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Month: November 2007

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)

“A man cannot destroy the savage in him by denying it; the only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.”

DJAMH Poster

Synopsis:
In Victorian England, philanthropic Dr. Jekyll (John Barrymore) experiments with a drug which changes him into the vile, hedonistic “Mr. Hyde” — but he soon finds himself unable to control his transformations, thus putting his own life in danger…

Genres:

Review:
This early silent version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is regarded by many as one of the best. Unfortunately, John Barrymore’s flamboyant performance in the title role(s) is overly melodramatic, and his transformation from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde is more campy than frightening; at least he seems to be having a field day playing the nefarious Mr. Hyde — assisted by creepy make-up and prosthetics, he truly does come across as evil nature incarnate. Also of note is the brief appearance of Nita Naldi — the “female Valentino” — as a dance hall singer who turns on Dr. Jekyll’s lust; her initial outfits are shockingly risque.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A well-told, archetypal tale of good versus evil
    DJAMH Dual
  • Nita Naldi as the sexy singer who first tempts Dr. Jekyll’s “baser” nature
    DJAMH Naldi
  • Effectively freaky make-up on “Mr. Hyde”
    DJAMH Makeup2
  • Artistic intertitle cards
    DJAMH Cards

Must See?
Yes, simply for its historical significance.

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Lodger, The (1927)

Lodger, The (1927)

“He’s killed another fair girl.”

Synopsis:
Whilst a serial killer known as “The Avenger” is murdering blonde women throughout London, a mysterious lodger (Ivor Novello) arrives at the home of landlords Marie Ault and Arthur Chesney and their grown daughter Daisy (June Tripp). Novello falls for Daisy, but her jealous boyfriend (Malcolm Keen) — a police detective — is convinced that Novello may be The Avenger, and begins to investigate the case.

Genres:

Review:
Despite having helmed at least two earlier movies (1925’s The Pleasure Garden and 1926’s now-lost The Mountain Eagle), Alfred Hitchcock considered The Lodger — based on Marie Belloc Lowndes’ Jack the Ripper-inspired novel — to be his “true” directorial debut. While it possesses many elements of Hitch’s soon-to-be-signature style, however, it suffers from overly broad acting (Novello was a matinee idol, not a thespian) and terribly slow pacing. Like John Brahm’s 1944 remake (starring Laird Cregar), it’s both highly atmospheric and visually inspired (see stills below) — but also narratively flawed, given that there aren’t really any other suspects in sight. The Lodger only remains must-see viewing due to its status as an early outing by Hitchcock, and as a precursor to Brahm’s superior version.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A reasonably suspenseful tale of murder and romance
    Lodger Story
  • Some cleverly framed shots
    Lodger Framing
  • Atmospheric cinematography
    Lodger Scarf

Must See?
Yes, but only for its significance as one of Hitchcock’s earliest signature works. Listed as a film with historical importance and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

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Myra Breckinridge (1970)

Myra Breckinridge (1970)

“All men have a lot to learn… I’ve taken it upon myself to teach you.”

Synopsis:
After Myron Breckenridge (Rex Reed) undergoes a sex change operation and becomes Myra (Raquel Welch), she visits an acting school owned by her uncle Buck (John Huston), pretending to be the “deceased” Myron’s widow in order to receive half of his estate. Meanwhile, Myra plots “the destruction of the American male in all its particulars” by blackmailing a studly young acting student (Roger Herren) and sending him into the clutches of aging casting director Leticia Van Allen (Mae West).

Genres:

Review:
A notorious turkey from the moment it went into production, this big-budget adaptation of Gore Vidal’s satirical novel is, as noted in the Toxic Universe review, both “hypnotically awful” and “audaciously dreadful”. British writer/director/performer Michael Sarne — whose debut film was the quirky Joanna (1968), starring Genevieve Waite — was recruited to helm the pic, but immediately clashed with both producers and stars about how to proceed; the result is a hyper-surreal pastiche which won’t make much sense to those who haven’t first read Vidal’s novel.

