Kremlin Letter: Postage Due

DATELINE: IMF Gone Wrong

  George Sanders Goes Out in Flames! 

In 1970 if you wanted a thinking man’s spy thriller, you went to a film based on John LeCarre, and if you wanted a thriller with twists, you went to Mission: Impossible. If you wanted laughs, you turned to James Bond.

If Huston wanted to do Mission: Impossible,he needed the music. This movie version is rife with sex talk and use of sexual blackmail as part of the work habits of spies.

All these spies are retired and go by weird nicknames or coded identities. No matter.

So, it figures that John Huston would manage to straddle the fence and give us a spy thriller that has all these elements—and the imprimatur of one of the great directors: John Huston.

The Kremlin Letteris sheer, unadulterated  nonsense with twist of logic that defies explanation. Yet, it is glorious in its location settings—and startling cast of giants.

You will see in no particular order: Orson Welles, Max Von Sydow, Raf Vallone, Richard Boone, Dean Jagger, and Patrick O’Neal, and in a career killing performance—George Sanders in drag.

We don’t know if this movie led to Mr. Sanders’ untimely exit in Spain shortly after making this movie. He claimed he was bored. Well, we never saw him offer so much energy than as a piano-playing crossdresser in a gay club.

There is talk about two gay characters hooking up: Welles and Sanders. That would have been worth the price of admission, but the film really devolves into one of those sex-talk double-cross twisters.

What has any of this to do with retrieving a letter that seems worthless (but everyone will kill for it). That’s the old McGuffin of Hitchcock.

And Huston had turned to appearing on camera by then—and again gives himself a role in the picture. No spies come in from the cold, and everyone has a license to kill.

We knew this was going to be a treat from the opening credits. Huston still had the juice in those days—and could deliver a real movie in a world of nouveau auteurs.

 

 

 

Heaven Forbid: Rage in Heaven

DATELINE:  Koo-Koo Bird Special

 Two-faced Sanders

Note the two faces of George Sanders in the publicity still!

If you think you have seen Rage in Heaven, you may be mistaken. Around the same time came other movies called Leave Her to Heaven and Heaven Can Wait. Worse yet, the latter film also starred Robert Montgomery.

In this movie, Mr. Montgomery may not be above suspicion (after all, he carried an old lady’s head in a hatbox in Night Must Fall). Here too Ingrid Bergman is fresh off being driven mad by her husband in Gaslight, and everyone’s favorite reprobate, George Sanders, is never trustworthy!

This is the sort of movie where we have to trust the psychiatrist (Oscar Homolka) who let the dangerous psycho escape and looks kind of fishy in every scene.

You may begin to think this movie was directed by Alfred Hitchcock or perhaps Mel Brooks. A mysterious inmate of a Parisian insane asylum has escaped—and shows up in Merry Olde England.

So, your usual nuthouse quotient is higher than normal.

As for us, we never did like the way Robert Montgomery looked at Fluffy the cat, and George Sanders was simply too too nice hereabouts. As for Bergman, she looks like she wants to catch the next plane to Casablanca.

This period piece of fluffy nutter came from a novella by James Hilton who had given us Lost Horizon, Random Harvest, and Goodbye Mr. Chips. Lightning did not strike twice, or thrice, even with notable Christopher Isherwood doing the screenplay.

However, this is an MGM movie with a pedigree, and is first-class all the way to the nuthouse.

 

 

 

Reel History: 1960’s Damned Village

DATELINE:  Creepy Kids

 Stephens & Sanders

Martin Stephens & George Sanders

We know they could not call it by the John Wyndam title of the original novel, The Midwich Cuckoos.

The marvelous little low-budget sci-fi thriller, Village of the Damned, was only 70 minutes of brilliant detail.

Only George Sanders would be not intimidated by holding his own with a bunch of British child actors who occasionally use the special effect of glowing eyes.

After the movie’s opening 15 minutes, you are utterly hooked. It’s so brilliant that what follows doesn’t matter.

With no budget, this George Sanders movie had the most chilling opening of any film of its time. Camerawork is so effective by the director Wolf Rilla.

You see charming little British village in which everyone collapses in place, into a faint for several hours. Camera pans slowly over the entire village. Chilling.

Without the benefit of science’s discovery of DNA and genetic engineering, the story proposes that during the time in which the village is knocked out, all women of child-bearing age become pregnant. It leaves for puzzled and befuddled attitudes among many.

The script uses only several incidents to indicate how dangerous these alien children are: of course, since the children are adult-like Brits, they are creepy anyhow. Add in their mental powers and you have horror. Oh, kids grow up so fast in movies.

The children admire Sanders who is professorial and so unemotional like them. He even becomes their tutor.

In the Soviet Union, a similar community is bombed with an atomic weapon. There are nests of alien children planted around the world, we learn.

George Sanders must resort to his cold-blooded manner to save the day by using his own mind tricks.

Marvelous little gem.