Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Scarlet Claw (1944)

Holmes and Watson are in Quebec listening to a lecture on the occult by Lord Penrose. The small Canadian town of La Mort Rouge where the Lord is from has a folk tale where people and livestock were mysteriously killed, their throats ripped out. The Lord takes an important phone call and learns that his wife was murdered in exactly the same way. He uses this fact to thumb his nose at that smug skeptic Sherlock.

Penrose doesn’t want Holmes snooping around but Sherlock received a letter from the deceased asking for his help, so he investigates. There are many suspicious characters in this small town and Holmes (Basil Rathbone) and his trusted assistant Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce) are on the case.

There are a couple ways The Scarlet Claw resembles The Hound of the Baskervilles, which is actually mentioned early in the film. The primary being where a murderer uses old legends to cover his crimes -- OH I’M SORRY DID YOU THINK REAL GHOSTS AND MONSTERS WERE AT PLAY? MAYBE I SHOULD HAVE ISSUED A SPOILER WARNING! -- There are other similarities but I shan’t share.

What makes this episode slightly better and recent ones is that you don’t actually know who the bad guy is, and there are many suspects. One complaint I do have is that Holmes doesn’t seem terribly adept at preventing additional murders, arriving just after the nick of time.

Hey, look! It’s Ian Wolf! That guy was in everything … blah blah blah. I also recognized the name Kay Harding, but she was only in one other film I saw, another Sherlock. She was only in seven films.

You know, I’m starting to feel sorry for Watson. Sure, he’s full of bluster. He overshares in front of suspects, stumbles around, and here gets stuck in the mud. But he’s a real doctor (even gets to do some actual doctoring this time), is fiercely loyal, and always answers the call. Here he was twice referred to as Holmes’ “assistant” and is teased by Sherlock himself. Just not fair. Let’s give good old John Watson, MD some credit, shall we?

This episode lands on a higher note than the previous. It had atmosphere, excellent character performances, and real mystery. AMRU 3.5.
“Aw, what you need is more faith and less imagination!”

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The Gold Rush (1925)

Prospectors face difficult times seeking gold in the Klondike. Amongst them is our little Tramp, who gets himself into predicaments and falls in love.

Production began with Lita Grey as the romantic lead, who was only sixteen at the time and first met Chaplin when she was just twelve. So, he started doing the sex thing and she became pregnant. Funny how that happens. They were forced to get married which delayed production for a few months. He recast the lead with Lita’s friend, Georgia Hale, with whom he started doing the sex thing. At least she was an adult.

Chaplin recut the film in 1942, rewriting the title cards, reorganizing some scenes, added a synchronized score, and even cutting short a long kiss with Hale, with whom he was no longer doing the sex thing. The copy I watched was a best effort to recreate the original 1925 version.

In the end Charlie gets the girl (and you had no doubt) and comes out on top. Unlike The Kid which had real emotional gravity and great performances, there is little to draw you in here. The last of the great Chaplin films, I have to say I never found him particularly funny. But before I trash Chaplin, let me explain where I am coming from. The Gold Rush is an “all time great film”. The fifth highest grossing silent film, selected by the National Film Registry, and on everyone’s top whatever list. These are high standards. But it’s not even on my personal top ten SILENT films list, let alone an all time great. Apart from the Dancing Rolls bit, which was pretty good, I wasn’t charmed.

The Tramp meets up with a big burly prospector as well as a big burly outlaw. Little Charlie is the butt of all the jokes, runs some scams of his own, and wins the heart of a woman who literally treats him like garbage. It’s not a bad film by any stretch. It’s entertaining for the most part, but not a masterpiece of cinema. I won’t need to see it again. AMRU 3. Watch Buster Keaton.

Friday, September 20, 2019

The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

An Xperimental rocket lands in an English farm. What went up with three astronauts came down with only one and two empty space suits. Our heroic pilot Victor can't talk to explain what happened. Chaos reigns as things go from bad to worse.

The spelling of Xperiment is explained by this being the first Sci-Fi film to earn an X rating. Apparently that meant something different in 1955 Britain. British films lacked the polish and style of Hollywood which gives them a certain charm. Another difference is their choice for protagonist. In America he would be a young hotshot or a thirty-something hunk, with a love interest either way. Here he’s a fifty-something bombastic professor who bullies everyone into doing what he wants. In real life he would have been taken into custody on day one.

