Monday, 22 December 2008

Christmas again...

Christmas again. I always tend to be a bit optimistic about the true message of Christmas. Luck many others I get sucked into the blatant commercialism but come to 11.3o on Christmas Eve when I wrap up against the cold and head of to church for the Midnight Mass I know that I have not forgotten what it is about. This year is more difficult. I have friends who are unemployed, a friend who is coping with his lady's descent into mental illness and I have just had to make one of the most painful decisions of my life. I still don't doubt the true meaning of Christmas and the message of Frank Capra's IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE seems particularly pertinent this year as the banks collapse and people lose theie homes and jobs. I just can't help feeling that, just perhaps, the alternative reading of IT A WONDERFUL LIFE as a sort of proto INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS where the expression on James Stewart's face athe finale is one of trapped desperation rather than joy seems more significant than usual.

Have a good Christmas and thanks for reading this blog. Hopefully next year I'll be able to get back to regular reviews. Stick with me,

Sunday, 7 December 2008


It is with great regret I mark the death of Forrest J.Ackeman. Forry was an editor, collector, writer, journalist, actor, literary agent and through his groundbreaking magazine FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND was an inspiration to a whole generation. I don't propose to write a long tribute to the man as there will be many of those but Forry changed my life and the life of many of my friends by passing on his love of all things weird and fantastic in literature and the cinema. I was lucky enough to meet the great man in 1964 when we both attended the World Science Fiction Convention in London. A sad day for fans everywhere. Thanks for everything, Forry. RI.P. and Rise in glory!

Saturday, 6 December 2008

HISTOIRES EXTRAORDINAIRES /Spirits of the Dead(1968)

I think that American International made a half-hearted attempt to sell this as part of their Edgar Allan Poe series but this French production is a very different kettle of fish. Three stories by Poe adapted by famous European directors with big name stars sounds like a sure fire recipe for a superior horror movie. The first episode is directed by Roger Vadim and is based on the tale "Metzegerstein" and stars brother and sister Peter and Jane Fonda. The biggest problem, as you might expect comes from Roger Vadim's usual non-direction but close behind comes the total impossibility of convincing anybody that Jane Fonda is some perverted Countess Bathory wanabe who is forever indulging in salacious orgies and such like - Fonda just looks so sweet and American and innocent even when clad in outrageous and revealing costumes and the dissolute orgies laughable. The second story is "William Wilson" Poe's doppelganger story which stars Alain Delon (who would return to the theme with much better results in Joseph Losey's MR. KLEIN) and is directed by Louis Malle, seemingly without any enthusiasm. Brigitte Bardot also appears but does little to raise the general blandness of the segment. The final and longest story is "Toby Dammit" based (supposedly) on Poe's "Never Bet the Devil your Head" directed by Federico Fellini. Now I'll happily shout from the rooftops that virtually everything that Fellini has done since I VITTELONI leaves me cold. But here he wins hands down. Not because I think his segment is particularly good but simply because the other two are so bland and uninteresting. Terence Stamp plays a wrecked drug addled actor at Cine-Citta who has a more than close encounter with the Devil in the shape of a small child bouncing a ball - an image that Fellini lifted from Mario Bava's OPERAZIONE PAURA made two years previously. At least Fellini steals from the best. Rating **

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

MAMMA MIA! (2008)

MAMMA MIA!, like THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW, GREASE and even DIRTY DANCING is pretty critic proof. People are just going to keep seeing it time and time again and it is a dead cert to join THE SOUND OF MUSIC on the sing-along circuit. And, to be honest, it is a terrific piece of entertainment with some of the most engaging performances I've seen for some time. Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgaard and Julie Walters are obviously having a ball and its pretty infectious. For me though, the best is Christine Baranski who I've adored since her days on THE CYBILL SHEPHERD SHOW. The woman is hot! Rating ****


