Saturday, 30 March 2013

MARCH 30, 2013

076 SERANATA MACABRA/House of Evil (1968) Directed by Juan Ibanez/Jack Hill. *

This the first of the four Mexican/US coproductions made by Karloff before his death is usually considered the worst of the bunch. I actually thought it was slightly better than the others...but having said that it still stinks. Set in Eastern Europe in the 1800's the credits claim that it is based on Poe which is nonsense although it is slightly less incomprehensible than its companions. Sadly, Boris doesn't hang around too long and it is hard to blame him - although what he does he does well, especially at the climax.  The film's murderous automatons are more interesting than the Mexican cast.

077 THE KILLER SHREWS (1959) Directed bt Ray Kellog  **

Not quite as bad as its reputation suggests as long as the "shrews" are only half seen. Acting from most of the cast is pretty weak (Ken Curtis, who also produced, is obviously taking it very seriously. A word must be said about James Best, an actor too often relegated to playing crazy rednecks (and usually playing them rather well) and probably best know today as the Sheriff in the TV show THE DUKES OF HAZZARD, who here grabs his chance to play a hero and turns in a very creditable performance. Best has recently written and filmed a sequel in which he revives his character. I rather enjoyed THE KILLER SHREWS and look forward to the sequel. No, I have no shame....

....and you thought I was joking!

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

MARCH 27, 2013

072  FRENCH CAN CAN (1954) Directed by Jean Renoir.  *****

I bow to nobody in my admiration of Jean Renoir, a director who was seemingly able to turn out masterpieces with startling regularity prior to his sojourn in Hollywood, but I approached this - the film that marked his return to France, with some trepidation. The subject didn't seem to hold much appeal to me. But, of course I should have trusted Renoir.  I found the film totally captivating. It is light, frothy and funny. It tells the (fictional) story of the entrepreneur who opened the Moulin Rouge and introduced the Can Can to the world. Jean Gabin (who replaced Charles Boyer prior to shooting) has just the right of sophisticated charm and Francois Arnoul is delightful as the laundry girl he selects to be his new star much to the consternation of her fiance and Gabin's mistress (played by the statuesque and beautiful Mexican star Maria Felix). To be honest the songs are not memorable except for the one sung in the finale although earlier in the film there is a cameo by the great Edith Piaf. The film does score with its dance scenes - a delightful one near the beginning when Gabin and Arnoul meet and the wonderfully exuberant and raucous final can can number. The scene where the girls are training and limbering up (courtesy of Degas)  for the Can Can are great fun. Viewed today it is innocent fun but on its original release outside France the sexual swapping that goes on and  some of the dialogue was considered very racy. The film has now been fully restored. On the BFI DVD there is an interesting documentary about the film which points out the similarities between Renoir himself and the character played by Gabin.

French Can Can

073  THE SUSPICIONS OF MR. WHICHER (2012) Directed by James Hawes ***

Based on Kate Summerscale's best seller this tells the story of the infamous Road Hill House murder of 1860 and the efforts of ace Scotland Yard detective Jack Whicher to prove his suspicions as to the identity of the murderer of 3 year old Savill Kent. Although fact rather than fiction the film is a classic Victorian murder mystery both in its settings and its characters. While the restraints of running time have led to the writer and director somewhat simplifying the investigation the film sticks to the basic facts. A nice performance by Paddy Considine as Whicher (who seems to live in his overcoat!).

The Suspicions of Mr.Whicher

074  THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA (1973) Directed by Robert Kjellin *
075  THE RAVEN (2009) Directed by Uli Lommel *

Sunday, 24 March 2013

MARCH 24, 2013

070 CRY OF THE WEREWOLF (1944) Directed by Henry Levin ***

I've been looking for this film for nearly fifty years. Whenever the subject of werewolves came up when I was a teenager (and being a horror fan the subject did come up) my mother always said that this was her favourite of the genre. But the film seemed to have disappeared (at least in Britain). Columbia were not particularly noted for their horror films in the 30's and 40's although they did produce two excellent Karloff vehicles in THE BLACK ROOM and THE DEVIL COMMANDS and the entertaining RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE and, of course, the routine series of mad doctor films with Karloff - the plots and titles of which seem interchangeable. But back to CRY OF THE WEREWOLF. After waiting so long to see it, was I disappointed?  Not at all.  The reviews on IMDb are pretty evenly split between those who are cautiously enthusiastic and those who think it the worst werewolf film ever made. What those who deride the film seem to have completely missed is how much the film is influenced by what Val Lewton was doing over at RKO and the film is almost successful in creating a mood similar to CAT PEOPLE (although Levin, a pedestrian director at best, is certainly no Jacques Tourneur) especially in the scene set in the vaults of a funeral home where Stephen Crane is stalked through the shadows by a wolf - strongly reminiscent of the swimming pool sequence in Tourneur's film. The movie strives for suggestion rather than shock and for the most part succeeds admirably.  Nina Foch is excellent as the gypsy priestess and there is good support from the aforementioned Stephen Crane,Barton, Osa Massen, MacLane, Blanche Yurka, John Abbott and the ever welcome Milton Parsons.

