Halloween Havoc!: Bela Lugosi in CHANDU THE MAGICIAN (Fox 1932)


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Thrills! Chills! Romance! Action! CHANDU THE MAGICIAN plays like a Saturday matinée serial aimed directly at the kiddie crowd. Based on a popular radio series, the film is pretty antiquated seen today, its saving graces being the special effects wizardry of co-director William Cameron Menzies and the deliciously evil Bela Lugosi as the megalomaniacal villain Roxor.

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The movie kicks off with the banging of a gong and an offscreen narrator ominously intoning “Chan-du the Magician”. A hand is used to wipe the screen credits, the first of Menzies’ many filmic tricks. We’re taken inside a temple where Frank Chandler, aka Chandu, has spent three years learning the ancient secrets of the mystic arts (move over, Dr. Strange!). He’s a yogi now, master of the hypnotic eye and astral projection, and demonstrates his prowess by performing the old Indian rope trick and walking through fire. His mentor bids him to “go…

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Cleaning Out The DVR, Again #11: Cavalcade (dir by Frank Lloyd)


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So, I’ve been cleaning out the DVR for the past week.  Fortunately, I’m going to be off work for this upcoming week, which should give me a lot of extra film-watching time.  That’s a good thing because I’ve got 36 movies that I’ve recorded on the DVR since Thursday and, over the past seven days, I’ve only watched 13 of them!  That’s 23 movies to go and I hope to be finished by the end of the next week.

The 11th film that I found on my DVR was the 1933 film, Cavalcade.  I recorded it off of FXM on April 3rd.

The main reason that I recorded Cavalcade was because it was the 6th film to win the Oscar for Best Picture.  Now, I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting much from Cavalcade.  It’s a film that many Oscar historians tend to list as being one of the lesser best picture winners.  Cavalcade is often unfavorably compared to the films that it beat — movies like I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang, A Farewell To Arms, Little Women, and The Private Life of Henry VIII.  Cavalcade was the first British to ever win the Best Picture and its victory is often cited as the beginning of the Academy’s love affair with British productions.

And really, Cavalcade couldn’t be more British if it tried.  Based on a play by Noel Coward, Cavalcade follows two families through several decades in British history.  One family is wealthy and is anchored by a patriarch who is knighted in the Boer War.  The other family is lower middle class, anchored by a patriarch who starts out as a butler but who eventually manages to open up his own pub.  Through the eyes of these two families, we view what, in the 1930s, was recent British history.

For modern viewers, it may be helpful to watch Cavalcade while consulting Wikipedia.  For instance, the film starts with the two father figures preparing to leave to fight in the Boer War and I’m sorry to admit that I really wasn’t totally sure what that was.  I had to look it up in order to discover that it was a war that the British fought in South Africa.

But you know what?  That’s not really a complaint.  I may not have known what the Boer War was before I started the film but that had changed by the time that I finished watching Cavalcade.  Several times, I’ve mentioned on this blog how much I love history but watching Cavalcade made me realize that I still have more to learn.  Even more importantly, it encouragds me to learn.  That’s always a good thing.

Certain other historical events were more familiar.  As soon as I saw the title card announcing that the date was 1914, I knew that I would soon be seeing a World War I montage.  And, as terrible as World War I was (though, naturally, the film refers to it as being “the Great War,” and, for a few moments, I considered the fact that there was a time when nobody thought there would ever be a second world war), I was actually kind of happy for the montage because it got the characters out of the drawing room and out of the pub.  Cavalcade is a very stagey film.  Though there are a few attempts to open up the action, you’re always very aware that you’re essentially watching a filmed play.

Of course, the film’s best historic moment comes when a recently married couple goes on their honeymoon.  We see them standing on the deck of a cruise ship, talking about how much they love each other and how wonderful life will be.  They then step to the side and we see the name of the ship: RMS Titanic.

