Charles Laughton netted an Oscar for Alexander Korda’s THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII (1935) which skips over Catherine of Aragon (the opening text tells us “She wasn’t interesting as she was a respectable woman.”) to start on the day of Anne’s (Merle Oberon) execution for adultery, leaving the king free to remarry (“If you want to be happy, marry a stupid woman.”) before moving on to Elsa Lanchester as the smart but sexually naive Anne of Cleves, Binnie Barnes as True Love Katherine Howard (who’s shown being involved with the king even during Anne Boleyn’s tenure, though torn between Henry Tudor and Robert Donat) before finally settling down with Everley Gregg as nagging widow Catherine Parr. This is about as faithful to history as Six: The Musical, but fun, with Laughton pulling off the role of Henry as a guy who wants True Love almost as much as he wants an heir. “Love is drunkenness when you’re young; at my age, it’s wisdom.”
The Russian documentary SPACE DOGS (2019) is a frustrating failure in which about one-third deals with Laika, the Russian stray dog turned cosmonaut, and the program that launched her, two-thirds to cinema verité footage of modern Moscow strays which lacks any point or interest. I got interested in this because the description talked about the ghost of Laika walking the streets of Moscow but while that may be a genuine Russian legend, it’s not part of the movie. “After weeks in stifling darkness, only a few dogs returned to Earth alive.”
Now, moving on to movies for Alien Visitors (some more thoughts later this week). VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1960) does a remarkably good job adapting The Midwich Cuckoos, though the opening makes no sense: the aliens apparently impregnate the women by some kind of energy beam rather than physically so why do they need to put everyone to sleep (apparently getting graphic about what was happening made everyone uncomfortable)? This focuses primarily on the family unit of affable scientist George Sanders who’s thrilled he’s put a bun in wife Barbara Shelley’s oven; even when it turns out to be creepy Martin Stephens, Sanders hopes the child’s intelligence can be made a force for good. Despite its flaws (which I’ll discuss in more detail in the book), a first-rate movie all around. “A great deal has been said about the power of these children but nothing about the nature of that power.”
CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED (1964) claims to be a sequel but feels more like a reboot: six super-intelligent mute children with telepathic abilities show up in London where their various governments scheme to exploit their genius for the Cold War, but the kids have other ideas… This has some bright moments, such as one character pointing out even if the kids are homo superior (though given the unlikelihood of six parthenogenetic mutant births by chance, I assume it’s still aliens at work) that doesn’t mean they’re going to turn genocidal, but mostly it’s a muddled mess; the kids are supposed to be friendly but pressured (government uses force, they use force) but in the opening their leader sends his shrewish mother walking into traffic almost to her death — how is he a good guy? And why do they coerce one woman into serving as their voice when it turns out they can speak after all? “Suppose all they want to be is poets, or lovers or tramps?”
Charlize Theron is THE ASTRONAUT’S WIFE (1999) who begins to suspect that during the two minutes hubby Johnny Depp was cut off from Earth Something Happened — but that plot is buried by the slow pace and tedious detail with far too slow a build. The presence of Joe Morton and Blair Brown can’t save this one. “That’s what they taught us at NASA — always have a backup system.”
I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE (1958) has Gloria Talbot realize that hubby Tom Tryon is no longer the man she fell in love with, then discover it’s because he’s been replaced by an alien invader testing whether his womanless race can reproduce using human females. Sexist (I get into that in the upcoming post) but certainly effective, despite some cliches (Tryon’s race are emotionless but with her he’s beginning to understand love!). “I know where we can find men — human men!”
I MARRIED A MONSTER (1998) is all around a much inferior production, following the plot with slight changes but without any sense of style or inspiration, or really any good reason to be a remake.
John Carpenter’s VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1995) is a better remake but not a particularly good remake: inferior actors, particularly among the children (nobody with Stephens’ creepy presence), more graphic violence and several changes that either make no sense (why does one of the kids kill her mother early on?) or don’t work (one of the kids develops emotions).
I was surprised by the things it doesn’t change from the first film — why not go back to the novel and establish the aliens are physically there impregnating women, for instance (the closest we get is Christopher Reeve hearing Strange Whispering before the Dayout), or include the lesbian couple shown in the book? This version does give more time to the women (though the woman who gets the largest role is the one who saves her son) but most of the other changes, such as David developing emotions, are bad ones (and why does Mara kill her mother? I find myself wondering if that reflects the opening of CHILDREN). This also suffers from the lack of Martin Stephens who can pull off the Evil Kid roles. “First they knocked them out, then they knocked them up.”
Despite it’s title, SCHOOL OF THE DAMNED (2019) has no connection with Wyndham or with aliens — the kids here are government-created psis using their powers to impose Order on a British grammar school (presumably as a test run for something bigger). Adequate acting, confusing, meandering plot and excess gore, so I don’t recommend it. “I tried to stop the deaths — I’m thinking of the bigger picture.”
THE ASTRONAUT’S WIFE (1999) stars Charlize Theron as yes, an astronaut’s wife worrying husband Johnny Depp has changed since coming back from a space trip where NASA briefly lost contact. And slowly — very, very, very, very slowly — the movie gets around to revealing just how much he’s changed. A dull drama, though Theron gives a solid performance (Depp’s Southern accent is annoying); Blair Brown and Joe Morton have supporting roles.“I’m the one who gave you a reason to breathe.”
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