewer.

I expect modern HD movies to wow me away visually, what with their CGI and other tricks, but this low-def, 4:3 aspect, black and white movie was impressive. Now when a crane shot spins 360 around someones head, goes up their butt crack, then pans back into outer space, we know a fat guy on a million dollar computer worked the weekend. Here, when soldiers march out of a building that then explodes, we know that the friggin' building the actors walked out of friggin' blew up! This added touch of reality makes all the difference.

The principle message of this story is that nobody wants war, nobody needs it, and the empty headed motormouths back home spouting patriotic clap-trap need to spend an evening stringing barbed wire during a down pour while the enemy strafed them with gunfire. And that message was delivered crystal.

Being an early talkie (the first sound Best Picture winner), the acting styles were clearly influenced by the pantomime era. As such, it is easy to typify the acting as terrible. Mostly because much of it was ... terrible. But these were style choices of the time and later in the film there are nuanced scenes and quiet transformations that are quite remarkable. When the main character goes home on leave and hears the bravado from his father and others in a bar, the restraint in Lew Ayres' performance was wonderful.

The gruff but lovable Sargent Kat (Louis Wolheim) would die a year later from stomach cancer. Uncredited student Arthur Gardner who went on to fame as a TV producer, is a hundred and three. The director looked around the Los Angeles area for real German war veterans to insure uniform and tactic accuracy and found so many he hired some as extras.

The anti-war message was preaching to the choir in my household, but it was a fantastic film. Had it a clearer soundtrack it's impact might even be greater. It's unflinching look at the realities of war, pre-code gore, and surprising performances make this a triumph. AMRU 4.
"I think it's more a kind of fever. Nobody wants it in particular, and then all at once, there it is. We didn't want it. The English didn't want it. And here we are fighting."

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Mouse that Roared (1959)

The tiny and impoverished nation of Fenwick declares war on America in order to lose and reap the benefit of war reparations. When they happen upon the only working prototype of the Q-Bomb (way more powerful than that wimpy H-Bomb), they accidentally win.

The real story here is Peter Sellers playing three rolls. The surprising thing is that he played them rather well. The ditsy Grand Duchess, the conniving prime minister, and the simple and good-hearted Tully Bascombe. Each character very different and well developed. This is his first foray into multiple screen personae (he was emulating Alec Guinness), and would make it something of a trademark. His real talent, in my opinion, was doing nuanced yet over the top characters in virtually every role. Sometimes very understated, sometimes Clouseau. He was a troubled comic genius whos art was built for longevity, if not his lifestyle.

Anything else of interest? Cutie Jean Seberg would take her own life twenty years later. Or was murdered by Nazi ninja alien bigfoots. The jury is still out on that one. She lived a life of drug abuse and infidelity. That's all I got this time. Amusing and well made, but no real LOL moments. Worth the time spent watching. AMRU 3. They made a sequel, but without Sellers, is it really worth watching?
"I warn you, madam - I know the entire Geneva Convention by heart!"
"Oh, how nice! You must recite it for me some evening; I play the harpsichord."

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957)

The Navy brings researchers to an island with an abandoned research facility. The previous occupants disappeared with no trace. What could have happened to them? Spoiler alert: they were eaten by crab monsters.

Well, the island experiences strange earth quakes, giant holes in the ground open up, and they start to hear the ghostly voices of their departed colleagues. It seems that when the crabs eat people, they gain their knowledge. How did they get so mutated? Atomic radiation. Oh, yea. That old chestnut.

I watched this for one reason only. On my way home from work I heard of the death of Russell Johnson, the great Professor from Gilligan's Island. Dedicated readers will also remember him from This Island Earth and It Came from Outer Space. He was a hard working actor, all around nice guy, and a bone fide war hero, earning the purple heart during World War II. But enough about Russ, back to the movie.

If goofs are your thing, then you are in luck, because goofs are this movie's thing. It would be tedious to mention them all (IMDB lists only seven). Let's take an early scene as an example. Within a yard and a half of shore, one of the Navy doofs falls out of the boat into very deep water. There he sees a giant crab monster and swims frantically to the surface. When the other doofs bring the obvious mannequin back on board, they discover it has no head. Forgetting for the moment that it should have been his feet that got chopped, the rest of the cast act as if this was a regrettable accident and don't find his decapitation all that shocking. Maybe the crabs get stupider as they eat them.

