Scenes That I Love: The Witch Melts In The Wizard Of Oz


I’ve reviewed two movies about witches today and I should be posting a review of a movie about Rasputin in a few more hours.  Needless to say, all of this witch talk might be disturbing to some.  Well, fear not!  Today’s scene that I love is for you!

Horror on the Lens: The Night Strangler (dir by Dan Curtis)


For today’s horror on the lens, we have 1973’s The Night Strangler.

This is the sequel to The Night Stalker and it features journalist Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) in Seattle.  (After all the stuff that happened during the previous movie, Kolchak was kicked out of Las Vegas.)  When Kolchak investigates yet another series of murders, he discovers that paranormal murders don’t just occur in Las Vegas and aren’t just committed by vampires.

I actually prefer this movie to The Night Stalker.  The Night Strangler features a truly creepy villain, as well as a trip down to an “underground city.”  It’s full of ominous atmosphere and, as always, Darren McGavin is a lot of fun to watch in the role in Kolchak.

Enjoy!

Horror on the Lens: 13 Ghosts (dir by William Castle)


Since I reviewed the remake yesterday, today’s Horror on the Lens is the 1960 original, William Castle’s 13 Ghosts!

Now, William Castle was famous for his gimmicks.  For instance, theaters showing The Tingler were wired to give electrical shocks to random patrons.  He had a special gimmick for 13 Ghosts, a film about a house haunted by ghosts that you can only see while wearing special goggles.  Since I’m a lazy film blogger, I’m going to quote the film’s Wikipedia article on this particular gimmick:

“For 13 Ghosts, audience members were given a choice: the “brave” ones could watch the movie and see the ghosts, while the apprehensive among them would be able to opt out of the horror and watch without the stress of having to see the ghosts. The choice came via the special viewer, supposedly “left by Dr. Zorba.”

In the theatres, most scenes were black and white, but scenes involving ghosts were shown in a “process” dubbed Illusion-O: the filmed elements of the actors and the sets — everything except the ghosts — had a blue filter applied to the footage, while the ghost elements had a red filter and were superimposed over the frame. Audiences received viewers with red and blue cellophane filters. Unlike early 3D glasses where one eye is red and the other is cyan or blue, the Illusion-O viewer required people to look through a single color with both eyes. Choosing to look through the red filter intensified the images of the ghosts, while the blue filter “removed” them. Despite Castle’s claims to the contrary, not many heart failures or nervous breakdowns were averted by the Illusion-O process; although the blue filter did screen out the ghostly images, the ghosts were visible with the naked eye, without the red filter.”

Personally, if I had been alive in 1960, I totally would have watched the whole movie through the red filter.  Go ghosts go!

Anyway, 13 Ghosts is actually a lot of fun in a low-budget, 1960s drive-in sort of way.  Watch it below and, as always, enjoy!

 

The Fabulous Forties #43: The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (dir by Preston Sturges)


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The 42nd film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was a 1947 comedy called The Sin of Harold Diddlebock.

As a classic film lover, I really wish that The Sin of Harold Diddlebock was better than it actually is.  The film was a collaboration between two of the biggest names in cinematic comedy history: director/writer Preston Sturges and legendary actor Harold Lloyd.  In fact, this was the first film that Sturges directed after leaving the studio system so that he could make bring his unique brand of satire to life without having to deal with interference.  He managed to convince Harold Lloyd to come out of retirement to star in the movie and the film even works as a quasi-sequel to one of Lloyd’s most beloved silent comedies, The Freshman.  In a perfect world, The Sin of Harold Diddlebock would have been a comedy masterpiece that would have perfectly shown off the talents of both men.

Unfortunately, that’s really not the case.  The Sin of Harold Diddlebock is consistently amusing but it’s never quite as funny as you want it to be.  This is one of those films that sounds like it should be hilarious but, when you actually watch it, you see that the film is oddly paced and Lloyd never seems to be fully invested in his role.  I suppose the natural inclination would be to blame this on interference from the notoriously eccentric Howard Hughes, who co-produced the film with Sturges.  After Harold Diddlebock failed at the box office, Hughes withdrew it and spent three years personally reediting the film before re-releasing it under the title Mad Wednesday.  However, by most reports, Hughes wasn’t really the problem.  If Wikipedia is to be believed (and God do I hate starting any sentence with that phrase), Lloyd and Sturges did not have a good working relationship.  As sad as that is, it’s also understandable.  Geniuses rarely work well together.

