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The Cobalt Screening Room Balcony

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Post by ghemrats on 11/20/2019, 4:20 pm

Post #206: WARNING! The spider you see in today's feature *Tarantula* (1955) is REAL. Only the human beings in the film are amazing duplicates, as evidenced by their acting. Yes, Friends, it's true--today we dive back into the archives to visit classic 1950s goofball madness as Dr. Gerald Deemer (Leo J. Carroll, who should have been named Dimmer, as his light switch doesn't shed enough light to illuminate a closet) struggles with the great humanitarian tribulation of producing enough food to meet the exploding population. But when a mutated man who bears a striking resemblance to a twice-baked potato crawls out in the desert and commences a third bake, Dr. Matt Hastings (John Agar) begins to wonder if something isn't awry in Desert Rock, Arizona. Within minutes Matt is fuming, fussing, frowning and foaming enough to foment a fricassee in his head. Yes, Friends, it's true--director Jack Arnold is at it again.

Like *Them!* (1954) released the year before, we're back in the desert with gigantic monsters wiggling menacingly at rock formations. But *Tarantula* has something you don't see every day, Chauncey (What's that, Edgar?): A second uncredited role for a pre-Rowdy Yates Clint Eastwood as a pilot. (You'd probably not recognize him as the lower half of his face is covered with his oxygen mask.) It is his fine contribution to the film that he gets to douse the giant arachnid with napalm, one of Dow's contributions to humanity that for a time eclipsed Saran Wrap, better living through chemicals.

But no hideous creation of Man Messing With Nature would be complete without a feisty but achingly female laboratory assistant nicknamed Steve (Mara Corday) for no apparent reason. Hers is a tough job in the film--she is required to help the secretive doctor, wait for something to elicit a look of abject horror, and most importantly disrobe before a window overlooking the desert while remaining blissfully blind to the one hundred foot tarantula peeping at her within five feet. Oh, and of course, she has to shriek with both hands bookending her face while bending over backward.

But before all this is placed in creepy motion, back at the lab, Dr. Deemer is caught offguard by one of his helpers, who has been injected with the Special K Growth Hormone that created the Eensy Weensy Monolithic Monster, auditions for the lead in *The Elephant Man* by attacking the scientist. For some reason the Hamburger-Helper-faced assistant is displeased that he has to live the rest of his life as a pu-pu platter, begins choking the old man, sets the lab afire and injects a full dose into the doctor's arm. His helper burned to a nice char, Dr. Deemer surveys the damage, less concerned with the giant test subjects' escape and more for that nasty, persistent arthritic ache in his shoulder in dire need of Blue Emu. Besides, it's a nice evening for a stroll, and the desert is so scenic as night trundles on. And what a fine night for a radium-soaked spider to find a cute little single spider with whom to share this beautiful moon.

. . . And to think: Within ten years, Dr. Deemer would go on to lord over Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin as head of U.N.C.L.E. The government will hire just about anybody in tough times.

There's a lot of stock shot driving through the desert, JUST missing the spider by seconds before the grand pub crawl finale. At one point for no purpose except to place Matt and Steve (nee Stephanie Clayton) in mortal danger before the great reveal, our heroes stop at a rock outcropping to experience the exquisite majesty of petrology. Little did they know they would be pelted with boulders and prairie dust edged out of position by some Unseen Force, causing Steve to shriek and Matt to stare stonily into the avalanche before deciding it was best to be a-goin'. And wouldn't you just guess that they were back in the car and halfway to BFE, Arizona, before a single wooly leg inched over the mountain to wave bye bye.

Once again, it's a guilty pleasure to see Fred Ziffel (Hank Patterson) moonlighting as a nosy receptionist in Dr. Hastings' office though it appears the good doctor has no patients whatsoever and so spends most of his time brooding, mooning over Steve, and bothering the sheriff (Nestor Paiva). By the time he finds huge white pools of venom in the desert--actually sticking his hand in it, smelling it and then TASTING IT [Lil John sez WHAT?]--he's proven to me he'd never be eagerly recuited by Dr. Welby, Dr. Kildare, Ben Casey, Trapper John MD, St. Elsewhere, New Amsterdam, General Hospital, or even Dr. Oz. Suspecting something odd in the mixture, because splotches of white spider venom aren't usually springing up from underground glaciated pools in the desert, Matt takes a sample to a university in Phoenix where Milburn Drysdale, working under the alias Dr. Townsend (Raymond Bailey), matches Matt furrowed brow for furrowed brow. He shows Matt a handy Animal Kingdom film he just happened to be reviewing in his office, coincidentally about spiders' predatory nature, and frowns even more deeply.

Bullets cannot stop it! Dynamite cannot kill it! Limited attention spans cannot endure it, even though it's only 80 minutes long. But critics fell under its spell. Leonard Maltin called it "one of the best giant-insect films." Rotten Tomatoes ranks it 92% fresh. Amazon rates it 95% four or five stars. And to top it all off, this is the same spider Universal used in the Jack Arnold classic *The Incredible Shrinking Man* (1957), so that would be a great co-runner in a creepy double creature feature film fest. Kudos should go to Jack Arnold, for the spider (yes, it was a real spider, moved by air jets when the film crew needed it to move) is very cleanly inserted into the action sequences. You'll find none of that cheap halo effect of green screen around the arachnid as it squiggles over the mountain ranges, and the miniatures don't scream Lincoln Logs either. It's all rather seamless, actually. Even though the spider kept complaining, "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. Demille," the close-ups are a mix of ick and whaaa? In its day *Tarantula* probably scared the milk out of kids, leaving pools in the suburbs Matt Hastings would have hastened to swirl, smell and sample.

So if you scream for your spouse, roommate or friend to come into the bathroom and eradicate that little arachnid exploring your shower drain, you'll probably not invite *Tarantula* into your viewing room, but if you do, you'll have some fun watching John Agar salivate over Mara Corday and cheer when, once again, Clint Eastwood flies in to save the day. All that's missing is his intoning, "Go ahead--make my popcorn."
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by CompleteDayMan on 11/20/2019, 4:28 pm

I hope you are going to have a book published containing all of these summaries. I'm sure it would fast become a best seller!
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Post by Space Cadet on 11/20/2019, 6:22 pm

CHEESE... CHEESE... I NEED MORE CHEESE!! So I'll just make that a double feature, along with The Deadly Mantis (1957).
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Post by Seamus on 11/20/2019, 6:56 pm

I loved my favorite year. What a great movie the fading swashbuckler. So much to enjoy, the era the sets the fine acting. A gem Jeff a real gem.
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Post by ghemrats on 11/21/2019, 5:22 pm

Post #207:  Some folks learning golf for the first time inadvertently hook their shots, some slice, some miss the ball altogether. Even though our heroine of today's story, Jane Russell in *The Revolt Of Mamie Stover* (1956), is a golf novice, it's plain from the first frame of the picture that she's a hooker.  That's right, she's learning how to golf so that she can impress her love interest Jim Blair (Richard Egan) with her talents in the rough.  Now I could go on with the golf metaphor for several more punny paragraphs, but I fear most of the lines would be over that line, so I will refrain. . . . which is more than Mamie does in this film.

If you watch the trailer, please note that it's among the worst preserved trailers I've seen. The curators probably left it in the sub-basement of a trailer park since the film's release.  But the print of the film I saw was in glorious Cinemascopic DeLuxe vibrancy, much like Jane Russell herself.  And don't be fooled by the trailer's come-hither questioning to entice you--we are never told why Mamie was forced to leave San Francisco, though we can guess by the way she defiantly stares at the city skyline as she's about to board a tramp steamer. Please note those three last, importantly chosen words in that sentence.  She IS steamy and she's . . . adept at making friends.

Hollywood gossip columnist Erskine Johnson reported that Marilyn Monroe was originally cast in the lead role, but was in a contract dispute with Fox and thus turned down the role. In my mind that's no great loss, because Jane Russell, as a redhead, owns this role and amps up the sex appeal the longer the film runs.  Johnson noted that the paperback novel on which the film is based sold over 3,000,000 copies, and over 30,000 scenes would have to be cut for the screen. While that may well be hyperbole, director Raoul Walsh did tone down the book's more salacious moments to scud under the censorship issues.  But hey, it's the 1950s, and the movie is set during WWII, so we can figure out the shorthand, even though *The Revolt Of Mamie Stover* on screen will never really fog the windows at the drive in anymore. . . . largely because we don't have drive-ins.

Leaving San Francisco escorted by the police, Mamie sails to Hawaii on a freighter whose only other passenger is a renown writer (Richard Egan) who is shaken and stirred by the spitfire Mamie, even though he's engaged to the socially successful Annabelle (Joan Leslie in her last film).  They part ways but remain friends in Honolulu as Jimmy (as he's called throughout the film) loans her $100, the equivalent of $1,700 today.  Mamie takes up residence in the Bungalow Club, a "dance hall" populated by beauties for the furloughed GI's who are hot to drink and dance and play poker, though the proprietor Bertha (a blonde Agnes Moorehead) makes sure not one of the servicemen enlisting a girl will poke 'er.

Quickly Mamie becomes a star attraction as "Flaming Mamie" and moves up her 30% take in the Bungalow to 50%.  This allows her to return Jimmy's $100 and remain a good "friend" even though she's obligated by the house rules not to: have a boyfriend or a bank account, leave the premises for Waikiki Beach or any hotel or live outside the Bungalow.  If any of the girls break the rules, Bertha's goon Harry Adkins (Michael Pate, who looks like vertically stacked vanilla ice cream topped by a coconut monkey head wearing horn-rimmed glasses) will beat them silly.  But it doesn't matter, because when love is in the air, nothing can stay these couriers from their appointed rounds. . . .

By the time Mamie amasses a small fortune--one of the goals she has set for herself--the bombing of Pearl Harbor sets the Island on edge, though the ever resourceful Mamie makes a killing as a war profiteer, buying up all the land and businesses she can as panicked Islanders break for the mainland.  Jimmy enlists but not before dumping Annabelle and pledging his fidelity to Mamie, whom he will marry after the war.  He wants her solely for himself, hang the small minded socialites who look down on her; they'll move somewhere fresh.  Here we are treated to some of the dumbest dialogue to jump off the screen: "Oh, Jimmy," Mamie gushes. "I'm so crazy dopey happy!" O-o-o-o-kay.

With the war in full swing, Mamie writes to Jimmy just about every day, while figuring if he doesn't know about her continuing to work at the Bungalow, she can collect even more money and that little nest egg will buy them respectability when he comes home. In the meantime she will rake in the dough--a monthly $4,000 or $61,300 today--from her rental properties and a percentage hike to 70% at the Bungalow, and become a property hotter than a tiki torch in a bubbling volcano.  Soon she's photographed in black lace and getting a rise out of every serviceman who has two bucks for one of her snapshots.  But wouldn't you know it, Jimmy finds out about it, doggone it, and he's tired of sharing his girl with the American forces, thinking she was rotten to the corps but great to the infantry.

Yes, it's pretty silly, but Jane Russell, who dyed her hair and eyebrows red for the film, simply dazzles in her wardrobe by William Travilla, who costumed Marilyn Monroe in eight pictures.  Her singing "Keep Your Eyes On The Hands" and "If You Want To See Mamie Tonight" will not make you forget Rita Hayworth's "Put The Blame On Mame" from *Gilda* (1946), but you know what they say about a partner who eats crackers in bed.  Clearly Jane is the only reason to watch this little potboiler.  She is tough, vulnerable, a little starry eyed over Jimmy and seductive in the last third of the film as she slinks and sways in tight sparkles like a golfer's dream.

Agnes Moorehead, too, brings a touch of class to the film as a long-suffering, hard as frozen iceberg lettuce Bertha, dispensing some limited humanity to the girls by keeping her bouncer Harry from exercising his nasty habits too frequently or viciously.  Her confidential warning to Mamie is an authentic cautionary tale earned honestly, and she brings the right spirit of care to the scene.

