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."