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Archive for October 16th, 2011

by Sam Juliano

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II are the “Giacomo Puccinis” of the stage and screen musical form.  Like the Italian opera master, the American composing team wrote flowing and sonorous melodies in the service of basic story lines that showcased romance as the central plot device.  Like the Italian, their stage work has achieved enormous popularity with the public.  In fact, Rogers and Hammerstein remain to this day the most popular composers of show music, much as Puccini is hands down opera’s most resounding audience favorite.  Rodgers and Hammerstein were further linked to their European compatriot in the international scope of their musical vision.  Puccini’s four defining works were set in Rome, Paris, Japan, and China, while the composing duo set their own seminal half-dozen works in Oklahoma, New England, the Middle West, the South Pacific, Austria and the Far East.  Of course when romance and high drama are played out in such scenic and exotic locations that seem almost cut off from the rest of the world, one immediately understands the creators are striving to apply universal themes that are realized in the passion-infused words and music that have remained a staple in their respective forms. (more…)

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by Joel Bocko

“Fixing a Hole” is a new series whose sole purpose is to review films that have not yet been covered on Wonders in the Dark. The theme for October is “Universal Horror.” Some spoilers are discussed below.

The Black Cat (1934/United States/directed by Edgar G. Ulmer)

stars Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi

written by Edgar G. Ulmer, Peter Ruric, and Tom Kilpatrick from Edgar Allan Poe’s story • photographed by John J. Mescall • designed by Charles D. Hall • music by Heinz Roemheld • makeup by Jack P. Pierce

The Story: On a dark and stormy night, the Allisons, a honeymooning couple, find themselves sidetracked by an auto accident. Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi), whom they met on the train, takes them the home of architect Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff), a camp commandant who mistreated Werdegast during World War I. The two men fight a battle of will and wit, with the hapless newlyweds caught in the middle.

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What do secluded mansions, wartime prison camps, violent fear of black cats, modernist architecture, satanic cults, semi-incestuous marriages, floating corpses, and sadomasochistic feuds have to do with one another? Not very much, come to think of it. Except that you can find them all in The Black Cat, along with wickedly stylized sets, idiosyncratic classical music, and – in their first pairing – two pitch-perfect larger-than-life performances from Universal’s biggest horror stars. Neither one cracks a smile or lets a wink betray that they’re in on the joke (though Karloff’s arched eyebrow occasionally suggests a saucy self-awareness), leading us to wonder if it is a joke at all. As he would later with the noir Detour, Edgar G. Ulmer twists genre conventions, stylistic norms, and tonal expectations into perfect pretzels, until we’re left wondering whether the result is subversively brilliant or merely ridiculous.

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