Typical Roger Corman material. Mediocre acting, terrible accents, clumsy scenes, substandard script, forgettable story, but otherwise watchable. Corman is famous for spending $100,000 and grossing a million. But if he could spend $110,000, still earn that million, and make something worth remembering, he wouldn't hesitate to pocket the ten grand. I have a hard time respecting that. Still, maybe because of my fondness for Johnson's Professor, I enjoyed Crab Monsters. Foreshadowing his later role, Johnson even makes a radio out of the unlikeliest of materials: radio parts. Go figure!

Watchable, short, and dumb. Today I give it an AMRU of 3. Rest in peace, Russ.

Friday, January 3, 2014

2013: My Film Blog Year in Review

I missed doing a year-end wrap up last year and I didn't want that again. Let's start with the movies I actually saw in a theater: Star Trek Into Darkness and Jurassic Park in iMax 3D. Yup, that's about it. Not bad. Laura Dern is a terrible actress. Maybe I saw The Hobbit. Not sure if it was in December or January. 30 minutes shorter would have been 30 minutes better. Now onto the state of the blog.

The 45 posts represent 44 movies. While I might be disappointed at the low number, I'm not. I think I hit a relatively good quality of movies. While only seven were rated at 4.0 (and none higher), only six got failing grades. I completed the original Universal Horror collection (with the exception of The Mummy series - can't find a copy of The Mummy's Tomb), I explored my interest in Val Lewton, Russ Meyer, and William Castle, Ray Harryhausen, Lon Chaney, and the Marx Brothers. I did good work on the 50's rocket and saucer sub-genre, and saw Jane Fonda's ta-tas back when that was a good thing. Not a bad bunch of films, if not exactly a film student's dream list.

29 of the 44 were either Sci-Fi or Horror, two were musicals (although I didn't initially classify Duck Soup as such), and the three silent films fared way better than the three exploitation films. I think I'll do more of the former and less of the latter. Musicals will continue to be sparse.

Many of the year's winners were flawed gems: Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, Carnival of Souls, The Leopard Man, and Laugh, Clown, Laugh. Good, enjoyable, and imperfect. The best movie, from the traditional viewpoint, was The Bridge on the River Kwai, the year's only Best Picture. The biggest surprise may be Valley of the Dragons. Not that it was all that great, I just had rather low expectations. Daughter and Son of Dracula were also better than I expected. Son of particularly because Creighton the Crappy was in the lead. Biggest disappointment was Things to Come. It wasn't the worst, but I had heard of it and it's an H.G. Wells film for cryin' out loud!

I've taken to hitting documentaries whenever the mood strikes me. Girl 27 was a complete fraud and a total disappointment. Mary Pickford: The Muse of the Movies was an overly glowing portrait of the actress. I don't know much about her and not sure that changed any. I watched Lon Chaney: Behind the Mask and learned nothing of the man. TCM ran a Bio and I learned loads. I forget what, however. I've mentioned The Story of Film: An Odyssey and still recommend it greatly. Watch it quick before Netflix pulls it. The Celluloid Closet is a great look into gays in film. I saw it years ago and made a point of seeing it again. TCM is great for that stuff. I've seen more, I'm sure, but nothing else comes to mind.

When I began this journey all I really had was the local library and hand-me-down tube televisions. Now I have Netflix, Amazon Prime, TCM (my best source), and a TV that does YouTube. I have a Roku in the bedroom that has many channels for public domain films, though I don't frequent there often. I seldom hit the library at this point. Not much room for improvement there.

My expectations for 2014 (as far as the movie blog is concerned) is to get back to the 50 post plateau. I hope to hit more "classics" and go lighter on Sci-Fi/Horror. Let's see how that goes. After my Halloween Horror fest, my plan was to hit some classic romantic comedies, but I found it hard to get excited about that topic. I think I'll be opportunistic and grab what tickles my fancy for the time being.