With that said — since I have read the novel, fairly recently — I must say I was pleasantly surprised by Breckinridge; it may be over-the-top, but it’s never boring, and Sarne’s post-modern insertion of vintage film clips at key moments (he was sued over several of his selections) is inspired. Welch — dressed in a series of fun 40’s-era outfits, including hats — almost seems to be channeling the spirit of Joan Crawford in her bitchily determined attitude, and John Huston at the very least seems to be having fun. Film critic Rex Reed (a non-actor) is the worst of the bunch, but doesn’t damage the proceedings too badly.

What really elevates this flick to must-see status, however, is the presence of aging diva Mae West as a horny septuagenarian casting director with a foul mouth and a surprising amount of sexual allure — ya’d think she’d come across like simply a parody of herself, but she’s remarkably well-preserved, and so sincere in her efforts to carry the show (complete with a “show-stopping” musical number) that one can’t help enjoying her efforts. See below for just one of her hilarious quips, which had me laughing out loud again and again.

P.S. Myra Breckenridge was voted one of the “fifty worst films of all time” by the Medved brothers in their 1978 book.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • 73-year-old Mae West as Leticia Van Allen
    Myra West
  • Raquel Welch as Myra
    Myra Welch
  • John Huston as Uncle Buck
    Myra Huston
  • Leticia singing “Hard to Handle” while surrounded by a bevy of African-American male dancers
    Myra Song
  • Theodora Van Runkle’s ’40s-inspired costumes
    Myra Costumes
  • Inspired use of vintage film clips
    Myra Vintage
  • A harsh skewering of gender norms
    Myra Gender
  • Effectively stylized sets and visuals
    Myra Design
  • Mae West drawling countless hilarious lines:

    Leticia Van Allen: How tall are you without your horse?
    Aspiring Male Star: Well, ma’am, I’m six feet seven inches.
    Leticia Van Allen: Well, never mind about the six feet — let’s talk about the seven inches.

Must See?
Yes, for its notoriety as a camp classic.

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Boucher, Le / Butcher, The (1970)

Boucher, Le / Butcher, The (1970)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Guide for the Film Fanatic title; click here to read more.]

“I’ve seen a corpse or two — their heads in the wind, cut in half, mouth open…”

Butcher Poster

Synopsis:
In a small French town, a worldly schoolteacher (Stephane Audran) meets a recently returned veteran (Jean Yanne) at a wedding, and the two quickly become friends. Although Audran resists anything more than platonic love, Yanne longs for romance; meanwhile, mysterious murders shake the town, and Audran starts to suspect her friend.

Genres:

  • Claude Chabrol Films
  • French Films
  • Serial Killers
  • Teachers
  • Veterans

Review:
Peary is clearly a fan of French director Claude Chabrol, given that he lists most of his titles as “Personal Recommendations”; thus, it’s strange that he neglected to include this well-received pseudo-Hitchcockian murder mystery in his book. The Butcher stars Chabrol’s (then) wife and frequent leading lady, Stephane Audran, in one of her most affecting roles as a love-weary teacher who clearly enjoys the company of her new male friend (her soul mate?), but resists anything more than platonic companionship; Jean Yanne is equally impressive as “the butcher”, a troubled veteran who Audran desperately hopes is not responsible for the recent rash of bloody murders plaguing the town. While I’m not particularly enamored by Chabrol’s sensibility (none of his films are titles I’d return to on a repeat basis), The Butcher is memorable enough to recommend as must-see viewing for any serious film fanatic.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Stephane Audran as Mlle. Helene
    Butcher Audran
  • Jean Yanne as Popaul the Butcher
    Butcher Popaul
  • Effective use of provincial French locales near the Lascaux Caves
    Butcher Caves
  • The “cherry scene”
    Butcher Cherries
  • The creepy “blood sandwich” scene
    Butcher Blood

Must See?
Yes, as one of Chabrol’s signature films.

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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Harriet Craig (1950)

Harriet Craig (1950)

“No man’s born ready for marriage; he has to be trained.”

