Saturday, April 30, 2022



The generically named IT! is a 1967 horror film I caught up with on TCM yesterday. The movie was written, produced, and directed by Herbert J. Leder, who was responsible for the underwhelming THE FROZEN DEAD. 

What makes IT! notable is the fact that IT is the Golem, the fabled creature from Jewish lore. The story, set in contemporary London, details how the Golem is found after a fire to a museum warehouse. The Golem is used for nefarious purposes by the museum's curator, a strange young man named Arthur Pimm (Roddy McDowall). 

A modern movie using the Golem in the English-speaking world seems to be a promising idea, but the script spends most of its time dealing with the twitchy, fussy, nervous Pimm. The young man is written to be a Norman Bates clone--he even keeps the remains of his late mother in his house, fully dressed, and he still talks to her. Pimm also claims to have access to the "spirit world", which supposedly allows him to communicate with the Golem. (Both the dead mother and spiritual elements of the story are not developed enough, and only seem to exist just to make Pimm stranger than he already is.) 

The Golem here does have a striking design (see picture below). This Golem is made of stone, not clay...and it cannot be destroyed. The authorities even use a "small" nuclear device on it at the climax of the film, only to see it walk into the ocean. 

The creature doesn't get much to do, except look threatening when standing still. This was probably due to the fact that when it does move about, it comes off as rather clunky, and the movie's low budget didn't allow for intricate special effects. At one point Pimm has the Golem destroy the Hammersmith bridge, but we never actually see it go down, we are just shown the results with a matte painting. During the climax, the creature is "attacked" by a British army that is represented by a few soldiers and a couple of pieces of military equipment. 

Jill Haworth plays the damsel in distress here. She's the blonde beauty working in the museum that Pimm desires (of course she doesn't take him seriously). Pimm winds up kidnapping her--she's dressed in a nightgown at the time--and in time-honored fashion, the Golem carries her off. 

More of Haworth and the Golem would have better served the film. IT! is a talky, slow-moving affair, unless you like to spend a lot of time watching Roddy McDowall act weird. The supporting cast is rather bland, and any decently creative person can think of all sorts of ways the idea of the Golem being set loose in the modern world could have been used to better effect. 

At one point in IT!, Roddy McDowall's Pimm mentions that he went to see a 1920s German silent film about a Golem. He's obviously referring to the Paul Wegener classic, but he's giving good advice to audience. If you want to see a great tale about the Golem, IT! isn't it. 

The Golem (Alan Sellers) and Jill Haworth 

Tuesday, April 26, 2022



This is a film that has gotten a lot of buzz online, and, since it also stars the legendary Michelle Yeoh, I decided to go out to the theater and see it. It's a production that almost defies description, a wild and oftentimes wacky action/fantasy combination of Hong Kong kung fu cinema, "The Matrix", and a Marvel-like multiverse. 

Yeoh plays Evelyn Wang, a Chinese immigrant living in America and running a struggling laundromat. Evelyn has a number of issues with her husband (Ke Huy Quan), her daughter (Stephanie Hsu), and her father (James Hong), and she also has major problems with the IRS. But Evelyn's life really goes off the rails when she discovers she's just one of several Evelyns who exist in several different universes--and the beings that live in one particular universe believe she is the key to stopping an all-consuming evil that could destroy everything. 

A simple way to describe this movie would be to call it a superhero tale without superheroes (one of the major plot points is that Evelyn is an ordinary person who lives an ordinary life). There's definitely a Marvel vibe here (the Russo brothers are two of the producers), but this is like a comic book movie on drugs. Directors and writers Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert provide all sorts of visual and editing tricks, along with a number of idiosyncratic "rules" that Evelyn must adapt to in order to save the multiverses. The various complications, and the various Evelyns, can be hard to keep up with for those who don't pay close attention while watching a film. 

For all the multiverse madness, the story is really about Evelyn and her family trying to come to terms with one another. The movie does have heart--although at times that aspect of it comes perilously close to being overwhelmed by all the crazy goings-on, and the ribald attempts at humor that just seem silly. 

