Monday, April 6, 2020

HOUSE OF THE GORGON Wins The Rondo Award For Best Independent Film!




If you are a regular reader of this blog, you probably know about HOUSE OF THE GORGON--writer-producer-director-star Joshua Kennedy's tribute to the English Gothic, starring four notables of that genre: Caroline Munro, Veronica Carlson, Martine Beswicke, and Christopher Neame. The movie was filmed in southeast Texas during March of 2018, and it was released on DVD last year.

I had a very small role in the production, both on-screen and off. But there were several talented individuals who had a far bigger hand in it than I did. And the genius behind it all was Josh Kennedy, who overcame many obstacles and setbacks to get what he wanted accomplished.

I'm proud to say that HOUSE OF THE GORGON has won the 2019 Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award for Best Independent Film. Josh's past films have been nominated for Rondos a number of times, but his tribute to the Hammer films he has loved all his life finally enabled him to claim the coveted prize.

The Rondo Awards are produced in conjunction with the Classic Horror Film Board website. They have been awarded since 2002. The aim of the Rondo Award is to honor the best in classic horror research, creativity, and film preservation. There's nothing corporate about these awards--the voting is done by fans all over the world.

I'm pleased to say that I know many artists and writers who have won Rondos--I won't list them all because I know I'm going to leave someone out. The Rondo Award is a huge honor among fans of classic horror & science fiction cinema.

I personally know how much this award means to Josh, and I hope it gets him the respect and attention he deserves. I'm proud to have had a quite small part in the whole thing, but I have more pride for Josh and what he was able to accomplish.

Being involved in HOUSE OF THE GORGON has literally changed my life. I've gotten to know many wonderful people, and be involved in many wonderful events due to it.

The state of the world today is very unsettled. But there is one thing I can guarantee you--the main core behind HOUSE OF THE GORGON will be reunited again for a future production. Josh has a tantalizing idea in mind--I can't reveal the details, but trust me, it's a winner. One thing I've learned from my association with Josh is that if he wants to do something...one way or another, it's going to get done.

Congratulations to all the people involved with HOUSE OF THE GORGON!



Veronica Carlson, yours truly, and Joshua Kennedy during the making of HOUSE OF THE GORGON

Sunday, April 5, 2020

FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY On Blu-ray From Shout Factory










In June of 2017, I wrote a blog post on the 1973 film FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY, which was made by Universal Studios for American television. That post was inspired by Sam Irvin's encyclopedic article on the movie for issue #38 of LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS magazine.

FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY is a hard film to categorize, since there is nothing really like it. It was originally shown in two parts on TV, and its uncut running time is around three hours. It's a sprawling, ambitious production, filled with major guest stars and impressive technical details. Despite its title, the script deviates greatly from Mary Shelley's famed novel, and presents several new ideas and situations (some which work out better than others).

I viewed FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY for the first time on a bare-bones DVD that had no extras. The DVD also made the film look somewhat pallid. I felt that the title definitely needed a home video upgrade.

Now Shout Factory has come along and given FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY a proper presentation. According to the disc cover, Shout Factory used a new 2K scan of the original film elements, and the picture quality is fantastic, which a rich color scheme that shows off the excellent production design and Arthur Ibbetson's cinematography. The audio, which is in DTS-HD mono, is bold and clear.

This Blu-ray would be a winner on the improved visuals and sound alone, but Shout Factory have also included new extras, involving Sam Irvin and Constantine Nasr. There's interviews with cast members Jane Seymour and Leonard Whiting, who look back fondly on the project. (The duo also reiterate that producer Hunt Stromberg Jr. was the main creative force on the film, not director Jack Smight.) Sam Irvin also sits down for an extensive talk with Don Bachardy, who co-wrote the script with Christopher Isherwood.

Sam Irvin also contributes a full-length audio commentary (Sam really, really loves this film). It is extensive and thorough, and Sam keeps up his energy--and the listener's attention--for the entire three hour running time.

The disc cover features new artwork from the renowned Mark Maddox (the reverse is a reproduction of the mediocre DVD cover).

I wouldn't consider FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY one of the best adaptations of Shelley's tale....but I would call it one of the most unique and interesting. It has some striking sequences, but I feel that at times it bites off more than it can chew. Nevertheless, it does have a fervent following, and those that do appreciate the movie's take on the horror legend, and even those who just want to know what the fuss is about, will enjoy this Blu-ray.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

CAPTAIN NEMO AND THE UNDERWATER CITY







Earlier this week TCM showed CAPTAIN NEMO AND THE UNDERWATER CITY, a 1970 family-oriented fantasy-adventure made in England. I had never seen the film before.

Even though this movie was released in 1970, it feels like something that should have come out at least ten years before. The success of Disney's 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA in the mid-1950s started up a near mini-genre made up of cinematic adaptations of stories from Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. This combination of Victorian quaintness and science-fiction adventure had run its course by 1970. CAPTAIN NEMO AND THE UNDERWATER CITY is something of a throwback considering it was made in the era of EASY RIDER.

This film is not a straight adaptation of any particular Jules Verne story--it is "inspired" by his writings. During the American Civil War, a ship bound for England is heavily damaged by a storm. The passengers rush to the lifeboats, and a small group of them are rescued by men under the command of the imperious Captain Nemo (Robert Ryan). The group is taken aboard Nemo's fantastic submarine, the Nautilus, and transported to a incredible city built 10,000 leagues under the sea. Here Nemo and his followers have created what appears to be an idyllic paradise. Nemo tells the people he has rescued that they must never leave his underwater city--he fears that once back on the surface they will tell the world about his secret society. One of the new captives is an American Senator named Fraser (Chuck Connors), who was on his way to England by orders of the U.S. government. Fraser is determined to escape, but instead of antagonizing Nemo, he gains his trust and friendship. The Senator does get a chance to get away by appropriating the newly built Nautilus II.

CAPTAIN NEMO AND THE UNDERWATER CITY has a lot in common with many large-scale family adventure films of the 60s and early 70s--it has impressive technical details and scope, but comes up short in plot and characterization. The production design is visually intriguing, if a bit ostentatious, and the movie takes every opportunity to show it off. Much of the story concerns the rescued characters being shown almost every facet of Nemo's underwater city--so much so that the movie feels like a travelogue. The settings do catch the viewer's eye, but they seem to exist to provide eye candy than to be part of an actual working society. (Speaking of working, the citizens of the underwater city don't seem to do much of it.)

There isn't a lot of conflict in the movie either. The relationship between Nemo and Fraser is far more cordial than that between James Mason's Nemo and Kirk Douglas in the famed Disney adaptation. One of the rescued characters is a sniveling coward who can't stand enclosed places, and he almost succeeds in destroying the place, but he's stopped in the nick of time. There's a couple of English louts who are obsessed with the idea that in Nemo's city, gold is so common it's unimportant. This duo is supposed to be the comic relief, except they're not very funny. The underwater city does have one major threat--a kaiju-like monster who resembles a giant manta ray. The creature is not very well realized, and it winds up getting defeated rather easily.

Robert Ryan was one of the most exemplary all-time movie actors, and he certainly had the strong screen presence for the role of Captain Nemo. Personally I think Ryan just wasn't exotic enough to be the captain. He's good in the role, and he takes the whole project dead seriously, but his Nemo isn't the brooding loner portrayed by James Mason and Herbert Lom. This might be due to the fact that Ryan's Nemo has basically created his own world, and doesn't need to worry about the "real" one. One would expect two manly actors like Ryan and Chuck Connors to set off some sparks, but their characters get along quite well most of the time. Ryan does get a few chances to show Nemo's anger at the state of mankind, but for the most part the captain is quite content here.

If CAPTAIN NEMO AND THE UNDERWATER CITY had being made during the height of cinematic Victorian science-fiction fantasy, it might have had a much more notable supporting cast. The main player of interest here is Luciana Paluzzi, who played the bad Bond girl in THUNDERBALL. She gets to have a sort-of romance with Chuck Connors, but due to the family nature of the story, it's very tame.

This film was directed by James Hill, who made one of the most renowned family adventures, BORN FREE. The main writers on the film were the husband and wife team of Pip & Jane Baker, who wrote the Terence Fisher/Christopher Lee/Peter Cushing sci-fi outing NIGHT OF THE BIG HEAT. The Bakers also wrote a number of DOCTOR WHO episodes, which this story closely resembles.

If CAPTAIN NEMO AND THE UNDERWATER CITY had been made about ten years earlier, and involved someone like George Pal or Bernard Herrmann, it might have more of a reputation. One reason I had never seen it before is that I honestly can't remember it being shown on TV. It apparently wasn't that much of a success when originally released. The main problem with the film is that it meanders about, and doesn't have all that much energy to it. The practical effects--the various models and miniatures--are above average, and the movie doesn't look cheap....but it lacks excitement, and the characters (other than Nemo) are not all that memorable. Certain aspects of this film reminded me of a couple of Japanese fantasy films from Toho Studios: ATRAGON and LATITUDE ZERO. But those two movies are much better, in my opinion. I realize that CAPTAIN NEMO AND THE UNDERWATER CITY was geared to younger viewers--but I bet even the kids of 1970 probably found it boring.


