Wednesday, 31 October 2007


My Halloween film this year is Robert Wise's film version of Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House". I'm sure this choice won't surprise anybody who loves horror movies. If I said it was the best haunted house film of all time I wouldn't get much of an argument and I'd only be repeating what is being said on countless other movie review sites on the internet. So, I'm not going to actually review it further than to say that if you have not seen it then do so, preferably alone, preferably in the dark. I watched it tonight, alone in the dark, and it still works wonderfully. Robert Wise learned his art as a director from the best in the business and like Val Lewton, his first producer, he knew that what you don't see can be a lot scarier than all the blood and gore in Hollywood. This is something that was completely misunderstood by the dreadful spfx driven remake of a few years ago. Somewhere out there Hill House is still standing and whatever walks there walks alone. Happy Halloween! Rating *****

Tuesday, 30 October 2007


What makes Jack Arnold's THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN such an effective movie ? I first saw it at a school film society showing around 1960 and today it has lost none of its power. Given that the subject lends itself to humour and the film tends, in the minds of those who only know the title, to be lumped in with such lesser movies as ATTACK OF THE FIFTY FOOT WOMAN and THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN, why does the film still work so well today ? Arnold seems well aware that he is walking a narrow path between seriousness and humour and he avoids going in for any hint of self parody. When we first realise that Scott Carey (played so well by Grant Williams) has shrunk so much that he is living in a doll's house we smile at the idea but neither Arnold nor Richard Matheson's script allows for cheap jokes and we are not permitted for one minute to lose sight of Carey's awful predicament thanks to the way his psychological deterioration is presented. We feel involved enough that to an extent we are shrinking along with Carey. As he struggles to attract the attention of his wife and brother in the flooded cellar that has become his world we are willing them to notice him. But the film offers no safe antidote, no last minute rescue, no comfort that the world has returned to normal. Jack Arnold has an enviable reputation as a director of 50's sci-fi but even among his impressive list of credits THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN stands out as something very special. Rating ****


This was Roger Corman;s first venture into the world of big budgets (well, big for him) and the original news releases for the movie announced Marlon Brando for the role of Al Capone. With THE GODFATHER just around the corner this was probably a wise decision by Brando, although one can't hyelp but think that he would have improved Corman's film immeasureably.
Not that it is bad. In fact it is often very good indeed with some impressive set pieces and a fun cast list that includes many of the Corman stock company including Bruce Dern, Dick Miller, Leo Gordon, Barboura Morris and (if you don't blink) Jack Nicholson. Corman, working from a script by Howard Browne, takes the approach of TV's THE UNTOUCHABLES by having a narration that sets time and place and gives us biographical information about the various characters. The opening with Barboura Morris hearing a strange noise and wandering out into the snow to find a garage full of dead people down the block is great and movie fans will have a ball trying to count how many scenes Corman rips off from William Wellman's 1931 THE PUBLIC ENEMY - most obvious is the scene where George Segal terrorizes a bar owner into changing his beer supplier, it's a straight steal of the similar scene in the Wellman movie. But the films weakness comes from the miscasting and/or overacting of its two leads, Jason Robards and George Segal. Robards is both far to slim and old to be the Al Capone of 1929 and his scowling, smirking and grimacing become more tedious with each viewing. A few years later Corman would produce another Howard Browne script called CAPONE using footage from this film and featuring Ben Gazzara as a much more believable scarface (although the film itself was inferior to the one reviewed here). Segal looks like he is enjoying himself immensely as killer Pete Gusenberg but, as with Robards, his mugging goes way over the top, especially compared to the general underplaying of the rest of the cast. But there is a lot to enjoy here nonetheless and if you are a Corman fan anyway......Rating ***


Included as extras on the DVD of LA GRANDE ILLUSION are two interesting shorts by the director Jean Renoir. The first is a version of Hans Andersen's tale "The Little Match Girl". LA PETITE MARCHANDE D'ALLUMETES (Rating ***) was co-directed by Renoir in 1928 with Jean Tedesco. Following the plot of Andersen's story the film features a long special effects sequence where Karen, the little match girl dreams that toys come to life and she falls in love with a toy soldier and is pursued through the clouds by death in the form of a hussar. The second film is the surreal short SUR UN DE CHARLESTON (Rating **) in which, in the year 2028, an African explorer (played in minstrel makeup by black performer Johnny Huggins) sets out to explore Paris which has become a decaying city populated by white savages. He lands his sphere like flying machine and is greeted by a white girl and her pet ape. She proceeds to teach him the Charleston which he sees as a sign of the decline of European civilisation and believes is a prelude to her eating him! Other reviews have commented that Renoir's wife Catherine Hessling, who stars in both films, was a poor actress and a hopeless dancer. Personally I found her appealing and charming in both films. To add to the surrealism of the frenetic dancing in this silent musical there is no musical soundtrack.