As expected, Michelle Yoeh is great, but Ke Huy Quan deserves special praise as Evelyn's kindly and decent husband. Jamie Lee Curtis plays an IRS office drudge, but, like Colin Farrell in THE BATMAN, she's so heavily made up she's almost unrecognizable (which makes me wonder what she would have been like in the role without all the FX). 

If you're looking for a new movie that is different and non-mainstream, but still entertaining, EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE fits the bill. It does have to be pointed out that there's a lot to take in here, and the movie's amphetamine-fueled pace and story structure will not be for everyone. It runs nearly two and a half hours, and some trimming (and toning down of the wackier elements) might have helped. But it does deserve credit for being an original non-franchise entry, and for having unique leading characters. 

Sunday, April 24, 2022



Batman is my favorite comic book character, and just about every movie featuring the Dark Knight I've managed to go and see soon after its theatrical release. 

For the latest one, however, I felt no sense of urgency in seeing it in a theater. It is because I'm burned out by comic book movies and TV shows? Or burned out by too many mediocre (by my standards) cinematic interpretations of the Caped Crusader? 

I believe the main reason was the three hour running time of THE BATMAN. A three hour movie, with at least twenty minutes of trailers and ads...I do work for a living, and I do have to get up pretty early, so that takes up a major chunk of my time. There's also the fact that everything I have read about THE BATMAN convinced me that it wasn't going to be something that I would enjoy. 

I did finally catch up with the film HBO Max, and my suspicions about it were confirmed. THE BATMAN is a dark, gloomy, soggy slog of a tale. 

Director/co-writer Matt Reeves' portrayal of the Batman and his world isn't particularly fresh or creative--there's plenty here we've already seen before. Gotham City is broken, dispirited, and corrupt, and nothing in it seems to work properly. The plot is another complicated story about massive corruption among the Gotham elite, this time involving those close to Batman/Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson). 

As for Pattinson's take on Batman, I will say he does look good in the suit--Reeves gives him several grim-faced close-ups while wearing the cowl. But there's nothing about his Dark Knight that stood out for me. As for Pattinson and Reeves' take on Bruce Wayne, I believe it's all wrong--this Wayne resembles a strung-out grunge musician. 

I'm sure people who appreciate this film will point out that this is a younger Batman, who isn't fully formed yet. That may be, but in my estimation Pattinson joins the long list of actors who have failed to convince me that they were THE Batman. 

As for the rest of the film overall, the cinematography, production design, and costumes owe a very, very heavy debt to BLADE RUNNER. We get another version of Alfred (Andy Serkis), another version of Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), and another Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz) who straddles the fence between good and bad and also has a relationship with the Caped Crusader. 

Like most other Batman movies, there's multiple villains. This presentation of the Riddler (Paul Dano) seems to have wandered in from a slasher film, and he's dressed like a regular attendee at S & M gatherings. The Penguin has been reworked into an ethnic mafia stereotype, and is played by Colin Farrell, but he's so  heavily made up you can't even recognize him. Which begs the question....why hire a name actor, and then go to the time and trouble to totally change his appearance? Why not just get a fat Italian guy?? (Farrell, by the way, seems to be channeling Al Pacino's performance in DICK TRACY.) 

When THE BATMAN came out in theaters, I read a lot of posts on the internet exclaiming how inventive Matt Reeves' take on the Dark Knight was. Personally, I wasn't that impressed...this film felt to me like another Christopher Nolan entry, except it's slower moving and even more morose. I have to say once again that the best Batman film has yet to be made. 

Saturday, April 23, 2022



PANCHO VILLA is a 1972 Euro Western, filmed in Spain, with Telly Savalas in the title role. Many of the people involved in this production, such as producer Bernard Gordon, writer Julian Halevy, and director Eugenio Martin, would soon later go on to make the fantastic HORROR EXPRESS. 