Harriet Craig Poster

Synopsis:
Domineering housewife Harriet Craig (Joan Crawford) lies to her unsuspecting husband (Wendell Corey) and treats her faithful cousin Celia (K.T. Stevens) like a personal secretary; but when Harriet interferes with her husband’s chance for promotion — and Celia’s chance for marriage with a well-meaning suitor (William Bishop) — she’s finally called on her lies and manipulating tactics.

Genres:

  • Character Studies
  • Henpecked Husbands
  • Housewives
  • Joan Crawford Films
  • Play Adaptations
  • Wendell Corey Films

Review:
Harriet Craig is the third cinematic adaptation of George Kelly’s 1925 stage play Craig’s Wife (filmed first in 1928 by William C. de Mille, and then in 1936 by Dorothy Arzner) — and is one of many vehicles in which Crawford essentially plays a version of herself. In this case, she’s a neurotic, manipulative woman who uses others for her own needs, and cares more about maintaining a perfect house than promoting the happiness of its inhabitants (anyone who’s read Christina Crawford’s memoir Mommie Dearest, or seen the movie version, will immediately recognize shades of Joan in Harriet).

The story itself, unfortunately, is less convincing: while it’s hinted that Harriet’s sway over her husband (Corey is perfectly cast) is primarily sexual, it’s still tough to imagine that he would remain deluded about her pathological tendencies for so many years; and his shift from adoration to contempt is far too sudden. Similarly, Celia’s blind devotion to Harriet — despite whatever favors Harriet did for her years earlier — beggars belief; and Harriet’s desire for status and wealth is at odds with how desperately she tries to prevent her husband’s promotion. Despite its narrative flaws, however, Harriet Craig remains worth a look simply for its status as a prototypical Crawford flick.

P.S. A more apt title for the film would perhaps be Harriet’s House — indeed, the house itself is a central character.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Joan Crawford as Harriet (check out the flame lapels…)
    Harriet Craig Crawford
  • Wendell Corey as Walter
    Harriet Craig Corey
  • Allyn Joslyn as Walter’s friend Billy
    Harriet Craig Billy
  • A disturbing portrait of a housewife whose need for control jeopardizes her marriage
    Harriet Craig Relationship

Must See?
No, but it’s certainly worth a look.

Links:

Undertaker and His Pals, The (1966)

Undertaker and His Pals, The (1966)

“Remember: we specifically agreed that I could bury doc’s mistakes!”

Synopsis:
Detective Harry Glass (James Westmoreland) investigates a rash of violent murders committed by a trio of motorcycle-riding thugs; soon he learns that a greedy undertaker (Ray Dannis) and his two restaurant-owning friends are behind the gruesome killings — and that the female corpses are being served as Specials of the Day.

Genres:

Review:
At just a little over an hour, this trashy gore-fest (reminiscent of both Herschell Gordon Lewis and Ted Mikels’ work) is surprisingly easy to handle — which is not to say that it’s very good. No, the acting, special effects, and storyline are just as sub-par as one would expect, and there are far too many awful slapstick sequences inserted for no good reason at all; yet the tongue of director T.L.P. Swicegood (pseudonym, anyone?!) seems firmly in cheek, and each scene — even bloody slaughters of nubile young women — is bathed in a glow of humorous unreality. Perhaps I’m being overly generous, but this one’s not quite as bad as you would think.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Colorful low-budget sets
    Undertaker Colors
  • The amusing closing sequence, in which every character who’s died comes back to life
    Undertaking Closing
  • Plenty of tongue-in-cheek, twisted humor — as when a photo of a sailor keeps changing expressions during his girlfriend’s bloody murder
    Undertaker Photo

Must See?
No, but any fans of trash cinema will certainly want to check it out.

Links:

Parting Glances (1986)

Parting Glances (1986)

“I want to leave because it’s gotten too settled — [too] predictable.”

Synopsis:
On the night before his longtime lover (John Bolger) is due to depart for a job in Africa, Michael (Richard Ganoung) visits his HIV-positive friend Nick (Steve Buscemi) and must confront Bolger’s true motivation for leaving.