Monday, 29 October 2007


A real rarity, certainly in England, is George Sherman's THE LADY AND THE MONSTER which is an adaption of Curt Siodmak's sci-fi novel "Donovan's Brain" which has been filmed twice since; first as DONOVAN'S BRAIN in the Fifties and then as VENGEANCE in the Sixties. Sherman's version is probably the least of the three but need not be dismissed out of hand. It's biggest drawbacks are Vera Hruba Ralston as the heroine and that even a 86 minutes it drags a bit in the middle. On the plus side is the atmospheric photography which gives the film a film noir flavor and the nice laboratory sets. Richard Arlen is quite effective as the doctor who becomes possessed by the brain of a dead millionaire although it is easy to see why Arlen had descended into B-movies by this time. The biggest plus that the film has is the presence of Erich Von Stroheim as the obsessive Dr.Mueller. Von Stroheim was probably, by his own estimation, slumming when he made this movie for Republic but it really doesn't show in his performance. He is one of those actors who can totally dominate any scene he is in and can lift a routine movie beyond its own expectations.If you are a horror movie fan or simply a collector of curiousities then THE LADY AND THE MONSTER is worth a look. Rating **


I've been waiting to see this movie - ever since I read Matt Braun's novel of the same name. I really don't know if there is an actual connection between the two beyond the subject. The film, like the book, deals with the latter years of real-life United States Marshal William Matthew Tilghman. Tilghman is a character who has fascinated me for years and while I felt that Braun's novel (which covers a longer period than the film)
was superior, John Kent Harrison's movie is very entertaining.This is in no small part due to the performance of its star (and producer) Sam Elliott. Over the years Elliott has proved himself a real star in a whole series of memorable made-for-tv Westerns and here he is totally convincing as the ageing lawman who is hired by citizens to clean-up the boom town of Cromwell, Oklahoma. The film is infused by a romantic view of the passing of the Old West (the film is set in 1924) and the "man out of time" theme that has been used often (and generally well, I feel) in many Westerns since the late Sixties. As a fan of Westerns and True West I'd love to see Tilghman's career covered by a more detailed film. Tilghman was previously played by Rod Steiger in Lamont Johnson's under-rated CATTLE ANNIE AND LITTLE BRITCHES. Tilghman himself became a film director and between 1908 and 1915 he made several movies, among them THE PASSING OF THE OKLAHOMA OUTLAWS in which he played himself. This aspect of his career is partly covered by YOU KNOW MY NAME. Rating ***

Thursday, 25 October 2007

THE FACE OF ANOTHER/Tanin no kao (1966)

Hiroshi Teshigahara's THE FACE OF ANOTHER shares some things in common with Jed Mercurio's version of FRANKENSTEIN although the films exist on entirely different levels of artistic achievement. Both explore the possibilities of synthetic flesh, identity and our releationship with a creator. A man loses his face in an industrial accident and becomes a guinea pig in an experiment using an artificial face - a mask so lifelike that it is almost undetectable. The film is a meditation on how much our personality is formed by our appearance, how our face/mask hides our real self from even our closest friends, relatives and lovers and how we might behave if we were free of the constraints placed on us by the face that we show to the world. Would our actual personalities change. Does the personality shape the face or vice versa? As in FRANKENSTEIN - the book rather than version reviewed below - the central character of this film sees himself in his new life as the product of a creator, a doctor (the God metaphor is not strained), and as we break free from our parents/circmstance/God so must he. "I am no one" he tells an arresting policmen just before the film's chilling conclusion. The film is beautifully directed and stunningly shot in crisp monochrome images. Rating *****

Wednesday, 24 October 2007


Do we really need a new Frankenstein film ? Well, after seeing this new production made for British television you'll probably say no. To be honest, while I watched it I was quite enjoying it but I realised later that the pleasure I got was not because it was particularly enthralling but I was carried away doing that old fan thing of picking out all the in-jokes. Written and directed by Jed Mecurio, himself a former doctor, this modernised version of Mary Shelley's classic has Dr.Victoria Frankenstein injecting her dying son's DNA into some artificial flesh she is growing in the lab where she works for Dr.Pretorius. Her assistant is an oriental named E. Gore.......get the idea ? Yeah, that's about as subtle as it gets. Some of the scenes are nicely handled (I particularly liked the death of Dr.Waldman) but none of them are very original. The monster (played by Julian Beach) looks remarkably like a malignant E.T. and any thought I had that this was accidental was soon dispelled when the film blatantly rips of the garden shed scene from Spielberg's film. I admit to laughing out loud at the way Mecurio manages to explain why it becomes necessary to fit a bolt in the creature's neck. Performances are not noteworthy with Helen McCrory rather colourless as Frankenstein and the usually reliable Neil Pearson totally miscast as Dr.Waldman. If you are not a regular Frankie fan then you may really like it and if you are a follower of the genre you may be entertained just picking up on all the references and shouting at the screen that Kevin Connor and Luke Goss, amazingly, did it a lot better a few years back. Rating *

Son of Fleapit of the Mind

If you are returning to the fleapit after an absence of more than a day you will be wondering what has happened. Well, after much soul searching, Weaverman decided that he wasn't as interested in his other blog (Weaver's Loom) as he should be and wanted to concentrate on the fleapit. While deleting The Loom blog I clicked on the wrong button and.....well, all my reviews disappeared! Everything disappeared! I just sat there staring at the empty monitor screen telling myself very calmly that it hadn't happened. But, of course, it had. You have to pick yourself up, dust yourself down and start all over again. I have decided not to attempt to re-write my reviews until I see those movies again (and, in most cases, I know I will). My plan to re-see and review all the Roger Corman/Edgar Allan Poe series before Halloween is now abandoned, my penance for being such a clutz! So it all starts again here.