Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Scrooge (1951)

Grumpy old man ... ghosts ... Let's get on with it, shall we?

This version, wildly considered one of the best, is the most complete I have seen, as well as the most augmented. But more important that that is it's the best acted. Let's cover the augmentation, shall we?

Must we see Scrooge and Marley meet for the first time? See them ruthlessly run Old Fezziwig out of business? Witness the death of Marley? And of Fanny? These scenes, done well as they were, did not distract from the story. However, I don't see what they added. In the end I found them easy to ignore. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but better than what could have been.

Despite the additional material, this was the most faithful and best made adaption. More of the original dialog, more of the intent of the narrative, and the performances paid proper respect. Alastair Sim was both imposing as angry Scrooge and believable as the repentant version. I could quibble with the pointless changes from the source material (why is Belle called Alice?) but if artfully done, it simply doesn't matter. The MGM version was clunky at times, particularly during the added details, and I fault it for that. Here, all right notes were struck on this Christmas classic. AMRU 4.
"There's more gravy than grave about you."

Friday, December 25, 2015

A Christmas Carol (1938)

Grumpy old man is grumpy ... blah blah Ghosts blah blah Spirit of Christmas. Ok, one more time.

It's impossible for me to not compare this Hollywood version to the 1935 edition I just finished, so I won't try. Here is a slightly more complete retelling with an apparently larger budget. Still sparse on the effects, but they did manage some green screen and wire work to show Scrooge and Ghost fly. But despite the more details, as well as a few new ones, the run time is just about as short: 69 minutes. This was done by cutting some key dialog. No "boiled in his own pudding", no "more gravy than grave about you", no "Long past? No, your past", some of my favorite lines.

A worse sin still is the actors rushing through the dialog they kept in. Dickens' prose is wonderful, meant to be savored, and doing this for the purpose of limiting the runtime is nothing short of an abomination. They try to build more of a relationship between Bob Cratchit and Nephew Fred. Additionally Cratchit is fired on Christmas Eve, not just grumbled at. Also Scrooge calls in the police when he first sees Marley's ghost. I can't imagine what purpose that scene served.

Scrooge (Reginald Owen) looked like an outcast from Whoville, with a foolish tuft of hair atop his bald head. He is not at all intimidating as the unrepentant miser. Also, The Ghost of Christmas Past (Ann Rutherford) was too hot, not a frequent complaint from me. The GCP is described in the story like an indistinct angel, both male and female, both old and young. The only pronoun used in it's regard is "Him". Casting a very distinct, very attractive young woman was a choice I take issue with. Rufferford would later play Scarlett's sister.

The Cratchit's were a family affair. Bob played by veteran character actor Gene Lockhart, his wife by real-life wife Kathleen, and even a daughter was played by future Lost In Space mom June. Leo G. Carroll played the ghost of Marley. Fans may remember him from Tarantula and a bunch of Hitchcock films.

This version of A Christmas Carol was not terrible, but it could have been so much more. Acting styles and rushed dialog kept the audience from taking the story too seriously. And it really irks me when a certain YouTube lists channel declares it the third best Christmas movie all time when it's not even the third best version of A Christmas Carol! But to give it credit, the sets and dramatic effects were improved from the previous version. And at least they titled the film after the story. AMRU 3.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Scrooge (1935)

Grumpy old man is grumpy until he's haunted and learns the true meaning of Christmas. We all know the story.

This British production is not the very old version you may be familiar with. That would be either the 1938 or 1951 larger budget productions. This is a straight retelling of the Dickens story. No songs, no ducks, and actually set in Victorian London. It also appears to be the first feature length talkie version. There is a lost 9 minute talkie version from 1928 out there someplace.

Scrooge follows the Dickens story well but because it's under 80 minutes, it is significantly compressed. Scrooges trips, particularly with the Ghost of Christmas past, are abbreviated. We see his fiancee leaving him and her once again flush with family and happiness. We see no schoolboy Scrooge, no Old Fezziwig, and little insight how he became the man he was. They did choose to include the quick scene of the Lord Mayor of London leading a rousing rendition of God Save the Queen.

Special effects being what they were, translucent floating ghosts were not in the budget. In fact, Scrooge alone, and not the audience can see Marley. Marley was voiced by Claude Rains, so once again he plays an invisible man. The most effective special effect was superimposing Scrooge's disembodied head over it's larger black shadow. Doesn't sound like much but it functioned quite well.

Scrooge was a lower budget production with sound and video quality issues. It plays more like a melodrama and I get the impression that short scenes were clipped or missing altogether. But it has heart and was well worth my time. AMRU 3.5.
"Mankind was my business!"

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Bullitt (1968)

Steve McQueen is Frank Bullitt, a San Francisco cop who doesn't play by the rules! He lives hard, loves hard, and harder still on his car. Seriously, the dude should really calm down.

Steve McQueen had been in several successful films, but this is the role that made him a legend. The story is little more than a framework for him to act cool. He doesn't say much and despite his name, doesn't fire his gun much either.

Frank Bullitt is assigned to protect a valuable mob witness. When that doesn't work out too well, he does battle with hit men as well as the ambitious Senator (Robert Vaughn) who staked his career on the case. Frank has a hot girlfriend (Jacqueline Bisset) who does't understand his life and a Ford Mustang that doesn't understand why it must be punished.

Hey, look at this supporting cast! Robert Duvall in a tiny roll, Normal Fell (you know, Mr. Roper), Simon Oakland (Black Sheep and Kolchak), Vic Tayback (Mel), and just about every heavy in Hollywood.

Sally Fields, who introduced the film with Robert Osborne, took exception to the Bisset character, saying she had nothing to do but look pretty. I understand her concern but I think she missed the point. She served as a foil for McQueen's character. She is young, pretty, and full of life, while he is old, older still for his time, hard, and emotionless. She does not understand his life and he has nothing to say about that. She's an object, but so are the hit men. And in a way, so it McQueen.

There is a little more to the story than I let on, but not a ton. It'll keep your interest, but the real story is how understated McQueen acts. Very subtle for an angry cop. Also interesting are the camera angle choices. No sets were made for Bullitt, so they filmed in real locations, where stuff gets in the way. Director Peter Yates chose to shoot through the obstructions. He did this also when the situation didn't demand it. Frank speaks with someone while his car is washed, so we see the scene through the rear window as water, suds, and brushes obscure the view. Interesting choices.

