Throwback Thursday – 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1916)

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. 

Thought we’d take another look back at a silent film from the Professor Damian days.

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Silent Film Fest Day 5 – 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1916)

Way back in the day, when yours truly was but a young perfessor, one of my favorite movies was the 1954 Disney-produced version of Jules Verne’s classic tale 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Sure, from today’s historical and literary perspective it was horribly miscast, and much of the subtleties of Verne’s original characterizations is missing, but for a young lad there was nothing that could spark the imagination like the undersea adventures of the Nautilus and her crew. James Mason cast an imposing regality as the imperious Captain Nemo, and when Kirk Douglas risked his life battling that giant octopus, well, to my young mind there was no match for his cleft-chinned heroics.

Imagine my delight, then, in discovering while researching the silent films to include in this mini-festival that there was a much earlier silent version of the tale that I could include here. Of course, almost as soon as I saw the opportunity, the questions also began to arise. Was there any way that such an early version could pull off the effects necessary to tell the story? At this point, filmmakers were only just exploring land based photography, how would they possibly pull off the underwater effects? And was there any way that it could bring the excitement and joy that the Disney version had to my young boy’s heart? And would it, being an adaptation much closer in time to the source material also be closer in details?

Well, I fear the answer is both “yes” and “no”. As far as the effects and underwater photography goes, there can truly be very few complaints. Both the poster seen above and the opening title cards credit the “Williamson Brothers” and their fantastic “inventions” for the actually quite incredible for the time underwater photography. According to Wikipedia, the secret of these “inventions” was not actual underwater cameras, but a series of tubes and mirrors that “allowed the camera to shoot reflected images of underwater scenes staged in shallow sunlit waters”. This technique allowed the filmmakers to capture some truly incredible shots of undersea life and of Nemo’s crew under water in what are actually fairly credible designs for early scuba suits, even though actual SCUBA gear wasn’t developed until 1939.

Unfortunately, once one gets beyond some of the amazing-for-it’s-time photography, one also has to look at the plot, and unfortunately, that is where the film really falls down. First of all, despite the title and an opening 10 minutes or so that are quite faithful to the original tale, the film for some reason soon twists and begins to incorporate ideas and plot-lines from Verne’s other Nemo novel, Mysterious Island. Instead of simply exploring the undersea world and the adventures of the Nautilus which would definitely give enough fodder for a film of this length, the viewer is also taken to an island not far away from the submarine’s current location where a balloon full of Union soldiers crashes, soon followed by the arrival of a yacht owned by a man named Charles Denver who turns out to be not only known to Nemo, but the man upon whom our glorious captain has been seeking revenge all these years.

Actually, it’s with Captain Nemo and this desire for revenge that the film really makes its most egregious errors. As soon as an intertitle card pops up saying “Captain Nemo reveals the tragic secret of his life, which Jules Verne never told.”, it’s obvious that not only is the movie going to merge the two Verne novels, it’s going to go beyond them in an attempt to create a backstory that is completely unnecessary and leads the film even further into directions it doesn’t need to go. One thing I must, however, give the filmmakers credit for is retaining Nemo’s national identity as an Eastern Indian.

So, in the end, this version of 20,000 Leagues, I must admit, will not replace the Mason/Douglas version in my heart, though it definitely should be seen if only for the admittedly quite good early effects and as an opportunity to see how early filmmakers overcame the technological obstacles of their day to create something new in this developing storytelling technique called “the movies”.

Here’s a “re-imagined” trailer that features some of the highlights of the film:

And now, the skinny:
Title: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Release Date: 1916
Running Time: 105 min
Tinted/Silent
Starring: Curtis Benton, Wallace Clarke
Directed by: Stuart Paton
Produced by: Carl Laemmle
Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting

– Professor Damien

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past. And for a special bonus, be sure to check out this week’s Silent Sunday which will feature the full movie.

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OTR Tuesday – The Adventures of Archie Andrews (1943-1953)

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.

I’d like to say everybody knows Archie Andrews, because he’s been a part of everybody’s childhood for so long, but I don’t know that it’s really true, Still, at least once upon a time, Archie was considered the quintessential teen comedy. Constantly put upon,  constantly broke, constantly torn between two girls, constantly hanging out with his friends, and constantly just trying to make his way in the world, Archie was, in may ways symbolic if not of real teens, at least a kind of idealized teen world.