Saturday, March 28, 2020

PUSHOVER




A couple nights ago, courtesy of the MOVIES! TV channel, I watched a 1954 film noir called PUSHOVER. The movie starred two of my favorite actresses of all time--Kim Novak and Dorothy Malone. PUSHOVER was in fact Novak's very first credited film role (she gets a "And Introducing" main title credit).

The movie, set in contemporary Los Angeles, opens with a very well-staged, dialogue-free bank robbery. A bank guard is killed, and $200,000 has been stolen. The police begin to shadow the girlfriend of the robbery gang's leader, a gorgeous blonde named Lona (Kim Novak). Detective Paul Sheridan (Fred MacMurray) goes out of his way to make her acquaintance, and is assigned to the group of men putting Lona under surveillance. Sheridan and Lona are attracted to one another, and the young woman convinces the older cop to kill her boyfriend so they can make off with the stolen loot. Sheridan hatches a plan to do so...but, as is usual in the shadowy world of film noir, things don't go as planned, and Sheridan's troubles get worse and worse.

PUSHOVER has plenty of the expected noir elements--atmospheric black & white photography, rain-slicked streets, and terse dialogue. Fred MacMurray spends most of the story wearing a trench coat and a fedora, and he constantly has a cigarette dangling from his lips. You get the feeling he is asking for it as soon as he starts making the moves on Lona. Obviously MacMurray's role in DOUBLE INDEMNITY comes to mind when watching PUSHOVER. MacMurray's Sheridan is a cynical, dissatisfied cop who has worked too many years for very little pay. He's easy prey for Lona's charms...yet one would think that a middle-aged cop who has seen everything would be a bit more careful about the situation. The problem is, like most noir anti-heroes, Sheridan is not particularly clever--he thinks he's one step ahead of everybody, but he's actually just getting himself in deeper and deeper. MacMurray is best known now for his Disney movies and his role on the family TV show MY THREE SONS, but he was excellent at playing misanthropic jerks.




Fred MacMurray and Kim Novak 



Considering this was her first major film role, Kim Novak comes off well for the most part. She gets several smoldering close-ups, and she's outfitted with a stylish wardrobe. There are times, though, when one senses that the actress is uncomfortable trying to be a seductive temptress. Early on in the movie she tries to put a husky accent on her voice--thankfully she doesn't do this for the entire running time. Novak's Lona seems more like a nervous young girl than a hard-bitten dame (probably due to the fact that this was Novak's first real film part).

PUSHOVER has a subplot involving Sheridan's stakeout partner (Phil Carey) and his interest in Lona's next-door apartment neighbor, an attractive nurse (Dorothy Malone). One could say that Carey and Malone are the "nice couple" counterpart to Sheridan and Lona. Malone's role becomes more important during the climax. Malone is dark-haired here--later in her career she would go blonde and play a number of roles very much like Lona. It's interesting to imagine an alternate version of PUSHOVER with Malone as Lona and Novak as the friendly nurse.

PUSHOVER was made by Columbia and directed by Richard Quine, who uses a stick-to-the-facts semi-documentary style. At one point Lona goes off in her car, and Sheridan tails her...and I automatically thought of a sequence in VERTIGO where James Stewart also follows Kim Novak around in a car. I was reminded of Hitchcock again in the scenes where the cops spy on Novak (and Carey watches Malone) in her apartment from across the courtyard--they bear a certain resemblance to scenes in REAR WINDOW.

I wouldn't call PUSHOVER a brilliant example of film noir--it's fairly easy to figure out what is going to happen in it. It does happen to be a proficiently made film with an engaging cast.




Saturday, March 21, 2020

SON OF A SAILOR





This month Turner Classic Movies is showcasing classic film comedian Joe E. Brown. One of his films the channel showed was SON OF A SAILOR, a 1933 title made by Warner Bros. The major reason I watched it was for the fact that Thelma Todd is in it...but honestly, I could have just skipped it.

Joe E. Brown was quite prolific in the 1930s, although looking at him from a 21st Century perspective it's hard to figure out why. He usually played a goofy, naive rube, and his films almost always took advantage of his athletic talent. He had co-starred with Thelma Todd in the bizarre 1931 movie BROADMINDED, which I wrote a blog post on a few years back. (I went into Brown's screen persona in that post a bit more as well.)

BROADMINDED is a truly weird Pre-Code, but it's far more entertaining than SON OF A SAILOR. As one expects from the title, Brown plays an ordinary member of the U.S. Navy named Handsome Callahan (I assume the "Handsome" moniker was meant to be sarcastic). Callahan has a habit of telling tall tales, and this constantly gets him into trouble. While on shore leave Callahan gets involved with an retired admiral's granddaughter, and a couple of spies who are after a device that can fly planes by remote control. Callahan bumbles his way through it all, and winds up getting promoted for his troubles.

Even at his best, Joe E. Brown is something of an acquired taste. In SON OF A SAILOR, he plays an annoying guy who is a braggart to boot....and here he just isn't funny (at least to me). The most interesting part of the story is the beginning, which was filmed on an actual ship, the USS Saratoga. Military buffs will appreciate seeing vintage naval activities, and the ship's layout allows director Lloyd Bacon to use a few off-beat camera setups. Once Brown gets off-ship, the movie slows to a crawl (it seems longer than its 74 minute running time). Brown's constant attempts to get dates with women onshore (by using variations of the same hackneyed story) come off as creepy instead of amusing.

Brown winds up running into the retired admiral's daughter (actually, she literally runs into him, with a car), and he gets invited to the admiral's fancy house party. It's there that Thelma Todd finally makes her first onscreen appearance, halfway into the film. She plays a character called "The Baroness", and she and the man who is her escort are planning to still the plans for the remote control flying device. Thelma sports dark hair for this role--apparently to make her look more exotic (even though she doesn't act or sound all that exotic). The only thing Thelma gets to do is spend a short sequence trying to distract Brown by coming onto him. It's the type of vamp role Thelma did several times in her short career, and the movie doesn't take proper advantage of her talents, despite the fact that she gets prominent billing in the credits and on the advertisements for the movie that I have seen.




Joe E. Brown and Thelma Todd in SON OF A SAILOR


Movie buffs (and John Ford fans) will notice Ward Bond and Jack Pennick in small roles, and the ubiquitous Samuel S. Hinds plays the retired admiral.

Even for a military comedy, SON OF A SAILOR is mediocre. Joe E. Brown does get to participate in a comedic boxing match, but the result is nowhere near as entertaining as similar sequences featuring other movie comics such as Buster Keaton, Abbott & Costello, and The Three Stooges. Thelma Todd fans will be disappointed by her small role here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

PAROLE INC.




Today's YouTube public domain theater entry is a cheap 1948 noir entitled PAROLE INC. One of the companies behind the movie was Eagle-Lion, formerly known as Producers Releasing Corporation.

The only notable thing about PAROLE INC. is that it stars Turhan Bey and Evelyn Ankers, two veterans of the Universal monster movie series. (Bey and Ankers had in fact already played a romantic couple in Universal's THE MAD GHOUL.) The duo are cast against type here--Bey is a shady lawyer with the unique name of Barney Rodescu, and Ankers is his girlfriend Jojo, who happens to run a diner that is the front for illegal activities.

The movie begins with a man swathed in bandages, laying in a hospital bed while dictating into a recorder. The man is a federal agent named Richard Hendricks (Michael O'Shea), and he is detailing a series of recent events. Hendricks was sent to an unnamed state to investigate misuse of the parole board. Disguising as a wanted man, Hendricks finds out that lawyer Barney Rodescu has paid off members of the parole board to get convicts off that he can use for his own purposes. Hendricks stops Rodescu's schemes, but not without cost (after all, the guy is laid up in the hospital).

PAROLE INC. was directed by Alfred Zeisler, who helmed the 1946 FEAR (which I covered a few posts ago). FEAR had a few unusual elements to it, but PAROLE INC. is directed in a very perfunctory manner. Hendricks' dictation turns into a full-length narration, and while this provides plenty of plot info, Michael O'Shea's somewhat generic recitation of it doesn't help matters. O'Shea was in one of the most famous public domain movies, LADY OF BURLESQUE. In that one he spent most of the time annoying Barbara Stanwyck, and in PAROLE INC. he still seems to have a smart-aleck type of manner.




Turhan Bey and Evelyn Ankers in PAROLE INC.


Turhan Bey and Evelyn Ankers might have been happy to get out of the Universal thriller rut, but I doubt that they were too thrilled about being in PAROLE INC. Bey doesn't get all that much screen time, but he does make a different kind of B movie crime boss--erudite, classy, and sinister. Evelyn Ankers gets more screen time as Jojo, and she gets to do things such as act drunk, and flirt with Hendricks to try and get information out of him. It's not the usual type of role for Ankers, but she still winds up acting very ladylike (when she realizes that Hendricks is going to get it, she looks like she's about to let out one of her old Universal screams).

The only other notable actor in PAROLE INC. is Poverty Row veteran Lyle Talbot, who plays the local police commissioner (a few years earlier, he probably would have played the role of Hendricks).

The reason I watched PAROLE INC. was because Evelyn Ankers and Turhan Bey were in it. In all honesty this movie doesn't give them all that much more of a showcase than the Universal programmers they each appeared in. But it is nice to see Evelyn get to stretch her talents, even though she's probably the most proper bad girl in B movie history.