But people don't watch this film for the camera angles, or to hear McQueen not talk. It's the almost eleven minute car chase that makes it famous. That and it's excessive use of squibs and blood packets. For me, it's an interesting film and worth the watch. AMRU 3.5.
"Come on, now. Don't be naive, Lieutenant. We both know how careers are made. Integrity is something you sell the public."

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

My Favorite Wife (1940)

Nick (Cary Grant) petitions to declare his missing wife (Irene Dunne) dead just before marrying his new wife (Gail Patrick). When the newlyweds go off for a weekend honeymoon, dead Ellen returns. Nick, still in love with Ellen and not so much with Bianca, turns into a complete wuss and can't manage to tell his new wife the bad news. When it turns out that good old Ellen spent those seven years marooned with the hunky Burkett (Randolph Scott), it's she who got some splainin' to do.

Fairly standard RomCom, later remade as Move Over, Darling (1963) with Doris Day and James Garner. They started Something's Got to Give the year earlier with Marilyn Monroe, but that train went in for her final wreck. Hmmm... Haven't done a Doris Day film yet. Interesting.

Anyhow, Grant and Scott were close friends in real life, having lived together for a dozen years. I'm sure it was purely platonic. Old friend Robert Wise served as editor. It would be a few years more before he would get to sit in the director's chair.

Not much to say. Standard fare for the genre. Grant would mutter under his breath because that stuff is comedy gold. The ending was rather weak. The outcome was in sharp focus fairly early on. There was no point and dragging it out. If there was anything that stood out it was the innuendo. Did Nick pop the pepperoni with the new wife while the old wife waited? Did Ellen make the beast while island bound? Don't be silly. This is classic production code RomCom. AMRU 3.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)

Stuffy British types mount an expedition to find the mask and sword of Genghis Khan before the nefarious Doctor Fu Manchu (Boris Karloff) does. They fear he will use it to rally his minions to rise up and wipe out the white race.

Before I go on, let me point out that The Mask of Fu Manchu was actually considered racist BY 1932 STANDARDS! In a strange way, that's kinda impressive. The Chinese embassy in Washington filed an official complaint. And not just the Chinese (or Yellow Beasts, as they prefer to be called) are maligned, but also Indians and Africans. Come to think of it, the English don't really come out looking all that smart. More on that later.

Old stuffy British type wants Asian artifact before Asians can get it because they're British, sends second old stuffy British type. But he's kidnapped BEFORE HE CAN EVEN LEAVE THE BUILDING, so hysterical daughter convinces first to all go on a rescue mission. While second is being tortured, our crew of heroes find the loot .. I mean historical artifacts. They hide in a fancy house because Fu Manchu spies are everywhere. Hysterical daughter convinces her beau to take the artifacts to Fu Manchu to bargain for papa's life, but that don't work out too well.

First old stuffy British type find out then decides to ALSO go into Fu Manchu's palace because that worked out so well the first time. First he goes to an opium den for reasons that escape me, then there's a fire, I don't know why. Beau returns, his mind controlled by spider blood and the love of Fu Manchu's hot hot daughter (Myrna Loy) and convinces the rest to ALSO enter the palace (because three times a charm). The decide to go EVEN THOUGH THEY KNOW THERE'S SOMETHING WRONG WITH HIM! Deus ex machina and everyone lives happily ever after.

Sure, Asians are depicted as conniving and treacherous, and his palace is filled with Indian and Black "servants", all shirtless and buff. But the Brits come off as completely stupid! If they didn't posses the magic of random luck they wouldn't have stood a chance. Add to this the scenes of one hero being hung shirtless while large bare chested black men whip him, the group that comes out on top is the BDSM crowd.

Despite itself, there is a lot of fun in The Mask of Fu Manchu. The sets, action, and effects worked well, the story doesn't lull, and the cheesy parts are fun to laugh at. Karloff and Loy agreed the only way to intelligently play their rolls is tongue-in-cheek. Today I am overlooking the racism. Not everyone will. AMRU 3.
"Would you have maidens such as these for your wives? Then conquer and breed... kill the white man... and take his women!"

Monday, December 7, 2015

All About Eve (1950)

Aging theater diva Margo Channing (aging movie diva Bette Davis) is introduced to an obsessed young fan, Eve (Anne Baxter). Margo gives her a job handling her personal affairs, which she does very well. Slowly Eve ingratiates herself into Margo's life to become a professional, and romantic, rival.

All About Eve is a fascinating character study rife with excellent acting performances. It earned five acting Oscar nominations, two best actress, two best supporting actress, and one supporting actor. The dialog is rather dense so people not into chatty movies take note.

Remember George Sanders from Village of the Damned. Here he played a kind of a Waldo Lydecker type character and was amused to learn he played him in a TV version of Laura. He would later commit suicide.

Here also, in a small role, is ingenue Barbara Bates, fresh off her success with The Inspector General. She would later commit suicide. Also featured is a very young Marilyn Monroe playing the Marilyn Monroe-type character. She was quite charming in a very Marilyn Monroian sort of way. She would go on to commit suicide, tin-foil hat conspiracy theories aside.

Old friend Hugh Marlowe was the playwrite. Remember him as the hero in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and the douche from The Day the Earth Stood Still. He didn't commit suicide.

Very well made, well acted character driven story. The story centers on the female characters in a way very uncommon in Hollywood. That said, at no point does it feel like a chick flick. Just an interesting, well crafted movie. With one terribly filmed street sequence. AMRU 4.
"Don't cry. Just score it as an incomplete forward pass."

Monday, November 30, 2015

Traffic in Souls (1913)

A criminal gang, led by a respected philanthropist, tricks young women into a life of degradation. The sister of a victim and the police save the day.

Here is the granddaddy of exploitation films, the first American film to deal with sexuality. White women of virtue being forced into a life of sin! Something must be done of it! Here starts the tradition of decrying a terrible evil all the while tantalizing the audience with it. Not bad work if you can get it.

Not a lot to say about this one. It was a smash success, made tons of money for Universal, and had a Broadway opening. Historically interesting, but something of a snoozer. The sets were framed like a stage play and the title cards mostly described the action rather than depicting dialog. There were interesting scenes where the criminals used hidden microphones and stuff, but still a little clumsy, even by 1913 standards. AMRU 2.5.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)

A struggling writer (George Peppard) with a rich, married girlfriend (Patricia Neal) moves into a fashionable New York apartment. There he meets the confounding Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn).