Also, surprisingly, perhaps for a character created in 1941, Archie has managed to stay, if not perhaps relevant, at least contemporaneous with his times. As styles and fashions and society have changed, so has Archie. And he has been interpreted in various ways in different media, from the animated series of the late 60s and early 70s that gave us the hit song Sugar Sugar to today’s CW series Riverdale which is far from the character as he is generally known, but nonetheless is at least acknowledged and supported by the comics company which bears his name.

And, of course, as you may have guessed, since we’re discussing it here, there was also once an Archie radio show. Beginning on the NBC Blue network on 1943, The Adventures of Archie Andrews switched to Mutual for a short while, but then returned to NBC where it was broadcast until 1953. Though in the early years, different actors voiced the leas, for most of the series’ run, Bob Hasting was the voice of Archie. Other voice actors included Hal Stone, Cameron Andrews and Arnold Stang as Jughead, Rosemary Rice as Betty, Gloria Mann as Veronica, Alice Yourman as Archie’s mother, Mary Andrews and Arthur “Art” Kohl as Archie’s father, Fred Andrews.

Okay, let’s see what kind of mischief Archie is into now, shall we?

Enjoy!

 

 

Saturday Double Feature: Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) and…

Another Saturday means another Saturday Double Feature!

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.

Okay, let’s be honest. I really don’t have to say a lot about this week’s feature film. It’s all pretty much there in the title. This is another of Disney’s attempts to cash in on the incredible loyalty of Star Wars fandom with yet another prequel to the original trilogy.

This time they’re taking a look back at the early days of Han Solo before he grew up to be Harrison Ford and became the lovable rogue we all came to know in the first film.

Will it work? Probably. There’s enough of a fanbase that the movie will certainly make a pile of money. And really, that’s all that matters, right?

Do I sound a bit cynical about the movie? Yeah, I guess so, and I apologize to anyone that’s sincerely looking forward to it. But at this point, I’d say that it’s really Disney that are the cynical ones. Not that I can really blame them. After all, that’s their purpose – put butts in seats and make money however they can.

And, who knows? There’s always the chance it’ll turn out to be a really good movie.

Let’s just go to the trailer, shall we?

For today’s second feature, we’re going way back in time to when weekly serials were a part of the regular movie-going experience. Pretty much from the start of film, there have been  science fiction movies and space-going heroes. One of the most famous films of the silent era is Melies’s A Trip To The Moon.

One of the most famous of those space-faring heroes was Flash Gordon. Originally created in a comic strip in 1934 by Alex Raymond, Gordon was originally a famous polo player (yes. I said “famous polo player” who met up with glamorous Dale Arden and possibly mad scientist Dr. Zarkov when Earth was threatened by a collision with the planet Mongo. Traveling to Mongo and defeating it’s evil warlord Ming, Gordon became a hero of two planets and went on to have many more adventures.

The adventures of Flash Gordon have been brought to screen numerous times, both in the movies and on television. Today, though, I thought we’d look at one of the earliest versions, the 1936 serial which starred Buster Crabbe as Flash, Jean Rogers as Dale, and Charles Middleton as Ming. I’ve embedded a playlist below which should give you all of the serial chapters, one after the other.

So what do you think? What would you choose for a double feature with Solo? Leave your thoughts in the comments, along with ideas of any other upcoming movies you’d like to see “double featured”. Consider it, if you will, your chance to challenge me to come up with an interesting pair.

Until next time, Happy Viewing!

So Crazy It Works – Psycho II (1983)

Okay, here’s the short version of this review: Psycho II is a much better movie than any movie calling itself Psycho II should be.

Alright, let’s go a bit deeper, then. When a movie calls itself Psycho II and opens with the classic and infamous shower scene from the 1960 original, it is making certain promises to the audience that it had better be able to deliver on.

Fortunately, the movie delivers more than one would expect.

Opening 22 years after Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) was sent to a mental asylum. Psycho II opens with his release after being declared recovered and having accepted the fact that his mother is truly dead.

Moving back to the family house and attempting to re-open the Bates Motel, Norman also gets a job at a local diner. That is where he meets a young lady named Mary Samuels (Meg Tilley) who needs a place to stay after having broken up with her boyfriend. Norman invites Mary to stay with him at the hotel, though after a bit of thought and a fight with his hotel manager Warren Toomey he actually has her stay at the house with him.

