Friday, June 5, 2015

Fwd: Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge

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From: "2,500 Movies Challenge" <>
Date: Jun 5, 2015 4:39 PM
Subject: Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge
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Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge

#1,754. The Vampire Bat (1933)

Posted: 05 Jun 2015 07:42 AM PDT

Directed By: Frank R. Strayer

Starring: Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Melvyn Douglas

Tag line: "These are the TALONS of The Vampire Bat"

Trivia: Filmed at night on Universal's European village set

A 1933 horror movie starring Lionel Atwill (Doctor X, Mystery of the Wax Museum), Fay Wray (King Kong), Melvyn Douglas (The Old Dark House, Ghost Story) and Dwight Frye (Dracula, Frankenstein)? How in the hell have I not seen this before?!?

Directed by Frank R. Strayer, The Vampire Bat is set in the fictional village of Kleinschloss, where a string of mysterious deaths has the entire populace fearing for their lives. In each instance, the bodies of the deceased have been drained of their blood, leading some to the conclusion that a vampire is responsible for the carnage. Yet, despite the public outcry, police Inspector Karl Breettschneider (Douglas) is convinced the killer is very mortal, and with the help of Dr. Otto von Niemann (Atwill) and his lovely assistant, Ruth (Wray), he hopes to prove this to the town's elders. Still, the good people of Kleinschloss aren't swayed so easily, and believe that one of their own, a simpleton named Herman (Frye), who keeps bats as pets and lurks in the streets at night, is the vampire they seek. But is Herman truly the killer, or is he being set up by someone else to take the fall?

Made on the cheap and rushed into theaters by Majestic Pictures (which, in later years, would team with other Poverty Row studios to form Republic Pictures), The Vampire Bat nevertheless has a similar look and feel as the movies that the larger production studios were turning out at the same time, and with a phenomenal cast to boot. Atwill plays to his strengths as the enigmatic Doctor Niemann, who obviously knows more than he's letting on, while Douglas and Wray make a fine romantic pairing (Douglas also takes the lead as the hero of the story). But for my money, it's Dwight Frye who walks away with the movie, playing Herman as a cross between his Renfield in Dracula (every now and then, he lets loose that sinister laugh) and Frankenstein's Fritz (clearly uneducated, his Herman never talks in complete sentences). My favorite scene has Herman, out and about late at night under the watchful eyes of a handful of villagers, picking a bat from out of a tree. After petting the creature, he puts it in the breast pocket of his coat, then, while strolling past the crowd, lets out a laugh, which sends many of the stunned onlookers scurrying for cover. Frye may have never played the lead in these old-time horror films, but thanks to scenes like this one, he definitely left his mark on the genre.

Utilizing leftover sets from James Whale's Frankenstein and The Old Dark House, as well as a brief sequence shot in Bronson's Canyon, the creative minds behind The Vampire Bat took full advantage of everything at their disposal, and in so doing turned out a terrific motion picture that, from this point forward, is sure to become part of my regular rotation.

#1,753. Lansky (1999)

Posted: 04 Jun 2015 10:14 PM PDT

Directed By: John McNaughton

Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Eric Roberts, Ryan Merriman

Tag line: "The Mind That Organized Crime"

Trivia: This movie was nominated for a 1999 Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Cinematography in a Miniseries or a Movie

One of the key figures of organized crime in the 20th century, Myer Lansky has been portrayed in a number of movies and television series over the years. The character of Hyman Roth, played by Lee Strasburg in The Godfather Part 2, was inspired by Lansky, and so, supposedly, was James Woods' Max in Once Upon a Time in America. Ben Kingsley was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance as Lansky in Barry Levinson's Bugsy, and most recently, Anatol Yusef portrayed him in HBO's Boardwalk Empire, an outstanding series produced by Martin Scorsese. But while the notorious gangster was nothing more than a supporting character in each of these productions, in John McNaughton's 1999 film Lansky, he finally took center stage.

While waiting to find out if Israel has granted him asylum, an elderly Lansky (Richard Dreyfuss) looks back on his life, from his childhood in Russia, when he and his family fled the country to avoid persecution, to his earliest days in New York City, when, as a child (played by Ryan Merriman), he met Benny Siegel (Anthony Medwetz), who would become his lifelong friend. Together with Charlie "Lucky" Luciano (Paul Sincoff), Lansky (played as a young adult by Max Perlich) was heavily involved in gambling, and during prohibition helped run booze over the border. Lansky hit the big time when he and Luciano hooked up with Arnold Rothstein (Stanley DeSantis), who taught them more about illegal gambling than anyone else. When Rothstein was killed, Lansky and Luciano seized control of the New York mob, organizing the various families into a single unit.

During World War II, Lansky (Dreyfuss once again), who was working closely with the State Department, arranged the release of his friend Luciano (played as an adult by Anthony LaPaglia) from prison, in exchange for Luciano's assistance in convincing the Sicilian mafia to assist with the upcoming Allied invasion of that country. In later years, Lansky was instrumental in helping his pal Ben "Bugsy" Siegel (Eric Roberts) build The Flamingo, the first ever Las Vegas Hotel / Casino, which would cost twice as much as originally anticipated. Other problems would soon arise, including a revolution in Cuba that stripped Lansky of all his holdings in that country, as well as an FBI investigation that, among other things, threatened to keep his youngest son Paul (Ron Pacheco) out of West Point. With a tax evasion charge hanging over his head, Lansky and his second wife Teddy (Beverly D'Angelo) fled the U.S., hoping to settle in Israel. But will the government there allow Lansky to stay, or will he be deported to the United States, where, despite his advanced age, he'll more than likely do prison time?

Unlike most crime films centering on this particular era, Lansky isn't a violent movie. In fact, aside from the gunning down of mob bosses Joe Masseria (Bill Capizzi) and Salvatore Maranzano (Rob Gilbert), both of whom needed to die before Lansky and Luciano could take over, the majority of the killings occur off-screen. What Lansky does instead is focus on the backroom dealings that turned the New York mafia into a multi-million dollar conglomerate. As portrayed in this film, Meyer Lansky was more a businessman than a gangster (during the days of prohibition, he spent time studying statistics in an effort to better understand the monetary side of organized crime). As Lansky, Dreyfuss delivers an excellent performance, playing a guy who, even when things got tough (as the cost of Bugsy Siegel's Flamingo hotel continued to grow, Lansky was put in the unusual position of having to plead for his friend's life), always maintained a level of control.

While its preference for business over bloodshed may seem strange to some, the solid supporting cast (especially Roberts, whose Siegel is flamboyant as hell), coupled with Dreyfuss's terrific turn as the title character, makes Lansky an organized crime story that's still worth telling.

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