Sunday, May 26, 2019


Last week Turner Classic Movies showed THE END OF THE AFFAIR, a 1955 drama starring Van Johnson and Deborah Kerr. The movie also features Peter Cushing in a major supporting role. THE END OF THE AFFAIR was one of the very few Cushing films I had never seen. (The movie was remade in the 1990s.) 

When this movie was being produced in 1954, Peter Cushing was a couple years away from starring in his very first horror film for Hammer, the ground-breaking THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. In his book THE PETER CUSHING COMPANION, author David Miller suggests that if Cushing had not found success with Hammer, the actor might have spent most of his career playing the type of role he portrayed in THE END OF THE AFFAIR. In the movie Cushing plays Henry Miles, a British civil servant based in London in the 1940s. Henry is decent, quiet, and stable...and unfortunately he's married to a woman that isn't passionate about him.

Henry's wife, Sarah (played by Deborah Kerr) is having an affair with American writer Maurice Bendrix (Van Johnson). Bendrix, who was injured during WWII and discharged, decided to stay in London. He's introduced to Sarah by Henry while doing research on a book about civil servants. The two are immediately attracted to one another, and the film deals with their complex relationship.

If you are a Peter Cushing fan like me, watching THE END OF THE AFFAIR is a frustrating experience. Cushing's character is the only truly decent person in the story, and like most decent people in real life, he gets taken advantage of. Cushing's Henry Miles isn't the main focus of the story--but the two characters who are, the ones played by Johnson and Kerr, are not very appealing. A couple minutes into the story, we are shown Sarah Miles kissing another man in secret at a party, and a couple minutes after that, she's kissing Bendrix. It's hinted at that Sarah has had numerous affairs, and she comes off as a very confused woman. As for Bendrix, he comes off as arrogant and hypocritical (he has no problem loving another man's wife, but he's intensely jealous of her). Bendrix and Sarah spend a lot of time wallowing in self-pity--they obviously want each other, but they're constantly whining about their situation. The two are not exactly the most entertaining couple to watch.

The most important sequence in the story happens when Sarah and Bendrix are spending time together at his flat. The building gets damaged during a German bombing raid, and Sarah believes that Bendrix has been killed. The woman prays that her lover lives--and she promises God that she will end her relationship with the man if he does. Bendrix was just stunned, not killed, and Sarah spends the rest of the movie searching for the "meaning" of it all. This leads her to regular meetings with a priest and an atheist! Sarah draws closer to a true faith in God--but if she does that, she feels that she must reject her lover so she can keep her promise. It's an awkward situation, and it doesn't help that Van Johnson and Deborah Kerr, at least from my viewpoint, do not have strong chemistry together.

After his near-death and his being turned away by Sarah, Bendrix acts more and more like a jerk. He even hires a detective agency to keep watch on the woman--and he presents the findings to Henry in the guise of being his "friend". The man who is given the job to watch Sarah is played by the accomplished English actor John Mills, and he steals the film with his quirky performance. (Mills' character is far more interesting to watch than either Sarah or Bendrix.)

The person who is forgotten about in this entire scenario is Henry Miles. (Sarah and Bendrix seem to see Henry as an impediment to their own personal needs.) When Henry finally realizes that his wife doesn't really love him, he reacts with a silent bewilderment. The scene where Henry almost breaks down and nearly begs his wife not to leave him is heartbreaking, due to Cushing's ability as an actor. Henry's understated love for his wife is far more meaningful--and honest--than Sarah and Bendrix's overwrought affair. What makes it even more heartbreaking is that Sarah doesn't really love--or deserve--Henry. The entire movie is built around Sarah and Bendrix, but it is Henry that one feels empathy for.

Peter Cushing and Deborah Kerr in THE END OF THE AFFAIR

Is the fact that Peter Cushing is my favorite actor proof that I'm biased in how I view the characters in this movie? Absolutely. Whenever one watches any piece of filmed entertainment, one's personal views on the performers will affect how one appreciates the production. I couldn't help but feel bad for Henry Miles, and feel annoyed toward the man's wife and her lover. But even if I wasn't a major Peter Cushing fan, I probably would have felt the same way.

THE END OF THE AFFAIR was a high-class mainstream production--it was based on a Graham Greene novel, and it was released by Columbia Pictures. It was directed by Edward Dmytryk, produced by David Lewis, and it featured moody black & white cinematography by Wilkie Cooper. It was an important role at this point in Peter Cushing's career, and he more than holds his own against major stars such as Van Johnson and Deborah Kerr.

