Horror on the Lens: Bride of the Gorilla (dir by Curt Siodmak)


In the 1951 film, Bride of the Gorilla, Raymond Burr plays a plantation manager who commits a murder.  Unfortunately, for him, the murder is observed by a witch who promptly puts a curse of Burr.  Now, every time the sun goes down, Burr transforms into a gorilla and goes wild in the jungle.

Basically, it’s kind of like The Wolf Man, just with a less sympathetic protagonist and a gorilla instead of a werewolf. Just in case we missed the similarities, Lon Chaney, Jr. plays the film’s nominal hero, a police commissioner who suspects that something weird might be happening with Burr.  Apparently, the plan was originally for Chaney to play the gorilla and for Burr to play the policeman but, because Chaney was dealing with a serious alcohol problem at the time, the roles were reversed.

Also in the cast, playing the role of Dina, is Barbara Payton, the tragic actress who is best known for being at the center of a love triangle involving actors Tom Neal and Franchot Tone.  In 195000, Neal attacked Tone and beat him so severely that Tone spent 18 hours in a coma.  Tone was notably shaky onscreen for the rest of his film career while Neal spent a few years in prison.  After the incident between Tone and Neal, Payton could only get roles in B-movies like this one.  Tragically, she would pass away, in 1967, of heart and live failure.  She was only 39 years old.

6 Good Films That Were Not Nominated For Best Pictures: The 1950s


The Governor’s Ball, 1958

Continuing our look at good films that were not nominated for best picture, here are 6 films from the 1950s.

The Third Man (1950, dir by Carol Reed)

Now, it should be noted that The Third Man was not ignored by the Academy.  It won the Oscar for Best Cinematography and it was nominated for both editing and Carol Reed’s direction.  But, even with that in mind, it’s somewhat amazing to consider all of the nominations that it didn’t get.  The screenplay went unnominated.  So did the famous zither score.  No nominations for Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard, or even Orson Welles!  And finally, no Best Picture nomination.  1950 was a good year for the movies so competition was tight but still, it’s hard to believe that the Academy found room to nominate King Solomon’s Mines but not The Third Man.

Rear Window (1954, dir by Alfred Hitchcock)

Alfred Hitchcock directed some of his best films in the 50s, though few of them really got the recognition that they deserved upon their initial release.  Vertigo is often described as being Hitchcock’s masterpiece but, to be honest, I actually prefer Rear Window.  This film finds the master of suspense at his most playful and, at the same time, at his most subversive.  Casting Jimmy Stewart as a voyeur was a brilliant decision.  This film features one of my favorite Grace Kelly performances.  Meanwhile, Raymond Burr is the perfect schlubby murderer.  Like The Third Man, Rear Window was not ignored by the academy.  Hitchcock was nominated and the film also picked up nods for its screenplay, cinematography, and sound design.  However, it was not nominated for best picture.

Rebel Without A Cause (1955, dir by Nicholas Ray)

Nicholas Ray’s classic film changed the way that teenagers were portrayed on film and it still remains influential today.  James Dean is still pretty much the standard to which most young, male actors are held.  Dean was not nominated for his performance here.  (He was, however, nominated for East of Eden that same year.)  Instead, nominations went to Sal Mineo, Natalie Wood, and the film’s screenplay.  Amazingly, in the same year that the forgettable Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing was nominated for best picture, this popular and influential film was not.

Kiss Me Deadly (1955, dir by Robert Aldrich)

It’s unfortunate but not surprising that Kiss Me Deadly was totally ignored by the Academy.  In the mid-to-late 50s, the Academy tended to embrace big productions.  There was no way they were going to nominate a satirical film noir that featured a psychotic hero and ended with the end of the world.  That’s a shame, of course, because Kiss Me Deadly has proven itself to be more memorable and influential than many of the films that were nominated in its place.

Touch of Evil (1958, dir by Orson Welles)

Speaking of underappreciated film noirs, Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil is one of the craftiest and most brilliant films ever made.  So, of course, no one appreciated it when it was originally released.  This cheerfully sordid film features Welles at his best.  Starting with a memorable (and oft-imitated) tracking shot, the film proceeds to take the audience into the darkest and most eccentric corners of a small border town.  Everyone in the cast, from the stars to the bit players, is memorably odd.  Even the much mocked casting of Charlton Heston as a Mexican pays off wonderfully in the end.

The 400 Blows (1959, dir by Francois Truffaut)

Francois Truffaut’s autobiographical directorial debut was released in the United States in 1959 and it was Oscar-eligible.  Unfortunately, it only picked up a screenplay nomination.  Of course, in the late 50s, the last thing that the Academy was going to embrace was a French art film from a leftist director.  However, The 400 Blows didn’t need a best picture nomination to inspire a generation of new filmmakers.