Sunday, March 15, 2020

SECRETS OF THE FRENCH POLICE




In the late 1980s, a purchased a book called MORE CLASSICS OF THE HORROR FILM. It was written by esteemed film historian William K. Everson. This volume was a follow-up to Everson's CLASSICS OF THE HORROR FILM, one of the very first movie books I ever bought.

In MORE CLASSICS OF THE HORROR FILM, there is a chapter entitled "Horror As a Bonus--Horror in the Non-Horror Film". In that chapter Everson examined a number of films from the early to mid-20th Century that were not considered straight horror features, but nevertheless had elements of the genre. One of the films the author mentioned was a 1932 RKO production entitled SECRETS OF THE FRENCH POLICE. Sometime in the early 1990s, I saw this movie on the AMC TV channel (back when AMC actually showed classic movies).

My long-ago AMC viewing was the only time I had seen SECRETS OF THE FRENCH POLICE, until TCM showed it this weekend. It's a wild pre-code potboiler which has enough plot for two movies, despite the fact that it runs a little less than an hour.

In contemporary Paris, a mysterious Russian named Moloff (Gregory Ratoff) is scheming to take control of the Romanov fortune. He intends to pass off a poor flower girl (Gwili Andre) as Anastasia, the young daughter of the Czar who supposedly survived the massacre of her family. Moloff's plot is stopped by cunning and determined French police investigator (Frank Morgan).

The basic plot description is simple, but the way the actual movie plays out is decidedly not. SECRETS OF THE FRENCH POLICE throws out a number of confusing strands that eventually come together. There's various violent deaths, intricate police procedure, and the evil Moloff's activities, which include taxidermy, scientific experimentation, and a personal hobby of turning some of his victims into statues and displaying them in his home.

Some of the sets used in RKO's THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME show up in SECRETS OF THE FRENCH POLICE, as do some of the costumes. Gregory Ratoff's Moloff could easily be a cousin of Count Zaroff. He could also be related to Bela Lugosi. Ratoff gets a few Bela-like closeups, and his Moloff also happens to be a master of hypnotism. Ratoff even recites his lines in a very slow and deliberate manner, much like Lugosi would at times. If Lugosi had played Moloff, SECRETS OF THE FRENCH POLICE would be far more renowned among film geeks today.




Gwili Andre in SECRETS OF THE FRENCH POLICE



The willowy Gwili Andre makes a very fetching damsel in distress, although it's hard to believe in her as a poor flower girl. Future Wizard of Oz Frank Morgan is surprisingly serious and determined as police official St. Cyr. Morgan does do some of his patented eccentric old man act when his character is undercover and in disguise. Morgan's St. Cyr would have been a great candidate for a detective film series of his own.

SECRETS OF THE FRENCH POLICE moves along at a rapid pace, and it has many clever ideas...but this is an example of a movie that isn't long enough. The climax in particular seems very rushed, and it doesn't have the effect that it should. One wants to know more about Moloff and his bizarre actions (his manor house in Paris feels like an old castle, and it comes with secret rooms and a underground laboratory). There's some definite Pre-Code kinkiness in the subplot of Moloff turning women into statues (at one point it appears one of his victims is naked). Moloff even intends to do the same thing to Gwili Andre at the end.

SECRETS OF THE FRENCH POLICE was directed by Edward Sutherland, who is better known for his comedy films, including several with W. C. Fields. (He also had a short marriage with Louise Brooks.) Sutherland indulges in a number of atmospheric camera set-ups, and he would soon get a chance to helm an even wilder Pre-Code horror, the notorious MURDERS IN THE ZOO with Lionel Atwill.

If you get a chance, check out SECRETS OF THE FRENCH POLICE. It's an unusual Pre-Code thriller which tries to do too much in about an hour, but that's better than not doing enough.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU





YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU is a 1933 British film starring Thelma Todd and Stanley Lupino. I happened to obtain a grey-market DVD copy of the movie. It's a title that deserves a proper American home video release, and is must-viewing for Thelma Todd fans.

The story begins with Stanley Lupino as Tom and Thelma Todd as Pamela encountering each other while their cars are stuck in traffic. Tom falls desperately in love with Pamela upon first sight of her (can't blame him there), and, as an aspiring songwriter, goes home and immediately writes a hit song called "What's Her Name". Tom searches all over London for her, and finds out that she is the sister of an old friend (John Loder). Tom also discovers that Pamela is a spoiled brat--so much so that her father and brother decide to take advantage of Tom's infatuation to get her off their hands. They come up with a plot to convince Pamela that if she does not marry Tom, her father will lose all his money. Pamela goes ahead with the wedding, but she has no intention of being a real wife to Tom--so the fellow decides to tame this shrew in his own crazy way.

YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU is a lively, fast-moving screwball comedy, running only 70 minutes. It's a perfect vehicle for Thelma Todd, since the movie is so reminiscent of the Hal Roach style of comedy the actress knew so well. This is the first time I had ever viewed a Stanley Lupino performance, and here he has a very goofy, light comedic persona. He also gets to sing a couple of songs. Lupino definitely reminded me of Charley Chase--it's easy to imagine a version of this film with Charley in the lead role. (Stanley Lupino was an English music-hall performer, and the father of actress-director Ida Lupino, who would become good friends with Thelma.)

The director of YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU was Monty Banks, who I discovered was a veteran of silent slapstick comedies. There's plenty of traditional movie comedy here, with sight gags, broad characterizations, and plenty of broken household items, courtesy of Thelma's hissy fits. The plot revolves around a classic old movie trope--the goofy guy attempting to win a beautiful woman's hand by totally exasperating her (trust me, in real life this doesn't work).




Stanley Lupino and Thelma Todd


In many ways the role of Pamela was nothing new for Thelma, but she shows once again why she was one of the great screen comediennes of the period. Her facial reactions and line readings bring out the comic intent of every scene she's in. Many Thelma fans have wished that the actress had not been typecast in so many comedies--but the reason she was is that she was so excellent at it.

As expected, Thelma is devastatingly gorgeous at all times, helped by what seems like about a dozen wardrobe changes. According to various accounts, Thelma thoroughly enjoyed her time in the United Kingdom, despite reports that she collapsed on the set during the making of the film. If not for her untimely demise, Thelma might have very well returned to England in the future for more acting work.

The print that I saw of YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU was in very good condition, showing that the film didn't appear low-budget. YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU was produced by British International Pictures, and many of those involved with the film (such as John Loder and cinematographer Jack Cox) had worked with Alfred Hitchcock. Thelma Todd is blessed with several exquisite black & white close-ups.

It's too bad that YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU isn't well known, or readily available. It's a very fun comedy, and I think it contains one of Thelma Todd's most notable performances.


Sunday, March 8, 2020

FEAR (1946)








A low-budget version of Dostoyevsky's CRIME AND PUNISHMENT from Poverty Row studio Monogram? It isn't a joke--it's the 1946 film FEAR, which transports the distinguished story to the black & white shadowy environs of the post-WWII American big city.

Peter Cookson plays Larry Crain, a penniless and bitter student. Larry is desperate for money, and he murders a professor who moonlights as a pawnbroker. Before Larry can steal the man's money, he has to leave to avoid discovery. Ironically, Larry's fortunes improve after the murder--an article he wrote obtains him $1,000 from a magazine, he gets his academic scholarship renewed, and he begins a relationship with a kindly pretty waitress (Anne Gwynne). A sense of overwhelming guilt still gnaws at Larry, and this is exacerbated by a outwardly affable but inwardly cunning police captain (Warren William) who is investigating the pawnbroker's murder.

FEAR has plenty of film noir elements to it, and director/co-writer Alfred Zeisler uses plenty of symbolism. The movie has an overall pessimistic tone, due to leading man Peter Cookson. His Larry Crain is a touchy, moody fellow to begin with, and he remains that way throughout most of the film. Because of this it's hard to work up much interest in what happens to him. In the 1935 CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, Peter Lorre commanded the audience's attention, due to his unique screen presence. Cookson (who I really know nothing about) comes off as just another bland B movie actor.

Former Universal Scream Queen Anne Gwynne brightens the film with her naturally appealing charisma. Gwynne is so appealing that one wonders what she is doing hanging around such a gloomy guy like Larry Crain. It's disappointing that after leaving Universal, Gwynne's film career took such a sharp downturn. (While watching FEAR, one does get a nice look at her legs in one scene.)

The King of Pre-Code, Warren William, makes the most of his small role as Captain Burke, even though he appears overqualified for a movie such as this. One wishes that the story had spent more time with William's character instead of the dreary Cookson. A young Darren McGavin has a small part as one of Cookson's college buddies (I didn't even recognize him).

The idea of taking CRIME AND PUNISHMENT and giving it an urban American noirish twist is an outstanding one. Unfortunately FEAR doesn't have the budget, or the leading man, to carry it out. FEAR also has a cop-out ending that negates the rest of the story. It's easy to imagine a major Hollywood studio doing a noir version of CRIME AND PUNISHMENT in the late 1940s with a much more effective star and technical crew.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

The Favorite Famous Roles List





Today's list comes from an idea that somehow popped into my head. There's a number of famous roles that have been played in movies (and TV) over and over again--legendary fictional and historical characters such as Dracula, Batman, Wyatt Earp, etc.

