It is difficult sometimes to remember that just because we first see an actor in a particular role, at a particular age, that isn’t necessarily what they’ve always been. It’s easy to picture, for example, Jack Nicholson as the rebellious Randall McMurphy and forget the dashing young hero of The Raven, or to see Kurt Russell as any number of scruffy wisecrackers and forget the fact that he started out as a child actor. So when viewing an older movie, it’s sometimes surprising to see an actor or actress from well before the age at which one usually pictures them.
Like most children of the 80s, I was familiar with Angela Lansbury primarily from Murder, She Wrote or from her voice-acting as the kindly Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast. If I had ever stopped to think of it, I’m sure it would have been obvious to me that she didn’t simply stroll into Hollywood as a senior citizen. But it’s not something that really occurs to a person until one sees the evidence of it, and so it came as a bit of a surprise to see her playing the role of Myra Leeds in Please Murder Me, a 1956 film noir directed by Peter Godfrey. And in this film, she’s not a meddling crime solver; rather, she’s at the center of the crime herself, as a young woman accused of murdering her husband. Continue reading →
People have a tendency to panic under pressure. And this panic has a tendency to exacerbate the problem a person faces. Which puts them under more pressure. Which makes them panic more. Director Irving Pichel explores this concept in the 1950 film Quicksand; the title, of course, is metaphorical.
Mickey Rooney stars as Dan Brady, a young auto mechanic who has just recently dumped his girlfriend, as things were getting too serious for him. When the movie starts, he doesn’t seem to have a care in the world, but that doesn’t last long. His problems start, as these things so often do, with a spirited blonde. Continue reading →
Year: 1954 Series Number: 0 (Non-canonical) Director: William H. Brown Jr. James Bond: Barry Nelson
A few months back, I revealed some movie franchises I’ve mostly overlooked; among them, the James Bond franchise, of which I’d seen only two films — and only one of them a canonical entry. I resolved at the time to start remedying this lack, starting in 2013, by going through all the entries in the series in chronological order — even the few I’ve seen before, even the non-canonical entries — so as to have a proper perspective on the growth and development of the series. The reviews will come sporadically throughout the year (and possibly into next year), but they start today with a decidedly odd entry in the series.
Due to some of the little quirks of the property rights, the very first portrayal of James Bond is actually a non-canonical entry. 1954′s Casino Royale was a live performance on the anthology series Climax!; such a thing could easily have been lost, but fortunately it was preserved, and MGM — knowing full well that their fans could be obsessive — included it as a bonus feature on the DVD for the similarly non-canonical 1967 parody version of Casino Royale. Watching this film is an interesting experience, as even somebody whose knowledge of James Bond mostly comes from pop-culture references will recognize this as being very different from the standards of the series. Continue reading →
Every so often I wonder about the creative process that goes into a movie. Monster movies in particular can raise some interesting questions. In the case of the 1958 film The Blob (which would later gain a sequel — 1972′s Beware! The Blob — and a remake in 1988), I can speculate, though of course my speculation is only wild guessing. I wonder, though, if maybe it was an attempt to have a monster movie where the monster really and truly was inhuman. After all, many of the classic monsters are really human in one way or another. Vampires? Humans with pointy teeth and bad complexions. The Wolf Man? It’s right there in his name. Wolf Man. (And “were” is just an old word for man, so “werewolf” doesn’t change this.) All sorts of creatures, whether from the black lagoon or from beyond the stars, are just humanoid figures. Godzilla came out a few years prior to The Blob, but even the big lizard is just a man in a rubber suit. What does a monster movie look like if the monster is as inhuman as possible?
I don’t know if The Blob was created as an answer to such a question. But I do know it serves very well as an answer. Continue reading →
Even if you have never seen The Seventh Seal, you are familiar with the key scene. It’s been homaged, referenced, and parodied dozens, even hundreds of times since the film came out in 1957. The knight playing chess with Death has become one of those pop-culture touchstones that everybody is familiar with (although the movie itself indicates the idea of playing chess with Death is even older, as the knight brings it up as something he has heard of.) Since Hulu briefly made this Ingmar Bergman classic available for viewing, I thought I would take the opportunity to see the source of all these references for myself.
