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.


I first read about this film in an issue of Mad Monsters (or was it Horror Monsters) back in the mid-60's and have desperately wanted to see it ever since. Why? I have no idea beyond the fact that it was a horror film from Universal that seems to have been virtually forgotten. Now thanks to the wonders of DVD I own a copy of it. Does it stand up to expectations? Well, no...and then again, yes. It certainly isn't the Holy Grail but it is a pretty good example of the low-budget Old Dark House genre. The film is a fast re-teaming of pretty Peggy Moran and likeable Dick Foran who had been a hit team in the previous year's THE MUMMY'S HAND. Direction is by George Waggner (who also helmed the classic THE WOLF MAN) and the film plays as much for laughs as for chills. Foran plays a character not dissimilar to Bogart in TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (with Fuzzy Knight standing in for Walter Brennan) who takes a party of tourists to the reputedly haunted Morgan's Island (which he owns) - it's all a bit like THE GHOST BREAKERS and any other haunted house film of the period but none the worse for that. Murder follows murder and there are screams aplenty as the unknown "Phantom" sets about decimating the cast. Any film that features Leo Carillo as a one legged seaman named Owen Clump and has a detective named McGoon certainly has its tongue firlmly in its cheek. HORROR ISLAND is enjoyable entertainment without being anything special but you won't get bored. Rating **

Tuesday, 16 September 2008


One of a pair of Low-budget B-movies made by Columbia in 1943 (the other being CRY OF THE WEREWOLF) this film has always been a bit of a favourite of mine when I'm in one of my less demanding moods. Of course, it stars Bela Lugosi, which is a plus for any horror film, as a vampire named Armand Tesla (didn't David Bowie play his brother Nikola in the recent THE PRESTIGE?) who is Dracula in all but name. Another plus is a nice werewolf played by Matt Willis who is a sort of low-rent Lon Chaney Jr. The hapless victim is Nina Foch (who was the werewolf in CRY OF THE WEREWOLF) and the disbelieving Scotland Yard detective is the ever reliable Miles Mander. All in all it's a nice little programmer with good sets and some atmospheric photography. It's directed by Lew Landers (who had helmed the 1935 THE RAVEN at Universal) based on a story by Kurt Nuemann who would later go on to direct THE FLY. Rating ***

Monday, 15 September 2008

MUSIK I MORKER/Music in Darkness/Night is My Future (1948)

MUSIC IN DARKNESS is, I believe, the great Ingmar Bergman's second film as a director. It is essentially, a lightweight piece (certainly by Ingmar's stands) about a young musician who is blinded due to an accident during his military service. A young girl is hired to be his "eyes" and she falls in love with him. The film is of the boy meets girl, boy looses girl, boy meets girl again type of romantic fiction but played out against Bergman's more familiar artistic angst and dark nights of the soul. It is competently done and you can see the budding director's style beginning to form already. Good performances by Birger Malmsten and Mai Zetterling as the lovers and look out for a young Gunnar Bjornstrand as a bitter, angry violinist. Bergman doesn't let me down and includes in the first few minutes of the film a brief dream sequence of pure gothic horror. Rating ***

Sunday, 14 September 2008


When it comes to thinking about the best British directors, the name Ralph Thomas does not really spring to mind. He was firmly entrenched at the Rank Organisation directing routine movies such as the DOCTOR series and later such no hopers as the Penis transplant comedies, PERCY and PERCY'S PROGRESS. So it was without a lot of enthusiasm that I tuned into the Sunday afternoon television showing of THE CLOUDED YELLOW. I was very pleasantly surprised by this quite captivating thriller. Trevor Howard plays an ex-secret agent who takes a job cataloging butterflies at a country house. While there a murder is committed and the niece of the owners, whom he as befriended, is accused. Howard goes on the run with the girl and they criss cross England to evade the police and, hopefully, flush out the real killer. Howard uses his expertise as a secret agent to stay one step ahead of the law. The film offers a fascinating snapshot of post-war England from London to Newcastle to the Lake District and Liverpool - from country houses, the West End of London, roadside cafes, boarding houses, dockland to a fascinating sequence in Liverpool's Chinese community. The plot, screenplay by Janet Hill from her own story, is a distillation of ideas from Agatha Christie, Patrick Hamilton, Geoffrey Household and John Buchan. The film it most resembles is the 1959 remake of THE 39 STEPS starring Kenneth More (and directed - surprise, surprise - by Ralph Thomas). Like many enjoyable British films of this period one of its strengths is in its cast. Trevor Howard, of course, was at his peak and Jean Simmons is appealing as the disturbed girl that he befriends and later falls in love with. Excellent support is given by Barry Jones, Sonia Dresdel, Kenneth More (here playing Howard's sympathetic pursuer and later to play Hannay in Thomas' THE 39 STEPS), Geoffrey Keen and Andre Morell. Further down the cast list is a lovely turn by Eric Pohlman as a supplier of fake passorts - Pohlman being one of England's unsung masters of sweaty sleaze. Rating ***

