Category Archives: Movies

The Phantom of Soho

No it’s not Ibsen, or Shakespeare, or Tarentino…or even Gaston Leroux.

It’s Edgar Wallace.

No it’s not The Phantom of the Opera, it’s The Phantom of Soho.

No it’s not set on the Parisian opera stage and its fantastic (and damp) underworld. It’s set in the smoky, underworld night club; Sansibar (doesn’t even get an exotic “Z”), where the dancers are scantily-clad when clad at all…and can be had by all for reasonable remuneration.

The music is not grand opera, it’s wheezy, sleazy jazz.

Footlights? Fergit it. It’s neon or nuthin’ in this flick.

Edgar Wallace, for a significant part of the 20th century, had more books in print than any other author in the English language. His books were popular staples in every outpost library of the British Colonial Empire. He wrote crime novels, jungle novels, and a little epic; KING KONG.

But on this movie night, we’re prowling in our trench coat through the swirling fog of Soho. We’re shrugging away the blandishments of the entrepreneur-esses on the street corners and in the shadowy doorways. We’re carefully avoiding the blackmailing ship’s captain who resembles Popeye’s good buddy, Bluto. We’re dodging knives and politely passing on the proffered poison capsules. We have a rendezvous with a surprise twist that we saw coming in the first fifteen minutes of the film.

It can’t get much better than this.

Le Golem

Movie night!

Decades of prowling every bookstore I come across has infected and inspired my cinematic inquisitiveness. From childhood meanderings through the bookmobile and the public library, to stubborn and tiresome adult plumbings of the depths and shadows of every pile of books I encounter, a ritual of curiosity has become part of my mental muscle memory. As access to more cinema from various countries and times has burgeoned, my treasure-hunting impulses are triggered.

Alas, most of the treasures I discover are merely curiosities. But then, I admit I treasure the curiosities.

Tonight’s curiosity is a made-for-French-TV film from 1967; Le Golem, directed by Jean Kerchbron. Kerchbron, who primarily directed for European TV, also adapted this script from the novel by Gustav Meyerinck.

A scholar unearths a clay figure, brings it to life, uses it for personal services, loses control of the beast, and mayhem ensues. Sounds a bit like Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, n’est-ce pas? At least, that’s how Mayerinck tells it. In Kerchbron’s flick we only see the monster a couple of times. It’s scary, it’s grim, but is it real? I’m thinkin’ not…but I’m not bettin’ the ranch.

This film was made about ten years before David Lynch’s ERASERHEAD and about forty years after Carl Theodor Dreyer’s PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, but it reminds me of both. The performance of André Reybaz, our leading man could have been lifted directly from Dreyer’s film. The unresolved wonder of LE GOLEM could have segued into ERASERHEAD without missing a goggle.

What lured me to this film was the inclusion of Magali Noël in the cast. Ms. Noël played Gradisca in Fellini’s AMARCORD and Nick’s sister in the political thriller “Z”, two of my favorite films. She is over-the-top and lovely in this effort.

Though curiosities are not treasures, they may have moments that are gems. The moment that arrested me in LE GOLEM was a quiet thought;

“I think about the warm wind. When it comes, the ice crackles everywhere in the land. It gets muddy. But already flowering gardens germinate. When seasons change, something moves in the roots; both in good roots and in poisonous ones.”

This spring of new hope and optimism about the covid infection.

This spring of trepidation about democracy-threatening lies.

It’s a warm wind.

Something’s moving in the land; both in good roots and poisonous ones.

We’d best keep a’hold of whatever Golem we unearth.

N’est-ce pas?

Let’s Give a Big Hand to Orlac

Movie night!

We think of Hammer Films and we think of Dracula and Frankenstein and strawberry-red blood dripping on otherwise pristine sets in sunglass-required lighting that comes from everywhere and nowhere in particular. But even as these money-making machines were being crafted, Shepperton Studios was cranking a bunch of other films just as interesting…if not as lucrative.

This is one of them. THE HANDS OF ORLAC (1960), directed by Edmond T. Gréville, is another retelling of the transplanted hands saga and not the best of that gruesome genre. That dubious award would go to Peter Lorre’s MAD LOVE (1935) in my book.

