Tag Archives: Jacques Tourneur

Casting the Runes

We live in a golden age of things to watch.

There’s the addictive Trump Reality Show broadcast 24/7/365 by CNN, MNBC, and Faux News.

HBO, Netflix, Amazon, etc. are producing their own wonders.

The Oscars might have suffered a decrease in viewers, but THE SHAPE OF WATER deserved every good thing that has come its way. When Sally Hawkins offered that egg to her new amphibian friend I was filled with wonder and trepidation.

That being so, why spend time on 40-50 year-old film adaptations of 100 year-old ghost stories?

Perhaps, because at times they also fill me with wonder and trepidation.

The ghost stories of M. R. James are erudite, they are a luxurious read, and if read thoughtfully, they are scary as hell.

Page-turners? No.

Sleep disturbers? Oh-h-h-h, yeah.

Two of his stories; “O’ Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” and “Casting the Runes” are not only effective as stories but seem particularly useful for film treatment.

The multiple times I’ve watched the 1968 BBC Omnibus production of “O’ Whistle” featuring a remarkable performance by Michael Hordern (mumbling, insular, soaked in intellectual hubris), unseat my ease every time.

Jacques Tourneur directed CURSE OF THE DEMON (1957) based on James’ “Casting the Runes”. I am unabashedly of the legions of film fanatics that revere Tourneur’s work with producer Val Lewton; CAT PEOPLE, THE LEOPARD MAN, and I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE.

<<  Let’s take a quick time-out here. I hear the snickering over I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE. You could not be more wrong. It’s a voodoo rendering of JANE EYRE and totally mesmerizing to watch…though, admittedly the appearance of Sir Lancelot, a calypso troubadour is a head-scratcher.  >>

Tourneur’s treatment of James’ story is not faithful, but who cares? Dana Andrews captures our interest and sympathy. We tag along breathlessly as he un-puzzles the situation. Niall MacGinnis is charmingly and gleefully evil. I would considered it a life well-lived if I never met the man. Séances, mysterious storms, hypnotism, curses on parchment, trains, planes, and automobiles in Britain – what’s not to like?

Thanks to my receiving another box of delights today from my friends at Sinister Cinema, tonight I watched a 1979 British TV production of “Casting the Runes” featuring Iain Cuthbertson and Jan Francis. Once again the adaptation is loose, but once again, who cares? The premise is plausible, the threat is real, the mechanisms are eminently difficult but doable…and the outcome is troubling. I’d call that; “mission accomplished”.

As loose as these adaptations are and as gifted as the adapters are, I can’t help thinking if the original story had not been so very fine…

Perhaps one more mosey through the M. R. James canon might be in order.

Scoff Not!

Movie night!

You’ve been waiting for this.

Well, here it is; CURSE OF THE DEMON (1957).

I hear scoffing.

Scoff not.

This is a lively and relatively scary flick. Oh, I grant the actual sight of the monster at the end of the flick is unnecessary and pretty cheesy, but all the subplots, setup and framing are pretty intriguing.

Plus, it’s directed by Jacques Tourneur. Most of us know and revere Mr. Tourneur’s work with producer Val Lewton. Films such as;

  • CAT PEOPLE. This is the original with the Simone Simon, the sexiest fully-clothed actress I know. This is a movie that did not have to be remade. They got it right the first time. The swimming pool scene is terrifying, yet… I better stop there – talk about a spoiler alert.
  • THE LEOPARD MAN. The scene walking from streetlight to streetlight is exquisite.
  • I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE. I hear more scoffing at the title. Stop it. Now. You could not be more wrong. This is a voodoo rendering of JANE EYRE and mesmerizing to watch. (Though the appearance of Sir Lancelot, the calypso troubadour is a bit incomprehensible).

Mr. Tourneur also directed the noir classic OUT OF THE PAST with Robert Mitchum. That alone is cred for a lifetime.

Tonight’s flick features a fine, plausible performance by Dana Andrews and a very nice turn by Niall MacGinnis. MacGinnis will always have warm place in my heart for his performances as “Zeus” in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (God bless those sword-slingin’ skeletons) and “Friar Tuck” in SWORD OF SHERWOOD FOREST (any friend of Robin Hood…).

CURSE OF THE DEMON – it has séances, mysterious storms, hypnotism, curses written on parchment, trains, planes and automobiles in Britain. All the basic food groups.

Scoff not! Lest…