Saturday, 13 September 2008


Discovery is one of the great pleasures of being a film buff, especially if it is not anticipated. A couple of years back I bought a box-set of Lugosi movies and included in this set was THE RETURN OF CHANDU starring Bela Lugosi. The film was pretty routine serial stuff whose only distinction was it starred Bela Lugosi and no film with Lugosi in it is ever a total loss. So, when I heard that the recent box-set of 20th Century Fox horror films included the earlier CHANDU THE MAGICIAN I didn't get that excited. I was very tired the first time I tried to watch it and fell asleep during the first few minutes of the film so it was with a heavy heart that I settled down to watch it again. Wow! was I wrong? CHANDU THE MAGICIAN is a real gem. It is a precurser of such films as the RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and Universal's recent remake of THE MUMMY. Unlike its sequel were Lugosi played the hero Chandu, this time around Bela is much more at home as Roxor, a super villain bent on world domination by means of a death ray.
Further more this is prime Lugosi - he's lean and mean, looks sensational and delivers each line with blood curdling relish. Edmund Lowe is a likeable but totally uncharismatic actor who really doesn't stand a chance playing the hero against Lugosi's scenery chewing villainy. The action comes fast and furious and is imaginatively staged by that genius William Cameron Menzies (the dialogue scenes are mainly the work of French director Marcel Varnel) who also designed the movie and supervised the wonderful model work (watch for the amazing tracking shot through a model tomb - I still can't figure how it was done!) which is photographed by the great James Wong Howe. CHANDU THE MAGICIAN is superb and comes with a good commentary, a really informative documentary and, for once, an exceptionally good stills gallery. Rating ****

Thursday, 11 September 2008


Director Harry Lachman started his career as an artist, became a film director in England, France and his native America, and then went back to being an artist. This film came right at the end of his career as a director and shows him to be a quite competent director of B-movies. Lachman was a house director at Fox and was used to handling the studio's Charlie Chan series which, along with his biopic THE LOVES OF EDGAR ALLAN POE the previous year, would have made him an obvious choice for this, one of the studios few low-budget horror movies. Based, uncredited, on a story by Gaston Leroux (of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA fame) and owing not a little to H.G.Wells' Island of Dr.Moreau, the films benefits from the presence of horror regular George Zucco as the eponymous mad doctor and an excellent performance by J. Carrol Naish as his secret. Like most B-movies from the bigger studios the film is able to utilise some impressive sets and a supporting cast that includes such reliables as Arthur Shields and Mike Mazurki (both strangely uncredited in prominent roles.) The films, while not offering anything original, at a fast paced 58 minutes, never outstays its welcome and this, combined with all the points above and the excellent photography, make this good fun and a welcome addition to any vintage horror film collection. Rating **

Friday, 5 September 2008

JUDEX (1963)

My first experience of Judex came in the early sixties when a friend and I went to Millbank for a screening of the complete 1916 Louis Feuillade serial which ran for about six hours. It was a great experience and was made even more special by having a live piano accompaniment by cinema pianist Arthur Dulay. Soon after that memorable afternoon George Franju's remake of JUDEX appeared and it has taken me forty-five years to catch up with it. Franju was not very interested in making JUDEX, his ambition was to remake Feuillade's other classic, FANTOMAS.

According to scriptwriter Jacques Champreux, Franju ignored Judex's motivation and preferred to concentrate on the recreation of the period and the evocation of the films of his youth. For today's viewers, the CGI generation, Franju's JUDEX would seem very slow, but it is necessary to remember not only how films were in the Sixties but how they were in the years preceeding. It would be easy to say that JUDEX is character driven but the truth is that there is little or no character development. It is to a degree plot driven but then Franju seems very cavalier about plot detail and the story chugs along on a series of unlikely coincidences. Champreux regards the film as pure expressionism. Feuillade set his story in a realistic France (albeit ignoring World War One that was raging at the time) while Franju has to recreate the past which gives his film a very potent "magical realism" which is potent. There are wonderful touches : nuns suddenly produce hypodermic needles, Judex is a precurser of Bat Man complete with a bat cave headquarters beneath a ruined castle, he wears a cloak and seems to have psychic control over a pack of dogs, Judex's black clade minions scale the outside of a building like insects. Almost as important is the fact that in Franju's film Judex is a conjuror - played by real life stage magician Channing Pollock. The female villain is played by a wonderfully coldhearted and calculating Francine Berge (Bardot was considered for the role but was too expensive), Edith Scob (so memorable in Franju's EYES WITHOUT A FACE) is her victim and Sylvia Koscina is a passing circus acrobat. The Andre Melies on the cast list is the son of the famous French cinema pioneer, Georges Melies. I think it is often instructive to ask oneself "Which film does this film most remind me of ?" Well, in the case of JUDEX, it is Jacques Becker's CASQUE D'OR which has a similar period setting....to my surprise there is a scene in JUDEX where Francine Berge and her boyfriend are dancing in a nightclub. They are doing a odd, jogging, little dance and the scene has (for me) a strange erotic quality...in CASQUE D'OR Serge Reggiani and Simone Signoret perform the same dance. Coincidence ? Rating ****

