Mummy Dearest

DATELINE:   Tut-Tut!

Mummy Dearest Karloff!

Of the Quartet of Classic Horror from the early 1930s, the fourth entry in the series is often relegated to the bottom tier. The Mummy follows the legendary Frankenstein, Dracula, and Invisible Man. But he is no also-ran.

Unfortunately for him, we learn in the first few minutes of the 1933 film that the mummy is actually a misnomer. He is not mummified at all, having been buried alive.

So much for false advertising.

Beyond that, we have a whale of a movie—not James Whale: the director was famous cinematographer Karl Freund in his first directing effort.

As star Lita Johann said, he was a nasty guy—to her. Exotic star Lita was married later to John Houseman (Professor Kingsfield to you). Whatever he did to her during their 23-days of filming, she is marvelous as the reincarnation of a Pharaoh’s daughter.

As for Karloff, what can you say? He is so tall in his scenes, we think he was wearing lifts under his rakish robes. He looks like a bag of fragile bones, as the mummy-come-to-life.  His face is dustier and has more riles than a Moon crater as he plays Im-Ho-Tep (not to be confused with IHOP).

The biggest special effect is Karloff’s eyes, which is impressive indeed.

Scenes of a second unit, or stock footage, of Egypt, surely gives us a sense of the pre-Howard Carter King Tut world. And, audiences in the 1930s knew what a mummy’s curse was, which is played to the hilt.

The climactic scene is when the Mummy relates his unfortunate murder by the Pharaoh’s men. Juicy and grotesque horror!

As a love story, this is thriller covers 3700 years and incantations about the dead, which transcend undying love.

What a treat.

 

 

Art & Neon

DATELINE:  Hitch Loved Neon

 Neon Novak Novak in Neon!

An Australian film, Neon may seem like a subject hardly worthy of excitement. When some of the interviewees talk about the colored gas lights, you begin to think they need to get a life.

Neon, of course, defines American business, urban life, and a change in American perspective. Once you realize that the invention and adoption of neon lights in American business altered the landscape of the nation, you begin to recognize how special it is.

Not surprisingly, once again Nikola Tesla enters the picture as one of the prime inventors of neon light, but he never patented it, nor made a nickel off the product. Patent fights centered over a Frenchman who produced lights first stunning Paris.

Though the United States featured several World Fairs with cities of lights in the 19th century, the notion of neon changed the life of urban America when it seemed to debut and spread over Broadway and Manhattan in the 1920s.

Neon’s bright and jazzy colors and motion brought forth a new nocturnal culture. And, it was immediately picked up as a motif in movies, first in musicals and as a flashy jazz parallel. Only later did it turn dark with film noir—and then color noir.

Neon captivated movies. Indeed, Hitchcock loved to use neon—in his great movies like Psycho (that alluring Bates Motel) and as the garish green ghost of Kim Novak in Vertigo.

Las Vegas is where the light-scale went bonkers in the years after World War II. Nothing could compare to the garish, commercial call. Yet, the images of flashing logos became landmarks, not just sales gimmicks.

The film presents an array of magnificent shots of glowing neon signs and streets across the world.

Only when neon began its inevitable fade to black did artists and museums realize it needed preservation. As an expensive means of communication, it now seems to be finding homes in art refugee centers. However, mammoth chunks of 90 feet of neon is not conducive to indoor display.

The film turns elegiac when neon starts to lose the battle with time and timeliness. At least a movie like this will allow future viewers to see what magnificence it truly inspired.

 

 

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

DATELINE: Movies Imitate Life

Film Stars Film Stars!

The tragic and sensitive final days of Oscar-winning actress Gloria Grahame make for an ironic version of Sunset Boulevard, without the cynicism and cruel take on Hollywood.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is the antidote to all those anti-Hollywood movies. Yet, its story is the pathetic truth about an aging film star who spent her last days with a younger man. Gloria is no deluded Norma Desmond, and Jamie Bell’s Peter is no reluctant William Holden.

