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Month: March 2013

Private Lives (1931)

Private Lives (1931)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Peary title; click here to read more.]

“It was lovely — at the beginning…”

Private Lives Poster

Synopsis:
A recently divorced couple (Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery) encounter each other while on honeymoon with their new spouses (Reginald Denny and Una Merkel), and decide to give their failed marriage another chance.

Genres:

  • Marital Problems
  • Newlyweds
  • Norma Shearer Films
  • Play Adaptation
  • Robert Montgomery Films
  • Romantic Comedy

Review:
Peary doesn’t review this pre-Code adaptation of Noel Coward’s best-known play (part of the “comedy of remarriage” subgenre) in his GFTFF, but he does nominate Norma Shearer as one of the Best Actresses of the Year in his Alternate Oscars — thus, I’m reviewing it as a potential Missing Title. However, despite positive reviews both at the time of its release (Mordaunt Hall of the New York Times referred to it as “a swift and witty picture”) and more recently (TV Guide writes that “the acting is excellent, and the result is charming”), I find it difficult to see the appeal of either the story or the characters. We know from the beginning that Montgomery and Shearer are one of “those couples” — and we all know at least one — who simultaneously adore and detest one another (see my recent review of Two For the Road for another example), and will remain together through giddy thick or acrimonious thin; but it’s our sorry luck as viewers to have to sit through their tiresome series of fights and make-ups. Clearly, fans of Coward and/or Shearer will want to search this one out, but it isn’t must-see for all film fanatics.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Norma Shearer as Amanda Prynne
    Private Lives Shearer

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look simply for Shearer’s performance.

Links:

Big Combo, The (1955)

Big Combo, The (1955)

“Brown’s not a man; he’s an organization.”

Big Combo Poster

Synopsis:
A police detective (Cornel Wilde) pursues an elusive gangster (Richard Conte) whose terrified girlfriend (Jean Wallace) is afraid to leave him and whose loyal henchmen (Earl Holliman and Lee Van Cleef) protect him at every turn.

Genres:

Review:
While B-director Joseph H. Lewis is best known for his stunning cult classic Gun Crazy (1949), this later outing provides further evidence of his unique cinematic genius. Despite being labeled “a sputtering, misguided antique” by the New York Times upon its release (!), it remains an exciting, visually gripping cat-and-mouse tale which completely belies its low budget. Indeed, while the performances (both lead and supporting) are top-notch, and Philip Yordan’s script is satisfyingly pulpy, it’s John Alton’s stunning noir-ish cinematography — utilizing high-contrast lighting, extreme angles, and shadowy fog — that really lingers in one’s memory of the film (see stills below). Also of note is the film’s (relatively) graphic presentation of sexuality, sadism, and homoerotic tensions; see TCM’s article for more details about how and why the film ran into trouble with Hollywood’s censorship police.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Richard Conte as Mr. Brown
    Big Combo Conte
  • Jean Wallace as Susan Lowell
    Big Combo Wallace
  • Fine performances by supporting players — including Brian Donlevy as Joe McClure, Lee Van Cleef and Earl Holliman as henchmen Fante and Mingo, and John Hoyt as Nils Dreyer
    Big Combo Van Cleef Middleton
    Big Combo Hoyt
  • John Alton’s stunning low-budget cinematography
    Big Combo Cinematography
  • Joseph Lewis’s fine direction
    Big Combo Direction2
  • Philip Yordan’s script

Must See?
Yes, as a most satisfying B-level flick. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.

Categories

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Two For the Road (1967)

Two For the Road (1967)

“That’s marriage for you.”

Two for the Road Poster

Synopsis:
An unhappy wife (Audrey Hepburn) reflects back on her troubled marriage to an architect (Albert Finney).

