Friday, 31 May 2013

JUNE 1, 2013

008 RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK (1966) Directed by Don Sharp **

Hammer films, rather like the old Universal Horrors are rather like film comfort food but I have to say that revisiting this film rather gave me indigestion. I was torn between relishing the familiar sets and character actors but just irritated by the script. I am aware that I'm being unfair inasmuch that Hammer on its limited budgets was never in my wildest dreams ever going do Grigori Rasputin anything approaching justice and they certainly never intended to - the were making a B-horror movie plain and simple. Made as a quad of films in 1966 which recycled sets and actors, RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK was filmed back to back with the superior DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS while THE REPTILE was the flipside of PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES. The story of the Russian monk who exercised so much influence over the last of the Romanoff Czars has been filmed many times - I first encountered it in an Italian film called NIGHTS OF RASPUTIN and later in NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA (with Tom Baker) and RASPUTIN (with Alan Rickman) although I've never managed to catch up with the 1930's Hollywood version with the three Barrymore siblings (Ethel Barrymore reputedly quipped "I thought I was rather good but I don't know what those boys were up to!"). But back to the Hammer effort. There is no serious attempt a historical accuracy in the script or the setting and Czar Nicholas is noticeably absent and, surprisingly, the murder scene is rather less dramatic and horrific than its historical counterpart. Don Sharp's direction is adequate given what he has to work with with only the scene where a would be assassin stalks the monk in the dark really being memorable. Acting is so-so with a competent cast which includes Francis Mathews, Barbara Shelley, Susan Farmer, Dinsdale Landen  and Richard Pascoe. Lee is good (most of the time) but really doesn't look much like Rasputin. Sadly, finally, it doesn't work as history or horror.

Rasputin the Mad Monk

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

MAY 28, 2013

107 TONI (1934) Directed by Jean Renoir ****

I honestly thought I'd seen this back in the 60's but could remember little about it. Turns out I had not seen it which was a nice surprise as a Renoir film that is new to me is always welcome as he is one of the greatest of all directors in my estimation.  TONI is generally regarded as his first great film and a precursor of the Italian neo-realist movement. Toni is an Italian immigrant worker who comes to work in the south of France and begins an affair with his landlady. He becomes obsessed with a Spanish neighbour and this eventually leads to tragedy for everybody. The film is unflinching in its depiction of the day to day lives of the immigrants although this is never over emphasised and is in the detail - the food, poor quality clothes and even the camaraderie of strangers in a strange land. The film, technically, has rough edges (Renoir himself considered it a primitive work) and despite the restoration still has rough edges. It's power is undeniable.


Monday, 27 May 2013

MAY 27, 2O13

106 THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN FABIAN (1951) Directed by William Marshall **

As a Vincent Price fan I've waited many years to see this film and while I can't say it is a particularly outstanding film it is certainly adequate for its genre - although exactly what its genre is must be open to debate. It certainly isn't the swashbuckler one might expect from its star, Errol Flynn (who also penned the screenplay). Price actually seems to have more screen time than Flynn in this story of lust, blackmail and murder. Interestingly, Micheline Presle's "heroine" is totally unsympathetic in her actions while "villain" Price, while being weak and devious, is strangely sympathetic (despite being driven to murder by Presle's lies) and one feels that everybody would have been better off if "hero" Flynn hadn't interfered in the first place and saved Presle for being sentenced to death for a murder of which she really was guilty. The film seems to have originally ended with Presle getting her just desserts for her actions but an additional "softer" ending has very obviously been added  with a voice over taken from an earlier love scene, indicating that she survives to be carried off in Errol's arms (a stand-in is seen here) - this scene was reputedly shot by Robert Florey. Happy birthday Vincent.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

MAY 22, 2013

101 THE MAN FROM EARTH (2007) Directed by Richard Schenkman ***

A science fiction film written by the late Jerome Bixby and produced by his son which contains no visual effects (let alone CGI), no action and takes place in one room. An impromptu farewell party for a university professor by his friends and closest colleagues takes a weird turn when he reveals that he is actually  a  old Cro-Magnon man who  has walked the earth for 14,000 years. He is at first not believed but slowly his friends are divided between those who start to believe him and those who think he is mentally ill. This simple idea opens up into an engrossing conversation piece that tackles preconceptions about anthropology, science, religion. It is only in the area of religion where the film starts to lose itself by becoming a bit too ambitious and looses credibility - not, I hasten to add, because its arguments are invalid, albeit a bit contrived,  but rather because of the unlikely plot twist. Despite this hiccup the film is an engrossing, intelligent chamber piece. Faultlessly acted by the ensemble cast who, with the once exception of William Catt,  are unknown to me - although I am assured that, like author Bixby, many have STAR TREK connections. Definitely worth a look. Richard Schenkman went on to direct ABRAHAM LINCOLN VS. ZOMBIES.

