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Month: March 2008

Delinquents, The (1957)

Delinquents, The (1957)

“These kids today have no sense of responsibility… None at all!”

Delinquents Poster

Synopsis:
When a teenager (Tom Laughlin) is told he can’t see his girlfriend (Rosemary Howard) anymore, he accidentally gets involved with a gang of juvenile delinquents (led by Peter Miller) who lead him down a dangerous path.

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Review:
Robert Altman’s debut film (which he later dismissed as a film with no “meaning for anybody”) shows little evidence of what was to become his signature directorial style, yet nonetheless demonstrates his burgeoning ability to take pulp thematic material and turn it into a reasonably compelling drama. Brooding Tom Laughlin — channeling James Dean — is fine in the lead role as an upstanding teen who becomes unwittingly embroiled in juvenile gang shenanigans; it’s refreshing to see him hold his own rather than caving in (as one would expect) to the “allure” of peer pressure. The storyline is simple but relatively fresh for the genre, with the final third of the film actually generating some true tension as Laughlin and his naive girlfriend find themselves trapped in the snares of their ruthless hostages. Ignore the laughably campy opening and closing narration (“The story you are about to see is about violence and immorality — teenage violence and immorality, children trapped in the half-world between adolescence and maturity…”) as merely a convention of the times; fortunately, it does little to detract from the rest of the film.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Tom Laughlin as Scotty
    Delinquents Scotty

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a look simply for its importance as Altman’s first film.

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Canterville Ghost, The (1944)

Canterville Ghost, The (1944)

“I have roamed these halls for three centuries, and I am so tired — if only I could rest.”

canterville-ghost-poster

Synopsis:
A cowardly ghost (Charles Laughton) doomed to haunt his family’s castle until a descendant commits a brave act in his name hopes that a long-lost American kinsman (Robert Young) — with the help of the castle’s pint-sized owner, Lady Jessica (Margaret O’Brien) — will free him from his sentence.

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Review:
Loosely adapted from an Oscar Wilde short story, The Canterville Ghost was updated to incorporate the arrival of American G.I.s in England during the height of WWII, emphasizing the importance not only of overcoming cowardice, but of Brits and Americans working together towards a common cause. It remains successful primarily as a light-hearted vehicle for the inimitable Charles Laughton, who is perfectly cast as the portly, forlorn ghost with outsized whiskers and striped bloomers. Equally enjoyable is his precocious co-star, Margaret O’Brien, who showcases her estimable acting chops at the ripe age of 6 (a year before she starred in her most famous film, Meet Me in St. Louis). Together, these two performers make this rather predictable and dated adventure worth sitting through.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Charles Laughton as Sir Simon de Canterville
  • Margaret O’Brien as young Lady Jessica
  • The American G.I.s breaking into “woogie boogie” (as Sir Simon charmingly refers to it) during a town dance

Must See?
No, but it’s an enjoyably innocuous flick and worth checking out once.

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Woman is a Woman, A (1961)

Woman is a Woman, A (1961)

“I want a baby in the next 24 hours.”

Synopsis:
A woman (Anna Karina) desperate to become pregnant turns to an admirer (Jean-Paul Belmondo) for “help” when her partner (Jean-Claude Brialy) refuses to take her request seriously.

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Review:
After the phenomenal success of his New Wave debut film Breathless in 1960, Jean-Luc Godard made what he considered to be his “first real film” — this playful yet frustrating character study-cum-musical which defiantly exploits cinematic conventions at every turn. A Woman is a Woman received mixed reviews upon its release, and continues to divide critics, with many finding it unduly wearisome and far too clever for its own good — indeed, Godard’s insistence (soon to be a trademark) on using random, often incongruous snippets of music, then cutting away to silence without warning, quickly becomes tedious, if not downright aggravating (particularly since the inimitable Michel Legrand composed the score — such as it is — here). Many other critics, however, acknowledge this as one of Godard’s most accessible and perversely likable films, a heady love note to Cinema and all its possibilities. Ultimately, A Woman is a Woman will not be for all tastes (as DVD Savant points out, the majority of non-cinephiles will give up on it after ten minutes), but it remains at the very least a watchable curiosity — thanks in large part to Godard’s many lingering, loving takes on Karina (his then-wife), whose expressive face is hard to resist.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Anna Karina as Angela
    Woman is a Woman Karina
  • A vibrant look at early 1960s Paris
    Woman is a Woman Paris
  • Michel Legrand’s musical score — though it’s unfortunately butchered to death

