Tag Archives: alfred hitchcock

Batman, a fake pirate, and a man on the run: movies

BATMAN AND BILL (2017) is a documentary by Marc Tyler Nobleman following up on his earlier book Bill the Boy Wonder. Like the book, it lays out the overwhelming evidence that Bill Finger deserved co-creator status on Batman (to say nothing of credit for such classic stories as the Joker’s debut, below), and that when fans began confronting Bob Kane with this, he made outraged denials (the success of Batman on TV is a particular sore spot as Kane’s percentage made him rich while Finger lived in lonely poverty). The documentary traces Nobleman’s efforts to track down an heir who could make a copyright claim for Finger, and eventually succeeded — the closing scene is Nobleman seeing Finger’s co-creator credit on Dawn of Justice. On the whole, better than the book. “This is a statement about Bill Finger as an unsung contributor by the man who’s most responsible for Finger not getting credit.”

I also caught BATMAN: The Scheme Is Sound, a 2019 tribute by the Parkview Elementary School Music Club to the 1966 TV show: Why does the Riddler kidnap a dishwasher heiress? What happens when Catwoman and Batman dance the Watusi? Who can save the Dynamic Duo from death by dishwasher? This was fun, though the actors playing the villains had  more to work with than the straight man roles of the heroes. “This adventure ended on a good note.”

THE PIRATE (1948) is my delayed double-bill to last week’s The Black Pirate as Gene Kelly’s swaggering bravo here is partly a riff on Douglas Fairbanks’ role in that earlier movie. Kelly plays Serafina, womanizing leader of a Caribbean circus troupe in the 1830s. He’s instantly smitten with Manuela (Judy Garland), a repressed, convent-raised girl about to marry her town’s stuffy mayor, Don Pedro. Serafina puts Manuela under hypnosis to get her to admit she loves him, but instead she reveals her fascination with the legendary pirate Black Macocco (“Mac the Black” is one of Cole Porter’s delightful songs added to the non-musical stage show this is based on). When Serafina realizes Don Pedro is Macocco, retired, he contrives to pose as the pirate and win Manuela, but of course that kind of imposture is just bound to go wrong … The leads are awesome, bounding with energy, as are the talented Nicholas Brothers in their one dance with Kelly (black entertainers were limited to numbers the studios could cut out for prints in the south) and the songs are fun. The romance should be unconvincing (there’s really no set up for Manuela falling for Serafina) but the stars make it work; however Serafina’s pursuit of Manuela has enough creepy overtones, it’s not going to be to everyone’s taste. “Now that I’ve seen ya/Niña, Niña, Niña/I’ll have neurasthenia/until you are mine.”

THE 39 STEPS (1935) was Alfred Hitchcock’s very free adaptation of John Buchan’s same-name novel, a hit book which introduced Buchan’s series hero Richard Hanney (one of the forgotten adventurers covered in Clubland Heroes), but even Buchan admitted Hitchcock improved on the source. Robert Donat plays Hannay, temporarily staying in London; when a woman invites herself up to his apartment, he’s game, but then she reveals she’s part of a spy operation and staying with him to hide. Doesn’t work: she winds up knifed in the early morning and Hannay, realizing he’d be the prime suspect goes on the run. Can he clear his name? What is the secret of the “39 steps” and the man with no little finger? Will Madeline Carroll, who winds up dragged along with him, come to see that Hannay’s on the side of the angels?

It’s a first-rate film, superior to Hitch’s previous movie, The Man Who Knew Too Much. It’s also very much a model of the themes and tropes Hitchcock would play with for the rest of his career. The man falsely accused of a crime. Traveling hither and yon to bring the bad guy to justice (something that also happens in North by Northwest and Saboteur). The “McGuffin” behind all the espionage not really mattering — we know it’s something involving aviation, but the explanation is just a string of technobabble. The Hitchcock Romance argues that Hannay also undergoes a typical romantic/maturing arc for a Hitchcock protagonist. He starts out unattached — no permanent home, willing to have a casual liaison — and ends up happily restored to society and in love with Carroll.

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Runaways, Nancy Drew, assassins and pirates: TV and movies

With Disney sucking all Marvel back to its streaming service, RUNAWAYS‘ third season is its last (I suppose it could have continued there, but as SyFy Wire says, it doesn’t fit neatly with the MCU brand), but at least it went out on a win.

