Category Archives: Movies

Frankenstein 1970

There are few verities in this world, but I know of some; death, taxes, and there’ll always be a Frankenstein film I haven’t seen.

This is one.

Tonight I remedied that omission.

Ugh.

Many think Boris Karloff played Frankenstein in the best known film of Mary Shelley’s amazing story. Not true. Mr. Karloff played the monster created by Baron Frankenstein. It was not until this 1958 film that he actually played someone in the Frankenstein family, a descendant of the baron, facing a future of dwindling funds, who rents out the stark Frankenstein manse to a documentary film crew that resembles the film crew in ED WOOD.

I usually enjoy Mr. Karloff’s performances, but in this case Messiers Clive and Cushing did it better.

Having consistently watched more than the recommended daily dose of mad scientist flicks, I’ve acquired a dubious expertise in movie laboratory sets. This film’s iteration features bank after bank of consoles of dials and switches and gauges…very like a low-budget version of Dr. No’s lab. It lacks one of those lightning producing orbs that are dear to my heart, but it does have some dripping tubing in various places that suggest that somewhere there’s some fine bourbon bein’ born. There’s also a contraption that looks like a cross between an MRI and a crematorium…and an EZ-Bake oven… smokin’ up the joint. All-in-all, I’d give the lab an 85. It was easy to dance to.

Oh. On the audio side of production, the lab has the capability of disposing of human bodies. When it’s employed, it does so with the distinct sound effect of a toilet being flushed. I can only imagine how that was received in 1950’s movie houses. I can only imagine the glee of the movie critics of the day.

On the positive side…

There’s a moment early in the film that shows us three members of the film crew framed in front of a large, gothic fireplace. It recalled to me the opening scene in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN with the Shelleys and mad, bad Lord Byron. It may have been accidental, but I prefer to think the director and writers were paying homage.

Eventually we arrive in a ludicrous confrontation between a mummyishly-bandaged monster and a beret-wearing cameraman in a cave with a perfectly flat Hollywood cave floor (are there any other kind?)

I simply wouldn’t have any other way.

You Say Hund & I Say Hound

Movie night!

I guess it’s hubris…or karma…or just a mess of “what goes around…”

I’ve written before about my delight in the imaginary languages one finds in the movies. Tarzan’s “Kreegah!” and Michael Rennie’s “Klaatu narada dikto,” don’t terrify me, they thrill me.

Well…

…this has been my week to be challenged by unknown-to-me real languages in movies without the aid of either subtitles or English dubbing.

I used to be inordinately proud to be able to rattle off the first lines of José Marti’s Guantanamera, but to truly be “un hombre sincero,” I should confess that’s about the sum of my mastery of Spanish.

Yet I found myself caught in in the sluggish whirlwind of Jesus Franco’s lesser known masterpiece; Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein. Sluggish, because any film featuring Howard Vernon as your action-driving monster has a lot of inertia to overcome as soon as the opening credits have run. Whirlwind, because you can always add an ineffectual fistfight with a non-titular werewolf at the end of the flick to liven things up a bit, and director Franco, consummate artist of the box office, knows this and complies.

Still, it might have been helpful to understand what few words were left in the script between the grunts, growls, and howls of the monstrous troika propelling this miscarriage.

And then there’s German?

Sigh.

I can mumble a few syllables of Stille Nacht at a noisy Christmas party and I can spin a few wine terms like “trockenbeerenauslese,” but other than that, I’m schnitzel.

But I have been eagerly anticipating viewing the 1937 German film; Der Hund von Baskerville since it arrived in my latest box of goodies from Sinister Cinema. Imagine my initial dismay when it sported no dubbing, no subtitles.

But ya know…it didn’t matter.

I am an amateur Sherlockian. I have read and watched Sherlock Holmes stories for almost 60 years. I have seen so many film versions of The Hound of the Baskervilles, so many times… The best film version was written by a friend of mine. Hell, Janie and I even vacationed in a small cabin on the only moors in the US.

I know this tale.