Must See?
No, but fans of Godard and/or French New Wave cinema will certainly want to check it out. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.

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Crimson Pirate, The (1952)

Crimson Pirate, The (1952)

“Remember: in a pirate ship, in pirate waters, in a pirate world, ask no questions.”

Crimson Pirate Poster

Synopsis:
After seizing a ship full of arms from Baron Jose Gruda (Leslie Bradley), the “Crimson Pirate” (Burt Lancaster) and his trusty sidekick Ojo (Nick Cravat) try to win back the loyalty of their mutinous crew while rescuing a damsel-in-distress (Eva Bartok).

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Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary refers to this enjoyably innocuous Technicolor adventure as “perhaps the last first-rate pirate movie” — a statement which is no longer quite true, given the recent success of Pirates of the Caribbean in 2003, but was certainly accurate at the time Guide for the Film Fanatic was published in 1986. As Peary notes, “you won’t pay much attention to the plot”, which isn’t really all that important — the emphasis instead is on both “humor and the high-flying acrobatic stunts of [Burt] Lancaster and Nick Cravat, his former circus partner” — these two are the real reason to watch closely and enjoy. Surprisingly, this action-packed flick was directed by Robert Siodmak, much better known for his noir-ish thrillers; as Peary points out, it’s a “fine change of pace” for him.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Lancaster and Cravat’s phenomenal acrobatic feats together
    Crimson Pirate Acrobatic
  • Plenty of colorful sets and costumes
    Crimson Pirate Colorful
  • The humorous opening “scurvy” scene
    Crimson Pirate Scurvy

Must See?
Yes, as a jolly good pirate show, and one of Lancaster-and-Cravat’s best outings together.

Categories

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Nosferatu (1922)

Nosferatu (1922)

“Blood is life! Blood is life!!!”

Synopsis:
Real estate agent Thomas Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) travels to Transylvania to meet with a reclusive client named Count Orlok (Max Schreck), who sucks his blood, then sets out by sea to find and ravage Hutter’s wife (Greta Schroder).

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Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary refers to this early F.W. Murnau adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula as “the greatest of all vampire films”, noting that it stars “the most-hideous looking vampire there has ever been”, possesses “a surprising amount of tension”, and features an “extremely powerful” finale. Peary’s review primarily centers on an analysis of Orlok’s vampiric “sexual aggression”, and Schroder’s willingness to “overcome her sexual repression… rather than letting [Orlok’s] sexual aggression be what sexually liberates her.” These “sexually” charged scenes, however, only comprise the final few minutes of the film; the remainder of the story is memorable due primarily to Murnau (and cinematographer Fritz Wagner’s) “haunting images” — in Orlok’s castle, at sea on the “death ship” (Orlok’s presence on board causes a rat-infested plague), and in the streets of Hutter’s hometown.

Film fanatics will be interested to note that Nosferatu possesses a notorious history: Murnau and his producer failed to secure the rights from Stoker’s widow to film Dracula, and — despite their concession in changing the names of the characters — eventually were forced to burn all copies of the negative. Fortunately, at least a few prints survived, and the film has now become one of the most iconic horror flicks of the silent era.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Max Schreck as Count Orlok
    Nosferatu Schreck
  • Fritz Wagner’s cinematography
    Nosferatu Shadows
  • Countless memorable images
    Nosferatu Death
  • Nosferatu Schreck
    Nosferatu Window

Must See?
Yes, for its historical importance. Remade by Werner Herzog in 1979.