Here is a story of two damaged people getting involved with each other. Neither know where they are going, or really where they are. Holly lives "paycheck" to "paycheck" with strange arrangements dating older men. And visiting mob bosses in jail. Apparently she was a prostitute but the movie makes this unclear. Peppard's Paul is both supported and stifled by his relationship with Neal, was well as his own indirection. Holly is a breath of fresh air, but also a disturbing element of chaos in his life.

Neal's "much older woman" was only three years older than Hepburn. Ten years earlier she shined in The Day The Earth Stood Still. The Golightly character, according to the source material, was supposed to be 19, which would give a real pervy vibe to 33 year old Peppard. Wait, Truman Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe to star? That wouldn't have worked!

Hey, Alan Reed (you know, Fred!) is here in the flesh. Buddy Ebsen, in his early fifties, was looking to retire after this movie. Instead he ended up doing nine seasons of The Beverly Hillbillies and eight more of Barnaby Jones. He was north of 90 when he did an episode of King of the Hill. Side fact: he played Barnaby Jones in the terrible Beverly Hillbillies movie.

Breakfast at Tiffany's is a wonderfully shot, acted, and scripted film. It's looks and sounds charming,while being biting social commentary of the day. The city is gorgeous, Hepburn is absolutely charming, and it's slow burn pacing is just about perfect. It isn't without faults however. Most notably is Mickey Rooney's destruction of Japanese dignity. Also, I didn't care for the tacked on Hollywood ending, but I suppose most people didn't mind. AMRU 4.5.
"I've got a wonderful idea. We can spend the whole day doing things we've never done before. We'll take turns. Something you've never done, then me. Course I can't really think of anything I've never done."

Monday, November 23, 2015

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

The Monty Python comedy troupe do a series of interconnected sketches surrounding King Arthur's quest for the Holy Grail. They poke fun of medieval life as subtle commentary on modern life. They forgot to write an ending.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail is one of those films. If you love it, then you love it. It's iconic within its target audience and arguably the most quotable film of all time. It's silly, clumsy, fun, flawed, but the thing that stands out is how every sketch stands up. No soft spots in the bunch.

Here are things you may not know: the face of god was that of a 19th century cricket player. The chain armor was actually wool and the cast was miserably cold during the shoot. The Enchanter's name was Tim because John Cleese forgot his line. The Terry's Jones and Gilliam directed because nobody else wanted to. They didn't get along.

It's the kind of film I should watch once a year. It's been in my personal library for years. AMRU 5.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Great Dictator (1940)

A Jewish barber (Charlie Chaplin) recovers from injuries sustained in a old war to find himself oppressed on the foothills of a new one.

Calling this a thinly veiled take on Hitler isn't quite accurate. Chaplin's Adenoid Hynkel is, directly, Hitler by another name. Just as Napaloni (Dictator of Bacteria) is exactly Musolini. Garbitsch was Joseph Goebbels, and Herring was Hermann Goering.

Chaplin's first proper talkie (his earlier works were sound films, but performed in pantomime), The Great Dictator is both a slapstick comedy and melodrama. The slapstick parts are amusing and quite interesting. We see remnants of the tramp character (retired with Modern Times) as well as notes of the Marx Brothers and Stooges, the big difference being that Chaplin's character is polite and understated.

The change in tone from slapstick to melodrama was jarringly abrupt, making me wonder if Chaplin was undecided which path to take. But when Nazi expansion in Europe is a current event, goofy is a hard sell.

Hollywood did not want this film made and Chaplin had to finance it himself. Why anger a ruthless dictator by calling him out for what he was? Also, the Jewish studio moguls didn't want to call attention to their Jewishness. Considering the climate at the time, this was a very brave act dared by few.

The Great Dictator is a well made, sometimes funny, but important film. It is quoted and referenced more often than you may think. It came out a full year before To Be or Not To Be, which I may give a slight edge to (it certainly balanced the humor element better). and was beat by the Stooge short You Nazty Spy! by less than two months. Consider the years this production required compared to the super tight schedule of a Stooge short.

Chaplin was disappointed that his movie didn't get more respect at the academy awards, nominated five times with no wins. But it could be worse. His hot wife could leave him and marry the Penguin. AMRU 4.

In lieu of a quote, I leave you with a modified version of Chaplin's speech at the finale. Maybe it's a bit of a spoiler, but it's truly inspiring, especially in light of recent events.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Fall of the House of Usher (1949)

Man travels to comfort his troubled friend. There we learn that his family is cursed because dad apparently killed a dude for boning his wife. Wife is now an old hag who stays in the temple where dead dude's head is stored. They try to burn the head, but that doesn't go well. The stone house burns to the ground. Everyone dies, almost.

I skipped a lot of the story, but there's not much to see here. Stilted acting and heavy handed direction, overbearing score and a very made-for-TV feel. The sets were nice but not terribly well photographed. Adapting a Victorian short story to film for a post war audience presents many challenges, and those challenges remained unmet. Sequences that were intended to be dramatic or frightening ended up looking silly. Real MST3K stuff. Short and kinda likable, but clumsy and very skippable. AMRU 2.5.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)

Fair warning: wall to wall spoilers here.

Hot gypsy (Maureen O'Hara) sneaks into Paris, is chased, hides in church, is creeped on by old, politically connected dude, who orders hunchback (Charles Laughton) to capture her. She is rescued, falls in love with dashing knight, does the naughty-naughty with him, he is killed, she is framed, old creep uses goat to convict her, villagers go mad, deus ex machina, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Heavy on the exposition in parts and preachy throughout, this is Hollywood at it's hollywoodiest. Good characters embrace the printing press and the round Earth theory while the bad worry about being cursed by witches. If you don't get the moral at first, don't worry. Soon you will be bludgeoned to death with it. Before I get to what I liked, here is a big thing I had a problem with.

At the end Esmeralda is hiding out in the Church while creepy old dude tries to rescind the law of sanctuary. The Parisians defend the church from capture, and the thieves guild try to rescue her from the church. Lots of carnage and property damage while everyone is trying to PROTECT her! Why must people resort to violence when inflammatory propaganda fliers solve everything?

Despite itself, there were some good acting performances, and the costumes, makeup, and sets (beautifully photographed) were wonderful. Cedrick Hardwicke was great playing the Alan Rickman character. Maureen O'Hara recently passed and I just happened to have this on the DVR, so it got bumped to the front of the queue. Overbearing in tone at times, but very nice visually. AMRU 3.
"I'm about as shapeless as the man in the moon!"