How could you describe the work of Josef Von Sternberg to somebody who has not seen one of his films ? Baroque springs to mind, Over the top goes part of the way, but the truth is you just have to experience them. THE SCARLET EMPRESS is Von Sternberg at full throttle. Within a few minutes of the film beginning kindly old Edward Van Sloan announces to the baby princess that he is going to read the history of Russia to her and we are treated to a wonderful montage of murder, beheadings, naked women writhing as they burn at the stake, iron maidens, torture chambers, bodies used as clangers inside giant bells! The princess grows up to be Marlene Dietrich and is whisked off to Russia to marry the drooling moron who is heir to the throne. After the death of his mother the prince turns on his own people and tries to replace his wife. Eventually the worm turns and Dietrich initiates a night of the long knives and takes over - an act which involves Dietrich dressing up in a white leathe cossack suit, mounting her chargers and riding up the main staircase of the imperial palace whith a troop of cossacks while Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries blasts out on the soundtrack. The film has amazing sets, superb photography, a great cast, terrific score and stunning costumes. Hollywood in the 1930's just didn't get much better than this - or more excessive. Dietrich is simply magnificent. Rating *****

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Saturday, 15 November 2008


I was working in the publicity office of Columbia Pictures when this film was released, although for some reason I never actually got to see the film. Despite being a commercial flop it turned out to be an important film in the history of Columbia as it was directly responsible for the company being expelled from Franco's Spain. Based on a novel by long time Michael Powell collaborator, Emeric Pressberger, the film seems to have been rarely seen since its release,although it is now available on DVD. Like many overtly political films made in America in the Sixties, this never really has the courage of its convictions - in this case to state openly that the film's nominal hero, Manuel, played by Gregory Peck, is a dedicated communist. Manuel is a former hero of the Spanish Civil War who has lived in exile in France for twenty years. When his mother is dying, his old Police Chief enemy (played by Anthony Quinn) tries to lure him back across the border to Spain where he is still a wanted man. The film is not exactly a classic, not even one of director Fred Zinnemann's better films, but it is nicely made although the performances are, because of miscasting, never entirely convincing. Gregory Peck is solid enough but often seems ill at ease with his complicated character, especially during the first half of the film. Quinn is equally miscast as the police chief but thankfully doesn't play it as another variation on his Zorba the Greek (a tendency that marred many of his latter performances. Omar Sharif comes off quite well as a young priest. Robert Hossein is totally wasted in a minor role. It's certainly worth a look although it seems to me that Zinneman either didn't know how to end the film or didn't really know how to achieve what he wanted. Perhaps he should have taken a look at the ending of Kazan's VIVA ZAPATA! Rating **

Wednesday, 5 November 2008


Sorry I've been occupied elsewhere but I'll try and and be back for some new reviews soon. Just not had time to catch up. For now another little spirit reviver.......


Saturday, 1 November 2008



Friday, 31 October 2008

Wednesday, 29 October 2008


Another Old Dark House thriller with a cliched plot and a gorilla on the loose. The plots of these films weren't even interchangeable - they were the same. If it wasn't a The Gorilla, it was The Bat or the Octopus, or The Cat. This is actually a pretty enjoyable example of the sub-genre. It stars The Ritz Brothers and features Patsy Kelly and nobody is going to sleep through the amount of noise that quartet can generate. Direction is by veteran film pioneer Allan Dwan who certainly knows how to keep things going at a fast pace - thunder, corpses, red herrings galore, secret panels, clutching hands and, perhaps best of all there is Lionel Atwill looking like he's having great fun and Bela Lugosi who looks like he's highly amused by the silly proceedings. It's hard not to like it. Rating **

Monday, 27 October 2008

NIGHT COMES TOO SOON/The Ghost of Rashmon Hall (1947)

The late Forties and early Fifties saw a proliferation of very low-budget supernatural movies, among them DEATH IS A NUMBER, CASTLE SINISTER and NIGHT COMES TO SOON. This latter title is better known as THE GHOST OF RASHMON (which, oddly, is not the name of the house in the film) and is based on the classic ghost tale The Haunted and the Haunters (which is also known as The House and the Brain). Produced by poverty row producer Harold Baim and starring sephulcre voiced Valentine Dyall, the film is crude in the extreme but charmingly effective in its own way. A young couple, desperate for a place to live, move into a deserted old manor only to discover the house is haunted. They call on a friend (Dyall) to help them investigate. Despite the poor acting and the very crudest of technical credits I happily admit to a slight tingling of the hairs (or what is left of them) on the top of my head. It remains little more than a curiousity but is not without interest. Rating **

Thursday, 23 October 2008


Another tiresome example of an old dark house mystery that doesn't seem to have come to terms with the advent of sound. Even at a mere 63 minutes it is tortuously slow with the actors speaking slowly in deliberately sonorous voices and lots of pregnant pauses, even when they seem to have no dramatic purpose. Frank Strayer (who the following year would direct the far superior THE VAMPIRE BAT) directs as though he is asleep and faces with such material who can blame him. Mischa Auer tries to inject some sinister colour into his character but the chimp looks very unhappy and stressed. Rating *