With Anette Bening in form as the pouty Grahame in her failing days, the film has at its core a rather pathetic love story.  Peter Turner was a young British actor who was Gloria’s last companion. Bening certainly eschews vanity playing a woman with cancer and fighting the clock.

Jamie Bell returns to his roots as a British working-class boy with a show biz heart as Peter. He dances too like Billy Elliott, and Bell’s charm remains in full blossom. Their love story may strain credulity among many but has the world of actors all over it.

As an aging ingenue with a scandalous past, Gloria still wants to play Juliet for the Royal Shakespeare Company, however improbable. Bell and Bening have definite chemistry, even as they attend the movies on a date to see Alien.

Your Hollywood gossip reference level will be satisfied with enough detail to titillate.

Supporting Bening and Bell, you cannot do better than Julie Walters as the Liverpool mother and Vanessa Redgrave as Gloria’s mother.

With clips of the young luminous Gloria in her heyday, the film plays on echoes on the past.  Gloria won her Oscar as support to Kirk Douglas and Lana Turner in The Bad and the Beautiful, another classic Hollywood tale.

Elegiac movies often sink into sentiment and nostalgia, but this film keeps its head up throughout. Forget about happy endings. They only happened in the old movies.

Small Time Crime, Cheap

DATELINE: Big Town Movie

small town crime Superior Entertainment!

Billed as a darkly comic crime drama, we had visions of billboards along a highway with Oscar performances.

On top of that, this would-be up-dated film noir movie was being streamed for less than a dollar. If you want to convince people you have a bad movie, that will go a long way to achieving the effect.

Small Town Crime, whatever its price, is actually an interesting movie. Not quite an all-star cast, it has many familiar faces and highly competent actors who give us a detective story with a twist of lemon.

We failed to see any dark humor in an alcoholic policeman thrown off the force and desperately trying to solve a murder as a civilian to win back his job. John Hawkes looks even more weather-beaten and exhausted than Robert Mitchum or Humphrey Bogart in the role of laconic dick.

Slowly, as he recovers from his alcoholic haze, he seems to become the reformed detective he wishes he could be.

We were thrilled to see Octavia Spencer as star and producer. Add Anthony Anderson, Robert Forster, and Clifton Collins, and you have a cast worth watching. The good guys are delightful when they form their alliance. And who would not want to team up Clifton Collins and Robert Forster?

To reform his reputation and act the role of a hero, disgraced detective Mike Kendall (Hawkes) must go through the usual physical pains along the way. This is first-rate noir, even in color and mostly during the day in Utah where setting is suitably empty with beauty and sordid with criminals.

The film builds to its climax and grows in its appeal as a thriller.

 

 

LeCarre’s Deadly Affair

DATELINE:  Cold War Spies

Serpentine dinner

When Sydney Lumet could not use the original name of George Smiley for his spy from the famous book, he came up with Dobbs. However, the man playing Dobbs was the always-brilliant James Mason. He was Smiley in any other name in The Deadly Affair.

As a spy mystery, this movie is the epitome of sophisticated and intelligent drama in the 1960s, down to the Astrid Gilberto theme song.

Few movies would feature a background scene of Macbeth as put on by the Royal Shakespeare Theatre as part of the plot. There you’d find a quite young Georgy Girl, Lynn Redgrave, before she teamed up with Mason again in her breakthrough role.

Harry Andrews and Kenneth Haigh provide solid support as allies to Mason’s disgruntled, cold spy who learns a man he interviewed pleasantly as a routine security check was not happy and committed suicide shortly thereafter. He is suspicious, rightfully.

Simone Signoret is right off the boat of Ship of Fools, and Maximilian Schell out of Judgment at Nuremberg. You have here something special in the litany of suspects.

John Dimech, one of the young stars of Lawrence of Arabia, made a small appearance here as a waiter at the Serpentine Restaurant. It was a swan song to a promising movie career.

Back then, this was the antidote to James Bond special effects and glamour. It is full of sound and fury signifying ennui.

The script has a couple of glorious hoots among the angst of the characters. It is, after all, vintage John LeCarre and a dandy spy mystery.