Here we find that annoying Sci-Fi trope where the mystery is explained by two minutes of speculative, ridiculous exposition that makes sense to nobody, and the audience is expected to accept it without question. Nothing further happens in the film to support or better explain this hypothesis.

The Quatermass Xperiment was based on a TV mini-series and spawned a series of TV and feature film sequels. They tried rebooting it in 2005 to less than spectacular results. It’s interesting, maybe counter intuitive, to continually make feature film versions of television productions, but that’s what seems to have happened here. Don’t we usually do it the other way around? TV and film reboots happened so often I’m not certain they are part of the same Quatermass universe.

Let’s get back to what a jerk our hero really is. Quatermass launches the rocket without authorization because he's impatient. And every decision he makes along the way seems to be incidental to the safety and well being of the people around him. How is this our hero?

1950’s British level production quality, interesting concept, short enough not to bore me. Pilot Victor's makeup was creepily effective (although wife didn't mention anything about his looks) and the final monster was quite good. The story? Well, it was almost interesting enough to be a Dr. Who episode. AMRU 3.

Monday, September 16, 2019

The Spider Woman (1943)

The Pajama Suicides plague London but Holmes (Basil Rathbone) is out fishing. It seems his heart just isn’t in it anymore. Then he dies. Roll credits.

Just kidding. Obviously Holmes isn’t dead and these suicides are actually murders, but you already knew that. I wonder if a woman and a spider play a role in all of this.

It’s been over a year since my last Sherlock film and I’d like to finish them off at some point. Spider Woman makes ten of fourteen if I count correctly. Another is coming soon leaving three. They all have a certain consistency. A similar level of low grade humor, low grade mystery, and a bit of charm. Some better than others, and this one tends towards the others.

First, there is no mystery here. We know who the villain is, she (not fooled for a second about that death ruse) knows that Holmes is onto her. Seriously, he should just give up on those stupid disguises. We also know the why of the crimes. With old rich dudes, money is always the motive. All we have to figure out is the hows and this film gives us too few clues to piece it together. Spoiler alert, it involves a dwarf in blackface. Didn’t see that coming!

Pretty Gale Sondergaard plays a better than fair villain. She appeared in Bob Hope’s The Cat and the Canary and the completely unrelated Spider Woman Strikes Back, as well as a large number of genre pictures. She would retire at the cusp of 50 because she was blacklisted. After twenty years away she staged a minor comeback appearing in four more films before her death.

The Spider Woman offers fairly little. Generic Holmes and Watson story, tired plot lines, and nothing new. Worse yet part is set in a carnival. Hasn’t Holmes done that before? Can’t remember. Also, they get the science of spiders so very wrong. Still, it’s fairly short and holds your interest throughout. AMRU 3. Oh, and I really feel The Pajama Suicides would have been a better title.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

The Killers (1946)

A simple gas station attendant (Burt Lancaster) is killed by hit men. Why? An insurance investigator decides to investigate. Slowly Swede's life is revealed piece by piece.

Ok, so I watched The Killers (1946) because I confused it with The Killing (1956). Get your yuks out now. Both are film-noir and both highly rated. Killing was on my radar because it was directed by Stanley Kubrick but Killers should probably have been as well.

Lancaster was not the producer’s first choice. An ex-acrobat who learned acting in the USO, he had zero screen credits. Choices one and two were unavailable, so they went with the 32 year old complete unknown. When the rushes came back they realized they made the right choice. Top billing in his first Hollywood film and a star is born.

Adapted from an Ernest Hemingway short story, it was the only adaptation he personally approved of, although much of the film is original. Maybe that’s why it centers around the Killed and not the ones who did the Killing. Ava Gardner played the femme fatale whom we all remember from The Barefoot Contessa and nobody remembers from Shadow of the Thin Man. Killers is her highest rated film but I am curious to see Night of the Iguana, if for no other reason than because it has a cool name. Edmond O’Brien plays the investigator. He also was in Contessa, and in Seven Days in May with both Burt and Ava. He shows up in quite a few films I’ve seen and want to. I will keep an eye out for him in the future. Phil Brown plays a small speaking role. If you’re unfamiliar then someone must have taken you to Anchorhead and had your memory erased.

All in all a very interesting story. Told in chronological flashback, Swede’s story holds your interest and the ending pays off. It’s a well done noir and worth a second watch. AMRU 4.
“Don't ask a dying man to lie his soul into Hell.”