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Hands of Orlac (1924)

The hands of famous pianist Peter Orlac (Conrad Veidt) are crushed in a train accident. Soon he learns that his transplanted hands are from an executed murderer. He becomes destitute because murderer hands cannot play piano.

This Austrian/German production, later remade as Mad Love (1935), was the first adaptation of the source novel. There is at least one more. While Mad Love concentrates on the mad doctor almost to the point of making him the protagonist, The Hands of Orlac focuses on Orlac and the mystery he finds himself in. The movie starts almost with the train accident and dispenses entirely with the creepy doctor's creepy obsession. Instead we see our hero progress quickly into poverty and madness.

Enough overacting and arm waving to make Harold Zoid proud, The Hands are a classic example of German expressionist filmmaking. Director Robert Wiene also directed The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, arguably the first modern horror film. Understanding the visual storytelling of this style of film and pantomime in general, The Hands is an enjoyable watch, assuming you get around the irritatingly atonal score. AMRU 3.5.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Eyes Without a Face (1960)

A brilliant surgeon, remorseful for causing the facial disfigurement of his daughter, kidnaps young women to steal their faces. Things don't go well.

The simple story is filmed in long, slow takes that heighten the drama. Adding that to the tedium or reading subtitles, it did begin to seem hard to watch, but one gets over such things. Doctor Genessier is assisted by Louise (Alida Valli), who sparkled in The Third Man eleven years earlier.

Of all the horror I have watched for this blog, in here is the one scene I found hard to watch. Fans of splatter and torture porn won't be impressed, but this was as uncomfortable as I need to be. It wouldn't have worked in color.

Apparently 1960 was a banner year for revolutionary horror films. Eyes Without a Face was a well made, unsettling, and plausible film. The title became a Billy Idol song and young Christine's mask inspired Michael Myers. AMRU 3.5.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Mad Love (1935)

The famous Dr. Gogol (Peter Lorre) becomes infatuated with the star of a macabre theater production. When he reveals his affection for her, she reveals she's married to the famous pianist Orlac (Colin Clive). The good doctor then reveals how creepy he can be.

Later, Mr. Orlac's hands are crushed in a train accident and the doctors cannot save them. Yvonne begs Dr. Gogol to help, but he fails as well and instead transplants the hands of an executed murdered.

Peter Lorre was, at least in his early years, a truly wonderful actor. He is obsessed but does not start out to do evil. He tries to save the hands of Yvonne's husband to prove his love, then descends into madness. This is his first American film and his performance rivals his from M.

Ted Healy, of Stooge fame, has a small role as a reporter. His reckless mishandling of the Stooges forced them to give him the heave-ho. Alcoholism and a piss-poor attitude resulted in him getting his ass handed to him a bar fight in 1937, death resulting. Colin Clive, also a drinker, died that same year.

The impact of many of the climactic scenes may be credited to director Karl Freund. A prolific and highly respected cinematographer, it has been asserted that it was his camera artistry that saved a very troubled Dracula production. He also has Metropolis on his resume.

Mad Love is a well made, lesser known gem. The story, while not overly complex, offers some clever twists. I found myself thinking back on it for quite a while. I will see it again. AMRU 4.
"Each man kills the thing he loves."

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

The career of young Opera singer Christine Daae is given a boost by a mysterious man known by the performers as The Phantom.

When The Phantom of the Opera was released, the source novel was only about fifteen years old, and this was already the second film adaptation. The first, a German film, is lost. Who knows how many more came afterwards.

This, like many Lon Chaney films, is about obsession. Young Christine is obsessed with stardom, for which she is willing to give up her true love. The Phantom is, of course, obsessed with Christine. She cannot love him because of his horrible disfigurement, if not for his age and creepy subterranean ways. It is a tragic story and the monster is the most tragic.

Here, Chaney sports his most famous and most effective make up. Not just his hideously scared face and mask but also his Red Death costume, resplendent in early colorization. Given time to assemble the pieces, this should be my Halloween costume.

There is room to pick nits with The Phantom of the Opera, but most of them surround title card editing. Despite that and serious on set problems, The Phantom cashed in at the box office. It was a sensation and was re-edited several times. This is Chaney's most famous role and arguably the best version ever filmed. AMRU 4.
"Beneath your dancing feet are the tombs of tortured men! Thus does The Red Death rebuke your merriment!"

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Kid Brother (1927)

Harold Hickory (Harold Lloyd) is the youngest son of the Hickory clan, the most influential family in Hickoryville. They don't include him in their manly dealings and he has to prove himself to them and this girl ... wait, are all silent comedies the same?

Pretty much. OSHA unapproved stunts, "believing in yourself" mantra, and pancake makeup. Only difference between this and a Buster Keaton film is Lloyd's glasses and expressive face. The details of the story don't matter. We root for Harold and laugh at some of the bits. And some of the bits are pretty funny.

Seven of Lloyd's eighteen feature films were talkies. This was his second to last (or penultimate in fancy-talk) silent picture. He did a million shorts. Usually listed third behind Chaplin and Keaton for silent comedians, I was unaware he did as many features as he did.

Heavier on story and lighter on stunts as his other films (or so I am told), this was Lloyd's personal favorite. I mentioned in my last post about Clark Kent being modeled after Cary Grant, but apparently the comic modeled him directly on Lloyd's Glasses character.

Interesting if unoriginal story, funny bits, and well filmed, if a bit tedious, Lloyd is second to Keaton for silent comedians as far as I am concerned. For now, at least. AMRU 3. Way past time I got onto horror, don't you think?
"I do not believe the public will want spoken comedy. Motion pictures and the spoken arts are two distinct arts."

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Bringing Up Baby (1938)

David (Cary Grant) is an awkward anthropologist desperate for a million dollar grant from an old rich lady. His efforts to impress the lady's lawyer is sabotaged by the eccentric Susan (Katharine Hepburn). She takes a fancy to him and manipulates him to miss all appointments, including his own wedding. Oh, yea, and she has a pet leopard.

There are a couple things strange about this film, which may have played into its commercial failure. One is the complete lack of an identifiable protagonist. Everyone is nuts. I didn't think It Happened One Night fit the Screwball Comedy title. It was simply a well done RomCom. Bringing Up Baby, however, is about as screwball as they get. Nobody is sane.

Secondly, there is a traditional role reversal between Grant and Hepburn. It is her money and crazy, manipulative behavior that ensnares the screen candy Grant. She is the fast talking smart aleck. Taking into consideration Hepburn's pantsuit public image, you can read what you wish into that.