 

 

 

Will the Real Bill Belichick Please Stand UP?

DATELINE:  It’s Badenov, Oddjob!

 Boris Badenov Belichick Oddjob

First, it was Boris Badenov. Then, it was Oddjob. Now it’s even worse: Bill Belichick has gone blackhat.

Rats are now departing the sinking ship of S.S. Philly Eagles.

Not one mouse could deal with the image of the man who made fame in cut-off sweat shirts appearing like the pall-bearer for the underdogs of football.

The Eagle has not landed. It’s been grounded.

When Bill Belichick, of hoodie fame, donned a Fedora and black suit when he deplaned the Kraft One Jet, augurs went bonkers.

Magnetic north has shifted. Oddsmakers are scurrying for cover.

Not since the Corleone family flew into Vegas has there been such a fashion statement.

You know the villain always wears the black hat, but the film noir world just found its new Robert Mitchum—and he is the man holding all the cards and likely carrying a concealed weapon under his coat.

Frostbite Falls just went into heart seizure. The Super Bowl has just become the Super Bowler. Oddjob worked for Goldfinger and wore a Fedora with a steel-lined brim.

People are prepared to duck if Belichick throws his hat into the Super Bowl ring.

Frostbite Falls, Minnesota, has not seen a Fedora like this since Bullwinkle battled Boris Badenuv on the Rocky Show.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Brady’s Five Finger Exercise

DATELINE:  New England Patriot Horror Movie

hands

Let the hand-wringing begin.

No one can shake Tom Brady’s hand this week. If it ain’t broke, can he play with all fingers?

When the Patriots called for all hands on deck during practice on Wednesday, the hand of Tom Brady was among the missing. Usually he keeps his pitching mitt in his cozy hand warmer, but this week it has been a specimen under observation by the greatest medical minds the Kraft family can find.

The handicraft of Tom Brady may be in jeopardy.

Like the hands of a stranger, Brady’s hand is like an alien creature being tested for performance enhancing capabilities. We want to hold his hand like a Beatle, but his circulation could be at risk.

Glad-handers among the media have dismissed the notion that the Patriots needed a Handiwipe to keep the Pats from falling into Trump’s s**thole.

Reports circulate that Handsome Tom Brady has been unable to give hand signals when he drives his Astin-Martin, and his hand gestures have been limited to the usual Trump vocabulary.

After a freak accident, the freakish Brady’s hand no longer can grip a football. It may be time for a hand-me-down to the next quarterback on the roster. Yikes.

We can count the chances for Patriot victory on Sunday on one hand if Tom Brady is not handy.

If Tom can’t get a handle on the ball Sunday, TV ratings will be handed off like a fat woman pouring coffee on her  bosom as in the commercial for DirecTV.

The Patriots will lose hands down if Tom Brady must handoff to Brian Hoyer.

Don’t ask the Patriots for a show of hands.

The Jacksonville Jaguars may prove to be more than a handful.

We are unsure of the Patriots will be able to get a hand on another victory this season if the ball slips out of Brady’s hand.

From Sunset Boulevard to New England

DATELINE: Gloria Swanson’s Late Career as Artist

swanson4

This year’s holiday treat was to discover a 1974 painting done by legendary screen actress Gloria Swanson, hanging in the parlor not far from our Thanksgiving dinner table.

If you recall, Miss Swanson made one of the all-time comebacks in movies when she starred in 1950 with William Holden in Billy Wilder’s classic tale of Gothic Hollywood, called Sunset Boulevard.

Her final scene remains chilling and pathetic, as she descends the grand staircase of her old Hollywood Hills home in final madness and tells the director, “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.”

swanson2

Who knew that nearly 25 years later, Norma Desmond was painting acrylic oil scenes as a hobby?

We encountered her 1974 rendition of an old, faded gray barn on this holiday 43 years after she painted it, hanging proudly in the home of an art collector and movie fan where we enjoyed an invitation to dinner.

