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Archive for October, 2008

Cinema's original witching hour

Cinema's original witching hour

Sam and Allan wish everyone a happy Halloween tonight.  May you be scared out of your wits as much as your heart desires.  Sam will be spending the evening, as usual, on his porch, giving out candy bars to the sugar-deprived moppets of Fairview, while Allan will be at home preparing to scare the little bleeders to death who dare knock on his door asking for cash (curmudgeonly swine!).

Viewing for both tonight will have a themed look to it.  Sam will make up his mind when he recovers from his strenuous few hours sitting down.  Allan has already decided two of his viewings, one of which heads this piece, and the other is his review of the day (his numerical countdown for the 1930s will resume over the weekend).

Now, Sam must prepare his kids’ costumes, Allan must prepare his meanest look (will take him around 9 seconds).

Fantasia - the Night on Bald Mountain - imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Fantasia - the Night on Bald Mountain - imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

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by Sam Juliano

     The late 50′s in television ushered in a bevy of television anthology shows, of which The Twilight Zone, its sixties successorThe Outer Limits and Alfred Hitchcock Presents were the most famous and most durable in later reruns.  These programs were invariably committed to fantasy, science fiction and the supernatural, and they forged careers for many actors who sought to make their mark in shows that featured different actors every week.  At around the same time, NBC was putting together their own entry, and the venture was initially assigned to network executive Hubbell Robinson.  One of Robinson’s most vital decisions-one that would later determine the eventual direction of the series-was the choice of host.  Since an anthology series presents a different cast of characters each week, the host is the only continuing “character” as such, and thus provides a strong thread of continuity.  Alfred Hitchcock of course embodied the essential concept of his series, as did Robert Montgomery in another program, so Robinson was led to believe that a “name” star would give his show the proper launching and sustaining ‘hook.’  In this respect, Robinson made a superb choice.  He selected Boris Karloff.  By selecting Karloff as host of Thriller, Hubbell Robinson immediately provided the series with a warmly remembered screen icon whose very name was synonymous with horror.  Karloff’s introductions established the proper mood of mystery and intrigue from the outset, and his tag line “As sure as my name is Boris Karloff, This is a Thriller! became a memorable catch-phrase.  The show was intended to be a ‘mystery anthology’ but, as Gary Gerani and Paul H. Schulman recount in their book Fantastic Television, this was the first of several mistakes.  Robinson’s description of Thriller, though high-sounding was actually vague.  Consequently there developed between Robinson, producer Fletcher Markle and associate producer-story editor James P. Cavanaugh a running ideological battle over the nature of the series.  Where, for example, does a thriller end and a horror tale begin?  What about black comedy?  Is graphic violence necessary to a crime story?  There were many differences in taste and concept, and as the production deadline drew nearer, tensions escalated.  A bright producer named Fletcher Markel, wanted to make the show a film noir, and wanted to follow the style of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.  After just a few episodes Markel was replaced and the show’s concept was then to go in two directions: the ‘crime story’ and ‘the horror tale.’  Maxwell Shane took over the crime episodes while Bill Frye handled the horror.  Frye, of course directed the classic Thriller episodes remember today, losing none of their power in close to 50 years.  The show, which ran for a season and a half from 1960 to 1962 was called by Stephen King “the greatest horror series ever to air on television,” and it was Frye’s episodes that gave cause for such extravagent praise. (more…)

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Julian Carswell - no clown he

Julian Carswell - no clown he

 

by Allan Fish

(UK 1957 96m) DVD1

Aka. Curse of the Demon

Cherry ripe, cherry ripe…

p  Frank Bevis  d  Jacques Tourneur  w  Charles Bennett, Hal E.Chester  story  “Casting the Runes” by M.R.James  ph  Ted Scaife  ed  Michael S.Gordon  m  Clifton Parker  art  Ken Adam

Dana Andrews (Dr John Holden), Peggy Cummins (Joanna Harrington), Niall McGinnis (Dr Julian Carswell), Athene Seyler (Mrs Carswell), Brian Wilde (Rand Hobart), Maurice Denham (Prof.Henry Harrington), Ewan Roberts (Lloyd Williamson), Liam Redmond (Prof.Mark O’Brien), Reginald Beckwith (Mr Meek), Charles Lloyd Pack (chemist),

It has been written from the beginning of time, even unto these ancient stones, that evil supernatural creatures exist in a world of darkness.  And it is also said, man, using the magic power of the ancient runic symbols, can call forth these powers of darkness, the demons of hell.”  The opening words, spoken over a shot of Stonehenge, may slip ever so slightly into the over-emphatic world of the corny, almost into the realm of the straight-faced spoof.  Yet the director whose name comes up on the opening credits should be ample enough warning that this is no spoof.  Here was the great Jacques Tourneur’s last dip into the black light of night, the world that had so dominated his earlier horror classics for Val Lewton, Cat People and I Walked With a Zombie, and it deserves its place in any list of the great horror films produced in the British Isles, indeed in the world as a whole. (more…)