The Sin of Harold Diddlebock does get off to a good start, seamlessly incorporating the last reel of The Freshmen with footage shot for Harold Diddlebock.  (Somewhat sweetly, the film starts with a title card informing us that the what we are about to see was taken from The Freshman.)  After college freshman Harold Diddlebock scores the winning touchdown in a football game, impressed advertising executive J.E. Waggleberry (Raymond Walburn) offers Harold a job.  However, Harold wants to finish college so Waggleberry tells Harold to look him up in four years.

Four years later, recently graduated Harold goes to Waggleberry for a job and discovers that J.E. Waggleberry has totally forgotten him.  Harold ends up working in the mailroom but is told that, as long as he is ambitious and smart, he will easily move up in the company.  22 years later, Harold is still working in the mailroom.  He is secretly in love with Miss Otis (Frances Ramsden).  Of course, he was also in love with each of Miss Otis’s six older sisters, all of whom worked at the company before the current Miss Otis.  Harold bought an engagement ring when the oldest Otis sister was with company.  Years later, he’s still carrying it with him and dreams of giving it to the current Miss Otis.

However, that might be difficult because Harold has just been fired.  J.E. Waggleberry feels that Harold’s unambitious attitude is setting a bad example.  As severance, Harold is given a watch and $2,946.12.

The normally quiet and reserved Harold reacts to losing his job by doing something very unusual for him.  He goes to a bar and, with the help of a con man (Jimmy Conlin) and a bartender (Edgar Kennedy), he gets drunk.  The bartender even creates a special drink called the Diddlebock.  Harold drinks it and wakes up two days later, wearing a huge cowboy hat and owning a bankrupt circus…

And it only gets stranger from there….

While The Sin of Harold Diddlebock doesn’t quite work, I appreciated the fact that it not only created its own surreal world but that it just kept getting stranger and stranger as the film progressed.  It was Harold Lloyd’s final film and there’s even a scene where he and a lion end up on the edge of a skyscraper that’s almost as good as the famous comedic set pieces from his silent classics.  It’s a pity that the film doesn’t really come together but I’d still recommend seeing it just for history’s sake.

The Fabulous Forties #36: Dishonored Lady (dir by Robert Stevenson)


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15 to go!

That’s what I find myself thinking as I begin this review of the 35th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set.  I’ve only got 15 more of these reviews to go and then I will be finished with the Fabulous Forties.

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  Over the past two months, I’ve seen some very good movies from the 1940s — The Black Book, The Last Chance, Trapped, and a few others.  However, I have also had to sit through things like Jungle Man, Freckles Comes Home, and Lil Abner.  The Fabulous Forties has been an uneven collection, even by the standards of Mill Creek.  However, the important thing is that I’m getting to discover films that I probably would otherwise have never known about.  I love watching movies, even ones that don’t quite work.

Fortunately, the 35th film in the Fabulous Forties does work.

Dishonored_Lady_poster

The 1947 film Dishonored Lady stars the beautiful Hedy Lamarr as Madeline Damien.  Madeline would appear to have it all.  She’s wealthy, she’s socially well-connected, she lives in Manhattan, and she has a glamorous job as the fashion editor of a slick magazine called Boulevard.

So, if Madeline’s life is so perfect, why does she end up crashing her car outside of the house of psychiatrist Richard Caleb (Morris Carnovsky)?  Madeline says it was just an accident but Dr. Caleb immediately understands that she wrecked her car as part of a suicide attempt.  He takes Madeline as a patient and we quickly learn that Madeline is actually on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  When she’s not working, she’s usually drinking.  When she’s not drinking or working, she’s having sex with almost every man she meets.

(Or, as the film primly insists, “making love” to every man she meets.)

