A Note on Spoilers

I decided it might be a good idea to make what’s known as a “sticky post” here on the front page for those coming in who might be concerned about spoilers. In these posts I’m going to be talking about varying aspects of movies that I’ve been watching, This may include writing about things that some would consider spoilers, including, at times, the endings of these movies. Those who are particularly spoiler averse may want to avoid reading these posts if they are planning to watch the movie in question. In certain circumstances where I will be discussing events towards the end of the movie, including the ending in at least a vague way, or when a movie contains a particular plot twist that might be considered major, I will try to post a more specific spoiler warning, because I do recognize that even though I may be writing about a movie that is decades old, it’s still going to be new to some people. Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get on with it, shall we?

Silent Sunday – Anemic Cinema (1926)

Since Sunday tends to be a day of quiet and reflection for many people, it seems an appropriate day to celebrate silent movies. But in keeping with the “day of rest” theme, I’m just going to post this without any commentary and just sit back and let you enjoy.

Saturday Double Feature: ?? and… ?

(Okay, let’s start with a quick recap of the “rules”, shall we? The basic idea here is to take a movie that is out in theaters now, and pair it up with another movie from the 1980s or before. Sometimes the connection will be obvious, and sometimes it’ll be a little less so, but that’s part of the fun.

df1This was a very interesting week for this column. My usual procedure when preparing to write it is to take a quick look at the upcoming release schedule over at Box Office Mojo, pick out what looks to be either the most likely to be the big release of the week or, alternately, the most interesting, and then start thinking about what track I want to take to find something to pair it with. Usually the first step is to take a look (or another look if it’s a film that I’m already familiar with) at the trailer to see if that inspires some connection. if not, then I’ll maybe look at what seems to be the theme of the film, or maybe some other aspect of it that stands out. Honestly, it’s usually not a very long or complicated process. Every once in awhile, if I’m really stuck, I’ll ask a friend of mine who might have more knowledge on a particular topic or genre for suggestions, but in the end, the final choice is always the pairing that appeals to me the most.

What complicated things this weekend was that there was no stand-out big hit release this weekend. It almost seemed as if all of the big studios decided to take this weekend off for some reason. Now, of course, it’s become pretty standard for them to avoid each other when it comes to the big movies, to give a bit of lee-way to a film that is almost assuredly going to suck all of the oxygen out of the air (or, more directly stated, suck all the cash out of everyone’s wallets), and sometimes, if there’s a really big blockbuster coming out they’ll give it an extra weekend to make its mark before throwing a challenger out there, but honestly.this isn’t that kind of weekend. Somehow I can;t bring myself to believe that everyone was quaking in terror at the thought of going against the only movie going into wide release this weekend, Playmobil: The Movie, and at the same time, there is nothing that opened last weekend that would cause anyone at the studios to say “Well. we better stay out of the way of that monster”. But still, for some reason, it’s a wide-open weekend.

ptmOkay, so even with that, there’s still the “what looks most interesting to me personally?” option. The problem there is that, though there may be a dearth of truly huge movies opening this weekend, the smaller films that are making an appearance contain a number of movies that look like they could either be truly interesting or at the least quite entertaining. I actually went through a little game with a friend of mine where I had him try to figure out which of the movies on the list i would choose to feature and what I might pair it with, and he went through four of them and a couple of hints before finally figuring it out, and even then he wasn’t sure what the pairing would be.

So what were the candidates? Well, there’s Little Joe, a science fiction flick about the dangers of genetically modified flowers that seem to manipulate the emotions and thoughts of anyone who comes in contact with their “pollen”. That could have been a great one to pair with the original Little Shop of Horrors. (Credit, by the way, to my friend, he was the one who came up with that double feature.)

df2Or, there’s Dark Light, which Box Office Mojo describes thusly: “A woman returns to her family home and discovers it to be inhabited by monsters.” There also seems to be some hullabaloo about her daughter going missing and her being suspected of having done something dastardly. I dunno, but honestly I’m still feeling a bit burnt out on horror, so I decided to give that one a pass though I suppose you could make a case for pairing it up with The Amityville Horror.

Another candidate is En Brazos de un Asesino. or In the Arms of an Assassin, which immediately gave me vibes reminiscent of Leon: The Professional, though of course that movie thankfully didn’t have the “will they or won’t they” vibe that this one seems to be giving off.

Finally, however, I decided to go with a movie whose trailer I had seen a couple of times already at our local art-house theater and which I found intriguing, if not perhaps the most profoundly original concept ever.