Norman’s recovery seems to be going well until he begins seeing mysterious notes and receiving phone calls purporting to be from his mother. He is also the victim of  distrust and outright hatred from a number of people in the town who seem to wish that he would simply go away so that they would not have to deal with  him or the memories he represents anymore.

Not everyone is against Norman, however. Sheriff John Hunt, who was only a deputy at the time of the original killings is sympathetic to Norman and his plight and goes out of his way to try to make sure that everything is okay with him and to keep the peace between Norman and the townsfolk. He also has the support of Dr. Bill Raymond (played by Robert Loggia) who was his psychiatrist in the institution and continues to check up on him.

However, not long after Norman’s release, Lila Loomis (Vera Miles, also reprising her role from the original film) arrives in town trying to convince the sheriff that Norman is still insane and trying to get him arrested and re-committed.

I am not going to go much further into the plot, because there are far too many twists and turns that really should be left for the viewer to discover. Suffice to say that murders once again begin occurring around the hotel, and the question becomes one of whether Norman has reverted to his earlier ways and just how long he will be able to hold on to his fragile grip on his sanity.

It really is amazing how seemingly effortlessly Perkins slips right back into his most famous role. He brings the same pathos and tension that he did in the 60 original and it’s very easy to see Norman growing up to be exactly like this after all that he has been through. Vera Miles also brings a passion to her role as someone who has never let go of the horror of her sister’s death (she is the sister of Marion Crane, the character portrayed in the original film by Janet Leigh, and yes, I would call it a cheat to bring in a sister to add pathos had she not already been established in Hitchcock’s original) and my viery well have been driven as insane by her experiences as Norman.

Meg Tilley is also a standout in her role as Mary who seems to come to care deeply for Norman but who may have a secret or two of her own.

The producers (Hilton A. Green and Bernard Schwartz), director (Richard Franklin), and writer (Tom Holland) all deserve a lot of credit for crafting a movie that pays loving tribute to the original yet actually stands as a credible movie on its  own. Yes, there are references and call-backs to the classic (both visually and in dialogue, but they are not overdone and the tension is kept high throughout. I will say that the ending is one of those love it or hate it types, that could certainly be divisive, but personally I find it satisfying for the most part.

All in all, I have to say that as a fan of the original and of Hitchcock in general (I list Rear Window in my top five films of all time) I found this sequel to be quite satisfying. Yes, there  are nods to the new times (a flash of nudity and slightly more graphic violence), but even those are used sparingly and to good effect. Call me crazy if you feel you must, but this is a sequel I like.

Throwback Thursday – The Lost World (1925)

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. 

One of the more popular features here on the blog is Silent Sunday, but since the conceit of that is presenting the movies without any comment or context, I thought today we’d revisit on of the Professor’s columns on one of the silent greats

Oh, and be sure to check out this week’s Silent Sunday when I’ll present the full restored version of this movie.

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Silent Movie Week – Day 2 – The Silent World (1925)

Poor Professor Challenger – though he may very well be as intelligent, his temper, I fear, made him always destined be live in the shadow of his literary step-brother Shelock Holmes. Unfortunately for the professor, this secondary creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never was able to burst into the limelight or gain the popularity of the famed detective. Even in today’s feature, the second in our look at silent films, he is truly upstaged by a pack of dinosaurs.

Of course, these were not your ordinary dinosaurs, to be sure. Instead they were the work of stop-motion pioneer Willis O’Brien, who would go on to also create a certain Empire-State-Building-climbing, Fay-Wray-loving giant ape. By then, the creations of O’Brien would be truly spectacular, but even in this early effort they are quite amazing. How amazing? Well according to a report published in the New York Times the day after Conan Doyle himself showed some of the test footage to the Society of American Magicians, “(Conan Doyle’s) monsters of the ancient world, or of the new world which he has discovered in the ether, were extraordinarily lifelike. If fakes, they were masterpieces”

Actually, the Lost World is notable in a number of ways. It was made with the full cooperation of Conan Doyle, who actually appears in the introduction of the film. It was the first feature length film to employ stop-motion animation as its main source of special effects. It contains on of the first examples of what we call today “product placement” (look for the Corona typewriters being used). And it was the first film shown to passengers on an airplane. (It was shown on a London to Paris Imperial Airlines flight in April 1925).

