11APR2018 – Quote of the Day

“It’s a Gift” and “The Man on the Flying Trapeze” are two of my favorite movies.  I often tell Camera Girl that she reminds me of the wife in those movies.  And she often throws things at me afterwards.  Fields was a sort of genius in my opinion.

 

“No doubt exists that all women are crazy; it’s only a question of degree.”

W. C. Fields

 

 

08APR2018 – Quote of the Day

 

I copied this from the public domain Project Gutenberg website but the translation that I know it from is by Howard Thayer Kingsbury and of course from Jose Ferrer’s tour de force in the 1950 Hollywood film version.  I’ll ignore Steve Martin’s Roxanne as too awful to consider.  I have to take the time to watch Gérard Depardieu’s 1990 version someday.

 

CYRANO DE BERGERAC

A Play in Five Acts by Edmond Rostand (Translated from the French by Gladys Thomas and Mary F. Guillemard)

Scene 5.II

THE DUKE (pausing, while she goes up): Ay, true,–I envy him. Look you, when life is brimful of success –Though the past hold no action foul–one feels A thousand self-disgusts, of which the sum Is not remorse, but a dim, vague unrest; And, as one mounts the steps of worldly fame, The Duke’s furred mantles trail within their folds A sound of dead illusions, vain regrets, A rustle–scarce a whisper–like as when, Mounting the terrace steps, by your mourning robe Sweeps in its train the dying autumn leaves.

 

 

OCF Classic Movie Review – Charles Laughton – Part 1

So instead of looking at a movie, let’s switch it up and talk about an actor. Charles Laughton was a British actor of Hollywood’s Golden Age (1930s and 40s) who lasted into the 1960s.  In most cases this was fairly rare.  And that is because most of those actors back then were movie stars who depended on good looks to bring in the audience.  Once they hit forty parts started drying up.  Not Laughton though.  He resembled, and as he got older, more and more closely resembled, a toad.  Because of this he never depended on his looks to garner success.  He was a truly versatile and skillful actor.  As I’ve stated recently we are inside the month-long pre-Oscar movie festival on TCM.  Many old classics are being shown daily.  Over the weekend I watched two Laughton movies in one day.  In the morning I watched him in “The Private Life of Henry VIII” and that night I watched him in “Mutiny on the Bounty.”  The only thing that King Henry and Captain Bligh have in common is that they were both English.  The characterizations, appearances and mannerisms are worlds apart.  And yet both characters are memorable and believable.  And the same can be said for the multitude of characters he played over the years.  He was the Hunchback of Notre Dame, an American senator in the Cold War era, the Roman senator Cicero, an English barrister, the Emperor Claudius, a British butler in the old Wild West, Captain Kidd the pirate, a hobo, a ghost, a henpecked husband who murders his wife and even a horror movie mad scientist.  His versatility allowed him to create entertaining characters in a comedy, drama, tragedy, history or any combination of the above.  In fact, it was sometimes the case that a poor movie would still be worth watching just to see Laughton do his stuff.  Laughton movies that I have enjoyed for at least his efforts include:

1)            Mutiny on the Bounty (highly recommended)

2)            Witness for the Prosecution (highly recommended)

3)            Advise and Consent

4)            The Private Life of Henry VIII

5)            The Hunchback of Notre Dame

6)            Ruggles of Red Rock (a very silly but enjoyable comedy)

7)            Spartacus

8)            The Canterville Ghost (a WWII comedy)

9)            Island of Lost Souls (an early horror movie)

 

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931 Version) – A Classic Monster Movie Review

This is not part of the Universal Monster series.  Paramount made this film and Frederic March was a pretty big star at the time so this movie was made as a serious literary drama.  That’s not to say that the movie doesn’t contain scenes and effects taking advantage of the hedonistic exploits of Mr. Hyde.  It does and to a degree that shows that this is during the pre-code period.

The plot follows the usual story line and we witness the happy, virtuous and talented Dr. Henry Jekyll metamorphose into the bestial sadistic Mr. Hyde.  And we follow as Jekyll’s life and fortunes come crashing down.  And of course, everyone around him is destroyed in the catastrophe.