At the end of S2, the alien Gibborim had taken over several of the Runaways’ parents, and one sleeper among the kids. The kids open the season fighting back, trying to stop the Gibborim before they open a portal and bring more of their people through. By the time they succeed, they have a new problem: Morgan leFay plotting to take over the world by mind-controlling people through cell phones! This actually works well as a story (certainly a better threat than S2’s dirty cops) though they hand-wave that the Staff of One is now really magic rather than quantum physics passing as magic (there’s a reference to magic as unexplained science, but that’s not how they’re playing it). We also get a guest appearance of Cloak and Dagger from that short-lived show, which worked okay but I could have done without. Overall a satisfactory season that ends well — too bad it’s the last. “We’ve done a lot of bad things for our kids — it’s time we do something good for them.”

Sophia Lillis, the Nancy of NANCY DREW AND THE HIDDEN STAIRCASE (2019) strikes me as awfully young, but unlike the Emma Roberts version not awkwardly so — it’s probably that I’m at the age where a lot of people just look really young (plus Lillis comes across as wholesome — though not implausibly so — which implies younger to me). This has Nancy and her friends help Linda Lavin investigate her haunted mansion and discover the secret behind the spooks; it’s not as fun as the Bonita Granville films, but it’s reasonably enjoyable. “Only one person has purchased a large supply of nutmeg recently.”

With THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934) Alfred Hitchcock finally broke out of the mediocre crap he’d been doing and began the kind of film that would make him a legend. Leslie Banks and Olympic sharpshooter Edna Best are the unfortunate recipients of a dying agent’s message about an upcoming assassination; to ensure they don’t interfere, Peter Lorré kidnaps their daughter to keep them silent. Hitchcock himself considered this the work of a talented amateur and it’s certainly not his best, but it is enjoyable, which can’t be said about Easy Virtue. “Before June 1914, had you ever heard of Sarajevo, or even of Archduke Franz Ferdinand?”

Rafael Sabatini’s The Sea Hawk is a great swashbuckling novel that has nothing in common with Errol Flynn’s swashbuckler of the same name. 1924’s THE SEA HAWK is a faithful adaptation wherein a retired Elizabethan privateer gets framed for murder by his dishonorable brother, then shanghaid by pirate Wallace Beery before he can clear his name. By several twists of fate he winds up as a legendary Barbary corsair and eventually heads back to England with his pirate crew to kidnap his lost love and get revenge on his brother. This is a competent swashbuckler (it also has a lot of white people in brown face for the Arab roles), but it badly needs the screen presence of someone such as Errol Flynn or Douglas Fairbanks. “Nearby lived a matron whose conscience was elastic and whose husband was — old.”

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Bruce Lee, Alfred Hitchcock and More: Movies viewed

And I also reviewed the 12 Monkeys TV series on Atomic Junkshop.

After reading Bruce Lee’s biography, I Netflixed ENTER THE DRAGON (1973), the movie that showed Bruce Lee’s dream of superstardom was within his grasp (he died too soon to realize it). Lee plays a Shaolin monk recruited by British intelligence to hunt down a Shaolin renegade running a crime empire, including a sex-trafficking ring. Getting to the bad guy requires competing in his martial arts tournament against John Saxon (who only realized midway through the film that he wasn’t the hero) and Jim Kelly (the trio of white/black/Asian fighters was part of Lee’s idea for another, unmade film). Solidly entertaining, though now that martial arts films are so mainstream, it doesn’t have the seismic shock it must have given audiences in ’73. “A man’s strength is measured by his appetites — no, a man’s strength is fueled by his appetites!”

Alfred Hitchcock again — MURDER! (1930) suffers from being a yet another Filmed Stage Melodrama in which actor-producer Herbert Marshall tries to clear a former protege of murdering a rival (“If I hadn’t told you to gain experience in the provinces, this wouldn’t have happened.”). Despite several stagebound scenes, though, some of the visual moments are interesting, such as a couple getting ready in the morning, the pressure on Marshall to vote guilty with the rest of the jury. “We use life to create art, then we use art to critique life.”