But more than all of that, it’s simply a ripping good adventure yarn. Young reporter Edward Malone is drawn to a speech being given by Professor Challenger who claims that his friend, disappeared explorer Maple White, has discovered a plateau in South America where beasts from another time still live. Ridiculed for his claims, Challenger gathers a group to return to the plateau, see if they can rescue White, and also prove his fanciful claims. The group includes Challenger and Malone, hunter John Roxton, White’s daughter Paula, and an Indian manservant and Challenger’s butler. Yeah, seriously, his butler.

After days of exploring and traveling the Amazon, the party finally find themselves at the base of the plateau. The only problem is that it is only approachable by climbing one side of a mountain and then walking across a log crossing a deep chasm to the actual plain. They consider turning back, as they have seen no evidence that the mythical beasts for which they are searching are even up there. No evidence, that is, until a pterodactyl comes flying onto the screen and lands upon the prominence they are considering climbing. This sighting is quickly followed by the appearance of a brontosaur and then a number of other prehistoric creatures, all of whom seem to delight in fighting and killing each other. To make matters worse, once the group has made it to the plateua, one of the ornery critters tosses their log bridge down into the crevasse, seemingly trapping them there forever.

How about a trailer spotlighting some of the great effects scenes?

And the Skinny:
Title: The Lost World
Release Date: 1925
Running Time: Varies (various sequences have been lost over time, some have been restored – the original release time is 106 minutes, most available versions run between 85-100 minutes)
Black and White
Starring: Wallace Beery
Directed by: Harry Hoyt
Produced by: Jamie White, Earl Hudson
Distributed by: First National Pictures

Until next time, Happy (Silent) Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

Not-So-Super Heroes – Doctor Strange (1978)

When I put up the poll for last month’s theme, one of the options was Not-So-Superheroes, a look back at some of the earlier attempts at bringing superheroes to both the big and small screen. The truth is, most of those efforts were largely unsuccessful and in some cases they were utterly horrible. Thus, the “not so super”. Of course, that was not the winner of the poll, but it still seems like a pretty good idea, so I figured it would make for a pretty intermittent series.

So we begin with the 1978 TV movie Dr. Strange. One of the surprise hits of the marvel universe, the 2016 film version was a fairly faithful (well, at least as faithful as any of the MCU movies has been) adaptation of the comic series first created in 1963 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. The 1978 version? Yeah, not so much.

In the comics, Steven Strange is a self-absorbed surgeon whose hands are damaged in an automobile accident. When modern medicine fails to restore use of his hands to him, he desperately turns to other means to return to the life that has been taken away from him. Finally following rumors and whispers he travels to Tibet and the mountaintop retreat of The Ancient One where he learns the mystic arts and eventually becomes Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme.

The biggest change in the TV  movie is that while Strange is still a doctor, he is no longer a surgeon but instead a psychiatrist. Nor is there a car wreck, nor does Strange suffer any kind of tragic loss that leads him on his quest for recovery and power.

In this version, Strange is simply the heir-apparent to Thomas Lindmer who is the current Sorcerer Supreme and the Ancient One analogue. This takes away any emotional investment on Strange’s part and completely changes his motivation for what is to come.

Lindmer has been locked in mystical battle with Morgan le Fay who has escaped from the prison that Merlin (presumably a previous Sorcerer Supreme incarnation) had previously encased her in. This provides us a chance for the perfect TV movie motivation – romance. When le Fay possess a young woman named Clea Lake (a name the will be – sort of – familiar to comics readers though she hasn’t been introduced in the theatrical MCU yet) in order to attack Lindmer by pushing him off a bridge into oncoming traffic, Clea becomes disoriented,  not understanding what has happened to her and she is brought to the hospital where Strange works and is put under his care.

Lindmer then seeks out Strange and informs him that he is actually Harry Potter and that not only is he specially attuned to magic but that his parents died protecting him from evil magic.

We do eventually get to the magic with a showdown between Strange and le Fay in a demonic realm, but honestly even this is less than spectacular. Between the 70s era effects and the television budget I suppose it could be said that they do the best that they can, but honestly, the destination is not worth the journey.

This was, of course, originally intended as a pilot for an ongoing series, but it’s probably best that it was never followed up on. While Peter Hooten has a pretty good look for Strange, he doesn’t have the charisma necessary to carry the role into the future. Plus, the simple limitations of effects and budget would have kept the most fascinating aspects of Strange’s lore from our screens.

Not-so-super? Yeah, I’m afraid this one fits.