Universal Classic Monster Movies – An OCF Classic Movie Review – Part 4 – Wolfman

Nowadays urban fantasy has gotten all highfalutin with a bunch  of flavors of wolf creatures.  There are werewolves and lycanthropes and loup garous and lycans and blutbaden and all other sub-categories of wolf metamorphosing humans.  Back in the day there were just werewolves.  And the most famous case was Larry Talbot.

Larry was a British ex-pat living in America.  He left home after a disagreement with his father.  His father was a titled Lord living on the family estate.  But when Larry’s older brother died it was time for the prodigal son to return and take up his family responsibility as the heir apparent.  As luck would have it, Larry’s arrival home coincided with the arrival of a troop of gypsies outside of the local village.  And it was at the gypsy camp that Larry would begin his personal exploration of nocturnal non-domestic canine/human feeding habits.  Larry is attacked by a werewolf who during the day is Bela the gypsy fortune teller (interestingly played by Bela Lugosi).  Bela wounds Larry but is himself killed by Larry using a silver headed walking stick.  The head of the stick is, of course, shaped like a wolf’s head.  Larry is carried back to his home where he survives his wound which heals in the shape of a pentagram (the sign of the werewolf!).  The killing of Bela becomes part of a police investigation and Larry is suspected but being a nobleman, he is not pestered by arrest or even having to appear before a magistrate.  The police inspector is forced to come visit him at the manor and all deference to his status maintained.  Meanwhile Larry is starting to feel funny and the next night he turns into a werewolf and goes on a killing spree.  After this he is desperate to believe that he is only suffering from nightmares and delusions but the evidence starts mounting up against him.  At one point during one of his nocturnal hunts, he is caught in a leg trap.  And here he is saved by Bela’s mother.  The old gypsy lady feels responsible for Larry’s plight and recites a spell over him that turns him back into a man and allows him to escape the trap.  Finally, Larry reaches the end point of his despair when he knows that his next victim is the woman he loves.  Luckily (sort of) his father manages to kill Larry with the same silver wolf headed walking stick that Larry used earlier for the same purpose.  So, the story ends on this somber scene of father looking down at the son he has just killed.  The gypsy woman recites her spell again and we’re supposed to realize that this was the merciful release and the best-case ending for poor Larry Talbot.

In terms of range of acting ability and style the Wolfman is probably the most varied of the Universal Classic Monster Movies.  On the one hand we have Claude Rains playing Lord Talbot, Larry’s father.  Rains is an excellent actor and also a very polished individual who easily can play a nobleman in a movie.  He was also rather short and slight of build.  Then there’s Lon Chaney Jr. as Larry.  Chaney was an indifferent actor and a very large and tall man with a booming rough voice.  He was more at home in a broad comedy such as the pictures he did at Universal with the comic duo Abbot and Costello.  In fact, he reprised his role as the Wolfman in the monster spoof, “Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein.”  It might be assumed that he would be out of his depth trying to portray a nobleman’s son but he plays the part as a self-made man who grew up in America and reflects the manners and outlook of his adoptive land.  He employs a working-class diction and style of speech and comes off as a personable individual with maybe a slightly hot temper.  The relation between father and son seems to be cordial, warm and in the spirit of a mutual rapprochement after a youthful revolt against parental authority.  Before the disaster occurs to Larry, the atmosphere is of a joyful family reunion.  So, these two actors almost exact opposites in appearance, acting style and talent level manage to do a convincing job of portraying themselves as family.

The other important portrayal is the old gypsy woman played by Maria Ouspenskaya.  Since her son Bela was a werewolf she understands Larry’s plight and realizes what his fate will be.  And being a gypsy of course she has witch-like powers (and a really cool accent).  When Larry needs to escape from his wolf form she could recite the following spell to revert him to human form.

“The way you walked was thorny, though no fault of your own, but as the rain enters the soil, the river enters the sea, so tears run to a predestined end. Now you will have peace for eternity.”

She is the coolest aspect of the movie and provides the atmosphere (along with the fog machine that must have been working overtime for this film) that allows you to think 20th Century England could be infested with werewolves and gypsies.

