Thursday, 31 December 2015

DECEMBER 31, 2015

 
 
 
I offer, in no particular order of preference, ten films that I saw for the first time in 2015 that I enjoyed more than all the other films I also saw for the first time.
CRIMSON PEAK (2015) Guillermo Del Toro
THE DOCKS OF NEW YORK (1927) Josef von Sternberg
GRAVITY (2013) Alfredo Cuaron....
INTERSTELLAR (2014) Christopher Nolan
MR. TURNER (2014) Mike Leigh
INTO THE WOODS (2014) Rob Marshall
LEGEND (2015) Brian Hegeland
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013) Martin Scorsese
THE GHOSTS OF YOTSUYA (1959) Nobuo Onuki
THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL (2015) John Madden


Monday, 28 December 2015

DECEMBER 28, 2015

 

KRAMPUS : THE CHRISTMAS DEVIL (2013) Directed by Jason Hull  *

Under no circumstances should this piece of crap be mistaken for the film currently in release. This is a totally amateurish production - badly acted and atrociously photographed with zero quality. Just dreadful despite the neat poster.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

DECEMBER15, 2015



HORROR EXPRESS / P├ínico en el Transiberiano (1972) Directed by Eugenio Martin **

I'm a sucker for films set on trains (SHANGHAI EXPRESS, ROME EXPRESS, TERROR BY NIGHT etc) so I was more than usually tolerant of this Ango-Spanish production. I've had it around for years but only recently got around to watching it and admit to being pleasantly surprised - by which I mean that I wasn't bored. Helping the plot along are Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, a mad monk, a living fossil and a bunch of Cossacks led by Telly Savalas while Martino's direction is adequate for the story which tends to get a bit repetitive.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

DECEMBER 10, 2015

  


CORRIDORS OF BLOOD (1958) Directed by Robert Day ***

The second and superior of the two Karloff films made by producer Richard Gordon. This one has a bigger budget and better sets and is really an historical drama about the discovery of anaesthetic (much the same ground was covered, albeit less sensationally in Preston Sturges'1944 film THE GREAT MOMENT) rather that a horror thriller, although the presence of Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee (fresh for his first Hammer DRACULA) guarantees that is the route it takes. The superior supporting cast is a real asset here with the aforementioned Lee teamed with Francis DeWolff  as Resurrection Joe and Black Ben, an enterprising pair of body snatchers, Betta St. John as Karloff's daughter and Adrienne Corri and Yvonne Warren (later Romain) as the local wenches. This, and THE GRIP OF THE STRANGLER are available on DVD with an excellent booklet containing very informative viewing notes by Jonathan Rigby. Although made in 1958 the film was not released in England until 1962.

DECEMBER 10, 2015


GRIP OF THE STRANGLER/The Haunted Strangler (1958) Directed by Robert Day **

The first of two films produced by Richard Gordon and directed by Robert Day in 1958 which marked Karloff's return to English films for the first time since the mid-1930's. A Jekyll and Hyde like tale set in Victorian London with Karloff as the elderly author trying to prove the true identity of "The Haymarket Strangler", supposedly executed years before. Given the actor's age of 70 and his health problems the most surprising thing about the film is the athletic quality of the lead performance, even given that some of the more strenuous parts featured a stunt man. In the mid-60's I was lucky enough to meet actor Tim Turner (best remembered today as the voice of THE INVISIBLE MAN in the popular TV series and as narrator of the LOOK AT LIFE documentaries shown at Rank cinemas). Turner told me that working with Karloff on this film was one of the most pleasant experiences of his career. The film itself (available on DVD) is no classic but is competently made with a good cast.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

NOVEMBER 4, 2015



LOBOS DE ARGA/Game of Werewolves/Attack of the Werewolves (2011) Directed by Juan Martinez Moreno,

I honestly didn't have high expectations for this Spanish horror comedy and only bought it as it was just 1p on Amazon. Surprise, surprise! it turns out to be a real winner. A not too successful author returns to his ancestral home in Galacia looking for inspiration and finds more than he bargained for - especially as the local yokels seem very pleased to see him!  The director handles both the comedy and the horror with aplomb. Not a masterpiece but a film which knows exactly what it is doing and delivers by the bucket load.