Up next, in an hour or so, we continue on to the 60s!

 

Look At Me Look At You: Alfred Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW (Paramount 1954)


cracked rear viewer

When you go out to the neighborhood cinema, you’re indulging in a voyeuristic experience, watching the lives of people unfold before you on the screen. The theme of viewer as voyeur, peeping in on the privacy of total strangers, has never been done better than in Alfred Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW, nor more entertainingly. Like James Stewart’s protagonist L.B. Jeffries, we the audience are the voyeurs in the shadows watching from afar, stumbling onto things not meant for our eyes, and powerless to stop them without outside assistance. Hitchcock is not only the Master of Suspense, but a master of audience manipulation, and this dazzling piece of moviemaking is not only a hell of a thrill ride but a technical marvel as well.

The world of globetrotting photojournalist Jeffries has been boiled down to the view of the courtyard outside his apartment window, just as the audience’s world is now focused on…

View original post 856 more words

Halloween Havoc!: GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS (Toho/TransWorld 1956)


cracked rear viewer

“History shows again and again, how nature points out the folly of man”-

“Godzilla” by Blue Oyster Cult

godz1

Let’s kick off this year’s “Halloween Havoc” with the Grandaddy of kaiju eiga, GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS. The Big G first hit Japanese movie screens in 1954, and made its way to American shores two years later in a reedited version with new narrative footage. I’ve only seen the Americanized interpretation, so I can’t comment on Inoshiro Honda’s original vision, but I do enjoy this film a lot more than the endless, silly sequels that ensued. I’d go as far as saying GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS is one of the best sci-fi flicks of the 50’s, one that’s influence looms like Big G’s shadow even today.

godz2

We start with a familiar sight: Tokyo in ruins, “a smoldering memorial to the unknown”! American reporter Steve Martin (played by Raymond Burr, not the “wild and…

View original post 363 more words

Cleaning Out the DVR Pt 9: Film Noir Festival Redux


cracked rear viewer

prev

Welcome back to the decadently dark world of film noir, where crime, corruption, lust, and murder await. Let’s step out of the light and deep into the shadows with these five fateful tales:

redux1

PITFALL (United Artists 1948, D: Andre DeToth) Dick Powell is an insurance man who feels he’s stuck in a rut, living in safe suburbia with his wife and kid (Jane Wyatt, Jimmy Hunt). Then he meets hot model Lizabeth Scott on a case and falls into a web of lies, deceit, and ultimately murder. Raymond Burr  costars as a creepy PI who has designs on Scott himself. A good cast in a good (not great) drama with a disappointing ending. Fun Fact: The part of Scott’s embezzler boyfriend is played by one Byron Barr, who is not the Byron Barr that later changed his name to Gig Young.  

redux2

THE BRIBE (MGM 1949, D:Robert Z. Leonard) Despite an…

View original post 759 more words

Pounded to Death by Gorillas: HIS KIND OF WOMAN (RKO 1951)


cracked rear viewer

hiskind1

People don’t go to the movies to see how miserable the world is; they go there to eat popcorn, be happy“- Wynton (Jim Backus) in HIS KIND OF WOMAN

Right you are, Mr. Howell, err Backus. There’s an abundance of fun to be had in HIS KIND OF WOMAN, the quintessential RKO/Robert Mitchum movie. Big Bob costars with sexy Jane Russell in a convoluted tale that’s part film noir, part Monty Python, with an outstanding all-star cast led by Vincent Price serving up big slices of ham as a self-obsessed movie star. And the backstory behind HIS KIND OF WOMAN is as entertaining as the picture itself!

hiskind2

But we’ll go behind the scenes later. First, let’s look at the movie’s plot. We meet down on his luck gambler Dan Milner (Mitchum) in a bar…. drinking milk! Dan just got done doing a 30 day stretch in a Palm Springs jail…

View original post 691 more words

Cleaning Out the DVR Pt 7: Film Noir Festival


Now that Lisa’s finished cleaning out her DVR, it’s time once again for me to clean mine, featuring five fabulous films noir:

cracked rear viewer

prev

I first got my DVR service from DirecTV just in time for last year’s TCM Summer of Darkness series, and there’s still a ton of films I haven’t gotten around to viewing… until now! So without further ado, let’s dive right into the fog-shrouded world of film noir:

dvr7.1

RAW DEAL (Eagle-Lion 1948, D: Anthony Mann)

This tough-talking film seems to cram every film noir trope in the book into its 79 minutes. Gangster Dennis O’Keefe busts out of prison with the help of his moll ( Claire Trevor ), kidnaps social worker Marsha Hunt, and goes after the sadistic crime boss (Raymond Burr) who owes him fifty grand. Director Mann and DP John Alton make this flawed but effective ultra-low budget film work, with help from a great cast. Burr’s nasty, fire-obsessed kingpin is scary, and John Ireland as his torpedo has a great fight scene with O’Keefe. The flaming finale is well staged…

View original post 614 more words

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #64: Out of the Blue (dir by Dennis Hopper)


Out_of_the_Blue_Film“Subvert normality.”