And finally, the other notable aspect of the movie is the tradition spawned of werewolves transforming during the full moon.  Or did it?  Actually, in this first Larry Talbot outing the full moon isn’t explicitly mentioned:

Even a man who is pure in heart

and says his prayers by night

may become a wolf when the wolfs bane blooms

and the autumn moon is bright.

Later they change the final line to “and the moon is full and bright.”  So here we can see that autumn and wolfs bane is part of the equation.  Maybe this restricts it to the Hunter’s or Harvest Moon.

So, do I like the Wolfman?  Only parts.  I like the beginning and I like the end.  But the middle where Larry is fretting over whether he is going crazy isn’t all that good.  So, I recommend seeing it at least once but it’s not my favorite for sure.

2017 Dragon Awards Winners Announced

The results have been announced and just as with last year, the Hugos have been shown once again to be way outside the mainstream.  Of course, not everything I voted for won.  But enough did and enough other stuff that did win was at least recognizable as SF&F.  Sure, there’s some stuff written by SJW allies but at least it was stuff people actually buy so the really egregious stuff was passed over completely.  Here’s the complete list:

http://awards.dragoncon.org/2017_winners/

Kudos to the winners and especially to Larry and the other puppies, sad and rabid, for starting the fire in that dumpster known as the Hugos.  Like anything that’s been shown defective the Hugos have been replaced with something that actually works.

Summer 2017 – When the Blockbuster Formula Ran Out of Gas

What do most of the Twilight Zone episodes, the third season of Star Trek and Transformers VI (or whatever number they’re up to this year) have in common? They were no good, nobody wanted to see them and they were written by hacks. Sure, there were a few good Zone episodes and also a few of the Trek episodes were fun or interesting. What I think you’ll notice with these is that the episode was written by somebody creative. The rest of the dreck in these categories was ground out by talentless hacks who couldn’t even spell the word plot let alone write one. And that brings us back to Transformers XX or whatever it is. Great Caesar’s Ghost!

Is the business really that bad? Is there no other way to fund and produce movies than to pile sequel onto sequel? How many times can Sylvester Stallone climb into the ring or jump out of a crashing helicopter? How many times can that stupid alien ravage human colonies before somebody gets around to inventing industrial strength Raid for aliens and drop it on their ugly butts?

As even Deadpool himself said (before his upcoming sequel of course), and I paraphrase, how many times can Liam Neeson let his daughter be Taken before we assume he’s just a not a very good father. Wasn’t Godfather III enough to prove that even the best stories can’t be endlessly resuscitated without being turned into crap?

But you notice, TV is able to make some pretty good stuff. I’ve just finished Justified and I’d put that up against anything I’ve seen in the theater in the last five years. Why the disparity? First of all, Justified was adapted from the works of Elmore Leonard whose stories have time and again translated well into movies. Whereas with these endless sequel franchises, I assume they are assembled from some formula that is somehow supposed to capture the original flavor of the first episode but without the high price of the original screenwriter. Apparently, they’ll pay tens of millions to get Bruce Willis or Jamie Foxx and millions more to CGI the explosions but they’ll settle for the story line to be written by the corporate lawyers who put the financial deal together for the studios.

I think I read that because of the cable fees TV is actually able to monetize their quality shows pretty successfully whereas on the big screen only a giant blockbuster success is lucrative enough to even attract sufficient funding to get made. And that means Terminator 30 gets made before something well written and entertaining like possibly a faithful version of one of Heinlein’s juveniles. I imagine that Citizen of the Galaxy or Farmer in the Sky in the hands of a good screenwriter and director would be very entertaining and very commercial.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking, “Focus Photog, focus. What’s your point? Bring this back around to the title. Bring it home.”
Fine, I will. Hollywood is dead. Long live TV. Except for some extraordinary slam dunks like “The Lord of the Rings” or “Harry Potter” Hollywood is too paralyzed by the fear of losing gobs of money to try and put a quality product together from quality components. And that’s why I don’t feel deprived when I skip whole decades at the theater. There’s nothing there. Even the occasional stand out ends up being barely acceptable. I remember hearing raves about Gravity. When I finally rented it, I was puzzled what all the fuss was about. Okay would be a generous appraisal. The same with “The Martian.” Adequate would cover it.
And it couldn’t happen to a nicer set of people. If DiCaprio and Depp start only making seven figures instead of eight I certainly won’t cry. When they’re replaced by AI – CGI maybe the stories won’t be as insulting to the dirt people. What a concept!

