Archive for October, 2008


by Sam Juliano

Terrence McNally’s plays Master Class and Love! Valour! Compassion! enjoyed long and successful tenures on Broadway, while a few others have thrived for modest runs.  Nothing of the famed playwright, however, has attracted the kind of controversy that his Corpus Christi did when it first appeared in 1998, on the day before the gay teenager Matthew Shepherd was killed in Laramie, Wyoming.  Angry Bible-toting protesters picketed the Manhattan Theatre Club, where the original production debuted, and issued death threats to producers for the work’s centerpiece depiction of Jesus and his disciples as gay men.  The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights issued written protests and others called for the demise of the author and the extermination of the production’s staff.  For that 1998 run, there were purportedly metal detectors at the entrances, and a long line of gay-bashes holding signs that brandished warnings like “Terrence McNally Sodomizes Jesus–And Your Mother Is Next.”   The tumultuous reception overshadowed the artistic worth of the piece, and there were immediate parallels drawn with the untimely death of the teen, a similitude that invariably linked the two, (the play and the killing) to the present open acknowledgement by the producers, who regularly donate some of the proceeds to the Matthew Shepherd Fund, an organization that promotes gay rights.     

Basically, the medial concern of Corpus Christie (which is named after McNally’s hometown of Corpus Christie, Texas) is that all people are the children of God, and as opposed to drudges who are mortified by the punishment of a vengeful deity, these Christians adhere to the belief that all human beings are blessed.  While McNally is a devout Catholic, he consistently opposed the church’s repudiation of homosexuality, and sought to accentuate orientational equality by portraying Jesus as a “gay Everyman.”       (more…)

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the next in the series, no 16

by Allan Fish

(France 1934 89m) DVD1/2

Aka. Le Chaland qui Passe

We’re on the canals to sail all day!

p  J.L.Nounez-Gaumont  d  Jean Vigo  w  Jean Guinée, Jean Vigo, Albert Riera  ph  Boris Kaufman, Louis Berger  ed  Louis Chavence  m  Maurice Jaubert  art  Francis Jourdain

Jean Dasté (Jean), Dita Parlo (Juliette), Michel Simon (Père Jules), Giles Margarites (Peddler), Louis Lefébvre (Cabin boy), Fanny Clair (Juliette’s mother), Raphael Diligent (Juliette’s father), Jacques Prévert, Pierre Prévert,

There can be fewer better loved films in the history of French cinema than Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante.  For many years, even decades, it was the sole seen example of his work, the single flickering flame that burnt to his cinematic memory.  Now that his earlier shorter works are available, it makes L’Atalante not seem quite such a privilege…at least in that sense.  Anyone, however, who does not feel privileged to have seen it, is without a cinematic soul.

Such as it is, the story follows the fortunes of a young couple as they prepare to get married, finally do so, and retire to the groom’s barge – where he is the captain – for an alternative honeymoon period.  Bliss soon gives way to exasperation and frustration, sexually and otherwise, with the lack of privacy.  When on shore leave, our young wife is charmed by a peddler with the gift of the gab who dazzles her with tales of the bright lights of Paris.  Soon sick of her life, she jumps ship to seek something more than water everywhere.  Her devastated husband contemplates suicide, even trying to drown himself, before his friend realises enough is enough and goes off to find the stray wife.  (more…)

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The next in the series…

by Allan Fish

(USA 1934 109m) DVD1/2

Empress Marlene

p/d  Josef Von Sternberg  w  Manuel Komroff  diary  Catherine the Great  ph  Bert Glennon  ed  Josef Von Sternberg  m  Felix Mendelssohn, P.I.Tchaikovsky, Richard Wagner  art  Hans Dreier, Peter Balbusch, Richard Kollorsz  cos  Travis Banton

Marlene Dietrich (Sophia Frederica/Catherine the Great), John Lodge (Count Alexei), Sam Jaffe (Grand Duke, later Peter III), Louise Dresser (Tsarina Elizabeth), C.Aubrey Smith (Prince August), Gavin Gordon (Gregory Orloff), Jameson Thomas (Lt.Ostvyn), Marie Sieber (Princess Sophia Frederica as child),

If one had to pick one sequence to represent the Hollywood of the pre Hays Code, what would it be?  Colbert up to her nipples in asses milk in The Sign of the Cross?  The ‘Pettin’ in the Park’ number from Gold Diggers of 1933?  Miriam Hopkins under the covers in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde?  Sorry, but no.  For me the most censorable piece of pre-code cinema is the montage of torture that comes in the opening few minutes of Von Sternberg’s visual zenith to represent the reprisals of the old Tsarina.  In this sequence we see various naked women emerging from Iron Maidens, tied face up on wheels of pain (where the camera moves quick enough to disguise the fact that the woman is full frontal, if shaven), and even burned at the stake, four at a time.  No wonder the Hays Code saw 1934 as the last straw, you might say, but at least the nudity was pictorial, and less shocking by far than the inherent sadism on view.  But the fact remains that The Scarlet Empress is many things; a hagiography of its star, a paean to silent cinema’s visual sensibilities, an insight into the use of sex in power struggles, an all-out assault on Hollywood censorship and the final statement on cinematic artificiality.  The film bombed, as it was wont to do, but it remains the supreme piece of visual blasphemy ever perpetrated by a major studio. (more…)

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Another Bit of Fun

Same rules as usual, guys…

Played Big Babe Lazich, Hecky Brown and Max Bialystock, saidAn honest virgin, what a terrible combination!and went on the run with Jack Palance.