There have been a number of movies, especially period pieces, which have concerned themselves with the concept of the “trapped woman”. Sometimes she is literally trapped, as in locked into a room or a house, but just as often the trap is societal: she is trapped in a loveless marriage or by her station in life or by the expectations of others or some other force or combination of forces.

df3Portrait of a Lady on Fire (the original French title is Portrait de la jeune fille en feu) appears to be another exploration of this idea. the twist this time is that the “lady” of the title is not yet married, merely betrothed. As a matter of fact,she has never even met her husband-to-be and has no real idea of what her life with him will be like. Of course, since they have never met, he also has no idea of even what she looks like, and has refused to go any further with the wedding until he sees a portrait of her. Her family, desperate for the marriage to happen has hired a number of painters, but each of them has quit, because she is so obstinate and hard to work with.

Finally, they hit upon the idea of hiring an “undercover artist” who will pose as a sort of “friend for hire” for the young lady. She will be a companion to her to go on walks with her, spend time with her, get to know her and memorize her features and the paint the portrait in secret.

Obviously, there’s no way this idea is going to backfire at all, right?

Now, I’m going to assume that this is a film that most people will not have heard of, and since i don’t recall seeing the trailer running every fifteen minutes or so in the midst of whatever network programming I’ve been watching lately, why don’t we go ahead and take a look at it now, and while you;re watching it, see if you can pick out the specific shot that made me certain of the movie I would be pairing it with.

Go ahead. Take your time, and I’ll meet you on the other side.

 

There, did you catch it? The scene where the “lady” of the title is running toward the cliff seemingly about to hurl herself over to her inevitable death? Did it remind you of anything? Think way back to the classics. Back to Hitchcock. Back to Manderlay. Back to Rebecca.

df4For those of you unfamiliar with it, Rebecca is the story of a young girl (we are never even told her real name who meets the wealthy Maxim de Winter while she is serving as the paid companion to a friend of his. They are soon married, and she is quickly brought to his cliff-side manor known as Manderlay.

The couple’s happiness is short-lived, however, as it seems that Manderlay is haunted, if not by the actual ghost, then at least by the memory of the first Mrs. de Winter, Rebecca. There is more than just a touch of mystery about how she died, and many of the people in the house and the surrounding town are having a hard time letting go of her and accepting Maxim’s new bride as the true mistress of the house. Foremost among these is the (honestly quite evil) housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers.

Rebecca was nominated for a total of 11 Academy Awards, and wound up winning two, including Best picture. It stars Joan Fontaine as the second Mrs. de Winter, Lawrence Olivier as Maxim, and Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers.

Here’s your trailer

 

Throwback Thursday – Sherlock Holmes Baffled (1990)

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back. 

This post first ran here back in Dec 2013


Here’s The Earliest Known Appearance of Sherlock Holmes On Film – Sherlock Holmes Baffled (1900)

As we approach the return of the world’s greatest detective in one of his latest incarnations – the BBC’s Sherlock, which stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Doctor John Watson – it seems perhaps appropriate to take a look at his earliest film appearance, 1900’s Sherlock Holmes Baffled.

shb2This 30 second short was originally produced for penny arcade machines known as Mutoscopes, which were patented by Herman Casler in 1894 and marketed by the American Mutoscope Company. This particular film was produced by the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company in 1900, though its copyright was not actually registered until 1903.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, the Mutoscope was atually developed as a competitor to Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope.The device can be seen in the picture at the right. The idea was that the viewer would drop their coin into a slot on the machine which would then turn on an internal light and by turning a small crank and looking into the viewfinder, the viewer could watch the associated film. In a way, it’s perhaps a bit misleading to call this a film per se, since it was not designed to be projected on a screen and actually consisted of individual image frames printed onto flexible cards attached to a circular core which revolved with the turn of a user-operated hand crank, however, since it was originally shot on film at a frame rate of 30 frames per second, the designation still stands. (Perhaps in cases like this, the more accurate term would simply be “motion picture”.)