Cry of the Werewolf

Also viewed :

071 THE SHANGHAI COBRA (1945) Directed by Phil Karlson.  **

Saturday, 23 March 2013

MARCH 23, 2013

069 WITCHCRAFT (1964) Directed by Don Sharp ***

Better than anything Don Sharp did for Hammer, this is a really good low-budget horror film. Beautifully shot by Arthur Lavis (with my old friend Len Harris taking time out from Hammer to operate the camera) this more than stands comparison with that other much admired minor classic CITY OF THE DEAD. Filmed at Shepperton Studios with much use of iconic horror film location Oakley Court at Bray the film has a more than competent cast led by Lon Chaney, Jack Hedley, David Weston and Diane Clare. A winner all the way.


Friday, 22 March 2013

MARCH 22, 2013

067 THE BLACK CAMEL (1931) Directed by Hamilton McFadden ***

"Death is a black camel that kneels at every door" says Charlie Chan in this rather good mystery which has a few things that make it stand out from the Chan films I've been enjoying recently. Firstly the film sticks fairly closely to the original Earl Derr Biggers novel on which it is based and Chan is on home ground in Honolulu for once and we get to see all his many children and even catch a brief look at Mrs. Chan. Warner Oland is excellent as honourable detective and the supporting cast is headed by a very elegant looking Bela Lugosi as a psychic (what else?). There is a very young Robert Young and, as a rather weird butler, an uncredited Dwight Frye. It looks like they actually did some location work in Hawaii for this one and the costumes and set design are a wow if you are into 1930's style.

The Black Camel

Also viewed :

068 THE GODFATHER (1968) Directed by Francis Ford Coppola *****

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

MARCH 20, 2013

065  THE BEGINNING OF THE END (1957) Directed by Bert I. Gordon. **

I admit I have quite I high level of tolerance for stuff like this, indeed for all types of low budget sci-fi, horror and mystery movies. This one was actually far more enjoyable than I expected. Genetic crop research is the cause of a swarm of giant locusts attacking Chicago. As this is a Bert I. Gordon film the special effects are far from special - during the climatic battle the consist mainly of grasshoppers climbing up photographs of Chicago landmarks - but I suppose that is part of the fun. Peter Graves and Morris Ankrum are on hand to save the world with a straight face - both actors well used to this kind of production.

Also viewed :

066   THE CYCLOPS (1957)  Directed by Bert I. Gordon  **

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

MARCH 18, 2013

063 DARK ALIBI (1946) Directed by Phil Karlson ***

This was one of the Chan films made by Monogram after Fox sold the rights. It is also the fourth from last in the series and Sidney Toler was already showing signs strain caused by the ill health that would kill him the following year. Supposedly the budgets a Monogram were smaller but it doesn't really show here and the script is really good despite the fact I spotted the main culprit as soon as he appeared. Instead as Victoy Sen Yung as No.2 son we have Benson Fong as Tommy Chan and to raise the comedy relief level we have the great black comedian Mantan Moreland. Moreland is always a joy to watch and is more than capable of carrying a film on his own. The idea was probably to take some of the pressure off the ailing Toler but for once it doesn't look like padding and Mantan even gets to do three very clever patter routines with fellow black actor Ben Carter. Carter actually receives third billing on the credits but sadly it would be his last film as he died of diphtheria in soon after the film was released. As an added treat Toler actually joins in the last of the patter routines. Direction is handled by the excellent Phil Karlson.