Unfortunately THE END OF THE AFFAIR is also a turgid and maudlin film. Many Peter Cushing fans wish that the actor had gotten the chance to appear in more normal, mainstream productions. But if he had spent the rest of his career in movies like THE END OF THE AFFAIR, would Cushing have had the reputation he does now? Many of Cushing's lesser horror films are far better remembered today than THE END OF THE AFFAIR.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

The Three Stooges On MeTV

Starting Saturday, June 1, at 6 PM EST, the MeTV network will be showing Three Stooges shorts weekly throughout the summer. MeTV has announced that the shorts will be uncut, and each one of the Saturday showings will have a different theme. The presentation of the shorts will last an hour.

Anyone who really knows me understands how much I love the Three Stooges. I've literally been a fan of them for most of my entire life, and I own every single Three Stooges short subject that they made for Columbia on DVD. I know what's going to happen in every Stooges short, and they still make me laugh no matter what.

So why is it such a big deal that MeTV is going to start showing the Stooges every week, when I can watch them whenever I want?? I think it has to do with personal nostalgia. One of my favorite things as a kid was watching the Stooges on TV. They've always given me a good feeling, and it's great to know that in the 21st Century a national TV network can still be willing to show them every week and at a viable viewing time.

MeTV is basically the descendant of the old Channel 32 in Chicago, when it was still an independent station. In the 1980s Channel 32 showed not only the Three Stooges, but all sorts of classic TV shows such as the original STAR TREK, BATMAN, THE MONKEES, and many others. Ch. 32 also was the home of the legendary Svengoolie, when he was known as the Son of Svengoolie. And....the channel also showed White Sox games! There's no doubt that the Eighties version of Channel 32 had (and still has) a major impact on my life. It was my refuge from a world that I didn't fit into.

It appears that MeTV will be showing only two Stooges shorts for each hour. As a kid I remember that stations could fit in about three Stooges shorts an hour (the comedies have an average running time of around 16-18 minutes). Of course it all has to do with how many commercials a station needs to cram in, and every regular MeTV viewer knows how much they love those ads for reverse mortgages and the heartbreak of mesothelioma. Having only two shorts an hour, even if they are uncut, means plenty of commercials--but that doesn't really bother me. The fact that MeTV is going to show uncut Stooges material might fend off all those folks who constantly complain how movies shown by Svengoolie are slightly edited.

What I find ironic about the Stooges being shown on a national TV station in 2019 is that many of the viewers would probably never go out of their way to watch a black and white movie. I'm convinced that the Stooges have been watched by more people than any other movie comedians, past or present. The Stooges have a vast mainstream following, and many of their fans are not what I would call film buffs. As a matter of fact there's a number of film buffs who can't stand the Stooges--these folks believe the trio are not as brilliant as, say, Charlie Chaplin, or Laurel & Hardy, or Buster Keaton. There's a lot of snobbery involved in how certain film geeks look down on the Stooges--if ordinary people who are not interested in cinema history love the boys, how enjoyable can they be??

I find this attitude to be rather silly. Film buffs should appreciate the fact that any movie productions made in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, such as the Stooges shorts, are still being viewed today. The Three Stooges were certainly a gateway drug for me to the wider world of classic movies, and I'm sure they were for other people as well.

The power of the Three Stooges cannot be underestimated. The fact that a series of low-budget short films, made over 60+ years ago, can still be popular, and still be shown regularly on national television, is quite remarkable.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019


THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF (1970) is a somewhat obscure British film that stars Roger Moore. The movie is a quite effective psychological thriller that gives Moore an opportunity to go against his popular image. It has just been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

Moore plays Harold Pelham, a staid London businessman who almost dies due to a car crash. After his recuperation, Pelham returns to work, seemingly ready to return to his regular routine...but the man is troubled by various people claiming he was involved in incidents and situations that he has no recollection of. Pelham can find no explanation for these incidents, and he starts to wonder if someone is impersonating him...or is he going mad? Pelham desperately searches for an answer, while his once carefully controlled world spirals more and more out of control.

I'm not going to say too much about the storyline of THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF, since the movie is not well known, and I don't want to give anything away. Suffice to say that the plot is very intriguing, and the ending has plenty of ambiguity so that each individual viewer can come to their own conclusions about what really happened. Pelham's plight gives the audience plenty to wonder--is the man being set up? Does he really have a double? Or is he still on the operating table after his car crash, and is this all in his mind? The only clue I will give if you do watch this very close attention to Pelham's actions right before his car crash--it will provide you a glimpse at what is to come.

