From 1938: Orson Welles and The Mercury Theater Present Dracula!


Did you know that in 1938, the same year that they horrified America with their production of The War Of The Worlds, Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater did a radio version of Dracula?

Check out this amazing cast list:

Orson Welles – Dracula/Dr. Arthur Seward
George Coulouris- Jonathan Harker
Ray Collins – Russian Captain
Karl Swenson – The Mate
Elizabeth Fuller – Lucy Westenra
Martin Gabel – Professor Van Helsing
Agnes Moorehead – Mina Harker

Coulouris, Collins, and Moorehead would, of course, all go one to appear with Orson Welles in Citizen Kane.

And now, we are proud to present, for your listening pleasure …. DRACULA!

Film Review: Murder on the Orient Express (dir by Sidney Lumet)


There’s been a murder on the Orient Express!

In the middle of the night, a shady American businessman (Richard Widmark) was stabbed to death.  Now, with the train momentarily stalled due to a blizzard, its up to the world’s greatest detective, Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney), to solve the crime.  With only hours to go before the snow is cleared off the tracks and the case is handed over to the local authorities, Hercule must work with Bianchi (Martin Balsam) and Dr. Constantine (George Coulouris) to figure out who among the all-star cast is a murderer.

Is it the neurotic missionary played by Ingrid Bergman?  Is it the diplomat played by Michael York or his wife, played by Jacqueline Bisset?  Is it the military man played by Sean Connery?  How about Anthony Perkins or John Gielgud?  Maybe it’s Lauren Bacall or could it be Wendy Hiller or Rachel Roberts or even Vanessa Redgrave?  Who could it be and how are they linked to a previous kidnapping, one that led to the murder of an infant and the subsequent death of everyone else in the household?

Well, the obvious answer, of course, is that it had to be Sean Connery, right?  I mean, we’ve all seen From Russia With Love.  We know what that man is capable of doing on a train.  Or what about Dr. No?  Connery shot a man in cold blood in that one and then he smirked about it.  Now, obviously, Connery was playing James Bond in those films but still, from the minute we see him in Murder on the Orient Express, we know that he’s a potential killer.  At the height of his career, Connery had the look of a killer.  A sexy killer, but a killer nonetheless….

Actually, the solution to the mystery is a bit more complicated but you already knew that.  One of the more challenging things about watching the 1974 version of Murder on the Orient Express is that, in all probability, the viewer will already know how the victim came to be dead.  As convoluted as the plot may be, the solution is also famous enough that even those who haven’t seen the 1974 film, the remake, or read Agatha Christie’s original novel will probably already know what Poirot is going to discover.

That was something that director Sidney Lumet obviously understood.  Hence, instead of focusing on the mystery, he focuses on the performers.  His version of Murder on the Orient Express is full of character actors who, along with being talented, were also theatrical in the best possible way.  The film is essentially a series of monologues, with each actor getting a few minutes to show off before Poirot stepped up to explain what had happened.  None of the performances are exactly subtle but it doesn’t matter because everyone appears to be having a good time.  (Finney, in particular, seems to fall in love with his occasionally indecipherable accent.)  Any film that has Anthony Perkins, John Gielgud, Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Ingrid Bergman, and Albert Finney all acting up a storm is going to be entertaining to watch.

Though it’s been a bit overshadowed by the Kenneth Branagh version, the original Murder on the Orient Express holds up well.  I have to admit that Sidney Lumet always seems like he would have been a bit of an odd choice to direct this film.  I mean, just consider that he made this film in-between directing Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon.  However, Lumet pulls it off, largely by staying out of the way of his amazing cast and letting them act up a storm.  It looks like it was a fun movie to shoot.  It’s certainly a fun movie to watch, even if we do already know the solution.

From 1939, it’s Lionel Barrymore and Orson Welles in A Christmas Carol!


This radio production of A Christmas Carol was originally broadcast on Christmas Eve, 1939.  It’s not really Christmas unless you experience at least one version of Charles Dickens’s classic holiday tale and this version features not only Orson Welles providing the narration but Lionel Barrymore playing the role of Scrooge!

Other members of the cast included such well-known Welles’s associates as  Everett Sloane (Marley’s ghost), Frank Readick (Bob Cratchit), Erskine Sanford (Fezziwig) and George Coulouris (Ghost of Christmas Present).  Two years after this broadcast, Welles, Sloane, Sanford, and Coulouris would all appear in Citizen Kane.