— Cebe (Linda Manz) in Out of the Blue (1980)

The 1980 Canadian film Out of the Blue opens with a terrifying scene.  Don Barnes (Dennis Hopper), drinking a beer and playing with his daughter while driving a truck, crashes into a school bus.  The bus is full of children, many of whom are seen being thrown into the air as the truck literally splits the bus in half.

Don is sent to prison.  His wife, Kathy (Sharon Farrell), becomes a drug addict.  His daughter, Cebe (Linda Manz), grows up to be an angry and alienated teenager.  Cebe spends her time either aimlessly wandering around her economically depressed hometown or else ranting about the phoniness of society to anyone who will listen (and quite a few who won’t).  Much like the killer cops in Magnum Force, all of her heroes are dead.  Occasionally, she sees a pompous therapist (Raymond Burr) whose liberal humanism turns out to be just as empty as the reactionary society that Cebe is striking out against.  Cebe’s heroes are Elvis, Sid Vicious, and her father.

When Don is finally released from prison, he returns home and he announces that he’s straightened out his life.  He promises that he’ll stay sober and he’ll be a good father.  That, of course, is all bullshit.  Soon, Don is struggling to hold down a job and spending his time drinking with his friend Charlie (Don Gordon).  Anyone who has ever had to deal with an alcoholic father will be able to painfully relate to the scenes where Don goes from being kind and loving to demonic in a matter of seconds.

Eventually, it all leads to a violent ending, one that is powerful precisely because it is so inevitable.

Out of the Blue is one of my favorite films, one that I relate to more than I really like to admit.  Directed in a raw and uncompromising manner by Dennis Hopper, Out of the Blue is a look at life on the margins of society.  And while some would argue that not much happens in the film between the explosive opening and the equally explosive ending, nothing needs to happen.  The power of the film comes not from its plot and instead from the perfect performances of Linda Manz, Dennis Hopper, Sharon Farrell, and Don Gordon.  Only Raymond Burr feels out of place but there’s a reason for that.

As much as I love Out of the Blue as a movie, I love the story of its production as well.  Originally, Out of the Blue was to be your typical movie about a rebellious teen who is saved by a patient and compassionate counselor.  Dennis Hopper was originally just supposed to co-star.  However, after the shooting started to run behind schedule, the film’s original director was fired.  Hopper talked the producers into letting him take over as a director.

This was the first film that Hopper was allowed to direct since the 1971 release of the infamous flop, The Last Movie.  Hopper, who was then best known for his drug use and his alcoholism, promised to be on his best behavior.  However, he then proceeded to secretly rewrite the entire film.

When Raymond Burr showed up to shoot his scenes, he was under the impression that he was still the star of the film.  Hopper essentially proceeded to shoot two separate films.  One film followed the original script and starred Raymond Burr.  The other was Hopper’s vision.  When it came time to take all of the footage and edit together the film that would be called Out of Blue, only two of Burr’s scenes made it into final cut and, in both of those scenes, Burr’s character is portrayed as being clueless.

Out of the Blue is not a happy film but it’s a good one.  More people need to see it.

Netflix Noir #3: Crime of Passion (dir by Gerd Oswald)


CrimepassionPosterThe third Netflix Noir that I watched was 1957’s Crime of Passion.

In Crime of Passion, Barbara Stanwyck plays Kathy Ferguson, a San Francisco-based advice columnist.  She is approached by two homicide detectives who request her help tracking down a fugitive who they think might read her column.  Charlie (Royal Dano) is aggressive and outspoken.  When he first meets Kathy, he tells her, “You’re work should be raising a family and having dinner ready when your husband comes home from work.”  His far more passive partner is Detective Bill Doyle (Sterling Hayden).

Kathy writes a column that convinces the fugitive to turn herself in.  (The power of Kathy’s column is shown in an amusing montage where woman after woman is seen reading the column aloud.  Significantly, no men are seen to ever read anything that Kathy has written.)  The resulting fame leads to Kathy getting a job offer in New York.

However, before Kathy can leave, she gets a phone call from Bill.  He asks her out on a date and, one scene later, they’re getting married in the shabby office of a justice of the peace.  Kathy sacrifices her career to be a suburban housewife.

From the minute that Kathy first looks at the small and anonymous house and the boring neighborhood that she’ll be sharing with Bill, it’s obvious that things are not going to work out well.  Even though Kathy even tells Bill, “I hope all your socks have holes in them and I can sit for hours darning them,” the life of domestic servitude is not for her.

