Lon Squared

Movie Night!

What, oh what could be more painful than watching Lon Chaney Jr. attempt to play a role in a movie? Undoubtedly, it’s watching him play two roles in the same movie, as painfully demonstrated in the 1935 oddity; A Scream in the Night.

He’s not the only problem;

  • It’s dingy.
  • It features the slowest-moving police inspector on the planet. You could be charitable and say he’s “inexorable” but no, he’s glacier-like. I can relate. It’s my personal default pace.
  • It features a parakeet who gives better line readings than any human actor in the flick. A parakeet.
  • It features Mr. Chaney playing a scene with himself – badly on both sides. At least, when he played the Larry Talbot/Wolfman combo (over and over), one of his characters simply slobbered, slaughtered, and neglected personal hygiene.

Peter Sellers did this better; Dr. Strangelove (1964). George Zucco did it better; Dead Men Walk (1943). Hell, Hayley Mills did it better; The Parent Trap (1961).

Curious and dreadful.

I of course loved it.

The Mask of Dimitrios

Movie night!

At the prompting of my erudite friend Walter Tunis, I watched TCM’s showing of Three Strangers (1946). While I wasn’t as taken with the film or Geraldine Fitzgerald’s performance as Eddie Muller, I was quite arrested by Joan Lorring’s portrayal of Icey.

And of course seeing Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet together again reminded me…

The Mask of Dimitrios (1944) features one of my favorite acting teams. Unlike Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers they don’t dance and sing. Unlike William Powell and Myrna Loy they are not rich and in love with each other. Unlike Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis they are not stupid.

Greenstreet and Lorre could not be more unlike. Nor could their differences be more delightful.

Greenstreet and Lorre don’t even appear together in the same scene in a movie sometimes Casablanca (1942) comes to mind. Lorre squirms, fawns, and dies in Rick’s Café Americaine long before we see Greenstreet fleecing foreigners and swatting flies (with similar personal involvement, I might point out) in the Blue Parrot.

In The Maltese Falcon (1941), Greenstreet; “…likes talking to a man who likes to talk…”, while Lorre complains; “…you’ll understand our conversations have not been such that I wish to continue them.” The chemistry between them is sizzling…like Oliver and Hardy…but with real bullets.

In Dimitrios, the bullets are indeed real. The stakes are sinister and high. The rooms are exquisite and bright, as are the wits. The stairs outside are dark and ominous, as are the intentions. The disgraced remain disgraced. The dead remain…or do they?

Frank Capra can stay home on this one. Ain’ no angels earnin’ wings ‘round these parts.

In these waters, Greenstreet and Lorre swim for their lives while criss-crossing Europe in sleeper cars, sipping champagne, and lookin’ fine in their threads.

If these two fine character actors are both in a flick, you can bet with confidence that the flick is gonna be interesting. The Mask of Dimitrios is exactly that.

I really like this one.

A Face in the Fog

Movie Night!

Another stroll through Poverty Row, the tawdry low-low-budget collection of film studios that probably were not the stuff of which dreams were made.

Tonight it’s Victory Pictures’ 1936 ludicrous The Face in the Fog – a great title.

The movie…not so much.

But it has its charms;

  • It features bullets made from frozen water. The bullets melt after doing their damage, destroying the evidence (brilliant!), but amazingly survive for hours in the killer’s pocket before they’re used (stupid!).
  • There’s a theatre company terrorized by a hunchbacked villain called “The Fiend.” Well of course there is.
  • It features the classic death scene line; “I recognized him. It was…agh-h-h-h-!”
  • Our hero (an obligatory and intrepid newspaper reporter, engaged to marry the obligatory social editor) has to race to his desk to retrieve his pistol and his snap-brim chapeau before he can “follow that car!”
  • Said hero-reporter is accompanied by an obligatory and comedic dumb photographer. People once built careers playing this stock character. All my actor friends sitting idle in these pandemic days should be weeping now.
  • Beautiful and plentiful shots of great shiny cars with running boards and exterior-mounted spare tires are major moments in the flick. I’m not a car guy but these are knockouts and probably a single man’s ticket home.