What I can talk about is Roger Moore's excellent and eye-opening performance. This is a Roger Moore character that will be unfamiliar to most--Pelham is a button-down, conservative type, and he actually has a real job (albeit an upper-class one). He also has a mustache, and it took awhile for me to get used to Moore with one. Pelham is also a married man with a family, and his wife seems a bit bored by him--that certainly isn't the Roger Moore we've come to expect. We do expect Moore to be totally at ease with himself and any situation he faces--and Pelham definitely is not. As things get stranger and stranger around him, Pelham becomes more and more anguished and afraid. It's disconcerting to see Moore in a state of emotional weakness, and he makes the viewer feel his pain and confusion. What's ironic is that when we are introduced to Pelham's "double", he acts much the way we assume a typical Roger Moore character would act. THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF contains one of Moore's best acted roles, and certainly his most unusual one.

As to be expected from a British film made during this period, THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF has a very capable supporting cast, featuring Hammer veterans such as Thorley Walters, John Carson, and Charles Lloyd Pack. The actor who grabs the most attention, despite his small role, is Freddie Jones. Jones plays a psychiatrist who the distraught Pelham finally goes to, and one immediately gets the feeling that the healer needs to heal himself. Jones has always had a somewhat odd acting style--but here it's like he's Freddie Jones to the power of 10. Not only do you get his usual quirky facial and body language, you also get a man who wears dark glasses indoors and speaks in a bizarre accent that seems to be a cross between Scottish and Eastern European. I don't know exactly what Jones was trying to do here, but he made himself memorable.

THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF was directed by long-time distinguished Basil Dearden. (It would be his last film--Dearden ironically died in a car crash soon after.) Dearden uses a lot of everyday real London locations to define Pelham's life before things go awry. Later in the story more unique camera set-ups are used. The script (credited to Dearden and Michael Relph) keeps things moving, and always maintains the viewer's interest. (The story this movie was based on was filmed earlier as an episode of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS--it's one I have not seen).

Kino's Blu-ray of THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF looks fantastic (I must admit that since I had never seen the movie before, I really don't have any other version to compare it to). A short featurette is included in which filmmakers Joe Dante and Stuart Gordon discuss the movie, along with a few trailers for other Roger Moore films released by Kino.

The main extra is an audio commentary with Roger Moore and Bryan Forbes, who was executive producer of the movie (Forbes says during it that he also worked on the screenplay). The talk is moderated by Jonathan Sothcott. Moore and Forbes have plenty of great stories to tell, but unfortunately Sothcott keeps steering the pair away from the film. Moore does relate how proud he is of the movie and his performance. (During the talk Moore mentions a movie that is supposed to come out in 2002, so I assume that's when it was recorded.)

THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF deserves far more attention than it has gotten, and hopefully this Blu-ray will allow that to happen. It's a fine, well-made film that makes the audience think, and it has a truly out-of-the-box performance from Roger Moore.

Saturday, May 18, 2019


The super-villain Fantomas was created by French writers Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain over a hundred years ago. The character appeared in a mammoth silent movie serial produced in 1913-14 and directed by Louis Feuillade. This legendary screen adventure was the forerunner of many of the blockbuster action spectacles we take for granted today.

Fantomas was updated and rebooted for a series of films produced by the French studio Gaumont in the mid 1960s. The three films were all directed by Andre Hunebelle (the man behind the Eurospy OSS 117 series). The 1960s Fantomas collection is now out on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino.

The Fantomas of the original novels and the silent serial was a true threat to society, an anarchic fiend who would kill anyone or destroy anything to accomplish his nefarious plans. The 1960s Fantomas films are much more lighthearted. Fantomas is still a villain, and he's still dangerous, but for all his malevolent posturing, he doesn't really cause all that much havoc, and he's not shown actually killing anyone (at least until the last entry in the series). The films certainly have some James Bond influence to them--but I would also cite the first Blake Edwards Pink Panther movie as an inspiration as well. The Inspector Juve character in the 60s Fantomas series, as played by Louis de Funes, is rather comic, and at times he comes close to Inspector Clouseau-like silliness. All three of the films in the series look as if they could have been directed by Blake Edwards--they have a traditional style to them, they feature exotic locations, impressive sets, and effective stunts. Where the Fantomas films fail to match the standard of the Bonds and the Pink Panthers is that they have almost no risque elements or suggestive lines of dialogue. I would even call the Fantomas movies somewhat tame--the violence (what little there is of it) is toned down, and there's no bloodletting or gore. All three entries in this Fantomas series are fanciful, imaginative adventures that are meant to amuse and entertain. I would liken them to a light brunch rather than a full course dinner.