Genres:

Review:
Parting Glances — the only film writer/director Bill Sherwood made before his death from AIDS in 1990 — is beloved by many as one of the most authentic representations of gay life in 1980s New York. Unfortunately, however, it never manages to transcend its low-budget indie roots: the supporting characters (including an overweight “troll” and a fag hag) are stereotypical, the acting is (mostly) amateurish, and the script seems forced (particularly near the end). It’s primarily worth watching to see Steve Buscemi in his first major screen role — he already shows evidence of his unique cinematic presence.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Steve Buscemi as Nick
    PG Buscemi
  • A heartfelt — if not entirely successful — portrait of friendship and loyalty in the early days of AIDS
    PG Friendship

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look simply for historical purposes.

Links:

Pete’s Dragon (1977)

Pete’s Dragon (1977)

“There’s room for everyone in this world, if everyone makes some room.”

Synopsis:
A young orphan (Sean Marshall) escapes from his abusive caretaker (Shelley Winters) with his magical pet dragon Elliott (voiced by Charlie Callas) in tow. Upon his arrival in the town of Passamaquoddy, Pete (Marshall) meets up with a tippling lighthouse keeper (Mickey Rooney) and his grown daughter Nora (Helen Reddy), who provide him with shelter; meanwhile, a traveling elixir salesman Dr. Terminus (Jim Dale) and his assistant (Red Buttons) find out about Pete’s dragon, and try to purchase him for their own nefarious purposes.

Genres:

Review:
This disappointing live action/animation flick fails to live up to Disney’s previous successes in the genre. Technically, it’s sloppy: Elliott’s interactions with Pete never seem realistic (Sean Marshall’s sight lines are off just enough to make it look like he’s talking to the sky), and Elliott’s presence on-screen is inconsistent: sometimes he takes up corporeal space and causes invisible havoc, while at others he’s treated like a vaporous ghost. He’s inexplicably absent from the screen for most of the film, but isn’t very charismatic even when he does show up. His childish babbling is annoying, and — rather than being a helpful friend — all he does is get Pete into trouble; he’s like a less intelligent, green iteration of Barney.

Fortunately, the live actors try their best with the tepid material they’re given. Helen Reddy is fine as the warm-hearted Nora, and Jim Dale is great fun as Dr. Terminus; his is the best performance in the film by far. Fearless Shelley Winters — looking like the ultimate greasy hillbilly — should have been given more screen time; instead, her character simply shows up at the very beginning and very end of the already over-long (2 hours-plus) film. Sean Marshall as Pete is enthusiastic and smiles a lot, but isn’t the greatest of child actors, while both Mickey Rooney and Red Buttons have done much better work elsewhere. The songs are relatively catchy but forgettable, and simply drag out the story (the one exception is Jim Dale’s scene-stealing, early rendition of “Passamashloddy”). Ultimately, Pete’s Dragon will only be of interest to those who have fond memories of watching it as kids; it’s certainly not must-see viewing.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Jim Dale as Dr. Terminus
    Pete
  • Helen Reddy as Nora
    Pete
  • Shelley Winters as Lena Grogan
    Pete

Must See?
No; it’s not clear to me why Peary lists this disappointing flick in his book.

Links:

Folks at Red Wolf Inn, The / Terror Inn (1972)

Folks at Red Wolf Inn, The / Terror Inn (1972)

“A butcher’s work is never done…”

Folks Red Wolf Inn Poster

Synopsis:
A naive co-ed (Linda Gillen) wins a vacation to Red Wolf Inn, where the elderly proprietors (Mary Jackson and Arthur Space) and their dim-witted grandson (John Neilson) make delicious, meat-heavy meals for their female guests. But when one girl after the other starts disappearing, Regina (Gillen) — who has fallen for Neilson — begins to wonder exactly what (or who) her hosts are cooking up…

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary is overly generous in his assessment of this “oddball” indie film, arguing that its liberal black humor “gives it the distinction of being the most charming of the horror film’s cannibalism subgenre”. In truth, it’s a rather tedious, poorly made exploitation flick with countless logistical loopholes and (mostly) amateurish acting. Gillin’s performance may be “winning”, but her character — despite being a college student — is hopelessly stupid, and her enthusiastic reaction upon receiving an anonymous invitation to a strange hotel borders on imbecility. The initial meat-eating dinner scene — which goes on for nearly 10 minutes — presupposes that viewers will giggle in delight simply over watching Gillin and her equally clueless fellow guests eating human flesh without knowing it; why is this funny? The best aspect of the film by far is the sly performance by Mary Jackson, playing a deluded old woman who would give any grandchild the willies.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Mary Jackson as Evelyn Smith
    FARWI Jackson

Must See?
No; this one is strictly for fans of cannibalism flicks.