Sunday, 19 October 2008

BEOWULF (2007)

I believe there is another film based on this story and hopefully it is more successful than this one. Using the same process that gave us both SIN CITY and 300 and directed by Robert Zemekis, this really got off on the wrong foot for me by casting English actor Ray Winstone as the heroic dragonslayer. Now, I actually like Winstone in a modern setting but something goes disastrously wrong when Ray steps back in time. He's a fine actor given material within his range but remains a "geezer" from East London and to hear that accent, which never changes, coming from characters as diverse as Henry VIII, Sweeney Todd, an Arthurian Knight and now a Dark Ages hero just doesn't work dramatically - and here we don't even have Winstone's physical presence as his animated alter ego looks more like Sean Bean. The whole thing comes over as a rather flat comic strip with the monsters coming off better than the humans (and as John Malkovich and Anthony Hopkins are both on call this is no mean under achievement) and the climatic battle between Beowulf and the dragon is undeniably impressive. But the final result is clever rather than being a satisfying. Rating **

Angelina Jolie as Grendel's mum

Saturday, 18 October 2008


Spartacus himself, alias Kirk Douglas, one of the greatest of movie stars has joined the blogging community over on My Space. In honour of this I present my list of my top ten Kirk Douglas films (not in order of preference) :


Wednesday, 15 October 2008


December 31st 1952 Hank Williams, Country singer/songwriter, a legend in his own time, is being driven to a planned concert in Ohio. Depressed, washing down painkillers with alcohol, he fantasises about pulling into one of the roadside bars and giving a New Year Eve Concert. We see that imagined concert as Hank first wows the patrons with his hits then begins to reflect on his troubled life, his drink problems, his failed marriages, his being dismissed from the Grand Ol'Opry. The next morning Williams is found dead in the backseat of his car. I first saw this film in the early 80's when it was shown on English television. At the time I knew little about Hank Williams but I found the film incredibly moving and I've always wanted to see it again. Even I, a big Williams fan now, tend to forget just how many Country classics, came from Williams' pen and many of the most famous are highlighted here but the most remarkable thing about the film is the performance by Sneezy Waters (repeating his stage success) as Hank which is far more than a simple impersonation. It is basically a one man show although there is memorable support when needed by Dixie Seatle, Sean DeWitt, Jackie Warrington and Sean McGann and for once praise must be heaped on the extras whose facial reactions provide a memorable chorus of emotion to the Williams songs. Direction is by David Acomba and screenplay is by Maynard Collins based on his own stage play. A gem that beats I WALK THE LINE hand down. Rating ****

Tuesday, 14 October 2008


This is not a review as such. I've only just gotten around to watching this very funny film about England being taken over by people who obviously want to be guests on the Jeremy Kyle Show. But here's the real reason for this post...see the black guy in the still above ? Does anybody know him ? Some years ago I used to hang out in an Islington Bookshop called Heroes and one of the regular visitors there was a young black guy named Chaplin. I think that might just be Chaplin in the picture. He's not listed on the Imdb but then I don't suppose all the zombies are. Does anybody know ? Rating ***

Sunday, 12 October 2008


Just as the same year's THE PRESTIGE was much cleverer than I initially thought it was, THE ILLUSIONIST is never really as clever as it thinks it is and although the film looks absolutely gorgeous and is very well acted by the leads (I echo everybody else's praise for Paul Giamatti as the increasingly baffled and frustrated police inspector) it has a transparent plot which you could drive a bus through without killing anybody. Edward Norton plays a young man who in his youth had a childhood romance with a young girl of noble birth (Jessica Biel). They are parted and he goes off only to return years later as a successful stage illusionist. They meet again only for his to find that she is betrothed to the sadistic crown prince. They rekindle their affair and when she tries to break off her engagement she is murdered by the prince. Throughout all this Norton is shadowed by a detective who is obsessed by the secret of the illusions. When Norton sets out to prove the prince is a murderer the detective is torn by his responsibility to protect the Royal Family and his moral duty to uncover the truth. What initially seems to be a clever plot begins, sadly, to unravel, when looked at too closely. I will only pick out one instance in which we are led to believe that the fiancee of the crown prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire could be murdered and, presumably buried, without ever being examined by the Royal physicians or the designated Royal undertakers ? I don't think so. I was never taken in by the plot devised by Norton's character for a second and saw it coming very early on. Another weakness of the film is that we are never really let in on the mysteries of the illusions (as we were in THE PRESTIGE which despite its trickery played a pretty straight hand once you understood the rules of the game). It is all very well to show us that Norton can produce wonderful illusions but when a very major plot point depends on him disappearing in front of a full audience while surrounded by police we need some indication of how he makes his escape. I don't wish to be too hard on the film because on the whole I enjoyed it immensely and wouldn't want to put people off seeing it. It will be interesting to see what else director Neil Burger has up his sleeve. Rating ***

