Bela Lugosi’s Death Kiss

No Deadly Kiss from Bela Lugosi

Only rarely do we have a chance to see or to review a Poverty Row movie from 1932 that stars Bela Lugosi.  Death Kiss was made on the heels of Dracula. (1931) and provided the cast to reunite and play it for laughs.

Death Kiss starts out like a house afire. Its opening scene is well-produced and puts a movie within a movie. The star is shot to death in pivotal scene while on the sound stage. It seems real enough.

The film released 90 years ago, almost to the day, features colorized, tinted scenes. That alone was intriguing enough to want to watch a bad murder mystery.

Lugosi is a studio manager working under a bad impression of L. B. Mayer in New York Yiddish accent. The studio novelist/writer thinks he is Angela Lansbury, but acts like a supercilious Hercule. He is insufferable, as played by David Manners.

On top of interfering with inept Los Angeles police (how things never change), he is having an affair with the leading lady who is prime suspect as the ex-wife of the victim who is in for an insurance wind-fall.

Adrienne Ames is stunning in the movie star role. Her B-movie career was short and she died young, but she is highly watchable here.

Lugosi telegraphs villainy at every step. Indeed, he seems to be the shadowy killer in at least one scene where he can identified. He is the tallest member of the cast, imperiously straight-backed.

The film progressively deteriorates, but does end with a surprise or two. As far as the color tints are concerned, it was a weird experiment to say the least. It is minor and pointless.

John le Carré’s Cold Spy Diamonds

George Smiley’s Best Friend

 DATELINE:  Spy Writer of Cold War

With the passing of  John le Carré at age 89 at the end of 2020, we have the true ending to the Cold War. If anyone managed to portray it for forty years in all its cold-hearted, ruthless, black and white ennui, it was this master writer.

If you wanted spy humor, you went to James Bond. If you wanted spy thrills, you turned the the former spy who worked for MI-6 and then worked for himself as a novelist.

Back in the 1960s, if you  wanted a thinking man’s spy thriller, you went to a film based on John le Carré, and if you wanted a thriller with twists, you went to Mission: Impossible. If you wanted laughs, you turned to James Bond.

He created one dull master spy who was deadlier than 007. That was George Smiley. Some of the greatest actors jumped at the chance to play him—even if they changed his name to something less ironic in the adaptations.

You can find Alec Guinness, Richard Burton, Denholm Elliot,  Gary Oldman, and James Mason, all playing Smiley.

In one film version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, you will find Tom Hardy as a slimeball gay agent. Now he has graduated to be the next James Bond.

All-star casts wanted to play small roles in these chess-match movies. You needed nerves of steel to be an espionage agent who was treated like T-paper at the end of the roll. Great actors like Toby Jones, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciaran Hinds, Oskar Werner, Hugh Laurie, Maximilian Schell, and others wanted roles in various versions.

The stories and characters are all of a piece, no matter who directed and when they came together. The seminal opener was The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, or two versions of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.  You might find The Night Manager a surprise, or Deadly Affair  so different from your usual spy novel/movie fare.

This grand writer of espionage and spies has left us with a brilliant legacy and a smorgasbord  of human drama. Whether it happens in the rivalry between Soviets and Americans, the psychology and personality of the men who did this work make for compelling tales.

We think John le Carré (a pen name for David Cornwell) will live forever, and we did enjoy his cameo appearance inThe Night Managerin his latter years. Start anywhere. You can’t go wrong with watching—or reading a master storyteller.

 

 

 

John Winston Lennon

Original Duo?

 

DATELINE:  Roots of Lennon

Quite a duo.

Documentary biography, Looking for Lennon comes out 40 years after Beatle John Lennon’s death at the hands of a deranged killer.

The documentary is more studious than what you’d expect, and it pronounces at the start that it will likely inform you of much you never knew about the early days of the Beatle’s point-man. Indeed, the film comes across as a sociological look at the environs in which young Lennon grew up.

On the day of his birth, the Nazi blitz did not hit Liverpool. His mother gave him the middle name after prime minister Winston Churchill.

His parents were part of a long-time Irish ghetto of immigrants who came as part of the potato famine 100 years earlier. And, his father was a merchant seaman who was on dangerous duty on the Atlantic.