All three of the movies star Jean Marais (best known for Cocteau's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST) in a dual role as Fantomas, and intrepid newspaper reporter Fandor. The gorgeous Mylene Demongeot is Fandor's girlfriend Helene, and Louis de Funes plays Fantomas' comic foil, Inspector Juve.

Jean Marais as Fantomas

The first film in the series, simply titled FANTOMAS (1964), has the titular villain angry over a number of articles written about him by Fandor. Fantomas kidnaps Fandor and disguises as him (false identities are a major plot point of the entire series). Fantomas also disguises himself as Juve, causing all sorts of complications. Fandor, Helene, and Juve eventually chase Fantomas down, but the super-criminal escapes in a submarine.
The audience never gets to see what Fantomas really looks like--when he's not in disguise, he wears a bluish-grey mask that covers his entire head and makes him resemble an alien from an original STAR TREK episode (see picture above). The effect is quite creepy, though a more serious film would have taken better advantage of it. This movie features a number of chase scenes and stunts, and nearly all of them are performed by Jean Marais himself--that fact is even more impressive when one realizes that the actor was in his early fifties when these films were made. The city of Paris provides an authentic background to the more fantastical elements of the tale.

The second film is FANTOMAS UNLEASHED (1965). This story concerns Fantomas' kidnapping of an elderly scientist. The scientist is also played by Jean Marais, which leads of course to several mistaken identity sequences (both Fandor and Fantomas disguise as the older man). Much of the story here takes place in Rome, which enables the production to take advantage of many Italian locales. We get to see a super-secret lair inhabited by Fantomas (located at the base of a volcano), and its interior design would make Ken Adam jealous. Here Fantomas desires Helene as his companion (can you blame him?), and Mylene Demongeot gets more to do. Once again Fandor, Helene, and Juve disrupt the super-villain's plans, but he still gets away at the end, which leads to.....

FANTOMAS VS. SCOTLAND YARD (1966), the last film of the series. The title reminds one of the many German Edgar Wallace krimi films which were set in the United Kingdom, but the Scottish castle where most of this story takes place is actually a chateau in France. The movie's plot--Fantomas is demanding that the wealthiest men in the world pay him a "tax" in order to keep living--has a krimi-like tone to it, as does the fact that Fantomas actually kills people in this entry. The Scottish castle is supposedly haunted, which leads to some typical fake ghost comedy scenes involving Inspector Juve. (Louis de Funes' performance as Juve in the series may amuse some, while others might be annoyed by him.) Fantomas, as usual, escapes in the end....but according to Tim Lucas' audio commentary on the first film, Jean Marais did not want to continue in the series.

All three films are presented in their original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and all are unedited, with the French voice tracks (English subtitles are provided). FANTOMAS is by itself on one disc, while FANTOMAS UNLEASHED and FANTOMAS VS. SCOTLAND YARD reside on disc two. The transfers on all the movies look superb, with vibrant colors and clear, sharp visuals. (It still amazes me how colorful films and TV shows of the 1960s look compared to the filmed entertainment we see today.)

The main extra is the aforementioned audio commentary by Tim Lucas for the first film in the series. Lucas states that he is a major fan of all aspects of the Fantomas character, and he provides much information on all the different versions of the super-villain. Lucas greatly enjoys these films, and he makes the excellent point that viewers should appreciate them for what they are, instead of worrying about how some of the plot details don't make perfect sense. Lucas also points out that the 1960s Fantomas series anticipated the BATMAN TV show in many respects. Original trailers for the entire Fantomas and OSS 117 series are also included.

I had never seen any of the 1960s Fantomas series of the films before I purchased this set. I was expecting them to be James Bond knock-offs, but they are really bright, enjoyable films that will appeal to the more imaginative minded. I would also suggest that because of their tame nature, these movies would be a great way to introduce pre-teenagers to different types of cinema.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Doris Day And Tim Conway

I don't write a lot of tribute blog posts when a notable performer passes away, simply because celebrity deaths seem to happen all the time. If I was in the habit of regularly writing tribute posts, I'd have to do it constantly, and I don't want this blog to be nothing more than an obituary.