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this Stanley Donen-directed romantic comedy (written by Frederic Raphael, who also scripted John Schlesinger’s Darling and Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut) is a “cult film for romantics”, “many [of whom] have been known to become emotionally attached to it”. He notes that “while watching Finney and Hepburn at various times in their relationship”, we “can examine their marriage from the outside”, and clearly “see the road-as-life and trip-as-marriage metaphors”. He argues that “we come to like these two people more than they do themselves”, and to “understand why their marriage has lasted and will survive”. He states that “they are a great couple, flaws and all”, and refers to them as “one of the few screen couples since William Powell and Myrna Loy who make marriage seem exciting”, given that “even their squabbling is romantic”. He argues that Raphael’s script possesses “excellent” dialogue, and that “he smoothly blends comedy… painful drama… and sentimentality”. Finally, he notes that “Donen does a good job handling the changes in tone, except when he attempts some speeded-up slapstick during the film’s least successful sequence, in which Hepburn and Finney travel with super-punctual William Daniels, his wife, Eleanor Bron, and their bratty daughter”.

Unfortunately, I’m not nearly as enamored with this nouvelle vague-inspired cult classic as Peary (and many others) are. I’ve seen it twice now — once many years ago, and again just recently — and still find myself unable to engage with either the characters or their travails. While Raphael’s screenplay was indeed innovative for the time, it now seems like merely an excuse for cinematic trickery, with form trumping content; we focus so much on watching Hepburn’s Joanna and Finney’s Mark shifting between various eras of their relationship (coded primarily by Hepburn’s haircuts and outfits) that we lose all sense of why we should care about these individuals to begin with. Indeed, I disagree with Peary’s assertion that “we come to like these two people”, given that we never learn who, exactly, they are, other than partners in an endlessly contentious marriage; meanwhile, the specifics of their livelihoods — including an unlikely encounter with a wealthy European couple who just happen to be looking for a sharp young architect like Finney — further strain the film’s credibility. Ultimately, at risk of sounding like a philistine, I find myself agreeing most with Bosley Crowther’s review for the NY Times, where he argues that the film “doesn’t tell us very much about marriage and life, other than the old romantic axiom that lovers are likelier to be happy when poor than when rich.”

Yet clearly Two for the Road resonates on a deeply personal level for Peary — and a quick glance at IMDb’s message boards and user reviews reveals that quite a few others feel the same way. In his first Cult Movies book, Peary relates an anecdote of going to see this film while on a road trip heading towards college for the first time, and how it “was a revelation to a college freshmen who hadn’t known there was life after high school”. In this essay, he offers an in-depth analysis of sections from Raphael’s script, arguing that “no contribution [to the film] is more significant than the screenplay”, and that it’s “a writer’s movie”. He points out how the script is rare in paying “as much attention… to gestures as… to dialogue”, and, given that it was written specifically for the screen, in specifying “every effect, movement and motivation” in cinematic terms. Indeed, reading Peary’s analysis provides me with better insight as to why it’s so critically lauded; yet while it may be true, as Peary writes, that “Joanna and Mark are emotional mosaics of the problems and roadblocks we each may bring to a relationship: the selfishness, the intolerance, the egotism, the misguided values, the impulsiveness, the thoughtlessness, the infidelity”, my inability to care about these particular characters makes it difficult for me to glean as much from the film as others apparently can.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Audrey Hepburn as Joanna (voted Best Actress of the Year in Peary’s Alternate Oscars)
    Two for the Road Hepburn
  • Fine cinematography
    Two for the Road Cinematography
  • Henry Mancini’s score

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a one-time look, and may even become a personal favorite — it’s just not mine. Listed as one of the Best Films of the Year in Alternate Oscars.

Links:

Holiday (1938)

Holiday (1938)

“I’ve got all the faith in the world in Johnny.”

Holiday Poster

Synopsis:
When an heiress (Doris Nolan) brings home the man (Cary Grant) she intends to marry, her eccentric sister (Katharine Hepburn) is thrilled to learn that Grant possesses a rebellious, anti-materialist streak; but will their fiscally conservative father (Henry Kolker) approve of Grant as a future son-in-law, given Grant’s desire to retire as soon as possible and explore the world?

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes in his brief review, “Philip Barry’s play… makes an excellent vehicle for Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn”, who would more famously co-star in an adaptation of another Barry play two years later — The Philadelphia Story (1940). Peary argues that while the “story is predictable” — we know from the beginning that Hepburn and Grant will fall for each other, and that Nolan will turn out to be a bad match for Grant — the “writing is first-rate”, the “stars, particularly Hepburn, [are] excellent”, and it’s “well directed by George Cukor”. The supporting actors are all excellent as well — most notably Edward Everett Horton as one of Grant’s lifelong friends (while still undeniably fey, he’s nonetheless quite convincing as a happily married professor), Jean Dixon as Horton’s wife, and Kolker as Hepburn and Nolan’s father.

