Tuesday, 20 June 2017

CRUISE CONTROL



Further to my earlier post : According to the industry and the media Universal's reboot of THE MUMMY is a box-office flop. Generally bad reviews have contributed to predictions that this might mean the early demise of the planned "Dark Universe" franchise.  Whatever the reasons for the failure it seems that everybody is eager to heap the blame on star Tom Cruise citing his "micro-management" of the production. The fact that the film was helmed by a relatively inexperienced director who, reportedly, was rather overwhelmed by the scale of the production seems to have been largely passed over. Cruise is well known to be a control freak when it comes to his films. So why did they hire him? Tom Cruise, in my opinion, is a pretty good actor, but it must never be forgotten that "Tom Cruise" is a product which Cruise, the actor, guards jealously. His reported interference in THE MUMMY has resulted in the film having the highest grossing box-office take of any Tom Cruise film. Tom knows exactly what he is doing and, surely, if you hire him it seem rather unfair to start moaning when he does it. Director Alex Kurtzman had only directed one film, the modest family drama PEOPLE LIKE US, before taking on the multi-million dollar MUMMY, although he has had a long and honourable career as a writer and producer. I'm sure that Tom Cruise will laugh all the way to the bank and, ironically, I suspect that, ultimately, so will Universal. If that happens that will almost certainly be thanks to Tom Cruise.

"I did it my way....."

Thursday, 15 June 2017

PUSHOVER (1954) Directed by Richard Quine.


Richard Quine's PUSHOVER is a terrific film noir, rarely mentioned among the greats but fully worthy of that honour. It is also beautiful Kim Novak's first credited film appearance and it is easy to see why Columbia's Harry Cohn wanted to promote her as a star to replace Rita Hayworth. Fred MacMurray was an interesting actor. In later years he became associated with the television series MY THREE SONS and a stint with Disney which promoted him as a comfy father figure but he was much more interesting in the earlier days of his career when he was a perfect film noir lead. He was totally believable in the classic DOUBLE JEOPARDY and here in PUSHOVER because he always looked the type of guy who could be tempted by a femme fatale. Of course, things didn't go well for him once Barbara  Stanwyck or Kim Novak had finished with him. PUSHOVER is beautifully photographed by Lester White, with almost the entire film taking place at night. Supporting cast is top-notch with Phil Carey, E.G.Marshall and Dorothy Malone. Script by Roy Huggins from a Thomas Walsh novel.  Rating ****

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

HALDANE OF THE SECRET SERVICE (1923) Directed by Harry Houdini.


Harry Houdini is one of those historical characters that really interests me. Magician, Escape Artist, Aviation pioneer, Author, Publisher, exposer of fake mediums and secret agent for both British and American governments. Sadly, although he also produced, directed and starred in several films his cinematograph work was not among his more noteworthy achievements. Fascinated as I am by his career, I jumped at the chance to buy three of his movies. The first, THE MAN FROM BEYOND starts well, looking like a sequel to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein  as artic explorers discover a man frozen in a block of ice on a wrecked ship. Unfortunately nothing that follows is as interesting and the print is quite dreadful. TERROR ISLAND is better, both in print quality (just) and story as Harry, a submarine inventor, travels to a distant island where an explorer has been captured by natives while searching for sunken treasure. It has something of the atmosphere of an old serial but that is about all. Lastly comes HALDANE OF THE SECRET SERVICE, directed by Houdini himself. After a good start involving switched bags the film settles down to be dull, dull, dull. The hero is on the track of a ruthless counterfeit gang led by a Fu Manchu type villain who was responsible for the death of his father. There is potential here but the film is determinedly talky (no mean feat in a silent film) as the characters endless explain things to each other. But, of course, there are pluses. Under any circumstances it is good to see Houdini on film and, surprisingly, the film contains a fair amount of location filming in Glasgow, Hull, London and Paris, presumably done while Houdini was on tour.
The oddest thing about these films is Houdini seems to have no great interest in exploiting his enviable reputation as an escape artist and there are few examples of what he did best in these films.. If you have any interest in Houdini then these DVDs are a must, whatever the quality. They are both disappointing and essential.