In many ways, those dismissive Oscar historians are correct about Cavalcade.  It’s stagey and it’s old-fashioned and some of the performances are better than others.  But, dammit, I liked Cavalcade.  As the upper class couple, Diana Wynyward and Clive Brook made for a likable couple and they got to exchange some sweet-natured dialogue at the beginning and the end of the film.   Add to that, it was a film about history and I love history.

Cavalcade is hardly a perfect film and it probably didn’t deserve to win best picture.  But it’s still better than its reputation suggests.

Cleaning Out The DVR #23: The Adventures of Robin Hood (dir by Michael Curtiz)


(For those following at home, Lisa is attempting to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing 38 films by this Friday.  Will she make it?  Keep following the site to find out!)

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Flamboyant.  Athletic.  Joyous.  Determined.  Handsome.  Outspoken.  Bigger than life.  Revolutionary.  Anarchist.  Sexy.  Libertarian.  Is there any doubt why Errol Flynn remains the definitive Robin Hood?

And. for that matter, is there any doubt why the 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood remains not only the definitive Robin Hood film but also one of the most influential action films in history?

The Adventures of Robin Hood tells the story that we’re all familiar with.  The King of England, Richard The Lionhearted (Ian Hunter), is captured while returning from the Crusades.  His brother, King John (Claude Rains, in full autocratic villain mode), usurps the throne while Richard is gone and immediately raises taxes.  He claims that he’s only doing this to raise the money to set Richard free.  Of course, the real reason is that John is a greedy tyrant.

The only nobleman with the courage to openly oppose John is Sir Robin of Locksely (Errol Flynn).  Sir Robin protects his fellow citizens from John’s main henchman, Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone, also in full autocratic villain mode).  In fact, Robin is so brave that, on multiple occasions, he even enters Sir Guy’s castle so that he can specifically tell King John and Sir Guy that he has no use for their laws.  This, of course, always leads to Robin having to make a dramatic escape while arrows flies and swords are unsheathed all around.

And through it all, Robin Hood keeps smiling and laughing.  He’s a wonderfully cheerful revolutionary.  He may be fighting a war against a ruthless and unstoppable enemy and he may be the most wanted man in England but Robin is determined to have fun.  One need only compare Robin to his humorless foes to see the difference between freedom and bureaucracy.

(We could use Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood today, though I suspect our government would just blow him up with a drone and then issue a statement about how, by stealing money from the rich and giving it to the poor, Robin was keeping the government from being able to rebuild bridges and repair roads.)

When Robin isn’t exposing the foolishness of organized government, he’s hanging out in Sherwood Forest.  He’s recruiting valuable allies like Friar Tuck (Eugene Pallette) and Little John (Alan Hale, Sr.)  He’s playing constant pranks and promoting revolution and, to his credit, he’s a lot more fun to listen to than that guy from V For Vendetta.  He’s also romancing Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland) and good for him.  Two beautiful people deserve to be together.

Even better, he’s doing it in glorious Technicolor!  There’s a lot of great things about The Adventures of Robin Hood.  The action scenes are exciting.  The music is thrilling.  The film is perfectly cast.  Errol Flynn may not have been a great actor but he was a great Robin Hood.  But what I really love about the film is just the look of it.  We tend to take color for granted so it’s interesting to watch a film like The Adventures of Robin Hood, one that was made at a time when color film was something of a novelty.  For those of us who spend a lot of time talking about how much we love old school black-and-white, The Adventures of Robin Hood is a film that says, “Hey, color can be great too!”

But what I mostly love about The Adventures of Robin Hood is just the pure joy of the film.  Just compare this Robin Hood to the grimly tedious version played by Russell Crowe.

(True, nobody in The Adventures of Robin Hood shouts, “I declare him to be …. AN OUTLAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWW!”  Actually, now that I think about it, Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood would have worked much better if Oscar Isaac and Russell Crowe had switched roles.)

The Adventures of Robin Hood was nominated for best picture and it probably should have won.  However, the Oscar went to Frank Capra’s You Can’t Take It With You.