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by Marco Tremble

Another of Hammer’s firsts was it’s 1968 feature The Plague of Zombies, their one and only film to deal with these creatures immortalised by another horror maestro George A. Romero in his ongoing and often badly copied Living Dead saga.   Originally issued as the “B-Feature” to one of their other better known 1965 efforts Dracula Prince of Darkness and having no recognisable star, this film is superior in every way. Directed by John Gilling who was responsible for the other Hammers The Reptile, which was incidentally filmed back to back and used some of the same sets as The Plague of Zombies and another of Hammer’s Mummy saga The Mummy’s Shroud, and some of the classic 60′s TV shows The Saint and The Champions.  

Starring Andre Morell, Watson to Cushing’s Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles, Brook Williams the ill fated Sgt Harris from Where Eagles Dare and Jacqueline Pearce, better known to British viewers for her ongoing role of Servelan in the long running British Science Fiction series Blake’s 7 and Hammer perennial Michael Ripper. The villain of the piece is provided by John Carson, a veteran of British television who also starred in one of the later Hammer offerings Captain Kronos: Vampire Killer.   (more…)

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Duelling banjos!

Duelling banjos!

by Allan Fish

(USA 1933 68m) DVD1/2

Hail Freedonia, Hail Groucho!

p  Herman J.Mankiewicz  d  Leo McCarey  w  Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby, Arthur Sheekman, Nat Perrin  ph  Henry Sharp  ed  LeRoy Stone  m/ly  Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby  art  Hans Dreier, Wiard B.Ihnen

Groucho Marx (Rufus T.Firefly), Harpo Marx (Brownie), Chico Marx (Chicolini), Zeppo Marx (Bob Rolland), Margaret Dumont (Mrs Teasdale), Louis Calhern (Ambassador Trentino), Raquel Torres (Vera Marcal), Edgar Kennedy (Lemonade stall man), Leonid Kinskey (Agitator),

Just like the contemporary W.C.Fields, the Marx Brothers have been the subjects of a modern day cult, in no small way down to the championing and homages of Woody Allen in the seventies, and Duck Soup is their greatest film.  However, the film was originally a failure and caused them to leave Paramount, where they had done much of their best work, and go elsewhere. 

The Marxes had first come to the screen in two adaptations of their stage shows, The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers.  Their next original features, Monkey Business and Horse Feathers, dropped the long suffering Dumont in favour of the sexy Thelma Todd, who added real glamour but then left to partner Laurel and Hardy.  These were all popular, but Duck Soup was not just the typical mix of Marxian insanity for insanity’s sake.  Marx Brothers comedies of this age are almost surreal in their gags, not just funny, and Duck Soup is no different.  Its reasons for failure have been well documented in divers books, but it must also be borne in mind that it wasn’t just a comedy as, whether deliberately or not (probably not), it was also a razor sharp satire of not only war but of financial deficits and borrowing.  Satire is generally not received well by your average audience.  Most modern audiences, for example, would rather have American Pie than a dozen Elections. Or maybe it might have simply been because Harpo never played his harp.  Who knows? (more…)

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Something very wicked this way comes - form a circle!

Something very wicked this way comes - form a circle!

by Marco Tremble

This film was the first of Hammer’s two Dennis Wheatley adaptations and also has another important first for a Hammer movie. It is the first and only Hammer where regular leading man Christopher Lee plays the hero in the form of the Duc de Richleau, ex-world war one fighter pilot and and expert on the occult.   In this foray into the darkness Mr. Lee is accompanied by another British leading man more known for his singing voice than his horror roles, Leon Greene better known to fans of “Comedy Tonight” as Miles Gloriosus from A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum. As well as a very young Patrick Mower and Paul Eddington who is better known for his roles in The Good Life and Yes Minister on TV.   (more…)

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Something wicked this way comes...