Every day, she stays home while Bill goes to work.  At night, she reluctantly plays hostess to the constant gatherings of Bill’s colleagues and their wives.  The women stay in one room while the man gather in another.  Kathy is quickly bored with the inane chattering of the other wives but whenever she tries to go into the other room, she finds herself treated like an unwanted intruder.

And worst of all is the fact that Bill has absolutely no ambition of his own.  He’s got his house.  He’s got his wife.  He’s got his friends.  And he doesn’t feel that he needs anything else.

Kathy takes it into her own hands to advance Bill’s career, first by having an affair with Bill’s boss (Raymond Burr) and finally by trying to find a spectacular crime that Bill can solve.  And, as the suburbs continue to drive her mad, Kathy is not above creating a few crimes on her own…

In many ways, Crime of Passion reminds of another 50s film, Nicholas Ray’s Bigger Than Life.  Both films use the conventions of melodrama to present a surprisingly subversive look at the horrors of suburban conformity.  Unfortunately, Crime of Passion never quite reaches the heights of Bigger Than Life, largely because Sterling Hayden gives such a dull performance as Bill that you never believe that Kathy would have married him in the first place.  (The film would have been far more impressive if Bill had started out as an apparently dynamic character whose dullness was then revealed after Kathy married him.)  However, Barbara Stanwyck is well-cast as Kathy and Raymond Burr plays up his character’s ambiguous morality.  If nothing else, Crime of Passion is one of those film to show anyone who is convinced that nothing subversive was produced in the 1950s.

Film Review: A Cry In The Night (dir by Frank Tuttle)


cryinthenight01f

Thanks to TCM, I’ve gotten the chance to discover a lot of old films that I, otherwise, would have probably never even heard about.  One of those films is A Cry In The Night, a low-budget, 1956 crime story that I randomly came across last month.

Harold Loftus (Raymond Burr) has issues.  He lives in a shack, he’s totally dominated by his overbearing mother, and he spend most of his time secretly peeping at couples who are parked at the local lover’s lane.  When he comes across Liz (Natalie Wood) and her boyfriend Owen (RIchard Anderson), he overpowers Owen and kidnaps Liz.  Now, Owen must work with Liz’s overprotective policeman father, Dan (Edmond O’Brien), to track down Harold and Liz.  Making things difficult is the fact that Dan blames Owen for the kidnapping and simply cannot bring himself to accept that his daughter was actually “one of those girls” who spent her Saturday night sitting in a car and sharing chaste kisses with her boyfriend.

(Seriously, the film made it sound like this was the worst possible thing that a girl could do with her time.  I’m not sure if Dan was supposed to come across like a reactionary or if this was just a case of the film having been made in 1956.  Personally, if that’s what the 50s were like, I’m glad I wasn’t born until the 80s.)

As directed by Frank Tuttle, A Cry In The Night tells its story in a stark, no-nonsense, semi-documentary manner.  (There’s even narration at the beginning and end of the film.)  O’Brien bellows his way through the role and Anderson’s colorless performance does little to make Owen seem like any less of a wimp.  However, Raymond Burr makes for a disturbingly plausible pervert and Natalie Wood is well-cast as Liz.  The film came out a year after Rebel Without A Cause and, watching her performance in A Cry In the Night, you can tell why Natalie Wood was Hollywood’s favorite vulnerable teenager.

I have to admit that I love films like A Cry In The Night, not so much because they’re great films (and, while always watchable, A Cry In The Night is certainly not a great film), but because they’re totally a product of their time.  As opposed to the big budget extravaganzas that were churned out by the Hollywood studio system during the 50s and 60s, low-budget B-movies like A Cry In The Night were designed to exploit contemporary headlines and contemporary concerns and, therefore, provide a lot of insight into what was going on with the American psyche at the time.

A Cry In The Night combines several themes that ran through the majority of the films of the period.  In the role of Harold, Raymond Burr is the epitome of the 1950s weirdo.  As opposed to the normal, all-American boys who make out with their girls in cars, Harold can only bring himself to lurk about and attempt to catch a peek of what normal society does on Saturday night.  When he kidnaps Liz, he’s not only threatening Natalie Wood, he is by extension attacking America itself.  Meanwhile, Liz’s boyfriend comes across like the type of intellectual liberal who probably cast two ballots for Adlai Stevenson while her father is definitely an Eisenhower man.   Boyfriend and father do not get along at first but what’s important is that they set aside their difference so that they can vanquish the other.  By the end of the film, the father is willing to invite the boyfriend to dinner and the boyfriend has learned that sometimes, you have to be willing to fight.

For those of you who keep crying about how the solution for all of America’s problems lie in bipartisan compromise, A Cry In The Night is the film for you!

For the rest of us, A Cry In The Night is an occasionally entertaining time capsule.