Friday, 10 October 2008


  • I was three quarters of the way through Stuart Gordon's straight to video version of THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM and had decided to consign it to the movie wastebin. It's a pretty nasty and voyeristic piece of torture exploitation which is badly acted by everybody except Lance Henriksen, who seems so convincing that psychiatric help seems more needed than praise. No hint of send up from Henriksen! The sets are cheap and the costumes are obviously leftovers from some bigger if not more worthy project. Then the film gets to the sequence from which it takes its title, the pit and the pendulum, and I have to admit that things become a bit more imaginative and actually have something of the atmosphere of Edgar Allan Poe, and this is followed by ten minutes of footage that really delivers a phantasmagoria almost worth of Matthew Lewis's novel "The Monk" although, sadly the the director blows the whole thing with the final syrupy ending. A shame, because it almost redeemed itself. Go watch Roger Corman's version again. Rating *

Thursday, 9 October 2008


LA FEMME INFIDELE is one of Claude Chabrol's greatest films and one of his most subtle explorations of human behaviour. A successful business man lives happily with his wife and son in a beautiful house in the suburbs of Paris. The couple seem very much in love and the husband (brilliantly played by Michel Bouquet) is drifting contentedly into middle-age. Slowly he begins to feel that his wife may be unfaithful. A hired private detective confirms his worst fears. The husband visits the lover (nicely characterised by Maurice Ronet) and tells him that he and his wife have an open relationship but when he sees one of his ammiversary presents to his wife he suddenly kills the lover. A police investigation leads the police to the couple. The strength of the film is in the very subtle way Chabrol shows us everything quite impassively and allows us to interpret what we see. Is the story the husband tells the lover true ? We never know for sure. The murder seems more motivated by the discovery of the anniversary present which indicates an emotional involvement than by the wife's physical infidelity, but we never know for sure. The husband seems content that life will go on as before (although again the subtle symbolism of the jigsaw with a missing piece should not be ignored). The wife's discovery of the evidence against her husband and her destruction of it has been taken by some to indicate that when the police return at the end of the film that they have come to arrest her but these reviewers miss the other evidence of his involvement which is the private detective. Do they come for the husband or the wife. Chabrol doesn't tell us and ultimately it makes no difference to the power of the film which is, above all, a love story. Chabrol (along with Truffaut) has always been one of my favourite directors of the French New Wave and it shows all his strengths and none of his weaknesses. I've used the word subtle several times in this piece and make no apologies for using it again to describe the way the spirit of Hitchcock hovers over this film, especially in the scenes involving the murder and disposal of the corpse. But Chabrol doesn't just ape Hitchcock as, say, Brian De Palma does, and every foot of the movie is unmistakeably Chabrol who has learned from the master rather than being content to simply copy him. I first saw this film nearly forty years ago and it has lost none of its power...I had forgotten, however, just how beautiful and a great actress Stephane Audran is. Rating *****

I FRATI ROSSI/The Red Monks (1988)

C0-produced by Lucio Fulci this confusingly plotted Italian horror movie resurrects the idea of satanic Knight Templars seeking the blood of young virgins (would an old virgin do?) for their rituals. A young Italian noble takes his new bride to his family castle but he keeps disappearing into the dungeons for mysterious reasons. The Templars themselves have pretty cool robes but don't actually do a lot and are certainly no match for their Spanish cousins in TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD and its sequels. The film starts well with a man wandering in the woods encountering a figure playing a violin. The figure is strangely hooded and never clearly seen and creates almost a Jamesian eerieness - followed by the pursuit of a naked female through the castle dungeons and....well after that the film goes rapidly downhill. I may be wrong (I really don't have the inclination to check it) but the castle looked suspiciously like the one in BLOODY PIT OF HORROR but I'm probably wrong. Direction as such is by Gianni Martucci. Rating *

Thursday, 2 October 2008

The Return of Larry Talbot......