THE MAN FROM BEYOND (1919) directed by Burton King. *
TERROR ISLAND (1922) directed by James Cruze *
HALDANE OF THE SECRET SERVICE (1923) directed by Harry Houdini *


Friday, 9 June 2017

OLD MONSTERS NEVER DIE.....

Harry Treadaway as Victor Frankenstein and Rory Kinnear as his creature in PENNY DREADFUL.

The monsters are back! They live! They walk among us again. Thankfully, I don't mean the serial killers, maniacs or torturers that have infested our film and television screen for too long. I'm talking about the genuine article. You may have noticed that over the last few years there has been a revival of classic literary and cinematic monsters on both big and small screens. Some time back Universal revived their classic Egyptian mummy character, Im-Ho-Tep. True, he didn't look a lot like he did back in 1932 when played by Boris Karloff, but the film was fun and resulted in some fun spinoffs.
Then Dracula himself was back in a television film, a min-series and a feature film, DRACULA UNTOLD. Then there was THE FRANKENSTEIN CHRONICLES (soon to be followed by a second series) which featured elements of the original story and included Mary Shelley herself as a character.
Charlie Higson gave us JEKYLL AND HYDE which told of the original Jekyll's grandson coping with the family curse as well as bunch of other monsters, including Spring Heeled Jack. and various monster makers and hunters causing havoc in 1930's London. To my mind the best of all was the television series PENNY DREADFUL which quite convincingly managed to combine Victor Frankenstein, three of his creatures, Dorian Gray, witches, exorcisms, resurrectionists, Dr.Jekyll, Dracula and a werewolf in one narrative. Strong stuff.

"I'll be back!"

For a few years now there have been various turns at updating GODZILLA and Peter Jackson gave the mighty KING KONG a remake. The Godzilla people have now done a complete reboot of the Kong story in KONG : SKULL ISLAND with the avowed intention of reuniting the two monsters for KING KONG VS. GODZILLA in the not too distant future.

The Mummy (2017)

At the moment Universal Studios, as well as promoting their impressive backlog of classic movie monsters (yet again) are launching monster universe with yet another rethink of THE MUMMY which manages to include Russell Crowe as Dr.Henry Jekyll! We are promised, for the future, not only Johnny Depp as THE INVISIBLE MAN but the possibility of Dwayne Johnson as THE WOLFMAN, Xavier Bardem as FRANKENSTEIN and Angelina Jolie as THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. " A World of Gods and Monsters", indeed.

The boys are back in town.


Tuesday, 6 June 2017

LES RIVIERES POURPRES/Crimson Rivers (2000) Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz.


This one, I found in a charity shop. For some reason this seems to have slipped under my radar until now. I love French thrillers and this one has a lot going for it: unfamiliar locations in the French Pyrenees, very gruesome and, above all, two top charismatic French actors sparring of each other, Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel. It is, perhaps, not the greatest plot, with the twist being signalled long in advance but the two stars make the whole thing enjoyable enough (just as Morgan Freeman was able to carry the also not very original ALONG CAME A SPIDER which I watched the same day). I enjoyed it enough to look forward to catching up with THE CRIMSON RIVERS 2 : ANGELS OF THE APOCALYPSE, although, Cassel is not around for that one. It does, however,  have the late Christopher Lee. Good for a rainy day. Rating ***

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

THE SECRET OF THE BLUE ROOM (1933) Directed by Kurt Nuemann. and THE SECRET OF THE CHATEAU (1934) Directed by Richard Thorpe.