Thursday, 4 September 2008


Many people influence our education in movies. It might be somebody who we talk to about films, somebody who we see films with or somebody who recommends films to us. I wrote some time back about the influence of Jim Kitses on my own early film appreciation. Sadly, I learned today that another of the great influences on my film life - critic Tom Milne - passed away three years ago. I can't claim to have known Tom very well but I did meet him on many occasion and was on first name terms with him. Our first meetings were professional and but I think Tom recognised that my love of films went far beyond the business side of things. I was in my late teens when I first met Tom Milne and was already a big fan of his film criticism (he was at the time editing the MONTHLY FILM BULLETIN at the British Film Institute) and was flattered that somebody I saw as a celebrity seemed eager to discuss movies with me whenever we met.

Tom loved all types of movies from the horror films of James Whale to the chamber pieces of Carl Dreyer. His enthusiasm for the whole film medium was infectious. It was after watching VAMPYR and knowing that Tom had been a consultant on the Masters of Cinema series and a particular fan of Dreyer that I decided to find out what he was doing these days. Almost immeadiatley I found a tribute page to him. Tom was a lovely man and I wish I'd known him better than I did, but I feel lucky to have known him at all. Some of his colleagues have posted tributes and memories of the man that are both moving and amusing and give a good picture of Tom's wide ranging tastes, please take some time to read some of them at : http://www.mastersofcinema.org/tommilne.htm

YOIDORI TENSHI/Drunken Angel (1948)

In the post war slums of Tokyo a young gangster (Toshiro Mifune) visits an alcoholic doctor (Takashi Shimura) to have a bullet removed from his hand. The doctor also diagnoses tuberculosis and the gangster reacts violently and leaves. The doctor goes to see the gangster and tries to persuade him to get an X-Ray but again the meeting ends in an assault on the doctor. This is the basic premise for Kurosawa's film and as this brief outline suggests it is mainly a two-hander for the two great Japanese actors. The vivid depiction of the slums (we are in the world of IKIRU here) with children drinking from lakes of rotting water where the city's waste has been tipped and disease and crime running rampant is the perfect setting for this tale of redemption. From Western eyes conditioned by Hollywood cliche viewers tend to expect that the main focus of this tale is Mifune's young gangster and we are, perhaps, deliberately led down that path by Kurosawa. The doctor is living with the girlfriend of a gang leader who is due to be released from jail. Will Mifune protect them ? Well the action takes all the expected turns but the motivations and results are not at all what we would expect. Mifune's character is a selfish son-of-a-bitch who can see no further than his own reputation and there is no softening of his personality. In Hollywood he would have discovered gratitude and humility and gone out in a redeeming blaze of glory but for Kurosawa the man is a waste of human potential and his end is ineffectual, squalid and motivated not by any noble sacrifice but by pride. Kurosawa compares him to a young school girl who suffers from the same disease and who listens to the doctor. While Kurosawa never hits us over the head with the "message" the characters would seem to me to stand for the attitudes of post-war Japan, with Mifune as the old self destructive ways and the schoolgirl (who we only see twice) as the way forward. The polluted slum is post-Hiroshima Japan. On the more personal level the redemption that we first expect to be Mifune's is actually that of the doctor - Kurosawa tells us this in the title. The final seen has a feeling of optimism that reminded me strongly of Sjoberg's TORMENT. Rating ****

Curiously, I watched this on the same day as I viewed WHISTLE AND I'LL COME TO YOU in which a man is pursued along a beach by a strange ghostly figure. In DRUNKEN ANGEL, Mifune dreams that he finds his own coffin on a beach and is pursued along the beach by his own corpse. I think they call it synchronicity!