Monday, 28 September 2015

SEPTEMBER 28, 2015



EMBRYO (1976) Directed by Ralph Nelson. *

One of the two awful foetus movies made during the 1970's by former directors of live television drama (the other being PROPHECY directed by John Frankenheimer) - both directors having done far superior work earlier in their careers. This one has an over-serious Rock Hudson growing Barbara Carrera from a foetus in his lab. The pace is slow and nothing really interesting happens until the climax when the film descends into B-movie horror hysteria. Director Nelson has a cameo as a doctor at an autopsy. It is worth mentioning here that the picture quality is abysmal, looking like it was taken from a poor quality VHS.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

SEPTEMBER 27, 2015



BLUEBEARD (1972) Directed by Edward Dmytrk *

A real piece of Euro-trash, surprisingly directed by Edward Dmytrk, who had a long and very honourable career in Hollywood. Supposedly set between the world wars with Burton as the eponymous wife murderer/air ace/nobleman/photographer/musician/Nazi. Period detail is non-existent as men wear 70's suits, lead actress Joey Heatherton wears a mini-skirt and Burton wears a series of costumes that should have been reported to the fashion police. For some reason the Nazis wear green and sport a cross in place of swastikas. The film can't decide if it is a horror film or a black comedy and veers totally into farce. Visually it looks like a Mario Bava film that has gone horribly wrong - come to think of it, maybe they should have got Bava to direct it as the subject would have suited him perfectly. The luckless wives are played by Raquel Welsh, Virna Lisi, Marilu Tolo and the aforesaid Miss Heatherton. It is bizarre enough to become a guilty pleasure although please be warned that the hunting scenes are particularly unpleasant if you are sensitive to such things.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

SEPTEMBER 19, 2015


THE JOLSON STORY (1946) Directed by Alfred E. Green and Joseph H. Lewis. ***

Hagiography isn't the word for it. As with THE GREAT CARUSO this film has only the slenderest connection to the true story of Jolson's life. No mention of his brother Harry, no mention of his mother's death before 1900 (she is still around in the film after Al's retirement!) and certainly no mention of his marriages other than to dancer Ruby Keeler (here given a completely fictitious name) or his adopted son. But, of course, the film is about Jolson's voice - the man himself sings most of the songs to actor Larry Parks' miming. So, a serious biography it isn't but very entertaining it most certainly is - if you're a Jolson fan (guilty, m'lud). Larry Parks, who bears little resemblance to Jolson,is excellent and there are good performances from Evelyn Keyes and William Demarest. Jolson's blackface is probably deemed politically incorrect today but his relationship to the black community and black performers is much more complicated and is barely, if at all, touched on in this film. Ultimately this is Hollywood schmaltz but beautifully done.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

SEPTEMBER 3, 2015



MR. TURNER (2014) Directed by Mike Leigh. ****

I am not Mike Leigh's greatest admirer, something about his work irritates me. The early scenes of MR. TURNER are immaculately rendered vignettes of scenes from Turner's life, undeniably brilliant but lacking in context - like looking into the past but with no guide to explain what you are seeing, scenes which seem to be going somewhere then suddenly cut to something else. Yes, I began to get irritated, no doubt looking for some reason for disliking this Mike Leigh effort. This was no doubt compounded by my fond memories of the 1970's television film, THE SUN IS GOD based on the same subject and starring Leo McKern as Turner. However as the film progressed I was won over and thankfully Leigh begins to reveal some depth to his depiction of the great artist helped by the extraordinary performance by Timothy Spall. The film is funny, moving and, ultimately, distressing in equal parts. The scenes of encounters between the curmudgeonly Turner and such comtemporaries as Constable and Ruskin stick in the mind along with  the amazing reconstruction of Victorian London - well worth watching the excellent "Making of" documentary if only to see how the remarkable set of the Royal Academy Exhibition at Somerset House was achieved. Okay, Mr. Leigh,
you win, I surrender. This is a terrific film.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