All that…

All that……

…and it’s still pretty silly.

…frozen bullets…

I loved it.

Dreamin’ on Poverty Row

Movie Night!

I’ve been watching a number of films made in the 1930’s by studios of which I’ve barely heard; Chesterfield, Invincible, Allied, Mayfair, Imperial-Cameo, et al. These were low-low-low-budget operations that I see described as “poverty row pictures”.

These films have flimsy sets. Sometimes rooms are simply indicated by a pool of light and a cloth background. Sometimes the sets (and the scripts) are recognizable as recycling efforts from other films (i.e. the village depicted in Chesterfield’s Condemned to Live looks remarkably like the village in The Bride of Frankenstein or Son of Frankenstein).

I suppose the costumes are cheap as well, but they look pretty sweet to me. People in these films dress for dinner. The ladies wear evening gowns and heels whether they’re night-clubbing or traipsing around secret caves with perfectly flat, dirt floors. The gents all wear sharp suits, ties, and snappy hats. And they know how to use their suits! These guys could say more with how they removed their hats than they possibly could with the cheesy dialogue they were probably given to memorize the morning of the shoot.

And cocktails! Ubiquitous at any occasion or time of day!! For any reason or no reason at all!!!

I’m thinkin’ I shoulda been around in the thirties workin’ at a speakeasy in a sharp suit, tie, and a snappy hat…crackin’ wise wit’ de clientele.

Fortunes coulda been made.

Sharp suits…

…snappy hats…

…secret caves…

…cheesy things to say…

…sigh.

A Recipe for Something Amazing

Movie night!

A week that began with Hamilton and a Constitutional Convention of dancing patriots staggers to Howard Vernon madly operating (literally) in Castle of the Creeping Flesh (1968).

Putting aside any false equivalencies one might be tempted to offer of good and bad (or, for that matter, good and evil), there’s no denying both experiences are…special.

But for the sake of true absurdity, let’s save the hip-hoppin’ Hamilton founding fathers for the legions of fans (count me in) and spend a few moments with the mad doctor behind the portcullis.

Sometimes all the elements of shockingly bad film-making fall into place and something amazing happens;

  • Start with lousy dialogue made worse by clumsy dubbing and then spruced up dizzyingly with mad quotes from Hamlet and King Lear.
  • Add Howard Vernon delivering yet another execrable mad doctor performance (Acting Tip #1; Marty Feldman eyes do not enliven deadpan line deliveries – believe me on this…I know).
  • Stir in Byzantine plot contrivances that only exist to laughably explain the mid-film introduction of medieval costumes in a film with automobiles.
  • Throw in a tedious sexy eating scene. Tedious. Sexy. Eating. Scene. How is such a thing even possible? Didn’t the director see Tom Jones?
  • Slip in a dash of explicit surgical harvesting of body parts for obscure recycling purposes.
  • Add a hint of a wax museum gallery from nowhere for no reason.
  • Also from nowhere and for no discernible reason, add a murderous bear.
  • Mix it all in soft-focus (artsy euphemism for “blurry”) flashbacks featuring way more bizarre sex in the straw than Goldfinger.
  • Grind in generous amounts of gratuitous gore and nudity at the drop of a bodice.
  • Add a gazillion pink candles (??).
  • And for the coup de grace; no ending…none…nada…zilch.

This and less constitutes Castle of the Creeping Flesh.

And what, pray tell, is the “something amazing” that happens?

Well, aficionados, this film is STILL not as bad as Manos, Hand of Fate.

Did I mention there’s a bear?

Return of the Witch

Movie night!

Uh…This’ll be quick.

FINNISH HORROR FLICKS OF THE FIFTIES.

I may write the definitive book of that title. It’ll take about fifteen minutes. I think there were two.

Tonight I’m watching one of them; Noita Palaa Elemaan (no need to buy a vowel there). The English title is Return of the Witch (I’m thinkin’ something may have been lost in the translation).