But THE HANDS OF ORLAC is a pretty entertaining flick. It is encumbered by a somnambulant performance by Mel Ferrer, but it features a nice turn by Christopher Lee as a blackmailing stage magician. Lee’s character shrieks a ridiculous wild laugh (always wisely off-camera) that sounds like a cross between Snidely Whiplash and the happily surreal cackle preceding the Ventures’ “Wipe Out,” (which, I understand was inspired by one of the Maddox Brothers). Whew, that last sentence should give everyone fun things to google.

Even better than Mr. Lee’s performance are the ladies in the flick. I thought I had never heard of Lucile Saint-Simon before, but I see that she’s also in a blade-filled Italian giallo from 1963; THE VIRGIN OF NUREMBERG (more tamely released in the US as HORROR CASTLE), directed by sanguinary maestro Antonio Margheriti and also featuring a murderous Christopher Lee. I remember being moderately engaged by the flick a few years ago, but I’m gonna have to watch it again now. Ms. Saint-Simon is sympathetic and rocks her negligee, though the backlighting in this effort is insufficient to satisfy my more demanding geezer cineastes. Dany Carrel, however, more than makes up for that technical deficiency. Her night club act with Chris Lee is eye-popping…literally. The white-haired guys in the audience are dropping their monocles and checking their pacemakers.

And in addition to those actors, a small appearance by the ubiquitous Donald Pleasence provides a coup de gross for the evening.

The ending ties things up in a way-too-convenient way. You might call it a deux-et-manicure copout.

But I liked it.

From Istanbul with Fangs

Movie Night!

Dracula in Istanbul – a Turkish delight from 1953.

That’s about all that needs to be said isn’t it?

What can we surmise from the title alone?

  • It’s probably not gonna be good. But that’s never stopped me.
  • It’s not gonna be in English and the subtitles are probably gonna be…novel.

True on both counts.

The film’s female lead is played by Annie Ball (about the only pronounceable name in the cast). Ms. Ball’s character dances a lot for Red Cross charities (seriously) behind a stage curtain that trumpets proudly the show sponsor’s name; The Minerva Sewing Machine Company (seriously!). The Muslim background of the film is reaffirmed often, which makes you puzzle over why Ms. Ball’s performances aren’t for the Red Crescent instead of the Red Cross, especially since no crucifixes are used in the struggle against the vampire.

On the clearly positive side, had there been such an award in 1953, I’m sure this film would have won the Oscar for “Best Use of Diaphanous Costuming”. You don’t even need those high-tech eyeglasses that used to be offered for a buck on the back of 1950’s comic books.

Truth in advertising warning; Istanbul only appears in a long-distance twilight skyline shot over the strait. For this it gets a title credit? Good agent.

I liked it.

Octopi Flicks

It’s an understudied genre.

Why?

And why should we…

Make that…why should I…care now?

Well, I’m always arrested by synchronicity. I noticed and leapt on the opportunity to see the Golden Gate Bridge destroyed on successive nights by movie monsters from the sea. Both films featured a giant octopus. It got me thinking (eight to the bar, no less) about my favorite cinematic cephalopods.

Here’s a useless little list;

Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus (2009) is a classic zero on a scale of one to ten, BUT it does posit and show in a flash the perfectly implausible result from an aerial giant shark attack on an airplane, and an equally implausible performance by Debbie Gibson. On the positive side, the Golden Gate goes down, and the truly big octopus achieves a deadly draw in his death match with the titular fish…though to honor true disclosure, I should point out there are sequels. I suspect the sea creatures and the sequels should be avoided.

It Came From Beneath the Sea (1953) also destroys the Golden Gate, but this time the octopus gets the assignment and does a much better job. This flick had serious world-ending talent involved. Faith Domergue was in the midst of a great few years of weird movies. She was imperiled twice in 1955 in This Island Earth and Cult of the Cobra. Kenneth Tobey was capping off a trilogy of sci-fi adventures; The Thing from Another World (1951) and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953). And of course the star of the show was the creation of Ray Harryhausen, genius of stop-action wonders. All of this talent and effort just to produce instant calamari – a San Francisco treat?

Isle of Fury (1936) is a tedious little film that allows Humphrey Bogart to shuck his impeccable South Sea Island white suit and wrestle with an octopus. I’m believin’ every minute.