Links:

Female on the Beach (1955)

Female on the Beach (1955)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Guide for the Film Fanatic title; click here to read more.]

“A lone female on the beach is a kind of a target — a bait, you might say…”

FOTB Boat Shot

Synopsis:
Widowed Lynn Markham (Joan Crawford) wants nothing more than to be left alone in her new beach house, where the previous tenant (Judith Evelyn) mysteriously fell from the porch to her death. Meanwhile, Lynn’s hunky neighbor “Drummy” (Jeff Chandler) — who may have had something to do with Evelyn’s demise — makes moves on her; Drummy’s manipulative “aunt” (Natalie Schafer) and “uncle” (Cecil Kellaway) hope to be able to fleece Lynn in card games; and Lynn’s realtor (Jan Sterling) — who has a secret crush on Drummy — keeps showing up at her doorstep.

Genres:

  • Cecil Kellaway Films
  • Con-Artists
  • Jan Sterling Films
  • Jeff Chandler Films
  • Joan Crawford Films
  • Murder Mystery
  • Widows

Review:
Of the countless films Joan Crawford starred in during her lengthy career, Peary only lists 19 as “must see” viewing; Female on the Beach isn’t one of these, but it should be. This deliciously campy thriller was panned upon its release (Bosley Crowther complained about the “hackneyed script and the artificiality and pretentiousness of Miss Crawford’s acting style”), but has since become a minor cult favorite. 50-year-old Crawford (you’d never know it) is at her inimitable best, showing off her gorgeously preserved gams as she struts around her beach house, vacillating between an embittered desire to be left alone, a rising attraction for the undeniably hunky Chandler, and — once she falls headlong in love — concern for her own safety. Schafer (Mrs. Thurston Howell on “Gilligan’s Island”) and Kellaway add a comedic touch to the proceedings, while supporting-actress Sterling is as reliable as always. Chandler — apparently hand-selected by Crawford — is perfectly cast as “Drummy”, an orphaned gigolo with a harsh past; it’s to his credit that we feel sympathy for his plight from the very beginning. Perhaps most enjoyable, however, is the near-constant stream of slightly racy and/or quippable lines (see below for a generous sampling); with exchanges like these, it’s hard not to giggle in vicarious delight.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Joan Crawford as Lynn Markham
    FOTB Crawford
  • Hunky Jeff Chandler as “Drummy” Hall
    FOTB Chandler
  • Natalie Schafer as Queenie Sorenson
    FOTB Schafer
  • Jan Sterling as Amy Rawlinson
    FOTB Sterling
  • Many surprisingly racy quotes and exchanges:

    Lynn: “I have a nasty imagination, and I’d like to be left alone with it.”

    Drummy: “Whenever I wake up a beautiful girl, I always make her breakfast.”

    Queenie [to Drummy]: “It’d be an act of kindness for you to offer her your friendship — all of it.”

    Drummy [after emerging from a swim]: “I guess I’d better think about getting some clothes on, huh?”
    Lynn: “Oh, I’m broad minded…”

  • Robert Hill’s campy, quote-studded script:

    Lynn: “I was on an island once; they all look alike — round.”

    Lynn [to Drummy]: “You must go with the house — like plumbing.”

    Lynn [to Drummy]: “You’re about as friendly as a suction pump.”

    Drummy: “I don’t hate women; I just hate the way they are.”

    Lieutenant Galley: “Give my regards to Drummy; he’s very tall, isn’t he?”

    Lynn [to Drummy]: “I wouldn’t have you if you were hung with diamonds upside down.” (???!!!)

Must See?
Yes, for its status as a campy cult favorite.

Categories

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