Trump vs The Time Hag – Episode 3 – Trumpxander the Great

Trump vs The Time Hag 2 – The Funeral Oration of Trumpicles

 

Scene 1 – Overlooking the smoking ruins of Thebes, 4th Century B.C. (Wednesday)

Trumpxander the Great (TTG) – Aristotle, Ari, hey Ari!  Where the Hades are you?

Aristotle the Wise (ATW) – Right here your majesty.

TTG – Never mind that your majesty stuff.  Remember I’m the Son of Zeus-Ammon.

ATW – Yes, Your Divinity.

TTG – That’s better.  Look Ari, I’m getting ready for the spring campaign against Darius and I need to give my troops a pep talk.  What kind of speech can you lay on me that will impress these spear carriers?

ATW – Well, Your Divinity, you can use either the dialectic logic or the rhetorical logic.

TTG – I remember Vox saying I should stick with rhetoric since that’s what’s brought me to this rodeo.  What have you got on that side?

ATW – I remember Demosthenes had a nice little riff in his speech “On the Crown,” that really caught my attention.

TTG – Demosthenes?  That guy was a total snooze.  So low energy you couldn’t tell the difference between before and after I had him put to death.

ATW – Perhaps you can elaborate on what type of rhetorical effect you are interested in O Son of Zeus-Ammon.

TTG – Well I’m gonna tell my army that we’re gonna fight our way across Asia until we reach India and we’re gonna be gone for years.  I need something that will get these guys jacked.

ATW – Perhaps an appeal to their Macedonian pride.

TTG – Ah forget it, I’ll bribe ‘em.

 

Scene 2 – At the harbor of Corinth.  One month later (Thursday)

 

TTG – Macedonians, brave soldiers, my people.  I stand before you ready to lead you to the greatest victory of all time.  We have conquered Thracians and Athenians, Spartans and Thebans, Corinthians and Euboans, Mytileneans and Egyptians, Libyans and Cyreneans, Armenians and Thessalians, Lydians and Cilicians, Cretans and Lesbians, Cyprians and Lycians, Rhodians and Phoenicians and blah, blah, blah.  Oh Hades, we have basically kicked the whole world’s butt.  We’ve been winning so much that just the other day my generals said, “Son of Zeus-Ammon it’s too much winning!”  I mean it, they really said it.  And now we’ll kick the Persians butts and be done with it.

Some people will tell you (mostly the Persians) that the Persians are unbeatable, that the 10,000 Immortals are, well immortal.  I’m here to tell you that’s b.s.  Remember the Athenians beat them a hundred years ago and they’ve been low energy ever since.

And remember you have me Trumpxander the Son of Zeus-Ammon a demigod, the greatest general of all time, the greatest statesman of all time, the greatest man of all time and the founder of Trumpxandria the greatest city in the world with it’s incredible library.  This library is so great that you have to be approved by me to get a library card.  You can borrow not only scrolls but also pop-up picture scrolls.  You know the ones that kids really like.  And we have the most of any library.  Way more than Athens, way more than Pergamon and way more than Rome which isn’t even a thing yet.

And as if that isn’t enough remember that I have promised that every man that who follows me to the Indus River is going to get his own autographed Trumpxander gold-plated loin cloth complete with laundering instructions.  It’s highest quality and looks like it was a genuine Athenian gold loin cloth, almost.  Plus, if you want to I’ll allow you to settle in Persia and marry a Persian wife like my wife Melania, uh I mean Roxanne, and believe me these Persian women are smoking hot like you wouldn’t believe.  Well, all except for that hideous old fat Clintoninus that Darius found in some house of ill repute in Persepolis.  But the rest of them are fine.

And finally, any man who distinguishes himself by bravery in battle will be given 500 gold darics and will become part of the Trumpxander body guard and hang out with me the demigod and ride around in my stretch chariot.

MACEDONIAN ARMY – (chanting) Trumpxander’s great, Darius sucks, Trumpxander’s great, Darius Sucks!

TTG – You got that right.