Sometimes the octopus is human. Maud Adams plays the title role in Octopussy (1983). The actual octopi in the film are fairly inconsequential. Ms. Adams is most certainly not.

Two films depict the same octopus. Bride of the Monster (1955) is a truly dreadful Ed Wood-directed exercise that features a ludicrous performance by Tor Johnson and an even more ludicrous watery struggle between Bela Lugosi and a rubber octopus. Ed Wood (1994) recreates that cinematic moment in a funny and pitiful way. I loved them both.

Without hesitation, my favorite octopus film is Cannery Row (1982). There are special performances by Nick Nolte, Debra Winger, Frank McRae, and M. Emmet Walsh. John Huston’s narration, the frog hunt, Doc and Suzy thinking they could dance, and the beer milk shake are all remarkable elements, but it all revolves around those eight baby octopi and their ill-fated dangling of a misplaced hope at the edge of the end of the Western World.

What’s my takeaway from this foolish survey?

Perhaps a word of advice to San Francisco;

Yer gonna need a bigger bay.

Asta and the Octopus

Movie night!

It’s a Margaret Lindsay/Donald Woods double feature thanks to TCM.

You know, if I were forced to choose one and only one TV channel to watch forever, it would surely be TCM. Where else could you see a Margaret Lindsay/Donald Woods (whoever they are) double feature? Actually, Ms. Lindsay is lovely and bland, and Mr. Woods is earnest and bland. Nuff said ‘bout dat.

Fog Over Frisco (1934) is one more flick that demonstrates that any film shot in San Francisco ought to open the cast list with “starring San Francisco”. The city invariably steals the show. It prompts an addition to the old warning to actors; “Never do a scene with children, dogs, (or San Francisco.)” Bette Davis, Alan Hale Sr. (the Skipper from Gilligan’s Island’s dad), and Asta (the Thin Man’s precocious and less than brave pup) are also in the film but who cares? It’s San Francisco.

Isle of Fury (1936), besides showcasing Lindsay and Woods (ZZZZZZZZ), also features Humphrey Bogart being cruelly assaulted by an octopus in the pearl-infested waters around a South Sea island nobody’s ever heard of (but looks suspiciously like Catalina). Every non-native character trots around the island in impeccable and crisp white clothes. The local laundry must be world-class. Also lurking around the isle is Frank Lackteen, a bit actor who amassed over 200 credits with his skulking, murderous ways. I spotted him recently in The Mask of Dimitrios, The Mummy’s Hand, The Sea Hawk, and The Law of the Tong. None of Mr. Lackteen’s efforts were nominated for Oscars. They apparently don’t give Oscars for Best Persistent Felon.

God bless TCM.

What’s Better than a Zombie Film?

TWO!!

Movie Night!

Geezer that I am, I HEAR about trends more often than I experience them.

So sue me.

I understand that “walking dead” films have been hot for several years now.

I’m puzzled by the term itself. “Walking dead film” could encompass a lot of things; zombies, vampires, mummies, diseased shopping mall attackers, or any of the old Dragnet TV episodes.

But for tonight, “walking dead” means zombies (of varying kinds).

Horror of the Zombies (1974) is a Spanish cutie directed by Armando d’Ossorio. It features a 16th-century Spanish galleon carrying 18th-century Templar ex-communicates, drifting in a mist that doesn’t exist (say that out loud – it’s practically a poem), and Maria Perschy, Barbara Rey, and several other female models on an inexplicable photo shoot who consistently fail to button their tops.

Hey, if you don’t think about it, what’s not to like? If you do think about it…what’s not to like?!

Thank you, sir. May I please have another?

Oasis of the Zombies (1983) is another Spanish maybe-not-so-cutie directed by the prolific and baffling Jess Franco. This flick is right down there with Franco’s Zombie Lake, but that’s for another time…or…hopefully not. It features Nazi zombies (one actually played by Franco himself) from thirty years before (skin wrecked, but hair and clothes vigorous and intact), an incoherent plot, and heedless young ladies in heedless short shorts who die heedlessly young. Makes about as much sense as a Rudy Giuliani press conference (…seriously, folks).