My friend Joe would give this a “thumbs-up” – much sheer, back-lit fabric, when there’s any fabric at all. But he’s a one-issue voter. Aside from the titillation factor, there’s not much here – not even a Helsinki-stompin’ monster.

I may pass on completing my survey of Finnish films.

…an unfinished Finn film fest…

Se on liian huono.

And hard to say!

A Ghost of Canine Past

Dogs.

We don’t deserve ‘em.

And we can’t forget ‘em.

Before Chloe, the Queen of Facial Debris, bounded, crashed, shook like Southern California, and howled like a banshee into our lives, there was a predecessor.

She left us before this blog commenced. That’s not fair. She should be part of this foolishness.

Please indulge me.

Lilly was a pup of many, mostly odd, parts. From the racing stripe on her nose to the tightly curled tail and in between with the bow legs, bat ears, and a galaxy of speckles – the ingredients invited the constant query; “What kind of dog is she?” Our answer would vary. “She’s a pan-mixian” or “She’s a custom blend”. You get the idea. The answer was simpler when it was just Janie and me and Lilly in the room and the question was posed; “She’s a good dog.” It was a true answer and one that accurately summed the total of Lil’s aspirations.

She was a dog of several titles. She was the Princess-of-Providence-Road, the Bane-of-Lawn-Care-Trailers, the “Great Speckled Pup” (she would roll her eyes in embarrassment) and of course to every child just learning to speak she was the Cute-Little-Doggie (she really hated that one). She even had a stage name, Miss Lillian Smackerbutt, though the actual stage career never materialized – the world’s loss there.

I was lucky enough to be with her at magical times.

One afternoon I unleashed her on the old rugby field at UK and stood amazed as she turned that grassy meadow into the Bonneville Salt Flats. I swear I heard a sonic boom. She was so very fast and so very pleased with herself.

I was with her on many of her epic vole hunts, including the day she made one fly over six feet up in the air. It gave the poor vole a moment of stratospheric (for a vole) glory before it plunged to its doom.

Lil and I had a never-resolved 15-year debate on the subject of what constituted “food” and what was “non-food”. She was radically more liberal and inclusive than I on the subject.

She had strong cinematic opinions (her avocation) and a complete and total devotion to Janie (her official occupation).

I could write a book.

But it’s simpler than that.

She was a good dog and a better friend.

Mission accomplished.

Geezer Survey

A friend of mine had an epiphany recently. He dolefully claims he now knows he’s a codger. He’s a smart guy who’s picking up on the hints; knee replacement, triple bypass …the mirror in his bathroom.

Good for him for being so perceptive.

What about the rest of us? How will we know when codgerdom assumes control?

I see all these surveys on Facebook and what they promise to tell me about myself. No disrespect, but I don’ need no stinkin’ surveys, especially ones powered by my birth month and the first letter of my second dog’s name.

I can make my own survey.

Here is a Lexington Geezer Survey and I invite you to take it. If you do, I’ll be happy to evaluate your response using the same scientific protocols currently being used to determine charge/blocking calls in college basketball – I’ll guess wildly.

Be honest now…because…well…why not?

Also feel very free to relate stories, rationales, and/or pertinent limericks to enhance your response.

Seriously, you don’t really have to be honest about this nonsense…because…well…who cares? And nobody’s fact-checking.

Lexington Geezers, here’s your chance to demonstrate if you’re a real “Nighthawk Special” or merely a “Tabletopper” (extra credit for understanding those references).