The actors could bark their lines as quickly as they pleased and I corrected them even more quickly. I knew intimately what Sherlock’s rooms, and Baskerville Hall should be like. I knew the paths and the mists and the perilous bogs. This was terra familiar.

I delighted seeing Mrs. Hudson fussing over Watson’s experiments with tobacco ash. I despaired watching a ridiculous “hound” that might have been the inspiration for The Killer Shrews. I needed no explanation for Sir Henry’s imperious pique over his missing shoe.

I don’t know the German for “cognoscenti,” but I know it was me.

And I loved it.

Ach!

My Horrors Have Always Been Cowboys?

An in-depth viewing of BILLY THE KID VS. DRACULA is on the slate for tonight.

I like horror movies.

I like cowboy movies.

I don’t like this.

That’s probably about as much in-depth analysis as the flick deserves but here are a few stray thoughts.

1. The film is directed by William Beaudine, whose nickname was “One-Shot Bill”. I’m thinkin’ that moniker is not complimentary to anyone involved with directing a film unless he happens to have a hot date waiting in the wings. This flick goes far in validating my thinking.

2. Virginia Christine appears in the film. Most of you know Ms. Christine, if you know her at all, as Mrs. Olsen in the Folger’s Coffee commercials of the 1790’s (feelin’ a little old this evening). But Ms. Christine had an acting career beyond coffee hucksterism, though frankly, this performance is probably not the best testimony to that fact. It’s certainly not “the richest kind.”

3. The costume budget musta been real tight. The two title characters never – I mean never – change clothes. One costume each for the whole movie. (One-Shot Bill = One-Shirt Bill?) I know that sounds picky, but it jars my suspension of disbelief. I can’t believe I just said that about a movie featuring a vampire fighting an American gunslinger.

4. Putting Billy the Kid in a sea-foam green chamois over-shirt might…just might…lessen his credibility as a tough guy.

5. Casting a thirty-plus year old actor as Billy the “Kid” more than likely damaged the film’s box-office appeal to teens. Perhaps if he had played a guitar and crooned a little cowboy/vampire/surfer ditty it coulda been redeemed.

I doubt it.

Shakespeare in 5/4 Time?

Movie night!

Wanna hear Othello play the piano?

Wanna hear Desdemona croon the blues?

Wanna see Iago rattlin’ a hot drum solo?

It’s all in All Night Long, Basil Dearden’s 1962 jazz retelling of Shakespeare’s OHELLO.

Set in Richard Attenborough’s swingin’ two story Mayfair apartment, top jazz performers gather to celebrate Rex and Delia’s one-year anniversary with an all-night jam. Dave Brubeck, Charles Mingus, Johnny Dankworth, and Tubby Hayes are playing guests. Even Cleo Laine gets a shout-out as the guests arrive. Patrick McGoohan schemes and plays drums. Henry VIII (Keith Michell) blows weed and sax.

The acting in the film is generally sub-standard. The story is convoluted and implausible. It may be neither iambic nor pentameter, but the music is hot.

The movie is mostly a curiosity, but it looks great and the music makes up for considerable mediocrity.

There’s even bongos!

“Don’t worry man…everything’s co-o-o-o-o-l.”

Here Comes the Bride

Sometime after my twenties, it occurred to me that I didn’t have all the answers to everything. It was another ten years before I realized I actually didn’t have the answer to much at all. Still don’t.

However, I did and do retain the notion that those answers are still out there for me to find.

Except…

There are issues and questions I suspect we’ll never answer fully nor resolve to the non-MAGA world’s satisfaction.

Following the guidance of that profound philosopher W. S. Gilbert, I’ve made a little list;

  • What is the exact value of Pi?
  • Ginger or Mary Anne?
  • Pluto – planet or errant rock?
  • To be or not to be?
  • Designated hitter – yea or nay?
  • Elsa Lanchester’s make-up in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN – is it more outré as the Bride or as Mary Shelley?