Grant's David was modeled after Harold Lloyd's "Glasses Character", and Christopher Reeve based his version of Clark Kent after Grant. Hawks hired vaudevillians to work with Hepburn's comic timing, a skill that would server her well.

Bringing Up Baby was a box office disaster. Director Howard Hawks was fired from his next gig, Hepburn was released and labeled "Box Office Poison", and Grant, well he always comes out on top. It was from rereleases and television that it earned its reputation. For me, it was amusing enough, but the over the top style was a bit of a turn off. Still, AMRU 3.5.
"Because I just went gay all of a sudden!"

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

THX 1138 (1971)

In the future everyone is bald, wears white clothes, is required to take drugs, and cannot experience love. Do you see the dystopian future we are becoming? Are you sure? Do I need to beat you over the head some more? They have telephone numbers for names. The cops are automatons. Cameras watch everyone, all the time. Had enough yet? I could go on! Commercialism! Religious imagery! Ahhh!

George Lucas made a film while in college and somehow got his mentor, Francis Ford Coppola, to fund a big-time version of it. My Star Wars obsessed son had to watch it. He bailed half way through.

The story revolved around THX 1138 (Robert Duvall) who stops taking his pills and falls in love with his computer appointed roommate. They run around, stuff happens, he goes to "jail", there's this hologram who eats, and I don't know what else. The movie is a mess.

I will cut it some slack because it was really a low budget remake of a college film, but the story is heavy handed, hard to follow, and uninteresting. George Lucas directed only six feature length films, four being Star Wars. His legacy will be as a visionary writer and producer, but at best he directed only two good movies. Again, I'll cut him some slack and give this a 2.5.
"If you feel you are not properly sedated, call 348-844 immediately. Failure to do so may result in prosecution for criminal drug evasion."

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Mademoiselle Fifi (1944)

Pretty seamstress Elizabeth (Simone Simon) shares a coach ride with a variety of upper class people during the Franco-Prussian war. When a German officer called Mademoiselle Fifi (yea, the strapping dude played by the dashing Kurt Kreuger had a lady's name - that wasn't properly explained) holds up the coach until she dines with him, the others at first support her defiance. When they realize how much their business interests suffer by her defiance, they convince her to "Dine with" him. She dines with him but the others assume that she "dined with" him, but in reality she just dined with him. They are cold to her when the coach is allowed to continue.

At her destination also arrives the new priest. The old priest would not ring the church bell out of defiance to the Germans. The officers make all the pretty seamstresses wear "lady of quality" dresses so that they can have a party with them. At first Elizabeth defies them but she is convinced by the others that they will lose their jobs if she does not go.

Based on a Guy de Maupassant story (as was the basic premise of Stagecoach), this is a story about people standing up to a threat even though their personal interests are in jeopardy. Something not lost on 1944's France. In the original story Elizabeth was no seamstress and she totally "dined with" Fifi, nudge nudge. Also, the fifi nickname was an implication that he preferred to dine with men.

Hey, look, Batman's Alfred! He was also in Cat People. Also, Jason Robards' father. Lots of contract players here.

This movie hit my radar because it A) was produced by Val Lewton, B) was directed by Robert Wise, and C) starred the adorable Simone Simon. While the sets were excellent and it was wonderfully directed, it was something of a snoozer. Maybe the story resonated better during the war.

Glad I saw it, held my interest, won't see again. AMRU 3.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)

Character from the previous movie needs guzzaline and is alternately trying to be killed by people or enlisted to help others not to be killed. You see, there's these people in a compound that have fuel. These bad guys want in so that they can take the fuel. Max gets involved because, well, he just can't seem to avoid trouble. He don't say much.

I was rather critical of Mad Max and would have been hard pressed to see this one had two things not happened. 1) Fans of the series urged me to see 2 saying it was by far the best of the original three, and 2) I actually saw Fury Road in the theater. Really. An actual theater experience. Go figure. I immediately requested the Blu Ray from the library, as did everyone else in the state. Two months later, it came in. I skipped Thunderdome, for now.

The Road Warrior stands with the best of the 80's action flicks. The action was well paced and creative enough to keep you from visual overload. The story, while not exactly Doctor Zhivago, served the film very well. It stands on it's own perfectly, as it even changes elements from the first. Excellent visual storytelling. AMRU 4. Max 1 was terrible.
"I'm just here for the gasoline."

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Bank Dick (1940)

Egbert Souse' (pronounced Sau-SAY with the accent grave over the E) is a disappointment to his non-loving family. When a film producer complains about his drunken director while in the bar that Egbert frequents, he talks up himself as having worked in Hollywood. So, the producer offers him the job of finishing the film. You know, because that happens.

When two bank thieves scuffle and Egbert is credited with stopped them, he is offered the job as a bank detective (or "DICK" in the vernacular of the time). Why he drops the lucrative Hollywood gig to work in a bank is a mystery.

The next story element I am obliged to tell you about is when Egbert's daughter's boyfriend invests bank funds on a fraudulent mine, they have to keep the bank auditor away until the money can be replaced. Written by Fields, the screenplay is credited to "Mahatma Kane Jeeves", one of his little jokes. My hat, my cane, Jeeves.

The Bank Dick is not completely without laughs, but it isn't chuck full of them. Not painful to watch, but much of the humor doesn't translate. Shemp Howard was wasted as the bartender, given nothing funny to say or do. AMRU 3.
"I'm very fond of children. Girl children, around eighteen and twenty."

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)

Town rich guy has a new steamboat that outclasses the old Stonewall Jackson. The Stonewall's captain, Steamboat Bill, learns that his son (Buster Keaton) is coming to visit. When Bill Jr turns out to be a "dandy", the father tries to toughen him up and teach him the ropes.

Buster Keaton stories are very formulaic, but Keaton's genius is all about his comedic bits and stunts. That's always the love interest, frequently tied to his adversary, that he must prove his worthiness to. He's always the misfit who triumphs in the end (oh, spoiler alert. Sorry about that.) And it's always entertaining because the visual storytelling is excellent.

The stunts more than anything carry Steamboat Bill, Jr. The big one being where the brick facade falls on Buster, positioned perfectly for him to pass unharmed through a second floor window. Real, full weight bricks were used and had he been out of position there would be no second take. Half the crew stayed away not wanting to witness his possible death.

The General still outranks all other Keaton films, but Bill Jr was quite enjoyable. It was the last he did for United Artists, having sold away his soul and creative control for the security of a regular MGM paycheck. That, a worsening alcohol problem, and the radical change brought by sound cinema ended his dominance in Hollywood.