NUMBER SEVENTEEN (1932) is another filmed play, but with a lot of what would later be classic Hitchcock elements, such as lots of identity games and a very visual final chase. However, after an initially great shot of a windswept street, the results are dull and confused as the various cast members explore the eponymous address which contains a dead body, a stolen necklace and possibly an undercover cop. Hitch’s next film was the equally forgettable Waltzes of Vienna but I’ll be jumping over that one to the classic Man Who Knew Too Much. “You don’t have to do nothing — in this house things just happen.”

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS (2001) has a cop infiltrating a street-racing ring with an eye to bagging alpha racer Vin Diesel for a series of highway robberies, only to find himself going native as he bonds with Diesel and falls for the racer’s younger sister (Jordana Brewster). I watched this because any series with this many movies in it must be doing something right; while fast cars, sexy people and male bonding all have time-tested viewer appeal, I can’t see anything that made this in particular stand out. Michelle Rodriguez plays Diesel’s woman. “I watched my dad burn to death — I remember hearing the scream.”

Directed by Hiyao Miyazaki’s son, Studio Ghibli’s TALES OF EARTHSEA (2006) has magic mysteriously going haywire, forcing the wizard Sparrowhawk (Timothy Dalton) to search out the cause and restore the balance. A young man guilt-ridden over having slain his own father joins with the wizard and together they confront an immortalist (Willem Dafoe) desperately struggling to open the barriers between life and death, no matter the cost. This was good, though the young man’s patricide doesn’t make any sense to me. “You turned away from light so that you could see only darkness.”

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Christmas movie binging begins!

But before I start the constant flow of Christmas treacle into my brain, I caught a few other items Thanksgiving weekend:

A young couple become something RICH AND STRANGE (1931) when a relative’s gift of money lets them travel around the world, only to find themselves pulled apart en route by everything from seasickness to romantic rivals (a dignified veteran falling for the wife, a golddigging fake princess preying on the husband). This Alfred Hitchcock film has some striking visual moments including the husband’s silent-comedy style evening commute and its frustrations and a moonlight walk across a ship’s desk that focuses entirely on feet and floor. However the film’s story is trite and uninteresting, even though The Hitchcock Romance considers it a masterpiece. “The thing about beautiful women like you is that you don’t want enough.”

I had much more fun with ROADSIDE PROPHETS (1992) whose biker protagonist strikes up a new friendship only to have the guy die minutes later. The biker impulsively pays for the cremation, then sets out to scatter his buddy’s ashes at the place in Nevada he requested — assuming the place is findable. Along the way the protagonist meets the usual array of road-trip oddballs including a hero-worshipping teen, a vagabond stripper, a terminally ill couple, an officiousmotel clerk, John Cusack as a dine-and-dash petty crook (“It’s entrapment — the sign said ‘free buffet’!”) and David Carradine, Timothy Leary, Arlo Guthrie and Abby Hoffman in cameos. Self-consciously quirky, but a lot of fun. “I didn’t get to be a management trainee by breaking rules!”

And now the Christmas stuff — CHRISTMAS PERFECTION (2018) combines the premise of 2007’s  Snow Globe (the female protagonist is magically transported to the perfect Christmas village) with William Dean Howell’s short story Christmas Every Day, in that the village never stops celebrating Christmas. No surprise, the protagonist is soon sick of perfection and thinking her imperfect male best friend is looking much more attractive. This is too sugary and low-key to work for me, and there’s something unsatisfying in her BFF/love interest (like they carefully calibrated the soft spot between “conventional” and “too oddball to be sexy.”). “This is some kind of reality show where they gaslight the children of divorce with happiness!”

SNOW GLOBE (2007), by contrast, seems to be turning into a Christmas perennial for me. Christina Milian is really likable as the lead, a Brooklyn baker who’d love an old-fashioned Christmas but her Italian/Cuban family are so loud and obnoxious and green lasagna is their traditional Christmas dinner — but then Milian stumbles into a world inside a snow globe where everything Christmas is picture-perfect. Part of why I like this is that where the preceding movie buts the blame on the protagonist (too much of a control freak to tolerate imperfection), Milian has valid reasons for getting fed up with her family, even though they all work it out in the end. Rewatching, I do wonder about how the magic works — the village is literally in the snow globe, but it somehow has an independent existence — but like wondering how Santa’s sleigh gets around the world so fast, it doesn’t stop me enjoying.  “Aren’t you having an existential crisis right now?”