AUGUST 13, 2015

A


THE GREAT CARUSO (1951) Directed by Richard Thorpe ***

THE GREAT CARUSO is certainly no masterpiece but if you are a fan of its star, Mario Lanza, it is a must see. The film is a typical Hollywood hagiography about the life of Enrico Caruso. An example of just how Caruso's life has been airbrushed is the complete omission of his long affair with soprano Ada Giachetti and his four illegitimate children by her, but that's Hollywood for you - one only has to think of other Hollywood biopics of the same period such as NIGHT AND DAY(Cole Porter) and THE MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES (Lon Chaney).  Of course, MGM was more interested in getting Mario Lanza on the screen than it was in telling the story of Caruso.  That said, the singing is in good hands and Lanza is more than capable of doing the arias in the operatic scenes justice and Ann Blyth in what is essentially a non-singing role (just one song) is fine.  As usual Thorpe's direction is efficient but pedestrian. It's all about its star and his voice so if you are a fan you'll love it.  If not......well.

Monday, 10 August 2015

AUGUST 10, 2015



ALEXANDER THE GREAT (1956) Directed by Robert Rossen ***

No, not the Colin Farrell starrer of a few years back but a rather interesting version of the story by American director Robert Rossen filmed in 1956 with a mainly British and European cast (the main exception is Frederic March as Philip of Macedonia).  Not great by any means but very watchable with a nice script that compresses history more than it mangles it - the characters of Roxane and Barsine both appear here while many historians believe they were the same person and, as one might expect there is no hint of Alexander's bisexuality. Besides Burton, Claire Bloom and the aforementioned March there is Niall MacGinnis, Stanley Baker, Peter Wyngarde, Harry Andrews, Peter Cushing and Helmut Dantine (the latter's voice being dubbed by Christopher Lee).

Sunday, 9 August 2015

AUGUST 9, 2015


NINOTCHKA (1939) Directed by Ernst Lubitsch ***

I start my second review in a row with a confession. I have never been won over by the charm of the films of Ernst Lubitsch. I'm sure that the fault is entirely mine but I suppose we all have blind spots.
On the other hand, like many others, I adore Greta Garbo, although I came to her films only a few years ago when a friend passed on an unwanted present to me - a box set of her famous films. I loved QUEEN CHRISTINA, MATA HARI, ANNA KARENINA and ANNA CHRISTIE - only NINOTCHKA was missing.  It has wonderful performances to be sure (even a brief one scene appearance by Bela Lugosi as a Russian Kommisar!) but except for the famous "Garbo laughs" scene (illustrated above) I remained unmoved and even a little impatient for it to end - perhaps I stuck with it to see Lugosi whose scene comes near the end of the film. I'm sure it is the masterpiece so many claim it to be. The plot about a female Russian official who is slowly "humanised" by Western culture and the love of a man has been used many times since in a musical remake (SILK STOCKINGS) with Cyd Charrise and Fred Astaire and a rather less successful film starring Bob Hope and Kartharine Hepburn and a disastrous one starring John Wayne and Janet Leigh.

Friday, 7 August 2015

AUGUST 7, 2015



THE STUDENT PRINCE (1954) Directed by Richard Thorpe. ***

Up front, I'll say that this is not my type of film, despite my huge admiration for the wonderful tenor voice of Mario Lanza. There are conflicting stories about why Lanza did not appear in the film himself as originally intended, including a conflict with the director (whether this was Thorpe or the original director, Curtis Bernhardt, is unknown) over how the songs should be sung. The more likely reason was Lanza's continuing weight problems. Edmund Purdom lip-synch's perfectly and all the cast are more than up to what is essentially a light weight piece of nonsense. Musically the film has two outstanding moments, the rousing "Drink, Drink" and the beautiful "I'll Walk with God", both have rarely, if ever, sounded better.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

AUGUST 6, 2015

 
R.I.P. Michel Parry (1947-2014)