The story by Robert Louis Stevenson was supposed to be about the duality of the human soul.  The theory holds that the evil side of the human psyche is also the active/vital part and the good is the passive/weaker part.  And in a sense there is truth in that.  Our basest instincts are thoroughly hard-wired and are inseparable from the rest of our selves.  Bottling up those instincts eventually leads to them bursting out in a destructive explosion.  The saner course is to train and channel the energies of the brute and tame them to our better nature.  So that’s the philosophy.

Now about the movie.  Well it’s kind of fun.  There are all kinds of outdated special effects and some hammy acting on display.  But it’s a pretty well-done production.  I think it’s an entertaining old monster movie.  And I like it better than the later version with Spencer Tracy and Ingrid Bergman.  I recommend it to fans of old monster movies.

 

Topper – An OCF Classic Movie Review

The pre-Oscar TCM movie festival continues so I decided to re-watch Topper.  This is without a doubt one of the goofiest screwball comedies of the 1930s.  Cary Grant and Constance Bennett are George and Marion Kirby, a young married couple.  They’re rich and they live a wild life.  They stay up all night dancing and drinking and driving around in a crazy fin-backed whale of a roadster.  Their banker is a middle-aged mouse of a man named Cosmo Topper.  Topper has a proper wife who wants Topper to get up at 8am and go to bed by 11pm and have lamb on Sunday and steak on Tuesday and boiled vegetables on Wednesday.  She expects him to be the respectable banker so she can be part of high society.

When George and Marion show up at Topper’s bank one morning for a business meeting you can tell that all three of them think that Topper’s life is not much fun compared to the Kirbys.  Driving back from the meeting George is characteristically driving like a madman around some hairpin turns when he gets something in his eye and crashes them.  Staggering out of the wreck George and Marion gather their senses and realize that they have died in the crash and are now ghosts.  Taking stock of the situation they realize they don’t have any good deeds on their records to allow them to expect admission through the pearly gates.  The scene dissolves with the ghosts themselves dissolving into invisibility.

In the next scene Topper is at home with the missus.  We witness the boredom of his respectable existence.  At this point a mechanic shows up with the Kirby’s repaired sports car.  Both the mechanic and Mrs. Kirby remark on how mismatched this car would be for Topper.  His pride is stung and he takes off with the car.  The car gets the better of him and he crashes it at the same spot that the Kirbys crashed.  The Kirbys make their presence known and Topper eventually gets over his fright.  The rest of the film is the tale of the Kirbys trying to humanize Topper and make his life happier.  This is the good deed that they hope will get them into heaven.

With a plot this frothy everything depends on the characterizations of the stars.  Cary Grant and Constance Bennett are at their witty best bantering together while teaching Topper to be a man and not a mouse.  Roland Young brings his characteristic upper-class Englishman’s mumbling confused manner to his portrayal of Cosmo Topper and Billie Burke as Mrs. Topper is the outraged prim and proper wife who needs to learn that a husband still needs to be a man.  An uncredited part has Hoagy Carmichael playing the piano and singing for the happy couple.  All in all, I’d say this is a goofy comedy that from my point of view provides good entertainment.  The story sails along and even the minor characters are well done and add to the fun of the story.

I give this movie 4 out of 5 stars.

2001: A Space Odyssey – A Science Fiction Movie Review

(Warning, this whole review is one long spoiler.  In my defense this movie is 49 years old.)

The only good thing about The Academy Awards is that for the whole month before, TCM plays many good (and not so good) old movies.  Last night I watched 2001.  As the exit music was finishing it occurred to me that this was the first time in almost fifty years that I had watched the movie from beginning to end.  Back in 1968 I attended the film in a large theater in Manhattan as part of a class trip.  At the time I was a sci-fi fan but I distinctly remember becoming incredibly bored during the “Infinity” sequence.  And sure enough, last night I found my eyes glazing over as I waited for Keir Dullea to stop making funny faces and show up in Versailles.  And then it also occurred to me that it was actually a very, very good movie.  So, let’s talk about it.  You already know I don’t like the “Infinity” sequence.  But I find the rest of the film is excellent.  Not everybody cares for Kubrick’s style in film-making.  There is a great deal of stylization and idiosyncratic imagery that bothers many people.  And without a doubt it is highly un-naturalistic.  In fact, the ape men were the most realistic as personalities.  The other characters are decidedly wooden.

