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"Said England unto Pharaoh, "I must make a man of you, That will stand
upon his feet and play the game; That will maxim his oppressor as a
Christian ought to do," And she sent old Pharaoh Sergeant Whatisname"
Rudyard Kipling wrote the above over a century ago, but no doubt it was what the author of "Guns at Batasi" had in mind when he created the remarkable character of Regimental Sergeant-Major Lauderdale.
Set in the 1960s, at a time when Britain's former African colonies were in the process of achieving independence as members of the British Commonwealth, "Guns at Batasi" is the story of how the members of the sergeant's mess deal with a combination of simultaneous crises. Along with the visit of a British female MP (Dame Flora Robson playing a sort of Labor Party version of Margaret Thatcher), comes the eruption of a coup d'etat staged by the native officers and troops, followed by the arrival of a native officer wounded by the rebels. In charge of dealing with the situation is Regimental Sergeant-Major Lauderdale, the ultimate British Senior N.C.O., played to perfection by the great Richard Attenborough.
And deal with it he does! While "Guns at Batasi" is a great story, as in the case of most of the great British films, it is character rather than action that prevails here. In R.S.M. Lauderdale, Richard Attenborough may well have created the finest performance of his illustrious career.
If you haven't heard of this great but little-known movie, give it a chance. The story and the characters will grab you!
Franz Kafka is off to see the Wizard, but rather than the Emerald City
of Oz, instead discovers The Castle. Devotees of the writing of Franz
Kafka will love this film, although all others will probably be
somewhat perplexed. Nevertheless, this is an amazingly clever and
inventive film. It combines a truly clever and literary script with
stunning visuals, and features an amazing cast.
Franz Kafka, working at a drab job as a clerk in a large insurance company in an equally drab and unnamed city, spends his evenings writing fiction that nobody ever reads, and that he sincerely hopes nobody ever will. When one of his few friends fails to show up for work one morning Kafka attempts to find out what became of him. In doing so he opens up a proverbial "can of worms" that eventually leads him to an incredible conspiracy.
This is not your average thriller. It is a thriller based upon ideas, rather than upon car chases and spectacular pyrotechnics. Nevertheless, Kafka will keep the viewer on the edge of his seat, trying to figure out what it is really all about.
Poor David Manners, there was an actor who truly never had a break.
Imagine being an actor whose fate was seemingly always to be consigned
to playing straight-man to Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. In one film,
"The Black Cat", he actually would up playing straight-man to both of
In "The Mummy" it was poor Manners' misfortune to be cast opposite Boris Karloff. How can any actor hope to get noticed while sharing the screen with one of the greatest horror icons of all time, especially in what many consider to be one of Karloff's roles? Granted that, after 80 years, some aspects of the movie may creak a bit. However, there's no getting around the fact that time has detracted absolutely nothing from Karloff's performance.
It is interesting to compare the 1932 version of "The Mummy" with the 1999 version, because the differences in style and production emphasis are so striking. The modern version is all about CGI special effects and roller-coaster paced action. The 1932 version is all about setting an eerie mood and, of course, the sheer charismatic presence of Boris Karloff.
In Frankenstein Karloff played The Monster as a heavy, hulking, stumbling mute. Yet how different he seems in The Mummy. Yes, there are scenes in which the actor was wrapped up and heavily made up to simulate a 3,700-year-old mummy. By all accounts that was a very unpleasant experience for the actor, too. However, in most of the movie Karloff was dressed in a sort of full-length gown, emphasizing the actor's tall and spare frame, further implying the notion that he is a 3,700-year-old re-animated mummy. Nevertheless, the actor's performance was not limited to makeup and costume. Further accentuating the idea of a walking corpse is the subtle manner in which Karloff moved, or should one more precisely say, didn't move. Karloff's mummy moved very slowly, almost gliding; and when he stood he stood very still, moving his body as little as possible. The overall effect of that stillness was to make Karloff's mummy seem even more powerful and menacing. Another notable difference was that, unlike in Frankenstein, in "The Mummy" Karloff got a chance to make use of that wonderfully sibilant, purring voice of his; that unique voice that has put chills up generations of spines, and still continues to do so.
It is also worth noting that Karl Freund's direction was a textbook example to aspiring modern horror film directors of how less can be so much more. The initial scene in which Karloff's mummy becomes alive, opening his eyes slightly and slowly moving one hand just a little bit, still has the power to chill. So does that the subsequent scene, in which all that is visible to the viewer are a couple of bandages moving slowly along the floor and trailing out of the door. Nothing is more frightening than the imagination and, in that classic scene, Freund demonstrated exactly how far a little bit of suggestion can go.