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The next in the series of the top 25…

by Allan Fish

(USA 1935 75m) DVD1/2

A new world of gods and monsters!

p  Carl Laemmle Jnr  d  James Whale  w  John L.Balderston, William Hurlblut  novel  Mary Shelley  ph  John Mescall  ed  Ted J.Kent  m  Franz Waxman art  Charles D.Hall, Kenneth Strickfaden (apparatus design)  spc  John P.Fulton  make-up  Jack Pierce

Boris Karloff (Monster), Colin Clive (Henry Frankenstein), Ernest Thesiger (Dr Septimus Praetorius), Valerie Hobson (Elizabeth), E.E.Clive (Burgomaster), Una O’Connor (Minnie), O.P.Heggie (Blind Hermit), Elsa Lanchester (Mary Shelley/Monster’s Mate), Gavin Gordon (Lord Byron), Douglas Walton (Percy Shelley), Dwight Frye (Karl), Lucien Prival, Mary Gordon, John Carradine, Walter Brennan, Anne Darling, Billy Barty,

The Bride of Frankenstein is that rarest of beasts, in more ways than one.  It’s a masterpiece that improves on an original that was a classic in itself, a feat that can be counted on the digits of one hand. So much more than a horror film, it’s a spoof of the original, a spoof of itself, a religious allegory and a cry out for humanity in a dark, cruel world.  “It’s a perfect night for mystery and horror, the air itself is filled with monsters” Mary Shelley tells us before narrating the tale in the prologue, and she’s right.   

            Opening on a stormy night at the actual historical meeting of Mary and Percy Shelley with Lord Byron, Mary tells the others how her story of Frankenstein actually ended.  Taking up where the original left off, the monster is left burning in the windmill and the villagers return home.  However, the monster is not dead at all, returns and, hoodwinked by the sinister Dr Pretorius, convinces Frankenstein to make him a mate to help make life bearable for him. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1937 82m) DVD1/2

Once upon a time…

p  Walt Disney  d  David Hand  w  Ted Sears, Otto Englander, Earl Hurd, Dorothy Ann Blank, Richard Creedon, Dick Richard, Merrill de Maris, Webb Smith  story  Jacob Grimm, Wilhelm Grimm  m  Frank Churchill, Leigh Harline, Paul Smith  m/ly  Larry Morey, Frank Churchill

VOICES BY:-  Adriana Caselotti (Snow White), Harry Stockwell (Prince Charming), Lucille la Verne (Queen), Billy Gilbert (Sneezy), Otis Harlan (Happy), Roy Atwell (Doc), Moroni Olsen (The Mirror), Pinto Colvig (Sleepy/Grumpy), Scooty Mattraw (Bashful),

Is there any film in movie history more beloved by children and adults alike?  The Wizard of OzE.T.Star Wars?  Maybe as much, but somehow Snow White resounds stronger.  Certainly its making was the most troubled and the risk taken that much greater than by the makers of that aforementioned trio.  Indeed, it was not only a first – the first animated feature cartoon, rather than animated feature, as fans of Starewicz and Reiniger will testify – but it had nearly as much of an impact as The Jazz Singer had had a decade previously.  It may not be the best Disney feature, but it’s still some kind of marvellous.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1997 136m) DVD1/2

Paging Rollo Tomassi

p  Arnon Milchan, Curtis Hanson, Michael Nathanson  d  Curtis Hanson  w  Curtis Hanson, Brian Helgeland  novel  James Ellroy  ph  Dante Spinotti  ed  Peter Honess  m  Jerry Goldsmith  art  Jeannine Oppewall  cos  Ruth Myers

Kevin Spacey (Sgt.Jack Vincennes), Guy Pearce (Lt.’Ed’ Exley), Russell Crowe (Off.Bud White), James Cromwell (Capt.Dudley Smith), Kim Basinger (Lynn Bracken), Danny de Vito (Sid Hudgens), David Strathairn (Pierce Patchett), Graham Beckel (Dick Stensland), Ron Rifkin (D.A.Ellis Loew), Matt McCoy (Brett Chase), Paul Guilfoyle (Mickey Cohen), Amber Smith (Susan Lefferts), Darrell Sandern (Buzz Meeks), Simon Baker Denny (Matt Reynolds), Shawnee Free Jones (Tammy Jordan), Tomas Arana (Breuning), Michael McCleery (Carlisle), Gwenda Dracon (Mrs Lefferts), Brenda Bakke (Lana Turner),

Of all the great films released in the nineties, few could have been greeted with such joyous surprise as LA Confidential.  Firstly it was directed by someone who, up until that time, had seemed no more than a journeyman director and, secondly, it was a throwback to the old fashioned noirish dialogue and seedy atmosphere of the forties, with added modern censorables.  Furthermore, if it still isn’t as complex or delicious as the novel on which it is based and the finale does slightly disappoint, it’s still a damn near magnificent achievement that also showcased new talents in front of the camera.