How intriguing that the creative juices of Swanson, a macrobiotic diet advocate, emerged from this sad landscape. It is a giant picture, three feet in height and four feet across. The colors are muted, like a silent movie depiction.

Dilapidated in the snow, fallen in disrepair and probable despair, the old barn stands proudly alone. Its carriage door is ajar, broken open, letting whatever creature wanders by to enter its cold and empty interior.

It seemed to us to be a place along the “Road Not Taken,” that lovely poem by Robert Frost who lived a few miles away in New Hampshire. Miss Swanson presents us with a scene that comes right of out Thornton Wilder’s Our Town (which was also set a few miles away, in fictional Grover’s Corners).

Miss Swanson’s picture, painted while she lived in New York, a dozen years before she passed away, now has a special place in the home of a long-time fan. We think she would be happy to hear how much this work from the last days of her life, largely unknown, is appreciated.

We felt privileged to stand before it to reflect on life and the passage of time.

Five Fingers: James Mason Chooses the Right One

DATELINE: Classic Spy Drama

crossed Mason

What a joy to re-discover one of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s forgotten masterpieces!

Five Fingers came in-between so many other, better remembered films like The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, All About Eve, and the Barefoot Contessa. In 1952, Mank went to Turkey to film the true story of World War II’s notorious spy who sold info to the Nazis. The Germans called him Cicero and were forced to pay him an exorbitant sum for his services, but distrusted him.

Bernard Herrmann supplied the music score.

Once again, Mank assembled the best actors: James Mason, Michael Rennie, and Danielle Darrieux. He had an ear and eye for top-quality British actors.

The Nazis think Mason is one of those arrogant members of the aristocracy. They know the type. In fact, Cicero is the valet to the British ambassador, a brilliant man who states: “The only thing that disgusts me is poverty.” When the head of British intelligence calls him the worst piece of trash, Mason shrugs: “I rather thought I looked like a gentleman.”

Only Mason can deliver lines with aplomb—and Mank gives him plenty of hilarious, cynical throwaways. Mason chews up great dialogue with a voracious appetite for screen fame. His inflections cannot be repeated by anyone.

Mason’s spy is not James Bond, but he makes mincemeat of Nazis and British authorities as he ultimately outsmarts them—his poverty-stricken countess partner and himself.

As a poor cabin boy, Mason’s Cicero once saw a man in a white dinner jacket, high up on his villa’s balcony overlooking the ocean. He was laughing hilariously. It is only at the end of the film, when Mason becomes the embodiment of his boyhood dream, do we find the biting irony of it.

What a movie!

 

Making of a Shower Scene: 78/52

DATELINE:  Psycho Freshly Showered

78:52

A documentary about one of the most influential films of the 20th century may be simple and surprising. After all, how much can you say about about 2 minutes of a shower scene in Psycho? There were 78 set ups and 52 cuts, making for the title.

The title numbers refer to the numbers Alfred Hitchcock needed to create the horror of a notorious film murder.

You will be definitely surprised at what you learn here. Out of the entire movie, the impact can be boiled down to Hitchcock’s brilliant construction of this scene that brought a culture to a turning point, created a slasher genre, and has become endemic to horror and fate.

The film gathers together a group of interested parties who seem to be at some seedy hotel, their comments filmed in black and white, appropriately enough.

Oh, there are enough clips of Hitchcock speaking for himself: but the film also finds the body double of Janet Leigh, now an old lady, who for seven days, endured the shower scene’s filming. Marli Renfro also was a Playboy bunny cover girl.

Also gathered are various film editors, sound editors, and directors to comment on the script, storyboard, and constraints offered by Hitch.

The film also interviews Osgood Perkins, son of Anthony Perkins, and Jamie Leigh Curtis, daughter of Janet Leigh. As a bonus, there is a montage of the many satiric and homage film clips to the most infamous shower scene in movie history.

You will be impressed by the details that the Master of Suspense considered while making this sequence, down to the selection of the painting over the Peeping Tom hole made by Norman Bates to watch Marion Crane.

For those interested in history and art, this film is quintessential Hitchcock to be added to your knowledge and collection.