Fun, amusing, and well filmed. AMRU 3.5.
"There's not a jury that would convict you."

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Animal Crackers (1930)

A rich socialite (Margaret Dumont) hosts a party for a famous explorer (Graucho). Marx Brothers antics ensue.

This is my fifth Marx Brothers film and they are little more than variations on the same theme. So, I was surprised somewhat that I could be somewhat surprised by this one. Every now and again would be a scene that was more than a bit strange. In one where Graucho is trying to convince Dumont and another woman to both marry him, he stops, says "Pardon me while I have a strange interlude", then steps forward into an intense and dryly comedic monologue while the women appear not to notice. Quite strange.

In another scene between Graucho's Captain Spaulding and Roscoe Chandler, an art expert, Chandler's Louis Sorin flubs his line. Graucho runs with it creating an almost uncomfortable but amazing moment. All done in long takes.

The Brother's second film is very uneven. Some gags were hilarious while some were tedious. Some songs were tolerable, while others weren't. Cut most of the insipid songs, a couple of the bits, and you'll have a first rate two-reeler. As is, simply on the power of a couple great bits, AMRU 3.5.
"I'm sick of these conventional marriages. One woman and one man was good enough for your grandmother, but who wants to marry your grandmother? Nobody, not even your grandfather."

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)

At the turn of the century, recent widow Lucy (Gene Tierney) rents a seaside house against the wishes of her in-laws and the realtor. Turns out the house is haunted by the salty sea captain (Rex Harrison) who committed suicide there four years earlier. Soon, love blooms.

The Ghost is a romantic drama period film. A post-war remembrance of a simpler time. Gene and Rex both are wonderfully restrained in their performances. Here the ghost-romantic drama was invented, later to be ruined by Ghost.

Anna Lee, right off her success in Bedlam, has a small role. Her on-screen charisma muted to fit the roll. Lucy's daughter is a young Natalie Wood. The Gaelic word "muir", I learned, means "sea", the only woman a sailor can truly love.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is a very well crafted if cloyingly sentimental film. The sets, acting, and dialog is spot on, but there are no mysteries here. If you are surprised where the story leads, then you must hide your own Easter eggs. This movie is exactly what it intends to be. Tone and performances are spot on. Not exactly in my wheelhouse, but enjoyable never-the-less. AMRU 3.5.
"My dear, never let anyone tell you to be ashamed of your figure."

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Logan's Run (1976)

Inhabitants of a domed city lead a decadent life of leisure until they turn 30. Then they are "renewed". By which we mean, killed. Some people, not content with this, choose to "run", by which we mean run. That is where the sandmen come in. Their job is to track down and "terminate" the runners. By which we mean kill. Serves them right for not going to Carrousel.

Sandman Logan 5 (Michael York) is placed on a secret mission to find Sanctuary, the place the runners are escaping to, and destroy it. He asks for help from a chick that wouldn't sleep with him. Together they find a wonderful place with trees, grass, sky, and cats! Hey, and they are in America despite everyone having English accents.

Sci Fi great George Pal was set to produce the film, which makes sense. It's high concept, paper-thin acting, blatant morale, and amazing set pieces fits in well his other work. Unknown to his style would be the brief nudity and many scenes of what I like to call "70's jiggle".

I watched Logan's Run on the big screen 40ish years ago. I had forgotten very little of the story. I also watched the short lived TV show which would be cool to find again. My oldest son is a Sci-Fi buff but I never got him to sit through this with me.

This is considered Farrah Fawcett's breakout role, even though her part was small and her performance forgettable. Also, she had already been in a couple low budget films and a steaming pile of television over the previous seven years. It would take her a few more years to learn to act reasonably well.

The color of the crystal in their left hand represents their age group, as well as dictates the color of their 70's toga-gown. Except the Sandmen, who wear only futuristic cop uniforms. So, why do people start searching for Sanctuary only when the crystal starts blinking? Why don't they start when they are, say, 25? Do they think it doesn't apply to them until they are 29 and 11 months old? That is simply poor planning.

Logan's Run is very dated but enjoyable. The city overview shots showing personal transport looks as if it was lifted by Futurama. In fact several plot points seem to have been recycled. It was landmark science fiction in a world before Star Wars existed. Sci Fi fans should take another look. AMRU 3.5.
"Everything made sense... until Box."

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Music Man (1962)

Travelling salesman (Robert Preston) comes to River City, Iowa to sell the townsfolk band instruments, planning to be gone before they figure out he has no idea how to lead a band or teach music. He sets his eye on the Librarian/music teacher (Shirley Jones) who he learns had made brazen overtures to a much older philanderer/philanthropist. The sadder but wiser girl for him. Things, however, don't go precisely as planned.

Actor Timmy Everett (Tommy, Great Honk!) went on to appear in two episodes of Ben Casey, then call it a career. Fourteen years later he would be gone. In contrast little Ronnie Howard would go on to do everything on earth. Hermione Granger of Potter fame was named after the actress playing the Mayor's wife, Hermione Gingold, in that the actress was named in 1897 and the character was named several years after. Yea, let's go with that.

There is a camp site at scout camp called Wells Fargo thus my boys knew the associated song. My wife and I decided to force them to learn where it comes from. In the process, they found out where Peter Griffin got Shipoopi.

The Music Man is a charming and wonderfully performed film with few faults. The finale isn't contrived or ex-machina in any way. There are no lulls or noticeable weak points, although Hackett's musical number comes close. This film is chuck full of memorable lines, great performances, and charming scenes. Truly, a landmark of Hollywood cinema. AMRU 4.5. Shirley Jones was adorable.
"You watch your phraseology!"

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Blue Dahlia (1946)

When a war hero (Alan Ladd) comes home early to surprise his wife, she surprises him right back (nudge nudge). When he finds out how his son actually died, he considers killing her, but decides she isn't worth it. Later she is found dead by his gun, and he decides to lay low for a while. His army buddies bumble around.

Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake were in seven films together. They had a few things in common. Other than stature, they both died at age 50. While he died of the manly disease of liquor and barbiturates, she died of hepatitis. While he worked in pictures up until the end, she was seldom caught on camera past the age of 30. Her last picture was the terrible Flesh Feast.

Screenwriter Raymond Chandler didn't like Lake much, calling her Moronica Lake, thinking her performance didn't add anything to the movie. She would call herself a sex zombie. Sounds like Chandler was kind of a dink himself, offering to drink himself blind in order to finish the script on time. What a way to take one for the team.