While Holiday can certainly be enjoyed on a surface level as simply a smart romantic comedy, it possesses nuanced social and psychodynamic subtexts. As noted in Stephanie Zacharek’s touching homage-review (she considers it a personal favorite), “a mantle of sadness hangs over this most stylish of comedies”, which in its “ruthlessness” not only “makes a case for building a life in which you’re surrounded by people you love” but is “also unflinching about steeling yourself against people who can only hurt you, no matter who they are”. With that said, as DVD Savant points out, the play/screenplay, for better or for worse, “pussyfoots around its central issue without ever really addressing it”, given that we never really learn “what the blazes [Grant’s character is] babbling about, and how… a kid who supported himself from age ten and rose to become a Wall Street genius fit[s] into [the nebulous] philosophy” of “big, exciting new ideas coming into the world” (will he join the war in Spain?). Regardless, we’re clearly meant to see that nonconformist Grant and zany Hepburn (who, in Zacharek’s words, “is not just stifled by her upper-crust lifestyle but almost destroyed by it”) are a couple simply meant to be — and we take immense pleasure in watching how they will finally come to this realization themselves.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Cary Grant as Johnny
    Holiday Grant
  • Katharine Hepburn as Linda (nominated by Peary as one of the Best Actresses of the Year in his Alternate Oscars)
    Holiday Hepburn
  • Henry Kolker as the Seton patriarch
    Holiday Kolker
  • Edward Everett Horton (reprising his role from the 1930 version of the film) and Jean Dixon as Professor and Mrs. Horton
    Holiday Horton and Dixon
  • A fine screenplay by Donald Ogden Stewart and Sidney Buchman (based on Philip Barry’s play):

    “You know, most people, including Johnny and yourself, make a big mistake about Julia. They’re taken in by her looks. At bottom, she’s a very dull girl and the life she pictures for herself is the life she belongs in.”

Must See?
Yes, as an excellent, expertly directed romantic comedy, and for the fine performances.

Categories

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Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1968)

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1968)

“A lot of people are going to think we are a shocking pair.”

Guess Whos Coming to Dinner Poster

Synopsis:
A liberal white couple (Spencer Tracy) find their beliefs challenged when their daughter (Katherine Houghton) brings home a black fiance (Sidney Poitier).

Genres:

Review:
Although Peary doesn’t review this Oscar-nominated Stanley Kramer film in GFTFF, in his Alternate Oscars book he refers to it as a “dismal interracial-marriage comedy-drama”, and notes that “Hepburn’s [Oscar-winning] portrayal of a patient housewife who… must come to terms with daughter Katharine Houghton’s decision to marry” Poitier was the “blandest of her career”. He writes that “you keep expecting her to have a tremendous scene all to herself, but it never happens”; indeed, her performance is really more of a supporting one, with nearly all the characters given equal air time (though Tracy’s white male opinion, perhaps predictably for the times, ultimately emerges as the definitive one). Speaking of Tracy, it’s hard not to be moved when watching what turned out to be his final performance (he died 17 days after production ended). Meanwhile, the actors playing Poitier’s parents (Roy E. Glenn, Sr. and Beah Richards) are touching and believable in their scenes, and Poitier gives a solid if undistinguished performance in a role which he could surely relate to on a personal level.

The primary problem with William Rose’s well-meaning, occasionally incisive script is that — despite being written specifically for this production — it comes across as little more than a filmed play, with one intense, two-person dialogue scene coming right after the other; the only minor relief we’re given from this basic set-up is when Tracy and Hepburn stop to get some ice cream while out on a drive (but even this scenario — in which Tracy can’t remember the type of ice cream he once loved so much, takes a chance on a flavor he thinks might have “been the one”, is disappointed to find it isn’t the one he originally had, then concedes that it’s not too bad in its own right — devolves into a cliched metaphor). The other enormous problem — one apparently lamented by Houghton herself — is how poorly written her central character is; we never once feel that her one-dimensional “Joey” will actually make a good partner for Poitier, given how little we learn about her own passions and interests. While I’m recommending this film as a one-time “must see” film simply for its historical significance, it’s ultimately both too dated and too “safe” to be considered a classic.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Katharine Hepburn as Christina Drayton
    Guess Whos Coming Hepburn
  • Spencer Tracy as Matt Drayton
    Guess Whos Coming Tracy
  • Fine supporting performances by Roy E. Glenn, Sr. and Beah Richards
    Guess Whos Coming Richards
    Guess Whos Coming Glenn Sr

Must See?
Yes, once — simply for its historical significance.