Something wicked this way comes...

by Allan Fish

(USA 1942 73m) DVD1/2 (France only)

Moya sestra, moya sestra!

p  Val Lewton  d  Jacques Tourneur  w  De Witt Bodeen  ph  Nicholas Musuraca  ed  Mark Robson  m  Roy Webb  art  Walter E.Keller, Albert S.d’Agostino

Simone Simon (Irina Dubrovna), Kent Smith (Oliver Reed), Tom Conway (Dr Judd), Jane Randolph (Alice Moore), Jack Holt (Commodore), Alan Napier (Carver), Elizabeth Dunne (Miss Plunkett), Elizabeth Russell (the cat woman),

Situated exactly at the crossroads between horror and film noir, Cat People was the first of Val Lewton’s memorable series of forties thrillers made at RKO.  Cheap, often on recycled sets (this one utilising the memorable Amberson mansion staircase) and with often B movie casts, they were a wonderfully experimental series in horror movie history, though in actual fact it can be argued that they were noirs in all but their subject matter.  Visually, they are very much akin to the hardnosed thrillers that characterised that genre.  If I had to pick one I’d say I Walked With a Zombie would be the masterpiece of the strain, but Cat People remains a bona fide classic for horror aficionados.  (more…)

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and no 14…

by Allan Fish

(China 1934 77m) DVD0 (US special order)

Aka. Shen nu 

A mother such as this

p  Luo Mingyou  d/w  Wu Yonggang  ph  Hong Weilie  art  Wu Yonggang

Ruan Lingyu, Zhang Zhizhi, Li Keng, Li Junpan, Tian Jian,

The Goddess truly is a tragic film in many ways, one that cannot help but leave one mournful on any number of levels; firstly on account of its melancholy plot, secondly on account of it representing a national cinema soon to be snuffed out so violently by the Japanese in 1937, and finally as a memorial to that Eastern goddess (in the worshipful sense, not the euphemism from which this film gets its title) Ruan Lingyu.  Nowadays, she’s more famous for being the actress that Maggie Cheung played in Stanley Kwan’s Actress than for her films themselves.  Yet in her time she was as popular in Shanghai as Garbo was in Hollywood and, upon her tragic death only a year later (a suicide), mourned like Valentino.  For years it was impossible to see what all the fuss was about, her films seemingly flickered out for ever like the gas lamps of the Shanghai she knew so well.  She made other fine films – such as Love and Duty and Little Toys (covered later) – but The Goddess is often referred to as her definitive role and is also one of the few available for consumption.  All one can say is, eat your heart out Stella Dallas.  (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

     Ah, woe/Woe is me/Shame and sorrow for the family.

 

    It has been argued in scholarly cinematic circles that “there are two Lewton masterworks: I Walked With A Zombie (visually the more eloquent and elegant) and The Seventh Victim (the more poetic and profound).”  It has furthermore been argued that “Neither film employs a conventional narrative structure although the subjects, voodoo and devil worship, are the stuff of traditional horror movies.”  For both films Lewton formulated a mosaic-like structure that doesn’t so much as present a full story than suggest it’s “possibilities.”  Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthasar  would be an example of this practice, as it eschews conventional narrative for possibilities that the audience is expected to connect on.

     The same theme seems to prevail in Lewton’s films: the power of reason vs. the power of obscurity.  The concerns are given the same attention, but Lewton, a studied man with a literary slant, is in essence a measured artist whose greatest gift was always reveling in the humanity of his characters, a gift that once won effusive praise from the great critic James Agee.  Hence it is assumed that the powers of darkness will in the end be negated by rational thinking.  Perhaps the most startling element in I Walked With A Zombie, the second in his famous low-budget horror series, is that diabolical forces emerged victorious at the film’s conclusion. (more…)

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number 15…

by Allan Fish

(Brazil 1931 113m) not on DVD

The unknown masterpiece

d/w  Mario Peixoto  ph  Edgar Brasil  ed  Mario Peixoto  m  Sergei Prokofiev, Claude Debussy, Erik Satie, Igor Stravinsky, etc.

Taciani Rei, Paul Schnoor, Olga Breno, Brutus Pedreira, Iolanda Bernardes, Carmen Santos, Mario Peixoto,

It isn’t often a film connoisseur can count himself privileged to have seen a film, but Mario Peixoto’s seminal avant garde silent classic is one such occasion.  It was none other than Georges Sadoul who famously called it “the unknown masterpiece“, and added in a footnote that he travelled to Brazil to see the film, only to get nowhere, told that Peixoto had retired to a desert island and was hiding it.  Filmed in 1930, it remained largely unseen after its premiere on May 17th 1931, and didn’t start turning up again until championed by the likes of compatriot Glauber Rocha and shown publicly in the 1970s.  It topped two polls from Brazilian film bodies, the last in 1995, as the best Brazilian film ever made.  What is most incredible of all is that, firstly, the film was made by a 21 year old, and, secondly, it was his only film.  Like Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter, Fernand Léger’s Ballet Mécanique and Clive Brook’s On Approval, one of only four films in this list whose directors only directed that single movie.  (more…)

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