Horror on the Lens: The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (dir by Edward L. Cahn)


It’s the voodoo!

Today’s horror on the lens in 1959’s The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake.  It’s a film about a family, a zombie, decapitation, and a family curse.  Someone is murdering all of the descendants of the legendary Captain Drake.  Can Jonathan Drake be saved or is he destined to become just another skull?

The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake is an atmospheric little movie, one that treats its potentially campy plot with the utmost seriousness.

Enjoy!

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: Errol Flynn in THE SEA HAWK (Warner Brothers 1940)


cracked rear viewer

Warner Brothers pulled out all the stops for their 1940 epic THE SEA HAWK. There’s dashing Errol Flynn swashbuckling his way across the Silver Screen once again, the proverbial cast of thousands, high seas action, romance, political intrigue, superb special effects, and a spirited score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. The only thing missing that could’ve possibly made this movie better is Technicolor, but since Jack and his bros had already spent $1.7 million (equivalent to almost thirty million today) to produce it, why quibble?

Flynn is in fine form as privateer Geoffrey Thorpe, captain of the pirate ship Albatross, in service to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I. When they attack and plunder a Spanish ship carrying Ambassador Don Alvarez de Cordoba and his beautiful niece Maria, Captain Thorpe is reprimanded and told to lay off the Spanish. Spain, however, is building up their Armada with world conquest in mind, and…

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Horror on TV: Thriller 2.5 “God Grante That She Lye Stille” (dir by Herschel Daugherty)


For tonight’s horror on television, we have an episode from the second season of the Boris Karloff-hosted anthology series, Thriller.

In God Grante That She Lye Stille, Lady Margaret Crewer (Sarah Marshall) returns to her ancestral home, hoping to collect her inheritance.  However, as soon becomes clear, the house is haunted by the spirit of one of her ancestors, a witch who was burned at the stake.

Who doesn’t love a good ghost story of Halloween?

Enjoy!

Horror on TV: Thriller 1.37 “The Grim Reaper” (dir by Herschel Daugherty)


For tonight’s episode of the Boris Karloff-hosted anthology series Thriller, we have “The Grim Reaper!”

The Grim Reaper tells the story of a mystery writer (Natalie Schaefer) who purchases a painting of the grim reaper.  She claims that she’s just bought the painting as a bit of an ironic joke but her nephew (William Shatner!) claims that the painting has a violent history.  Everyone who has owned it has died.  At first, Schaefer is dismissive of Shatner’s story.  But then, blood appears on the reaper’s scythe.

This enjoyable and fun little episode was written by Robert Bloch of Psycho fame.  It was originally broadcast on June 13th, 1961.

Enjoy!

Horror on TV: Thriller 1.23 “Well of Doom” (dir by John Brahm)


For tonight’s televised horror, here’s another episode the Boris Karoloff-hosted anthology series, Thriller!

This episode, Well of Doom, shows what happens when two demons kidnap two men on their way to a bachelor party and force them to slog across the moors, to a mysterious castle.  This episode is full of atmosphere and it also features great work from Henry Daniell and Richard Kiel as the two demons.

Enjoy!

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!)

All_this_heaven_movieposter

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.

Insomnia File #1: The Story of Mankind (dir by Irwin Allen)


Story of Mankind

What’s an Insomnia File?  You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable?  This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If, last night, you were suffering from insomnia at 3 in the morning, you could have turned on TCM and watched the 1957 faux epic, The Story of Mankind.

I call The Story of Mankind a faux epic because it’s an outwardly big film that turns out to be remarkably small on closer inspection.  First off, it claims to the tell the story of Mankind but it only has a running time of 100 minutes so, as you can imagine, a lot of the story gets left out.  (I was annoyed that neither my favorite social reformer, Victoria C. Woodhull, nor my favorite president, Rutherford B. Hayes, made an appearance.)  It’s a film that follow Vincent Price and Ronald Colman as they stroll through history but it turns out that “history” is largely made up of stock footage taken from other movies.  The film’s cast is full of actors who will be familiar to lovers of classic cinema and yet, few of them really have more than a few minutes of screen time.  In fact, it only takes a little bit of research on the imdb to discover that most of the film’s cast was made up of performers who were on the verge of ending their careers.

The Story of Mankind opens with two angels noticing that mankind has apparently invented the “Super H-Bomb,” ten years ahead of schedule.  It appears that mankind is on the verge of destroying itself and soon, both Heaven and Hell will be full of new arrivals.  One of the angels exclaims that there’s already a housing shortage!

A celestial court, overseen by a stern judge (Cedric Hardwicke) is convened in outer space.  The court must decide whether to intervene and prevent mankind from destroying itself.  Speaking on behalf on humanity is the Spirit of Man.  The Spirit of Man is played by Ronald Colman.  This was Colman’s final film.  In his heyday, he was such a popular star that he was Margaret Mitchell’s first choice to play Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind.  However, in The Story of Mankind, Colman comes across as being a bit bored with it all and you start to get worried that he might not be the best attorney that mankind could have hired.