I’ve had the soundtrack of RAGTIME (based on E.L. Doctorow’s novel) on my iPod for a while and love it, so I plunked down the money for TYG and me to catch a local production. It was money well spent as 1906 America deals with Emma Goldman, polar exploration, Evelyn Nesbit, Harry Houdini and a Ragtime pianist who retaliates for his true love’s death from a police beating with a wave of terrorism, all set to music. Powerful, though downbeat (reminding me of the book American Movie Musical‘s argument that where musicals traditionally showed music bridging strife in the community, modern productions no longer see the rifts as bridgeable). The production was minimalist in design (you can see the set above, though parts of the show took place on the risers above the audience) and used modern dress but effective nonetheless. My only complaint is the way the script paints Nesbit, a rape victim, as some kind of publicity-seeking adulteress. “When you’re trapped/And destruction seems imminent/Look to Houdini/The ultimate immigrant!”

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A smuggler, a teen detective and a power struggle: movies viewed

SOLO (2018) is, of course, the story of how young Han (Alden Ehrenreich) got a Wookie BFF, won the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), lost his Great Love (Emilia Clarke), made the Kessel run in twelve parsecs and shot first (doing so in the final showdown with Woody Harrelson can’t be unintentional). This was a lot of fun, but not entirely satisfying — my big problem is that Han comes off too noble an anti-hero to be the money-hungry cynic and crook of A New Hope.  With Thandie Newton as a crime lord. “Did you forget? Never trust anyone.”

NANCY DREW — DETECTIVE (1938) stars Bonita Granville as an impetuous Nancy, convinced the mysterious disappearance of an old spinster right before she could donate her wealth to Nancy’s school is a sign of something sinister (spoiler: she’s right). While I’m not terribly familiar with the Carolyn Keene novels, Granville’s wide-eyed naif seems less like the book version and closer to amateur female sleuths like Deanna Durbin in Lady on a Train. This has the odd catchphrase “I’ll bet you $23.80” (supposedly it’s a standard WPA weekly paycheck) and I wonder if Nancy driving her own car didn’t have different meaning back then (it’s common today for a teen, but I imagine it must have been an unattainble fantasy during the Depression). “The password was bluebell — and a bluebell is also a larkspur.”

Granville becomes NANCY DREW — REPORTER (1939) as part of a school competition, then contrives to cover a sensational murder trial in which her woman’s intuition tells her the accused is innocent. Trying to prove otherwise, of course, plunges her and quasi-boyfriend John Litel (they don’t seem to be dating, but she’s quite possessive of him) into deadly danger, not to mention boxing. This was an improvement on the first film. “The man had a cauliflower ear.”

SKIN GAME (1931) is another of those stiff upper lip dramas Hitchcock seems to have made in his early career, a stagebound adaptation of a John Galsworthy play (even Juno and the Paycock opened the sets better). Ed Gwenn gives an excellent turn as a man of business whose plans for a country village put him on a collision course with the local squire, with both of them playing increasing hardball until a tragedy ensues. Better than Easy Virtue, but if this had become a lost film, cinema would not have suffered.. “Papa, may I spit in his eye?”

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Marital discord in Ireland and Scandinavia: movies

DIE NIEBELUNGEN: Kriemhild’s Revenge (1924) is Part Two of  Fritz Lang’s silent film (I watched Part One, Siegfried, a couple of months back) and disappointing after the epic fantasy of the first. Here, Siegfried’s wife Kriemhild is not only dealing with Hagen murdering him but her brother’s refusal to punish his loyal follower. When Attila (yes, the Hun) proposes marriage, Kriemhild agrees, convinced she can turn him into a deadly weapon against Hagen. And if her family get in the way, too bad … This is a much a more straightline story than Siegfried and correspondingly less interesting; I’m also unclear why Hagen kills Attila’s son at a crucial turning point (from what I recall of reading the prose Niebelunglied, this is a problem with some versions of the story too). Impressive visually though. “You swore on the edge of your sword.”

Alfred Hitchcock again — JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK (1930) is a filmed stage play I’d never imagine comes from the same director who later made Rope. Where the later movie is visually compelling despite taking place on a small set, this film comes off way too stagebound, though Hitchcock uses sound to create a sense of things happening off-screen.