 

Scene 3 – After the speech in Trumpxander’s tent

 

TTG – Now listen, Ptolemy, Seleucus and Antipater.  Since you’re my greatest generals, I’ll give you the straight dope because I’ll need you to swing this thing.  We’re gonna conquer the Persian Empire and spread Greek civilization and science to the four corners of the earth.  Darius has taken on an extremely old, fat and ugly concubine called Clintoninus who has bewitched him with dreams of forming a global society based on the doctrines of Sappho of Lesbos which involve women dyeing their hair blue, refusing sex with men and raising cats.  Once we kill Darius and Clintoninus I will apparently go insane, march our men to the ends of the earth and drink myself to death in Babylon.  Afterwards you three will divide my empire in three and devote your descendants to battling each other into a gradually debilitating stalemate for three hundred years while the Romans and Parthians have a chance to catch up to you.  Is that clear?

Ptolemy the Great (PTG) – But Great Trumpxander, Son of Zeus-Ammon, you cannot die.  You are a god.

TTG – Yeah, well it sucks being me.  But listen when I die you bring my body back to Alexandria, uhhhh I mean Trumpxandria, preserved in honey and put me in a crystal sarcophagus as a wonder of the world.  But whatever you do make sure my hair is carefully arranged.  It’s my best feature you know.

PTG – Yes Great Trumpxander, it will be as you command.

(All three generals) – Yes great Trumpxander, Son of Zeus-Ammon.

TTG – Alright, now get out of here and let me rest for Zeus-Ammon’s sake.  I’ve got a big day tomorrow.  I’m conquering the world.

Trump vs The Time Hag – Episode 4 – Augustus Trumpster

A Short Book Review of Rod Dreher’s – The Benedict Option – Part 2

A Short Review of Rod Dreher’s Book, “The Benedict Option” – Part 1

Today I finished “The Benedict Option.”  Regardless of whether you are a Christian or just someone who adheres to the traditional cultural norms of western civilization this book gives you a great deal to think about.  And for someone trying to live as a Christian in this post-Christian world and even more importantly someone raising Christian children this book is extremely relevant.

Dreher presents his thesis as bad news/good news, in that order.  The bad news is we’ve lost the culture wars and the younger generations have rejected the Christian precepts on sexuality and hedonism.  He declares that to pretend that we can win back the culture is delusional and counter-productive.

The good news is now Christians can prove that they are Christians.  His thesis is that because we thought we could depend on the Christian nature of America we didn’t have to do the hard work of living the Christian lifestyle and making sure our children were brought up in the faith.  We assumed our kids would pick up faith through osmosis, even if we ourselves didn’t really reflect this lifestyle.  America stopped being Christian because Americans weren’t living as Christians.  Basically, the communists who were running our schools and Hollywood made an end run around religion by replacing God with fairness and used the highly materialistic consumer culture that is present day America to convince our children that this culture is really all there is to America.  And they bought it.

His logic is that in order to survive in this anti-Christian society we’ll have to return to the mindset and behaviors that the Christians adopted when they lived in a non-Christian society.

After this Dreher compares the present-day situation to late 5th century Italy when Saint Benedict was starting his monastic system to allow Christians to survive the Dark Ages after the fall of Rome.  There is a good deal of description of the components of the Benedictine Rules and how these would apply to lay Christians.  This is followed by chapters that describe the ways that Christians can circumvent the dangers of present day educational and work-life anti-Christian realities.  These sections are full of examples of individuals and groups building organizations and support systems that are referenced in the Notes section at the end of the book.  I was surprised at how much already exists to allow parents to locate traditional Christian schooling or resources for home schooling.  But most important is the need for parents to heavily involve themselves in teaching their children what Christianity means.  One thing that I found interesting was his insistence that in order to inoculate children against the sexual hedonism of the modern world parents were going to have to learn how to talk about sex with their children.

And finally, the book stresses the fact that it wasn’t really an enemy from without that destroyed the Christian West.  It was the logical conclusion of the Enlightenment philosophy that puts man at the center of the universe.  Basically, there was no longer a place for God.

For those interested in practical solutions to the problem of living a traditional Christian life in these godless times I highly recommend this book.  Even if you disagree with some of the suggestions you will find yourself thinking of the world and your place in it in a totally different way.