I am an unabashed fan of Ms. Lanchester; especially in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. I have previously extolled the screaming talents of Fay Wray in KING KONG and DOCTOR X. But it doesn’t hold a candle to Lanchester’s hissing in THE BRIDE. It’s an audible lightning stroke from her amazing hair-do through her imperious eyes to her voice and snarl that lances the horny monster’s heart. I cannot fathom how Boris Karloff could even continue with the show after that blow.

But Ms. Lanchester was more than a movie monster-ess.

Before her movie career, she was a cabaret performer. I have recordings.

To hear her saucily warble about “Fiji Fanny”, or the potential adventures “At the Drive In,” or to widen your eyes to the double entendres of “My New York Slip” and “I’m Glad to See Your Back” is…shall we say in that Old English way; monsterful.

She gives cheeky invitations; “If You Peek in My Gazebo” and “When a Lady Has a Piazza.” But be aware of her advice; “Never Go Walking Out Without Your Hat Pin.”

Yes, Ms. Lanchester implies she is imminently osculable, but her Cockney kiss may be followed by her knock-you-to-your-knees hiss.

Purging Fire Cures All

Movie night!

HORROR CASTLE aka THE VIRGIN OF NUREMBURG (1963) is tonight’s cinematic delight. It features the ubiquitous Christopher Lee and the constantly-backlit-in-her-negligee Rossana Podesta (even when the only source of light is the candlestick she holds in front of herself – I’m not complaining, you understand – but it defies the laws of physics).

Chris Lee is menacing and ruthless and dubbed in English for some unfathomable reason.

Ms. Podesta is best known for her work in various sword and sandal epics, especially HELEN OF TROY in which she allegedly beat out Elizabeth Taylor for the titular role.

I’m expecting this epic will end in a purging European fire as most of these giallos do. These euro-trash classics seem to feature Prometheus as their go-to deux in virtually every machina.

Sho ’nuff. It all goes up in flames and Mr. Lee bites the dust as usual. However, Ms. Podesta survives, perfectly coiffed, and ready for the next dim staircase.

I loved it.

Two-Fisted Noir…Japanese Style

<< Trains? Waterfront docks at night? Rain-slick shiny pavements under halo-sporting street lights? >>

Well sure.

Director Koreyoshi Kurahara’s 1957 criminous flick, I AM WAITING is on the menu tonight.

<< Black and white? Sweat-spraying boxing matches? Crinkly blue international postal envelopes? Cigarettes disdainfully lit by wooden matches which are then disdainfully flung into the sea? >>

Most certainly.

Yojiro Ishihara plays Joji, a promising young welterweight who’s been banned from boxing and now runs a diner while awaiting a summons from his brother to come to Brazil and be a farmer…a summons that never comes.

Guess you can kiss that dream goodbye.

Joji is boyish and kind, with fierce loyalty and a fiercer uppercut.

<< Bars? Pool halls (with billiards, no less)? Dice games? The most inept gunsel since Elijah Cook Jr. in THE MALTESE FALCON? >>

Why not?

Saeko (Mie Kitahara) is an opera singer whose voice has been damaged by illness and now can only sing in cabarets for gangsters.

Guess you can kiss that dream goodbye.

Saeko ponders suicide, but can be dissuaded with a warm bowl of soup.

<< Trench coats? Shoulder pads? Drunken, disgraced doctor? >>

Yes, yes, and yes.

The soundtrack of the film is clever and effective. A lugubrious shot of two feet walking in the dark is accompanied by a slow tuneful whistling by the walker. A tense moment in the diner is backed by a cheap radio on the bar playing Rossini.

Some of the shots are just as imaginative. The first sea change in Joji and Saeko’s relationship is a night scene between two completely black silhouettes against the water…two unhopeful but hoping clean slates trying to find each other. The same two searchers later challenge each other on long quayside concrete slants of separating levels. Will they ever connect?

<< Sleazy gangsters? Sleepy detectives Short-order cook who was a former ocean liner chef? >>

All the basic ingredients.

This was a tasty dish.

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.

Lucile Saint-Simon

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 (sic and deliberate) 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.