A number of early 70s spaghetti westerns would venture into the realms of the absurd, and unfortunately PANCHO VILLA falls into this group. During the Mexican Revolution of the early 1900s, the flamboyant Villa "invades" the American state of New Mexico in order to get weapons and money. A rather mediocre group of U.S. army soldiers tries to stop him. 

PANCO VILLA isn't a hard-edged, action-packed tale about the legendary bandit-revolutionary. Telly's Pancho has nothing to do with the real-life figure. Savalas doesn't even try to use a Mexican (or Spanish) accent, and his baldness is explained by having Villa's head shaved at the beginning of the film while he is a prisoner. This Pancho is a cross between an egocentric bratty kid and a drama queen. Telly is always entertaining to watch, but if you are looking for a fact-based dramatic interpretation of Mexican history, you won't find it here. 

You also won't find any sort of political subtext here, despite the fact that both Bernard Gordon and Julian Halevy were affected by the Hollywood blacklist of the 1950s. There's so many dopey elements involved in PANCHO VILLA that one wonders what type of movie the producer and director were trying to make. 

Clint Walker plays Scotty, an American soldier of fortune who is Villa's right-hand-man, and he's constantly overshadowed by Savalas. Anne Francis (it's amazing how many different types of performers wound up in spaghetti westerns) plays Scotty's wife, but her character could have been edited out of the film with absolutely no impact on the plot whatsoever--apparently she was cast in this just to have an attractive American female in the movie. 

An even worse use of talent is the casting of Chuck Connors as U.S. Army officer Colonel Wilcox. The character is written and portrayed as a ridiculous martinet stereotype--during one overlong sequence in the film Wilcox demands that his officers hunt down a fly that has gotten into the mess hall of the fort he's commanding. The sequence is supposed to be funny, but it's an example of the silly antics that this story is filled with....and Connors doesn't even get to share one scene with Savalas. 

The end credits are accompanied by a song called "We All End Up the Same", performed by none other than Telly Savalas. The music for it was written by John Cacavas (who would go on to score HORROR EXPRESS), and the lyrics were written by Don Black, who also worked on a number of James Bond title songs. This song has nothing to do with Pancho Villa, or early 20th Century Mexico, but I'm sure it's inclusion in the film made Telly happy. 

The few action scenes presented here are handled very well, and the miniature trains used are quite effective (the trains and the carriage sets would be re-used for HORROR EXPRESS). PANCHO VILLA should have been a much better movie, with three classic tough guys like Savalas, Walker, and Connors, and a subject and a setting that offers all sorts of possibilities, but it winds up being a goofy affair. I will say that the version of it I watched on Tubi was very sharp-looking. 

Saturday, April 16, 2022

NIGHT CREATURES On Blu-ray From Shout Factory


The latest Hammer Region A Blu-ray release from Shout Factory is NIGHT CREATURES, the American titled version of the 1962 film CAPTAIN CLEGG. 

NIGHT CREATURES is a remake of the 1937 film DR. SYN, which was based on the Russell Thorndyke novel of the same name. Thorndyke wrote a number of books on the character, a pirate-smuggler who plied his trade on the east coast of England in the 18th Century while disguised as a vicar. 

Hammer purchased the remake rights to the 1937 movie, only to find that Walt Disney's company had purchased the rights to all of Russell Thorndyke's Dr. Syn novels. This forced Hammer to use the name "Dr. Blyss" instead of Syn, but they were still able to use the main elements of the story. 

Peter Cushing has one of his best roles as Dr. Blyss/Captain Clegg. He switches effortlessly at a moment's notice between the kindly, soft-spoken Blyss and the cunning, determined Clegg. Cushing also gets to engage in plenty of physical action as well, and he hugely enjoyed himself during this production. (At two different points in his life, Cushing even wrote story treatments based on the Captain Clegg character.) 