But without a doubt this movie is an amazing spectacle.  The matching of images to the musical soundtrack is perfect.  The sequences of space ships landing and maneuvering are shown as if they were dancers in a ballet.  The “Dawn of Man” sequence is riveting.  I could believe that the actual event was very much like the portrayal (minus the monolith of course).  It captured the essence of human ingenuity.  The desperate and sordid circumstances of that ingenuity ring true.

And then there’s HAL.  I hate HAL.  I always have.  But he is the perfect Frankenstein Monster.  And the arc of his crime and punishment is, for me, a thing of hideous beauty.  His relations with the astronauts are as creepy and dishonest as some Dickens villain, something like Uriah Heep.  Some people feel sadness when Dave lobotomizes HAL and reduces him to the level of a two-year-old singing “Daisy.”  I never shared that sadness.  I guess I’m more Old-Testament.

So, that brings us back to the “Infinity” sequence which sucks.  But following it we have what I call the “Versailles” scene where I guess Dave lives his life out as a captive of the monolith makers.  This is weird and I guess necessary to set up the conclusion.  Dave dies and is reborn as the next stage of human evolution.  And he is returned to our solar system and the picture ends with him floating above earth to the sequence of “Thus Spake Zarathustra” and “The Blue Danube Waltz” playing us out.

In sum we have a fifty year old movie that is still visually stunning, that addresses the inexplicable advance of savage animals to the brink of interplanetary travel and the frightening prospect of facing our masters in artificial intelligence.  What’s not to like?  Well he could have added a few good-looking space babes but nobody’s perfect.

Psycho – An OCF Classic Movie Review

In honor of Halloween I’ve gone through the Universal Classic Monster Movies.  Moving along let’s look at the first modern horror movie.  And let’s start by defining what a modern horror movie is.  Well, what it isn’t is Frankenstein or Dracula or any make-believe monster.  In fact, it isn’t even a more contemporary monster like a zombie in “Night of the Living Dead.”  The generation that had lived through World War II and the Korean War and was living under the threat of nuclear annihilation probably couldn’t pretend to be afraid of rubber-masked monsters.  What they could fear was the monster that might be living behind the eyes of the boy next door.  Insanity was a monster that they knew had broken free before and once loose inflicted real horror on all in its path.  So that’s the modern horror movie monster, a homicidal maniac.  And before there was the Red Dragon, or Hannibal Lector or Saw there was Norman Bates.

Psycho was based on a novel by Robert Bloch, who wrote genre fiction in Horror, Science Fiction, Fantasy and Mystery categories.  It was inspired in part by a truly depraved serial killer named Ed Gein but the details of the story mostly came out of Bloch’s imagination.

But the reason Psycho is the subject of this review is that Alfred Hitchcock wanted to make that movie.  Always an innovator and aware of the need to push the boundaries of what was allowable on screen, he produced a film that fit its time.  The sexual nature of the relationship between Marion Crane and Sam Loomis is highlighted.  The murder scenes although tame by today’s standards are truly frightening.  For audiences of that time (1960) some of the scenes would have been shocking.

But Hitchcock didn’t make just a scream fest.  The movie is a complete story.  Each of the main characters and many of the smaller parts are skillfully crafted with loving detail and come to life on the screen.  And one character who has been dead for ten years and only survives inside the tortured brain of a madman get several good lines including the closing soliloquy.

And here is one of the strangest twists of the movie.  The monster gets to tell his side of the story.  In the scene where Norman Bates brings Marion a meal, he tells his side of the story and even gives his mother’s side too.  Obviously, it’s couched in self-delusion and the confusion associated with a split personality but he describes his life as being in a self-inflicted trap that he no longer even tried to escape.  And he admitted that he depended on his mother as much as she depended on him.  And the portrait we see is personable, sympathetic and pitiable.  Of course, this just sets us up for what follows.