For your listening pleasure, we offer up this journey to the past….

Christmas-tery: Deanna Durbin in LADY ON A TRAIN (Universal 1945)


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Deanna Durbin was the best Christmas present Universal Studios ever received. The 15-year-old singing sensation made her feature debut in 1936’s THREE SMART GIRLS, released five days before Christmas. The smash hit helped save cash-strapped Universal from bankruptcy, and Miss Durbin signed a long-term contract, appearing in a string of musical successes: ONE HUNDRED MEN AND A GIRL, THAT CERTAIN AGE, SPRING PARADE, NICE GIRL?, IT STARTED WITH EVE. One of her best is the Christmas themed comedy/murder mystery LADY ON A TRAIN, one of only two films directed by  Charles David, who married the star in 1950, the couple then retiring to his native France.

Our story begins with young Nikki Collins travelling by train from San Francisco to New York City to visit her Aunt Martha, reading a murder mystery to pass the time. Nikki witnesses a real-life murder committed through a window, and after ditching her wealthy…

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Halloween Havoc!: BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB (AIP/Hammer 1971)


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Hammer’s ‘Mummy’ movies never really did it for me, but BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB is a shroud of a different colour. Adapted from Bram Stoker’s novel “The Jewel of the Seven Stars”, the movie suffered some behind the scenes setbacks, which contribute to its choppy nature. The backstage chaos began when original star Peter Cushing’s wife passed away after only a day’s filming. He was replaced by Andrew Keir (QUARTERMASS AND THE PIT). Then before shooting was complete, director Seth Holt (TASTE OF FEAR, THE NANNY) died of a heart attack, and Hammer veteran Michael Carreras had to step in to finish the film. Despite all this, BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB is one of the better latter-day Hammers, picking up steam as it goes along, with a great performance by sexy star Valerie Leon.

Leon plays Margaret Fuchs, who was born the same day her father Professor Julian Fuchs…

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Cleaning Out The DVR, Again #37: All This And Heaven Too (dir by Anatole Litvak)


(Lisa is currently in the process of trying to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing all 40 of the movies that she recorded from the start of March to the end of June.  She’s trying to get it all done by the end of July 11th!  Will she make it!?  Keep visiting the site to find out!)

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The 37th film on my DVR was the 1940 film, All This, And Heaven Too.  It originally aired on June 21st on TCM.

All This, and Heaven Too is one of the many melodramatic historical romances in which Bette Davis appeared in the late 30s and early 40s.  These films usually featured Bette as a strong-willed woman who was often condemned for not conforming to the rules of society.  Typically, she would end up falling in love with a man who society said she could not have.  Bette almost always seemed to end up alone, which I guess was the way women who thought for themselves were punished back then.

In this one, Bette plays Henriette Deluzy, a French woman who ends up in America in the 1850s.  When she shows up to start teaching at a private, all-girls school, her students immediately start gossiping about her.  It seems that Henriette was at the center of some sort of European scandal and everyone is speculating about what happened.  Finally, at the start of class, Henriette tells her students that she’s going to tell them the true story of what happened back in France.

It turns out that Henriette was a governess.  She took care of the four children of the Duc de Praslin (Charles Boyer) and his wife, the Duchesse (Barbara O’Neil).  The Duchesse was mentally unstable and soon came to suspect that her husband had fallen in love with Henriette.  Though she may have been insane, it turned out that the Duchesse was correct.  When the Duchesse fired Henriette and then lied to her husband about it, the Duc flew into a rage and murdered his wife.

Under the laws of the time, the Duc could only be judged by his fellow noblemen.  He was told that if he simply confessed and said that Henriette was the one who drove him to commit the murder, he would be set free.  (As opposed to the characters that Bette Davis played in The Letter and The Little Foxes, Henriette was totally innocent.)  Would the Duc confess and allow Henriette to be blamed or would he deny his love for her and sacrifice his life as a result?

All This, And Heaven Too is a rather slow movie and it’s hard not to be disappointed that Henriette is such a boring character.  She’s so innocent and victimized that the role almost seems like a waste of Bette Davis’s talents.  A big production that featured lavish (though black-and-white) recreations of 19th Century France, All This, And Heaven Too was probably a big deal for contemporary audiences and, if you’re a Bette Davis or Charles Boyer completist, you might enjoy it.  But otherwise, it’s really nothing special.