On the other end of the spectrum is Richard Egan's Jimmy.  All the way through the film I kept wondering what Mamie saw in this schlub.  When some critics referred to him as the quintessential symbol of male sexuality, I almost gagged and thought about turning in my gender card, if this is what we're supposed to shoot for.  I doubt I have ever seen a less engaging hunk of lard in my life.  I kept wishing he'd elevate his acting to the status of a beet, but he never did. Egan's portrayal of a supposedly charismatic manly man holds all the staying power of a cheap beef steak marinated for six days in a potent mixture of Ex-Lax, Colace, Milk of Magnesia, FiberCon and hi-fiber prune juice.  His adenoidal monotone expressed the broad emotional range of rubber mallet, driving my wife to exclaim, "What a stick this guy is." And if Jane Russell could get "crazy dopey happy" over THIS, she would probably spontaneously combust over an evening with Pat Boone.

So I put the brunt of the film's faltering squarely on Egan's broad shoulders.  He emanates less than zero sparks, in fact sapping some of Jane's electricity like the spider in yesterday's *Tarantula* when it hits the high tension wires. I couldn't help wondering what the film might have been had ANYONE--for God's sake, I'd even try Andy Devine here--played opposite her and really kindled some fire.  

I mean, we could spend a lot of time deconstructing the film's emphasis on money over love, its interplay of class struggles and the fight for common decency and human dignity, and an exploration of Fromm's "having" love vs. "being in love," drawing the distinction between "having sex" (a passive pursuit) vs. "making" love (a fully human active experience), but Mamie's talents and avocation are so sufficiently submerged in censorship and golfing metaphors that it wouldn't really be worth it.  Let's just leave it at suggesting she's got a great swing, evidently a great follow-through, and a terrific performance in the back nine.  *The Revolt of Mamie Stover* may not win any trophies, but she will surely break one hundred soon while popping the bubbles in Arnold Palmer's iced tea with one glance.
Enjoy.
Jeff


Last edited by ghemrats on 11/21/2019, 10:05 pm; edited 2 times in total

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Post by Space Cadet on 11/21/2019, 6:45 pm

I was all in once Agnes Moorehead was mentioned. I'm an Agnes Moorehead fan. My favorite among her many roles, was Emily Hawkins in Since You Went Away. She had the ability to freeze a volcanic eruption with a single glance.
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Post by ghemrats on 11/22/2019, 5:38 pm

No cheese today, Mr. Space Milkman, but a real keeper.

Post #208: You know what, let's just take that Favorite Movie List I posted a few days ago and pretend it was compiled on an Etch-A-Sketch--because darned if I haven't stumbled upon another movie that should take its rightful place near the top of said List. Not "Honorably Mentioned," mind you; I mean Top Three All Time. I won't bother you with the flagellation I've suffered by my own hand for misstepping over this one, but graciously accept the absolution of my dear friend and mentor for reminding me that few "papers" are ever completely complete.

It is with a doff of my Edwardian hat to him, then, that I enter into evidence another film that should be required viewing for all human beings: *Kind Hearts And Coronets* (1949), one of the most deliciously errant tales set to the cinema, and one of a very few films ever to command 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. For those of you uninitiated, *Kind Hearts And Coronets* is arguably the finest of the fine Ealing Studio comedies, many of which also starred Sir Alec Guinness. But this script was so loved by the great actor that he asked to play EIGHT memorable parts in this singular film. Just listen to director John Landis (*Animal House* (1978), *The Blues Brothers* (1980), *An American Werewolf In London* (1981), *Trading Places* (1983) and Michael Jackson's *Thriller* (1983)) gush over all the performers in today's trailer, and you'd be remiss in missing this masterpiece, named #6 to the British Film Institute's Top 100 British Films of the Twentieth Century. That's pretty pretty pretty pretty good, if you ask me.

In perfect English deadpan seriousness lies a tale so gleefully, wickedly twisted that Ealing Studio head Michael Balcon nearly called for major renovation and editing of the final film, but relented. For its time, 1949, the rampant yet veddy proppah Edwardian adultery alone set tongues wagging, but the comic trajectory of serial killing within the respectable D'Ascoyne patriarchy caused Balcon to remark to the film's director Robert Hamer, "You are trying to sell that most unsaleable commodity to the British, irony. Good luck to you."

We begin our picaresque personal history as the single-minded 10th Duke of Chalfont, Louis D'Ascoyne Mazzini (played by the comically superior Dennis Price) awaits his public hanging by chronicling his ascent to power. A charming rogue seeking only to right the injustices the aristocratic D'Ascoyne brood foisted upon him, Louis recounts the ostracizing of his mother, daughter of the 7th Duke of Chalfont, for having married for love instead of familial privilege. Her union to an Italian opera singer, who died shortly after Louis was born, left her and her son at the fringes of society rather than basking in her family's comfort. When Mother dies and is refused burial in the sacred D'Ascoyne family grounds at Chalfont Castle, Louis adopts the raison d'etre "Revenge is the dish which people of taste prefer to eat cold."

In the sweeping span of 106 minutes, we watch as systematically Louis dispatches every relative standing between him and his ascendency to his rightful inheritance (Shades of Richard III). You cannot tell the players, all inhabiting the body of Sir Alec Guinness, without the scorecard, in order of their disappearance:

*Ascoyne D'Ascoyne, a pompous cousin who gets Louis fired from his menial job;
*Lord Ascoyne D'Ascoyne, Ascoyne's father, a banker (and uncle to Louis) who hires the young, ambitious Louis;
*Cousin Henry D'Ascoyne, an amateur photographer married to the breathtaking Edith (Valerie Hobson);
*The Reverend Lord Henry D'Ascoyne, Guinness's favorite character, and Louis's uncle;
*Suffragette Agatha D'Ascoyne, Louis's aunt, who fights for women's rights to the point of arrest;
*General Lord Rufus D'Ascoyne, Louis's uncle who has an extravagant taste for caviar;
*Admiral Lord Horatio D'Ascoyne, another uncle whose diligence at sea is commendable (and condemnable);
*Uncle Ethelred D'Ascoyne, the childless, widowed 8th Duke, who befriends Louis when he takes up with the widow Edith.

As these finely etched aristocrats parade in and out of frame--at one point sitting together via camera magic in a scene that took two days to shoot--Louis surreptitiously carries on an affair with his childhood crush Sibella (a tempting and outrageously seductive Joan Greenwood) who is unfortunately married to the dullard Lionel Holland (John Penrose). With her feigned innocence and coquettish teasing directed at Louis's lack of position, Sibella becomes a juicy rationalization for his actions. . . until Edith comes on the market by his hand.

Dennis Price is an awesome force driving the film, and much underrated for the poise and stanched evil he represents. Since he is the focal point, indeed the narrator, of the film, we are enleagued to him, complicit in our pure enjoyment of his moral choices. Indeed director Robert Hamer said, "What were the possibilities which thus presented themselves? Firstly, in that of making a film not noticeably similar to any previously made in the English language. Secondly, that of using this English language ... in a more varied and, to me, more interesting way than I had previously had the chance of doing in a film. Thirdly, that of making a picture which paid no regard whatever to established, although not practised, moral convention."

And despite the demands placed on Sir Alec Guinness (in his own campaigning to play eight parts, Sir Alec was totally enthused by the project: "Quick transformation from one character to another has a disturbing effect. I had to ask myself from time to time: 'Which one am I now?' I had fearful visions of looking like one of the characters and thinking and speaking like one of the others. It would have been quite disastrous to have faced the cameras in the make-up of the suffragette, and spoken like the Admiral." In fact it was the Admiral who gave the production crew and Guinness the greatest scare. In the sinking of his ship and determining to accompany it to the depths, the "Admiral" was held in place by wires submerged beneath the water. After the scene was wrapped, it occurred to one of the technicians that they had not released Sir Alec from his housing. The technician immediately dove in with wire cutters and marveled at Sir Alec's ability to hold his breath for the extended time.

When the film was released to American audiences, six minutes shorter, once again the dreaded Hays Office demanded the ending be altered to suit a supposedly American distaste for ambiguity, 'cuz we's jess too addlepated to unnerstann I-rony. The shift amounted to one small tinkering of the final shot, but in my mind such a shift takes the payoff into the Land Of Misfit Obvious Pablum For The Unconscionably Dumb. Incidentally, I am not referring to the substitution of "Tiger by the toe" for another more inappropriate racial epithet; that was a necessary change for today's sensibilities and decency. Just do your best not to wince when that usage pops up.

*Kind Hearts And Coronets* remains one of the best satires of class struggles and sexual repression I can recommend. Even though by today's standards the sexual shenanigans are intimated with the best British sense of a stiff upper lip, the film's depiction may have you asking Are they--I mean, it sure looks like. . . when was this made? And Joan Greenwood's portrayal is a joy to behold as her methods and intentions are so patently clear while still retaining an undercurrent of pressing need and desire. Since this was the first of the Ealing comedies, I'd suggest this is the perfect place to begin an Ealing marathon--what a grand treat the entire corpus can allow, a moral feast with corpus delectable.

And by the way, tomorrow's movie is just a little bit of fluff from the 1930s that won't make me rework my list any more, so you can feel free to doodle to your heart's content on the cinematic Etch-A-Sketch I use now. (It's a step up from crayons, because they won't let me use anything sharp here. . . .)
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 11/22/2019, 6:21 pm

No worries Jeff. Some days Ya gotta cut the cheese. Twisted Evil

And I've pretty much decided that my top 10 list will have to depend on random choice. In other words, I'd just grab 10 at random from my "comfort movies" list of 100 or so movies.
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Post by ghemrats on 11/23/2019, 6:57 pm

Post #209: I read the news today, Oh Boy! *The Natural Perspirer* has just released some startling news that shakes the very core of what we've come to know as conventional wisdom: *The Devil Is A Woman*, and she doesn't wear Prada! True, she looks marvelous incarnated as Marlene Dietrich, and her wardrobe is striking in its flamboyant curve hugging manner, but it's definitely not Italian, since we've set today's film in fin de siecle Spain during Seville's Fiestas de Carnaval, or "farewell to the flesh" before the coming of Lent.

That fits today's feature *The Devil Is A Woman* (1935), Josef von Sternberg's extravagant last of his seven outings with Marlene Dietrich, penned by the great John Dos Passos. In a gaudy, gauzy display of saturnalian excess and unrestrained explosions of joy we follow the parallel tracks of two friends, bourgeois revolutionary Antonio Garvan (Cesar Romero at his suave, egoistic, womanizing best) and his older but no wiser associate Captain Don Pasqual Costelar (Lionel Atwill, whose suffering is painful to watch transpire). Tying them as one beyond the bond of friendship is the cold fire of Concha "Conchita" Perez (Marlene Dietrich), the quintessential temptress whose womanly wiles weave a tapestwy of wicked wonderment and wadiant wantonness in evewy wastrel, wascal, or wich awistocwat she dwifts toward as a poisonous perfume wafting in the aiw.

Entranced by her beauty through a veil of confetti and streamers, Garvan pants in expectation of meeting her during her evening ride as she coyly reveals to him in a note of florid script. Avoiding the gaze of the Spanish police, he happens upon his old friend Don Pasqual who engages him in conversation and drink, their talk finally settling on a mutual infatuation for the mysterious Concha. Unveiled in flashback, Don Pasqual offers his cautionary tale of the dangers awaiting Garvan should he pursue the mercurial object of their lust. For in tragic fashion, Don Pasqual, or "Pasqualito" as she purrs at him when she desires something from him, is fully aware of his flaw--his irrepressible devotion to her, his obsessive need to possess her entirely with the full knowledge that she cares for him as much as she might a Spanish fly on her lace. It's said the Devil can assume pleasing shapes, the better to draw men into madness. Given the truth of such an assertion, Don Pasqual stands as the Alfred E. Neuman of such a mad endeavor; he has even resigned his commission as Captain of the Civil Guard in blind pursuit of even her most fleeting touch.