But the recent deaths of Doris Day and Tim Conway struck me because they were both the type of performers that one doesn't see all that much anymore.

Doris Day (1922-2019)

Doris Day, simply put, was a true entertainer. She first gained notoriety as a recording artist during World War II, then became a movie star after appearing in a number of musicals for Warner Bros. She got to show off her dramatic chops in films such as LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME and Hitchcock's remake of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH. In the late 1950s she became what many consider the ultimate romantic comedy leading lady, and she even wound up having a successful television network series. When she didn't feel like being in the spotlight anymore...she left it, and I think if anything that increased her iconic status.

It cracks me up when a movie like LA LA LAND comes out and people get all excited about the fact that the stars of it are singing, dancing, and acting...all in the same film! Doris Day essentially did that her entire career. And like most real movie stars, she did it with such a grace and style that folks just took it for granted. Can you honestly compare anyone working in the entertainment industry now with Doris Day?

I must admit that I am not in any way related to her (she was born Doris Kappelhoff). Years ago, one time at work, a guy asked me why I was so interested in old movies. I told him that my grandmother was Doris Day--and for a couple minutes he actually bought it, which doesn't say much for the intelligence of the people I've worked alongside.

Tim Conway (1933-2019) with Harvey Korman

Tim Conway, simply put, was one of the funniest people I've ever seen. He's best known for his TV work, but he starred in a number of family comedies in the 1970s that were more popular than one would assume. Conway's style of comedy is almost extinct today. He wasn't crude, or nasty, or vulgar, and he didn't engage in politics or social discourse. He was just funny. One of my favorite TV memories as a kid was watching him on THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW--the edited reruns of that program are still better entertainment than almost anything being shown on the 300 cable channels today.

The best way one can understand the talent and impact of Doris Day and Tim Conway is to go on the internet and read all the various tributes that are being written for them--not by professional scribes, but by ordinary folks whose lives were touched by them in some way.

Is there anything better than spending most of your life making untold numbers of people happy?

Sunday, May 12, 2019


SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN is famous--or infamous--for featuring three of the greatest stars in fantastic films history. Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing all get major billing, despite the fact that they all play supporting roles (Cushing is in only one scene). The 1969 film has been released on Blu-ray again, this time by Kino.

I have to admit that for a long time I wasn't all that fond of SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN. Like many others, I was too focused on the fact that the mighty trio of Price, Lee, and Cushing didn't have enough screen time. (The three never actually appear onscreen together, and only Price and Lee get to interact--but that's at the very end of the film, and then only very briefly.) One has to look beyond the misleading casting to fully appreciate the film's merits. SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN is one of the most unique movies made during the late 1960s, presenting a story so off-the-wall that it's hard to compare it to anything else. Because of the appearances of Price, Lee, and Cushing, one expects it to be a classic English Gothic. It does have a few elements of that genre, but the movie also has ingredients of horror, science fiction, film noir, urban crime thriller, and Cold War political conspiracy. It's hard to pin down a story that includes, among other things, a serial killer that sucks blood from his victims, vats of acid, and synthetic humans.

Christopher Wicking's screenplay for the movie is equal parts intriguing, unorthodox, and frustrating. Wicking juggles a number of subplots which switch back and forth rapidly. Just when the viewer thinks things are getting a bit clearer, the story goes off on another tangent--or a supposed major character is bumped off, making things more mysterious. The unimaginative will probably throw up their hands and give up trying to watch a movie like this, but the more creatively inclined may be fascinated by the strange plot structure (even if, at the end, it still doesn't make a lot of sense).

The disarming attitude taken by the script also extends to the casting as well. There isn't really a main character in the film. As stated before, Price, Lee, and Cushing have small roles, and so does most of the rest of the rather large cast. Genre notables such as Yutte Stensgaard (LUST FOR A VAMPIRE), Judy Huxtable (THE PSYCHOPATH), and Peter Sallis (TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA) have virtual cameos. The real stars of the film are Alfred Marks as a no-nonsense, sarcastic police superintendent who's trying to investigate all the bizarre goings-on, and Marshall Jones as a vicious agent from an unnamed European totalitarian state who has the ability to dispatch people with a killer Vulcan neck pinch.