Lennon’s father returned from war duty to find his wife pregnant by another man. Under these trying circumstances, the boy was doomed to have problems.

His early years in the 1940s couldn’t have been more different than his adolescence in the 1950s.

Lennon went to live with his Aunt Mimi who gave him a normal, middle-class and stable life for a few years before he moved into music with his sensitivity and natural abilities.

By the time he entered art school, he had either a devoted group of friends, or people who found him insufferable. He gathered George and Paul and began his musical group. They played American music: Hank Williams and Little Richard, an odd taste.

Yet, his life was in turmoil often, and when his mother Julia died, hit by a car, he became more remote and more of what the world would come to see as the lead Beatle.

No sooner had Lennon found someone special for his group (Stuart Sutcliffe), a beautiful young man, he died of cerebral blood clot.

By then, Brian Epstein took over management, cleaned them up, found Ringo, and history commenced in earnest.

Borat’s Subsequent Moviejob

 No Monkey on Back?

 DATELINE: Borat’s Bell Ringing

Sacha Baron Cohen has been called “a creep” by the POTUS because of his merciless political satire on the entire McDonald Trump administration. Oi Vey, to say the least.

In a turn of the screw, Cohen’s Borat refers to the fast-food President as McDonalds Trump. There is one zinger after another in this horrifying movie. Borat requires a sense of humor of the 21stcentury: Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward fans need not apply.

Borat comes, as his followers know, from a backward nation under Putin’s thumb. There is an Arab streak in him inexplicably. Since his first movie fifteen years ago, he has been a political prisoner in his homeland, released only with another dangerous US mission. He is to deliver a pornographic monkey to Mikhael Pence, as a peace/piece offering.

When this fails, Borat plans to give Pence, Trump, or any of the Epstein followers his young teenage daughter. Yikes.

No one is spared the spot-on nasty barbs. If you like your political cruelty nothing short of Chaplin’s Great Dictator, you may have some kind of reincarnation in Barron Cohen (who shares a name with Trump’s son, about all they have in common).

The world will long note the zingers that never miss.

If you suffer from a syndrome known as “bad taste,” this is your movie. Borat lampoons all American life ruthlessly, and goes through a list of men to offer his daughter (all McDonald Trump aides are in jail or under arrest). This leaves him with Rudi Giuliani—and that leaves us with the biggest political shocker of many years of political humor.

We cannot think of a more worthy political target.

What exactly is faked in this movie?  You likely have to watch it for yourself to make a hard decision on the corrupt nature of Trump’s associates.

This is a whack job movie, and defies good taste, political boundaries, and critical assessment.

New Book from Ossurworld

DATELINE: Comedy Tonight! 

When you do movie review blogs for ten years, you soon have quite a backlog of films. Some remain popular year after year. We have never been able to predict which reviews will be favorites of the reading public. 

However, many blogs are read several times during the first week they appear—and thence go into one of those black holes in the center of the galaxy.

We –my tapeworm and I—have decided to gather together some of the lesser read blog reviews under a general heading. We figure out of a pile of thousands, we can find about 100 that are interesting.

So, we began compiling movies according to genre (like suspense, Sherlock Holmes, UFOs,  and the like). 

We were surprised there were a good many comedies. We generally don’t watch those films, or don’t review them. You may not realie that I only print out the films that are largely interesting, well-done, unusual, or seem metaphoric of the era.

When we gathered together Comedy Tonight, it had some of our favorites, and some we had forgotten.  Actually our book on Westerns is selling briskly.  All the reviews are based on some college courses taught years ago in another life as a professor of film studies.

Among the marvelous comedy movies, we found Elaine May’s A New Leaf with Walter Matthau as a fortune hunter going after a millionaire botanist. We recalled The Loved One that featured Liberace and Rod Steiger as funeral directors in a California mortuary. We had forgotten about Follow That Camel  with Phil Silvers playing his alter ego, Sgt. Bilko out in the desert as a foreign legionnaire—or marvelous Peter O’Toole playing a version of Errol Flynn in My Favorite Year.

Oh, yeah, there are a few stinkeroos that we advise you to avoid.