Concha is revealed to be the very pinnacle of the manipulative maneater: Don Pasqual warns, "I wouldn't if I were you--I know what she can do. She's deadly, man, she could really rip your world apart. . . . she'll only come out at night, lean and hungry type, So many have paid to see what you think you're getting for free--The woman is wild, a she-cat tamed by the purr of a Jaguar." Which is precisely why Garvan falls even more deeply entranced by her, though he promises his friend he will have nothing to do with her. Oh, you silly silly man. Against her he is not only willing to have his entire being fed into the Concha Kitchen Magician Meat Grinder, but he's combusting with lust to stand in line to do so, thinking, "I want to spread the news That if it feels this good getting used You just keep on using me Until you use me up."

O, what a simpering, blubbering mass we men can be. It reminds me of the old Masochist/Sadist Syndrome--"Hurt me, hurt me," said the Masochist. "No, no," said the Sadist. But I suppose if we wish to run full tilt into a circular band saw, she might as well have the teeth of Marlene Dietrich. For in this, her favorite movie performance of all (and she didn't have to keep revising the list, and since she died in 1992 we can reasonably assume she won't change that assessment any time soon), she seems playful and downright giddy in her destruction of her paramours. She demeans, humiliates, tosses away and begs the return of her "Pasqualito" even as she throws herself unabashedly at Garvan and just about any other man who might serve her short-term needs. And the people rejoiced, as Monty Python said often in *Holy Grail* (1975).

Because, yes, she is Everyman's (Un)Holy Grail, prompting our two old friends to determine who loves her more in a pissing contest, a duel with pistols at dawn. This is no great concern to Concha as a browbeaten and casually discarded bullfighter has committed suicide in her honor (and his emotional devastation) before these two sods entered their genital-comparison competition with big guns. For Concha it's just the Wide World of Good Sports, and she can't wait to see the agony of defeat, which will only fuel the next suitor's ardor that much more. How it all pans out is up to you, allowing us all to determine what makes Concha run. . . or saunter. . . or swing and sway in search of Sammy Kaye, or at least somebody in a fresh pair of pants.

To illustrate the volatile relationships Concha urges, consider this exchange between her and Pasqual after a night of anger and passion:
Concha: Good morning! Good morning. Good morning! Good morning! I came to see if you were dead. If you had loved me enough, you would have killed yourself last night. [She takes a sip of chocolate] Bad. Not made properly. I can make much better chocolate.

Don Pasqual : Want another beating? Haven't you had enough? I'm through with you. Why did you come here?

Concha: Poor Pasqual. You haven't much faith in me, have you?

Don Pasqual: I haven't much faith in anything.

Concha: But I love you, Pasqual. Look at me. Look at me! Look, Pasqualito, I'm black and blue.

Even though you repeatedly wish to kick Lionel Atwill as hard as you can between the goal posts (picture a seventy-seven yard field goal attempt), you have to admit he's done a powerful job capturing the pathetic self-knowledge of Don Pasqual. The story would be sad enough if he was totally unaware of the cruelty to which he was subjected, but conscious awareness of the abuse--and a dogged determination to return for more of the same--makes the character either monumentally stupid or . . . or. . . no, there isn't an upside here. Don Pasqual says at one point, "That woman has ice where others have a heart." Some believe *The Devil Is A Woman* is von Sternberg's misogynistic masterpiece, but I refute that claim: I think it's his *misanthropic* masterpiece. He is perhaps harsher on weak willed, sexually repressed men than on womankind. All the men are dribbling dolts when faced with a strong albeit hypnotically evil woman. And ringed with energetic score drawn from Spanish folk songs and Rimsky-Korsakov's *Capriccio Espagnol* the film is saturated with sensuality. As always von Sterberg's visual textures are evocative as they leap from the screen. Canopies of tree branches, flowing strands of streamers and the complex spiderweb of stings layered like constrictive bonds work as visual metaphors for the tangled passions struggling to break free from the characters.

So strong was the film's impact that the Spanish government imposed a ban on all Paramount Pictures throughout Spain if *The Devil Is A Woman* were not ripped from distribution and destroyed for its unflattering portrayal of Spanish police as equal partners in the sin and drunkenness of the Carnival. Acceding to the embassy's wishes, Paramount staged a private burning of a "Master Print" of the film for the Spanish Ambassador in Washington D.C. though the film continued distribution domestically. After its initial run, Paramount recalled all its prints, having been outlawed in Spain during Francisco Franco's reign. Dietrich herself kept a print in a locked safety deposit box, as it was her favorite film, and that print is now used as the source of DVD and Blu-Ray editions.

A full seventeen minutes of the final film were cut, including a wonderful musical number you can find on Youtube, "If It Isn't Pain (It Isn't Love)" as well as many scenes of sexual innuendo deemed too racy for 1935 audiences, leaving the film's running time at 76 minutes. That's a nice investment of time in my mind, because the allure of Marlene Dietrich--which for a long time eluded me as blithely as Concha's evasion of any emotional attachment--is on full display here. She is simply stunning when touched by the articulate grace of von Sternberg's lush black and white lighting. If you're looking for intense character development, you won't find it, as Concha embodies Nietzsche's warning, "He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee." She may well be the Devil, but she still makes great copy for the *Natural Perspirer* and other tabloids that travel in the darker circles of humanity.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 11/24/2019, 7:35 pm

Post #210: I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach? I shall wear white flannel trousers, . . . no. wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it. And the white pants are linen or polyester, flannel itches too much. Increasingly, I find myself getting peeved at television: Too many idiots buying vowels on *Wheel Of Fortune*--at $250 a crack. Do you know how long it takes to make $250, you ignorant fruit bat, I yell in a huff. [Song titles is the category: SPRINGSTEEN'S BORN TO R_N. Pat, I'd like to buy a vowel? An "A"?] It's almost as annoying as the game of ping pong with a grenade we're catching in the news. [Take a deep breath, Jeff] And so, because I see my patience withering daily, I must conclude at some times that I am morphing into a curmudgeon. What better way to apply the salve of salvation on me than watching a film? Some soothing, well acted and directed cinematic Calgon that will take me away. . . like today's feature, *MIss Sloane* (2016).

As Carnac the Magnificent used to say, Oh you are wrong, Silver Nitrate Breath. *Miss Sloane*, followed up in my double feature with *Seven Days In May* (1964) to be commented upon tomorrow, did not float me in a sea of serenity. But that's not to say I disliked the film--no, I thought it was wonderful, with a masterful turn by Jessica Chastain, who like Denzel Washington is quickly becoming one of my unsung heroes in modern movies. A caveat to anyone sitting down with this film--you will use your brain, as it commands you to pay attention as it twists and maneuvers through its political thriller plotline. It's not The Three Stooges Go To Washington.

Winner of the Writer's Guild of Great Britain for Best Screenplay and nominated for six other awards, including Best Portrayal of Washington by the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Awards and three nominations for Best Actress, *Miss Sloane* takes us into the pressure cooker world of lobbyists. I know, not necessarily the stuff dreams are made of, but Jessica Chastain's Elizabeth Sloane is a piranha in a power suit and sharply honed heels. And the film rests almost solely on her padded shoulders as Ms. Chastain is in just about every scene. Presently under investigation in a senate hearing for possibly illegal, unethical machinations under the employ of the Peterson Wyatt lobbying firm, Miss Sloane is the "most sought after and formidable lobbyist" in DC.

Her philosophy is win at all costs, while she intones, "Cynical is a word used by Pollyannas to denote an absence of the naiveté they so keenly exhibit." She has jumped ship from Cole Kravitz & Waterman when asked by a gun manufacturing representative to wage a campaign against the proposed Heaton-Harris bill that would expand background checks on gun purchases. Ridiculing the condescension she infers from the rep and her boss George Dupont (Sam Watterson in a perfectly stern indignant role at which he excels, spouting such lines as "Let's see how well-covered her ass really is"), Sloane joins their principled rival Rodolfo Schmidt (an understated Mark Strong) at Peterson Wyatt in support of the bill, amassing a group of sharp witted associates in her wake.

Over its 127 minutes, *Miss Sloane* delves into the dehumanization of power. "Career suicide's not so bad when you consider the alternative is suicide by career," Sloane says at one point, and that places you squarely in her head. The opening shot of the film, seen in the trailer, shows her resolute single-mindedness by staring you down without a whiff of apology for being irrepressibly cold. When Sloane "recruits" Esme Manucharian (the moving, Oxford-born Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a formidable young woman with a secret and a fire, we hold our breath that perhaps this association will allow us to see some shard of humanity in our protagonist. Expel that breath now, for it ain't gonna happen. Esme becomes another victim of the media (and Sloane) as she reveals the face of passionate resolve toward gaining support for the bill. The film rumbles toward its surprising conclusion with strength and a superior supporting cast including John Lithgow (as the senator leading the hearings), Alison Pill as Jane Malloy, Sloane's one-time right hand, and Christine Baranski in a cameo as a feisty Senator.

It's a gut-punch of a film, highlighting the basic indecency of power playing, greed under the banner of "rights" and nationalism gone mad, corruption and winning through intimidation. Under the direction of John Madden (*Shakespeare In Love* (1986) and *The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel* (2011)) the film starts slowly then gathers momentum as we try to get beneath the glacial exterior of its anti-heroine. She may well finish as a cipher for most of us, or even more disturbingly a clear crystal whose motive is simple in the extreme. Having worked with Chastain in 2010's *The Debt*, Madden clearly knows how to maintain suspense and intrigue through a studied use of flashbacks and sweeping cinematography. In today's polarized social construct, this is a film that will enrage some people who cannot get past their own highly charged opinions and realize, Hey, it's a MOVIE, People, not an assault against a cherished set of beliefs. Sit back and allow yourself to be bounced around by a powerful woman who doesn't give a whit what riles you as long as you support her cause. . . and consequently her bragging rights, which supersede everything.

*Miss Sloane*, despite its impressive credentials and critical praising, lost money at the box office, actually landing in spot 75 of Box Office Mojo's list of Worst Opening Box Office Weekends since 1982. And for my money, that's a definite shame, though perhaps understandable given the political climate of the country. Many of its detractors saw the film (without actually SEEING the film) as a liberal Hollywood screed against gun ownership and a pandering paean to Hillary Clinton (since it was released in December 2016). Such itchy trigger finger moaning, in my mind, completely misses the point of the film--*Miss Sloane* to me is not a condemnation of the Second Amendment or its avid supporters, nor is it a one-sided argument for gun control. Yes, the film under other hands could have been a propagandist's happy hour, but it's not: it's a suspense movie about machiavellianism, intrigue, backstabbing and the little regard for humane interactions resting in political theater. The gun control debate is merely the springboard to the action and not the film's central exposition.

If the filmmakers were intent on drawing strong arguments in defense of gun control, Sloane's position would bear all manner of sympathy, as she would be the torch bearer for the poor beleaguered mass of victims of gun violence; she would be noble and emotive like Norma Rae or Erin Brockovich and all opponents would be painted in broad strokes with a black brush. But she's not noble, she holds all emotion in check (given the proposition that she has any emotions at all beyond a voracious need to win), she's not above careless sacrifice of her "closest" confidants, and personally she's a pill popping sleepless wreck who regularly enlists an escort to perform sexual favors with the clockwork urgency of coldly rational Swiss timepiece. No, she's not to be admired--there is nothing in her behavior that aligns her to protecting human dignity. She did not leave Cole Kravitz & Waterman because she believed in gun control--she left because it was the perfect storm to prove to others that she could grind their bones to make her bread. It was a game to her, not a social protest by any means.