Wednesday, 3 September 2008


It was soon after WHISTLE AND I'LL COME TO YOU was shown as part of the late lamented OMNIBUS BBC series that I was talking to a friend in Parkway in Camden Town, London, when Jonathan Miller walked buy. "Dr.Miller!" I said akmost without thinking. Miller stopped and came back. I complimented him on his film and said I hoped that he would do more. He was very gracious and friendly and said he was glad that my friend and I had enjoyed the film. Of course, Miller went on to do all sorts of things on television and notably in Opera and never returned to the works of M. R.James. A shame because he shares much of James academic background. Seeing the film again (this is my third viewing) I have somewhat mixed feelings about it. There is much to admire, of course, the atmosphere of the seaside hotel, the lone windswept beaches, the wonderful performance by Michael Horden (whose recordings of James stories are to be sought out) but my memory has been playing tricks. The first and second viewings seem to me to have been much scarier and the the two sequences involving the strange pursuing figure and the haunted bed seem to have been much longer and far more disturbing. Memory obviously plays tricks and familiarity lessens the effect. Rating ***

Tuesday, 2 September 2008


Dislocation, dislocation, dislocation!

When I picked my 10 favourites recently I said how difficult it was to pick a favourite film by the great Akira Kurosawa. I quite surprised my self when I picked AKAHIGE/Red Beard(1965) as one of my two favourites from the great man. RED BEARD was a huge hit in Japan and rightly hailed as a masterpiece but fared less well in Europe and America where critics (except for the real Kurosawa afficinados) thought that the plot was a bit "soapy" - well if it is then Kurosawa transcends the material as surely as critic's darling (and I mean no disrespect to him) Douglas Sirk ever did. RED BEARD is a long film but for me is totally gripping from beginning to end.

It is in turn, moving, exciting and, in one memorable scene, scarey as hell. The plot tells of a young doctor in 18th Century Japan who goes to work at a public clinic run by an unconventional doctor (think HOUSE and you're still miles off target) with a reputation for being awkward. The film has many outstanding moments that I could have picked as my movie snapshot including the memorable scene where Toshiro Mifune as the doctor is threatened by a gang of pimps and he proceeds to dislocate their limbs in a fight scene as exciting as any sword fight that Kurosawa ever filmed. But my choice is of a scene very early in the film when the young intern is first taken to meet Mifune. He has heard of his reputation and is very nervous. Another intern takes him to Mifune's office and slides to one side the partition. Unexpectedly, because of the build up, Mifune is kneeling with his back to the door. The two younger men kneel in the Japanese manner and the introduction is made. Mifune still does not turn. The moment is held, maybe for only a few seconds but we, like the newcomer feel it is an eternity. Suddenly Mifune turns and stares at the younger me and again Kurosawa holds the moment for full effect. And what an effect it is! Immeadiatley we, the viewer, become that young doctor facing the scrutiny of our fearsome new boss. This small sequence is a wonderful example of both Kurosawa's power as a director - the suspenseful buildup, the seeming anti-climax and then the climax that draws the audience into the scene - knowing just how long to hold each shot - and of Mifune's fantastic presence as an actor. In that glaring look we know everything we need to know about the character at this point in the film. He has authority, is unconventional, is a bit scarey but is so charismatic that we are drawn to him and want to know more. Brilliant. Luckily the very moment is captured in a still.

Monday, 1 September 2008

VAMPYR, DER TRAUM DES ALLAN GRAY/Vampyr, The Strange Adventure of Allan Gray (1932)

This restoration of Car Dreyer's classic 1932 film is the best and most complete version of the film I have ever seen. The restoration is based on the German version of the film and the inter titles are in that language (although, of course, translation sub-titles are provided). Made in France by Danish director Carl Dreyer the film is based on Irish writer Joseph Sheridan LeFanu's book In a Glass Darkly and it is usually accepted that it is a loose adaption of the story Carmilla, although there is little in the plot besides a vampire that resembles anything in that tale. The film is really unlike anything else in the history of horror movies, although if you are familiar with classic horror films a viewing will convince you just how influential Dreyer's imagery has been. The plot is fairly simple (although perhaps not at first viewing) - Julian West, a traveller versed in the occult, stays at an inn where an old man asks his help in protecting his family from a vampire. The vampire is an old lady who is assisted by the town doctor (who looks remarkably - and I'm sure not accidentally - like Jack McGowran in Polanski's FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS). It is in the telling that VAMPYR is so remarkable and truly unsettling.

The hero, Allan Gray (who in some versions is called David Gray) finds himself in a dream-like world where the ordinary becomes weird (ie. the old man entering the bedroom) and the weird becomes almost matter-of-fact : shadows detach themselves, shadows appear where there is no one to cast them, a grave digger is filling an empty grave. Although shot with sound this is very much in the tradition of the silent film - it is a film where the modern viewer must make a mental adjustment before watching. The Eureka release has some nice extras - including two commentaries, the best by critic Tony Rayns and an irritating one by Guillermo del Toro who obviously loves the film but repeats himself to often. There is an informative booklet, a visual essay on the film's visual influence, a documentary on Carl Dreyer, two scenes cut by the German censor and more. Absolutely one for the collection. Rating *****