The purpose of this list is to present my pick for who was the best in a particular famous role. Simple enough--but when my great friend Joshua Kennedy (HOUSE OF THE GORGON) found out about this idea, he upped the ante by suggesting that I also pick which performer would have been great in a certain famous role. So I'm doing that here as well.

Hopefully this post will spark some discussion. If you have favorites of your own that you'd like to mention, by all means leave a comment below, or on The Hitless Wonder Facebook Page. Remember, there are no wrong answers--just goofy guys who write movie blogs.


My personal choices for:

Best Dracula: Christopher Lee
Person who would have been great in the role: Paul Henreid

Best Van Helsing: Peter Cushing
Person who would have been great in the role: Liam Neeson

Best Dr. Frankenstein: Peter Cushing
Person who would have been great in the role: Claude Rains

Best Frankenstein's Monster: Boris Karloff
Person who would have been great in the role: Chuck Connors

Best Phantom of the Opera: Lon Chaney
Person who would have been great in the role: Christopher Lee

Best Mummy: Christopher Lee
Person who would have been great in the role: Conrad Veidt

Best Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde: John Barrymore
Person who would have been great in the role: Tyrone Power

Best Devil: Walter Huston
Person who would have been great in the role: Lee Van Cleef

Best Sherlock Holmes: Basil Rathbone
Person who would have been great in the role: Michael Gough

Best Batman: Adam West
Person who would have been great in the role: Clint Eastwood

Best Joker: Heath Ledger
Person who would have been great in the role: Richard Widmark

Best Superman: Christopher Reeve
Person who would have been great in the role: Gary Cooper

Best Spider-Man: Tom Holland
Person who would have been great in the role: a very young Kurt Russell

Best Hercule Poirot: Albert Finney
Person who would have been great in the role: George Pastell

Best Miss Marple: Joan Hickson
Person who would have been great in the role: Dame May Whitty

Best Doctor Who: Jon Pertwee
Person who would have been great in the role: Lionel Jeffries

Best James Bond: Sean Connery
Person who would have been great in the role: Patrick McGoohan

Best Felix Leiter: Jack Lord
Person who would have been great in the role: James Drury

Best Jack Ryan: Alec Baldwin
Person who would have been great in the role: Rod Taylor

Best Robin Hood: Errol Flynn
Person who would have been great in the role: Ian Ogilvy

Best Davy Crockett: John Wayne
Person who would have been great in the role: Robert Ryan

Best Captain Nemo: James Mason
Person who would have been great in the role: Louis Jourdan

Best Quatermass: Brian Donlevy
Person who would have been great in the role: Peter Cushing

Best Long John Silver: Robert Newton
Person who would have been great in the role: Oliver Reed

Best Abraham Lincoln: Henry Fonda
Person who would have been great in the role: John Barrymore

Best Napoleon: Rod Steiger
Person who would have been great in the role: Peter Lorre

Best Queen Elizabeth I: Flora Robson
Person who would have been great in the role: Barbara Stanwyck

Best King Henry VIII: Charles Laughton
Person who would have been great in the role: Oliver Reed

Best Richard III: Basil Rathbone
Person who would have been great in the role: Peter Cushing

Best Cleopatra: Claudette Colbert
Person who would have been great in the role: Martine Beswicke

Best Julius Caesar: Warren William
Person who would have been great in the role: Basil Rathbone

Best Al Capone: Robert DeNiro
Person who would have been great in the role: Lon Chaney

Best Adolf Hitler: Bruno Ganz
Person who would have been great in the role: Donald Pleasence

Best Winston Churchill: Gary Oldman
Person who would have been great in the role: Charles Lloyd Pack

Best Wyatt Earp: Kurt Russell
Person who would have been great in the role: Burt Reynolds

Best Doc Holliday: Val Kilmer
Person who would have been great in the role: Jack Nicholson

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

THE BLACK RAVEN








THE BLACK RAVEN (1943) is a mystery film with a rather obvious title--what else would they have called it...THE PLAID RAVEN?? It was made by the Poverty Row company Producers Releasing Corporation, and produced by Sigmund Neufeld and directed by Sam Newfield, frequent low-budget filmmakers (and brothers).

The fine character actor George Zucco gets top billing as Amos Bradford, a man who runs a remote inn near the New York state-Canadian border. Bradford uses the inn as a front for some shady activities, and on an obligatory dark stormy night, a number of suspicious people show up. There's a convict on the run (I. Stanford Jolley) who has a grudge against Bradford; a racketeer (Noel Madison) who wants to get across the border; a cowardly bank cashier (Byron Foulger) who has embezzled $50,000; a runaway couple intending to marry (Wanda McKay and Bob Randall); and the prospective bride's father (Robert Middlemass), who happens to be a crooked political boss. Also in on the festivities are Bradford's hulking but dopey handyman (Glenn Strange) and the local sheriff (Charles Middleton).

As expected, the $50,000 winds up missing, and the political boss is found dead. The sheriff wants to pin the murder on the victim's daughter's fiancee, since the men hated each other. Bradford is convinced the young man is innocent, and decides to solve the mystery for himself. Other murders follow, along with some other minor skullduggery....but, this being a cheap B movie, things sort themselves very quickly around the 60 minute mark.

THE BLACK RAVEN isn't an underrated classic, or one of those "so bad it's good" films. The most notable thing about it is the casting. Old movie buffs will appreciate seeing veteran weird guy actors like I. Stanford Jolley and Byron Foulger. Charles Middleton will be best known as the original Ming the Merciless in the FLASH GORDON serials. Wanda McKay is the only female in the cast, and she's quite cute, even though she doesn't have much to do. She appeared in two of the nine films Bela Lugosi starred in for Monogram in the 1940s.

The main attractions here are George Zucco and Glenn Strange, known for their participation in Universal's classic horror film series. Zucco and Strange had already co-starred in THE MAD MONSTER--in that one, Zucco's mad doctor turns Strange into a werewolf-like creature. In THE BLACK RAVEN, Zucco still has the upper hand--he's the boss, and Strange is his lackey. Strange gets to handle the comic relief in this picture, and despite his size and strength, he spends a lot of time being scared and doing pratfalls. Zucco and Strange have an almost Abbott & Costello-type relationship here--at one point Zucco is so frustrated by Strange's shenanigans he slaps him! It's bizarre to see a future Frankenstein Monster act so goofy--but it must be said that Strange does it rather well.

One wonders if the off-screen Zucco considered a movie like THE BLACK RAVEN beneath him. If he did, it certainly doesn't show onscreen. Zucco effortlessly outdoes all the other players by reacting to all the goings-on with an attitude of droll understatement. He makes his dialogue sound much better than it is with his dry delivery of it. Zucco even pulls off this line to Glenn Strange: "With your imagination, you could see the Statue of Liberty doing the conga!" I know for a lot of folks, the biggest joy of watching Poverty Row chillers of the 30s and 40s is seeing cult character actors ham it up, but Zucco goes the other way here. He even makes Bradford somewhat sympathetic, due to his concern for the young lovers (even though you suspect he's got some skeletons in his closet).

THE BLACK RAVEN is a perfect movie to watch on YouTube when you can't get to sleep. It won't take up too much of your time, and you might actually even wind up being amused by it.



Sunday, March 1, 2020

THE UNEARTHLY








THE UNEARTHLY (1957) is a ultra-low budget crazy combination of science-fiction, horror, and noir. It features elements and plot devices reminiscent from films such as the 1935 THE RAVEN, BOWERY AT MIDNIGHT, VOODOO MAN, and THE BLACK SLEEP.

It is rather fitting that the star of the film is John Carradine, since the story harks back to the many poverty row chillers of the 1940s that the actor appeared in. Carradine plays Dr. Conway, a scientist who is attempting to use glands to prolong human life. Needless to say, he hasn't been very successful in this endeavor. Conway works out of a remote large house, which happens to be fitted out with cells in the basement. These cells are where Conway locks up the unfortunate results of his experiments.

Conway is assisted by a icy attractive young blonde doctor (Marilyn Buferd) who, for some inexplicable reason, happens to be in love with him. He also has a brutish, simple-minded manservant named Lobo (another one of his failed experiments). It won't surprise cult film geeks to know that Lobo is played by the legendary Tor Johnson--but is this the similarly-named character Johnson portrayed in other films?

In his public guise Conway runs a clinic for those suffering special maladies. It is these patients that Conway uses for his experiments. Among the patients the viewer sees are a ditzy blonde (Sally Todd), a jittery addict (Arthur Batanides), and the gorgeous Grace (Allison Hayes). A convict on the run named Mark (Myron Healey) shows up on the grounds, and Conway blackmails him into staying, while also telling him about his mad quest for immortality. (This is where Carradine gets to give the expected mad doctor speech which name-drops various esteemed scientists who were also considered mad.) Unfortunately for Conway, Mark is actually an undercover cop, and eventually brings an end to the doctor's grotesque dream.