            It’s Christmas in L.A. in 1952 when we meet three officers; one a by the books youngster with a prestigious father, the second an aggressive short fuse heavy with a hatred of woman beaters, the third a professional celebrity who once arrested Bob Mitchum and lives for his status as technical adviser on a Dragnet-like TV show.  However, when a colleague of theirs is killed in a diner massacre, each comes to find evidence that leads to unexpected sources and corruption on high, but the three need to combine resources to find their man and get the justice they require. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(France 1936 82m) DVD2 (France only)

Aka. The Story of a Cheat

No mushrooms!

p  Serge Sandberg  d/w  Sacha Guitry  ph  Marcel Lucien  ed  Myriam Borzoutsky  m  Adolphe Borchard  art  Henri Ménessier, Maurice Guerbe

Sacha Guitry (The Cheat), Jacqueline Delubac (Henriette), Rosine Deréan (The Jewel Thief), Pauline Carton (Madame Morlot), Serge Grave (cheat as a boy), Marguerite Moreno (The Countess), Roger Duchesne (Serge Abramovich), Pierre Assy (cheat as young man), 

The greatest comparison made when discussing Sacha Guitry is often to his English counterpart Noël Coward.  Both have the reputation of theatrical wits who dabbled occasionally, for their own amusement, in the waters of film that they generally thought beneath them.  Coward’s film output, however, consists nearly entirely of his partnership with David Lean, in which the latter was undoubtedly the greater creative force.  Guitry directed nearly all of his own films, in addition to writing them.  He was definitely theatrical, as witty and cosmopolitan – arguably even more so – than Coward, and yet somehow it might be more accurate to compare him to Marcel Pagnol.  Both had a very definite niche in film, and revolved around a world that they not only knew but almost perpetuated.  François Truffaut even compared Guitry to Lubitsch, and though Guitry isn’t quite in his league, he was a lot more cinematic than people gave him credit. (more…)

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by Allan Fish  

I can well remember my first Film Guide.  It was the Halliwell’s, 6th edition, from around 1987.  Harold Lloyd was on the cover, his hands sticking out in front of him to stop that flying girder in his classic short Never Weaken.  My acquaintance with that guide, at the age of fifteen in late 1988, came less than 12 months before Leslie Halliwell’s premature death in his 60th year in early 1989.  He’d spent over two decades updating the ‘Filmgoer’s Companion’ and, latterly from the mid 70s, the ‘Halliwell’s Film Guide’.  The third reference book he wrote, the ‘Television Companion’ died with him, the last edition going out in 1986, and a fair proportion of that work had, in the immediately preceding years, been done by Philip Purser.  Besides, Britain in 1989 was the cusp of satellite television, of Sky and BSB before they merged, and the time when cable TV really started coming into its own in the US.  (more…)

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The next one in the series, no 20…

by Allan Fish

(UK 1935 85m) DVD1/2

A whole flock of detectives

p  Ivor Montagu  d  Alfred Hitchcock  w  Charles Bennett, Ian Hay, Alma Reville  novel  John Buchan  ph  Bernard Knowles  ed  Derek Twist  md  Louis Levy  m  Hubert Bath, Jack Beaver  art  Otto Wendorff, Albert Juillon

Robert Donat (Richard Hannay), Madeleine Carroll (Pamela), Godfrey Tearle (Professor Jordan), Peggy Ashcroft (Margaret, crofter’s wife), John Laurie (John, the crofter), Lucie Mannheim (Annabella Smith), Helen Haye (Mrs Jordan), Wylie Watson (Mr Memory), Frank Cellier (Sheriff Watson), Peggy Simpson (young maid), Jerry Verno, Gus McNaughton, Ivor Barnard, Miles Malleson,

For me The 39 Steps is Alfred Hitchcock’s most purely enjoyable film, the film at the beginning of the road that lead to North by Northwest, a film of immense wit, not a little thrills and too numerous iconic moments to count.  It is also Hitch’s first unquestionable masterpiece, a film that took all the best elements of his earlier classics from Blackmail to The Man Who Knew Too Much, added a touch more humour and created the first truly great spy yarn of the talkie era (and probably the best made till that point, period) and one of the great British films of the thirties.  For those only familiar with either of the remakes in 1959 and 1978, prepare to see the real deal, a film which may owe considerably less to Buchan, but a great deal more to cinematic imagination.  (more…)

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