Categories

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

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Children of the Damned (1963)

Children of the Damned (1963)

“Either they control us or we control them — that’s the law of nature!”

Children of the Damned Poster

Synopsis:
Two scientists (Ian Hendry and Alan Badel) discover that six genetically similar children exist around the world who possess a vastly superior intelligence. When they’re brought to London for further observation, however, all hell breaks loose, as government officials begin to speculate about how the children’s powers may be “used”, and the children react defensively by secluding themselves in an enormous church.

Genres:

Review:
This follow-up to 1960’s classic horror film Village of the Damned takes the original story’s essential concept — children with superhuman intelligence who pose a threat to humanity — and shifts it into an entirely different context. This time, the children (though still mysteriously born to virginal mothers) live in various countries around the world, look different (rather than wearing the same blonde wig, they’re a veritable multicultural crew), and aren’t posited as inherently evil or alien — indeed, they only band together once they realize that they’re about to be used as pawns by governments eager to exploit their extraordinary talents for military purposes. The second half of the film basically features a show-down between the children and British military forces, with additional drama generated through a quibbling pair of scientists (Ian Hendry and Alan Badel) who disagree about whether the children should be destroyed or protected. Ultimately, Children of the Damned is more of a pacifist parable than a horror flick, and never reaches the chilling heights of its iconic predecessor; nonetheless, it’s certainly worth a look on its own merits.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The freaky scene in which the children use mind control to force two men to kill each other rather than them
    Children Damned Kill
  • Ian Hendry and Alan Badel as two scientists with radically different takes on the situation
    Children Damned Scientists
  • Effective use of London streets
    Children Damned Streets
  • Davis Boulton’s atmospheric b&w cinematography
    Children Damned Cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s certainly worth a look. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Femme Infidele, La (1969)

Femme Infidele, La (1969)

“Why should anyone just disappear?”

Synopsis:
A business man (Michel Bouquet) who discovers his wife (Stephane Audran) is having an affair murders her lover (Maurice Ronet) while visiting his apartment.

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Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this “erotic, subtle, meticulously crafted” thriller — one of director Claude Chabrol’s finest films — “fits into no genre” but “draws you in completely”. While it’s “deceptively slow at first”, it remains compelling throughout, thanks in large part to the psychologically complex performances by Michel Bouquet (star of Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black and Mississippi Mermaid) and Stephane Audran (Chabrol’s wife and frequent leading lady). Helene’s (Audran’s) infidelity is revealed subtly, without drama or fanfare — this is a “happily married” bourgeois couple, after all, who enjoy a good life together with their adorable, intelligent son (Francois Moro-Giafferi) in a large Versailles house. Likewise, Charles’ (Bouquet’s) “revenge” occurs unexpectedly — we have no idea (and neither does he) that events will eventually take such a bloody, fatal turn. Perhaps most surprising, however, is Helene’s ultimate response once she learns what her husband has done; according to Peary’s analysis, “Chabrol is stating that bourgeois life is so stifling, so oppressive, and so resistant to change or growth, that it takes no less than an act of murder on one person’s part to shake up things in a positive way.”

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Stephane Audran as Helen Desvallees
    Femme Infidele Audran
  • Michel Bouquet as Charles Desvallees
    Femme Infidele Bouquet
  • Maurice Ronet as Helene’s lover, Victor
    Femme Infidele Ronet
  • A chillingly effective portrait of a bourgeois marriage rocked by infidelity
    Femme Infidele Marriage

Must See?
Yes, as one of Chabrol’s finest films. Remade (though less successfully) in 2002 by Adrian Lyne as Unfaithful, starring Diane Lane and Richard Gere.

Categories

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Village of the Damned (1960)

Village of the Damned (1960)

“You have to be taught to leave us alone.”