Our reviews always seemed to be in some kind of humor rivalry with the actual film under review. Yet, we think if you want a collection of recommendations, this little volume might do the trick. It’s available, of course, in both e-book and print versions on Amazon.

We prefer the one for smart-readers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enchanted Cottage: Ghostly Choice!

DATELINE: More Augurs

Into the Vortex?

When I entered the library this morning, where I have many Titanic books and keepsakes, there was once again something out of place. The house once belonged to a couple of victims who died on Titanic, and their presence is never far away.

So, on the floor, tossed off the wall shelf was a single DVD, tossed quite a distance. It landed on the edge of a new addition to the room: a vortex rug.

When psychics told me there was a vortex in the floor, through which the spirit world had a rapid transit station, I covered it with a vortex rug.

How appropriate that my spirit resident nearly had a bullseye with his toss.

The DVD is The Enchanted Cottage,little fantasy movie from 1945 about a wounded war veteran, harmed emotionally and physically, and an ugly girl who is the cottage housekeeper. They soon find the house makes them see the world differently. The stars are Robert Young and Dorothy Maguire.

A spirit at the cottage makes them see each other as whole and spiritually lovely. They grow beautiful and young. It is all tied together by a blind man (Herbert Marshall, of course) who helps them understand.

The film was based on a play by Sir Arthur Wingo Pinero and was adapted by DeWitt Bodeen for the screen.

The film is a trifle, but my ghostly resident thought enough of it to give it a look. When he visits books or DVDs, he finishes up by tossing them to the floor. He seems to have the power to enter them as an orb and see what’s inside. 

Since I set up the library, he has put many a film or book to the carpet, including a couple of Titanic books and DVDs, as well as a photo of his family homestead on Diamond Head, Hawaii. He likes to visit these items, and I am happy to make them available to interested ghostly parties.

Altmanesque

DATELINE: Great Director Documentary

A biographical film on the life and work of Robert Altman uses a touchstone word, “Altmanesque,” as the word asked of all his most famous stars. Their inarticulate explanations may reveal more about the paucity of their vocabulary than about the notable filmmaker in the simply titled Altman.

He began TV work on schlock like the Whirlybirds,but learned the craft.

A man who never caved in on his principles, he was fired from movies and TV shows regularly for extending the bounds: he was thrown off Combat and Bus Stop.Those episodes look tame today, but were shockers of moral depravity back in the early 1960s.

When he confounded Jack Warner by having overlapping dialogue during an argument between two actors, he was banned from the studio. He did not play by silly rules, and today those rules look so silly that we laugh about it.

Altman had tremendous loyalty too, and often worked with the same actors. He was an actors’ director more than anything else: putting their ease of delivery at the top of movie success.

His most famous movies were twists on the usual genre, like Western film, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, or fantastic Brewster McCloud. MASH put him on the box-office straight and narrow. He went up and down, always interesting, but not until 1990 and The Player did he wake up the movie world.

His Oscar was honorary for a lifetime of achievements, but his films were variable, so different that each became the favorite of different people.

 

 

 

 

 

Oldie Noir: Killers

DATELINE: Hemingway Classic

Burt Lancaster Awaits the Grim Reapers.

 

A late 1940s film noir version of “The Killers” made author Ernest Hemingway wince. He was hypercritical of the Hollywood versions of his novels and stories.

Yet, the star vehicle for Ava Gardner and Burt Lancaster used the first twenty-minutes to tell the short story. The rest is Hollywood explanations that have nothing to do with Hemingway except to build off his message.

The original dark opening seems to tell an inexplicable tale of a gas station attendant who is hunted down by two hired gunmen. Instead of running when he is warned, he simply waits for the inevitable killing.

When asked why he won’t flee, he gives the ultimate Hemingway man’s answer. There comes a time when you stop running because it doesn’t matter in the end.

The moody and eerie tale is brilliantly directed by Robert Siodmak and were it a short subject could have been a masterpiece after the killers climb the boarding house stairs and let their bullets fly.

Young Burt Lancaster is suitably tough and handsome, as you’d want you hero, but he is antiheroic in not fighting. The rest of the movie is a pathetic attempt to flashback to his roots and how he upset the mobsters.

