Wednesday, August 14, 2019
Format: Alamo S. Lamar
Say what you will about Austin, but I just got home from a Tuesday 9:30 PM showing of a 1933 horror movie almost no one has seen who is currently alive, and the place was hopping. I know this is true in other cities, but this one is mine.
For whatever reason I enjoy what the studios were up to with horror in the pre-Atomic Age films, a mix of the occult, mythical beasts, ghost stories and sometimes just creepy old houses with a Boris Karloff in them. Supernatural (1933) would have come out on the heels of Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931) in the era where not just Universal, but other studios, were getting in on the horror genre and the Hayes office wasn't yet really enforcing any codes.
Sunday, June 30, 2019
Format: TCM on DVR
Well, this was a bit of fun.
The Marx. Bros had been in Hollywood a full decade by the time (Marx Bros.) At the Circus (1939) was released. It''s basically not all that different from A Night at the Opera or other Marx Bros. outings, at least in format. There's a Groucho song, Harpo plays the harp, Margaret Dumont (bless her) plays the wealthy dowager. There's a couple in love who have a song or two that would have gone to Zeppo and someone else back in the day. And an antagonist in need of a good come-uppance.
But if you're watching ta Marx Bros. film for structure or plot, something has gone terribly wrong.
All in all, the circus is a terrific setting for the Marx Bros, animals and acrobats and all, setting up an ideal finale under the big top. There's stunts and great visual gags, a flying Margaret Dumont, and a gorilla. How can you not like it?
It doesn't hit the levels of absurdity that Duck Soup reaches, but nothing does.
One thing I find curious about the Marx Bros. movies is that some, such as this one, contain scenes with all-Black casts plus a Marx Bros or three. It's not unheard of for this in other movies, but clearly they were trying to bring people to the screen who weren't always there. You always cringe a little when you're not sure we're not going to wind up in Blackface (they do in at least one picture), but not here.
The movie also has a terrific scene with Groucho and a very young Eve Arden that now has one of my favorite "breaking the fourth wall" moments in a movie as he bemoans how he doesn't know how to do the scene without trouble from the Hayes Office.
Anyway - we were going back and forth about what makes comedy work, what makes it feel like a movie versus comic actors just doing their thing as the camera rolls, and I'd argue, come back to a Marx Bros movie for what's possible on the screen.
Saturday, June 29, 2019
Format: TCM on DVR
Viewing: 4th or 5th
Flat out, The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) is one of the most influential and best adventure films ever made.
Everything that came before it led up to it, and everything after stands in its shadow. If you think superhero movies pitting quippy rogues in brightly colored outfits standing up against despotic thugs grasping for power is a new thing, my friend, have I got a movie for you.
Even by modern standards the film is a marvel - maybe especially so. There's no wires, no wire removal, no CGI versions of Errol Flynn leaping onto a horse with his hands tied behind his back. That's just dudes in tights doing some crazy stunts for your entertainment. And it's far from just Flynn - it's an army of actors and performers jumping out of trees, swinging on ropes, and buckling swashes. The pacing is rapid, especially for 1938, and sets the standard for today's adventure movies, but the dialog is 95% better than most films of its type - intentionally cheesy in many parts, lots of "look, we're pretending to be Ye Olde British People", but - at its heart - the movie will always resonate, as will the story of Robin Hood, of standing up for a nation and all people over the avarice and cruelty of those who would crush others to live with more than they can ever use.
As you can guess, the silent era figured out that you could get in audiences with wild stunts - actions speaking louder than title cards, after all. Douglas Fairbanks was one the great stars of the era, his Zorro and other characters bouncing all over the screen, jumping off and on horses, swinging from anything that could bear their weight. It's a hell of a thing to watch, and still absolutely thrilling. 1938 is only a decade into the sound era, and here you can see that the language of sound film has found its form. Add in the fact this is in technicolor, popping off the screen, and that Flynn is the definition of "handsome fellow", and it's a movie that takes advantage of everything it's got.
One of those things is Olivia deHaviland, who plays the role of the Maid Marian. This Marian isn't already charmed by the rogue-ish Robin, but is won over by realizing his true loyalty to England, the same which he's inspired in his men, and how he is true to his mission. He's not just robbing to gather a ransom to free his King, he's also caring for the injured and battered who can't fight alongside him. She has her moments of action within the confines of the story and era, and while she'll be given a side-eye perhaps by modern audiences, man, for the time, it's a cheeky role.
We also get Claude Rains as Prince John (just perfectly foppish), Basil Rathbone as utter dirtbag Sir Guy of Gisbourne, and the always wonderful Una O'Connor as Bess - Maid Marian's lady in waiting. And, of course, dozens more.
If you've never seen the movie, I can't recommend it enough. It'll genuinely make you wonder why, between this and the Disney version, the past thirty years we've been handed somber, depressing versions of the story. Part of the joy of the movie is Robin Hood's joy and good humor in the face of danger. He's not an anti-hero out for vengeance, he's a hero in search of justice. And Maid Marian.
So get ready for sword battles, archery, skullduggery and men in tights leaping from trees.
I give it five thumbs up.
Monday, October 29, 2018
Sunday, October 28, 2018
Viewing: Unknown. well into double digits
I'm a Frankenstein fan. Maybe not as much as other people, and I got a late start. I didn't watch the movie until 1997 when I rented it during a blitz into Universal's horror offerings that, if you know me a little, you know had a deep impact that resonates to this day.
Growing up in the wake of the 70's monster-craze, the Frankenstein monster's image was everywhere, from kid's cartoons (including the Flintstones for some reason), but I don't remember ever seeing Frankenstein offered on TV, nor do I remember tapes available at the local video store. Austin and Houston didn't have latenight monster movie hosts, so... the availability was pretty low.
So, yeah, I rented it from the I Love Video near my apartment and gave the 1930's movie a spin, genuinely concerned that after all the hype, I might not like it (I'd seen Dracula in high school at a local cinema, but that's a different story). While the movie only borrowed from the book, the movie was so much it's own thing, and so weird and creepy and heart breaking, what wouldn't I like about it?
I've written plenty on this movie, and every time I watch it, I'm stunned by the storytelling, the design of sets, creature and sound. It "transports" me, and I genuinely find the movie electric, so to speak. There's so much to love in Whale's picture.
I won't belabor it all here - this is a checkmark on my 2018 Halloween movie watching, and I'm on to The Bride of.
Thursday, September 6, 2018
Wednesday, August 8, 2018
Tuesday, August 7, 2018
Saturday, August 4, 2018
Format: TCM on DVR
Well, it's not often that even the most telegraphed of movies puts the twist finale in the title of the movie, but with Double Wedding (1937), we have the equivalent of "He Was a Ghost the Whole Time: The Movie".
Wednesday, April 4, 2018
After completing the two Maigret mystery movies, I decided to check out some actual Inspector Maigret novels. Not as big of a deal here in the states, but in Europe, they appear to be quite popular. I found a set on deep discount and after waiting for a month for them to make their way from a shop in the UK to my doorstep (amazing world we live in, what one mouse click sets in motion), I got to crack the set for my plane ride to San Jose.
After reading Hammett and Chandler, it seemed fair to see what was going on with mystery books across the ocean.
Georges Simenon was a Belgian writing in French about a Parisian detective circa 1930 when this book appeared. I am unclear when the translation occurred or how much was changed in meaning - I would expect that after 80 years, everyone is satisfied with what's on the page. It seems reasonable to trust Penguin to do right by these books.
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.