Synopsis:
In a small British village, twelve emotionless blonde children with extraordinary intellect are mysteriously born at the same time. A scientist (George Sanders) whose wife (Barbara Shelley) has given birth to one of these odd children (Martin Stephens) becomes their teacher, and learns that their powers may be more destructive than anyone could have imagined…

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this “scary, well-made movie” — a “loose adaptation of John Wyndham’s novel The Midwich Cuckoos” — is “a top-notch horror film” which features “impressive atmospheric direction by Wolf Rilla” (who never made another “important film”). As in Val Lewton’s horror films of the 1940s, Rilla generates tension primarily through atmosphere and suggestion rather than explicit violence; the opening sequence, for instance — in which villager after villager collapses in the middle of their daily business — is truly frightening in its implication of sudden collective powerlessness. Indeed, throughout the film, we’re kept in suspense about what exactly has caused these mysterious children to be (virginally) conceived and then born — we can surmise that they’re alien spawn of some kind, but we never learn this for a fact, nor do we understand why or how they’re able to grow (both in utero and out) at nearly twice the normal human rate.

While Village of the Damned works perfectly well on its own as simply a taut, enjoyable horror flick, the presentation of other-worldly children who share a collective brain and have the power to make the adults around them do whatever they wish remains ripe for thematic investigation. In some ways, they’re clearly an allegory for the Communist Scare of the 1950s — emotionless beings who have invaded an idyllic Western town, and must be destroyed (by decisive force) before they “take over” (though their icy blonde hair makes them appear more like Aryan cogs than Russian workers). Others (see, for instance, the Not Coming to a Theater Near You review link below) have suggested that Village of the Damned represents a thinly veiled exploration of sexual mores in the 1960s, when women’s right to control their own reproductive potential was squarely in confrontation with religious mandates. Regardless of one’s deeper analysis, however, the unsmiling children — with their glowing, penetrating gaze (the film’s only concession to special effects) — remain an iconic trope in the history of horror cinema.

P.S. While Peary argues that this was the first film “to exploit… the horror potential” of “children-as-monsters”, the kids here — with their odd blonde haircuts and bangs — bear more than a faint resemblance to “evil” Rhoda Penmark in 1956’s The Bad Seed

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The creepy opening sequence
    Village Damned Opening
  • George Sanders as Gordon Zellaby
    Village Damned Sanders
  • Barbara Shelley as Sanders’ wife, Anthea
    Village Damned Shelley
  • Martin Stephens as Sanders’ “son”
    Village Damned Stephens
  • The eerie scene in which the “one year old” babies teach each other how to open up a trick box with a chocolate inside
    Village Damned Trick Box
  • Geoffrey Faithfull’s b&w cinematography
    Village Damned Cinematography

Must See?
Yes, for its status as a classic British horror flick. Remade in 1995 by John Carpenter, and followed by a pseudo-sequel (Children of the Damned) in 1964.

Categories

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Beach Blanket Bingo (1965)

Beach Blanket Bingo (1965)

“It’s a wiggy beach!”

Synopsis:
Teen lovers Frankie (Frankie Avalon) and Dee Dee (Annette Funicello) find their relationship strained by the sudden arrival of a quibbling sky-diving duo (Deborah Walley and John Ashley) and a beautiful pop singer (Linda Evans). Meanwhile, their friend Bonehead (Jody McCrea) falls for a mermaid (Marta Kristen), while Eric Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) — leader of a local motorcycle gang — falls for Sugar Kane (Evans).