This is the third film I've done to feature Hugh Beaumont of Beaver fame. I actually don't remember him in The 7th Victim. I recognized the voice of suspect number 1 and looked him up. He played Ben Franklin in 1776, my favorite musical ever.

In real life, shortly after the film's release, a young woman named Elizabeth Short was murdered in a particularly grizzly manner. The press labeled it the Black Dahlia murder and it is still unsolved. There is no actual connection to the film.

Blue Dahlia is better than fair film-noir mystery for most of it. Ladd struck the right tone, Lake (the Kristen Stewart of her day) was passable as eye candy with lines, and the supporting cast was interesting. As we approached the finale, the mystery gets muddled. I won't elaborate but suffice to say I have one big pet peeve with mysteries and this one hit it. The reason was because the studio demanded a rewrite of the ending, throwing Chandler for a loop.

Still, better than fair. AMRU 3.5.
"You've got the wrong lipstick on, Mister."

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Shining (1980)

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) takes the position of off season caretaker of the Grand Overlook Hotel. Turns out the former caretaker had some troubles, and those troubles seem to be following Jack and his family. But, as they say, all work and no play ...

Somehow I had managed to miss seeing this horror classic, and while I've watched the famous scenes to death, there was a good deal of the story I did not know. Young Danny (young Danny) has "The Shining", which means he can hear thoughts and pick up impressions left before. And other stuff. He has an imaginary friend named Tony (Redruuuum!) He only had one other acting credit, a TV movie about G. Gordon Liddy. He played young G.

I was thrilled to watch this at Movies on the Block, but towards the end, when Wendy (Shelley Duvall) was at wit's end running from Jack, people laughed. I was offended. I wanted to find Duvall, hug her, and tell her everything is going to be all right. All performances here were stellar, but her's surprised me.

Based on the Stephen King novel, this is a Stanley Kubrick movie, make no mistake. Tone, character, and story elements are changed to agree with the director's genius (King hated his treatment of the material). His attention to detail is legendary, as are his tactics. Duvall was treated poorly on camera and off to give her a beleaguered feeling. The scene on the stairs when she waived a baseball bat, it was said, was done in 127 takes.

There is way too much to say about any Kubrick movie, The Shining in particular, so I will again leave with someone else's video. There is no end to interpretations on its meaning. This is a spectacularly well made horror movie, one of the best in the genre. Room 237 is crap. AMRU 4.5.
"Wendy, I'm home."

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Wizard of Oz (1925)

The rightful queen of the Township of Oz was sent off to Kansas as an infant by the evil Prime Minister Kruel. Prince Kynd demanded the return of Queen Dorathea so Kruel travels to Kansas with the great and powerful charlatan to steal Dorothy's mail once and for all. From there is starts to make less sense.

This version of The Wizard of Oz is a framework for exhibiting vaudeville gags, not a story unto itself. Director and would-be scarecrow Larry Semon runs from the cruel Uncle Henry, is attacked by bees, and creepily try to woo the teenaged Dorothy, seventeen years his junior. (Creepier still, the actors were actually married at the time!) And don't get be started about the duck!

The film, silly and shallow as it is, possesses some interesting visuals. The inclusion of animation with live action, interesting camera tricks, and stunts makes it more ambitious than most of it's era. Ambitious enough, it would seem, to bankrupt the studio before the film's release. Many theaters who ordered prints never received them. But it's rather telling of the story that this 70 minute fantasy was annoyingly tedious. If a gag worked for four minutes, they ran it for ten. Then they began another.

I never read the Baum stories, so I don't know what elements are accurate to the source material, but this flick resembled the Garland extravaganza not in the least. No witches, no munchkins, no slippers, and no Toto too. There is no brick road nor a flying monkey in sight. Several characters travel to Oz (a short plane ride from Kansas), not just Dorothy, and their alter egos (woodsman, scarecrow, lion) were disguises to avoid capture.

Let's talk about our cowardly lion, shall we? Of course he's a black laborer whom we first see sitting in a field eating watermelon with a giant grin. The bar has been raised for racially insensitive films.

Terrible uncle Henry, played by obese Frank Alexander, gets into the good graces of the Evil Prime Minister, and thus earned the title of Prince of Whales. Yea, cuz he's fat. Alexander lived to the ripe old age of 58. A youngish and slim-ish Oliver Hardy played the tin woodsman and scarecrow's romantic rival Dorothy's affections. He had done a huge pile of shorts by then but this was one of his first feature films.

The financial disaster that The Wizard of Oz was spelled the end of Larry Semon's career, and apparently his life. He did another film and a bunch of shorts, but would die in 1928 under unclear circumstances. I'm sure a bottle was involved.

I wanted to like this movie. It did have a lot going for it. But the weakness of the overall narrative and the tediousness of the bits made it fall short. And the samboesque stereotype didn't help. What a way to treat a war veteran. AMRU 2.5.
"I have heard that these alley cats like dark meat - personally, I'm not afraid!"

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Jaws (1975)

A NYC cop (Roy Scheider) takes the job of Chief of Police on a small island. A young girl is killed by a shark, but the townspeople are hesitant to close the beaches because the forth of July is coming and they rely on tourist dollars. After several more attacks, they hire an old salt to hunt the fish down.

Before I continue, allow me to confess that Jaws is one of my essential films. I could go on and on (and on AND ON!) about my personal history with Jaws, but that would bore even me. Just let me say that I read the book before they made the film (even did a book report on it), my parents vacationed on Martha's Vinyard during filming, and the local dive cinema played it the entire summer so I went again and again. I started seeing films at Movies on the Block and brought my family to see Jaws.

Seeing it again, and on the big screen, emphasized that every scene is a masterpiece. Nothing was included that wasn't exceptional. If anyone doubts Spielberg's genius, point to Jaws. He's not infallible, mind you, but there is no improving on this film.

Here's what I found interesting: I remembered every nuance of this film. Every turn of phrase, every meaningful glance. Everything. Ingrained permanently in my grey matter. Susan Backlinie played Chrissie, the first victim. Denise Cheshire played Chrissie when swimming. The two would team up the same way again for 1941. There is so much interesting (to me) trivia about this film that I am incapable of editing myself. Go to IMDb and read it for yourself. Better yet, watch the film, then the video included at the bottom.

Wonderful visual storytelling, pitch perfect dialog, incredible acting, and perfect editing. The only thing that could have made it better would be if the two jack-asses didn't get into a fist fight right at Ben Gardner's big scene. AMRU 5.
"Here's to swimmin' with bow-legged women!"