The Man from Earth

102  MAN OF THE WEST (1958) Directed by Anthony Mann ****

Like THE LAST FRONTIER with Victor Mature, this Western with Gary Cooper is not as well known as Anthony Mann's series of James Stewart Westerns although it is highly rated by critics and writers on the Western genre, although it must be said opinions of the fans are sharply divided. Somebody was once asked what they got from an Anthony Mann film that they didn't get from one by John Ford. The answer was "a sense of urgency" and I think that is a fair comment. Mann's films are edgy affairs with damaged heroes. MAN OF THE WEST has ex-outlaw Cooper forced to team up with his former boss in an effort to save the lives of two fellow travellers after a failed train robbery. Coop is truly iconic here - never has he looked so tall - framed in Mann's amazing cinemascope vistas. The rest of the cast is truly remarkable with Julie London, John Dehner, Arthur O'Connell, Jack Lord, Royal Dano, Frank Ferguson etc. For me, however, the film's one weakness and one that jars my sensibilities whenever I watch the film is the performance by Lee J. Cobb as Doc Tobin, Coop's old outlaw boss. I admire Cobb greatly as an actor but here I feel he overacts like crazy and his shouting becomes irritating in the extreme. I can't blame Cobb as one would assume that this is the performance Mann wanted. Despite this reservation this slow-burn film is a great Western.

Man of the West

Also viewed :

103 SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS (1942) Directed by Preston Sturges ****
103 CENTURION (2011) Directed by Neil Marshal **
104 NORTHWEST MOUNTED POLICE (1947) Directed by Cecil B. DeMille ***
105 THE LAST FRONTIER (1955) Directed by Anthony Mann ***

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

MAY 14, 2013

100 THE PLAINSMAN (1936) Directed by Cecil B.DeMille ***

If you are looking for historical accuracy this is not the film for you. In telling his fictional story of Wild Bill Hickok tracking down renegades selling guns to the redskins Cecil B. Demille manages to weave many real elements and people from Hickok's life - his famous watch, the gunfight with 7th Cavalry troopers in Hays City, Buffalo Bill, Yellow Hand, Custer and, of course, Calamity Jane - but, oddly, completely ignores his career as a lawman on much of his real-life reputation rests. DeMille never really seemed to "get" the Western genre and this film lacks the picturesque historical tableaus which make even the more stolid of his films memorable. DeMille was never a great director but he was a genius entertainer and what THE PLAINSMAN may lack as art it more than makes up for in other areas - particularly the fine cast led by Gary Cooper (a fine Hickock without moustache) and Jean Arthur as Calamity. Look out for Anthony Quinn and Gabby Hayes in small roles. Best line in the film "Come Mr.Lincoln we'll be late for the theatre!"

The Plainsman

Monday, 13 May 2013

MAY 13, 2013

095 QUEEN OF BLOOD (1966) Directed by Curtis Harrington **

Curtis Harrington is one of those directors whose films are rarely, if ever, totally successful. On the other hand they are usually bizarre enough to be interesting and enjoyable - especially if, like me, you enjoy trawling through the lower depths of exploitation cinema. You just have to look at some of Harrington's film titles to see where he is coming from - DEVIL DOG HOUND OF HELL, THE CAT CREATURE, WHO SLEW AUNTIE ROO? , THE DEAD DON'T DIE, - well, you get the picture. Working almost obsessively within the horror genre (except for a period as an assistant to producer Jerry Wald) Harrington was a film fan of the kind that many of us can identify with and, personally, I find it hard to turn down the opportunity to catch up with one of his rarer films. QUEEN OF BLOOD came from the Corman stable - one of several films that were cobbled together by splicing together special effects from cheaply acquired Russian sci-fi films and newly filmed footage featuring American actor with the help of directors like Peter Bogdanovich, Francis Coppola and Harrington. The plot involves a group of astronauts who travel to mars to try and rescue survivors from a crashed alien spaceship. The lone survivor turns out to be a vegetable based life form in the shape of a woman who happens to be a vampire!  The cast is very interesting with b-movie stalwart John Saxon, Judi Merydith, Basil Rathbone slumming towards the end of his career and Dennis Hopper (who had starred in Harrington's first feature, NIGHT TIDE). The film's best performance comes from Florence Marly who gives a genuinely eerie turn as the vampire woman. For those of us who up reading Famous Monsters of Filmland there's a nice little cameo from Forry Ackerman.  Not a particularly good film but an interesting one and  worth seeing if you are a genre fan - particularly for Florence Marly.