Director Gordon Hessler and cinematographer John Coquillon constantly keep the pot boiling with various off-kilter shot set-ups and plenty of hand-held camerawork. At times the movie takes on a semi-documentary style, bringing a raw reality into the crazy events being shown. At about the middle of the story one of the longest chases in movie history is staged. It's a highly charged and very effective sequence, but it also defines how out-of-the-box SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN is (one doesn't expect a modern car chase in a movie featuring three classic horror stars). The movie was a co-production between Amicus and American-International, but it was AIP that had the most input in the final result. SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN is far more violent and explicit that the typical Amicus fare of the period.

SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN has been released on home video numerous times. Kino's new Blu-ray of the title features two different cuts of the movie--a U.S. version and a U.K. version. The contents of the two are almost exactly the same, except for a few subtle differences. The U.K. version does have a couple of striking lines of dialogue between Vincent Price and Christopher Lee.

The real difference between the two cuts is in the visual quality. The U.S. version presented on this disc is an excellent print, very clear and colorful. The U.K. version is not in good shape--the colors are faded, and at times the picture is so murky that it's hard to see what is going on. Watching the U.K. version on this disc made me feel like I was viewing an old print on a late night TV broadcast.

The main extra is another insightful and fact-filled commentary from Tim Lucas. He's a big fan of the film, and as usual he makes a number of analytical points I would never have thought of.

If you've never seen SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN, don't try to assume what type of movie it's going to be by the names of Price, Lee, and Cushing in the credits. It's not a Saturday matinee monster flick--it's a very modern disorienting and disconcerting suspenseful thriller that crosses over several genres. It's a movie that demands multiple viewings, simply because it's hard to figure things out on the first try. It's also a story that demands a suspension of disbelief.

Saturday, May 11, 2019


John Ford is my favorite film director of all time, and one of his greatest films is THE INFORMER, the 1935 multi-Oscar winning story of betrayal set in 1920s Ireland. What most people don't realize is that THE INFORMER was a remake--the story had been filmed in England in 1929. That version has just been released on Blu-ray by Kino--actually, I should say both versions, since the '29 THE INFORMER was released as a silent and as a part-sound film.

The 1929 THE INFORMER could easily be mistaken for a German production instead of an English one. Director Arthur Robison had worked extensively in Europe, as had leading actors Lars Hanson and Lya De Putti. The cinematographers, Werner Brandes and Theodor Sparkuhl, were German-born. The movie has the look and feel of a production made at UFA studios instead of Elstree.

Lars Hanson plays Gypo Nolan, a member of the "party" (the actual name of the IRA is never mentioned in the film) in 1922 Ireland. Gypo's best friend Francis is in hiding after killing a police chief. Gypo has developed a relationship with Francis' girl, the beautiful Katie (Lya De Putti). Francis returns from hiding to say goodbye to his loved ones before he goes off to America. Francis secretly visits Katie, which inflames Gypo with jealousy. Gypo turns in his friend to the police, for the sum of 20 pounds. Gypo's rash act has disastrous consequences--Francis is killed in a gunfight, and his fellow party members find out who the informer really is, and they want revenge.

Victor McLaglen had won a Best Actor Oscar for playing Gypo Nolan in the 1935 THE INFORMER. McLaglen's Gypo was somewhat of a lumbering lout. Hanson's Gypo is more subtle, probably because Hanson was more of a leading man type (he had already co-starred with the likes of Greta Garbo). Hanson's Gypo is motivated to inform by his desire for Katie--the love triangle is a major plot point in this version of the film. (There is no love triangle in the 1935 version.) The overriding sense of Catholic guilt that saturates the 1935 version isn't really on display in the '29 production, at least until the climax.

Lya De Putti became famous in the silent era for playing seductive vamps, but she's very subtle here as well. Katie has feelings for both Gypo and Francis, but instead of personally taking advantage of the situation, she seems overwhelmed by it. Director Robison uses many close-ups of the main cast to show their thoughts and feelings at a given time. Despite all the inner turmoil the movie has plenty of visual flair, with the oppressive, shadowy city streets and a few nighttime location sequences. There's also some imaginatively shot gunfight battles, and a scene involving a man hanging from a gutter high on the top of a building which can't help but remind you of the beginning of VERTIGO. (Alfred Hitchcock was of course still working in England at this time, and I've no doubt he was aware of this film.)

