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.