 

Be sure to read ebook Hitchcock Freshly Showered for a study of the complete oeuvre of Hitch. For smart readers on Amazon.

Broken John Garfield in The Breaking Point

DATELINE:  Lost & Forgotten Movies

Garfield

Of the legendary Blacklist victims of old Hollywood, one of the most tragic is actor John Garfield, a star not much thought of nowadays. He died too young, but he would have been even bigger before another decade passed if only he had lived.

He had a career often playing tough guys with a conscience, often in socially redeeming movies. Clifford Odets wrote Golden Boy for him, but he never played it. Elia Kazan was a buddy, but never directed him. Garfield’s last role, before he was forced off the screen in 1951, was The Breaking Point, based on an Ernest Hemingway tale.

As you might expect, Garfield played an independent owner of a small fishing boat that rented out to corrupt businessmen on holiday.

Needing money, Garfield’s character succumbs to dealing in human contraband, bringing illegal aliens into the United States from Mexico. The story almost seems ripped from present-day headlines.

Featuring Juano Hernandez as his partner, a daring cross-color friendship in the middle of the McCarthy era, Garfield’s hero must deal with temptations of corruption. Patricia Neal, in her blonde vamp role, is hard-hearted nemesis, tempting the hero from his wife.

Garfield suffered from a rheumatic heart in the days before medications and procedures—and yet he often played the action hero. Throw in the stresses he suffered personally from the House on Un-American Activities, and you have a shortened life.

The film treads on noir ground, and it plays as cultural realism too. It seems a contradiction coming from the macho-Hemingway mode, but this is a tale of honor with filmmakers who wanted to be relevant as well as entertaining.

Today The Breaking Point stands as a movie way ahead of its time.

 

 

Holmesian Logic Applied to the Las Vegas Shooter

DATELINE: The Third Man or Stephen Paddock?

Welles as Third Man Welles as Harry Lime

A few friends have asked us to apply Sherlockian logic to the Las Vegas shooter case that has baffled so many people—and confounded police.

Authorities find Stephen Paddock a conundrum that defies profiles created by criminologists.

We deduce, first of all, that investigators have been probing deeply beyond obvious facts. The obvious often is deceptive and will mislead investigators.

After all, it was Sherlock Holmes who famously said that you need to eliminate all the impossible factors—and whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

We must ask ourselves, what is served by misery, violence, and fear?

Paddock’s actions justify a private revenge, making his secrets all the more imponderable.

So, what can we deduce about the man who had millions of dollars from life as a high roller? He was confident in the risks and his odds of beating them.

Paddock was a fugitive from the law of averages.

This was an angry man who felt disrespected by society, despite his success as a gambler. He felt his status as an older, white male gave him no advantage in terms of respectability. As the sands of life passed by, he was dissatisfied with his lot. He hated time. It was cheating him.

Over the years, he found the ease of beating the system put him above law and society. He won millions of dollars by playing games against those he felt were dolts of society.

Paddock mistrusted other people—and had no need for their assistance. He worked alone in his problem-solving. People were manipulated to serve his own goals.

Paddock was a coward. He could not face the people he loathed—those who found happiness in simple living. He preferred the edginess of risk-taking. Thus, like infamous fictional killer Harry Lime, he took up a high position to commit his crime.

If you recall, Lime looked down on people from the perspective of a Ferris-wheel where his victims looked like “dots.” The film is The Third Man. It was easy to dehumanize those who would die if they are merely squirming dots in a dark night.

The armaments at his crime scene suggest he knew this could be a “glorious” Waterloo for him, but the use of cameras indicate he planned for the possibility to beat the law of averages to kill again.

Nick Ray’s Auspicious We Live By Night

DATELINE:  Trite Rises to Fascinating

They Live

Though it may sound like a sequel to the Twilight vampire stories, the 1949 film noir They Live by Night is important as a marker of the start of director Nicholas Ray’s career.

As one of the new wave of Hollywood figures in the post-war years under Dore Schary, They Live by Night has an impressive pedigree: John Houseman produced it and gave Ray on location camera angles that must have been striking in their day.