I loved ‘em.

MMGA – Make Movies Great Again

Movie night!

Goliath and the Dragon (1960).

They just don’t make films like this anymore and I don’t for the life of me know why.

We’re talkin’ giant puppet monsters and Mark Forest’s giant pec’s (the inspiration perhaps, for current Old Spice commercials).

We’re talkin’ Cerberus as a three-headed, fire-breathing bobble-head.

We’re talkin’ one – count ‘em – ONE flying monkey, and ONE giant egg. I don’t for the life of me know why.

We’re talkin’ ‘bout a truly cheesy centaur and a snake pit infested with at least five or six serpents. Hey, any number of snakes over one is overkill for me.

And finally, there’s our titular dragon. Did they even have auditions? This terror looks like a cross between the Geico gecko and a Chinese New Year’s street puppet. Was I petrified? …well, not so much. Was I amused? …well, maybe a little.

All the ladies in the flick are damn cute in their perfectly tailored and indestructible skirtlets in solid pastels and their perfectly coiffed and indestructible hair sculptures.

There was even a giant bear, lovingly portrayed by someone (uncredited) in a bear suit…of sorts.

The only thing missing in this film was Godzilla.

I loved it.

Did I mention there was a bear?

Mr. Moto’s Last Warning

Movie night!

The year; 1939.

The challenge; can you take a cast consisting of Peter Lorre, George Sanders, Ricardo Cortez, John Carradine, and Robert E. Lee’s cousin (Virginia Field) and prevent World War II?

Well yes you can……at least for a year or two.

It’s exotic, it’s silly, it’s Mr. Moto’s Last Warning.

Points of interest for this Z-movie freak;

  • Virginia Field made a mini career of working with Asian detectives played by non-Asian actors. She appeared in three Mr. Moto flicks and a Charlie Chan.
  • Ricardo Cortez is always a charming villain; always. As an actor…Ricardo Cortez is always a charming villain.
  • In this epic, Mr. Cortez pumps air to an underwater diver with one hand while watching the French fleet though binoculars with the other and all the while his double-Windsor-knotted cravat and his Panama are never compromised. What style!
  • But that’s lollygaggin’ compared Mr. Moto, our persistently bespectacled hero. Mr. Moto dives underwater (in his eyeglasses), KO’s George Sanders underwater (still in his eyeglasses), blows up the enemy land mines underwater (yes, still in his eyeglasses), climbs out of the water onto the dock (you guessed it, still…), beats up Ricardo Cortez, disarrays his Panama and double-Windsor, and flings him into the Mediterranean (IN HIS EYEGLASSES!) It’s an astounding spectacle (see what I did there?).

I loved it.

They Can’t Have Gotten Far!

A movie night musing.

I hear it said there are no absolutes.

Maybe that’s why I love movies so. In the flicks there are immutable truths. A couple came immediately to mind as I reveled in The Legend of Spider Forest. I’m sure you’ve seen this treasure of a film countless times and cherish it as I do.

I josh.

Roger’s Immutable Film Truth (RIFT) #1 – Within five seconds after the words; “Get them!” have been uttered, a chase/fight/melee will ensue.

RIFT #2 – Be assured that as soon as you hear the statement; “They can’t have gotten far.” – they have.

It’s good to have these moral landmarks to guide us.

RIFT #2 is particularly important to understand these days. Mastering this concept makes our current president decipherable. It’s the primary law of the alternate dimension in which he lives.

He says “Hoax.” It’s not.

He says “We’ve turned the corner.” We haven’t.

He says “It will disappear.” I still see it.

He says “Hydroxy-snake-oil will cure it.” Nope.

He says voting by mail is bad and fraudulent as he posts his vote.

He says Biden probably plays more golf than he does…

He says he pays millions in federal tax…

He says he’s rich…

You get the idea? He points the way to truth by pointing unerringly in the opposite direction. Once we learn the language, he is the most transparent politician in history. Clearly, he’s living by the rules of terrible old movies like The Legend of Spider Forest.

It’s an odd political concept.

2020…….spider forest……it’s plausible.

Democracy, fairness, grace, civility – disappearing?

That’s OK.

They can’t have gotten far.

Oh, by the way, I voted today.