Here goes;

  1. Just to get it out of the way right away and establish a base line; choose – Ginger or Mary Ann?
  2. It’s 2am Sunday morning and you’ve dropped off your date; choose – Jerry’s on North Broadway or Southland Drive?
  3. More nuanced questions; choose – Warner Oland or Sidney Toler? Sean Connery or Daniel Craig?
  4. The Ben Ali or the Strand?
  5. The best Felix Leiter; choose – Norman Burton, Bernie Casey, David Hedison, Cec Linder, Jack Lord, Rik Van Nutter, or Jeffrey Wright? Good grief!
  6. Did you ever attempt the “Steak for Two” at Columbia’s by yourself? How many drinks do you remember having had that evening?
  7. The best Bond girl; choose – Ursula Andress, Daniela Bianchi, or Ursula Andress…or Ursula Andress?
  8. Artie Kay or Billy Love?
  9. The Torqués, the Mag 7…or…the Mercy Men?
  10. And for more extra credit – a) Did you ever get a 9-cent banana split from those balloons at Woolworth’s? And b) Do you think they really existed? If you answered yes to “a”, I hate you. If you answered yes to “b”, I have a bridge I’d like sell you.

Knock yourself out!

Or should I say; “Sock it to me!”

Avoiding Covid Nightmares

I have a friend who loves movies, but was forbidden horror flicks as a child by parental decree. As an adult, he has always been a busy, busy guy; works hard (and a lot) and plays just as hard (and yes, a lot).

At least he did.

Ol’ Mr. Covid has him workin’ from home these days and nights, hidin’ his face, and checkin’ the TV guide.

Now, his age having earned him his Most-At-Risk achievement badge, and having burned through most of Netflix, he was thinking of finally dipping his toe into the horror movie pool (provided he be assured of getting his toe back).

He knew of my fascination with awful films (content and competence) and asked if I might suggest a sampler of gruesome cinema.

Oh…I might…I very well might……and I did.

I suggested a double feature with a lagniappe.

I would start by queuing up Manos, Hand of Fate (1966) and setting a timer for two minutes. That’s all you need. It’s kinda like most of the songs in “Phantom of the Opera” – the same six words rolled around forever in various permutations. Don’t get me wrong, Manos is a truly, deeply, greatly, lousy film and well deserving of every ugly thing that’s been said about it. However, even loving it as I do, two minutes is plenty. It justifies all the parental decrees against horror films and validates the reverence you feel for your folks.

Then I suggested The House of Usher (1960). It’s a Roger Corman effort; safe, distant, costumed from another time, featuring moonlit seas and a castle, dark and looming. In short, a solid horror film vocabulary, but nothing too close to home to keep you up at night. However, the Richard Matheson script is scary. The performers? Well, Mark Damon is a total cypher, but Vincent Price’s hair is to die for, and someone may.

My main feature for the evening would be a Hammer Dracula flick; The Scars of Dracula (1970). It’s not my favorite Hammer Drac but it contains all the basic food groups; bright crimson blood, buxom babe, blood, strange dental work, blood, foolish old man, blood, Michael Ripper, blood, Chris Lee, blood, and blood. Yum-m-m-m-m! Even if you hate it, you’ll be able to go through life saying you’ve seen a Hammer Dracula. And again, nothing too close to home to disturb your sheltering-at-home slumber.

Now, that’s an awful night.

Thanks fer askin’.

It’s The Angry Red Planet for me tonight. It’ll be a great escape from the angry blue planet I’m currently on.

Wrong for 99 Years!

Movie Night!

In my teens and twenties, I rarely saw any footage of silent pictures and when I did it was painful to watch. The flickering, herky-jerky movement of the film made me physically flinch and filled me with pity for my grandparents who would have had to watch these abominations. Because of those flickering images, I doubt if I ever watched more than two minutes of any silent film until I was in my fifties. How was I to know that what I was seeing was not correct?

I owe Turner Classic Movies for so much. Maybe the greatest debt is for giving me silent films at the correct speed.

I watched The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a 1921 epic (no sarcasm here – epic is accurate) directed by Rex Ingram and starring Rudolf Valentino and featuring the father of Gilligan’s Skipper Alan Hale in a major role. Yes, it’s necessary to wade through some acting styles that are not of our time (hoo boy!), but this is a powerful and well-told story of the horror and ultimate folly of war. I wonder if the final scene of Saving Private Ryan wasn’t inspired by the final scene in Four Horsemen.

Thank you again TCM.