As far as the actual film itself, according to Wikipedia, the director and cinematographer of Sherlock Holmes Baffled was Arthur W. Marvin (May 1859 – 18 January 1911), a staff cameraman for Biograph. The identities of the actors portraying Holmes and his adversary are unknown, and the film was assumed to be lost for many years, until it was rediscovered in 1968 as a paper print in the Library of Congress by Michael Pointer, a historian of Sherlock Holmes films. Again, quoting Wikipedia

Because motion pictures were not covered by copyright laws until 1912, paper prints were submitted by studios wishing to register their works. These were made using light-sensitive paper of the same width and length as the film itself, and developed as though a still photograph. Both the Edison Company and the Biograph Company submitted entire motion pictures as paper prints, and it is in this form that most of them survive. The film has subsequently been transferred to 16 mm film in the Library of Congress collection.

shb1Obviously, due to its short running time, there is no actual development of either of the characters involved, and the film really seems to only exist for the purpose of showing early bits of camera trickery, especially the disappearance/reappearance of Holmes’ adversary. As far as the identification of the central character as Holmes, well, that basically comes from the film’s copyright title card and its marketing.

Nonetheless, the film does have a certain distinction in being the first identified film portrayal of the character and by extension, also the first detective film.

Anyway, here it is, the world’s first taste of Sherlock Holmes as a film character.

(BTW, I need to give a special shout out here to Fritzi over at Movies, Silently for initially bringing this wonderful short film to my attention. If you’re at all a fan of the silent film era you should definitely be checking out her terrific blog as she has an obvious love for the genre and is consistently posting a lot of great content there. So, thanks, Fritzi, for all you do.)

Stick It In and Twist – Knives Out (2019)

kor1I haven’t been doing a lot of contemporary movie reviews here lately, mostly because I feel like you can get those pretty much anywhere, and from folks far more articulate than I. Nonetheless, when one of my most anticipated movies of the year comes out and fully delivers on all of my expectations, well, then it’s definitely spending some time and words on.

I’ve been a fan of Rian Johnson ever since his debut feature Brick, a neo-noir with a high school setting that is smart, articulate, full of twists, and as moody, atmospheric and inevitable as any example of the genre. Unfortunately, though it has gained something of a cult status in the years since its release, it remains to my mind highly underseen even though the director has gained in prominence since then, especially with his foray into the world of the mega-blockbuster franchise world with Star Wars VII, despite the… shall we say “mixed” reaction garnered by that installment.

Still, no matter how you may feel about that particular film, it’s great to see Johnson returning to a genre that he clearly loves and is much more comfortable in, and to see him bring a sense of flair and humor to the proceedings that makes it feel quite unique while still adhering to most of the conventions that one would expect from what is essentially a locked-room mystery.

kor4If you’ve seen the trailers for Knives Out, then you already know everything you need to (and honestly want to) know before going into the movie. Thrombey family patriarch Harlan (Christopher Plummer) is found dead the morning after his 85th birthday celebration. Though it has officially been declared a suicide, a mysterious someone has paid renowned detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig sporting one of the most outrageous “where exactly is he supposed to be from?” accents ever committed to the screen) to look further into the death which he soon determines may be the result of something more than it seems.

A week after the party, the family and staff at the mansion are called back to the Thrombey mansion, and, of course, it becomes quickly apparent that almost everyone present had some sort of motivation to want the old man dead.

kor3And that’s exactly as far as I’m willing to go in discussing the plot, because you definitely need to see this one unfold for yourself.

According to reports, Johnson has actually been working on the idea and script for Knives Out ever since he made Brick, and it shows, because it is tightly plotted and delivers both gut-punches and laughs in equal measure and at just the right time. In a lot of ways, I would say that the delay (he had initially planned to make this right after his time-travel epic Looper) (hmmm… can one call a movie as intimate and tail-chasing as Looper “epic”? Well, I did, so I guess so,) was a very good thing, because not only did it give him time for extra polish, but the movies in between gave him the prestige to not only get big studio backing, but also to gather an exquisite and extremely talented ensemble cast including Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, Toni Colette, Lakeith Stanfield, and what should be, if there is any justice a household-name-making turn by Ana de Armas.

MORNING BELLOh, and just for the record, I should also mention that muppet-master Frank Oz also puts in an unexpected cameo as the family’s lawyer.

One interesting aspect of Knives Out that I haven’t seen discussed much, probably mostly because it doesn’t really pertain to the plot, but instead simply adds yet another layer to the characters and to the interplay between them is that Johnson’s script also manages to interweave more than a bit of politics into his script, with characters that lean (sometimes so far they almost look like those Weather Channel reporters trying to stay upright in the midst of a hurricane) both to the far-right and far-left of the spectrum, but he manages to do it so deftly that it doesn’t at all distract from the proceedings. Instead, it works to not only reveal more about where these characters are coming from and at the same time makes one wonder whether they will hold true to the ideals they espouse or betray themselves when the chips are truly down.