So, no, I guess this is not the film you should plop in the DVD player if you seek mindless cheese (Is there such a thing as mindful cheese?). Jessica Chastain's ice blue eyes will pin you to your sofa, and her aplomb staples you to your seat. Sam Watterson has always been a favorite of mine when he froths and fights to contain his indignation, and here he is in fine form, nearly combusting in several scenes as the going gets rough. After watching it, I was not calmed as an alligator with a tummy rub, but I was a little more accepting as I watched Pat and Vanna registering genuine (faux game show host) empathy for the contestant who guessed "It's A Wonderful Loaf* in a puzzle lacking the pivotal "I" and "A." I gess sum peeple jess cant spell.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 11/25/2019, 9:26 pm

Post #211: When I started this series of commentaries, I had one main rule in mind: Carve out as much daily Me Time in my home office so my wife couldn't commit slow, untraceable murder by interminable Honey Do Listing. There was also this cover plan involving writing about sneaky little sleeper movies, independents or just passed-over, long-forgotten fun films. No blockbusters, because they already earned their positions in the Pantheon; besides, how much more needs to be said about *Miracle On 34th Street* (1947) after being subjected to a Marxist deconstruction? Anyway, yesterday I said I would comment on *Seven Days In May* (1964), President Kennedy's favorite movie starring Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Frederic March, Ava Gardner, Martin Balsam, Edmund O'Brien (who won an Academy Award for his role), Andrew Duggan, John Houseman, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtledoves, and Jerry Mathers as The Beaver.

Nope. Not gonna do it, to quote George HW Bush--nah gah dah. To follow up *Miss Sloane* (2016) with this political thriller would probably elicit a tweet from a high-ranking governmental agent of the people denouncing me as a "covfefe sympathizer" or "a real loser I never herd of [sic] or knew well." (You don't have to be paranoid to realize the government is out to get you.) In preparing for a nice *Seven Days In May* commentary, I found myself deluged with so many scholarly articles and books written about it, I decided it violates my mission--I would be in my office, slogging away at it until next St. Crispin's Day. So here: It's an amazing political thriller, the second in director John Frankenheimer's Paranoia Trilogy (after *The Manchurian Candidate* (1962) and before *Seconds* (1966)). It's unusually prescient, especially given Washington today, a potent thesis about the usurping of an unpopular President behind the scenes set in 1970--six years after the film was released, with pure dynamic acting power from all involved. Just see it, okay?

Today, so as not to break my streak, I'll be commenting on a really intriguing film, the second directorial venture from its lead actor Robert Montgomery. *Ride The Pink Horse* (1947) has arguably the worst reproduced trailer of any I've posted, but please don't judge the film by that teaser shot through jelly-stained cheesecloth, for there's nothing cheesy, in the pejorative sense, about this film. While it's been lumped under the "noir" label, most seasoned noir enthusiasts will challenge that classification. It does offer the hardest-boiled egg of a protagonist, complete with the pin-stripe suit, fedora and permanent scowl, it cloaks significant shots in heavily curtained shadows, there is a sense of entrapment and variable morality, a femme fatale lurks around, and there is a strong undercurrent of spontaneous evil all around, providing some brutality and backhand slapping that will ring in your teeth. BUT:

Unlike traditional noir, *Ride The Pink Horse* offers a great deal of redemptive optimism, a notable fight between surrendering to overweening nihilism or fighting the unquestioned traditional reliance on money, greed and egoism in favor of a quick glimpse of integrity or even acceptance. Refining the sarcastic and cynical voice he provided in his directorial debut with *Lady In The Lake* (1943), a Raymond Chandler Philip Marlowe mystery told completely in the first person with Montgomery' character being the camera, Montgomery arrives in a 3.5-minute opening tracking shot with the menace of a mafia pastry (leave the gun, take the cannoli).

As the credits have indicated, he is "Lucky" Gagin, a hardened, disillusioned war veteran who's arrived in bordertown San Pablo, New Mexico, on the trail of the gangster Frank Hugo (Fred Clark), a deaf war profiteer. Rough, snide, rude and almost instantly distrustful of nearly everyone, Gagin seeks revenge for a fallen war buddy Shorty, though at first we're unsure if he's going to kill Hugo or blackmail him with an incriminating check left with him. Since it's fiesta time in San Pablo, all hotels are filled to capacity, so he staggers around, a man uncomfortable in his surroundings, the very definition of a man out of place, until a young Native American girl, Pila (outstanding portrayal by eighteen-year-old Wanda Hendrix) directs him to a non-tourist La Fonda Hotel, where Hugo has a room.

Pila is one of the main reasons *Ride The Pink Horse* is a film that gets under your skin: There is a certain other-worldliness in her that pulls you (and Gagin) into her sphere. Sensing something (an emptiness? a penchant for violence? a lost sense of hope? It's up to you to determine), she gives Gagin an Indian doll, a charm of Ishtam, which will keep him safe. Gagin rewards her by referring to her Sitting Bull for most of the film. In the dinge and poverty of the small city, Pila is simultaneously a part of it and above it all; morally she becomes Gagin's guiding spirit, arguably his only link to simple humanity until he befriends the gregarious Pancho (Thomas Gomez in a record-shattering first Academy Award winning role for a Hispanic actor) at the Cantina de las Tres Violetas.

For noir mavens like me, the steadfast Pila and Pancho appear as pivotal archetypes of saving grace. Having ushered Gagin, a gringo, into the brotherhood of Hispanic life through seemingly endless rounds of drink, Pancho leads the roomless Gagin back to his "tiovivo," a modest carousel with a ten-cent ticket, which is his livelihood. Pila checks on Gagin to ensure he's safe and at his suggestion rides the pink horse (hence the enigmatic, symbolic title, Fate perhaps?). FBI Agent Bill Retz (Art Smith), having warned Gagin off dealing with Hugo, returns to try dissuading him to no avail. Pila, Pancho and Retz form a perfect protective circle against Gagin's baser concerns, while Hugo, his moll and his entourage of toughs intersect with their circle: a Venn diagram with supportive and destructive circles trapping Gagin at the nexus.

*Ride The Pale Horse* provides such wonderful symmetry: Pila is counterpoint to Hugo's girl Marjorie Lundeen (Andrea King). Pila is devoted to Gagin, perhaps because as she says she "saw death in his face"; Marjorie holds no such allegiance to Hugo as she dickers with Gagin to extort one million dollars out of him instead of his paltry $30,000. Pila is uncomfortable when Gagin takes her to a restaurant, as she's aware of the class and race issues her very presence there commands; Majorie sashays through the most expensive environs as if she were their owner. Pila offer enigmatic "protection" to Gagin, even cradling his head as a mother would following an extensive beating by Hugo's thugs; Marjorie's avaricious intent is so clear Gagin barely gets within breathing room of her. "She has a dead fish where her heart ought to be," he says. (That would explain her carping)

The film's stark violence is underscored during fiesta as well with the burning of Zozobra, a nine-foot effigy of the God Of Bad Luck, though Pancho cheerfully explains that such luck is a bottomless well, unkillable--and it is he who can best testify to this in the disturbing pummeling he endures while children look on from their precarious perches on the merry-go-round. But Pancho perseveres and inhabits a sense of loyalty seldom seen in noir. "Amigo," he tells Gagin early in the mutual drunkenness of the cantina, "you are the blood of my heart." And this, to him, is not inebriated bravado--it is a solemn pledge, one we may not be so sure Gagin is worthy of accepting.

It is particularly poignant, then, when following a horrendous beating and stabbing that leaves Gagin near comatose, disoriented and empty, a walking victim of post-traumatic stress induced by the war and now the attack in San Pablo, we see Gagin and Pila trade places. He is no longer the laconic, self-assured man with a direction, and Pila is no longer the innocent, skittish unappreciated girl; Gagin is now defeated, delirious, barely able to stand on his own, and Pila has evolved into a fierce, protective, defensive force even as she faced with an equal-opportunity slapping with neck-cracking vehemence.

Wanda Hendrix allows us to draw our own conclusions regarding Pila's motivation in the final sequence, which I will not disclose here. But the young actress (once married to Audie Murphy) fairly glows on screen, offering a powerful mixture of naievete, wisdom and fearless resolve, with more than a little girlishness that endears us to her. Similarly Thomas Gomez as Pancho gives a robust performance, showing a depth of character we're initially hesitant to allow him. But together we see them as a dynamism of good, an unassuming assertion that in a world motivated by corruption, casual ruthlessness and splintered morality, kindness and humanity can leverage redemption in spite of the odds. And there's nothing quaint about it.

Two final people deserve our respect for this film: Joan Harrison, who was a scriptwriter and producer for Alfred Hitchcock and who produced this film, and Russell Metty, whose cinematography is nothing less than expressive art. *Ride The Pink Horse* was not a huge box office smash, and has been long neglected, at times pronounced "odd" and "weird" as it leaves some details to the audience (Hugo's deafness, Pila's initial draw to Gagin, the ethical ambiguity of the protagonist, et al.). In all it grossed a mere $2 million domestically, but I'd assert this is one of those forgotten classics that will please noir fans and drama fans and may even provoke a little discussion along the way.

I was going to end with a snappy retort, but Joyce just called and I have to go buy dog food, finish some paperwork on the table, vacuum the house, put the clothes in the dryer, get some dinner, change the master cylinder on my car, take out the recycling and then finish washing the siding in anticipation of Thanksgiving. We sure don't want the family to think we live in an open-air cot like Pancho's.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 11/26/2019, 6:42 pm

Post #212: As a token of my gratitude for the gift of friendship and tolerance of my rambling, today I'm going to offer an offbeat little holiday movie you may never have heard of but might enjoy for its gentle humor and seasonal setting. *Comfort And Joy* (1984) is a fun little Scottish nutball from the mind and direction of Bill Forsyth, who wrote and directed *Local Hero* made the year before and commented on a couple posts back. To me it's an unnoticed nugget in the holiday fruitcake onslaught which started in, I think, June when the Hallmark Channel started its engines in case we forgot Thanksgiving and Christmas (and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and Festivus) were only six months away.

But those days are closer now, so I don't feel bad offering up an occasional holiday fare along with the turkey (which will come tomorrow--one of the biggest I've seen). *Comfort And Joy* defies your expectations in the first scene, as we witness a young woman blatantly shoplifting, cramming her coat and purse with all manner of goods while a well dressed unassuming gentleman follows at a safe distance. Someone is going to get an unexpected present, and he turns out to be Alan "Dicky" Bird (Bill Paterson), an ebullient on-air Glasgow disc jockey who is inundated by fans seeking his autograph. Privately he is a humble man, secure in his four-year relationship with the flakey Maddy (Eleanor David), that is, until she quietly starts filling boxes from their flat and removing pictures from the walls while Alan extricates himself from a tangle of Christmas lights.

Completely oblivious to her sudden decision to end their relationship, Alan is crushed, aimlessly driving around Glasgow and dreaming of her return. While driving he spots a beautiful young woman, Charlotte (Clare Grogan) working in Mr. Bunny Ice Cream truck and follows her, as Alice followed another rabbit, through a tunnel to encounter an all-out assault on the truck by masked men armed with baseball bats, who are repelled by the driver with sprays of raspberry sauce. In leaving one of the assailants recognizes Alan and stops to ask for an autograph. Such is the price of fame.

This random encounter involves the desperately down Alan to mediate a turf war between traveling Italian ice cream vendors. At the insistence of the Mr. Bunny owner Trevor (Alex Norton), Alan carries a message to his more established rival Mr. McCool (Roberto Bernardi), a godfatherish patriarch of three dim sons who help manage the business, and who coincidentally attacked Mr. Bunny's franchise. Over the following 106 minutes, we are treated to Alan's struggles maintaining interest in his career, doing his best to shirk off his failed relationship with Maddy, bringing harmony to the warring factions, and finding some existential purpose to his life during the holidays.