Today I began to make a list of the people with whom, over many years, I have enjoyed watching films with or talking about films to. Out of curiosity I decided to see if any of those I was no longer in touch with were on Facebook. Imagine my shock when I discovered that one of them had passed away only last November. Michel Parry was never a close friend but we often talked about movies and we had many mutual friends and were both part of an extended group of fans who often hung around together in the 1960's. Michel went on to make a career out of the fantasy books and films that he loved as novelist, an anthologist and a screenwriter. We last spoke several years ago and discussed the possibility of him visiting me in Westcliff, sadly that visit it happened. R.I.P.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

AUGUST 4, 2015

 
R.I.P. Coleen Gray (1922-1915)
 
It was sad to read of the death of beautiful actress Coleen Gray. Coleen's long career in films and television began in 1946 and featured memorable roles in NIGHTMARE ALLEY, KISS OF DEATH,  Stanley Kubrick's THE KILLING and Howard Hawks' RED RIVER. Along the way she made a couple of low-budget horror movies THE LEECH WOMAN and THE VAMPIRE.

AUGUST 4, 20015



THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE (1959) Dir: Roy Del Ruth **

Roy Del Ruth's film career stretches back to 1915 but he was only an occasional contributor to the horror genre, his previous effort being the enjoyable 3D Edgar Allan Poe adaption, THE PHANTOM OF THE RUE MORGUE. It would be easy to dismiss THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE as a piece of low budget schlock if one's opinion was based solely on the technical aspects of the production, but the film has some interesting points. Firstly, the cast give it more than it deserves with George Macready excellent as the benevolent scientist genuinely trying to put right his mistakes (surprisingly, there is no dark side to his character). Pretty Beverly Garland makes an intelligent heroine while Frieda Innescort essays a mother who could have walked out of a Hitchcock film. Bruce Bennett and Douglas Kennedy appear only in a prologue and epilogue to the story. Curiously, the "alligator people", or rather the "alligator man" offer no threat and the all the mischief is supplied by the drunken, rapacious janitor played by Lon Chaney Jr. I don't think I'd go as far as to plead a case for this film but it does have a few nice touches as far as the script (Orville Hampton) goes. It is available for free on You Tube.

Monday, 3 August 2015

I'LL BE BACK....




FLEAPIT OF THE MIND will reopen for business in one week. I've decided not to change the formula that has served so well for the last few years.  It has never been my intention to write in-depth reviews but rather to simply record a few observations about some of the films I watch. I do not write about every film I see and I prefer to pick the older or more offbeat titles that come my way whether they be B or even Z grade efforts from the underbelly of the cinema or what some (not me) might term "art house" movies. My criteria as always is how entertaining as film is for whatever reason and, in my opinion, does it successfully set out to do what the makers intended. One new feature will be the publication of various "Ten" or "Twenty" Best lists from time to time. As always I welcome comments, suggestions and (hopefully) a few plaudits.

Monday, 2 February 2015

FEBRUARY 2, 2015



INVITATION TO A GUNFIGHTER (1964) Directed by Richard Wilson. *

Richard Wilson's career is overshadowed by that of his mentor, Orson Welles. Nevertheless, Wilson was responsible for two outstanding films, both in the gangster genre, namely AL CAPONE with Rod Steiger and PAY OR DIE with Ernest Borgnine, His first feature was an interesting Western called MAN WITH A GUN starring Robert Mitchum and it is the themes of that film that Wilson has re-worked for INVITATION TO A GUNFIGHTER. I remember seeing the film at the time of its first release and quite liking it. I recently ordered it on DVD but have to say I was sorely disappointed. Yul Brynner as the creole gunfighter Jules Gaspard D'Estaing is very good as he often was in films unworthy of his talent. The rest of the cast is just awful with the likes of George Segal and Pat Hingle overacting like mad and Janice Rule looking like she'd rather be somewhere else. The film also suffers from some weird lapses of continuity ( a stagecoach carrying Brynner passes Segal as he walks towards town but doesn't actually arrive until the next day) and some very obvious use of stunt doubles in the action scenes. It is all very dull, wordy and a bit pretentious.