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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Tales from the Crypt (1972)

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Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge


#1,802. Tales from the Crypt (1972)

Posted: 23 Jul 2015 03:00 AM PDT


Directed By: Freddie Francis

Starring: Joan Collins, Peter Cushing, Ralph Richardson




Tag line: "DEATH LIVES in the Vault of Horror!"

Trivia: Director Robert Zemeckis said this is his favorite movie to watch on Halloween







Over the course of this challenge of mine, I've been lucky enough to watch some amazing horror anthologies, and Tales from the Crypt, a 1972 Amicus production based on the EC Comics series of the same name, ranks as one of the best.

While on a guided tour of the local catacombs, five perfect strangers are inadvertently separated from the group, and end up in a secluded room. But they're not alone; a strange man in a dark robe (Sir Ralph Richardson) is in there with them, and at his prompting, the five begin to contemplate some of their recent actions. Housewife Joanne Clayton (Joan Collins) vividly remembers murdering her husband Richard (Martin Boddey) on Christmas Eve, only to be stalked immediately after by a homicidal maniac in a Santa Costume. Equally as treacherous is Carl Maitland (Ian Hendry), who left his wife (Susan Denny) and two young children to run away with his mistress (Angela Grant). James Elliott (Robin Phillips) used manipulation and fear to drive his neighbor, elderly widower Arthur Grimsdyke (Peter Cushing), to the brink of suicide; while unscrupulous businessman Ralph Jason (Richard Greene), along with his wife Enid (Barbara Murray), made a wish to a charmed statue, hoping it would end their money troubles. Rounding out the group is Major William Rogers (Nigel Patrick), who recently became the manager of a rest home for the blind, though his decision to cut costs didn't sit well with patient George Carter (Patrick Magee) or any of the others. What was it that brought these five people together in this dark room, and, more importantly, why are they unable to leave?

With the always-interesting Sir Ralph Richardson handling the framing story, Tales from the Crypt next weaves a quintet of spooky tales. The first, titled "And All Through the House", stars the gorgeous Joan Collins as a woman who, because she just killed her husband, is unable to call for help when a psychopath in a Santa suit shows up at her front door. It's a tense sequence, to be sure, and even features an effective jump scare, yet this story pales in comparison to the next three: "Reflection of Death", "Poetic Justice", and "Wish You Were Here", all of which have a little something in common with Romero's Living Dead films (Cushing, who plays a widower in "Poetic Justice", lost his beloved wife to emphysema before appearing in this picture, and as a result, the scene where his elderly Mr. Grimsdyke tries to contact his deceased spouse via a Ouija board feels a bit more poignant). Though not as strong as the previous four entries, the fifth story, "Blind Alleys", still has its moments, as well as a solid performance by Patrick Magee (who also portrayed the handicapped writer in A Clockwork Orange).

Directed by Freddie Francis, who made a number of fine films for Hammer Studios (including Paranoiac in 1963 and The Evil of Frankenstein the year after), Tales from the Crypt is a nice combination of zombies, psychopathic killers, and the supernatural. And while I wouldn't rank it as high as either Dead of Night or Creepshow, it would definitely make my "Top 5 Horror Anthologies" list







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Saturday, July 11, 2015

BABY FACE (1933)

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Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge


#1,790. Baby Face (1933)

Posted: 11 Jul 2015 06:11 AM PDT


Directed By: Alfred E. Green

Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent, Donald Cook



Tag line: "She climbed the ladder of success - wrong by wrong!"

Trivia: This movie was originally banned in some US cities due to its sexual innuendo







One of the most infamous films of the Pre-Code era, 1933's Baby Face featured scenes of sexuality so alarming that censors in New York demanded a large number of cuts before it could be shown in that state. Relating the tale of a young girl who sleeps her way to society's top tier, Baby Face stars Barbara Stanwyck as Lily Powers, and as the movie begins, she's living in Erie, Pennsylvania with her bootlegging father, Nick (Robert Barrat), who "loans" Lily out from time to time to local politicians, all to ensure the cops don't shut down his speakeasy (the story is set during prohibition). When dear old dad is killed in an explosion (caused by a malfunctioning still), Lily takes the advice of the elderly Mr. Cragg (Alphonse Ethier) and travels to the big city to "Use men" to get the things she wants. With her best friend / maid, Chico (Theresa Harris), in tow, Lily arrives in New York, and within a day lands a low-paying position at the city's most prestigious bank. Not content with staying at the bottom of the corporate ladder, Lily seduces several executives, including Mr. Brody (Douglass Dumbrille), a married father of two; and Ned Stevens (Donald Cook), who's engaged to the daughter of the Bank's president, J.P. Carter (Henry Kolker). Even old man Carter eventually succumbs to her charms, resulting in a love triangle that ends in disaster when Stevens, saying he can't live without her, shows up at Lily's apartment with a gun. But a scandal such as this, which rocks New York to its very core, can't hold Lily back, and before long, she's moved on to her next victim.

