Friday, October 6, 2017
I didn't mean to watch all of The Mummy (1932), but as so often happens, I did.
This Universal monster movie was one that, the first time I watched it, I loved the first ten minutes and then felt waning interest in everything but Zita Johann. But, the past two or three times I've given those first few minutes a shot (because I love the opening), I've really changed my tune. And, in fact, have to retract initial statements made about dull camera-work in comparison to the grand, gothic guignol of Dracula or the surrealist landscapes of the first three Frankenstein films.
The lighting, sets, and FX employed are far more deft than I'd originally wanted to give credit, and leave you in a murky place where you know Bey is employing mystical shenanigans, but it's hard to put a finger on what and how. Add in Karloff's performance, as well as that of Johann, and you've got something that's been aped more in vampire movies than anywhere else the past 85 years.
Karloff is actually terrific as Imhotep/ Ardath Bey, and the overall effect of the picture is not so much horrifying as it is eerie and uncanny. Unraveling the machinations of what he's up to (ripped off for the past thirty or forty years of Dracula movies), and it's good stuff.
Weirdly, TCM rated the movie TV-14, and for the life of me, I have no idea why. This is one I'd watch with a kid aged 10 or up. There's no blood, minimal on-screen violence, a lack of nudity or sexual innuendo... But Mummies are scary, I guess.
Sunday, February 12, 2017
Everyone has the idea of the 1930's big, splashy movie musical in their head thanks to clips used in other movies and television, and I'd argue that Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933) is the platonic ideal of this sort of film. I really don't know much about what was going on at the real Ziegfield Follies or on Broadway in the 1930's, but it seems that what Hollywood was doing at this point was bringing over the basic template of fluffy stories about two young lovers trying to make it work as the excuse for a lot of song and dance. But with the ability to put the camera wherever they wanted, visionaries like Busby Berkeley would redefine what audiences could expect in regards to cinematic spectacle.
Produced at Warner Bros. (I know, I had to triple check it wasn't from MGM), the movie stars a lot of those names you hear about from Hollywood's Golden Age, but who I haven't seen in that many movies. Dick Powell, Ginger Rogers, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler... and certainly other players who were the "that guy" actors of their day.
All in all, the movie is a bit of fun and nothing too challenging to the audience, storywise. Light comedy interspersed with those unbelievable visuals of dozens of dancers creating geometric patterns or almost surreal visuals (20 cops on rollerskates chasing a baby).
Monday, October 31, 2016
Thursday, October 27, 2016
Watching a Frankenstein/ Bride of Frankenstein (1935) double-bill has become my personal Halloween tradition. I'd already watched Frankenstein this year, and so needed to work in Bride of, which has been tough with the Cubs actually making it into the World Series. I mean, usually by early October, I'm kinda done with baseball and my football watching is contained to Saturdays.
But, what would Halloween even be (for me) without The Bride of Frankenstein? I don't even want to know.
The movie remains horrific, beautiful, eerie, hilarious. Everything I'd want in a single movie, and everything I like about the holiday.
Here's to Mr. Whale and company, and everything that makes this one of my favorite films.
Monday, October 17, 2016
For years I'd heard of the James Whale movie The Old Dark House (1932), and seen a few seconds here and there in documentaries and whatnot, but I'd never come across a copy of the film itself. So, anyway, as captain of my own destiny, this October, I finally bought my own DVD of the film.
If you're a fan of what James Whale brought to the screen in Frankenstein and, in particular, Bride of Frankenstein, this is a pretty darn good supplement to those movies. Not exactly a haunted house movie so much as a "maybe we shouldn't have stopped here" movie, like Frankenstein in particular, it feels almost more like a filmed stage play than a modern film from the blocking to the set design. It's got some great talent in the movie from Karloff to Ernest Thesiger to a very young Charles Laughton.
This movie is batshit. Batshit in the best way possible, but batshit.
In short, I'm a fan.
Sunday, October 16, 2016
The third Frankenstein movie in the Universal Monsters line of films is not terribly well known among the normals but it's a staple for monster kids. People who don't know the movie often ask "why is Frankenstein wearing that furry shirt?" when they see pictures from the movie, and - honestly, it's a legit question.* Son of Frankenstein (1939) picks up a generation after the events of Bride of Frankenstein, when the literal child of Henry and Elizabeth Frankenstein returns to Frankenstein castle to reclaim the family homestead, and, as it turns out, help restore The Monster to fighting form after finding him in a catatonic state.
The movie is not directed by James Whale, and of the original cast, only Karloff returns. It lacks some of vision of the prior installments, but picks up on and expands some elements, visual and otherwise. It also softens the story a bit more, providing us with a more sympathetic Dr. Frankenstein in the son of the good doctor.
Overall, it's fairly watchable with some pretty great bits, and at least tries to maintain some level of A-list distinction before the Frankenstein movies would descend down the slope to matinee material. It's not exactly the world's best movie, but it's still a Halloween-worthy treat.
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
My Halloween viewing is a little slowed by the arrival of Luke Cage on Netflix, but Sunday night TCM presented a Frankenstein Triple Feature. They'll be showing Frank movies all October on Sundays (and Christopher Lee, star of the month on TCM, will be Mondays, so check for Hammer Horror).
This year marks the 85th Anniversary of the release of James Whale's screen classic, Frankenstein (1931). So, I appreciate the Franken-centric approach to Halloween that TCM is going for all month long.