All This, And Heaven Too was among the 10 films nominated for Best Picture of 1940.  However, it lost to Rebecca.

Cleaning Out The DVR #6: Watch On The Rhine (dir by Herman Shumlin)


After I finished watching Around The World In 80 Days, I decided to watch the 1943 film, Watch on the Rhine.  Though both films are immortalized in the record books as a multiple Oscar nominee, Watch on The Rhine might as well have taken place in a totally different universe from Around The World In 80 Days.  Based on a play by the always politically outspoken Lillian Hellman, Watch On The Rhine is as serious a film as Around The World In 80 Days is frivolous.

It’s also somewhat infamous for being the film for which Paul Lukas won an Oscar for best actor.  When Lukas won his Oscar, he defeated Humphrey Bogart, who was nominated for his iconic performance in Casablanca.  This is justifiably considered to be one of the biggest mistakes in Oscar history and, as a result, there are people who will tell you that Watch On The Rhine is a totally undeserving nominee, despite having never actually seen the film and not being totally sure who Paul Lukas was.

Up until I watched the film yesterday, you could have included me among those people.

What’s interesting is that Watch On The Rhine almost feels like a companion piece to Casablanca.  Both films were resolutely anti-fascist, both of them dealt with a member of the Resistance trying to escape from a German agent, and both films climaxed with a gunshot.  The part played by Paul Lukas, a German engineer named Kurt Muller, feels like he could be an older version of Casablanca‘s Victor Laszlo.  Finally, whereas Casablanca centered around “letters of transit,” Watch On The Rhine centers around money.  Kurt is smuggling money to the Resistance.  Teck de Brancovis (George Coulouris), a dissolute Romanian count, demands money in exchange for not informing the Germans of where Kurt’s location.

(Of course, both Casablanca’s letters and Watch on the Rhine’s money are an example of what Hitchcock called the MacGuffin.  The letters and the money are not important.  What’s important is that both films use the thriller format to inspire viewers to support the war effort.)

The film takes place in 1940, when America was still officially neutral.  Kurt and his American wife, Sara (Bette Davis), have secretly entered the United States through Mexico.  Officially, they are only visiting Sara’s brother (Donald Woods) and mother (Lucille Watson) in Washignton, D.C.  Unofficially, they are looking for political sanctuary.  However, Kurt still finds himself drawn back to Germany, especially after he finds out that one of his friends in the Resistance has been arrested by the Gestapo.

Not surprisingly, considering its theatrical origins, Watch On The Rhine is a very talky and a very stage-bound film.  Almost all of the action takes place in one location and a good deal of the film’s running time is devoted to Kurt giving speeches.  Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a complaint.  Though the film may have been released at the height of the war, the play was written at a time when America was still officially neutral and many elected officials were adamant that, even if it meant Hitler taking over the entire continent, America should never get involved in the affairs of Europe.  Watch On The Rhine was Hellman’s attempt to both expose what was happening in Germany and to rally them to the anti-fascist cause.  Watch On The Rhine may be propaganda but its anti-Nazi propaganda and who can’t appreciate the importance of that?

When it was originally released, Watch On The Rhine was sold as a Bette Davis vehicle.  To be honest, Davis doesn’t really do much in the film.  She supports her husband and she has a few sharp words for Teck but, otherwise, her role is definitely secondary to Paul Lukas.  Davis took the role because she believed in the film’s message.  It’s a good message and, for that matter, Watch On The Rhine is a pretty good film.  It’s well-acted, intelligently written, and perfectly paced.

But what about Paul Lukas’s Oscar?  Well, let’s state the obvious.  Humphrey Bogart should have won the award for Casablanca.  That doesn’t mean that Paul Lukas doesn’t give a worthy performance.  He originated the role on stage and he does a good job of bringing the character to life on film, bringing a sincere intensity to even the most stagey of Kurt’s monologues.  Whenever Lukas speaks, he’s explaining to the filmgoers why the U.S. must take a stand against Hitler and his followers.  Considering that Watch On The Rhine was released at the height of World War II, I imagine that this, more than anything, led to Lukas winning his Oscar.

Watch On The Rhine was also nominated for Best Picture.  It was deserved nomination but, in this case, the Academy made the right decision and gave the Oscar to Casablanca.