Baby Face is, indeed, frank in its portrayal of the lead character's promiscuity, though it's also quick to reveal her "condition" isn't entirely her fault. When rebuked by her father for not sleeping with local politician Ed Sipple (Arthur Hohl), who could shut down their speakeasy just by making a phone call, Lily angrily blurts out "A swell start you gave me. Ever since I was fourteen, what's it been? Nothing but men! Dirty rotten men!". Clearly, she'd been exploited from an early age, so when Cragg, quoting Nietzsche, tells her to use her body to get what she wants out of life, Lily is all too happy to comply. Her first "encounter" occurs while she and Chico, without a dime between them, are hiding out in the freight car of a train heading to New York City. Before the train pulls away, they're discovered by a railroad worker (James Murray), who attempts to throw them off. It's at this point Lily applies her feminine guile, sleeping with the worker in exchange for him turning a blind eye. She'll use this power over men to seduce her superiors at the bank (including Jimmy McCoy, played by a young John Wayne), who become instantly infatuated with her. In fact, the most interesting aspect of Baby Face is that it never condemns Lily's actions outright, spewing its venom instead at her conquests, almost all of whom are portrayed as lecherous, weak, or a combination of the two.

This wouldn't be the last time Barbara Stanwyck played a screen temptress; in Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity, she seduces mild-mannered insurance salesman Fred MacMurray, then convinces him to kill her husband for her. Yet as alluring as she was in this '40s classic, her character in that movie wasn't as manipulative as Lily Powers is in Baby Face. After five minutes of watching this film, you'll be amazed at how sexually candid it is. I have little doubt it shocked audiences in 1933, because, to be honest, it shocked the hell out of me!







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Monday, July 6, 2015

"Eisenstein: The Sound Years " and more

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Thursday, July 2, 2015

The 1923 Hunchback of Notre Dame

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Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge


#1,780. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)

Posted: 01 Jul 2015 08:06 PM PDT


Directed By: Wallace Worsley

Starring: Lon Chaney, Patsy Ruth Miller, Norman Kerry




Line from the film: "Sanctuary! Sanctuary!"

Trivia: Over 750 technicians worked on this film, including 105 electricians








Based on Victor Hugo's 1831 novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame transports us to 15th century Paris, during the reign of France's tyrannical king, Louis XI (Tully Marshall).

As the movie opens, the citizens of Paris are celebrating Festival Day, during which Quasimodo (Lon Chaney), the hunchbacked bell ringer of Notre Dame Cathedral, is crowned "King of the Fools". A servant of the sinister Jehan (Brandon Hurst), whose brother, Don Claudio (Nigel de Brullier), is Archdeacon of Notre Dame, the deaf and partially blind Quasimodo is often the target of ridicule. Alas, things only get worse for poor Quasimodo when Jehan orders him to kidnap the beautiful Gypsy, Esmerelda (Patsy Ruth Miller), the adopted daughter of Clopin (Ernest Torrence), the self-appointed "King of the Beggars". Jehan longs to make Esmerelda his own, but it's Phoebus (Norman Kerry), the Captain of the King's Guard, who has captured the young Gypsy's heart. When Quasimodo's attempt to abduct Esmerelda fails, he's arrested by the guard and whipped in the public square, after which Esmerelda, taking pity on the hunchback, brings him water and tends to his wounds.

Later on, as Phoebus and Esmerelda enjoy a romantic evening, the jealous Jehan sneaks up behind them and stabs Phoebus him in the back. When the King's guard arrives on the scene, they accuse Esmerelda of carrying out the attack, at which point she's arrested. Sentenced to death for a crime she didn't commit, Esmerelda is eventually rescued from the hangman's scaffold by Quasimodo, who remembers the kindness she showed him. Granted sanctuary by Don Claudio, Esmerelda will remain in the Cathedral until her case is appealed. But can Quasimodo protect her from the treacherous Jehan, whose desire to possess Esmerelda is so strong that he's willing to start a war over her.

There are aspects of 1923's The Hunchback of Notre Dame that are beyond impressive, starting with the set pieces. Constructed on the backlot of Universal Studios, the Cathedral of Notre Dame and its surrounding area look so convincing that you'd think the movie was shot in Paris. In addition, the film features a number of big scenes, including the peasant's attack on Notre Dame late in the film, during which Clopin and his followers attempt to free Esmerelda before the King's men come to collect her (in one of the movie's more disturbing moments, Quasimodo tries to stop the attackers by pouring molten lead from the roof of the Cathedral, which rains down on the unsuspecting rabble).

Still, even with its enormous sets and scores of extras, it's Lon Chaney, hiding behind layers of grotesque make-up, who transforms The Hunchback of Notre Dame into the amazing motion picture that it is. Using Hugo's description of the Hunchback as a starting point, Chaney devised his own make-up, using all his skills to turn himself into the hideous Quasimodo. And while the actor did occasionally rely on the services of a stuntman (including Harvey Parry, who also worked on Harold Lloyd's Safety Last!), Chaney handled the majority of an early scene in which Quasimodo shimmies down the Cathedral's front wall, doing so in full-make-up, and with one eye completely covered (Quasimodo's right eye bulges out of its socket).

This isn't my favorite cinematic take on Hugo's classic tale (that honor belongs to the 1939 version, in which Charles Laughton stars as Quasimodo). Yet there's no denying that 1923's The Hunchback of Notre Dame is an exciting, dramatic motion picture, made all the more so by the presence of Lon Chaney, playing (as he would many times throughout his career) a deformed, monstrous individual with very human emotions. In his capable hands, Quasimodo is both the most repulsive and most magnetic character in the entire film.







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