kor6Knives Out is full of twists and reveals, with great character work from all involved, and just the right amount of humor that it doesn’t fall into full-on parody mode, but instead maintains and supports the mystery that is at the heart of the film, and watching the film feels like watching a master magician at the top of his craft. Then we reach  the finale, which is a terrific take on the “let’s get all of the suspects in one room and explain what’s been going on” trope that is a staple of the genre is equivalent to that moment where the illusionist says “remember at the start when I told you everything is not what it seems?” just before making the ultimate reveal and leaving you with your jaw on the floor. Fortunately, however, though you will definitely have been entertained, (and may have figured out the heart of the mystery before the movie spells it out for you, though you won’t care, because at that point it’s all about watching it play out) you won’t be left with that “what the hell happened?” feeling, because you will know that Johnson has played straight with you the whole time.

It’s just a bit early to start list-making. but if pressed, I would say that it’s highly likely that Knives Out will be a strong contender for my top 10 movies of the year list. Do I really need to give it any more of a recommendation than that?

Here’s your trailer:

 

Old Time Radio Tuesday – Dr. Tim, Detective

The short intro: For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Old Time Radio is the phrase generally used to refer to the time when radio was (mostly) live, and was full of a variety of different shows, as opposed to simply being a means for record labels to use robots to promote the top records of the day. OTR  Tuesday is my chance to explore some of those old radio shows, their connections (both old and new) to movies, and hopefully to encourage some of the rest of you to take a look at a probably unfamiliar source of entertainment that I truly love. If you want more info on OTR, and some examples of the variety of shows that were made, be sure to check out this introductory post.

One of the great things about being a fan of Old Time Radio is that there are always new and interesting shows out there waiting to be discovered. For me, today’s spotlight show, Dr. Tim, Detective is just such a show. Up until just a few days ago I had never even heard of it. Actually, I only ran across it because I was looking for something new and different to write about for today’s entry.

Of course, there may be a reason I didn’t know about it. So far, my research on the show hasn’t turned up much information except for this excerpt taken from the Sept. 3rd, 1950 edition of the Rockford (IL) Morning Star:

“Dr. Tim, Detective,” a radio series to present health education by means of mystery-dramas to interest Rockford’s school age boys and girls, will be presented weekly on Mondays at 6:15 p.m. over radio station WROK beginning Labor day.

Dr. R.J. Mroz, president of the Winnebago County Medical society, announced the 13-week dramatized series, especially produced for young listeners, is being presented through the public relations committee of the medical society. It is offered through the co-operation of the Rockford radio council, sponsored by the Central Illinois Electric and Gas company and station WROK.

Each episode will be a mystery-drama dealing with a disease or health subject. It will be presented through the scientific detection of “Doctor Tim, Detective” and his young friends, “Sandy” and “Jill.”

Some of the subjects to be included are safe water supply, rabies, blood fractions, rheumatic fever, the home medicine chest and contaminated foods.

It appears that a total of 13 episodes (standard for a show at the time were produced, running from Aug 28, 1950 Nov 27, 1950, and of those, seven apparently still survive today.

Now, you may notice that some references (and some of the shows that I’ve posted below) give a date of 1948, but I suspect that that date was just a guess, and that the above information is correct. Nonetheless, I’d love to hear from someone who might have more definitive information on the program.

As far as the quality of the show, well, it certainly fits the “educational” part of its billing, though it does seem to be a little light on the mystery aspect. Still since it was designed mostly for children, the balance seems appropriate.

Let’s give a listen, shall we?

Made for TV Monday – Evil Roy Slade

Okay, we’ll start with a short intro for the newcomers: As implied by the phrase, “made for tv movies” are films that were created to be shown exclusively on television as opposed to having a run in theaters. Though they started in the mid-60s and continued on well into the 2000s, they were at their height in the 70s and 80s, and that is where this column will mostly focus. Of course, this type of movie lives on today as direct-to-video, direct-to-cable or streaming movies. For more background, be sure to check out this introductory post, but for now let’s move on, shall we?

ers1I knew I was all-in on Evil Roy Slade as soon as the opening narration began. Now, I know that many of you out there are too young to remember the TV show Green Acres which starred Eddie Albert and Zsa Zsa Gabor as two New York city slickers who move to a farm in the small town of Hooterville (and no, we’re not even going to comment on that) only to find that the town is full of zany characters such as the slick-talking double-dealing always on the lookout to make a sale Mr. Haney, portrayed by the wonderful Pat Buttram.