Categories

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Picnic (1955)

Picnic (1955)

“What good is it just to be pretty?”

Picnic Poster

Synopsis:
A hunky drifter (William Holden) arrives in a small Kansas town over Labor Day weekend, intending to look up his old college friend (Cliff Robertson) and secure some work — but he soon finds himself falling in love with Robertson’s beautiful girlfriend (Kim Novak), whose single mother (Betty Field) is eager to see Novak married off to wealthy Robertson. Meanwhile, a spinster schoolteacher (Rosalind Russell) despairs over whether her boyfriend (Arthur O’Connell) will ever marry her, and Novak’s bookish younger sister (Susan Strasberg) longs to become a writer in New York.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary accurately notes that this adaptation (by Joshua Logan) of William Inge’s play about a drifter “whose presence arouses passions” in a town where everyone “seemed repressed” is “badly dated, especially in its portrayal of women” — given that “Novak actually starts to believe her mother’s… propaganda that a woman must marry”. He argues that “Holden seems miscast” and that the “film would have worked better with Douglas Sirk directing Rock Hudson” — an interesting proposition, given that so much of the film (helped not at all by George Duning’s overbearing score) comes across as almost laughably melodramatic, as in the following exchange:

Novak: I’m only 19.
Field: And next summer you’ll be 20…
Novak: And then 21, and then…
Field: 40.
Novak: You don’t have to be morbid!

Meanwhile, Russell is, as Peary points out, “pretty intolerable”, and Strasberg’s character — “an intellectual [who] isn’t supposed to need a man” — comes across as simply whiny and obnoxious. Peary argues that the film’s “highlight is the hot ‘mating’ dance (to ‘Moonglow’) of Holden and Novak” — and this scene is handled nicely by both Logan and DP James Wong Howe (who infuses the entire film with a soft glow). But my favorite section of the film is when Logan opens up Inge’s play to highlight various vignettes from the Labor Day picnic (only discussed in the play, rather than shown). In truth, I’m simply not a fan of this story at all — and Novak’s vacuous central performance doesn’t help matters any. Despite its status as one of the top moneymakers of its time, modern film fanatics needn’t bother checking this one out.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The fun “picnic activities” montage
    Picnic Picnic
    Picnic Picnic2
  • James Wong Howe’s cinematography
    Picnic Cinematography
    Picnic Cinematography2

Must See?
No; feel free to skip this one.

Links:

Sylvia Scarlett (1935)

Sylvia Scarlett (1935)

“Are you a girl dressed as a boy? Or are you a boy dressed as a girl?”

Sylvia Scarlett Poster

Synopsis:
A young French woman (Katharine Hepburn) flees to England with her embezzling father (Edmund Gwenn), disguising herself as a boy to escape notice. During their voyage, they befriend a con-artist (Cary Grant) and begin a life of crime and performance-art together, joined by a ditzy maid (Dennie Moore) who Gwenn soon marries. When Hepburn becomes enamored with a handsome artist (Brian Aherne), she exposes her true identity — but is Aherne really in love with a beautiful Russian (Natalie Paley)?

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary begins his review of this unusual cult flick (also discussed at length in his first Cult Movies book, which I cite here) by noting that “for years [director] George Cukor would say this box-office flop was the one embarrassing blot on his and Katharine Hepburn’s illustrious careers”, but that “in the mid-sixties it began turning up with increasing frequency on college campuses and in repertory theaters, and a cult for the film took root” — one that is “equally the result of both the unique style of the picture and the unconventional presentation of sex roles”. Interestingly, “critics of thirties never mentioned the sexual implications of the film”; indeed, given that “during this period… subjects like transvestism and bisexuality were taboo”, it’s “remarkable that… no one mentioned the strange things that happen”, such as “Hepburn kissed on the lips by Paley, who thinks she’s a boy and tries to seduce him” (the point at which 3/4ths of the preview audience walked out), or Aherne “invit[ing] ‘Sylvester’ to sleep with him”, and later quipping, “I don’t know what it is that gives me a queer feeling when I look at you”.