THE UNEARTHLY is only 70 minutes long, so it doesn't wear out its welcome. It throws in enough bizarre incidents (and goofy characters) to keep the audience interested. Carradine hams it up quite effectively here (the movie would have suffered if he didn't), and Tor Johnson's Lennie-like Lobo is a hoot, particularly when he's serving cold meals to the patients and telling them when to retire for the day ("TIME FOR GO TO BED!"). Myron Healey's B movie tough guy act is amusing, as is Arthur Batanides' ultra-touchiness. At one point Carradine even gets to perform on an organ that classic horror movie music staple, Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor", while Healey and Hayes sit serenely on the couch, listening with big grins on their faces.

Allison Hayes fans may be disappointed in her role here, because she's essentially the good girl, and she doesn't get all that much to do, except look fantastic (which she most certainly does). More eye candy is supplied by Sally Todd, who had been a Playboy playmate. She gets to wear the obligatory nightgown and get carried off by Tor Johnson before her character suffers a gruesome fate. Marilyn Buferd is also easy on the eyes--she was a former Miss America--even though her character spends the movie with her hair tied back and wearing a severe dress suit.

The climax of THE UNEARTHLY features an entire cell filled with numerous monstrosities, all victims of Dr. Conway's search for eternal youth. The various makeups were designed by 1950s effects artist Harry Thomas, and they are notable, even though they resemble the creatures from THE ISLAND OF LOST SOULS to a certain extent. One wishes more had been made of this motley group--they are only shown at the very end, and they do nothing but aimlessly lurch about. It would have made perfect sense for Carradine to get his just deserts at the hands of these creatures--or have them engage in a drag-out battle with Lobo--but it doesn't happen.

The producer and director of THE UNEARTHLY is credited as Brooke L. Peters, but it was actually a low-budget filmmaker named Boris Petroff (with a moniker like that, he should have been a horror movie star). The story was written by Jane Mann, who was Petroff's wife.

THE UNEARTHLY is not a great film, or even an underrated one. But it does exactly what it was meant to do--provide an hour or so's worth of goofy entertainment. There's plenty of black & white cheap thrillers that promise much and deliver little. THE UNEARTHLY has a fine cult cast and enough sci-fi/horror zaniness to keep one's attention.


Saturday, February 29, 2020

RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK On Blu-ray From Shout Factory









The 1966 Hammer historical melodrama RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK contains one of Christopher Lee's greatest film performances. The movie makes its American Blu-ray debut courtesy of Shout Factory.

Production began on RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK literally days after DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS wrapped. RASPUTIN reunites four of the main actors from DPOD: Lee, Barbara Shelley, Francis Matthews, and Suzan Farmer. (RASPUTIN is also a mini-reunion of THE GORGON cast, with Lee, Shelley, and Richard Pasco.) While the movie is a fantastic showcase for Lee, it fails to be very historical, or very Russian for that matter. The events that RASPUTIN barely covers need the sweep and the scope of a DOCTOR ZHIVAGO or NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA. This was far beyond the budgetary limitations of Hammer.

Nevertheless, RASPUTIN is worthy viewing due to the power of majesty of Lee. His mad monk is a larger-than-life grandiose character, ordering members of the upper class about as if they were peasants, and putting beautiful women under his sway. The scene where Rasputin seduces Barbara Shelley's Sonia, a lady-in-waiting to the Czarina, is one of the most passionate in all of Hammer's history. The best special effects in RASPUTIN are Lee's eyes--they burn out from his face like brilliant headlights, enabling him to put anyone under his spell (Lee has to by far hold the record for hypnotizing the most people on screen).

Lee is so overwhelming as Rasputin that the movie often fails to catch up with him. The mad monk's various debaucheries are mentioned, but we don't really get to see them, and while the conniving mystic is supposed to be a threat to the Russian empire, he only affects a small circle of people in the film. Director Don Sharp and cinematographer Michael Reed try hard to make this film appear far more expensive than it is, but their St. Petersburg just resembles another Hammer Eastern European village, with very English-acting Russian gentry.

The rest of the cast does their best to hold their own with Lee. Richard Pasco and Francis Matthews have their fleeting moments, while unfortunately Suzan Farmer's role is minuscule. Barbara Shelley proves once again she was Hammer's most accomplished female performer, matching Lee's intensity by ably showing that her upper-class Sonia is sexually aroused by being used and degraded by the coarse Rasputin. The movie also features Dinsdale Landen, the husband of two-time Hammer leading lady Jennifer Daniel.

Shout Factory provides two different aspect ratios of RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK on this Blu-ray--a 2.35:1 version and one at 2.55:1. Both prints look exemplary, but in my opinion the 2.55:1 appears brighter and more colorful. The disc has two commentaries, a new one with the now-expected Steve Haberman, Constantine Nasr, and Ted Newsom, and a vintage talk with Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Francis Matthews, and Suzan Farmer.

The extras include a featurette on the making of RASPUTIN, and a program covering the novelizations of various Hammer films. There's two episodes of the good old "World of Hammer" series, dealing with Christopher Lee and the company's costume films. There's also a trailer, TV spots, and a still gallery which features some delectable photos of Barbara Shelley.


Wednesday, February 26, 2020

THE BRIGAND OF KANDAHAR





Britain's Hammer Films made a number of historical action-adventure pictures in the 1960s. Due to the company's typical low budgets, these films usually bit off more than they could chew, but for the most part they were decent entertainments.

THE BRIGAND OF KANDAHAR (1965) is one of the least of Hammer's cut-rate epics. It tries to be a rousing tale of Imperial India, but it come off as rather desultory.

The movie is set in the Indian Northwest Frontier of 1850. Captain Robert Case (Ronald Lewis) returns to Ft. Kandahar from a scouting mission, alone, to report that the officer with him, a Capt. Connelly, was captured by bandits and probably killed. Case's commanding officer (Duncan Lamont) doubts his word and suspects him of cowardice. Case has two major strikes against him--he's half-Indian, and he's been having an affair with Connelly's wife (Catherine Woodville). Case is to be court martialed, but he escapes with the help of a native servant. The servant leads Case into the hands of bandit chief Eli Khan (Oliver Reed). Case joins up with Khan to strike back at the British, but the bandit's cruel ways are too much for the former military officer. Case is egged on against Khan by the bandit's sister, the sultry Ratina (Yvonne Romain).

THE BRIGAND OF KANDAHAR was written and directed by John Gilling, who made some of Hammer's better films, such as THE REPTILE and THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES. Here much use is made of stock footage battles from other movies, particularly a film called ZARAK. The footage sticks out like a sore thumb (especially if one views this movie in HD), and it is not integrated very well. But the bigger problem is Gilling's contradictory script. The story tries to be critical of British imperialism, but at the same time has all the native characters be little more than one-dimensional stereotypes.

The contradictory tone extends to the lead character as well. The viewer isn't introduced to Case until after he comes back from his ill-fated mission and is accused of cowardice. The audience doesn't get a chance to know the fellow--we only have his word on what happened, for all we know he could be a liar and a coward. It doesn't help that Ronald Lewis (who had worked for Hammer before) is not very charismatic, and spends most of the movie with a brooding look on his face. To be fair to the actor, the script does him no favors--Case seems to have a chip on his shoulder, he is fooling around with another officer's wife, and technically he is a traitor. Lewis isn't able to project such a weakly-written character into a heroic bandit-warrior that a viewer would be interested in. Oliver Reed, with his dangerous attitude and natural intensity, would have been much better cast as Case.

One wonders if Reed also felt he should have been given the lead role, for he hams it up mercilessly as Eli Khan. (Reed has been quoted as saying that THE BRIGAND OF KANDAHAR was his worst film--trust me, he made plenty lesser ones). Reed's Khan acts too silly to be believable as a cunning leader of cut-throats. Khan and Case engage in a underwhelming sword duel at the climax.




Ronald Lewis and Yvonne Romain in THE BRIGAND OF KANDAHAR


The most notable character is the delectable Yvonne Romain as Ratina. Romain has more sass and swagger than the rest of the cast combined. Her Ratina is plotting to take over the bandit tribe from her brother, and she uses Case to help her in this. Romain was able to make an impression without any dialogue in the beginning of THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, but I think her performance here really showed that she could do more than look gorgeous.

Longtime Hammer veteran Duncan Lamont gets a bigger role than usual as the cold-blooded British Colonel, but the many other supporting actors the company regularly used are missing here. Considering that this is a film set in India, one expects George Pastell and Marne Maitland to show up, and they don't.

THE BRIGAND OF KANDAHAR winds up being a very mediocre film. One can blame the fact that it was built around a lot of stock footage. Even so, it shouldn't have been that hard to create a rip-roaring tale with an exciting lead character, even with a low budget.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

X THE UNKNOWN On Blu-ray From Shout Factory








X THE UNKNOWN (1957) was Hammer's first attempt to follow up on the success of their science fiction adaptation THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT. It was also the debut screenplay of Jimmy Sangster, who would go on to write many of Hammer's most famous films. X THE UNKNOWN is not as beloved as the Hammer Quatermass series, but it is an effective, low budget sci-fi tale, and it has now been released on Region A Blu-ray by Shout Factory.

Somewhere in Scotland, a group of soldiers on maneuvers discover a strange source of radiation underground, a source that kills one man and badly burns others. A quirky scientist named Royston (Dean Jagger), who works at a nearby atomic research laboratory, is called in to investigate. Other victims of radiation poisoning begin to appear throughout the area. Royston theorizes that a being of pure energy has somehow worked its way from deep under the earth's crust, and is feeding on all nearby sources of radiation. Luckily it just so happens that Royston has been experimenting with ways to neutralize atomic blasts--but will he be able to find an answer in time before the energy creature devours the entire atomic facility??