I really don't know how I feel about next year's THE WOLF MAN which as you might expect is a remake of the classic 1941 film starring Lon Chaney. I welcome a return to real period set gothic horror movies but....well, I don't think any fan has quite recovered from the debacle that was VAN HELSING and the disappointment of THE MUMMY (to be fair I quite enjoyed the latter but I'd like to have seen old Im-ho-tep given a more traditional resurrection) At the moment the signs look good. It really is about Larry Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) and it features the gypsy Maleva (Geraldine Chaplin) and Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins) etc. and the director is Joe JOHNSTON who helmed the charming retro sci-fi film THE ROCKETEER. The stills look encouraging. Well we can only hope....

Wednesday, 1 October 2008


Not a film I ever felt the need to see but the opportunity arose unexpectedly and I thought "Why not ?" Glad I did as PRISCILLA is a gem. Three drag queens buy an old bus, christen it Priscilla, and set off across the Australian Outback to perform their cabaret act at the hotel owned by the former wife of one of the three. The bulk of the film is taken up by their journey across the bleakly beautiful Australian landscape which becomes increasingly surreal as it progresses. The film is extremely funny but some may balk when one of the trio produces his prize piece of Abba memorabilia which turns out to be a bit of one of one of Agnetha Faltskog's turds preserved in a bottle! The film is full of compassion but is never allows itself to become mawkishly sentimental. The performances by the three leads are a revelation. Hugo Weaving is a new name to me (he's in the forthcoming remake of THE WOLFMAN) but one I will now look out for. Guy Pearce is better than I've ever seen him and the real suprise is veteran Terence Stamp giving what is probably a career best performance as the ageing, recently bereaved, transexual Bernadette. Watch for the scene where the three leads perform Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" to an appreciative audience of Aborigines. And who'd have believed a woman could do that with a ping pong ball? I liked it so much I ordered a copy from Amazon while I was watching it. Directed by Stephen Elliott. Rating ****


Sometimes I really don't keep up with the news! I hold my hands up to never having heard of Martin Scorsese's THE KEY TO RESERVA. Martin Scorsese discovers three pages of an unfilmed Alfred Hitchcock project and decides to film just those three pages. He knows nothing of the plot beyond what is on the pages and there is a missing page before the final one. Scorsese's mission is to preserve a film that has never been made! Are you still with me? It is, of course, all a cineaste in-joke which you really have to be into Hitchcock to get or, perhaps more importantly, into the sort of film enthusiast fanaticism that infects Mr. Scorcese - and to a degree - me, and you (as you are reading this blog). If you love Hitchcock or Scorcese, then you'll love THE KEY TO RESERVA. It's great fun and if you don't start laughing out loud thirty seconds before the end my name's not Roger Ebert. Rating ***

Oh, can watch THE KEY TO RESERVA in its entirity at:

Tuesday, 30 September 2008


The story goes that whenever a pretty young thing took the eye of Howard Hughes one of the gifts he bestowed on them was a contract to make a movie at R.K.O. Of course, Hughes' eye soon wandered on to the next shapely young hopeful, but, as time went on Hughes found he had to fulfill all the contracts and his solution was to concoct SON OF SINBAD and put all the girls in it as once. So as well as The Son of Sinbad we get not only the Caliph's harem but a whole bunch of dancing girls plus the daughters of the 40 Thieves! There is an awful lot of female flesh on show and although its pretty tame by today's standards the film ran into quite a bit of trouble with the censors. Dale Robertson is just right as a non-to-serious womanizing Sinbad but the film is stolen by Vincent Price as the wise cracking, verse quoting poet Omar Khayam. On display (in various ways) are Mari Blanchard, Lili St.St.Cyr and if you look quickly Kim Novak uncredited as a very unlikely Tartar woman. Not to be taken seriously at all it is a wonderful slice of Hollywood camp that ony the presence of Bettie Paige and Tempest Storm could have improved. Directed by Ted Tetzlaff. Rating ***