Cushing is ably supported by one of the best overall casts for a Hammer film, which includes Oliver Reed, Yvonne Romain, Michael Ripper, Martin Benson, Derek Francis, and Milton Reid. Special mention must be made of Patrick Allen, who plays the no-nonsense Captain Collier, the Royal Navy man determined to put an end to Clegg's smuggling activities. The type of character Allen plays in NIGHT CREATURES is usually portrayed as a fool or unsympathetic, but Capt. Collier is neither, and the scenes between Allen and Cushing have a spark to them. 

The idea to make the film actually started with producer John Temple-Smith and director Peter Graham Scott, and while they were not part of the official Hammer family, they created one of the best non-horror films made by the company. NIGHT CREATURES has plenty of English Gothic trappings, but in my opinion it is not a horror tale, despite the title used for the American release from Universal. It is an enjoyable, fast-moving period adventure. 

Shout Factory's disc case for this Blu-ray states that the aspect ratio is 2.00:1--but a number of sources on the internet say that it is 1.85:1. (I have to say that there were times when the framing looked a bit tight.) The disc packaging claims that the print used comes from a 2022 2K scan, and it is quite colorful. 

There's plenty of extras here. Kim Newman provides a discussion of the film's background and the series of Dr. Syn novels written by Russell Thorndyke. Jonathan Rigby gives an excellent half-hour examination and analysis of Peter Cushing's acting career and screen persona--it's one of the best extras on any Shout Factory Hammer release. 

There's also a featurette on the making of the film, hosted by Wayne Kinsey and narrated by John Carson, which has plenty of rare behind-the-scenes photos. Wayne Kinsey also hosts a short program on the George Mossman carriage collection, focusing on the various coaches used in many Hammer films. Special effects artist Brian Johnson provides a few memories about working on NIGHT CREATURES and FX legend Les Bowie. This disc also has the original American trailer and a stills gallery, and there's a new audio commentary with Bruce Hallenbeck, who gives out plenty of info on the film (Bruce saw it during its original American theatrical release). 

As with most Shout Factory Hammer releases, a limited-edition poster, with artwork by Mark Maddox, is provided for those that ordered the disc direct from the company (see picture above). Maddox's artwork is used for the reversible disc case, with poster artwork for the 1962 American release on the other side. 

At this point I'm hesitant to call any Hammer movie underrated, but NIGHT CREATURES deserves more attention than it usually gets. It's one of Hammer's best adventure stories, and it contains one of Peter Cushing's best performances. I know some Hammer fans would have preferred to see the CAPTAIN CLEGG title on this release, but whatever you call it, Shout Factory has put together another fine package. 

Sunday, April 10, 2022

THE INDIAN TOMB (1921) On Blu-ray From Kino


Another German silent epic gets the Region A Blu-ray treatment from Kino Lorber. This time it's the 1921 two-part exotic adventure tale THE INDIAN TOMB (original title DIE INDISCHE GRABMAL), written by Thea von Harbou and Fritz Lang, and directed by Joe May. 

Distinguished English architect Herbert Rowland (Olaf Fonss) is summoned to India by a mysterious yoghi (Bernard Goetzke) to build a magnificent tomb for a powerful prince (Conrad Veidt). Due to the prince's orders, Rowland must leave immediately, and without telling his fiancee Irene (Mia May). The courageous Irene decides to seek out Herbert, while the architect finds out that the tomb is meant for a woman who is still alive--the prince's unfaithful wife. Herbert is aghast at this information, while the prince plots to kill his wife's lover, an English officer. Irene arrives at the prince's palace, only to attract the ardor of her host. Herbert and Irene go through various complications while trying to avoid the wrath of the prince and save the doomed princess. 

THE INDIAN TOMB is a four-hour spectacular, divided into two parts: THE MISSION OF THE YOGI and THE TIGER OF ESCHNAPUR. It was perhaps the most expensive movie ever made in Germany at the time, and the sets, production design, and costumes are quite eye-catching, despite the fact that not one scene was actually filmed in India. 