Ah, what the heck… let’s go ahead and take a look at Mr. Haney in action:

Anyway, as I was saying, as soon as Mr Buttram’s voice came on as the narrator, I knew I was in for some fun.

And when it turned out that the story he was telling was that of a small child who was the lone survivor of a stagecoach raid who was subsequently abandoned not only by the Native Americans who initiated the raid, but also by a couple of wolves who chanced upon him but ran off scared, and that subsequently that boy grew up to be Gomez Addams in a diaper, well… yeah, obviously this was going to be a fun time.

ers2It’s obvious why the great John Astin was called upon for the title role in Evil Roy Slade. I said earlier that the boy grew up to be Gomez Addams, and that’s not just because of the actor portraying him. Just like Gomez (and the rest of his family), Slade takes an obvious delight in being the outsider, in being different, and in being true to his inner self, no matter how odd everyone around him may find him to be.

It’s quite telling that at one point in the movie when Slade is thinking about changing his name and starting a new life, the options he comes up with are “Evil Jake Ferguson”, “Evil Fred Noland” and “Evil Lee Rich” before giving up and just continuing to use his real name.

ers3In a lot of ways, Evil Roy Slade could easily be seen as being in the mold of Blazing Saddles or Airplane in that it’s a mile-a-minute, throw everything out there and something will make them laugh comedy, but at the same time, since it was made for television, it’s humor is more restrained, and at times, honestly quite corny. Nonetheless, there are definite laughs to be found even in little bit of schtick, such as when Slade is at a formal dinner party and he spots a cello player and he pulls out his gun and tells the cellist “Take that big fiddle out from between your legs. There are ladies present.” The cellist tries to respond, but Slade becomes even more threatening and says “I don’t want no trouble, you just tuck it up under your chin, like a fiddle’s supposed to be played… now!” And the cellist certainly gives it a try.

ers5Perhaps the funniest scene in the movie involves Slade’s visit to a therapist played by Dom DeLuise who feels like he is making progress with Slade and eventually tries to convince him that he can walk without wearing his guns. Of course, as soonas he has divested himself of his last weapon (a grenade that he pulls from I’m-not exactly sure where), Slade’s legs turn to rubber and he falls to the ground and he can’t even stand up until the doctor insults him enough that Slade charges him. Part of what makes this scene so great is that it gives Astin a chance to show his physical comedy chops, something he was not often given a chance to do.

I mentioned that Dom DeLuise plays the psychiatrist, and the movie is chock-full of supporting turns by major (or at least semi-major) comedy stars of the era. Milton Berle shows up as Slade’s potential Uncle-in-law, Henry Gibson is the dimwitted son of Slade’s main antagonist in the movie, a train baron played, in perhaps the movies only truly miscast role by Mickey Rooney who is fine, but doesn’t quite seem to get the movie that he’s in. Edie Adams is amusing as Slade’s former girlfriend Flossie (who keeps getting her name mispronounced), and the somewhat underrated Pamela Austin is quite good here as Slade’s love-interest.

ers7There are also early cameos by Penny Mashall as a bank teller, Ed Begley Jr, and a very young John Ritter as a priest who freaks out after being called in to hear Slade’s confession.

I do feel obliged to mention that, like a lot of the movies of the time, there are a number of jokes and racial portrayals (and jokes about “funny boys” and “midgets”) that will seem at best insensitive and at worst offensive by today’s standards, but once again, I’m simply going to say that “it was a different time”. No, that’s not to excuse them, but simply to acknowledge that they are there, and your reactions to them may differ.

(Though I will acknowledge that even I’m not quite sure how to react to Pat Morita’s comic turn as an Eastern Indian servant except to say that it was very confusing, especially considering his ever-changing accent.)

ers6(And, at the same time, one of the more offensive “little people” scenes does have the payoff of seeing Astin tricked into riding into town on a Shetland pony, so… as I said, your mileage may vary.)

Of course, one of the reasons that Evil Roy Slade turns out asfunny as it does is that it was co-written by Garry Marshall who was a writer on the Dick Van Dyke Show and went on to create Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, The Odd Couple TV series, and Mork and Mindy. (Of course, he also was behind Joanie Loves Chachi, but hey, pobody’s nerfect. It was also directed by Jerry Paris, who was Dick’s neighbor Jerry on The DickVan Dyke Show.

So, is Evil Roy Slade a timeless classic? No. But is it highly entertaining and at times laugh-out-loud funny? Yes. I definitely say give it a look.

No real trailer for this one, so instead I think I’ll give you that opening narration and the theme song, which will give you a pretty good feel as to whether it’s right for you.