Monday, 29 September 2008


With Halloween looming this is the ideal compilation DVD to celebrate with. I was alerted to it by a long review on The Land of Cerpts and Honey and thanks to Cepts himself I finally got to sample its delights. A fun compilation of creepy goodies from the early days of the cinema which has Georges Melies jostling with Jason Watson's THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER and Felix the cat, Mickey Mouse and Tom and Jerry vying for position with a condensed version of Chaney's THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (with a recorded live musical accompaniment) and silent films based on THE NIGHT ON BARE MOUNTAIN and THE WIZARD'S APPENTICE. Lots, Lots more. Rating ****

I VAMPIRI/The Devil's Commandment/Lust of the Vampire (1956)

I think it is worth saying a bit about Italian popular cinema. The Italians have never really been that good at creating genres - with the exception of the peplum movies which started with the silent Maciste films and continued with the films featuring Hercules and countless other muscle bound heroes during the late Fifties and early Sixties - but they sure are good at imitation and they weren't slow to jump aboard the Fifties horror revival, the post-Bond spy craze and the Westerns. The directors of this films are for the most part forgettable but certain stars did arise and autuerist critics and fans were right to champion the works of directors like Mario Bava, Riccardo Freda, Antonio Margheriti, Sergio Leone, Vittorio Cottafavi, Sergio Corbucci and later Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. I think the case has pretty well been made for Bava, Argento and, above all Sergio Leone. The others remain, for me, interesting. Most have made some really good films (I am particularly fond of some of Corbucci's westerns) but more often than not they are praised for having managed to make crap look palatable. A cult seems to form around any director who specialises in horror films, especially if they are gory. Fulci is one such director. Despite the adoration he received from his fans he blatantly lacked the ability to tell a coherent story. I also find Riccardo Freda problematic. His reputation seems to have started with THE TERROR OF DR.HICHCOK, which starred Barbara Steele, has always seemed wildly over-rated to me. I think that the film's admirers are really getting their rocks off on Miss Steele and the necrophiliac plot rather that the quality of the film. I don't think that the film even looks that good - certainly not as good as its semi-sequel THE SPECTRE which is usually regarded as inferior. Which brings us to I VAMPIRI which is credited to Freda although it was completed by Mario Bava. It is a historically important film as it was the first Italian horror film of the sound era and one that encompassed elements of Italian giallo and gothic cinema. It is an interesting film but for the most part not really a very good one. The plot concerns the murder of young girls to provide blood for a noble woman (played by Gianna Maria Canale) who lives in a huge gothic castle on the outskirts of Paris (???) and, my goodness, is it wordy. Talk, talk, talk, with endless scenes where guys in raincoats stand around talking. Only in the last real does the film really come alive as the gendarmes led by the reporter hero (why is this man in such a bad temper all the time?) search the castle. The final unmasking of the vampire is similar to the climax of Hammer's later COUNTESS DRACULA. What makes these scenes come to life is a combination of the impressive sets (obviously a left-over from some historical epic) and Bava's excellent camerawork which fully exploits the gothic atmosphere. Rating **

Saturday, 27 September 2008

PAUL NEWMAN 1925 - 2008

He was Fast Eddie, Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy, he was Paul Newman . He was a fine actor, a great actor even and a guarantee of quality. He had intelligence and compassion and a physical beauty that both men and women could respond to in different ways. I have a very small personal memory of Paul Newman: many years ago my girlfriend and I were taking an evening stroll in South Audley Street not far from the American Church in London. One of the first Dayvilles Ice Cream parlours had recently opened there and as we walked by we looked in the window and saw that there was just one customer sitting at the counter eating a bowl of ice cream. It was Paul Newman. Neither of us spoke until a few minutes later when I said "That was Paul Newman, wasn't it? My girlfriend just answered "Hmmm" and we continued our walk. Do I regret not going in ? Not really, even Paul Newman deserved a bowl of uninterupted ice cream. It was just enough to have seen him. May he rest in peace while his films live on. Our thoughts are with Joanna and his family.


My favourite Paul Newman films :

Somebody Up There Like Me (1956)

The Left Handed Gun (1958)

The Hustler (1961)

Paris Blues (1961)

Harper (1966)

Torn Curtain (1966)

Hombre (1967)

Cool Hand Luke (67)

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972)

Absence of Malice (1981)

The Verdict (1982)

Mr and Mrs Bridge (1990)

The Road to Perdition (2002)


Serena writes: There'll be the smell of burning rubber tonight in heaven, as the two friends and speed freaks get together. I can imagine Steve McQueen greeting Paul Newman with an invite for a 'burn up', and they won't even have to wear helmets as there'll be no fear of crashing. I can almost hear the revs from here...

