Got an assortment of short films to cover today. Rather than give each of them individual full-length reviews — I find it hard to justify giving a 20-minute film an entire day to itself — I thought I would cover the three of them in a single post. Two are comedies, one is science-fiction; two are effectively silent films, one is a talkie; and all are black and white and older than 1950.
The three films? The Three Stooges short Brideless Groom, Georges Méliès’s famous A Trip to the Moon, and the Charlie Chaplin Keystone short The Rounders. Continue reading →
“X Marks the Spot.” It’s a phrase that has become a cliche, an easy way to designate certain locations as being of significance. It immediately conjures up visions of treasure maps and hidden secrets. Given its inherent declaration of exciting adventure, it’s perhaps surprising that only two feature films have ever used the title — this one from 1942 and an even more obscure one in 1931. (IMDb lists this film as a remake of the other, but as the plots are dissimilar, this seems erroneous.) It may be even more surprising that the title seems to have little to do with the film. There is no hunt for a treasure, although there are certainly secrets, and there is no X revealing the location of what’s hidden. The “Spot” is just a nightclub, albeit a significant one.
The film is by director George Sherman, a prolific “second feature” (i.e., B-movie) filmmaker whose biggest title as a director was Big Jake. Sherman directed a vast number of westerns, but X Marks the Spot is a noir mystery set in the era immediately following the repeal of Prohibition. Continue reading →
Today hasn’t left me a lot of time to watch or write anything, so it seems like a good time to bring out another classic Three Stooges short. 1949′s Malice in the Palace, directed and produced by Jules White, is another film from the Shemp era of the Three Stooges. In this short, the Stooges are restauranteurs “somewhere in the Orient”, in an unnamed quasi-Arabic nation. Their business is disrupted — and they in turn disrupt — by the arrival of a pair of ne’er-do-wells (Vernon Dent and George J. Lewis) who plan to rob the tomb of King Rooten-tooten and steal a diamond worth a hundred thousand dollars. Continue reading →
One Body Too Many was released in 1944, and concerns the metaphorical and literal back-stabbing among a group of relatives concerning their late uncle’s will. Directed by Frank McDonald, it was made during the height of the film noir era, and the premise certainly lends itself to a tale of suspense. But though it has that element to it, One Body Too Many has a lot more in common with Clue than with Alfred Hitchcock. In fact, it’s possible to see an influence on Clue (whether the latter was directly influenced or is just mimicking the same format is hard to say), with the themes of underhanded murders, numerous guests trapped in a mansion against their will, and the arguable heroes being way in over their heads.
Throw in Bela Lugosi as an all-too-sinister butler, and the result is a murderous little comedy. Continue reading →
One of my goals this season was to finally watch Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. Yes, I somehow made it to 33 years old without ever having seen it — though of course it’s impossible not to have a pretty good idea of what it’s about, since its plot is mimicked by no fewer than ten TV show per year. There are, of course, many classic films I haven’t seen, and some of them are Christmas films, but this was the one that tended to spawn the most “How have you not seen this?” responses. Before I get into my review, I thought I’d say a little bit about how it came to be that I haven’t seen it, and for that matter, why so many people expect everyone to have done so.
It’s a Wonderful Life has a colorful rights history. Released in 1946, it was not a commercial success, though it did have a fair amount of critical acclaim (which included five Oscar nominations, Best Picture among them). It was released by Liberty Pictures, who were later bought out by Paramount. The rights to the film would bounce between different owners over the decades, but a critical juncture happened in 1974, when National Telefilm Associates neglected to renew the copyright due to a clerical error. This put the images from the film in the public domain, and television stations took advantage of the reduced cost to air it multiple times during the Christmas season — turning it into a beloved holiday classic. In 1993, Republic Pictures (then the owners of the film) successfully argued in court that the film — while no longer directly under copyright itself — should still be protected as a derivative work of the short story “The Greatest Gift”, which was still under copyright and to which they also had the rights. This marks one of the few times something has effectively been taken out of the public domain. Continue reading →
Late night movie shows can be fun to watch as much for the host as for the show, at least in some cases. I was a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 as a kid, and I’ve occasionally caught other programs. Recently I decided to check out the show hosted by the Mistress of the Dark herself, Elvira’s Movie Macabre. The show was first aired in the 1980s, and was brought back a couple years ago with new episodes. Hulu has a few of them available, which I felt was convenient as I’m not entirely sure what station airs them. My viewing selection was Bela Lugosi’s only starring role in a color film, 1947′s Scared to Death.