Quiet nighttime moments in an old-fashioned diner and the ominous sense the Swede’s friends have about the mystery visitors is all part of the philosophical insight of the author.

Many questions about the Swede are raised and there are no answers. It was always the style of Hemingway to omit key information: you fill in the blanks. Sometimes if you have enough questions, they provide an answer. The central mystery of the Swede is explained in banal terms during the remainder of the movie.

Heminway gives you suspense in the anticipation of answers, but you will be thwarted and left to your own devices to figure out the moral of the story.

 

 

  Mae West: Dirty Blonde

DATELINE: Way Ahead of the Curve!

 Mae in Lion’s Mouth!

When PBS Masters finally recognizes Mae 100 years after her astounding Broadway run, you know she is still years ahead of the rest of society. How did this woman whose first plays were called “garbage,” or “lewd” or worse, manage to transcend Sexand The Dragto become a sotto vocecomic?

She was hardly a dirty blonde, but she was stunning to behold.

Her first play about a sex worker resulted in a week-long jail sentence that became the best publicity stunt New Yorkers ever saw. Her second play, she scoured the drag queen bars of the 1920s to find 60 gay men and women to do her ground-breaking shocker about homosexuality!

It took her thinking about why few women attended her plays (she wrote, directed, and starred). So, she came up with Diamond Lil, in hour-glass dresses, fancy lingerie, and big hats: add a few off-hand jokes, and she was Mae West forever.

You could say she saved Paramount Studios with her astute performances: she was in charge of everything and made $1 more than the highest paid executive. She insisted on black performers with billing in her movies, and she gave Duke Ellington his first Hollywood exposure!

Mae hated negativity—and she liked to be in control. Slowly she evolved into a real version of her creative version. She was forty and overweight when she made her first movie, and she was run out of Hollywood by censors. By the 1950s, she was considered a man in drag herself–and she was ripe for parody everywhere.

In the 1970s in her 80s, she made a comeback as a sex symbol, a shocking parody that was hilarious inSextette  and Myra Breckinridge. With her half-baked singing, shimmy, and snide overcurrent delivery, she was a striking original.

 

 

 

Anatomy of a Male Ballet Dancer

DATELINE: Not in the Movie!

  Gomes has an ‘S”for scandal.

Despite the salacious title, you will see the male ballet dancer, but not much of his on-stage anatomy. And, you will not hear about the sex charges made against him.

Marcelo Gomes is one of the foremost contemporary dancers, and he does allow an inside look at his life, but you will not be going into his most private life.

His name is pronounced or mispronounced all too often: he is Marshelo Gomess, not like the Marchello Gomez.

He professes a hope to fall in love one day (on the backside of his career as a dancer in his 30s, we may think time is running out.

By all accounts he is the most proficient, modest, technically correct dancer of the age. Ballerinas love that he only performs to make them look better.

Marcelo has all the problems you might expect: he was an oddity, the only boy in ballet school growing up. He was clearly talented from the get-go. He is a genius in his work, and in his personality. He grew up in Brazil and never spoke English until he was 17. He sounds like he was born in Poughkeepsie.

His father and he are alienated, though they meet pleasantly in the film. However, the elder will not attend any performances, and the reason is not explored.

He studied in Paris and picked up French instantly. His great problem nowadays is injury. When he dances at St. Petersburg, he is overwhelmed to see Nijinsky’s rose petal costume from Spectre de la Rose,but he hears a bone crack when he dances Giselle.

He knows that his career is on its last legs, and he is already preparing to become a choreographer in his post-dance days.

As a personable and most untemperamental man, he came out on magazine covers, still shocking to many even today. He has a pet dachshund, and there is no boyfriend to be seen in this film. If you think you have a chance with him, this is your time for a pas de deux.

Apart from the creepy title, we thoroughly enjoyed this marvel of the modern dance world—and the film too. Alas, shortly after the film’s release, Gomes was accused of sexual harassment and resigned from the ABT. Nothing in the film indicates this issue.

Mysterious Works of Stanley Kubrick

DATELINE: Faked Moon Landing?

Young Kubrick.