Even more worrisome, as  far as the future of mankind is concerned, is that the prosecutor, Mr. Scratch, is being played by Vincent Price.  Making his case with his trademark theatrics and delivering every snaky line with a self-satisfied yet likable smirk on his face, Vincent Price is so much fun to watch that it was impossible not to agree with him.  Destroy mankind, Mr. Scratch?  Sure, why not?  Mankind had a good run, after all…

In order to make their cases, Mr. Scratch and the Spirit of Man take a tour through history.  Mr. Scratch reminds us of villains like the Egyptian pharaoh Khufu (John Carradine) and the Roman Emperor Nero (Peter Lorre, of course).  He shows how Joan of Arc (Hedy Lamarr) was burned at the stake.  The Spirit of Man argues that, despite all of that, man is still capable of doing good things, like inventing the printing press.

And really, the whole point of the film is to see who is playing which historical figure.  The film features a huge cast of classic film actors.  If you watch TCM on a semi-regular basis, you’ll recognize a good deal of the cast.  The fun comes from seeing who tried to give a memorable performance and who just showed up to collect a paycheck.  For instance, a very young Dennis Hopper gives a bizarre method interpretation of Napoleon and it’s one of those things that simply has to be seen.

And then the Marx Brothers show up!

They don’t share any scenes together, unfortunately.  But three of them are present!  (No, Zeppo does not make an appearance but I imagine that’s just because Jim Ameche was already cast in the role of Alexander Graham Bell.)  Chico is a monk who tells Christopher Columbus not to waste his time looking for a quicker way to reach India.  Harpo Marx is Sir Isaac Newton, who plays a harp and discovers gravity when a hundred apples smash down on his head.  And Groucho Marx plays Peter Miniut, tricking a Native American chief into selling Manhattan Island while leering at the chief’s daughter.

And the good thing about the Marx Brothers is that their presence makes a strong argument that humanity deserves another chance.  A world that produced the Marx Brothers can’t be all bad, right?

Anyway, Story of Mankind is one of those films that seems like it would be a good cure for insomnia but then you start watching it and it’s just such a weird movie that you simply have to watch it all the way to the end.  It’s not a good movie but it is flamboyantly bad and, as a result, everyone should see it at least once.

 

 

 

Lisa Watches an Oscar Nominee: Witness for the Prosecution (dir by Billy Wilder)


Movie_poster_for_-Witness_for_the_Prosecution-

Earlier today, I DVRed the 1957 best picture nominee, Witness for the Prosecution, off of TCM.  I watched the film as soon as I finished dinner and, having now seen Witness for the Prosecution, I am prepared to give you my professional and erudite review.

Okay, are you ready for it?  Here we go:

🙂 Oh my God, I freaking love this movie!!!!!!!!! 🙂

Witness for the Prosecution is many things.  It’s a courtroom drama.  It’s a domestic comedy.  It’s a twisty murder mystery.  It’s a showcase for three great performers.  It’s crowd pleaser that will make you think and, even if it does involve people killing each other, it will probably make you smile as well.  Don’t let that 1957 date fool you.  Witness For the Prosecution is a lot of fun.

Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power) is a somewhat sleazy man who has two claims to fame.  One is that he claims to be responsible for inventing the egg beater.  The other is that he’s been accused of murdering Mrs. French (Norma Varden), a wealthy widow who had recently named Leonard as the beneficiary of her will.  Everyone assumes that Leonard must have been having an affair with Mrs. French but Leonard claims that he’s innocent.

Suspecting that he is soon going to be arrested, Leonard hires Sir Wilfred Robarts (Charles Laughton) to serve as his attorney.  Though Sir Wilfred is recovering from a heart attack and has been ordered to not take on any more stressful criminal cases, he agrees to defend Leonard.  He proceeds to do just that, under the watchful eye of his nurse, the protective Mrs. Plimsoll (Elsa Lanchester).

(The testy relationship between Sir Wilfred and Mrs. Plimsoll provides the film with its comedic relief.  Laughton and Lanchester were married in real life and, watching the film, you can tell that they had a lot of fun acting opposite each other.)

Sir Wilfred is convinced that he can win acquittal for Leonard, especially since Leonard’s German wife, Christine (Marlene Dietrich), is willing to provide an alibi for him.  (In one of the film’s best moments, Sir Wilfred talks about how distraught Christine will be to discover that Leonard has been arrested just to then have the very calm and self-possessed Christine step into the room.)  However, to everyone’s shock, Christine is called as a witness for the prosecution.  She testifies that Leonard confessed the murder to her and that she only provided an alibi out of fear and love.