While Sylvia Scarlett‘s transgressive sexual politics surely make it a favorite with the LGBTQ crowd, it’s also notable for its transgressive gender politics — i.e., the way in which Sylvia “gains [both] stature… in [her father’s] eyes [as well as] independence” once she cuts off her hair and pretends to be a boy, and how “by dressing in men’s clothes, she is able to free that latent part of herself” — i.e., “being athletic” and “speak[ing] her mind for the first time” — that was “previously kept hidden by convention”. Indeed, “only by pretending to be a male can Sylvia open up the world for herself and bring out her real self”; and “only as a male can Sylvia control her own destiny and make her own rules”. Along those lines, Peary points out that “few pictures are so rooted in theater”, and that “no film is more concerned with ‘acting’ as a method (rather than a profession) for living one’s life”, given that “it’s populated by characters whose lives revolve around disguise and deception”.

In Cult Movies, Peary ends his review by conceding that “Sylvia Scarlett is far from a great film”. He points out that Cukor couldn’t “decide whether he was filming a comedy or a drama”, that it’s “dull at times”, and that there are “too many moments when characters display cruelty that is sadistic and hard to watch”. I would also add that Dennie Moore’s performance as Maudie the maid very quickly gets on one’s nerves, and that the character played by Paley is sorely underdeveloped. Yet SS remains “one of the most interesting films of the thirties” despite its flaws and faults, and is certainly must-see viewing for all film fanatics simply for its enduring cult status.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Katharine Hepburn as Sylvia/Sylvester (nominated by Peary as one of the Best Actresses of the Year in his Alternate Oscars)
    Sylvia Scarlett Hepburn
  • A refreshingly fluid presentation of sexuality and gender
    Sylvia Scarlett Sexuality

Must See?
Yes, for its cult status.

Categories

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Philadelphia Story, The (1940)

Philadelphia Story, The (1940)

“You have everything it takes to make a lovely woman except the one essential: an understanding heart. And without that, you might just as well be made of bronze.”

Synopsis:
An exacting heiress (Katharine Hepburn) finds her upcoming marriage to a wealthy social climber (John Howard) disrupted by the presence of her alcoholic ex-husband (Cary Grant), who has sought revenge by enlisting the help of a meddling magazine reporter (James Stewart) and his photographer (Ruth Hussey) to cover the wedding — but the situation becomes even more complicated when Stewart falls for Hepburn himself, ignoring the fact that his colleague (Hussey) is smitten with him.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “classic screwball comedy” — “adapted from Philip Barry’s 1939 Broadway success, which he’d written especially for… Hepburn” — was Hepburn’s strategically chosen “vehicle for her return to Hollywood after a two-year hiatus” due to being “designated box office poison”. Peary notes that Hepburn “got to play with her own public image, in an effort to show that underneath her haughty, classy exterior… she was vulnerable and loyal”. Indeed, the central premise of the film revolves around Hepburn’s character “com[ing] to see her own imperfect side”, and embracing herself as a “woman” rather than a “priggish goddess”. Yet as Peary points out, “the major problem with the play-film is that [Hepburn’s] Tracy Lord never seems like a prig or someone who will accept only perfection”, given that “she is eccentric, funny, wild, and tolerant of unconventional people, like her flighty mother (Mary Nash), quirky younger sister (Virginia Weidler), and dirty old uncle (Roland Young).”

Peary further writes that “two other problems are that Grant is too passive a character and that Hussey really gets mistreated by Stewart without telling him off” — but he notes that “despite all, this is a scintillating comedy, because the acting by the wonderful cast transcends the material”. In addition, “as directed by George Cukor, the comic dialogues have a marvelous rhythm… The characters could be speaking Japanese, but so snappy are their comebacks and so sly are their expressions that we’d laugh anyway”. I’m in full agreement with Peary’s overall assessment: it’s the stellar performances and witty dialogue that ultimately “sell” me on The Philadelphia Story, which I’ll admit to finding a tad too romantically convoluted for my tastes (though at least we’re kept in genuine suspense until the very end about who will end up with whom, and why). However, while not a personal favorite, this classic “comedy of remarriage” — remade with Grace Kelly and Bing Crosby in 1956 as the musical High Society — is most definitely must-see viewing for all film fanatics at least once.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Katharine Hepburn as Tracy Lord
  • Jimmy Stewart as Macaulay Connor
  • Ruth Hussey as Liz Imbrie
  • Cary Grant as C.K. Dexter Haven
  • Virginia Weidler as Dinah Lord
  • Witty dialogue:

    Nash: “We must just be ourselves… Very much ourselves.”
    Weidler: [Without missing a beat] “But you want us to make a good impression, don’t you?”

Must See?
Yes, as a beloved classic and for the standout performances.

Categories

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

Links:

I Was a Male War Bride (1949)

I Was a Male War Bride (1949)

“Who cares about regulations at a time like this?”

I Was Male War Bride Poster

Synopsis:
Shortly after WWII, a French soldier (Cary Grant) marries an American WAC (Ann Sheridan), but finds he must label himself a “war bride” in order to get into the U.S. with her.

Genres:

Review:
As noted by DVD Savant in his perceptive review, this “lightly amusing comedy” by Howard Hawks — based on Henri Rochard’s autobiography I Was an Alien Spouse of Female Military Personnel Enroute to the United States Under Public Law 271 of the Congress — has “probably… dated more than a lot of other 1950 comedies”, and requires an understanding of its geopolitical “context to become fully functional”. Its primary calling card is the image of Cary Grant in drag — but this only occurs for about 10 minutes late in the film; the bulk of the storyline (once quibbling Grant and Sheridan realize they’re a perfect romantic fit for one another) revolves around Sheridan’s attempts to get her new husband back to the United States with her, coupled with an ongoing “gag” about their inability to consummate their marriage. Fortunately, the script (by Charles Lederer, Hagar Wilde, and Leonard Spigelgass) keeps one engaged even when the premise itself starts to feel somewhat tiresome — and Sheridan’s feisty performance reminds one that she was an underutilized presence in Hollywood. But this one will primarily be of interest to Hawksian completists.

Note: Interestingly, Peary nominates Grant as one of the Best Actors of the Year in his Alternate Oscars — though Grant never even bothers to attempt the requisite French accent for his Belgian character (!), and his performance is really nothing special.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Ann Sheridan as Lt. Catherine Gates
    I Was a Male War Bride Still2
  • Fine direction of an amusing script by Charles Lederer, Hagar Wilde, and Leonard Spigelgass

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended for one-time viewing. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Beast With Five Fingers, The (1945)

Beast With Five Fingers, The (1945)

“In my mind, there is no doubt the hand is walking around.”

Beast With Five Fingers Poster

Synopsis:
When a one-handed pianist (Victor Francen) dies, his loyal secretary (Peter Lorre) is distressed to learn that he’s been left out of his will, and soon comes to believe that Francen’s disembodied hand is stalking him.

Genres:

Review:
Robert Florey directed dozens of forgettable B-level flicks throughout his career (see his profile at IMDb), yet a small handful of his titles remain worth a look — most notably Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), The Face Behind the Mask (1941) (with Peter Lorre), and this later Lorre vehicle, perhaps best known for being the first “disembodied hand” flick to emerge from Hollywood. Unfortunately, the screenplay for TBWFF (scripted in part by Curt Siodmak) is poorly paced and a bit of a mess, shifting aimlessly between various characters throughout the first half; but once it finally settles on Lorre — the most interesting character by far — the horror vibes really start to fly, as truly impressive special effects — coupled with atmospheric cinematography and excellent use of creepy piano music — begin to dominate the proceedings. As noted in Time Out’s capsule review, “The fudged ending imposed by the studio deflates much of the mystery” — but the half-hour or so that comes before makes TBWFF a once-must classic of the genre.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Peter Lorre as Hilary Cummins
    BWFF Lorre
  • Fine direction by Robert Florey
    BWFF Direction
  • Exciting, remarkably impressive special effects
    BWFF Effects2
  • Atmospheric cinematography
    BWFF Cinematography
  • Powerful use of classical music

Must See?
Yes, as a flawed but memorable horror classic.

Categories

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