Dark Alibi

Monday, 18 March 2013

MARCH 18, 2013

062 CHARLIE CHAN AT TREASURE ISLAND (1939) Directed by Norman Foster. ***

I'm becoming quite addicted to these Charlie Chan movies so it is nice that so many are available on YouTube. Despite the title which my make us Brits believe Honourable Detective is on trail of one-legged pirate this is actually set during thev1939 San Francisco Exposition. The film does actually acknowledge that something very important and world shattering is about to kick off over in lil'ol Europe before settling down to a quite impressive mystery involving Chan and No.2 son (Victor Sen Yung) solving the suicide of a friend who was the victim of a mysterious fake psychic called Dr.Zodiac. It is very nicely photographed and is competently directed by the reliable Norman Foster. Sidney Toler is excellent as honourable oriental smart arse and as well as the aforementioned Yung there is Cesar Romero, Douglas Fowley, Pauline Moore, Douglas Dumbrille and Charles McBride to keep things bubbling along.

Charlie Chan at Treasure Island

Sunday, 17 March 2013

MARCH 17, 2013

 060 THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956) Directed by Cecil B. DeMille.***

I first saw this film on its first release when I was about ten and was naturally unpressed and have seen it maybe half a dozen times, It is, to be truthful, a clunking great beast of a movie and watching it this time I found it rather dull. But, that said, it is an event rather than a film and you can just sit back and enjoy the
fruity dialogue, the spectacle and some great turns by actors who seem to be having a good time - Edward G. Robinson, Vincent Price, Cedric Hardwicke and Anne Baxter (she's a real hoot). Charlton Heston plays it impressively straight but is acted of the screen by Yul Brynner who provides the film's best performance as Ramsese. A classic?  Certainly, but a clunky one.

The Ten Commandments (1956)

061 THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1923) Directed by Cecil B. DeMille *****

DeMille is often derided as a not very good director but he knew how to deliver the goods at the box-office even if he doesn't always please latter day critiwith the film's messagecs. This film has re-awakened my interest in DeMille. The film, unlike the 1956 film is in two parts. The first tells the story of the Exodus (but in nowhere as much detail as the later film) while the second half is a modern day morality tale built around the Ten Commandments. As you might expect the film has a strong religious message that modern, more cynical audiences may find not to their taste - although the film delivers a double whammy as the film actually reflects that attitude. Personally I had no problems.  The historical portion of the film is, I thought, superior, more spectacular and impressive than the remake. But I adored the contemporary  tale as a great piece of film story telling with wonderful performances by Richard Dix, Leatrice Joy, Nita Naldi, Vilma Banky and Rod La Roque. The doctor who appears during the collapse of the church sequence is Charles Ogle who earned a place in horror film history by being the first actor to portray the Frankenstein monster on film in the 1910 Edison film.  DeMille directs beautifully. The DVD has an excellent commentary by DeMille expert Katherine Orrison.  I watched the film twice in a day - once without the commentary and once with.

The Ten Commandments (1923)

Saturday, 16 March 2013

MARCH 16, 2013

057 NIGHT OF TERROR (1933) Directed by Ben Stoloff  ***

Made at Columbia Studio, this is a superior old dark house thriller. Stoloff directs nicely at a cracking pace, perhaps because the script is jam packed with the standard ingredients of the sub-genre : old dark house, a will, greedy relatives, a mysterious servant, a stupid cop, seance, secret panels, mysterious experiments, a maniac on the loose and, of course, a wise-cracking reporter played by the indomitable Wally Ford. Bela Lugosi makes the best of his role as the Indian servant and delivers some juicy lines with relish and his entry is one that will delight all Lugosi fans. The film has a cracking epilogue as well.

Night of Terror

058 CHARLIE CHAN AT THE WAX MUSEUM (1940) Directed by Lyn Shores ***

Much to my surprise I find I'm enjoying the Sidney Toler Chan's more than those starring Warner Oland.
This is an excellent entry into the series set, as the title suggests, in a wax museum. The plot offers few surprises but the fun of these films depends more on just going with the flow. This one benefits by having Marc Lawrence as an escaped gangster out to get his revenge on honourable Chinese dectective during a radio murder reconstruction. Definately worth tracking down.

Also viewed :

059 ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968) Directed by Sergio Leone. *****

Once Upon a Time in the West

Monday, 11 March 2013

MARCH 11, 2013

056 SCHLOSS VOGELOD/Castle Vogelod/The Haunted Castle (1921) Directed by F.W, Murnau ***

While there is absolutely nothing wrong with this film it is difficult not to feel a sense of disappointment simply because it is directed by Murnau and scripted by Carl Mayer. It has little of the visual style we have come to expect from the director of NOSFERATU and FAUST.  Despite it's misleading English title the only thing haunting Castle Vogelod is guilt (except in one very brief nightmare sequence - see below) and the plot concerns a man trying to prove himself innocent of the murder of his and unveil the true culprit.  Even the castle is not atmospheric - the exteriors being obvious model shots.  But it is Murnau and if you love silent films then you'll probably want to see it. The acting is good but obviously of the period and it is interesting to see Olga Tschechowa, niece of Anton Chekov personal friend of both Hitler and Stalin (her life would make a fascinating film - check her biography on Imdb). You won't have much difficulty solving the mystery. I viewed the restored print available in The Masters of Cinema series.