Things aren’t looking good for Leonard but then, a mysterious woman with a cockney accent contacts Sir Wilfred and reveals that Christine may have had reasons of her own for not giving Leonard an alibi…

Witness For The Prosecution ends with a voice over that says, “The management of this theater suggests that for the greater entertainment of your friends who have not yet seen the picture, you will not divulge, to anyone, the secret of the ending of Witness for the Prosecution.”  And I have to say that, when I heard that, it just made me love the film even more.  I had enjoyed the film so much and had so much fun following all the twists and the turns of the mystery that I found myself nodding in agreement.

“Sure, 58 year-old voice over,” I said, “I will not divulge the secret ending of Witness For The Prosecution.”

And I’m not going to!  Though, to be honest, you’ll probably guess the secret before it’s revealed.  It’s a plot twist that has been imitated by so many other courtroom dramas that it’s probably not as much of a mind-blower today as it may have been back in 1957.

But no matter!  Witness For The Prosecution is still a lot of fun.  Even if you figure out the mystery early, you can still watch the film and enjoy Laughton’s wonderfully theatrical performance.

Witness for the Prosecution was nominated for best picture and, interestingly enough, another theatrical courtroom drama — 12 Angry Men — was also nominated that year.  It’s interesting to compare the low-key drama of 12 Angry Men to the cheerful flamboyance of Witness For The Prosecution.  They are both great films about the law but each is told from a very different perspective.

Of course, in the end, both of these great films ended up losing to The Bridge On The River Kwai.

Lisa Reviews The Oscar Nominees: The Philadelphia Story (dir by George Cukor)


The-Philadelphia-Story-(1940)

There are a few reasons why The Philadelphia Story was one of those films that I had been meaning to watch for a while.  For one thing, The Philadelphia Story was nominated for best picture of 1940 (it lost to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca) and my ultimate goal is to see and review every single film ever nominated for best picture.  The other reason is that Jimmy Stewart won an Oscar for his performance in The Philadelphia Story and anyone who doesn’t love Jimmy Stewart has obviously never seen Anatomy of a Murder (not to mention It’s a Wonderful Life!).

Well, The Philadelphia Story was on TCM last night and I finally got to see it and what can I say?  I absolutely loved it.  For a 74 year-old, black-and-white comedy, The Philadelphia Story is still a lot of fun.

The Philadelphia Story tells the story of Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn), a wealthy socialite who is engaged to marry George Kitteridge (John Howard), a self-described “man of the people,” who is widely respect for both his strong moral character and the fact that — unlike most of Tracy’s friends — he made his fortune as opposed to inheriting it.

It would be tempting to reach into the bag of simplistic blogging clichés and call the Lords a 1940s version of Khardashians but I’m not going to do that because the Lords have a lot more wit and class.  My favorite member of Tracy’s family was Dinah (Virginia Wiedler), her teenage sister who is sarcastic, cheerfully cynical, and has no problem demanding to be the center of attention.  My sister Erin claims that the reason I liked Dinah is because I saw a lot of myself in the character and that’s probably true.  However, I have to say that the great thing about both Tracy and Dinah is that they were both wittier, classier, and better dressers than all of the Khardashians and Jenners combined.

Anyway, the evil editor of Spy Magazine, Sidney Kidd (Henry Daniell), wants to get pictures of Tracy’s very exclusive and very private wedding so he sends two of his reporters in under cover.  Mike Connor (James Stewart) is a frustrated writer who hates having to lower himself to writing for a tabloid.  Photographer Liz (Ruth Hussey) is secretly in love with Mike.  Helping Mike and Liz pass themselves off as friends of the family is Tracy’s ex-husband, C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant).

As quickly becomes obvious, Dexter is still in love with Tracy.  However, Tracy divorced Dexter because Dexter was an irresponsible alcoholic and, even though Dexter has changed his ways and she is still obviously attracted to him, Tracy is now engaged to the morally upright but boring and judgmental George.

However, Tracy is not just torn between George and Dexter.  She is attracted to Mike as well, to the extent that Tracy even takes the trouble to read some of Mike’s short stories.  For only the second time in her life, Tracy gets drunk and goes for a midnight swim with Mike.  This, of course, leads to the best scene in The Philadelphia Story: Jimmy Stewart singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow.

Seriously, the scene made my entire night.

The Philadelphia Story is based on a play and the film itself is rather stagey in that way that films from the 40s often appear to be to modern viewers.  But, once you get used to the fact that the movie was made in 1940 and not 2014, it’s a real delight.  The dialogue is funny and it’s delivered by one of the best casts ever.  Playing a role that was specifically written for her, Katherine Hepburn is brilliant as the strong-willed but unapologetically romantic Tracy and Cary Grant is just as charming as you would expect Cary Grant to be.  Best of all, you’ve got Jimmy Stewart singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow and seriously, how can you not love that?