But *Comfort And Joy* is far from a solemn processional. It's actually a frothy bit of holiday fun as we see Alan reconciling his cheery on-air persona with his withering sense of loss and reconstruction. Along the way, the most damage is done not to our protagonist but much more to his prized red BMW 323i Baur convertible, one of the only possessions left by Maddy's exodus. The office dynamics with his straight-laced boss, who enjoys acting busy with a computer game played with his secretary, simmer to a boil as increasingly Alan's distraction by the Ice Cream War spills into his cryptic "coded" messages during his shift.

Slowly, through all the travails and trickery visited upon him in the days before Christmas, "Dicky" Bird finally concludes he was "raspberry when I could have been vanilla." And as we huddle around the radio in the film's closing minutes, we hear the resolve in "Dicky" Bird's voice: "Well it's 4 o'clock on this lovely, peaceful Christmas afternoon and this is Dickie Bird here being a very happy Christmas worm. You know, I got really sentimental after the morning show today, and I thought about poor, old Steve Kelly having to come in here and spend the afternoon away from his lovely wife and happy kids, so bachelor-boy Dickie volunteered and here I am. You know, I must be crackers, mad or crazy, but to tell you the truth, we're having a pretty good time in Metro Sound today. There's definitely a party atmosphere. We've got the food, we've got the goodies and the odd drink or two, so don't you feel too sorry for us." This blip drawn from his closing monologue underlines the spirit we've invested in the film: gentle humor, some warmth amid the cold, and a comforting visit with some Glaswegians with hearts in their souls.

As with *Local Hero* *Comfort And Joy* is sincere in its Scottish pedigree. Prepare to slow down your inner clock and expectations of either a laugh riot or a commercial dramedy, for few American directors spring for this sort of rhythm in holiday films--you will find surprises under your tree, but they are sweetly drawn without a jarring blare of *Silent Night* squeezed through a synthesizer and brass. If anything Mark Knopfler's score (a couple background tunes are drawn from Dire Straits releases) is barely there, introspective riffs of punctuation, as was his score for *Local Hero*. This is a film of small, wonderfully realized character sketches which, when taken together, compose an alternative portrait of the holidays, a small but meaningful miniature of good will without much snow.

Bill Forsyth culled the idea for the film from actual events, and unfortunately the film was released just as people were reeling from the effects of the real ice cream war, which involved the offloading of drugs and subsequent murders, leading to twenty years of litigation. But the real focal point of the film was local radio and its "empty headed niceness." Forsyth said, "When local stations like Radio Clyde started, it was the first time we had the phenomenon of the local celebrity, famous in a radius of 10 miles, who would open supermarkets in Drumchapel. It was new to Scotland and it was soulful, a guy in his little pod broadcasting to a city in the middle of the night. It gave people a sense of local identity when they heard people on the radio who talked like them." Hence we see Alan meeting an elderly woman in the hospital, who hangs on his every word daily. In using the ice cream vendors, Forsyth listened intently to his friend Peter Capaldi (Doctor Who) who came from an ice cream family and regaled the director with insight.

Though some audiences were disappointed in the film, it does stand with a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a 77% four- or five-star rating from Amazon customers, and a Best cinematography award from the National Society of Film Critics Awards, USA, and a BAFTA Award nomination for Bill Forsyth's Best Screenplay. So scrape up a bowl of your favorite ice cream, start a fire (but only if you have a fireplace), and relax with another export from Scotland that will probably leave a better taste in your mouth than a traditional haggis. If you prefer turkey, tune in tomorrow for the fattest one I could find, from Great Britain. I'm flipping you the bird tomorrow, Space, but not in a negative way.
Enjoy,
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 11/26/2019, 7:08 pm

I happen to like haggis. But then again, I'm southern and some of what I think of as comfort food, others might call road kill.

Gator fritters anyone?
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Post by ghemrats on 11/26/2019, 8:12 pm

Yeah, I like haggis too. Too bad it's illegal in the States. But at least I can content myself with those Scottish eggs and sausages. Gator tots, not so much.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 11/27/2019, 5:08 pm

Post #213: If I learned anything from my repeated viewings of *Space Patrol* and *Lost In Space*, it's that entering the earth's atmosphere after streaking through the heavens can be a female puppy.  And speaking of female puppies, I'm beside myself, he said schizophrenically, with joy to offer you this special Thanksgiving turkey--*Devil Girl From Mars* (1954).  My friends, this film has everything--ray guns emitting bursts of static cartoon death beams, a towering robot made from a family-sized box Ralston Wheat Chex, a glowing space craft--or is it a vintage hand-crank top turned upside down?, an ominous light-up gyro wheel from Toys That Teach that commands the robot, a diverse assortment of perfectly horrendous overactors who either react as if they're in a silent movie or respond with casual peevishness at the prospect of being annihilated into a fine powder (Oh that does not bode well for the weekend plans we made)--and best of all, a sultry Martian woman named Nyah (Patricia Laffan) who looks like a cross between Darth Vader's illegitimate sister and a pissed off actress poured into a black latex Hefty bag.  What more could you possibly want?  Grab your Ronco carving knife, folks, for today we feast.

*Devil Girl From Mars* is so contemptuously bad, I'm absolutely giddy at not knowing where to start. So let's start with the plot.  Nine people are holed up in a small Scottish Inn, The Bonnie Prince Charlie, just as its proprietors, the Jamiesons, have started to close for the winter.  In addition to the couple are their nine year old nephew, who is crucial in films like this as Bad Film ground rules suggest a kid ripe for kidnapping is a necessity; a fashion model Ellen Prestwick (Hazel Court) who's hiding out from a bad affair with a married man; Doris, the obligatory pub maid who is passionately in love with Robert Justin (aka Albert Simpson played by Peter Reynolds) who has just escaped from Stirlingshire prison for accidentally killing his wife (Don't you just hate it when that happens?); two passersby--Professor Arnold Hennessey (Joseph Tomelty) who conveniently studies science and Michael Carter (Hugh McDermott) a newspaper man--just happen to be trailing strange lights in the sky, and to top everything, a hunchbacked handyman who exists for only two reasons--to bring in logs for the fire and to be vaporized within minutes of Nyah's arrival to prove she's not a nice Avon Lady.

Actually, there are many reasons to distrust Nyah: On her way to London, entering the the earth's atmosphere, she collided with a plane, obliterating it, thus diverting her course to Scotland, so she clearly is not a good driver; her mission to Earth requires her to bring back men for breeding purposes, but only the kid seems to fit her bill as all the others are not up to the exacting standards of a Londoner in her eyes, so she's a picky pedophile of sorts and perhaps a snob; she has a penchant for nuking trees, plants and hunchbacks, so she's an anti-environmentalist; she obviously shops at Frederick's of Hollymars, exhibiting a kinky attraction toward shiny rubber, so she might harbor deviant sexual inclinations, the way she loves to demean all the men; whenever she enters the Inn, she dramatically flings aside the curtains which cannot seem to stay open for any reason, so she needs to be the center of all attention. And at times all the lights in the Inn are magically doused so a thin sliver of light can illuminate only her eyes as she casts strange concentrated voodoo vibes toward Robert/Albert who says, "She's givin' me excitations, ooo bop bop, good vibrations" before relinquishing all control over his mind and presumably his bowels.

Or maybe I'm just being judgmental, arrogant of other cultures' customs.  If so, I apologize.

In any event, the film jockeys between the Inn residents and their incredibly petty personal issues and Nyah's exiting and entering majestically while looking malicious.  *Devil Girl From Mars*--honest to God--is based on a stage play, and for the most part looks like one.  Characters drift in and out of the main rooms for no more purpose than to allow others to say their lines (badly).  Mrs. Jamieson (Sophie Stewart) has little to do beyond making tea and soup and uttering jaw-dropping lines like, "There's nothing like a good cup of tea in a crisis" after Nyah informs the group she's going to kill everyone at the Inn.  In an unintended note of hilarity, when Michael says, "Mrs. Jamieson, may I introduce your latest guest. Miss Nyah. She comes from Mars," Mrs. Jamieson responds, "Oh, well, that'll mean another bed."  All these lines are delivered in an absolute seriousness that it's hard not to feel these goobers deserve whatever comes to them.

Lovely incongruities pepper the film.  The lovely Doris is quick to accept the murderer Robert's explanation that he "didn't mean to kill" his wife, which is not much of an explanation to me--I mean, you know, honey, excrement happens, it's not like I PLOTTED to murder her with my bare hands. . . . And when she covers for him with the Jamiesons, calling him Albert throughout the film (even in private moments and at times of unguarded panic?), I begin to wonder if she knows his real name.  Is she so committed to her masquerade that she continues to call him by a misnomer EVEN AFTER everyone knows who he is? Or is she just stupid?  Or are the writers just that stupid?

And why, as Michael the reporter flirts with the model Ellen, does Ellen pay little heed to him at first but within twenty film minutes fall into his arms proclaiming her love for him?  What a turn around.  Holy wow, where were women like she when I was fourteen? Michael, framing my observation of him as kindly as possible, is a moronic schlub.  I would seriously place Hugh McDermott high in the running for Worst Performance By A Supporting Column of Farmer Peet's Rendered Lard in a B- or C-Movie.  And all seriousness aside, there were moments in the film when I was honestly unsure if Michael was hypnotized by Nyah or McDermott was merely suffering a grand mal seizure and was momentarily incapacitated.  The plot soon answered that quandary: it was the latter; McDermott was just staring blankly into space because he had forgotten his line or didn't realize the camera was rolling.

But by all means watch the fight sequence between Michael and Robert/Albert as it stands as one of the highlights of absurdity.  Obligatory fisticuffs are always a joy to deconstruct, but this one is classic safe and insane punching. And yes, a stairway is involved.  After this ducking and dodging exercise I have to revise my personal list of worst fights to put this one at the top, supplanting The Copperhead's scuffle with a mechanical man in *Dr. Satan's Robot* (a 1940 serial).

Now, granted, the script is not one of Christopher Marlowe's undiscovered works, but some of the dialogue works as stage direction more than spontaneous emotion from characters.  Consider the scene when Doris realizes she and everyone else are facing imminent vaporization; she doesn't weep and wail, but remarks, "I'm scared. I've never faced anything like this before!"  Golly, neither have I, but I sure as sugar wouldn't be articulating my horror this way.  But in the three weeks the cast spent filming this epic, evidently it was an enjoyable ride, as Hazel Court recalled:  "I remember great fun on the set. It was like a repertory company acting that film.  We were all friends and got on well, we rehearsed and acted, and it was great fun. We kind of giggled and laughed about it all, but we we were aware we were doing something different.  I remember the director, David MacDonald, he was sweet. And the producers . . . were very tight on budget, tight on everything--they'd even write the next script on the back of the old one. And they'd give you *a* Kleenex if you asked for a box.  They became very rich and I'm told they own half of Paris today."

Score composer Edwin Astley (who also wrote memorable themes for *The Saint* and *Danger Man*) here telegraphs every dramatic moment with blasts of horns and violins that seem far too grand and overpowering for such silly action, but the music is another reason *Devil Girl From Mars* has attained a cult status.  It is not enough that the dialogue spells out the emotional inner workings of the characters, the score has to semaphore the audience's reactions with an acoustic frying pan to the face.

And, filmmakers, could we please dispense with a concluding shot of all the principals laughing once the danger has passed?  I know, it's just a pet peeve of mine, but it has always struck me as one of the lamest ways to end a story.  It's a lighthearted assurance that all are safe, and everything that has happened was just a spot of inconvenience at the end of the day.  But complete annihilation of our species, save for the few men who get to be put out to stud on a neighboring planet, cannot be shrugged off with a brisk wipe of the brow and another dram of whiskey. But then I don't drink and I've never been propositioned by a Martian dominatrix either, so maybe my comments are moot.  

In any event, *Devil Girl From Mars* will not sit heavily on your system, and it's only 76 minutes long, and that's shorter than any football game or balloon-heavy parade of Shriners and Mummers, so find this female puppy on Youtube, splash it up on your smart TV and put to bed with conclusive proof the belief that turkeys can fly.  Happy Thanksgiving. Be blessed.