Also viewed :

096 I MARRIED A WITCH (1942) Directed by Rene Clair ****
097 THIS GUN FOR HIRE (1942) Directed by Frank Tuttle ***
098 THE BLUE DAHLIA (1946) Directed by George Marshal ***
099 SWAMP WATER (1941) Directed by Jean Renoir ***

Tuesday, 7 May 2013


It was with genuine sadness a few minutes ago I learned of the death of Ray Harryhausen. Ray was, of course, a true legend in his own lifetime so I will not even try to list his achievements here. I first met Ray during my early days working as a messenger in the London offices of Columbia Pictures. We spoke for only a minute or two but I was thrilled to meet one of my heroes. Several years later I was commissioned by a French film magazine to do an interview with Ray. I simply looked him up in the phonebook and rang him. He graciously invited me to his beautiful home in Kensington. I was a very inexperienced interviewer and the great man showed infinite patience and was a charming host. It was a magical afternoon and he very kindly allowed me a quick look into his workshop - at the time he was working models for the forthcoming  GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD and he was understandably a bit secretive about revealing his creations for the film. I was privileged to be able to hold the original GWANGI - a model that Ray's cat attacked at every opportunity. Later I shared tea with Ray and his charming wife. Ray felt that some of his answers to my questions were not to clear and a week later I received in the post several closely typed sheets of paper with more detailed answers - that he would take time out from his busy schedule to do this was very much the measure of the man.  A few days later in Russell Square I bumped into director Gordon Hessler whom I had met on a couple of occasions when he was working with Vincent Price and he told me how thrilled he was to be working with Ray whose films he had admired for years.I believed for a long time that the interview never appeared in L'ECRAN FANTASTIQUE although I found out later that they had printed it without informing or paying me. I subsequently gave the interview to Gary Svehla who arranged for it to be published in the American fanzine THE LATE SHOW No.3 and it was later reprinted in an English fanzine.

My afternoon with Ray was something I will never forget and I mourn his passing. From his amatuer films (available on DVD), through his work on MIGHTY JOE YOUNG and his long a successful collaboration with producer Charles H. Schneer Ray gave us wonder upon wonder - his legacy is truly the stuff that dreams are made of.  R.I.P. Ray Harryhausen...and thank you.

Friday, 3 May 2013

MAY 3, 2013

091 THE CURSE OF THE FACELESS MAN (1958) Directed by Edward L. Cahn **

As you might expect, a low-budget horror movie from producer Robert E. Kent but an easy time-killer if, like me, you are quite forgiving of this type of thing. It is in most respects just another perambulating Mummy film although in this case it is a man who was buried in the ashes when Mount Vesuvius destroyed the city of Pompeii. What more can I say except that it doesn't outstay its welcome and in one scene (see the still below) achieves a real eeeriness. The cast is nothing to get excited about although it does feature the lovely Adele Mara as one of the two females. The hero is Richard Anderson who looks rather unhappy and uncomfortable - perhaps because he'd read the script and knew he had to go into the sea wearing his toupee. Scripted by sci-fi writer Jerome Bixby who wrote IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (the precursor to ALIEN) and the interesting THE MAN FROM EARTH (2007).

The Curse of the Faceless Man

Also viewed :

092  THE HOBBIT (2012) Directed by Peter Jackson ****
093  PARTIE DE COMPAGNE (1938) Directed by Jean Renoir ****
094  BOUDU SAVED FROM DROWNING (1936) Directed by Jean Renoir ***