The production, however, is not a rip-roaring action-filled tale. Both parts have a very stately pace to them, with many characters slowly moving about as in a trance. (In the first part of the story, it takes about an hour for Herbert Rowland to arrive in India.) Fritz Lang, who was working for Joe May's production company, was hoping to direct the film himself, but May decided to take up the reins. (Lang, who never forgave May for this action, would remake both parts of the film in the late 1950s.) If Lang had directed, there's no doubt he would have injected much more energy into the proceedings. 

Nevertheless, THE INDIAN TOMB has plenty of highlights and striking compositions. There's a creepy cave filled with penitents physically abusing themselves, a courtyard of lepers, a tiger pit, and a climax involving a rickety rope bridge over a deep chasm. There's also a supernatural element to the story with the character of Bernard Goetzke's yoghi, who has a number of out-of-body abilities. 

Olaf Fonss and Mia May (the director's wife) are okay as the supposed heroes, but their characters seem to spend more time blundering into one dangerous situation after another instead of making a major impact on the plot. Fonss and May certainly can't compete with Conrad Veidt, who as expected dominates every scene he's in. The intense glares of Veidt and Bernard Goetzke are by far the best special effects in the film. Lya de Putti, who would become a major star later in the decade, plays the princess' maid and confidant, and she gets as much screen time as Erna Moerna, who plays the princess. 

The print used on this Kino Blu-ray comes from a recent restoration, and while it looks fine, I don't think the visuals are as exemplary as other silent German releases from the same company. (It must be pointed out that this is a 100 year old film.) The print is heavily tinted, and the uncanny music score is provided by Irena and Vojtech Havlovi (there are times when I felt the weirdness of the music intruded on the visuals). 

The only extra is a very interesting 45 min. featurette by David Cairns and Fiona Watson examining the making of the film, and Thea von Harbou's obsession with India. Unfortunately there is not an audio commentary, and this is definitely a home video release that deserves one. 

I had never seen the 1921 THE INDIAN TOMB, but I was aware of its reputation. It has a number of impressive aspects to it, and Conrad Veidt fans will certainly appreciate it--but I feel that one must have a lot of patience while watching it. I own Fritz Lang's 1959 remake on Blu-ray, and I have to say I prefer that version (there was also a German remake of the story during the Nazi era that I have not seen.) The Lang version had the advantages of being in color, location shooting in India...and Debra Paget. It also steered away from the supernatural aspects of the 1921 version, and added more action and intrigue. The 1921 version is still worth the time of any hardcore silent film buff. 

Sunday, April 3, 2022



I've seen just about every film that my favorite actor, Peter Cushing, has appeared in....but one that has constantly eluded me is FURY AT SMUGGLERS' BAY, a 1961 period adventure. I finally was able to see it this weekend, courtesy of a decent widescreen print on YouTube. 

The story is set in the late 18th Century, when smuggling was prevalent along the southern English coastline. The haughty Squire Trevenyan (Peter Cushing) is concerned about the illegal activities in his district, but he seems reluctant to confront a group known as the "wreckers", a gang of cutthroats who lure ships to their doom, and then make off with the cargoes. The Squire harbors a secret involving his son Christopher (John Fraser), and this is known by the leader of the wreckers, the nefarious Black John (Bernard Lee). Christopher attempts to get evidence to being the wreckers to justice, with the help of a mysterious highwayman called "The Captain" (William Franklyn). 

FURY AT SMUGGLERS' BAY is well-done classic action-adventure tale, with all sorts of daring-do. It anticipates Hammer's later CAPTAIN CLEGG, and it is also reminiscent of Hitchcock's JAMAICA INN. There's gun battles, fistfights, chases on horseback, a tavern brawl, and a sword duel. Producer-writer-director John Gilling never lets things slow down for a moment, and the film's running time of 82 minutes is perfect for this type of story. 

Various sources give two different places for the extensive location shooting--either Ireland or South Wales--but wherever it was, Gilling and cinematographer Harry Waxman made great use of it, providing the viewer with a number of excellent widescreen color compositions. The production design and costumes are exemplary as well, making the production look much more expensive than the films Gilling would later make for Hammer. There's also a rousing music score by Harold Geller. 