Norman’s sexual frustration is illustrated in the voyeurism we are shown and of course the maniacal rage is on display in each of the murders and the attempted murder.  When the psychiatrist comes on at the end as a deus-ex-machina, he not only explains the origins of Norman’s psychosis but also reveals that there have been additional women victims of “Norman’s mother.”

And finally, in the soliloquy that ends the dialog, we really get to meet the monster.  Mother tells us how sad it is that Norman must be punished and how innocent she is of all the blood.  But the dishonesty and the cruelty are on display and at the very last image of “her” we see the monster showing.  And the very last image we get is Marion’s car being winched out of the swamp (her coffin being exhumed from her grave).

What do I like about this movie?  Everything.  The actors are excellent.  The dialog is perfect.  Even the music and sound effects reinforce the action on the screen.  I don’t watch this movie often because I don’t want to wear it out.  But it’s the perfect adult horror movie.  The only thing that gives it competition is Silence of the Lambs.  I find it to be the perfect embodiment of the modern monster.  Man.

Universal Classic Monster Movies – An OCF Classic Movie Review – Part 7 – The Lesser Works and A Final Verdict

The follow-on episodes to each of the primary monster movies vary in quality but the one given is that anything with a title that begins with “Abbott and Costello Meet …” isn’t going to be scary.  It could be funny, but definitely not scary.

Sort of in a class by itself is the first sequel to Frankenstein, “The Bride of Frankenstein.”  This movie has a lot of interesting things going on.  The actors who portrayed Dr. Frankenstein and the Monster in the first film reprise their roles here (Colin Clive and Boris Karloff).  The script is leavened with a little humor.  Some scenes add some human interest to the Monster’s otherwise predictable behavior of grabbing people and things and tossing them about.  One of the best known of these is the Blind Man Scene.  The Monster escapes from his enemies.  He’s been shot and is on the run.  He wanders into the cottage of a blind man who welcomes him and treats him with kindness.  The Monster is sheltered and his wounds treated.  The blind man teaches him to speak and introduces him to bread and wine and even the pleasure of a good cigar.  And he learns what music is and he calls the Blind Man friend.  Of course, inevitably, reality strikes back and a couple of hunters show up at the Blind Man’s cottage and tell the blind man he’s living with a monster.  And somehow, they manage to burn down the cottage before fleeing from the Monster.

Standouts performances in the movie are Dr. Praetorius and Minnie, Elizabeth Frankenstein’s Housekeeper.  Dr. Praetorius is a competing mad scientist who has also dabbled in the creation of human life and wants to convince Dr. Frankenstein to create a woman.  Minnie is an almost Shakespearean character who combines the qualities of busybody and wise fool with the ability shriek like an air raid siren.

 

The Monster meets Dr. Praetorius while he is selecting body parts for the Monster’s bride in the catacombs beneath the graveyard.  The Dr. offers him wine and a cigar and they become quite chummy.  So much so that the Monster becomes Praetorius’ henchman in a plan to kidnap Elizabeth to force Dr. Frankenstein to complete the Bride project.

 

Appended to the story is a foreword that portrays Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and the Frankenstein authoress (his wife Mary) discussing the story on a stormy night and segueing to the creation of a mate for the Monster.  Interestingly, they cast the same actress, Elsa Lanchester, to play both Mary and the Monster’s mate.

 

The final scene where we see the meeting between the Monster and his prospective bride the atmosphere is bizarre and overwrought to say the least.  Suffice it to say that Monster love does not conquer all.  The spurned monster decides to blow up the laboratory taking himself, Dr. Praetorius and the Bride “to kingdom come.”  But interestingly, he decides to spare Dr. and Mrs Frankenstein.  So, once again, the producers decided that a non-literary happy ending was the way to go.  Assuming that they realized they would need descendants of Dr. Frankenstein to allow for further sequels I guess you could say this decision was at least monetarily warranted.  Artistically, maybe not.  It is pretty much acknowledged that the quality of the Frankenstein sequels after the “The Bride” falls off almost asymptotically.  The next installment “The Son of Frankenstein” has a few good moments that mostly don’t involve the Monster but otherwise is mediocre.  After that the rest of the series is almost unwatchable.