As mentioned earlier, Kino's Blu-ray includes the silent and part-sound versions of the 1929 THE INFORMER. The silent version runs about 99 minutes, and the sound version runs about 84. There are times when the silent version drags a bit--the sound version has a better flow to it. The silent version features a new music score by Garth Knox which, as expected, is heavily influenced by Irish folk music. In my opinion Knox's score at times overwhelmed the visuals. The part-sound version has the score which accompanied the film when it was released, and I think it fits the story much better.

The part-sound version also has audio effects added, such as gunshots, breaking glass, etc. There are a few dialogue sequences. For the most part they are handled well--but it's obvious that other performers are saying Hanson's and De Putti's lines (Hanson was Swedish, and De Putti was Hungarian). Research on the internet suggests that the actors mouthed their lines while someone else on the set spoke (Hitchcock did the same thing with Anny Ondra for the sound version of BLACKMAIL.) I didn't think the effect was too disconcerting--others may disagree. The real problem with the dialogue sequences is that no one tries to use an Irish accent! Kino claims that the print of THE INFORMER used on this disc is from a recent restoration by the British Film Institute, and both the silent and part-sound version have exceptional visual quality.

I still prefer the John Ford version of THE INFORMER, but the 1929 version--or versions--are quite interesting themselves. I found the part-sound version to be particularly fascinating.

Monday, May 6, 2019

AVENGERS: ENDGAME And The Idea Of Fan Service

I've seen AVENGERS: ENDGAME twice so far (don't worry, I'm not going to give out any spoilers). It's a helluva movie, and a fitting climax to a decade's worth of nearly two-dozen films.

What impressed me most about ENDGAME was the character interaction. If you've watched the majority of the Marvel Cinematic Universe entries, you know these characters very well, and your enjoyment increases when you see them react to various situations. Marvel came up with a plan and they stuck with it, instead of constantly rebooting and rewinding like so many other major movie franchises have done. Not everything in the MCU is perfect--far from it--but most of it works well enough that the audience feels that they are watching people they personally know. Marvel Studios successfully defined and depicted a large number of comic book superheroes, and if they had not done that, it wouldn't have mattered how many large-scale battles or CGI landscapes they presented on the screen.

The best part about AVENGERS: ENDGAME is how each of the characters deals with an earth-shattering cataclysm. This is a movie which starts out with the good guys having lost, which sets up all sorts of intriguing situations. Some of the character arcs here might be a bit questionable (if you've seen the movie, you'll probably figure out what I'm referring to). It will be interesting to see how ENDGAME holds up after all the hype about it has died down.

I'm really not going to get into too much detail about ENDGAME--what more can you say about a blockbuster superhero movie? I would, however, like to discuss a phrase which I read in a couple of early reviews of the film.

That phrase is "fan service". Wikipedia defines fan service as: "material in a work of fiction or in a fictional series which is intentionally added to please the audience." (Apparently the term comes from Japanese anime. All those SAILOR MOON-style cute animated young girls who prance about in skimpy clothes or lingerie? That's the most obvious example of fan service.)

That's a very generic definition. When you think about it, every piece of fiction provides some sort of fan service. When you read an Agatha Christie novel, you expect a murder mystery that is puzzling to figure out. When you watch a Fred Astaire film, you expect him to dance, and when you see a Clint Eastwood movie, you expect him to violently dispatch some bad guys.

What struck me about the use of the term fan service in the ENDGAME reviews was that it seemed the writers were disappointed by the amount of it. That made me wonder...what did these people expect?? This is the ending of a decade-long film globally popular film series--did these critics think there would actually be a downbeat ending? At this point in the game, Marvel Studios isn't going to trot out an entry that has a edgy, unexpected, indie feel to it. These are supposed to be fun, entertaining films, not art house cinema.

To me, complaining about a comic book movie having too much fan service is like being ticked off that Burger King serves too many hamburgers. There's a lot of film geeks out there who love to attack anything that is popular or makes a lot of money, and the MCU films are enticing targets. I'm not saying every movie has to provide a certain amount of fan service...but from my point of view, if a movie entertains you, or moves you, or does something to make you say, "I liked that movie"--isn't it providing enough of a service to make you a fan of it?

I guess a movie that one could say provided too much fan service was THE FORCE AWAKENS (because it was basically a remake of the original STAR WARS), and a movie that didn't have enough fan service was THE LAST JEDI. 

However you define or measure fan service, AVENGERS: ENDGAME has plenty of it. It's what a great movie blockbuster is supposed to be.