These two rarities from the Universal stable are often listed as horror movies, Neither really fits neatly into that genre. It is easy to dismiss THE SECRET OF THE CHATEAU which is a pretty dull detective story about the theft of a valuable Guttenberg Bible. I found it dull in the extreme, The advertising for the film is more than slightly misleading. Rating *. THE SECRET OF THE BLUE ROOM is another thing altogether. Not a horror film as such, it is a remake of a German film made the previous year which is listed on IMBd as "Horror" although that is not always a reliable source. This version has a lot going for it. It belongs to the locked room murder genre and tells of a room where murders were once committed where quests are mysteriously vanishing again. The room is situated in the castle of Robert von Hellsdorf (played by Lionel Atwill - another reason for its close association with the horror movies). The supporting cast is above average and includes the Gloria Stuart, Paul Lukas, Edward Arnold and Onslow Stevens. Atwill is usually worth the time spent watching a film and this is no exception. The film was remade again in 1938 and again in 1944 (as a musical!). Rating **


DEAD AGAIN (1991) Directed by Kenneth Branagh.


I'm going to swim against the tide with this one. When I first saw it years ago I quite liked it but seeing it again recently I found that it irritated the hell of me for a whole bunch of reasons. DEAD AGAIN was Kenneth Branagh's second film as a director. With his first, HENRY V, he was on safe, more familiar ground, Here he veers into Hitchcock territory with a psycho-drama about murder and reincarnation. Branagh and Emma Tompson play, respectively, a modern day private eye and an amnesia victim given to bad dreams of being murdered back in the late 1940's by her husband (also Branagh), In his past incarnation Ken has a goatee beard and the modern Ken doesn't and even when he is looking at a picture of his previous self does he or anybody else seem to realise. It is rather like Superman disguising himself as Clarke Kent and the entire staff of the Daily Planet failing to notice.Branagh's direction seems over emphatic as do all the performances. VERTIGO remade by luvvies springs to mind. I remain a Branagh fan, With Andy Garcia, Robin Williams. Rating **

A BLAST FROM MY PAST.....

My interest in films was nurtured by my mother who was a great cinemagoer. But that interest was really encouraged by my school film society and in particular by two teachers, particularly an American named Jim Kitses. Jim went on to work and the British Film Institute, to write a wonderful book on Westerns and to lecture on film at San Francisco University. .I'm happy say Jim and I are still in contact today. This picture shows Jim (with moustache) having a relaxed chat with film director Samuel Fuller.


Thursday, 25 May 2017

THE INTERRUPTED JOURNEY (1949) Directed by Daniel Birt. B/W.


I was, until a few days ago, unfamiliar with the work of director Daniel Birt, except for the interesting THREE WEIRD SISTERS.  If this neat little thriller is anything to go by his others films may be worth investigation. To give away any plot points would be unfair as the script, written by Michael Pertwee, twists this way and that like a snake. The film has a dreamlike quality (or should I say nightmare) which is enhanced by the dramatic photography of  Erwin Hillier (whose career began with Murnau and Lang and ended with Harryhausen.) The words "Film Noir" are used far too o.ften these days but this seems to me to be a rare example of a genuine British film noir. The cast are more than competent with Richard Todd and Valerie Hobson in the lead and excellent support from Tom Walls as the dogged  Railway detective and a nice cameo by Dora Bryan as a slatternly waitress. Rating ***

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

KAIDAN SEMUSHI OTOKO (1965) Directed by Hijaime Sato.


The Japanese certainly have a flair for horror movies. This film has more in common with William Castle's THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL than it does with the somewhat over praised JUON : THE GRUDGE.  The film may not have an enjoyable performance by Vincent Price but it certainly delivers on horror. A group of people find themselves unable to leave a creepy old mansion which is complete with a sinister hunchback caretaker. As cliché demands the hapless characters are picked of with one by one. The film has several different titles and the copy viewed on You Tube is the Italian print (although listed as HOUSE OF TERRORS). The Japanese cast are dubbed into Italian but there are English sub-titles. Alternative Titles : THE GHOST OF THE HUNCHBACK.
Rating ***

Monday, 22 May 2017

BACK IN BUSINESS AT LAST!


Back in November I announced that I would be returning to film reviews in the New Year. Due to various circumstances, both personal and technical, this never happened. The world turns and it is now possible to reopen the Fleapit, While there will be a wider range of posts such as the promised return to reviews (of a sort), broader comments on the film world in general etc. I will, on occasions. continue to list films in my DVD collection. As before, comments are both encouraged and welcome.