X THE UNKNOWN may have been Jimmy Sangster's first attempt at a full-length screenplay, but it's actually one of his best. The basic premise may be quite fantastic, but the story moves along at such a rapid pace that one doesn't have the time to think too much about it. Everything is shown in a low-key, natural manner, but director Leslie Norman and cinematographer Gerald Gibbs inject a chilly tone to match the crisp black & white photography. There's plenty of suspenseful sequences, and the overall mood is enhanced by James Bernard's frantic, driving score.

What helps the film work is the lack of any time-filler elements--no romantic subplots (no major female characters at all, in fact), no ponderous explanations of any character's background, and no major comic relief (there is some dry humor in spots). Dean Jagger is very good in the lead role. His Royston doesn't make the same vivid impression as Brian Donlevy's Quatermass, but he does seem more like a "real" scientist. (Royston is also far more approachable--and calmer--than Donlevy's Quatermass.) The rest of the cast carries on in the same understated manner--even attention-getting actors such as Leo McKern and Michael Ripper.

X THE UNKNOWN also features some very gruesome makeup effects for the period, such as flesh melting from a victim's skull! The movie doesn't wallow in these effects--they are shown quickly at a few selected spots, for maximum impact. At the climax of the film, the energy creature (which has basically turned into a muddy radioactive goop) resembles a cross between the Blob and Caltiki the Immortal Monster.

I had not seen X THE UNKNOWN in years, and I had never actually owned it on home video. Viewing it on this Blu-Ray, I was struck at how well done the film was...it seemed much better than I had remembered it. It's kind of silly now to call any Hammer movie "underrated", but X THE UNKNOWN has not gotten a lot of attention over the years. It's not a Quatermass film, it's not in color, it doesn't have Cushing or Lee, and it doesn't have a Hammer Glamour girl in it. Whenever the movie is discussed, it usually centers around the fact that Joseph Losey was to have supposed to originally directed it. I wish film geeks would spend less time arguing over Losey's involvement in the movie, and spend more time focusing on the finished project, which is a very interesting and serious science-fiction thriller. Leslie Norman may not have endeared himself to the Hammer production family (according to the sources I have read), but he did a fine and atmospheric job with X THE UNKNOWN.

X THE UNKNOWN was one of the titles released as part of Anchor Bay's famed Hammer DVD series in the 1990s. This Blu-ray is another fantastic print of a Hammer film from Shout Factory, with razor sharp black & white visuals. The sound is excellent as well, and that's very important with this film, which has several audio effects. The back of the Blu-ray case states that the film has a 1.37:1 aspect ration, even though it appears to be 1.75:1 widescreen.

There's not a lot of extras for this Blu-ray. There's a new audio commentary by Ted Newsom, and a original trailer. There is also a brand new--and very welcome--series called "The Men Who Made Hammer", which will continue on future Shout Factory Hammer releases. Produced and directed by Constantine Nasr, the first entry in the series features recollections about Jimmy Sangster from Richard Klemensen, the editor and publisher of LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS, the magazine dedicated to all things Hammer and English Gothic. Klemensen has a unique relationship to Hammer and the people who worked for the company. He was a longtime fan of their films, and through LSOH he got to know several of the company's most notable talents personally. His talk is natural and personable (Klemensen, who I know, is more of a regular Midwestern American than a factoid-obsessed film geek). I look forward to more entries in "The Men Who Made Hammer" series.




Thursday, February 20, 2020

#PreMakeAMovie





One of the things that has been trending among movie buffs on Twitter recently is #PreMakeAMovie. The premise is simple: take a recent film (or a relatively modern one) and "premake" it--that is, pretend the movie had been made years before, with a cast and crew befitting the times.

It's a great and fun idea, and it gives film geeks like me a chance to let their imaginations run riot. I was so excited when planning this post that I decided to ask some of my friends (all hardcore film buffs) to come up with some premakes on their own. All the posters shown here were designed and created by Joshua Kennedy.


First up, a few premakes of my very own:




WONDER WOMAN (1968) From Amicus Productions. Martine Beswick as Diana, Robert Conrad as Steve Trevor. Directed by Freddie Francis.

TAKEN (1956) Robert Ryan, Natalie Wood (as the daughter in peril). Directed by Don Siegel.

AIR FORCE ONE (1963) James Stewart (as the President), Maureen O'Hara (as the First Lady), Eli Wallach (as the main villain). Directed by Anthony Mann.

HEAT (1954) Kirk Douglas as Lt. Hanna, Burt Lancaster as McCauley, Dan Duryea as Chris, Julie Adams as Charlene. Directed by Robert Wise.

DARKMAN (1928) Lon Chaney, Conrad Veidt (as Durant). Directed by Tod Browning.

1917 (1964) Albert Finney, Peter O'Toole. Directed by Val Guest.

THE LIGHTHOUSE (1946) Boris Karloff, Kent Smith. Produced by Val Lewton. Directed by Jacques Tourneur.

THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (1937) William Powell, Carole Lombard. Directed by Howard Hughes.

My good buddy Tim Durbin (who has his own blog, viewingtheclassics.blogspot.com) has some intriguing entries:




A QUIET PLACE (1957) Richard Carlson, Mara Corday. Directed by Jack Arnold.

KNIVES OUT (1948) Van Johnson, Katy Jurado. Directed by John Huston.

MALEFICENT (1955) Bette Davis. Directed by Richard Fleischer.

AD ASTRA (1960) James Stewart. Directed by Michael Curtiz.


Multi-Rondo nominated independent filmmaker Joshua Kennedy (who made all these wonderful posters) unleashes his inventive talents with these productions:



KILL BILL (1977) Judy Geeson. Directed by Sidney Lumet & Cheh Chang

CAST AWAY (1944) Henry Fonda. Directed by John Ford.

BASIC INSTINCT (1951) Kirk Douglas, Faith Domergue. Directed by Howard Hawks.

JOKER (1963) Michael Gough. Directed by Billy Wilder.

AVATAR (1956) Kenneth Tobey, Yvonne de Carlo. Directed by Jack Arnold.

300 (1959) Charlton Heston. Directed by Cecil B. deMille.

THE AVENGERS (1920) Directed by Fritz Lang. (a lost film)


Writer and prolific audio commentator Troy Howarth goes really, really deep with his eye-opening choices:




CRIMSON PEAK (1965) Christopher Lee as Sir Thomas, Barbara Steele as Lady Lucille, Erika Blanc as Edith Cushing, Basil Rathbone as Carter Cushing. Directed by Mario Bava.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (1968) John Cassavetes as Pat, Barbara Boucet as Tiffany, Edward G. Robinson as Pat Sr., Thalmus Rasulala as Danny. Written by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, directed by Billy Wilder.

BONE TOMAHAWK (1970) Gian Maria Volonte as Sheriff Franklin, Tomas Milian as Arthur, Jason Robards as Chicory, Klaus Kinski as John Brooder. Directed by Sergio Corbucci.

KNIVES OUT (1936) Melvyn Douglas as Det. Blanc, Myrna Loy as Marta, Gloria Stuart as Joni, Miriam Hopkins as Linda, Claude Rains as Walt, Randolph Scott as Ransom, Lionel Atwill as Morris, Lionel Barrymore as Harlan. Directed by James Whale.


How'd you like to watch a film festival made up of those titles??

I really enjoyed putting this post together, and I'm already thinking of writing a sequel to it. If you are one of my many film geek internet friends, and have some prequels of your own, please let me know about them...and even if I don't know you, and you are reading this and have some titles, leave a comment. Remember, when it comes to #PreMakeAMovie, the only rule is to use your imagination to the fullest!!!

*Many thanks to Tim, Joshua, and Troy for their participation in this project.







Sunday, February 16, 2020

THE DEVIL WITHIN HER









Joan Collins appeared in a number of 1970s horror films: TALES FROM THE CRYPT, DARK PLACES, TALES THAT WITNESS MADNESS, EMPIRE OF THE ANTS....but the weirdest and worst of all has to be a 1975 British production that was known in America as THE DEVIL WITHIN HER.

Why is this one the weirdest and the worst? Let me describe the plot to you. It's about a woman named Lucy, played by Collins, who gives birth to a male baby possessed by evil because she was cursed by a lecherous dwarf while she was working as an exotic dancer.

Need I tell you more?? Don't worry, I'll tell you plenty. THE DEVIL WITHIN HER is just one title this movie is known by. The main British title was I DON'T WANT TO BE BORN, and it was also known as THE MONSTER. For some reason on IMDB the movie is listed as SHARON'S BABY--even though no one named Sharon has a baby in it!

Whatever you want to call it, the movie was directed by Hammer veteran Peter Sasdy, who helmed TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA and HANDS OF THE RIPPER. Sasdy tries hard to make things as realistic as possible here, which might have been the wrong approach, since it just makes the story feel even more ridiculous. It would have been interesting to see what a director like Robert Fuest or Ken Russell would have done with such material.