The story didn’t work for me either, though apparently it’s much-beloved in Ireland. The story involves a working class family with a shiftless father, goodhearted daughter, son who’s fighting for Irish independence and Mom trying to keep it all together. When a wealthy relative leaves them an inheritance it looks like the clan’s hard luck story is turning around. Then it all comes crashing down and their doom is so heavy-handed I don’t know I’d have cared even on-stage (but a good stage production would certainly work better than this film). “Yes, that’s right — I have fallen to so low a state.”

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Love in the 1980s, plus Hitchcock plus Sarah Connor: movies

Set in 1988, TAKE ME  HOME TONIGHT (2011) has a great 1980s soundtrack, but it’s more interested in mimicking films of the era than really evoking the decade. Topher Grace is an MIT grad reduced to working at a video store (I don’t think they ever explain why) and largely avoiding his old buddies. Then he learns the high school crush he never dared speak to will be at the Big Party tonight, so he decides to show, dragging along sister Anna Faris (struggling to choose between Cambridge and Marriage) and his best friend. Will he get the girl? Will he be outed as a failure? I found this too trite to care. Buffy‘s Michelle Trachtenberg plays a punk. “Don’t call yourself a failure — you’re much worse than that.”

Rewatching THIEF OF HEARTS (1984) I think I actually liked it even more than when it came out. Steven Bauer plays Scott, a burglar who rips off Mickey (Barbara Williams) and her husband and discovers his take includes Mickey’s diaries, wherein she pours out her frustration and her fantasies. Intrigued by the passionate woman he reads about, Scott sets out to become her perfect lover — but as Think Like a Man put it, the trouble with pretending to be a better man is that sooner or later you have to live up to it. Part of what makes this work is that they don’t shy away from Scott being a stalker, rather than a dream lover. With David Caruso (later to enjoy brief TV stardom) as Scott’s psycho sidekick “I bet I can tell your favorite ice cream flavor.”

BLACKMAIL (1929) is the first Alfred Hitchcock film in the set I’ve been watching that feels close to the style that made him famous. A young woman has an argument with her cop boyfriend, flirts with an artist, goes up to his studio then stabs him when he assault her. Will her boyfriend learn what she did? Can she keep her mouth shut when an innocent man becomes a suspect? Minor (though Hitchcock Romance argues it has a lot of minor elements that would crop up in Hitch’s later career) but a quantum leap over Easy Virtue. “Scotland Yard? If not for Edgar Wallace nobody would have ever heard of them.”

TERMINATOR: Dark Fate (2019) has a lot in common Terminator: Genisys: using T2 as a template, major changes to the timeline, and another alt.Skynet, the AI Legion, becoming the threat to the future. It works a lot better, however as it has fewer time paradoxes and sticks closer to the spirit of the series, particularly in bringing back Linda Hamilton as a gruff, gunslinging older Sarah Connor. Natalia Reyes plays Dani, a Mexican woman who finds herself the target of Gabriel Luna’s liquid-metal Terminator, with Sarah and time-traveling cyborg Grace (Mackenzie Davis) as her only hope for survival, and the future’s. While I wouldn’t bet on the poor box office killing this franchise, if this is the last movie, it’s a good note to go out on. “So your plan is to slip across the U.S. border with an illegal Mexican immigrant and a woman who once had her own episode of America’s Most Wanted?”

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Two fighters, one superhero: movies this week.

I was frustrated to discover my DVD of  DIE NIBELUNGEN: Siegfried (1924) was scratched enough the last 40 minutes were unwatchable (I compensated with a German edition uploaded to YouTube). Fritz Lang’s film itself, though, is superb, telling the legend of Siegfried who over the course of the film forges a sword, slays a dragon (a really impressive sequence — Full Metal Alchemist: The Movie has Lang filming it during a visit by Elric to our world) and then helps the weakling king Gunther win the warrior queen Brunhilde under false pretenses (helping the king invisibly during trials of strength) in return for the hand of the king’s sister. Hmm, it’s possible this will not end well …Great-looking and impressively epic; I do hope Part Two is in better condition. “Whoever forsakes loyalty to the blood brother shall perish at the wayside, all honor lost.”