Turner Classic kicked it off right with the three Frankenstein pictures that defined the monster and mad scientists for the 20th and early 21st Centuries. They showed the Universal movies that started with the 1931 Universal feature, Frankenstein, starring Boris Karloff as "The Monster". Then, of course, TCM went right into Bride of Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein.*
I've seen Frankenstein numerous times since first watching the film back in college, and I've written on the topic often enough that I've given Frankenstein it's own tag on the site. I'm a fan, and I watch the movie at some point every October.
Monday, August 29, 2016
The Alamo is an interesting place because they do show exploitation films, they do show controversial material, and at those special screenings, they usually have a host put a frame around what you're about to see. This movie was shown as part of the "Super Krime" series which also contained last week's Danger: Diabolik, but was the riskier showing, certainly. For pop-cultural anthropologists, there's a lot to chew on here from the casting to the racial issues to the pre-code genre-ambiguity and content and - for modern pop-culture which so often includes super-villains in the mix, Fu Manchu lays out the blueprint for so much of what would come afterwards.
By today's standards, your grandparents were racist as hell. Even if they were hip, bohemian folks - by the rules of what non-awful people consider decency and mannered public discourse, what you'd hear come out of Grandma and Grandpa's mouths was likely to get them the side-eye at Thanksgiving - but we're all a reflection of a time and a place. Attitudes change. Society, hopefully, advances. Insert your own election-related joke here.
I am not a paid or professional film historian or scholar, but I have an interest in the history of pop culture and the film industry as well as genre film and whatnot. A few years ago, I came across a picture of Myrna Loy playing the daughter of Boris Karloff in a film I'd never seen. The catch: they're both in yellowface as the nefarious Fu Manchu and his daughter.
A bit more digging told me that this movie was once a favorite, included in some circles as a premier classic horror film of sorts.
But you can't get access to a Fu Manchu film all that easily (and there are many), and it's something that doesn't screen all that often - a bit like the President's Day sequence in Holiday Inn (which they simply excise when they show it as it doesn't advance the plot, but it does feature a whole lotta your beloved Hollywood favorites in black face*). And, yeah, I saw the movie featured yellowface, and cast most of the Eastern hemisphere in a nasty light, so it made a bit of sense to me that the studio was in no big hurry to remind the world they had the film in the collection.
Thursday, August 4, 2016
After two great movies in a row, the third installment of the Thin Man series, Another Thin Man (1939) feels like a project that just didn't gel as well as it could have.
I recently completed reading The Return of the Thin Man, which is less a book and more the lost story-treatments and scripts that Dashiell Hammett worked on during his tenure in Hollywood and some editorial/ historical notes about what was going on with Hammett in relation to the work. Frankly, you're probably better off just watching the two movies it covers - After the Thin Man and Another Thin Man, but completionists will find the book worth checking out.
The gist of the notes about this third movie indicate that not only was Hammett sort of done with Nick and Nora before he even started work on the movie, the credited screenwriters, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett - who had worked with Hammett on the two prior films - were also ready to call it a day.
All in all, the film does work. Let's not call it a troubled film. But the alchemy that caught everyone's attention in the original that semi-carried over to the sequel, is fizzling a smidge by this installment.
Saturday, July 2, 2016
It's been years since I watched After the Thin Man (1936), which is kind of funny, because I have the poster for the movie hanging on the wall of my house. I'd also gotten some of the details of the movie criss-crossed with other Thin Man films as I'd watched most of them in a blitz several years ago, and hadn't watched any of them but the first one again in a while.
I'm currently reading Return of the Thin Man, which is a fairly recent release as far as Hammett writings go. It's not a book or short story, but the film treatment he worked on for the second and third Thin Man films, along with historical material for context. While I remembered parts of the movie, most of what was in the treatment jived with what I could recall from the movie, so I was curious to see what was different.
Thursday, May 19, 2016
Obviously near-post-silent German film isn't my usual deal, nor Brechtian musical comedy. The closest I'll get to that is a fondness for Fosse's Cabaret and that I have all of the albums by The Dresden Dolls. And, you know, Tom Waits and others have carried through the spirit of the movement through to the modern era.
I haven't seen much in the way of G.W. Pabst's directorial efforts, although I'm well aware, from film school, he's one of those names you're supposed to be able to drop. He was a giant of German cinema in the pre-Nazi days, and brought Louise Brooks out of Hollywood and over to Weimar Germany, and I've seen Pandora's Box. A contemporary of Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau, going to the pictures in Germany back in the day must have been something.
Monday, February 15, 2016
On Nathaniel Capp's recommendation, I'm currently reading Walt Disney: Triumph of the Imagination, a Disney biography from a couple of years ago (and, spoiler: it's fantastic). Naturally, part of reading the book is the reminder it is that I haven't seen a bunch of Disney films and cartoons in years and years.
The last time I remember seeing Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937) was during a theatrical run in summer of 1993 when I was working at The Disney Store and we were semi-required to go see the animated films so we could talk to customers about them. Don't worry, they paid us to do so. Terrific perk, and I would have been going, anyway. And while it's likely I've seen it since then, it had to have been on VHS, to date the last screening I took in.
You guys can be cynical and weird about Disney's feature films, but I only feel that way about certain eras of their movies, and even then - not entirely.
But it all started, first, with a mouse. And then with Snow White.
Saturday, January 23, 2016
It seems like this is the 3rd of 4th movie I've seen from about this era in which the theme is "rich people in New York ponder divorce, remember they like each other. Everyone is polite. Big Laughs."
It is funny. It works. Both Cary Grant and Irene Dunne are really terrific. Irene Dunne is quite lovely and wears a wide array of architectural dreams as gowns. It's all very light and fluffy and fun, and I will remember nothing about the movie later, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't recommend it. Because it also has a very cute dog named "Mr. Smith".