The movie begins with the birth of the child, and none other than Donald Pleasence is the presiding doctor. If you're thinking that means the doctor has something to do with the baby's evil ways, you're wrong--the man is a decent fellow, and Pleasence is quite restrained in the role. The baby is 12 pounds at birth, and (according to all the characters in the film) grows rapidly, even though the kid looks exactly the same throughout the story. The tot has great strength, and soon begins to bite and claw at people. The little fellow eventually moves up to horrible murders. The baby's nefarious acts are shot in such a way that the viewer never really gets to see him do much--it's the aftermath that is highlighted. It's still hard to think of the tyke as demonic, since every time he's shown, he has a bored expression on his face (maybe he was watching some of the rushes).

If the baby's situation is silly enough, the adult characters are even sillier. Joan Collins spends the film in her usual "angry and distraught" mode, and she doesn't gain much sympathy. Another Hammer veteran, Ralph Bates, plays her Italian husband Gino. Bates tries to affect an Italian accent, but he fails. ("He'sa bay-bee! A BAY-bee!!"). Why is Gino an Italian? So he can have a sister who just happens to be a nun, and who also happens to be able to perform the climatic exorcism.

There's plenty of other English Gothic notables here, such as the lovely Caroline Munro as Joan's best friend. Unfortunately she doesn't get much to do, and sadly, she's dubbed (as she would be far too many times in her movie career.) Caroline's character works at the same strip club that Joan's character used to, but don't get excited--she doesn't perform. Caroline does wear a bustier in one scene.

Janet Key (DRACULA A.D. 1972, AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS), plays a doomed nanny, and the nasty dwarf is played by George Claydon, who was the circus midget in BERSERK. Speaking of the dwarf, it's never explained why he has the power to curse a woman's future child--I was expecting to find out that he was a practitioner of the occult, or that he came from some notorious Eastern European family, but we get nothing. (If he does have such powers, why does he stay at his job of being a freakish mascot at a seedy strip joint??)

We do get to see the dwarf feel up Joan Collins, and we also get to see a sex scene between Joan and Ralph Bates (who is promptly killed off right after it). The movie actually could have used more such craziness, because it doesn't get truly bad enough to fit under the Ed Wood level. There's a lot of scenes filmed in actual London street locations--maybe Peter Sasdy was trying to inject some verisimilitude into such a fantastic tale, but I think he was just trying to pad out the running time. Ron Grainer's music score doesn't help things--it seems to have been written for an entirely different film.

It's hard to see how anyone--or anything--could have made THE DEVIL WITHIN HER a better movie. Which leads to the question...how in the heck did this film get made to begin with?? With all the talent involved in front of and behind the camera, didn't anyone connected to the production stop and think, "Hey, this isn't going to work"?? Obviously, this film was meant to take advantage of the success of ROSEMARY'S BABY and THE EXORCIST, but it winds up being one of the many genre titles of the Seventies that leaves the viewer in a state of puzzlement....as in "What the hell was that supposed to be??"

Saturday, February 15, 2020

THE LIGHTHOUSE





THE VVITCH, which came out a couple years ago, was a film I made sure to see in the theater. It had plenty of eerie and uncanny moments, and its director, Robert Eggers, knew how to make use of stillness and sound.

Eggers' follow-up, THE LIGHTHOUSE, didn't even make it to any South Bend theaters in its original release. I finally caught up with at last night through Xfinity OnDemand.

THE LIGHTHOUSE tells the story of two men assigned to lighthouse duty on a desolate island off the east coast of America sometime in the late 1800s. The men, an old grizzled veteran (Willem Dafoe) and his younger associate (Robert Pattinson) are supposed to be on the island for only four weeks, but a major storm forces them to stay longer. Both men undergo a psychological breakdown during their time on the island, which may or may not be due to supernatural manifestations.

I was quite intrigued when I first heard about THE LIGHTHOUSE, particularly due to the fact that director Eggers (who also co-wrote the film) chose to make it in black & white, and use a non-widescreen aspect ratio. The story sets up all sorts of possibilities, which are never quite realized. Much of the film deals with what the two men do on the island day after day--Pattinson's time is filled with onerous duties, while Dafoe is obsessed with tending the beacon light. The two men engage in several weary dialogue exchanges, which give the actors a chance to ham it up (especially Dafoe).

At times the movie borders on parody, with Dafoe resembling the Old Sea Captain from THE SIMPSONS. There's plenty of symbolism and ambiguity, and I'm sure everything in the story was meant to have some sort of meaning. But interest starts to flag after awhile, and one gets tired watching two strange and unlikable characters shamble about.

THE LIGHTHOUSE has exemplary cinematography and sound design, and it has a doom-laden music score that fits the overall visual mood perfectly. It has some of the most atmospheric individual shots I've seen in a film recently. But I believe it would have worked better as a 60 minute B movie from the 1940s or 1950s, or as an episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE or THE OUTER LIMITS. 109 minutes is way too long for such slight material. I would rather look at individual stills from THE LIGHTHOUSE than watch the movie over again.

Monday, February 10, 2020

JOHN THE BASTARD





The latest issue of CINEMA RETRO (#46) contains an interview with actor John Richardson, who appeared in such noteworthy genre films as Mario Bava's BLACK SUNDAY (1960) and the Hammer Films version of SHE (1965). In the magazine Richardson mentions a 1967 Euro Western he starred in called JOHN THE BASTARD. Richardson co-starred in the film with Martine Beswicke (she was using the last name "Beswick" at the time). Richardson and Beswicke were involved in a relationship when the movie was being made (it was an Italian production filmed mostly in Spain).

Martine would appear in a later, more famous spaghetti western called A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL. I have that one on Blu-ray, but I had never even heard of JOHN THE BASTARD, let alone seen it. I did some checking and I discovered that it is available on the Tubi streaming channel.

JOHN THE BASTARD (original title JOHN IL BASTARDO) is a very weird film, even by Euro Western standards. The movie's story is inspired by the legendary character of Don Juan--but the main character here is not a romantic vagabond, he's more of a lecherous jerk.

John Richardson plays one John Donald, a man who figuratively and literally is a bastard. He's selfish, conniving, untrustworthy, and a liar. He also has a huge chip on his shoulder, due to the fact that he is the illegitimate son of a powerful Mexican land baron. John goes south of the border to claim what he considers his rightful inheritance, but he comes up against his vicious half-brother, who has no intention of being pushed aside. John decides to seduce and humiliate his half-brother's sultry wife (Martine Beswicke), an act which leads to his ironic end.

John Richardson's best attribute was his handsome looks rather than any sort of acting talent. Due to his low-key manner, Richardson would have been perfect as one of the typical taciturn loners that proliferated throughout the Euro Western genre. John Donald, however, is not a quiet gunslinger--he's someone that is supposed to charm the clothes off of everyone he meets (especially the ladies). John Donald does more talking than anything else, and that's not exactly Richardson's strength, when one considers that he was seemingly dubbed in every movie he ever made. John Donald does so many foul deeds throughout the story that I doubt that any actor could have made the character appealing, and Richardson certainly does not.

Spending 100 minutes with an unlikable, unappealing main character is not very entertaining, and director and co-writer Armando Crispino doesn't do much to maintain the viewer's interest. At times it appears the story is veering toward being a spoof, but it can't be when too much is made out of John Donald's dark obsession over his birth status. There's a subplot about a group of Mormons being discriminated against, but it feels like it comes from an entirely different film. The subplot does gives John the chance to seduce two Mormon women. It also introduces the story's most intriguing element--a black-clad, stone-faced Mormon assassin played by spaghetti western veteran Gordon Mitchell. One wishes that an entire film had been made about this character.





Martine Beswicke and John Richardson in JOHN THE BASTARD


Martine Beswicke doesn't get all that much to do, and she doesn't get a chance to use her natural vitality and physicality. There's a bevy of European beauties who play the various young women who John goes through like paper plates, but neither of them get much of a chance to make an impression either.

I must point out the the print of JOHN THE BASTARD that I viewed on Tubi was horrid--the aspect ratio appeared cropped, and it looked like it came from a cheap videotape. This version ran about 102 minutes, but I have a feeling it was not uncut, since there were several jarring edits.

If I had watched a pristine, remastered, uncut print of JOHN THE BASTARD, with the proper aspect ratio, would I have had a better appreciation of it?? Maybe, but I doubt it. The main character is too unsavory--and too uninteresting--for one to spend a lot of time watching. A movie doesn't have to always have noble and heroic main characters, but there's plenty of ways to present a story featuring a unpleasant character in an effective and interesting manner. JOHN THE BASTARD might attract those who want to try and watch every Euro Western they can, and it might get attention from Martine Beswicke fans--but they'll be disappointed by her boring role.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

WILLOW










The 1988 fantasy-adventure film WILLOW has been back in the news recently due to info that there may be plans for a TV sequel. I never saw WILLOW in the theater--I must have only seen it on either videotape or on cable. I only saw it once, and it didn't make too much of an impression on me.

I decided to watch it again, using my Disney+ service. How does it hold up now, some 30 years later?

The one thing that comes out very clearly when viewing WILLOW is how derivative it is. Its influences are many--fairy tales, the Bible, sword & sorcery sagas, Disney animated movies, classic literature, and yes, STAR WARS (which itself has been accused of being plenty derivative). All stories are derivative in some way or another, but with WILLOW it almost becomes a game of picking out what reference the movie is channeling at a particular moment.