 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

The good doctor (Peter Cushing) is in prison waiting execution when he tells his story to a priest, and it goes something like this: Young Victor is rich, becomes an rich orphan, is brilliant, hires a tutor, somehow grows older than his tutor, then starts playing with things God did not intend. Then he goes to jail ...

The original took serious liberties with the source material, and Hammer films were threatened with a lawsuit if any of it's story or images were copied. So, we are left with the elements brilliant and privileged scientist, taking science too far, creation of a monster, and bad consequences. Mix elements thoroughly and bake for 45 minutes and you get a new version of Frankenstein. Or Jekyll and Hyde. Same deal.

TCM played a pile of Christopher Lee films a couple weeks after his passing. Because interesting films on TCM come in waves, I had filled my DVR with good stuff and had to be very selective what I saved. This was the lone Lee film that made the cut.

Formal, stilted acting, mostly unoriginal story, and a complete lack of actual scares or surprises is mostly saved by decent set design and photography, and Lee's performance. Very much a Hammer production. AMRU 3.5.
Christopher Lee: "I've got no lines!"
Peter Cushing: "You're lucky. I've read the script."

Monday, July 20, 2015

Rashomon (1950)

A travelling Samurai is murdered, his wife is raped, and the man responsible is captured. At the trial, several different versions of how the events unfolded come to light. Exactly, what did happen?

Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon is an enigma. Not quite understood in Japan or America, but loved nonetheless. The Academy Award for best foreign language film, maybe, was created specifically for this film. This is what made Kurosawa an international filmmaker. It is marvelous storytelling, wonderfully shot, and edited to perfection. All hallmarks of the director.

Frequently described as telling the same story from different "perspectives", but make no mistake: all but one version (at best) are lies. The viewer must tease out the agenda of each version to maybe piece together some semblance of truth. Once each story is told, and the character's true nature further revealed, then you must reevaluate what you think you know.

It's not quite accurate to say Rashomon would stand up to a second viewing. It absolutely demands one. The story and characters, despite being alien in time and culture, read true to American audiences. I can't say how I would feel off the film after a second time, but for now AMRU 4.
"It's human to lie. Most of the time we can't even be honest with ourselves."

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Batman (1943)

Bruce Wayne, posing as a useless playboy, goes under cover as the Batman for Uncle Sam. A Japanese scientist (J. Carrol Naish) uses mind controlling electronics to steal radium so that he can make a big gun to free the enslaved people of America from their corrupt way of life. Or something like that.

Before the Adam West series there was this World War II serial, the first live action depiction of the caped crusader. While I am without any particular affinity for the character, I do like movie serials, and Batman is a particularly good one. Lewis Wilson was cheeky and heroic, and only eight years older than the dad-bodied West even though he came 23 years earlier.

Allow me to summarize just about every episode: "Jap spy" Daka, having recruited various gangster-types, enact various plots for the destruction of America. From his secret lair he tries to steal radium, blow up a bridge, steal a plane, and hijack a mine. Batman interferes, gets into lots of fist fights, and disrupts the plan. Some henchmen are captured, but Daka stays at large. The baddies, along with the more gullible of the audience, believe that Batman is at last killed. Amazingly, he survives each episode. Oh, spoiler alert.

Here's whats interesting: The dynamic duo return from the bat cave by climbing out of a grandfather clock. No bat pole in evidence. Also missing is the Batmobile. Alfred chauffeurs our heroes both in and out of costume. In the first episode the bad guys get away using a color shifting car. Using clever shading, the car appears to transition from white to black. That was fairly cool given the budget. It is unclear why hottie Linda Paige bothered with Wayne, who carefully hid away his heroics. Only in it for the money, apparently. She would later do battle with It! Boy Wonder Douglas Croft did not live to see the Adam West version.

Some of the sillier elements include the Lockheed engineering room resembling a boathouse and their security being nothing more than goon standing outside of a fenced area. In one episode the homeland transmits a message to Daka using the highest tech of all communication devices: a dead guy. Also Daka's lair includes not only radium guns and a mind control device, but also a giant Buddha.

If you are sensitive to racial epitaphs, you may find cause to be offended. The primary antagonist was called a slant-eyed or shifty-eyed Jap from time to time. Most of that comes from the bad guys, however, and they don't get the best of it. I can overlook this because we were at war with Japan at the time, and this sort of thing was a sign of the time.

Batman completionists must see it. Batman purists (if there is such a thing) may be annoyed. Because I enjoy serials, and because this one was a rather well done, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The opening theme was very reminiscent of radio serials which I listened to as a kid (no, I'm not THAT old!) Batman and Robin, made six years later, might be aired later this summer. TCM's schedule is rather vague sometimes. Columbia went with an entirely different cast for that one. AMRU 3.5.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Time Machine (1960)

Victorian inventor George (Rod Taylor) discovers a way to move forward and back in the fourth dimension - time. His friends scoff at the notion, and weary of man using his ingenuity to kill more people, he chooses to move forward into a more enlightened time. He learns from a mannequin across the street the horrors of The Great War, then of WWII, then WWIII in 1966.

Because nuclear war has caused vulcanism, the time machine is trapped underground and our hero must wait until the new mountain is worn away before he can stop. When he does, it's the year 800 thousand something and he finds an idyllic setting where everyone is blond and nobody has a care in the world. In fact, when one is drowning in the river, nobody in the world cares. Except George.

After rescuing her, because she's hot, he soon learns that the pretty, empty headed surface dwellers live in fear of the ugly troll-like people who live deep in underground datacenters. Or whatever. Time for a revolution!

Can't go wrong with George Pal. Visually appealing, family friendly, but with a touch of social commentary. The practical effects may appear slightly cheesy today, but they were state of the art, and quite visionary. It won the Oscar for effects and was nominated for a Hugo. The Twilight Zone won.

There is a panel on the time sled that reads invented by H. George Wells, meaning that the protagonist IS the author of the source material. That's a cool detail. Young hot Yvette Mimieux was underage when filming began and turned 18 during the shoot.

One can quibble about time travel paradoxes and issues with the story, but this is a story about man using his ingenuity for destruction and it's ultimate fate when he turns it's back on learning, so keep your nits! The movie is fairly thin and moralistic, but it is wonderfully crafted, visually interesting, and edited to perfection. Rod Taylor's performance was perfect for the story. AMRU 3.5.
"Which three books would you have taken?"