I was aware that, like MST3K and other programs of its ilk, Elvira isn’t exactly known for choosing A-grade movies. So I went into it with the expectations that this was a film for the Morbid Curiosity Files, and I was not disappointed in that front. Lugosi is both underutilized and poorly utilized in this film… it’s honestly a bit of an embarrassment for the veteran horror actor. Now, one might think that having Elvira periodically interject some quips in the film and having her comedy segments at the regular intervals for commercial breaks might distract a bit from the movie, and that’s a fair assessment. But after about 10 minutes of the film, I think most viewers will be looking for a distraction. Continue reading →
The Three Stooges are an American institution, an inimitable comedy act that several decades later are still remembered fondly and still watched by generations whose parents weren’t alive when their comedy shorts were originally released. Like a lot of people, I’ve been a fan since I was a child, both of the classic “Moe, Larry, and Curly” trio and the “Moe, Larry, and Shemp” trio. (I can watch and even enjoy Curly Joe DeRita and Joe Besser, but there’s a definite drop-off, since those two are just imitating Curly, while Shemp was his own man.) So when I found out that there was a pilot made for a Three Stooges television series (and not the animated series put out by Hanna-Barbera years later, let alone the abominable Robonic Stooges), I was curious why I hadn’t heard of it earlier, and why it never took off. America loved the Stooges, so it was hard to believe that they couldn’t get a TV pilot picked up. Continue reading →
I’ve commented before that when watching Vincent Price movies, at least other than those rare few where he’s playing a non-villainous character, I like to see what the Price-to-Murder time is; that is to say, how long it takes after Vincent Price’s first appearance for him to kill somebody. Alfred L. Welker’s 1946 film Shock may be the record-holder, getting both out of the way very quickly. Vincent Price shows up around six and a half minutes in, and his character kills his wife at about the seven minute mark.
Unfortunately for him, his crime, committed in the heat of the moment, is witnessed. Janet Stewart (Anabel Shaw) is awaiting her long-lost husband Lt. Paul Stewart (Frank Latimer), who has just returned from being a prisoner of war, and her hotel room gives her a perfect view of the argument and killing. However, she is so horrified by what she has seen that, on top of the anticipation of finally seeing her husband again, it puts her in a state of catatonic shock. When Paul finds her, he calls for a doctor, who soon refers him to the best psychologist in the area: Vincent Price’s character, Dr. Richard Cross. Continue reading →
It’s been remarked on by more than a few people that there was a passing resemblance between Charlie Chaplin and Adolf Hitler, particularly brought on by the mustaches. Among the people who remarked on it was Alexander Korda, a filmmaker and a friend of Chaplin’s. Chaplin decided to use the resemblance to create a film to satirize Hitler and Nazi Germany, and The Great Dictator was the result.
Chaplin wrote and directed the film, as was his usual process, and starred in the film. In this case, this meant playing two roles; one role as Adenoid Hynkel, dictator of Tomania, and the other as an unnamed Jewish barber who, after an injury during the first World War, spends years in the hospital before recovering and returning to his Tomanian home town. The barber bears some resemblance to Chaplin’s famous Tramp character, particularly in light of the fact that he’s a more innocent character than most of the people around him. But where the Tramp was simply a goodhearted naif, the barber’s innocence is more due to his long illness; he simply hasn’t been around to see what has happened to his home in his absence. Continue reading →
It’s been a little while since we’ve talked about Alfred Hitchcock here, so I thought it was time to queue up another one of his films for review. This time it’s the 1946 film Notorious, starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, and widely regarded as a classic.
Ingrid Bergman plays Alicia Huberman, daughter of a German-American who placed more emphasis on the “German” part than the “American” part and betrayed the United States, providing financial aid to Germany during the war. Alicia does not share her father’s politics; in fact, she seems to want nothing to do with politics at all. She would much rather spend her days and nights socializing and carousing. All that changes when she is visited at one of her parties by a man called Devlin (Grant). Continue reading →