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Post by Space Cadet on 11/27/2019, 6:22 pm

Thanks Jeff, I've got a ham sandwich and needed some CHEESE!!!
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Post by Seamus on 11/27/2019, 9:13 pm

I saw this a while back it was brills the worse it got the better it got. Sigh why can't we make movies this deliciously crappy nowadays?
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Post by ghemrats on 11/28/2019, 2:53 pm

Post #214: Well, I'm currently working on the Ashford And Simpson Thanksgiving Day Turkey--"Solid! Solid as a rock!" While it's grabbing a fast shower of piping hot water in the kitchen sink, I'll wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving filled with blessings and happy giblets. And for your listening pleasure to accompany the frantic rushing about you may be experiencing to ensure all your guests are smiling, here's the opening theme from today's feature *The Night Caller* (1965). The theme has absolutely NO relation to the film itself, but it's a perky little ditty filled with classic farfisa organ, evoking its British Invasion heritage.

The film itself is instantly forgettable, but the ear-worm theme song is a ripping good track. To plunge the song's inappropriate, though catchy, nature even deeper, let's consider that the film has also been released as *The Blood Beast From Outer Space* which matches the opening title sequence for a complete divorce from the film's action--there is no blood, it's not all that horrible in inducing horror as the secondary title suggests, but it is a beast, I guess, who hails from outer space, Jupiter's moon Ganymede.

Are you ready for Action? Suspense? Hair raising thrills? Stark scream-inducing terror? Well, go stare into the maw of a frozen Butterball or the bristling roughage The Pioneer Woman's three-bean casserole because you'll get scant little of all that in this film. Oh, it's rather handsomely mounted overall with a trenchant John Saxon as scientist Jack Costain and the groovy go-go-girl-gadget assistant Ann Barlow (cool blonde Patricia Haines) who join stodgy but brilliant Dr. Morley (Maurice Denham) as they track the trajectory of a meteorite in the British meadows awash with board stiff generals and military lackeys.

What they find is a craggy oversized volleyball (vaguely reminiscent of Wilson in *Castaway* (2000), whose name also suggests what you should do with this movie). But once in the laboratory it emits a weird blinding glow in its off hours, inducing "meegrohn" headaches, nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach, (diarrhea? not shown but an option). Oh yes, it also acts as a matter transmitter to welcome a scaly claw-handed Jupiterian in dire need of a manicure who adopts the name Medra (Robert Crewdson) to blend in more effectively.

Soon dozens of young women disappear (Could it be a coincidence? Well, you won't get a spoiler from me), all traced to an advertisement in *Bikini World* magazine, a cheesecake rag sprinkled with a smattering of topless shots shown from a distance (which were edited in the American release). So extrapolating, we might assume that this film counterbalances yesterday's movie in which a Martian woman needed to recruit men for the planet's breeding stock. I guess there's something to be said for being the envy of the Universe sexually. Say what you want about Earth, but at least we've got a coveted celestial gene pool.

So it turns out that Medra has traveled all these thousands of miles just to open up his casting couch, though he persists in telling people "No harm will come to" the girls in a rich baritone behind a mask. Didn't Harvey Weinstein start out that way? Anyway, a couple fatalities along the way invalidate that pronouncement while Jack frowns and looks harried just on general principle. Dr. Morley and Ann are treated to close encounters of the nerd kind, facing down the alien before he morphs (and Mindys) into his accepted form. The military again find it difficult to find their butts with both hands and a road map while Medra--in an early, unintentionally hilarious escape--drives an Aston Martin with his lobster hand through a roadblock.

Judging from the general goofiness and urgency of the early scenes, I held some hope that *The Night Caller* (so named because Medra only comes out at night, and kind British folk don't think anything of opening their doors to nearly seven foot figures who lurk back in shadow asking to see their daughters) might be a nice slice of cheese to act as an appetizer before our Thanksgiving feast. Not so much, as it turns out. As the words *THE END* pop up on the screen in Courier Bold, I was left with the feeling of "What! Did they just run out of film? Did they exhaust the budget on Vaseline to coat the camera lenses and decided to call it a day? Tiny Tim was lame, but this sawed the legs off the narrative, fed them into a Cuisinart, pureed them and served them to the audience on stale Ritz crackers that neither filled or fulfilled their hunger. Some people have called the ending "philosophical," perhaps confusing philosophy with a decaying philodendron. No. I'm sorry. This is just bad writing, like spending 85 minutes listening to the set-up of a really hilarious joke and then watching the teller decimated by a falling safe (from Acme) at the last moment before revealing the punch line.

When it was released in 1965, British Board of Censors certified that *Night Caller from Outer Space* could not be exhibited to children under age sixteen, being slapped with an X rating. That may be the funniest element of the film. By today's standards, even in its unedited British print, you'd be hard pressed to find much that would push it into a generic PG rating--yes, blurry nipplature in photographs is visible if you go hunting for it, Jack flirts outrageously with Ann about needing to get into bed, and the owner of a bookshop (Aubrey Morris, who played a similar role in Kubrick's *A Clockwork Orange* six years later) is a greasy little perv who lasciviously makes a pass at an investigative officer. But like the meteor's trajectory in the opening scene, these little things don't really make a dent when they land.

To be fair, *The Night Caller* does offer some fun. Consider a funny interview with a husband and wife whose daughter is missing (I know, not a funny premise, but their interplay is a nice mood lightener). Dr. Morley's wired-for-sound confrontation with Medra provokes some modest suspense for a brief moment, and Medra's "interview" with a prospective "model" really highlights the dense gullibility of the women he finds compelling. It's all classic junk sci-fi that could have been terrific camp if it just concluded with some panache. The bad guy's triumph is less iconic than clunky, and Jack's meaty summation is pure Oscar Meyer ("My bologna has a first name, it's M-E-D-R-A. . .").

Well, by now the turkey has probably reached its prune stage, having soaked in a warm bath for so long, so I'll simply sign off here with sincere wishes for a peaceful Day of Gluttony as we celebrate our national holiday sponsored by turketarians everywhere. My best to your family and yourself. Just don't show up at my door late at night with a cheap swimsuit issue under your arm, because I won't answer the door.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 11/29/2019, 7:22 pm

Post #215: I am pleased to announce yesterday's Food Coma has abated, and I now have found the strength to type out my commentary for today. Since you may be in a mellow mood, a nice Ealing Comedy would be most welcome, and this is a fun one, *The Man In The White Suit* (1951), again starring Sir Alec Guinness. The British Film Institute named it the 58th greatest British film of all time, and *The Guardian* included it as one of the twenty best British science fiction films. So you can see its soft satirical jabs are well received and welcome.

Before we get into the film's particulars, let me assure you this film was not the key reason for my sporting white pants all year round, evidently my trademark. No, but even if it were, it would stand as a homage to a great British studio consistently producing memorable human comedies. And in this film Sir Alec's pristine fabric literally radiates--you could even say it glows--a luminous white as if battery powered. And even though he's not selling ice cream, he remains in good humor through it all.

Sir Alec plays Sidney Stratton, an incorrigibly progressive chemist and former Cambridge scholarship recipient, now working menial jobs in the textile industries of North England. His singlemindedness has led him to seven dismissals from jobs due to his costly and revolutionary strides forward in maintaining a fibre totally resistant to dirt and extended wear, experiments that have left gaping holes and cavernous debt in the facilities from which he has stolen time. But still he persists. In his new job at Birnley Mill as a menial day laborer, circumstance allows him to be recognized for the genius he is, and soon with the support of Daphne Birnley (the lovely Joan Greenwood, who also starred with Guinness in *Kind Hearts And Coronets* (1949)), the mill owner's daughter, his dream is realized.

And it is at this point that *The Man In The White Suit* is raised far above its gentle comedy and warm characterizations; most films settle for a basic premise and then spend an hour or more punching it into the ground instead of digging in and exploring the wider spectrum of its ramifications. Once Sidney has produced a full suit of indestructible, stain resistant white fiber (he hasn't yet figured how to make it receptive to dyes), elder Alan Birnley (Cecil Parker, who would star with Guinness in the Ealing Comedy *The Ladykillers* (1955)), his management team and local trade union representatives unite against Sidney's formula: Offering such a potent product would eliminate any consumer need for continued purchase of clothing, sales would plummet, economic chaos would ensue and all textile mills would be deemed unnecessary. Without labor there would be no need for unions, so the solution is obvious: the fabric must never reach the marketplace.

But this leveling of the social strata is the point at which Sidney becomes an anti-hero. When Daphne is "offered" as inducement for Sidney to sell his formula, dooming it to oblivion, he simply rebuffs Daphne's overtures. His obsession with the fabric has stolen every part of his being--it's not that Daphne isn't beautiful or compelling, it's that he finds his work much more fulfilling. But toward what end? Slowly, as the frustrations of the textile tycoons escalate in panic, so does Sidney's apparent lack of regard for the people who will be affected by his innovation--the human equation is not of sufficient interest to him to alter his course. What hath Sid wrought? A scene highlighting that question comes as Sidney is on the run from all his opposition, streaking down the dirty cobbled streets amidst England's dark satanic mills like a slumming angel. He encounters the elderly scrub woman, Mrs. Watson, also Sidney's kind landlady, her arms filled with others' laundry. She fixes Sidney with a disdainful assessment, pronouncing, "Why can't you scientists leave things alone? What about my bit of washing when there's no washing to do?" She is technology with a human face, as E.F. Schumacher called it. And the film's ending further deepens the issue (Sorry, you'll have to enjoy it yourself to see how the last shot punctuates the satire).

Thus Sidney becomes a pariah to both labor and management, but not before receiving a bitter description of life in general from Bertha, a staunch Birnley union sympathizer, "Leave school, into the first blind alley job that comes along. Too old for that. Into another and another. By the time you're thirty, what are you? Flotsam floating on the flood tide of profits. There's Capitalism for you." But in the hands of Sir Alec Guinness, Sidney seems to float above all concerns of social class, industry, social convention, succumbing at last to--what? Hubris? Heartless disregard for *all* people, the poor as well as the ruling class? A poster boy for objectivism? Or is he even passingly interested in any of these issues? Perhaps not, because the only time he registers disappointment is when his calculations do not provide the desired outcome. In some ways I am reminded of Peter Sellers' sterling performance in *Being There* (1979) as "Chauncey Gardner" or Chance the gardener.

Film historians hold *The Man In The White Suit* in the same regard they hold *Kind Hearts And Coronets* as the one of the finest, if not the finest, of the Ealing Comedies. Its humor is, again, a mixture of dry commentary on social ills and droll slapstick taken with a reserved English demeanor. One of the more overt comic bits comes through the soundtrack as sound engineer and editor Mary Habberfield collaborated with director Alexander Mackendrick to create a marvelous rhythm of "gleep-gomp-bloog-gromps" for Sidney's convoluted machine. Almost instantly endearing, the sound effects were achieved through a mixture of non traditional instruments--air forced through metal, brass and glass tubing held against the palm of the hand, then augmented with tubas and bassoons. The result has been named *The White Suit Samba.*

But please don't let all my pontificating deter you from just relaxing and going its lovely, bouncy flow. After all, it's a comedy, something of a fantasy springing from a germ of truth. Such wonderful fun at a brisk 85 minutes without a wasted frame in the film. To echo the wishes of others, I pray this one will never be bought by American filmmakers and subjected to a remake. Some films, like a revolutionary white suit, should never bear the stains of grubby fingered opportunists who think perfection can be improved upon. But then again, what do I know--I'm still pulling my face out of a plate of mashed potatoes, dressing, winter squash and gravy, fighting the effects of tryptophan. I wonder if cranberries will stain my white shirt and pants or just slide off like magic?
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 11/29/2019, 7:47 pm

The premise for this movie reminds me of the clothing most people used within the primary story line, in Heinlein's Lazarus Long epic, Time Enough for Love. As well as several related novels. That clothing was known as "Washables". They were available in endless varieties of color and style. Their one aspect in common, was that when you took a shower or bath, you wore them into the water and they dissolved and went down the drain. What happens if Ya got caught in the rain was never brought up in any of the novels.
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Post by ghemrats on 11/30/2019, 6:00 pm

Post #216:  One of my early, early attempts at a comic strip was inspired by my appreciation of Errol Flynn movies. My character was Buck Swashler, whose greatest foe was the evil Duke of Earle, inspired by Basil Rathbone.  I know, it was kind of pedestrian, but that genre of film was the source of great joy when I was a kid.  So I approached today's feature, *The Flame And The Arrow* (1950) with a fair degree of trepidation.  Even though I love Burt Lancaster movies, I feared seeing him in a quasi-pseudo-faux Robin Hood epic opposite no discernible Big Baddie (Frank Allenby) like Claude Rains or Rathbone made me wince as I put it in the DVD player.