And what’s remarkable is that, for a 1947 film, Dishonored Lady is rather sympathetic to Madeline.  While it portrays her lifestyle as being self-destructive, it doesn’t condemn her.  It doesn’t attempt to argue that her problems are a fitting punishment for her decisions, as opposed to so many other 1940s films.  Even when Dr. Caleb’s counseling leads to Madeline quitting her job, the film refrains from criticizing Madeline for wanting to have a career.  Instead, it simply suggests that Boulevard is a toxic environment, almost entirely because of the sleazy men that Madeline has to deal with on a daily basis.

Madeline ends up renting a small apartment and rediscovering her love for painting.  Speaking of love, she also falls in love with her neighbor, Dr. David Cousins (Dennis O’Keefe).  At first, she doesn’t tell David anything about her past but, when she’s falsely accused of murder, she has no choice but to tell him everything.  Will David stand by her or will he prove to be yet another disappointment?  And will Madeline be able to prove her innocence even while her past in put on trial?

I really liked Dishonored Lady.  It’s a surprisingly intelligent film and Hedy Lamarr gives a great performance in the role of Madeline.  Dishonored Lady proved to be a pleasant surprise and you can watch it below!

The Fabulous Forties #5: Guest In The House (dir by John Brahm)


Guest_in_the_House_Poster

The fifth film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was 1944’s Guest In The House.  Before I get around to actually reviewing the film, there two important things that I need to share.

First off, according to the imdb, when Guest In The House was released into theaters, it ran a total of 121 minutes.  The version that was released on video — the version that I watched for this review — only runs 100 minutes.  Having watched the film, it’s hard for me to guess what could have been included in those 21 minutes.  There’s no major plot holes in the 100 minute version or any unanswered questions.  It’s hard for me to imagine that there could be anything in those 21 minutes that would have made Guest In The House a better film than the version that I watched last night.  If anything, even at just 100 minutes, the version that I saw still felt too long!

Secondly, Guest In The House was re-released several times.  At one point, the title was changed to Satan In Skirts!  That has got to be one of the greatest titles ever!  Seriously, Guest In The House is such a boring and mundane title.  But Satan in Skirts — I mean, that sounds like something that you just have to watch, doesn’t it?

Anyway, Guest In The House is about a guest in the house.  Shocking, right?  Evelyn (Anne Baxter, playing a character similar to her classic role in All About Eve) is a mentally unstable woman with a heart ailment and a morbid fear of birds.  She has recently become engaged to Dr. Dan Proctor (Scott Proctor) but she spends most her time writing nasty things about him in her diary.

Dan takes her to visit his wealthy Aunt Martha (Aline MacMahon).  Also staying at Martha’s is Dan’s older brother, an artist named Douglas (Ralph Bellamy).  Douglas is married to Ann (Ruth Warrick, who also played Kane’s first wife in Citizen Kane).  Also living at the house is Douglas’s model, Miriam (Marie McDonald).

(“I used to have to hire one model for above the neck and one model for below the neck,” Douglas explains as Miriam poses for him, “But you’re the whole package!”)

When Evelyn has a panic attack upon seeing a bird, Douglas calms her down by drawing a woman on a lampshade.  (Yes, that’s exactly what he does.)  This leads to Evelyn becoming obsessed with Douglas.  Soon, she is manipulating the entire household, trying to drive away Dan and Miriam while, at the same time, try to break up Douglas and Ann’s marriage….

So, does this sound like a Lifetime film to anyone?  Well, it should because Guest In The House is basically a 1940s version of almost every film that aired on Lifetime last year.  Normally that would be a good thing but, unlike the best Lifetime films, Guest In The House isn’t any fun.  It should be fun, considering how melodramatic the storyline is.  However, Guest In The House takes a prestige approach to its story, marking this as one of those films that was made to win Oscars as opposed to actually entertaining audiences.  Other than a few time when Evelyn imagines that she’s being attacked by invisible birds, the film never allows itself to truly go over-the-top.

Lovers of The Wizard of Oz might want to note that the Wicked Witch of the West herself, Margaret Hamilton, plays a maid in this film but, in the end, Guest In The House is mostly just interesting as a precursor to Anne Baxter’s performance in All About Eve.