Alfred Hitchcock’s THE RING (1927) is a romance about a small-time boxer whose rise in the rankings becomes a personal quest when he discovers his wife is stepping out with the current champ. A vast improvement over Easy Virtue, with some excellent visuals, such as the opening scenes of carnival gaiety. However the romance is less than compelling (the wife is so faithless, it’s hard to be happy he wins her back) and one character drops the n-word mid-movie, neither of which is a plus.

SHAZAM! (2019) reworks Geoff Johns’ New 52 version of the original Captain Marvel (the name change is because Marvel’s Captain Marvel has that name trademarked so DC’s version can’t use the name in the title). Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a tough street kid desperate to find his long-lost mother, now stuck in his umpteenth foster home and unable to see it’s a good one. A wizard (Djimon Honsou) gives Billy the power to transform into super-powered Shazam (Zachary Levi) but neglects to tell him that Sivana (Mark Strong), who was turned down for the gig, has now freed the Seven Deadly Sins and plans using their power to steal the Shazam-magic.

I’m glad they shot for an upbeat film rather than grim-and-gritty because Cap — er, Shazam — is a light-hearted character. But Levi’s Shazam comes off more like a nine-year-old than the focused, tough-nosed Angel and Strong’s Sivana is generic in his evil evilness (making him a Child of Abuse is a cliche — and having his father played by John Glover makes this feel like a Smallville reboot); the goofy comic-book version would have fit the mood better. The Seven Sins are also surprisingly dull, just big CGI monsters; despite Honsou warning that they’ll corrupt the world, they’re more about killing and destroying. They might as well have been Plutonians.

The best part of the film is Billy bonding with his family and finding a way out of his loneliness. It’s sweet, but it’s not enough to save the film. “You seek a purer soul, old man — but none are worthy.”

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From Mystery Island to Mauthausen and all points in between: movies

MANHUNT OF MYSTERY ISLAND (1945) is a fun serial from Republic Pictures, despite Richard Bailey’s ineffective performance as ace criminologist and nominal hero Lance Reardon. To make up for that we have veteran serial villain Roy Barcroft scowling as Captain Mephisto, who’s imprisoned a brilliant scientist on Mystery Island to steal the secrets of his invention for broadcasting electrical power wirelessly. On the good guys’ side we have Linda Stirling (who appeared the year before in Republic’s Tiger Woman), who’s not only more fun than the hero, she’s extremely capable, saving him a half-dozen times and proving she’s a crack shot even with her arms bound. Like many serial villains Mephisto has a secret identity, created by using a “transformation machine” to change back and forth from one of the owners of Mystery Island (some sources refer to this as reincarnation or time travel but no, it’s just a physical change by pseudoscientific gobbledygook). Definitely fun if you’re into old-time serials. “It’s dangerous — but we’re all in danger, every moment that man lives!”

DRESSED TO KILL (1947) wraps up Basil Rathbone’s run as Holmes (horrifying fans at the time) with a reasonably ingenious mystery. Patricia Morrison plays a female schemer strangely determined to collect three music boxes by fair means or foul, but what secret do they contain that she’s willing to kill for? This has some nice touches like Morrison setting a trap for Holmes by leaving her distinctive cigarette at a crime scene (“I’ve read your monograph on distinguishing 140 types of tobacco.”). “So fearfully awkward to have a dead body lying around, don’t you agree Mr. Holmes?”

TYG recently bought the DVD of DADDY’S DYING … WHO’S GOT THE WILL? (1990) which I’d vaguely assumed was a lowbrow Southern comedy. It’s actually a well-done dramedy about a family (wild child Beverly D’Angelo, frustrated Tess Harper and abusive jerk Beau Bridges) showing up at their dad’s deathbed alongside various partners (most notably Judge Reinhold as D’Angelo’s hippy boyfriend). I don’t like it as much as she does, but I did enjoy it. “I don’t think it’s God’s will you have six husbands before you’re 40.”

Alfred Hitchcock again — EASY VIRTUE (1927) is what The Hitchcock Romance would classify as an ironic romance, in that the obstacles triumph over the lovers. A beautiful divorcee (another example of Hitch’s Innocent Accused trope, in this case accusations of adultery) finds new love only to have it slip through her hands due to the hostility of her husband’s family turning him against her (it’s already doomed by the time her past comes to light). This filmed adaptation of a Noel Coward play interested me even less than The Lodger but the heroine’s relentlessly hostile mother-in-law is very much the forerunner of countless nightmarish mother figures in Hitchcock’s later works. “We married because we loved one another — no explanations were necessary on either side.”