I think from now on I'll just call these commentaries, Wrong Again, which should build confidence in my ability to recommend movies to my friends. Because *The Flame And The Arrow* made me believe again in the good old fashioned adventure picture without the recent trend of slo-mo beheadings, ghastly goring and pretty-boy heroes with the charisma of a withered kumquat. No, Friends, this is Manly Man stuff with Burt Lancaster doing his own stunts--spectacularly--with acrobatics that made my jaw drop.  And darned if his female lead Virginia Mayo isn't one of the hottest redheads around with a cascade of curls reaching mid-back.  Oh man, THIS is what movies should be.

Set in twelfth century Italy, Lombardy specifically, during the time of Barbarrosa and the reign of Count Ulrich (Allenby), aka "The Hawk," supremely buff Dardo Bartoli lives a free spirited life in the mountains with his colorful band of men and his son, Rudi (Gordon Gebert).  Years ago Dardo's wife Francesca (Lynn Baggett) told Dardo to bag it, left him and the young boy and moved in with the Count, to become his wife.  The scene is thus set for some animosity between the two men, especially when Dardo takes his son to an appearance of the royal entourage in town, so he might see the man with whom his mother is unfaithful.  While there Dardo exhibits his famed archery skills, sending an arrow through the Count's prize falcon, which triggers our first action sequence in which a fierce resistance is backed with a soaring score by Max Steiner (who also composed the soundtrack for hundreds of films including *Gone With The Wind*). Dardo is felled by a shaft in the back and Rudi is captured, now to live in luxury with his mother and crap weasel step-father.

Since this was produced by Warner Brothers, who held a long list of swashbuckling extravaganzas, its Technicolor print, lavish sets, spectacular costuming and quick pacing, thanks to director Jacques Tourneur, are grand to behold. Cinematographer Ernest Haller--a seven-time Academy Award winner noted for his work on *GWTW* as well famed collaboration with Ingrid Bergman, Bette Davis, and  Joan Crawford--evokes the warmth and composition of Breughel, the poetry of Maxfield Parrish and an entire roster of Italian masters with his lighting.  Elaborate fight sequences call for the largest screen you can find, as the trailer boasts "a cast of thousands."  That is not hyperbolic balderdash; the screen is crowded with action and vast masses filmed with a glorious depth of field that speaks of grandeur.  The final exciting battle in the castle is choreographed with cheek, giving Burt Lancaster a quick moment to steal a kiss before flinging himself fully back into action.

One of the high points of the film is Dardo's faithful mute companion, Piccolo, played with breezy charm by Nick Cravat, Lancaster's childhood friend since age nine and an acrobat who worked with Lancaster in the circus and followed him into another in *The Crimson Pirate* (1952).  In both films he played a mute, not because he was without voice but because he could not shake his thick Brooklyn accent which would not fit in period dramas.  You might find yourself marveling at the contortions to which his body will yield.  Not merely cosmetic but woven deeply into the context of his scenes, his tumbling thumbs his nose at gravity, just as Lancaster amazes with his own feats. A scene in which he balances a ten-foot perch pole while Lancaster ascends it is wonderful, especially with the knowledge that no camera tricks were employed, a genuine testament to the authenticity of the film's stunts.  Warner Brothers in fact offered $1 million to anyone who could prove Lancaster did not do his own stunts, a claim that finally was never paid.

The stage for all the stunt work follows standard operating procedures--Dardo working to rescue his son and Count Ulrich finagling to marry off his niece Anne de Hesse (Virginia Mayo) to secure a fortune of Marchese Alessandro de Granazia (Robert Douglas).  Unfortunately for The Hawk, the marchese refuses to pay Ulrich's taxes, prompting the Count to seize his properties and brand him an outlaw, which results in the marchese joining Dardo's outlaw crew. As is customary in such adventures, Dardo and Piccolo kidnap Anne to leverage the release of Dardo's son.  

Virginia Mayo's Anne is fesity and disciplined, and the camera loves her in every shot.  Her chemistry with Lancaster is wholly believable as she moves from a bored, slightly disenchanted blue blood to begrudgingly sympathetic aide and love interest.  I miss this sort of interplay with stars in today's films, as this film lives up to the standard of classical romance.  And watch for the fiery flame in Anne's eye when she's collared and chained to prevent her escape into the woods, especially when the marchese remarks, "If only I could be sure you're as honest as you are pretty, but then with a collar around your neck... it's hard to tell whether your throat's blushing from passion or deceit."  Wow. Dude. . . . Here the frisky bondage is lighthearted, a playful courting tool rather than a weird expression of sexuality.  And Virginia Mayo plays it to the hilt.

You'll find intrigue, betrayal, strong bonds of loyalty, moments of laughter and moments of unfettered cowardice as Dardo and his outlaws must deal with public hangings of the innocent, a turning away of support from the townspeople, and odds staggered against them.  But through it all Burt Lancaster proves to be one step beyond Errol Flynn, in my estimation.  His electrically charged smile, a fully faced as a smile can be without being a weird caricature, inspires faith that he has things completely in control. But beyond the physicality of the role he plays, Lancaster brings a depth of motivation and scale that few can match--as much as I admire Errol Flynn, I can't see him fulfilling the gravitas of Robert Stroud in *Bird Man Of Alcatraz* (1962) or *Elmer Gantry* (1960)--or even performing some of these stunts with such elan.  Another fine scene shows Dardo fencing with a vicious marchese who literally blocks access to Rudi; Dardo freely admits he has never used a sword and so is out of his depth, and so must rely on his wits and other formidable skills to gain the upper hand.  His initial clumsiness seems unusually accurate for such a predicament, which further enhances a sparkling performance.

Look for a laconic Norman Lloyd for some welcome dry wit as Apollo the troubadour who harbors an aesthetic distance from the action yet prods it all on with a well seasoned intellect.

*The Flame And The Arrow* is a more than welcome addition to my collection, earning the status 11th biggest grossing movie in the world for the year.  Its success surprised Warner Brothers enough, as it recouped several times its original cost, that it moved to replicate it success with some of the cast two years later with *The Crimson Pirate*. Agent Harold Hecht and Lancaster formed the company Norma Productions, named after Lancaster's wife, and signed a three-picture deal with WB, of which this was the first, making $6 million, a huge success.  So treat yourself.  This is the sort of movie that inspired George Lucas to include a little swashbuckling in his first *Star Wars: A New Hope* (1977), and if has that kind of power to influence, it's certainly worth a nice 88-minute vacation from the vicissitudes of the approaching snow storms. You may even find yourself smiling with the 100-watt intensity of Dardo Bartoli by the end.
Enjoy. (You will)
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 12/1/2019, 7:22 pm

Post #217: Say, Mom and Dad, with the holidays approaching, I'm sure your thoughts are moving in ten thousand different directions, and sometimes you just wish you could slow down the world. And what better way to unwind and regroup than with a heaping platter of cheese. That's right, everyone's favorite snack that can calm even the most hyperactive tots in anticipation of Santa's Big Night. And, Mother, you know that cheese is the perfect snack, filled with nature's finest milk from the nation's top cows but also other mammals, including sheep, goats, buffalo, reindeer, camels and yaks--packed with flavor and texture to suit any taste. Yes, a huge mound of cheese right about now would be very pleasant, made even more festive with a fine wine or a handful of your favorite crackers. And as a festive touch to keep those rascally teens off the streets, why not offer a side platter of meats, the perfect complement to a tasty cheese treat. Oh, you can rest assured your teens will be safe at home by the fire chowing down on your party platter and not out stripping your neighbors of their flesh, internal organs and such with their nutty ray guns, leaving only freshly polished bones to remember them by. So whether you're entertaining dear friends, office mates or even *Teenagers From Outer Space* (1959), you can rest happily tonight knowing you served some of the best cheese around. And now, you can even buy it pre-cut at your local grocer's. Why not plan to fill your cart today to beat the holiday rush!

That was one of my favorite commercials in 1959, so appropriate for today's feature, one of the biggest mountains of moldy cheddar around, and all the more fun because of it. *Teenagers From Outer Space* is so awesomely bad that you'll sit in wonder that some strange group of people actually amassed enough nerve to release it--and put their names to it. There is not ONE good performance in the bunch since the main cast all hailed from Bobby DeBebo's Royal Academy For Dramatic Arts and Steeple Jack Repair ("No helmets? No problem! All you need is a hard head and a hammer").

And just look at that cast! David Love (aka Charles Robert Kaltenthaler, director Tom Graeff's boyfriend) is Derek, the alien whose kind-hearted empathy for the human race is only transcended by his halting delivery of lines ("You--make--me--angry. But--I--like. You. Very. Much"). Dawn Bender is Betty Morgan, the stork necked and beaked young beauty who saw beyond Derek's weird clothing to the core of his alien soul. Bryan Grant appears as Thor, a merciless ray gunning hammerhead who explodes with primal angst reminiscent of Shakespeare's finest ("I will find you. I will find you. I will find you. I will find you. Ahhhhhhggg!") in his relentless pursuit of Derek. And then there's kindly old Gramps Morgan, played by the venerable Harvey B. Dunn, who believes everybody is a good neighbor and kids today should be given total freedom as well as keys to the car while he parks his roly-poly self on the couch for a nap. Never before has the screen been so filled with such emotional depth and scaled such heights of dramatic acting that would make William Shatner quiver and weep out of competitive envy! Not since Pee-Wee Herman sought his stolen bicycle in the basement of the Alamo has there been such a tense adventure to rock the very foundation of audience expectations!

Made on a budget of $5,000, though you'd never guess it, *Teenagers From Outer Space* is a never-ending (well, not really, it ends after 85 minutes) careening, wild ride as seven aliens, amazingly human in appearance, spring like the inhabitants of a clown car from their auger-space ship to find an ideal breeding ground for their Gorgon food supply. When the alien Thor loses the PETA Ethical Treatment Award by nuking little Sparky the excitable dog, Derek loses his composure--"You were so unconcerned when you destroyed this small creature, so bravely!. . . But it had life. And that life you had to take to satisfy your endless hunger for killing." Wow, you tell him, Derek. And thus begins the hunt, as Derek defies his Captain's orders and like a rebel without a clue staggers through the desert with the Thor Loser in determined pursuit.

Clutching Sparky's dog tags bearing his home address, Derek compels himself to explain to Sparky's human what has happened. In his best Captain Video garb he is a quite a sight to the unanimously pleasant townspeople who direct him to the Morgan house. Naturally Gramps Morgan has a room to rent, but waives the initial payment for the dazed and confused Derek at the insistence of his granddaughter who senses something unusual in Derek's demeanor; perhaps it's his perpetually flummoxed facial features, eyes dancing around the room like a drunken salsa instructor, his relative inability to string four words together, or his stiff ambling gait suggesting he has a bucket of brambles in his shorts. But something in the way he moves attracts Betty like no other lover, and Betty basically adopts him as a Sparky substitute. "I dont care where you're from," she says at a pivotal moment. "I don't understand all this, but somehow I feel that I've always known you. That we've never been apart!" Betty is one clingy teen.