 

And unwatchable is how I would describe the rest of the sequels and reboots that fill out the Universal Classic Monster movies.  The later installments of the Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolfman and Mummy series are very poor indeed.  The Mummy series was not continued after the original film but instead rebooted with the new Mummy character identified as Kharis played by our old friend the Wolfman, Lon Chaney Jr.  In these later movies, the Mummy is never given any personality but mutely wanders through each of the movies of this series wrapped in his bandages and chasing ponderously after the protagonists who are murdered one by one for possessing the Scroll of Thoth (or whatever they called it in the later series).  I think in the last of the series I remember he is somehow or other running around the bayous of Louisiana hunting the scroll and its owners.  In the last scene, he is seen plodding into the swamp until he is lost to sight under the muddy water, apparently ending his undead life far from the deserts of Egypt as a soggy meal for alligators and crawfish.  A fitting end.

 

So, what’s the verdict?  Is the Universal Classic Monster series a worthwhile cinematic collection or an embalmed thing that is only noteworthy as a museum piece to be fussed over by academics and fanatics?  I vote worthwhile.  Granted the movies are antique and the audience surely won’t be scared in the same way your great grandparents were.  But the movies still provide the fantasy experience that they originally were designed for.  In the same way, a nursery rhyme can still charm children who have never seen lambs and cows and ducks except on a screen so these movies give an archetypal experience of the dark fantasy world they are meant to represent.  Dracula is the evil seducer of young innocents.  Frankenstein’s Monster is the raging step-child of God.  The Mummy is a Promethean character punished forever for attempting to preempt the prerogatives of the gods.  Each of these movies is an outdated but enjoyable attempt to entertain an audience with a passion play of what happens when humans are juxtaposed with the darker side of the fantastic.  And because of the gap in time since they were made I think that the best audience for enjoying these films are kids.  I’d say 9 to 11 is about the optimal age group for maximum effect.  That age is old enough not to be scared by the images but not old enough to be jaded by modern movie magic.  And come to think of it, I think that’s how old I was when I thought these movies were great fun.

Universal Classic Monster Movies – An OCF Classic Movie Review – Part 6 – The Invisible Man

The Invisible Man, to be pedantically precise, is not a monster movie but a science fiction story.  H.G. Wells’ tale of a scientist who develops a technique to render the human body (his own) invisible is not really monstrous in a physical sense but because the technique drives the inventor insane we are back in the neighborhood of the Mad Scientist.  And since Dr. Frankenstein is then brought to mind we can shoehorn this science fiction story into the genre.  Claude Rains (the Wolfman’s father from an earlier chapter of this review) is the Invisible Man.  Or rather Claude Rains voice is the star of the movie, since until the very last scene we can’t see his face.  But it’s a very good voice.  And since often we can’t exactly tell what he’s doing he spends a fair amount of time telegraphing his actions to help us guess what his actions are that the other characters are pantomiming around.  And he’s an active fellow.  He kills a few people with his bare (invisible) hands.  He bludgeons some others and he goes in for some mass murder via railway sabotage.  He ends up a rather unsavory fellow.  But somehow there remains a somewhat sympathetic core to the character.  Based on the people who still try to help him he must have been a good man before his descent into madness.  Therefore, we can look at him as a victim of his own scientific curiosity.

All that aside, it’s a fun movie.  The scientific intelligence, megalomania and irritable persona of the Invisible Man is juxtaposed against the plodding mediocrity, skeptical common sense and parochial outlook of the English villagers and local constables who are dumbfounded and unbelieving as to the true cause of the strange goings on.  Whenever they declare the inexplicable events a hoax the Invisible Man steps in and gives them a painful (and sometimes fatal) object lesson in his reality.

