Friday, 23 March 2012


I've always had affection for Curtis Harrington without ever really regarding myself as a fan. He was a product of the so-called American Avante Garde along with his friend Kenneth Anger. Most of the films that fall into this category , particularly Anger's, today look like nothing more than very amatuerish home movies. Harrington at least made it into the real/reel world with a series of interesting if unremarkable horror movies, along the way working as an assistant to Jerry Wald and directing episodes of everything from BARETTA to CHARLIE'S ANGELS and DYNASTY. I once wrote a short article pointing out that his films show the influences of directors such as Clouzot, Hitchcock, Sternberg etc as well as knowingly doing such enjoyable trifles as THE DEAD DON'T DIE and THE CAT CREATURE - the mere titles of which invoke such names as Bela Lugosi and Val Lewton. But I still think it is near impossible to discern the personality of Harrington himself. Harrington began and ended his career with versions of his favourite Edgar Allan Poe story, The Fall of the House of Usher and it is perhaps in his final film, simply entitled USHER, with Harrington playing both the hapless siblings, that we might get a glimpse of the man himself. THE HOUSE OF HARRINGTON is a useful short which comprises of an interview with Harrington himself commenting on his main films and clips from the films themselves. Curtis comes over as a nice guy, obsessed by horror films. Rating ***

Monday, 5 March 2012

NACKT UNTER WOLFEN/Naked Among Wolves (1963)

How true this film is I am unsure. Did communist prisoners in Buchenwald concentration camp rise up and liberate the camp? My communist friend who screened this film for me says yes. According to another source it was Canadian prisoners and yet another says it was the advancing American army. Not that this spoils the film anymore than the way THE GREAT ESCAPE plays fast and loose with the actual facts. Beyond this question NAKED AMONG WOLVES seems to me to be a near perfect film that works on several levels. The core of the movie is that as the American army advanced towards Buchenwald the prisoners secreted a child in the camp, protecting him from the SS. The depiction of the camp is realistic and convincing and the treatment of the prisoners is horrendous. Despite the seriousness of the film it is not without a certain element of humour inasmuch as the various way the child is hidden reminds one of such films as THE BABY AND THE BATTLESHIP (a much inferior work). In addition to this minor comedy element the film also works in much the same way as films like the aforementioned THE GREAT ESCAPE or Billy Wilder's STALAG 17 with the battle of wits between the prisoners and their SS guards (a couple of whom would, it must be said, have been at home in ALLO, ALLO.

But the heart of the film (despite the undoubted propaganda intent) is to remind us of the evil of the nazi regime and the indomitable human spirit and bravery of some men in the face of almost unimaginable horrors. In execution I found the film almost flawless. Rating *****