The knight in question is Antonius Block (Max von Sydow), who has just returned home after ten years in the Crusades. And it is clear from early on that Antonius is a troubled man. If he were alive today, he would no doubt be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder; certainly von Sydow has perfected the thousand-yard stare for this role. When Death (Bengt Ekerot) meets him on the beach, Block is unafraid of dying, but is afraid of what comes after — or more precisely, what might not come after. His faith has been shaken, and he desperately wants it restored, but Death is revealing nothing. So Block challenges Death to a game of chess, planning to use the reprieve — the game is to take place intermittently, as both are busy men — to find something to believe in, and to hopefully perform one last, unambiguous good deed before he dies. Continue reading →
What’s stranger: a man walking into the homicide department of a police station and declaring that he himself is a murder victim, or that they already expected him? Both are shown in the first few minutes of Rudolph Maté’s D.O.A., which has Edmond O’Brien starring as the victim, Frank Bigelow. The film is told in flashback, as Frank relates his story to the homicide detectives. Parting from his girlfriend/secretary Paula (Pamela Britton) for a week’s vacation, Frank starts suffering mild stomach pains after a night’s partying. When he checks into a hospital’s emergency room, he can’t believe what he’s hearing, and goes to get a second opinion. The second doctor confirms: He’s ingested a lethal amount of “luminous toxin” (most likely radium, though it isn’t specified), and his body has already absorbed it into his system. He has a few days, a week at most, to live, though he is in reasonably good health for the immediate future.
With only a few days, and almost nothing to go on, Frank dedicates himself to finding his killer. Continue reading →
Starz Kids & Family is currently showing the 2003 live-action version of Peter Pan, directed by P.J. Hogan, and I decided to watch it and see not just how good it was, but how it compared to the 1953 Disney animated feature. Though I’ll grant I haven’t re-watched the cartoon version recently, it was one of many Disney features that were watched multiple times in my childhood, and sticks in the memory fairly well (and I have seen it as an adult at least once). I remember that when Hogan’s film was being advertised, there was a perception among several people that it was going to be a “darker and edgier” take on the story; this is certainly true, but it’s not particularly meaningful. Darker and edgier than Disney’s version still leaves plenty of room to be light and fluffy. Plus, it’s clear that while Hogan was trying to be a bit truer to the book, he also paid homage to the Disney version in some ways, indicating a degree of respect for the earlier film. But while there are inevitable similarities, due to the same source material, these are still two very different films. Continue reading →
Whenever I decide to watch a film based on a work of classic literature, it’s always with a certain degree of trepidation. First, if it’s a work I haven’t actually read, as is the case with Moby Dick, there’s always the possibility that it’s been deemed a classic for reasons which won’t be apparent to me… which is to say, the story might not actually be any good. Then, even if the story is good, the film still runs the risk of not adapting the story well, or becoming pretentious due to the novel’s status as a “classic”, plus all the usual pitfalls films have.
The 1956 adaptation of Melville’s classic is a bit of a mixed bag. It has some flaws (largely driven from that pretentiousness, I feel), but it is also a meticulously-crafted film with a great performance from its lead actor, Gregory Peck. Continue reading →
There have been a lot of adaptations of Jack and the Beanstalk over the years, though few have been feature-length films; admittedly, at 1 hour, 17 minutes, the 1952 version is only just feature-length, but it counts nevertheless. The tale is familiar to pretty much anybody who grew up in western civilization, so the question of how entertaining a film based on the fairy tale is comes down to its production values, and who is cast in the important roles. Traditionally, Jack is portrayed as a classical fool in the story — naive, but good-hearted and ultimately heroic — and for this film the role is filled by one of the biggest fools available in the 1950s: Lou Costello. Bud Abbott, of course, is tagging along as the greedy butcher who traded the magic beans for Jack’s cow, and follows Jack up the beanstalk in hopes of finding riches in the Giant’s castle (in particular, the hen that lays the golden egg, which had been Jack’s mother’s until the Giant stole it.)
The Bat, starring Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead (Endora from Bewitched), is the third film version of a 1920 Broadway play. Moorehead plays Cornelia van Gorder, a renowned mystery author (reminiscent of Agatha Christie) who has rented a mansion in the small town of Zenith for the summer. Van Gorder has moved into the mansion with her maid, Lizzie (Lenita Lane), but quickly loses most of her staff due to them walking out after hearing about the goings-on in town the past winter. The mystery author has found herself in the middle of a mystery; there is a serial killer in town known only as “The Bat” who appears to be at large once again.