Nobody in the film-making industry ever got more out of less than the
legendary Roger Corman, and "A Bucket of Blood" is a prime example of
his work. Granted, the movie was made in five days on a budget of
$50,000. Yes, there are no big-name stars in the cast. Nevertheless, I
have seen many, many movies produced on enormous budgets, and with "A-
List" casts, that are far less entertaining than A.B.O.B.
"A Bucket of Blood" was also unquestionably Dick Miller's finest hour. Miller plays Walter Paisley, a nebbish of a busboy working in a hip coffee shop frequented by the sort of arty "Beatnik" types well-known in the 1950s. Walter desperately wants to belong to the arty beat crowd, but he lacks both the intellect and the talent. Nevertheless, he manages to stumble upon a means of artistic expression that gains him acceptance, at lest for a while. Only the jaded café owner suspects what Walter has really been up to, but he is unwilling to let on because of the high prices he is getting for selling Walter's "art".
This film works because everybody in it seemed to have been having as much fun making it as the viewer has seeing it. the movie also works because it is something most horror movies nowadays are not, it is clever and well-written. In fact, apart from anything else, A.B.O.B. is worth seeing for its' juicy satire of the 1950s "Beat" culture alone, something that was very current at the time the movie was made, but which has long disappeared today.
"A Bucket of Blood" was made during the same period, and featured many of the same cast members, as Roger Corman's more-famous movie, "The Little Shop of Horrors". Both include the same mix of horror and humor, and there is no doubt that fans of T.L.S.O.H. would enjoy A.B.O.B. equally much. The two would make a great double-feature, or a great double-release on DVD.
This rarely-shown gem of a movie is a great early showcase for both
Vivian Lee and Rex Harrison, before either became a famous star. It is
also a prime example of a genre of movie that the British do very well
and which Hollywood rarely ever touches: political satire. When
Hollywood does try this sort of thing it us usually heavy-handed. Not
so here. Everything is handled with a light touch, and it's all very
Cecil Parker is the pompous and arrogant mayor of a small Scottish town, who is also running for a seat in Parliament (it's the sort of part in which Cecil Parker always excelled). While the mayor is busy being interviewed by a cub reporter on the local newspaper (Rex Harrison), the mayor hasn't time to be bothered with listening to the plea of an impoverished woman (the aptly-named Sara Allgood) whose dog had been impounded by the police for non-payment of it's license fee. Harrison decides to include the incident in his newspaper article, and events snowball from there.
"Storm in a Teacup" is exactly that, so don't expect "All the King's Men", "The Best Man", "Advise and Consent" or "Seven Days in May". However, it is very funny, and well worth a look if it should happen to come around again.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I was eight years old when this was first televised and I still recall
it vividly. While all of the Twilight Zone stories were exceptional
television, this particular one stands out as one of the scariest, and
at the same time funniest, of all time. I know that sounds like a
contradiction, but see "It's a Good Life" and you'll understand exactly
what I mean. The story is truly nightmarish while, at the same time,
it's almost impossible to keep from laughing. Few writers could achieve
that combination effectively. Ambrose Bierce was one, and Rod Serling
H.G. Wells once wrote a story, called "The Man Who Could Work Miracles", in which a nondescript store clerk suddenly acquires absolute power to do anything he can think of. In 1936 it was turned into a memorable motion picture by Sir Michael Korda. In "It's a Good Life" Rod Serling took that concept one step further. He gave the same sort of absolute power to a six-year-old boy.
One reviewer ventured the opinion that the kid in the story was a "sociopath". He couldn't be more wrong. The fact is that Serling simply understood exactly how little kids really are. That old cliché about the "innocence of childhood" is a load of bunk. Just watch how the kids in any schoolyard interact with each other and you'll see what I mean. Give ANY little kid absolute power and he will behave exactly the same way as Anthony Fremont did. Serling understood that. That's what makes this story work so effectively, it's what makes it one of the scariest stories ever devised. Of course, at the same time, you won't be able to keep from laughing at concepts such as, for example, a world where you could be killed for playing a Perry Como record (only Rod Serling could have come up with something like that!).
The Twilight Zone ought to be required viewing for anyone involved in the creation of current television. It demonstrates how great television doesn't need a huge budget for special effects and production values, all that is really required is a good cast of actors and a truly superlative script. The twilight Zone was one of the few television shows that was created by, and dominated by, writers; and that shows in almost every episode. "It's a Good Life" is one of the finest examples.