Ray could direct both sensitive young men types and older tough guys were equal power. Actors repeated showing up in his films because he gave them memorable roles. His young men ran the gamut from James Dean’s rebel and John Derek’s ghetto thug to Farley Granger in this picture.

No one ever again filmed Granger with such adoring and flattering care. Farley’s two Hitchcock movies, well known Rope and Strangers on a Train, used the actor effectively as stalwart character of moral duplicity, not innocent victim of fate.

Ray directed his life with more elan in later years—and his films remained archetypal, but less powerful.

Cathy O’Donnell and Granger are bland, sweet young people crushed by the societal forces that put them into a crime world.

The film is less interesting as a story (adapted by Ray himself) and less compelling than his next films, Bogart’s two classics (In a Lonely Place, Knock on Any Door).

If there is another reason to watch, it is familiar faced, ugly actor Jay C. Flippen, whose roles as menacing villain and paternal pal dominated the 1950s.

flippenJay C. Flippen

Lady in the Lake: Under Water, but Not All Wet

DATELINE:  Hard-Boiled School of Detectives

Marlowe:Montgomery

You have to enjoy a murder mystery that is set on Christmas and begins with a potpourri of carols to set the mood. We laughed all too hard during the opening scenes: it’s witty, sharp, and clever. Lady in the Lake is a classic.

The Raymond Chandler story was directed by Robert Montgomery in 1946 with the star also briefly in front of the camera. Mostly, he narrates, keeping his face out of the limelight.

Lady in the Lake is quite inventive and will leave you quite impressed with Montgomery’s dry and cynical comments. However, this style tends to undercut the film noir aspect, as it is studio-bound.

Director Montgomery also suffers from low budget-it is that makes his original murder tale cut too many corners. We never make it to the lake to see the lady fished out, only hear about it. Yet, the quick pace will surprise you.

That too is part of the first-eye view of the film: we see only what detective Philip Marlowe sees—and characters look directly into the camera frequently as they talk to Montgomery. It is diverting and intriguing. Alas, the mystery itself is not clever enough to fit the film’s technique.

Cast is uniformly superb, especially Audrey Totter as the femme fatale, Leon Ames as her boss, owner of a lurid crime publication, and Lloyd Nolan as a dubious cop.

We must confess that light-leading man Robert Montgomery is not as tough as the Marlowes of Bogart and Mitchum, but his dry and cynical wit is hard-nosed enough to cause other characters to give him a sock in the nose more than once.

You will fondly remember Lady in the Lake for its originality and dark humor.

Farewell, My Lovely Film Noir

DATELINE:  In with a Bang

mitchum

One of the last of the great film noir in the classic tradition came out in 1975 with Robert Mitchum, one of the last dinosaurs of the original movement. This is called Farewell, My Lovely.

Based on Raymond Chandler’s Murder, My Sweet, the latest incarnation of the tale and character of detective Philip Marlowe has all the world-weary cynicism you’d have expected from Humphrey Bogart

Mitchum’s voice-over is so dry it will crack your lips.

You might think film noir cannot possibly be faithful with full color, but the production is so murky and neon with night that it might as well be inky grayscale.

To top it off, there is Charlotte Rampling looking for all the world like Lauren Bacall, seductive and untrustworthy match for Mitchum.

This time, the language and sexual situations are so modern that they defy anything that the 1940s created. Yet, it all fits, down to the hard-bitten police detective played by the marvelous John Ireland.

Poor Marlowe is shot at, slapped, drugged, kidnapped, and drinking up a storm. Indeed, one of the delightful goons is none other than a young stud, Sylvester Stallone, along for a hoot. The plot has more confused suspects than a month of Murder, She Wrote.

The dialogue is delicious. The murders are abundant, and the entire sense of corruption is so outrageous as to become entertaining.

Mitchum is not quite 60 in this film, but still has the tough guy in full throttle still under his belt. When he dons the trench coat, you may well squeal with delight.

What a movie!