Shattered Politics #9: State of the Union (dir by Frank Capra)


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“Politicians have remained professionals only because the voters have remained amateurs!” — State of the Union (1948)

Does anyone remember the Americans Elect fiasco of 2012?

Americans Elect was an organization set up by a bunch of businesspeople, attorneys, and out-of-office politicians.  Their stated goal was to challenge the political establishment, shake up the two-party system, and elect a president.  The idea was that the party would hold a nationwide primary.  Any registered U.S. voter could go online and cast their vote on what they thought should be in the party’s platform and who they thought should be the Americans Elect presidential candidate.  Whoever won this nationwide primary would be required to 1) run on the platform and 2) pick a vice presidential candidate from the opposite party.

And all would be right with the world, right?

Right.

Anyway, I did register as an American Elect delegate, just because I was curious to see who was getting votes in the nationwide primary and who wasn’t.  (And yes, I did cast a vote.  I voted for Dallas County Commissioner Elba Garcia.)  Looking over the site, I saw that all of the usual suspects were getting votes — Ron Paul, Hillary Clinton, Michael Bloomberg, Donald Trump, and even Barack Obama.  None of the big vote getters were exactly nonpartisan or independent figures.  With the possible exception of Ron Paul, all of them were members of the very establishment that Americans Elect was claiming to challenge.

Anyway, Americans Elect ended up nominating no one for President and, as we all know, the 2012 election came down to choosing between two candidates who both received money from the same millionaires and, in the end, the status quo was upheld.

To be honest, everyone should have realized that Americans Elect was a sham as soon as the New York Times printed a column praising the effort.  Any truly independent political organization would never be praised by the New York Times.  Instead, like most so-called independent political organizations, Americans Elect was just a case of certain members of the establishment slumming.

So, the lesson of American Elect would seem to be that any attempt to run outside of the mainstream will, in the end, simply lead you back to the mainstream.  That was an expensive lesson for all of the volunteers who devoted their time to getting Americans Elect on the ballot in 28 states.  It was a lesson that they could have learned much more easily by watching the 1948 film, State of the Union.

In State of the Union, newspaper publisher Kay Thorndyke (Angela Lansbury) wants to make her lover, Grant Matthews (Spencer Tracy), President of the United States.  Grant is a no-nonsense, plain-spoken businessman who is quick to explain that he loves and cares about his country but that he hates partisan politics.  (In many ways, it’s impossible not to compare Grant to … well, to just about every single wealthy businessman who has ever run for public office while claiming to essentially be nonpolitical.  The big difference is that Grant actually means it.)  However, by subtly appealing to both his ego and his patriotism, Kay convinces Grant to run.  With the help of sleazy Jim Conover (Adolphe Menjou) and the sardonic Spike McManus (Van Johnson), Kay uses her money and her newspapers to turn Grant into a viable candidate.

The only problem is that Grant is separated from his wife Mary (Katharine Hepburn) and, since this movie was made in the 1940s, everyone knows that Grant has to be seen as being a family man if he’s going to be elected.  For the election, Mary and Grant pretend to be happily married.

As the primary season continues, Grant finds himself being more and more manipulated by Kay and Jim.  Eventually, Grant is forced to make a decision between his campaign and his integrity…

Following Mr. Smith Goes To Washington and Meet John Doe, State of the Union was the third part of director Frank Capra’s political trilogy.  Based on a play (which, itself, was supposedly inspired by the 1940 Republican presidential candidate, Wendell Willkie), State of the Union never quite escapes its stage-bound origins.  Add to that, the film was probably a bit more shocking when it was first released in 1948.  In 2015, we’re used to idea of politicians being controlled by money.  But, in 1948, audiences were perhaps a little bit more innocent.

But, that said, State of the Union is still an entertaining film.  Needless to say, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn have a wonderful chemistry together and Hepburn gets a great drunk scene.  (Hepburn had such an aristocratic presence that it’s always fun to watch her do comedy.)  Angela Lansbury also does well, playing a character who could very well grow up to be the role she played in The Manchurian Candidate.

67 years after it was first released, State of the Union remains an entertaining film that makes some good and still relevant points.  In 2016, when you’re tempted to get involved with the latest version of Americans Elect, watch State of the Union instead.