WILLOW was George Lucas' venture into fantasy-fairy tale territory, and he executive produced the film and provided the original story. Lucas teamed up with Ron Howard, who directed, and the pairing made a lot of industry headlines, with some venturing the opinion that the Lucas/Howard combination could be as successful as Lucas' collaboration with Steven Spielberg on the Indiana Jones series.

WILLOW was not a major box office hit upon original release, but (unlike what many would want you to believe) it wasn't a major flop either. It's a nice film, but it doesn't leave the big footprint one would expect from a George Lucas/Ron Howard teaming.

What WILLOW does remind one of most of all is THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy--I remember some critics said that it felt like a lighthearted take on Tolkien's work. Of course Peter Jackson's cinematic adaptation of LOTR wouldn't happen till years later, but there are individual shots in WILLOW that look almost exactly to what Jackson would put on the screen later on. There was even some location shooting done in New Zealand for WILLOW (the country is now famed for being the home of the LOTR movies).

The title character of Willow Ufgood, played by Warwick Davis, is very much reminiscent of Bilbo or Frodo Baggins. Willow is a dwarf-like creature who lives a quiet existence in a pastoral village among others of his kind, until his is unexpectedly thrust into a larger-than-life adventure. He discovers a baby girl, who has been hidden from a wicked Queen named Bavmorda. The girl is fated to be the one to end the Queen's evil reign. Willow travels to the land of the Daikini (regular sized humans) to return the baby to its kind, and gets involved in various adventures.

Along the way Willow meets up with a brash, conniving warrior named Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), the Queen's daughter Sorsha (Joanne Whalley), who eventually becomes an allay, a pair of inches tall creatures who are called "brownies", and a good witch. All these characters wind up helping Willow in his quest.

As stated before, WILLOW is a nice film, but there's nothing particularly outstanding about it. It's well-made, with many picturesque locations that Ron Howard takes visual advantage of. The story is a bit predictable, and at two hours, there are times when the pace begins to sag (especially when compared to the ultra-kinetic fantasy film product made today).

The main characters are somewhat generic, with Warwick Davis' Willow being the most interesting (the actor definitely would have made an acceptable Bilbo or Frodo). The one different element about Willow is that he is married with two children, and he loves and wants to get back to his family. Most main characters in heroic quest tales are unattached, and want to get away from their normal situation.

Val Kilmer's Madmartigan is supposed to be a charming, rogue-like Errol Flynn type, but he seems annoying rather than charismatic. Madmartigan and Joanne Whalley's Sorsha wind up having a "they act like they hate each other but they really don't" romantic relationship, which tries to remind the viewer of other Lucasfilm couples such as Han & Leia and Indy & Marion. The problem is their attraction for each other feels contrived, and ironically Kilmer and Whalley--who would marry in real life--don't have a lot of chemistry here.

It must be noted that Whalley's Sorsha is a strong, independent woman who can ride and fight, and makes up her own mind by going against her mother. (I thought we've been told female characters like this didn't exist before 21st Century cinema????) Unfortunately her choices in romancing Madmartigan and betraying her mother are not explored enough, making them seem arbitrary.

Jean Marsh as the evil Queen doesn't get enough to do to make an impression, and toward the end she starts resembling Emperor Palpatine. Somehow by killing the baby girl in a special ceremony the Queen will gain even more power to rule over the entire realm, but this isn't explained enough in the story (at least it wasn't explained enough to me). In WILLOW "magic" is akin to the Force.

As with most George Lucas productions, the attempts at comedy come off as silly. The two brownies (played by Kevin Pollack and Rick Overton) are to WILLOW as Jar Jar Binks is to the Star Wars prequels.

WILLOW has plenty of action scenes, and they are staged well, if not exactly inventively. The ILM special effects crew contributed some very early CGI, which a big deal was made of at the time the movie was released. The major CGI sequence was a morphing effect, which appears elementary today. A fire-breathing two headed dragon makes an appearance, courtesy of some stop-motion animation, but the creature is so goofy looking it doesn't present much of a threat. One of the movie's biggest strengths is the epic music score by James Horner.

I hope I'm not giving the impression that I didn't enjoy WILLOW. There's nothing inherently bad or disappointing about it--but it lacks that certain spark, that certain something that would make it a truly great film. Nearly everything in it reminded me of better stories. At times it tries to be a enchanting kids movie, at other times it takes on a muddy, grungy EXCALIBUR-like tone (the climatic battle takes place in a driving rain). It does have a good message--that even diminutive, supposedly unimportant folk like Willow can be heroes if they believe in themselves. It is a fine film for children--but I have to wonder how bored the kids of today would be with it. 








Tuesday, February 4, 2020

JOKER





I finally watched JOKER last night. Boy, that was a film that I needed after a hard day at work (sarcasm).

As I'm sure everybody knows now, JOKER tells the story of Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a mentally unstable, put-upon individual who lives a grim, bleak existence in what appears to be an early 1980s Gotham City.

JOKER is dark, despairing, and depressing...but it is supposed to be, so from that standpoint it works. Director and co-writer Todd Phillips uses plenty of sarcasm and irony to try and break up the misery, but most of these moments seem contrived.

Joaquin Phoenix does give an excellent, if at times exhausting, performance in the title role (he's always struck me as an actor who goes out of his way to show the audience how hard he's working). The film has impressive art direction and cinematography, but the story isn't as out-of-left field as some have said (it's very easy to predict what's going to happen during it).

I guess Todd Phillips should get credit for trying something different within the confines of the comic book movie. The thing is, I wouldn't really classify JOKER as a comic book movie, or even a DC Universe movie. Its links to the Batman comics saga are tenuous at best. The film is more of a political or social statement that happens to use the name of a famous super villain (how do we even know that Arthur Fleck is the "real" Joker at all?).

And that leads to this observation--what if the film had the same exact story, but without any DC Comics connections whatsoever? If it didn't have the Joker brand...would it have gotten the same amount of box office success, or critical acclaim?

What I'm trying to say is...if Arthur Fleck was just, Arthur Fleck, how many people would have been willing to spend two hours wallowing in his psychotic behavior?? Is he intriguing because of what happens to him, and how he responds to it....or because we are told he becomes the Joker??


Saturday, February 1, 2020

THE SPECIALISTS On Blu-ray From Kino









THE SPECIALISTS (1969) is one of Sergio Corbucci's lesser known Euro Westerns. It's not on the same level as the director's DJANGO or THE GREAT SILENCE, and it doesn't have any major spaghetti western or American stars. The main character is in fact played by a French pop star called Johnny Hallyday (the movie was in fact an Italian-French-German co-production).

It must be stated that Hallyday does look the part of taciturn loner and renowned gunman Hud Dixon. Hud rides into the town of Blackstone seeking revenge for the lynching of his brother, who was blamed for the theft of all the money in the town's bank. Hud finds out his brother was the victim of a grand conspiracy, and he has to navigate around several unsavory characters to get to the bottom of things. Just when Hud thinks he's gotten his final revenge on all of the townspeople who have set up his brother, he has to save them from a bizarre threat.

THE SPECIALISTS is a very strange film, even for Euro Western standards. For much of the story the movie plays out like a somewhat traditional Western. Hud spends most of his time having to deal with an upright sheriff (Gastone Moschin), and their relationship is similar to a subplot of Corbucci's RINGO AND HIS GOLDEN PISTOL. There's a number of quirky characters that are introduced, including a one-armed Mexican bandit (Mario Adorf), a sexy widow who runs the bank that was robbed (Francoise Fabian), and a quartet of young hippie-like vagabonds. These folks are treated in an almost lighthearted manner, which makes the climax of the film so jarring.

The last third of the film has such a different tone that it feels as if a different writer came out of nowhere and provided the scenes. (Corbucci is credited as co-writer as well as director.) The quirky characters all turn out to be vicious threats, and the violence is ramped up considerably. Not only are the citizens of Blackstone denied their money, they are put through a shameful collective embarrassment, courtesy of the now-brutal vagabonds. This last affront has to be seen to be believed--but even then one finds it hard to accept it.

The outdoor sequences of THE SPECIALISTS were not shot in Spain--they were instead filmed in the Dolomites, giving the movie a greener appearance then most Euro Westerns (Corbucci always tried to make his various westerns look distinct from one another). Cinematographer Dario Di Palma gives the film a fine visual quality, and A. F. Lavagnino provides an eclectic music score. As is customary with any Corbucci title, there's several tightly-edited and proficiently staged action scenes.

Kino presents THE SPECIALISTS in an excellent 2.35:1 transfer, with either Italian or French audio along with English subtitles. The movie on this disc is the original unedited version.

The main extra is an another audio commentary by director and spaghetti western fanatic Alex Cox. He gives all the pertinent details about the movie's production, and attempts to analyze why the supposed left-leaning Corbucci went out of his way to make the hippie-like characters in this film so unattractive. Cox's talk is worth listening to. A series of trailers for other Euro Westerns released by Kino are also included.

THE SPECIALISTS is a solidly made film from all technical aspects. It suffers, in my opinion, from a climax that feels like it comes from another movie altogether (others may find the ending diverting). It is worth owning for hardcore Euro Western buffs.