Meanwhile, Thor is turning townspeople into plastic skeletons because they've said hello to him. But the crackerjack police are right on top of things, bringing to bear all their investigative prowess: "There's something behind this... something we don't understand. The weapon he uses, it's unheard of. Blasting flesh right off the bones." Back at the ship the rest of the crew have tested the Gorgon's adaptability to earth's atmosphere, found it acceptable, and hole the sample lobster in a deserted cave (as opposed to an homesteaded cave) where its mutant growth spurts will continue unabated, because simply terrorizing a town with Bone Daddy Thor's rampant shooting isn't enough to stir the town's sleepy acceptance of alien invasion.

And so the story goes: Derek and Betty meet with Betty's hot-to-trot friend Alice who spends the day in her family pool, they leave, Thor shows up late, Alice throws a forward pass at Thor, but she's vaporized for rushing his defensive line ("Are you alone?" he asks, and she responds, "Could be" with a come-hither smile), and there's a car chase, a showdown with police, and more general mayhem before the Gorgon heads into town for a hot date at Red Lobster. Along the way we discover Derek is actually the son of his race's Leader, and like all disaffected youth prefers going his own way and calling it another lonely day instead of assuming the position on the throne. No more spoilers, Kids, because that would ruin your enhanced enjoyment of the resolution, but let's just say you could well find yourself sniffing back tears, especially if you've loaded your cheese dip with white vidalia onions.

If you're one of the eagle eyed, you can catch director Tom Graeff doing his best Hitchcock moment as Betty's former boyfriend and reporter Joe Rogers--who registers his surprise in finding the skeleton of Alice doing the deadman's crawl on the base of the pool, with an incredulous "Holy mackeral!" He also saves the best scene for himself, uttering the infamous line, ""Oh look, there's Grandpa, trying to cross the street!" like an elderly Frogger. You might also be rewarded when a stolen car arcs off a cliff as a Pontiac and crashes as a De Soto, thanks to the laser-focused eye for continuity from the staff. But the movie is a vintage car lover's dream with Detroit and Dearborn taking all the honors as Thor muscles Gramps into a 1952 Chevy with the threatening, "Take me there. You will pilot the vehicle. Go. Be swift."

In a sad footnote to the gorgonzola greatness of the film, director Graeff suffered a nervous breakdown shortly after the film's crushing failure at the box office, being sued by investors for their $5,000, and knuckling to the crippling pressure of being homosexual in a heterosexual 1950s. In November 1959 he took out an advertisement in *Los Angeles Times*, announcing that God had spoken to him and wanted him to spread peace and love throughout the world. Graeff then petitioned the court of Los Angeles to be officially named Jesus Christ II, though the petition was dismissed with outrage expressed by the Christian Defense League. He was arrested for disturbing the peace at a college, was sentenced to 90 days, but jumped bail and secreted himself to the Midwest where more entanglements with the law led to his involuntary institutionalization. At the state mental hospital he was subjected to electroshock therapy, and after many years of manic conflict committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in 1970 at age 41. Hence, some critics have noted subtle religious symbolism in *Teenagers From Outer Space* in the persecution of Derek. Hmmm. O-o-okay.

Regardless of your interpretation, this is Grade-A cheese; that is was made in earnest magnifies its goofiness and innocence. It is a howl begging for your own commentary as you watch it. Special effects ranging from a dime store raygun (I'm not being silly here--strapped for cash Graeff literally bought props from local sundries emporiums) to a laughably horrible enlarged lobster shadow at the film's exciting climax make this one fine drive-in fiasco to watch. Though Halloween has passed, I seriously recommend you consider this movie a staple for your Fright Festival. As the Beatles said, A splendid time is guaranteed for all. It stands as one of the greatest muenster movies of the fifties with an aged Swiss plot full of holes, a really gouda cast, and an edam alive creature, which is no small feta in such an brie-zy endeavor. And remember, when it comes to enjoyment of American sliced sci-fi, you can bet your asiago that nothing's better than cheddar this pure.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 12/1/2019, 7:43 pm

Jeff, a couple of personal notes for Ya. First, I was so inspired by yesterday's treatment, that I had to travel the waste spaces for a copy of The Flame and the Arrow. It totally killed. I was even a bit surprised at some of the questionable (for the era) characterizations. Second, today's bit of film crispery is of course right in the sweet spot for "Bad Film Goodness". Ya might wanna check out the craptacular triple feature I just linked in The Screening Room. It may qualify as an all time new low for me.
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Post by ghemrats on 12/1/2019, 7:46 pm

Oh, I'll tell you, Dennis, you've supplied me with more fodder than I care to recall. Today's features are cream of the crap.

I'm glad you enjoyed the Lancaster film. I was surprised how smashing it was, though I agree with you about some of the references. For today's you can easily find it on Youtube, but it should be enjoyed by the whole family for sure. More fun tomorrow, and thanks.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 12/2/2019, 5:19 pm

Post #218:  Electrifying!  Astounding!  Crackling with thrills and adventure!  Dazzling in its understanding of the human condition!  Far surpassing anything created in the mind of Man!  Those are appropriate stingers you can apply to yesterday's cheeseball after you watch today's film (and I use the term ever flexibly), *Phantom From Space* (1953).  Comparatively *Teenagers From Outer Space* is *Citizen Kane*, *The Seventh Seal*, *Gone With The Wind*, *The Godfather Trilogy* and all nine *Star Wars* movies blended together.  Now I don't want to nudge your expectations into the vast reaches of space, especially since that is where today's feature belongs, ever to circle the cosmos, forever subjected to the most egregious Vogon poetry in existence and never to enter our atmosphere again. But in lieu of watching this film, why don't you indulge yourself with a French kiss to a downed powerline or perhaps the nearest iron flag pole.  It would be far more rewarding.

Originally, because some of the "actors" in the film referred to the Phantom as "the Ex-Man" I thought maybe the film was a sci-treatment of a transsexual space being.  Nope.  Just another Space Ghost in a diving bell space suit who sheds his garment and prowls around the San Fernando Valley invisible.  An early encounter with residents of the town demonstrates how people are spooked: "How would you feel if somebody with a crazy helmet with pipes sticking out of it came at you in the dark? And look, I know this sounds... sounds crazy, but there wasn't any head in that helmet."  That's because he's INVISIBLE, Nikola Tesla!

Thus we are treated to 73 minutes of doors swinging open--seemingly under their own power! (Look, I've been to Kroger, and there's nothing unusual about that; their doors open and close automatically too) Because the alien likes opening doors and closing them, we have long tracking shots of nothing until we come to a car or a hallway with a succession of entries while the theremin whinnies, thunders and crescendos in a terrorized shrieking panic attack.  What brings the alien here? (A crashed UFO) What does he want? (To prance naked aimlessly until he can find a door to open) Is he a malevolent force harboring insidious plans to eradicate the human race or subjugate us in his rule of the planet? (No. He presumably got lost looking for Disneyland) Why does he kill two innocent men? (Well, Mo-om, they started it first, they made fun of my suit and tried to hit me, the creeps. They made fun of me because I didn't have a head. . . .)  Why does he hole up in the Griffith Observatory? (Everybody chased him there, and besides, it's got a lot of keen hallways with lots of doors, some of them glass inlaid too!)  Is he drawn to pretty Barbara Randall (Noreen Nash) because as a lab assistant she knows what bubbles his beaker? (Oh hell no.  She's in the movie so she can scream, faint and then levitate via thin fishing wire into the telescope room while Space Ghost huffs and wheezes)  Is Barbara really that heavy? (No, without his helmet bearing his life-giving gaseous vapors, he loses energy and barely has enough strength to pick up a pair of scissors to tap out a disco beat code--one, one-two, one-two-three, repeat until the bridge)  Do the brilliant Earth scientists figure out the code? (Are you kidding? They have to wait for Casper to open doors for them since they can't master the mechanics of a doorknob)  Is there a dog in the movie that senses the Phantom and hears him when humans can't? (Oh you betcha. "Venus" gets a lot of screen time yarping at bushes that mysteriously move under their own volition--or maybe it's windy--and chasing the essence of the alien around town while high ranking military officials and FCC investigators draw cogent conclusions at her barking, "Look! I think Venus is trying to tell us something!")

You'll find lots of stock footage to bask in here--great shots of revolving television antennae mounted to the roofs of car, grainy archival shots of concerned 1950s guys with buzz cuts and skinny ties staring into radar screens, great close-ups of oscillating waves and tall footlockers equipped with dials and buttons procured from Matty Mattel and AC Gilbert Erector Sets.  There isn't a single actor you'll remember five minutes after watching the film, with the possible exception--and I'm stretching here--of Barbara's dorky husband who bears a striking resemblance to George Reeves when he was Clark Kent schmoozing up Noelle Neil in the original television series.

But if you possess the intestinal fortitude to try this film, you'll be treated to some fascinating scientific study.  Obligatory German scientist Dr. Wyatt (Rudolph Anders) speculates on the alien's arrival.  "My theory is that this space ship, or whatever it was that he came in, operated on the principal of magnetic, rather than atomic, propulsion and that somewhere in the Outer Limits met with a condition where the earth's gravity pulled it down and it fell into the ocean and that he managed to save his life and reach shore." To which Lt. Bowers (Harry Landers) responds: "What you've told us is very interesting, Doctor..."  Thank God Bowers is there to let us know the scientist offered interesting insight; I may not have known that otherwise.  We also learn that the Phantom's indestructible suit ("Why, it's tougher than nylon!") is radioactive, as the Cold War geiger counters clack away madly.  

But best of all is noting how much trends have changed.  The principals, and the extras, are walking advertisements for emphysema as everyone in this epic must have smoked a factory's worth of cigarettes.  The scientists, the police, the communications personnel, the reporter, everyone is puffing away like a magic dragon.  And pay particular attention to the worst commercial for posture ever filmed--in one scene showing five or six principals taking five from the breakneck speed of chasing nothing around to light up and slouch as if the Phantom's radiation had dissolved their spinal columns. It's almost as if they are taunting mothers in the audience to yell at the screen, "Sit up straight! You got scoliosis or something?  You're not professionals--you're a bunch of spineless slobs.  And get your feet off that desk, that's why we can't have nice things in the house. . ."

Now I'm sure you're hoping all this movie's mindless meandering offers a huge payoff, a shocking denouement that makes you reevaluate the last hour of hearing "Moe-beel 1 and moe-beel 7, check in with moe-beel center. Over." "Roger moe-beel center, roger wilco and out."  Well, of course you already know the answer: Nope. The Phantom falls from the Observatory rigging, lands on his back and dies largely from asphyxiation and slowly reveals himself to be Gumby bleached white before he dissolves into a vapor. Is there a pithy rumination on the nature of life in any form? Please.  No.  We just fade to black, causing us to wonder what was all the hubbub, Bub?  Why did they make this movie if there was basically no action, no real threat, no determination of the alien's motives, and no resolution.  To quote the great Twentieth Century philosopher Pee-Wee Herman, "What's the significance? I--DON'T--KNOW!"

On reflection, perhaps Venus the dog needed the exercise.  Maybe the tobacco industry needed a little boost. Maybe the American Chiropractic Association wanted to spring for a training film outlining the dangers of slouching. The truth is, I'm at a loss. . . of time, patience, dramatic exegesis, and worst of all integrity for foisting this on you.  I pledge to do something of merit tomorrow, safely anchored to this planet so I won't be walking around with a look on my face to rival the still below in the trailer. (And again I'll extend the invitation to let me know if you'd rather not be included in my tagging. After these last two films, I would not be offended if you never wanted to hear from me again)
Enjoy.
Jeff

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