OCF Classic Movie Reviews – The Sting

Can a movie made in 1973 be a classic?  Hell yeah!  The Sting, to my mind, is one of the last identifiable big studio system type movies.  Everything about it exudes quality.  The cinematography, music, actors, sets, sound and script show attention to detail and professionalism.  The only thing that sets it apart from earlier productions is a little profanity that wouldn’t have gotten past the Hayes Code censors of twenty years earlier.

The plot is grifters versus mobsters in 1930s Chicago.  Revenge for a murdered grifter has the two stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford partnering to orchestrate a “big con” against a vicious mobster played by Robert Shaw.  Supporting cast includes Charles Durning, Ray Walston, Eileen Brennan and a host of familiar faces.  George Roy Hill directed it and the ragtime music of Scott Joplin suffuses it from beginning to end and reinforces the feeling that you are immersed in an earlier era.  I cannot think of a false note in the whole movie.  Newman is at his best.  Redford is very good and Shaw chews up the scenery with his best Irish gangster characterization.  His mannerisms are fantastic.  One of his best bits has one of his henchmen asking if it’s worthwhile hunting down the grifters who stole such a small amount of his money.  Shaw’s on a golf course and he points to another golfer and says to the hitman, “Ya see that fella?  He and I went to fifth grade together.  If he finds out that a two-bit grifter got away with stealing from me I’m gonna have to have you kill him and every other small timer from here to Atlantic City.  Yafalla (which means do you follow)?

The plot is intricate involving Newman’s crew of con-men, Shaw’s gang, hired hitmen from out of town, local police and even FBI agents after Newman.  There are twists, turns and surprises.  The movie combines comedy, action and some drama in a fast-paced and highly entertaining way.  It’s an homage to the gangster movies of the 1930s that feels like it could have been written by O’Henry or Ring Lardner.  But there’s a modern feel to the pessimistic tone of the ending.  When Newman asks Redford what he’ll do with his cut, he says he doesn’t want it.  “I’d only lose it anyway.”

Give it a try if you’ve never seen it.  Highly recommended.

OCF Classic Movie Reviews: W. C. Fields Double Feature

A long time ago I had a friend who was a prison guard at Riker’s Island and he was a movie buff.  And he introduced me to the films of W. C. Fields.  Most people my age recognize Fields’ trademark nasal tone, whiskey flask, bulbous nose and endless wisecracks.  But I guess not many have seen many of his films.  I never had before that time and I was immediately hooked on the absurdity of this comic everyman battling the endless affronts he suffers at the hands of wives, children, neighbors, bosses, policemen and any other authority figure who darkened his path.  Deep down he just wants to live life his own way.  And you can see that he still retains a child-like hope that he will somehow triumph.  By the final reel of these films, a catastrophe has engulfed him and he appears to hit rock bottom.  But then the magical reversal at the finale creates a deus ex machina that rights all wrongs and he lives happily ever afterward.

The two movies my friend introduced me to were early and both had Fields as a long suffering husband.  And in both movies his wife was played to perfection by an actress named Kathleen Howard who was a large overbearing woman with a shrewish temperament, an acid tongue and the lungs of a Wagnerian opera singer who continually browbeat him over every imaginable fault she could summon.  She is his perfect foil.

These early movies are a sort of halfway point between a string of vaudeville skits and an actual scripted movie.  Some of the routines involve sight gags that often are carried too far.  And the plot is usually ridiculously thin.  Some folks who enjoy Fields’ movies prefer the more polished movies like the “The Bank Dick” and “Never Give a Sucker an Even Break.”  But for me in these earlier movies the comic delivery is hilarious and the happily ever after endings absurdly wonderful.

So, the plot of “It’s a Gift” (1934) has Harold Bissonette as the owner of a grocery store in New Jersey who dreams of being an orange farmer in California.  Naturally he throws away his whole settled existence and drags his family across depression era America to follow his dream.  And naturally the result is disaster.

In “The Man on the Flying Trapeze,” (1935) Ambrose Woolfinger is a memory expert working for the Malloy Textile firm.  But what he’d like to be is a professional wrestler.  So, when he takes the afternoon off to go watch the wrestling match under the pretext of his mother-in-law’s funeral all hell breaks loose.

As I said the plots are ludicrously thin, the acting is pure ham and the sight gags painfully long.  My family runs for the exits whenever I pop one of these in the DVD player.  But I believe that any married man whose heart doesn’t sing with joy when Harold Bisonette or Ambrose Woolfinger finally gets the upper hand is a lost soul who cannot be redeemed and deserves to be fed feet first into the matriarchy.