This is the ultimate close reading of Kubrick’s oeuvre.Alas, the narrator is a nasally turn-off, whatever interesting and looney stuff he feeds us.

Yes, this one-hour biographical conspiracy movie seems to hint that Kubrick was assassinated for being difficult, for revealing too many secrets, and for being moral. Taken one at a time: Kubrick was a perfectionist who was used to fake the Moon landing(s), all of them.

He knew too many buried skeletons in Hollywood about pedophilia, and he was an enemy of freemasons, billionaires, and world controllers in government.

Yes, that will get you killed. Just ask Jeffrey Epstein.

There is an interesting opening sequence about young Kubrick and his development into a movie director. His singular idiosyncratic, autocratic self-controlling career began after Spartacus (which the documentary says he hated). It’s a great film, nonetheless.

But this doc thinks his greatest film is Eyes Wide Shut(which we dismissed as overwrought and overindulgent).

The narrator goes on the reveal all the people he offended with each subsequent film. He had to do 2001: A Space Odysseyas a cover for his work making the Moon landing footage that was shown to the public. Those pesky astronauts were laden with guilt and hypnotized, according to this film.

The Shining (misspelled in the film documentary) is rife with references to Apollo 11 and to child molestation in case you missed it. And, the examples are startling to behold.

His final film, Eyes Wide Shut,took 18 months to film, and when important people saw the finished cut, Kubrick was alleged to have been assassinated by lethal drugs to imitate a heart attack in 1999.

Then, his final cut was altered so as to not offend billionaire government powerful figures.

The documentary is as frenzied as those monkey-men, faced with a giant monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

 

 

 

 

One Last Trip to Greece

DATELINE: Literary Road Trips

 Steve Coogan with Rob Brydon.

With great sadness we are saying goodbye to the highly intelligent, witty, charming series of movies with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Their last is The Trip to Greece,all four civilized comedies were directed by Michael Winterbottom.

These have been four rarities of the modern age: witty as Noel Coward, beautifully locations, with amusing company. And they aren’t even gay. Two performers whose competition extends to out-imitating the other are sent on a fictional outing. Their job as journalists is to visit fine restaurants and write reviews.

The actors sort of play themselves in Brydon and Coogan (notable Oscar nominee for Stan and Ollie, as he was Stan). You often cannot tell where the fiction starts, as they play versions of themselves blending over into plot contrivance. Their litany of impersonations (Brando, Hoffman, Olivier, Caine, Pacino, Jagger) makes for a variety of dinner companions.

Four films feature hilarious riffs and impersonations over dinner and while driving around luscious countryside in Greece. Brydon sings the tune from Grease, and he crunches it to fit the country. Coogan is dutifully appalled.

They transform imitations of Laurel and Hardy over lunch into breath-taking jokes: Oliver Hardy morphs into Tom Hardy.

These little forays to gourmet restaurants have a price in this film (350 Euros).

The bittersweet last entry in the series showcases the performers to their greatest wish: Brydon becomes the epitome of the light comedian—and Coogan, as he likes, becomes the tragic actor of Shakespearean levels.

Their frictions and battles are nothing short of delightful wordplay. You don’t see that much anywhere in movies nowadays.

After visits to England, Italy, and Spain, this lap around the Aegean ends with a whimper. Brilliantly done, and hopefully there will be one more trip.

 

 

Hunt for Elusive Unitah Skinwalker

DATELINE: Pre-TV Series

 Knapp Time.

 Two years previous to the History Channel series, the “paranormal investigator” named Jeremy Corbell took on the subject with his viewpoint. He rounded up George Knapp who had done 20 years of research—including work with Robert Bigelow before he sold the ranch and its rights to the new TV series owner.

The film is called Hunt for the Skinwalker.

Skinwalker Ranch is a paranormal Disneyland, according to this movie.

Corbell intones like he is Rod Serling stealing Twilight Zone phrases in his narrative. He found his matchmate in George Knapp, aging and renewed UFO hunter for decades. Knapp has boxes of old videotaped interviews and paper documents. Korbell won fame by bringing Bob Lazar out of hiding a few years ago to give an updated opinion on Area 51.