Time for some beers and laughs

EL MUNDO DE LOS VAMPIROS/The World of the Vampires (1961)

Guillermo Murray plays the Dracula like vampire in this Mexican horror movie. He's out for revenge against the family of the man who made him one of the undead. Unfortunately for him he is saddled with what is probably the worst set of fangs I've ever seen. They don't just look like they came out of a cornflake box, the look like they were cut from the cardboard of a cornflake box. It's all very unconvincing and strangely undramatic (the vampires can be killed by a musical note!) and doesn't have the saving grace of being very funny. Directed by Alonso Corona Blake Rating *


One approaches each low-budget horror film of the 30's and 40's with expectations not much higher than Shirley Temple's socks but we keep going back for more because, just sometimes, you find a winner. Isn't serendipity often defined as "Many a gem found in a dustbin". Well, I won't go as far as calling VOODOO MAN a gem but it is a pleasant surprise and is easily the best of the nine films that Bela Lugosi (may he rest in peace) made at Monogram. William Beaudine was never a very inspired director but, then, he wasn't paid to be. His job was to film what he was given and most of what he was given was junk. Here he has an above average script (above average for Monogram, that is) by Robert Charles and some actors who know how to deliver a line convincingly (and with a straight face when needed). The wacky plot has Bela (in good form) as Dr. Marlowe who has spent over twenty years trying to revive his beautiful dead wife with the aid of the local garage owner and voodoo priest (do these jobs usually go together?) played by our old friend George Zucco (nice tank top, George) and a deviant idiot played by John Carradine (to think I drank coffee with this guy!) and a bevy of pretty zombies, the result of Bela's failed experiments. The voodoo ceremonies are an absolute hoot with Bela intoning ominously and George frantically uttering gibberish incantations to his voodoo god while good ole' John Carradine beats out dat rhythm on a drum (needs a little work on the rhythm, John). The film moves at a fast pace and ends when the Hollywood scriptwriter hero delivers a script called VOODOO MAN to the head of his studio and suggests that they get Bela Lugosi to play the lead. "It's right up his street!" Indeed it is, indeed it is. Rating ***


Tariq writes : I must read more slowly, for an awful moment there I thought you said "Shirley Temple sucks".

Friday, 26 September 2008


Until now I'd only met one person who had actually seen this film. I remember an old girlfriend mentioning it but that was the extent of my knowledge. It is very much a forgotten film in England despite Dylan Thomas contributing to the screenplay. Daniel Birt is a director whose name seems to have vanished from memory along with his films (he ended his days directing Richard Greene ROBIN HOOD episodes) and his handling of this film shows why. It lacks pace and any directorial subtleties. But despite that THE THREE WEIRD SISTERS is an extremely interesting film. Three elderly infirm sisters living in a huge Gothic pile in a Welsh mining village connive to kill their younger half-brother, a successful business man, to gain the family fortune. What immediately strikes an odd note is that the motive of the sisters seems to be entirely altruistic in that they feel responsible for the collapse of a row of cottages (they owned the mines under the cottages that caused the disaster) and want to rebuild them. Their brother seems to be a boorish capitalist. But, as the story progresses our sympathies slowly switch. The scene where the brother played by Raymond Lovell confesses to his insecurities and inability to stand up to his sisters is really quite moving. The film is obviously socially concerned - the old ladies symbolise the old order while their brother is the new money that they need but look down on (he has been made to feel inferior as his mother was the cook). The family house is as cracked and rotting as the sisters and finally falls apart a la the House of Usher. Mary Price is in turn sympathetic, sinister and finally murderous as the elder, blind, sister and Mary Clare and Mary Merrall complete the trio. Nova Pilbeam (whose last released film this was had previously appeared in two early Hitchcock's and had been Selznick's first choice to play REBECCA) is excellent as Lovell's loyal and feisty secretary. Anthony Hulme plays the local doctor who slowly realises the truth about the sisters (Hulme's character is called David Davies while the local policeman is played by Welsh actor David Davies) and the ever excellent Hugh Griffiths plays the local socialist worker who acts as a sort of Welsh chorus and the scene where he lectures a group of bemused Welsh Terriers in socialist philosophy seems likely to have part of Dylan Thomas's contribution to the script as does his earlier scene when Lovell first arrives in the village. It is an odd film for sure - part horror film, part social commentary. It doesn't quite work but you have to give it credit for trying. Rating ***