As you can tell from my description, these movies are not for everyone.  If they sound intriguing maybe you’ll give them a try.

Independence Day – A Few Thoughts

So I’m an American. Great grandson of immigrants. Close enough to the boat to know what it is like to be one of the newbies but around long enough to feel a pride in belonging to something exceptional.

I was brought up on the notion that living here was as close to being in heaven as you could get without having to die. And in a lot of ways it lived up to the hype. The streets weren’t paved with gold. But they were paved. No one starved. And that even went for the “poor.” Even the marginally working class had enough to feed a family. Everyone could read and write and if you weren’t a hopeless sociopath chances were you could hold down some kind of job and support yourself. Most folks attended a church and dragged the kids along to help “steer them in the right direction.”

The general notion was that America was a machine that took well-intentioned people who followed the rules and worked hard and from them generated wealth and happiness for everyone.

But sometimes the machine ran off the rails. The two big hiccups that I grew up with were the 1930’s and the late 1970’s. Each of these events damaged the morale of the nation and brought into question the stability of our way of life. No one knows how the world would have turned out if the Second World War hadn’t “saved” us from the Depression but what is important is that by the twentieth century Americans believed that not only could the US government avoid recessions but if it didn’t it would be held responsible. Herbert Hoover was vilified as the epitome of a callous plutocrat. And Jimmy Carter was cast out as a loser who had allowed the American industrial engine to stall out into stagflation.

Coming up to the present, George W. Bush was blamed for the Crash of 2008. In an eight year period that in many ways resembled the ’30s, Obama seemed to mostly get a pass for not reviving the American economy. This is reminiscent of the treatment FDR received. Apparently if you can vilify your predecessor successfully enough you can avoid blame (if you’re a democrat).

So what have we learned? Americans expect results. Especially from republicans. Apparently people don’t expect democrats to make the economy work. They will settle for handouts. But republicans have to deliver. The logic must be, “you people are always talking about free enterprise, well, put up or shut up.”

So here’s the whole thing in a nutshell. If you want to be a republican president coming in under a bad economy and you want to be re-elected, you not only have to revive the economy but you also have to do it in your first two years. Otherwise you’ll lose the Congress and be hamstrung by the democrats.

Unless of course you can buy off the people with free stuff (a la the democrats) and/or distract them with some bigger problem. Trump is betting that immigration is that bigger problem. And he may be right. If he actually accomplishes a good chunk of his deportation idea, he may get some extra time to revive the economy.

All right, this whole convoluted essay is basically trying to confirm something that is becoming harder for even the purest free trade advocate to ignore. The American People are fine with business making lots of money, as long as they are part of that equation. If American companies move all their plants and their jobs offshore then they’re not American companies. And they should not be treated as such. And if a foreign company builds a plant in the US and employs Americans then they should be rewarded any way we can. It’s not all that complicated. Americans with jobs don’t turn into a mob. So get them jobs, now!

Whoever gets into office next better get results and fast. Or else there are gonna be fireworks.

President Trump’s United Nation’s Address

Look, I’m not wearing any headphones, it’ll mess up my hair.  Besides if these mooks don’t speak American then they’re losers and I don’t need to hear what they’re saying.  And take some bleach to that dais, I don’t think all of these guys understand soap.  And I’m using my own microphone.

Hello UN.  This is your landlord, President Trump.  Looking out across this audience I can see why the world is going to hell in a handbasket.  I don’t see how most of you got past the TSA at Kennedy Airport.  Anyway, let me get right to the point.

THE GRAVYTRAIN IS OVER.

I’m closing this place down.  I’m sick of paying for you bums so go home.  Now!

There’s an airline ticket for each of you and cab fare to Kennedy.  Don’t bother packing.  I’ll have your crap shipped back to the useless countries you’re from.  Once you’re gone I’m gonna demo this dump and disinfect it for a couple of years and then Trump Corp is going to put up a 400 story building here.  It’ll be huge.  Once you freeloaders are gone and no longer clogging up the streets, I’ll be able to get a cab without resorting to Uber. From now on don’t call us we’ll call you.