THE PHOTOGRAPHER OF MAUTHAUSEN (2018) is a Spanish docudrama set a Nazi-run camp for Spanish communists shipped there by Franco. One of them becomes assistant to the camp photographer relentlessly documenting the brutalities around them; when he realizes the Nazis will want to destroy the evidence someday, the assistant sets out to preserve as many photos as possible. Effective at showing (as the director Ernst Lubitsch once put it) that it no more takes sadism to run a death camp than it does a laundromat; the callousness with which the Nazis deal with their charges is chilling. “The party is paranoid and it needs to clean up its mess.”

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Sherlock, She-Ra and Jack the Ripper: movies and TV

Continuing my viewing of the Basil Rathbone Holmes filmsTHE PEARL OF DEATH (1944) remains a personal favorite, a relatively faithful adaptation of Doyle’s The Six Napoleons. A stupid stunt by Holmes enables Moriarty-esque mastermind Conover (Miles Mander) to steal the priceless Borgia pearl, but where did he hide it? Does the theft tie in with a series of brutal murders by a killer who likes to break his victims’ backs and then smash plates? A solid story, with Mander fine in his vicious role, backed up by Evelyn Ankers (much better as a bad girl than the wharf rat in Voice of Terror) and acromegalic Rondo Hatton as the brutal “Creeper.” “I don’t like the smell of you — an underground smell, the sick sweetness of decay.”

Moriarty himself returns in THE WOMAN IN GREEN (1945)with Henry Daniell as an understated but ominous Moriarty (I can easily buy him as a mathematics professor) who actually gets some of Doyle’s dialog from The Final Problem. Unfortunately he’s in a mediocre movie involving hypnosis and an implausible blackmail scheme involving cutting off women’s fingers. This is narrated by Gregson, one of Doyle’s secondary detectives, which doesn’t add much (apparently the producers felt Dennis Hooey’s buffoonery as Lestrade wasn’t needed when they already had Watson for comic relief). However Daniell does manage to pull off one of those “let’s not put a bullet in Holmes right away” drawn out endings that annoy me so (“I’ve waited a long time for this moment.”). “Then we shall walk together through the gates of eternity, hand in hand.”

TERROR BY NIGHT (1946) has Holmes and Watson taking a train to safeguard the fabulous Star or Rhodesia, only to have the gem disappear en route with its minder dead. Could it be the woman traveling with her husband’s corpse? The dead man’s mom? The couple with the tea pot? Is it possible the real mastermind is Sebastian Moran? Competent, but no more than that, with Dennis Hooey returning and Watson at peak levels of stupid. “Col. Moran was directly responsible for what nearly turned out to be my premature death on three separate occasions.”

At six episodes, the third season of SHE-RA AND THE PRINCESSES OF POWER is even shorter than S2, but in compensation it’s very good. The story arc focuses on Hordak’s plans to open a portal and bring through the full Horde but the strength is in the character bits: Hordak and Entrapta bonding, Shadow Weaver switching sides, Adora freaking from the fear she’s failed everyone, Katra demonstrating she’s really as good as she thinks she is. Highly recommended. “I’d sooner see the world end than let you win again, Adora!”

When I picked up the Holmes DVDs at the library, I also snatched up a collection of early Hitchcock films. THE LODGER (1926) is widely seen as the first “Hitchcockian” film as it addresses one of Hitchcock’s favorite themes, an innocent man under suspicion. Based on a successful British novel (which the film’s script reworks radically) this has silent star Ivor Novello as the gentlemanly eponymous boarder striking sparks with his landlady’s daughter — but is it possible he’s also the mysterious Ripper-esque serial killer, the Avenger? This shows Hitchcock Romance‘s point about Hitchcock’s romantic streak as the heart of the film is the romance triumphing over the obstacles (suspicious parents, a disgruntled former boyfriend). Unfortunately that doesn’t make it interesting — it’s more a dry run for future classics than substantial in itself. “When I put a rope around the Avenger’s neck — I’ll put a ring around Daisy’s finger.”

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