Peter Cushing must have appreciated getting top billing in a non-horror film at this time, but I'm sure he must have realized that Bernard Lee and William Franklyn had much better roles. Lee is almost unrecognizable as the grizzled Black John, and the relationship his character has with Cushing's Squire is very much like the one Boris Karloff and Henry Daniell had in THE BODY SNATCHER. William Franklyn shines as the Errol Flynn-like "Captain"--the fellow is more of a charming rogue than a hardened criminal. 

The supporting cast is filled with names familiar to fans of British Cinema during this period--June Thorburn plays the Squire's daughter, while Liz Fraser gets a choice part as a voluptuous barmaid. Miles Malleson and George Coulouris are in this as well. 

Peter Cushing would be personally much better served with CAPTAIN CLEGG, but FURY AT SMUGGLERS' BAY is a fine, entertaining swashbuckler that turned out much better than I thought it would be. It deserves an official North American home video release--or at least it deserves more attention. 

Saturday, April 2, 2022

NOW AND FOREVER On Blu-ray From Kino


NOW AND FOREVER is a 1934 Paramount film, directed by Henry Hathaway and starring Gary Cooper, Carole Lombard, and Shirley Temple. Despite the famous names who worked on it, the movie doesn't live up to expectations. 

Gary Cooper plays Jerry Day (no relation to me), a middling con artist. Jerry's constant scheming annoys his wife Toni (Carole Lombard), who leaves him. Jerry decides to go to his late first wife's in-laws and pressure them into giving him a large sum of money in order to take care of his daughter Penny (Shirley Temple), who he has not seen since she was a baby. When Jerry meets up with Penny, he's so charmed by her he decides to bring her up himself. Jerry and Penny travel to Paris to reunite with Toni, and he promises to go straight--but his desire to give Penny a proper upbringing drives him back to his con artist ways. 

The big problem with NOW AND FOREVER is that Gary Cooper is miscast as Jerry. The actor appears uncomfortable in the role--his Jerry is too soft-spoken and retiring to be a dynamic rogue. Jerry comes off as someone who doesn't want to work for a living, and (other than the fact that he's Gary Cooper) one wonders why his wife and daughter are so devoted to him. 

Another problem is that the viewer is supposed to feel sympathetic toward Jerry and his family--but they live in Paris, and they wear (and apparently have) all sorts of fashionable clothes, despite the fact that Jerry's honest job as a realtor pays him only $35 a week. (It never seems to occur to anyone in the film that Jerry could always take his family back to America and live a normal and more affordable life.) 

Carole Lombard doesn't all that much to do, other than spend most of the time being exasperated at Jerry. (She does get to have plenty of costume changes.) Shirley Temple gets more of a chance to shine than either Cooper and Lombard--she gets a song and dance number, and she also gets plenty of chances to tug at the viewer's heartstrings. 

The movie gets rather melodramatic toward the end, with Jerry being "punished" for his dishonest ways. NOW AND FOREVER does have plenty of early 30s Paramount gloss, but one wonders if the story might have worked better without it. (The script was co-written by Irving Thalberg's sister Sylvia.) 

I wondered why Kino didn't include this on their recent two Carole Lombard box sets, but I assume the company figured that the combination of Lombard, Cooper and Shirley Temple would rate a stand-alone release. The disc case claims that this Region A Blu-ray features a brand new 2K master of the film, but the print used here doesn't look very clean, and it isn't very sharp. 

The only extra (other than a collection of trailers) is a new audio commentary by Lee Gambin and Elissa Rose. They give out various background info on the film, and they spend a lot of time talking about Paramount costume designer Travis Banton. During the talk Gambin discusses a different, darker ending for the film that was changed before it was released--I own several books on Carole Lombard, and none of them mention this. 

I'm glad that Kino is releasing lesser-known Carole Lombard on home video, but I also wish the combination of Gary Cooper, Carole Lombard, and Shirley Temple had been showcased in a better movie.