Schloss Vogelod

Saturday, 9 March 2013

MARCH 9, 2013

052 THE CAT CREEPS (1946) Directed by Roy William Neill **

Another lively old dark house comedy thriller, this time directed by Erle C. Kenton who had helmed the classic ISLAND OF LOST SOULS and some less distinguished but entertaining Universal horrors. All the familiar ingredients are here as noted in earlier reviews. Performances are functional rather than memorable with only Noah Beery Jr. and Douglas Dumbrille making any impression. Surprisingly the film isn't a rerun of the 1930 film of the same name (itself a sound version of the silent THE CAT AND THE CANARY) despite the fact that most films in this sub-genre have interchangeable plots.

Also Viewed

 053 THE AVENGERS (2012) Directed by Joss Whedon  *****
 054 CAPTAIN AMERICA : THE FIRST AVENGER (2012) Directed by Joe Johnston  ****
 055 BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS (1982) Directed by Colin Higgins ***

Monday, 4 March 2013

MARCH 4, 2013

049 ONE FRIGHTENED NIGHT (1935) Directed by Christy Cabanne ***

Made in 1935 but looking for all the world like it was one of the plethora of Old Dark House films made five years earlier this is a surprisingly lively entry into this sub-genre. Stormy night, a will to be read, greedy relatives, a killer on the loose and unexpected guests - all very familiar ingredients but handled here with a light touch. Helped along by a sprightly performance by Charley Grapewin and the ever welcome Wally Ford doing his best Wally Ford impersonation. If, like me, you love old dark house movies this one is above average.

One Frightened Night

050 CONDEMNED TO LIVE (1935) Directed by Frank Strayer. **

A vampire is loose in a European village. Strayer's film is remarkably similar to his earlier THE VAMPIRE BAT but where BAT was fast paced and had a sense of humour CONDEMNED is static, humourless and beset by and over wordy script and dull performances by the leads - only Misch Auer making anything of this role as a loyal hunchback. A curiousity but a dull one.

Condemned to Live

 051 THE BLACK ANGEL (1946) Directed by Roy William Neill  ***

Neill, best remembered fot the Universal Sherlock Holmes series with Rathbone, here turns in a neat and atmospheric noir based on the novel by Cornell Woolrich. Good performances from the main players - Dan Duryea (who not only was the Woolrich actor par excellence by a friend of the writer), June Vincent, Peter Lorre and Broderick Crawford. The plot may seem a bit familiar (Woolrich's THE PHANTOM LADY springs to mind) but it has nice twist in the tail. Watch for the great camera move at the beginning - previously exploited by both King Vidor and Orson Welles and later by both Hitchcock and Chabrol, proving what goes around comes around although Neill executes it superbly.

Black Angel

All these films can be viewed in their entirety on You Tube.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

MARCH 2, 2013

 046  EXPERIMENT PERILOUS (1944) Directed by Jacques Tourneur  ***

Interesting psychological mystery set in the New York of the 1900 with George Brent as a psychiatrist who is drawn into a dark web of menace by a chance meeting on a train. Smoothly directed by Tourneur and expertly played by the three leads, Hedy Lamarr, George Brent and Paul Lukas. Brent was an interesting actor and all the more effective because he was not cut from the same cloth as other leading men of the period. Lamarr (who, in real life, it seems designed guidance systems for torpedoes and forsaw the internet) gives the heroine a nice vulnerability and Lukas exudes European menace. ***

Experiment Perilous

047  THE LAST WARNING (1929)  Directed by Paul Leni  ***

Paul Leni's last film was arguably the last hurrah of the silent movie. A mixture of old dark house mystery (or rather old dark theatre in this case) and a retread of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (making good use of the Paris Opera House set from that film) the plot is never more than predictably routine. What makes the film fascinating viewing is that Leni uses every trick in the silent director's bag to make the film visually exciting - at one point placing his camera on a swing.

The Last Warning