This is George Knapp’s seminall life work, apparently never digitized nor copied for posterity. Videos were never made into DVD and audio tape look like you couldn’t find the proper equipment to play them. No one has looked at this material in years. Now, the Hunt for the Skinwalker will make an attempt. It’s clearly enough to spark History Channel’s interest in doing a series two years later.

Korbell likens the area to “Area 52” and largely lets dramatic Knapp do narration duty. He knows how to make mystery more bizarre, for sure.

Knapp related the story of how he tried to do everything to provoke the poltergeist, UFOs, ghosts, orbs, or other phenomena, to no avail, even doing some forbidden digging. He was attacked only by mosquitos. He also knew Robert Bigelow and reveals that the strange billionaire did not want the associated horrors beyond UFOs. He indicated that Bigelow was warned off the property—and sold it to Brandon Fuglar.

Fulgar shows up in this film, refusing to identify himself because it would hurt his business “empire,” which is Fuglar to a T. However, something changed his mind between making this Corbell movie and the History series.

Here the cattle mutilations and other worldly voices are given far more attention.

Neither Corbell, nor Knapp, has any participation in the TV series. And, the movie is far better than the Fuglar produced show.

 

 

Lured: I Love Lucy!

DATELINE:   George Sanders Loves Lucy!

Lucille Ball, George Sanders, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Boris Karloff, and Charles Coburn. If you are an old movie fan, these names together in a movie will send you into the stratosphere. It’s a murder mystery set in modern London with an American showgirl recruited by Scotland Yard to catch a serial killer.

Lured  is a 1947 film overlooked by most because it is such a cross against typecast.

Lucy is sarcastically funny when she needs to be. George Sanders actually has a line in which he states, “I’m an unmitigated cad,” and the killer has a penchant for the poetry of Charles Baudelaire.

This is not your usual mystery film. Douglas Sirk directs with his usual great aplomb and knows how to let his highly idiosyncratic actors play their stereotypes to the hilt. He made his name later in big budget soap opera movies, but here he plays film noir like a comic Hitchcock.

Not only that, the film is beautiful to look at—with its glossy black and white sets that do not scrimp on atmosphere.

Coburn is the lead Yard inspector—and his assistants are Alan Napier and Robert Coote!

The litany of rogue suspects is peachy Boris Karloff and Lucy are marvelous as he is the mad fashion designer and she is his model. Later she attends a Schubert concert after joining the staff of butler Alan Mowbray. She must hunt down each suspect with her brash comedy timing. You will soon recognize the Lucy you love.

You may not guess who the culprit is until the final reel—and Lucy does an excellent job working for Scotland Yard.

A lost gem, you owe it to see this charming comedy thriller.

 

 

 

 

 

  Gorky Park: No Parking

DATELINE: Cold War Murder Mystery.

 Sable Hat Man!

Back in 1983 came the crime thriller about the Moscow Police Department (who had the unfortunate privilege of working under the KGB). It’s a definite low-tech crime CSI story about the cold-blooded Cold War killing of three people in Gorky Park.

Martin Cruz Smith’s novel was a best-seller, but based on this movie, the story is grisly and pathetic. Three bodies are found with their faces and fingers cut off to prevent identification. It seems a bit much for a small-time crime. Top-notch Soviet policeman William Hurt must solve the case.

There are some interesting moments in the film, but it pales next to today’s sharp TV crime dramas. Here in this film, it’s the cast that holds you in place, however miscast William Hurt is.

We were surprised to see great actor Alexander Knox (who played Woodrow Wilson once) in a small role as a Soviet general. But it is Americans like star Lee Marvin who steals every scene he is in: with second billing no less. He plays one of those American billionaires playing footsie with the Russians, and he is marvelous. He has cornered the market on Russian sables.

The late Brian Dennehy is also in the film in a small role, but with top billing as a New York cop doing an investigation off-duty in Moscow. He too is wonderful to behold.

As for the drudgery of Moscow with its 1970s cheap cars and unpleasant milieu, it’s all part of the flavor you can’t find anywhere else. But this is not Agatha Christie in the Kremlin, not even close.

Though some called the movie boring, its Moscow setting is dreary and mostly downbeat and dim-witted.