Thursday, 25 September 2008


This was a nice surpise. MURDER BY THE CLOCK is a murder mystery with a good dose of horror trappings and both elements happily gel together under the guidance of British director Edward Sloman. It's got good photography and some atmospheric sets. Performances are a little stilted in the way that early talkie performances tend to be but in a strange way this seems to add to the fun. William Boyd (this is not Hopalong Cassidy but William "Stage" Boyd) is very good as the hard-boiled detective and Irving Pichel is great fun as "Philip" the moronic son of the house who likes to kill things with his hands (watch for the funny scene where he is just about to throttle an unsuspecting relative and has to be quietly led from the room by the housekeeper) and I particularly enjoyed Lilyan Tashman as the femme fatale to beat all femme fatales. Not since Lady MacBeth has there been a manipulative bitch to match this character; this gal could give Brigid Shaughnessy a run for her money. The plot which involves cemetries, secret passages, burial alive, mad stranglers etc is actually quite inventive and is not saddled with an annoying juvenile heroine and love interest (Regis Toomey's annoying "oirish" cop comedy relief's wooing of the maid is thankfully kept to the bare minimum). A real find. Rating ***

Irving Pichel plays peek-a-boo

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

LA NOCHE DEL TERROR CIEGO/Tombs of the Blind Dead(1971)

This film has a pretty good reputation but I fully expected to be disappointed by it. I wasn't. To be honest, it's pretty lightweight on content - it's more just an idea; vampire knights rise from the dead in an old ruined Abbey and kill people and that's about it but despite the main characters wandering endlessly around the ruins it works rather well and the boredom that, for me, usually accompanies 1970's films of this kind never set in. Certainly I was in the right mood for it having watched, earlier in the evening, a documentary about the Knight Templars (in the film the vampire knights are identified as Templars although it seems that in the original Spanish version this is not so, they are only refered to as Knights from the Orient). Probably, the reason the film works so well is that once they appear the Knights are pretty impressively eerie, mould covered rotting sons of bitches. The finale where the Knights massacre a train and then ride it back into the centre of the town is a terrific nightmare concept. Yes, TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD fully deserves its reputation as a classic, albeit a minor one. Rating ***
My thanks to Cerpts for making this available to view. I now look forward to the sequel (s)

Monday, 22 September 2008


Forde Beebe's NIGHT MONSTER is, for my money, a rather routine old dark house horror movie from Universal. It has all the right elements but they never really come together and Ford Beebe never really gives it the pace that he used to mgive to his serials. It isn't that Beebe is a bad director - he's a workman like most of the directors of this sort of fare and there is no denying that the individual suspense/horror scenes are well handled but the bits in-between tend to drag. There is a more than competent cast which includes both Bela Lugosi and Lionel Atwill (neither of whom are really given anything to do), Nils Asther, Leif Erikson, Frank Reicher and Don Porter. The female lineup is particularly strong with Irene Harvey, Fay Helm, Doris Lloyd and, best of all, perky little Janet Shaw, who disapears far to early from the proceedings. Rating **

Sunday, 21 September 2008


Howard Hawks' TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT is one of those gems on the starry crown of 1940's Hollywood. It is memorable for many things, not the least the fun of watching the blossoming on real-life romance between Bogart and future wife, Lauren Bacall. Bacall was only nineteen when she made this but plays with a sophistication beyond her years. It is Betty as "Slim" who provides my fourth Movie Snapshot this time around. At the very end of the movie Bacall is leaving the bar where most of the action takes place. Before leaving she goes to say goodbye to the piano player played by Hoagy Carmichael. As she leaves him she weaves her way through the tables Hoagy plays a little tune and Bacall does a seductive little wiggle of her ass. It is a credit to both Bacall and director Hawks that it looks completely spontaneous. I can't watch the film without replaying that scene three or four times.

Friday, 19 September 2008


Don't you just hate it when a friend does something you can never hope to equal ? My good friend, critic Barry Forshaw, once took Sophia Loren to lunch (I think it was the same week that the took Gina Lollobrigida to lunch!) - can you imagine! Anyway, I'm free anyday you are Sophia.