Genres:

Review:
This late entry in the “Beach Party” franchise is considered by many to be the best — and most entertaining — of the bunch. As usual, Frankie and Dee Dee find their relationship (temporarily) threatened by the presence of a buxom blonde who catches Frankie’s straying eye, while other stock characters — including surfer Bonehead (Joel McCrea’s son, Jody) and fascist motorcyclist Eric Von Zipper (the humorously over-age Harvey Lembeck) — get involved in a variety of innocuous romances or minor scrapes. This time around, skydiving offers the primary “alternative thrill” for these beach-loving teens — but the sport doesn’t serve much purpose other than to introduce Deborah Walley and John Ashley as the requisite rivals for Frankie and Dee Dee’s attention. Beach Blanket Bingo‘s main redeeming quality is the presence of Paul Lynde as Linda Evans’ snide talent agent; his delivery of one-liners (ten times smarter than the teens themselves) is priceless. Ultimately, however, this innocuous comedy will only be of real interest to die-hard fans of the series; all-purpose film fanatics would be best served simply watching the 1963 original (Beach Party) to get a sense of what was to come.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Paul Lynde as Evans’ talent agent
  • Funicello and Avalon singing “I Think You Think” while strolling along the beach

Must See?
No, unless you’re a die-hard fan of the series. Listed as Camp Classic in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Gods Must Be Crazy, The (1980)

Gods Must Be Crazy, The (1980)

“Xi had never seen anything like this in his life — it looked like water, but was harder than anything else in the world…”

Gods Crazy Poster

Synopsis:
When a Coke bottle is dropped from a plane in the middle of the Kalahari desert, it disrupts the lives of a peaceful tribe of bushmen, so the man who found it (N!xau) volunteers to “drop it off the face of the earth”. Meanwhile, a bumbling biologist (Marius Weyers) attempts to woo a beautiful young teacher (Sandra Prinsloo), whose students have been kidnapped by a band of revolutionary terrorists; it’s up to N!xau to help save the day.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary praises this unexpected “cult favorite” from South Africa as a “surefire crowd-pleaser”, calling it a “rare picture that will appeal to to everyone in the family.” These days, The Gods Must Be Crazy — which was followed by a popular sequel in 1989 — comes across as enjoyable in parts but ultimately uneven; the sequences of slapstick violence between guerrilla rebels and the Burundian government are particularly interminable (and not at all amusing). In addition, knowing as we do now that the Bushmen (who Peary naively — though understandably — believes are simply “playing themselves”) were actually asked to strip their clothes and pretend to live like their “noble” ancestors detracts from the film’s innate charm; we have to work a bit harder to believe in the veracity of their pastoral existence.

With that said, there’s plenty to recommend in The Gods Must Be Crazy, which is certainly one of the best comedies to emerge from Africa. Director Jamie Uys does a particularly fine job highlighting the hypocrisy of “civilization” in contrast with tribal living; the pseudo-scientific anthropological voiceover — though overused in far too many films — works surprisingly well here. In addition, the lead performances by both bumbling Marius Weyers (who Peary likens to Jacques Tati) and N!xau (adorably “innocent”) are marvelous — whenever they’re on-screen, the story sparkles. My favorite scene is probably the one in which N!xau watches sexy Sandra Prinsloo undressing, and we hear his hilariously disparaging thoughts via voiceover (“She was as pale as something that had crawled out of a rotting log…”); this is the best cinematic example I’ve seen so far of how beauty — along with so many other values — is indeed culturally relative.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • N!xau as Xi
    Gods Crazy Xi
  • Marius Weyers as a hopelessly clumsy biologist
    Gods Crazy Weyers
  • Weyers attempting to navigate his brakeless car across country roads
    Gods Crazy Car
  • Beautiful cinematography of Kalahari landscapes
    Gods Crazy Landscape
  • The often hilarious “faux-anthropologist” narration — as when N!xau sees the sexy, slender, half-dressed Prinsloo for the first time:

    That morning, he saw the ugliest person he’d ever come across. She was as pale as something that had crawled out of a rotting log; her hair was quite gruesome, long and stringy and white, as if she was very old; she was very big — he’d have to take the whole day to find enough food to feed her.

Must See?
Yes, for its status as a long-running cult favorite. Discussed at length in Peary’s Cult Movies 3 (1988).

Categories

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