In the thick of these goings on is my favorite supporting character Una O’Connor as the Innkeeper’s wife.  She is a wonderfully shrewish landlady whose suspicious and unkind treatment of the Invisible Man throws him off the deep end.  She possesses the most remarkable shrieking scream ever recorded on film.  She is a national treasure of sorts.  And as a tie-in she plays Dr. Frankenstein’s housekeeper in “The Bride of Frankenstein,” another movie where she chews up the scenery and shrieks a blue streak.

Of course, by the end of the movie and after murdering so many innocent people, the Invisible Man has lost almost all of the audience’s sympathy so that it seems just that he should pay the price for his crimes.  But he is allowed the touching death scene where he regains his humanity and seemingly his sanity.

So, to reiterate, this is not a monster movie but there is a Mad Scientist and several of our old friends from earlier Universal Monster Movies do show up.  It’s basically a tour de force for Claude Rains (or rather his voice). I give it my seal of approval.  Good stuff.

Universal Classic Monster Movies – An OCF Classic Movie Review – Part 5 – The Mummy

So far in this review, I have gone over the “Big Three” of the Classic Monster class.  Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolfman coexisted in a European setting even showing up in each other’ movies.  Very cozy.  Maybe almost too much of a good thing.  I mean after you have the Daughter of Dracula and the Bride and the Son of Frankenstein what’s left, the Wolfman’s Gardener’s Chiropractor?  It would almost be a relief to escape from foggy, chilly Central Europe and head for a warmer and dryer climate.

Egypt?

The Mummy presents an intersection of interesting subjects.  At the time, it was made (1932) less than 10 years had elapsed since the real-life discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb and the golden artifacts it contained.  This discovery along with the supposed “Tutankhamen’s Curse” upon all those who desecrated his tomb re-invigorated the public’s interest in Egyptology.  Add to that the fascination with a strange and exotic world such as the Middle East would have presented to Westerners of a century ago.  And finally mix this together with a mythical love story to produce a strange fantasy to lure the public with.  And the movie was very popular, even in Britain, where the colonial setting was probably of interest.

The story goes like this.  A British archeological dig in Egypt uncovers an unspoiled burial site that contains a mummy that was not embalmed but rather buried alive.  Markings on the tomb warn any grave robbers that the occupant is a cursed individual and anyone who reads the  Scroll of Thoth will perish and unleash an undead horror on the world.  So of course, they read the scroll.  This activates the long dead mummy of Imhotep, the priest who was punished for trying to use the Scroll of Thoth to revivify his lover  Anck-es-en-Amon, the princess whose untimely death brought about this whole tragedy.  After driving one of the expedition mad and sending him to an early grave, Imhotep (played by our old friend Boris Karloff) escapes with the scroll and disappears.  Ten years later Helen Grosvenor, the daughter of one of the surviving expedition members, is discovered by Imhotep to be the reincarnated spirit of Anck-es-en-Amon.  By this time Imhotep has assumed the identity of a modern-day Egyptian named Ardath Bey.  He plans to ritually slay Helen, mummify her and use the Scroll of Thoth to revivify her and make her his bride.  Pretty creepy.

Helen’s friends and family attempting to foil this plot are laughably ineffective.  At the end it takes Helen’s returned memory as Anck-es-en-Amon to appeal to Isis (whose votary she was) to put a stop to the ritual murder.  Imhotep is blasted by divine intervention and everyone (who is still alive at this point) lives happily ever after.

One interesting addition to the cast is our old friend Edward Van Sloan as Dr. Muller.  In this movie his effectiveness is somewhere between the high competency of Van Helsing in Dracula and the incredible incompetence of Dr. Waldman in Frankenstein.  Let’s give him a B- in the Mummy for at least putting up a fight.

I’ve always enjoyed the Mummy.  But I limit myself to one viewing every ten years.  Let’s face it.  A Mummy, even one with a scroll that bestows the power of life and death isn’t that scary.  For all it’s flaws the 1990s reboot with Brendan Fraser has a lot more chills in it with man eating scarab beetles and a Mummy that revivifies himself by stealing organs from the living.  But the 1930s version is solid entertainment well worth seeing, at least once.