Those who are familiar with the well-known 1952 remake of "Scaramouche"
might find it difficult to recognize it in this 1923 silent version.
The story in this earlier and seldom-seen version is quite different in
many respects. Many of the plot points are different, the names of some
of the principal characters are not the same and some of the principal
characters in this earlier version do not even appear in the remake.
The earlier version is also quite different in tone, being rather more
in the nature of Historical-Melodrama or Historical-Fiction than the
later version, which is much more of a mere swashbuckler. However, the
fact is that this earlier version is actually much more faithful to the
original book than the remake.
Don't be put off by the fact that this is a silent film produced 90 years ago, because it's production values are excellent. Clearly no available expense was spared to make this production as lavish and authentic to the period (France during the French Revolution), as possible. The director, Rex Ingram, was about as good as one could find at the time.
The cast also features some first rate performers, including perennial MGM favorite Lewis Stone, who was probably with the studio longer than any other actor, so long that he appeared in the 1952 remake. The title role is played by Ramon Navarro, who was a major star in the 1920s. Like Rudolph Valentino, Navarro was a major leading man in the films of the 1920s, and had the title role in the silent version of "Ben Hur". However, unlike Valentino, who died young, Navarro continued to work for many years, though his career as a leading man waned after talkies came in. Navarro's problem in talkies was that he happened to be Mexican, and spoke with an accent.
All in all, "Scaramouche" comes off as a lavish and well produced melodrama set against the background of the French Revolution. The plot points and tone are so different that it should be rated alongside, rather than above or below, the better-known swashbuckling remake. This film is very well worth a look, especially to the many fans of the 1952 version.
One has to keep in mind that this British comedy, about the experiences
of a Soviet engineer in Britain, was produced at a critical point in
the relations between those two nations. Due to the fact that Joseph
Stalin had signed a non-aggression pact with Adolf Hitler, the Soviet
Union remained neutral after Britain and France went to war against
Germany in 1939. The Soviets didn't come into the war as an ally of
Britain until the middle of 1941, after Germany invaded Russia. It was
not an easiest alliances. Unlike the case of Britain and the United
States, Britain and the Soviet Union had almost nothing in common,
either politically or linguistically. In fact, British relations with
the Soviet Union had been strained ever since the 1917 Revolution.
The Demi-Paradise was produced as an aid to bridging the cultural gap between those two allies, at least from the British point of view. I have no idea whether it was ever shown in Russia, let alone how it would have been perceived by audiences there.
The story concerns a Russian engineer, played by Olivier, who encounters a pair of British seamen ashore in Murmansk during World War II. Typically, the British are complaining about the difficulties they are having among the "foreigners". To their astonishment, Olivier jokingly informs them in English that it is they who are the "foreigners" in Russia, and then proceeds to recount his own experiences as a "foreigner" when he was assigned to do a job in Britain both before, and during, the war.
In addition to being a wartime propaganda film, The Demi-Paradise is full of the sort of self-deprecating humor the British seem to love. While produced in Britain, the script actually was written by a Russian ex-patriot, Anatole de Grunwald. Consequently, one cannot help but feel that the writer brought a lot of his own personal experiences and impressions into the story. The result is very droll, and one cannot help but feel that the protagonist's experiences are probably universal to any stranger in a strange land.
"The Mark of Zorro" was clearly 20 Century Fox's answer to the
spectacular success of Warner Brothers' "The Adventures of Robin Hood".
Many of the same elements are present, including a swashbuckling outlaw
hero fighting against the ruthless and greedy forces of oppression
while winning a beautiful and virtuous heroine. They even managed to
engage many of the same supporting cast; including Eugene Palette
reprising his role of the hero's priest-friend, Basil Rathbone as a
sword-wielding villain, and Montague Love (as a good guy this time).
Rathbone, in particular, stands out in one of his most effective
portrayals in a long series of classic villains, one every bit as
memorable as the one he portrayed in Robin Hood. The plot itself is a
re-do of the classic 1920 silent film that cemented Douglas Fairbanks'
reputation as an international film idol.
With so much of The Mark of Zorro being a re-hash of elements that had been done before, it stands to reason that the production would have to have been carried off extremely well in order to have had any impact. In fact, it was done very well indeed. To star in a vehicle such as this you need an actor with great presence and charisma and, at that time, Tyrone Power had that in spades. He was clearly intended to be 20th Century Fox's answer to Errol Flynn, a role that he unquestionably pulled off, particularly in the period before the war (the Tyrone Power who returned from military service in the war was a far more mature actor, one less suited to the former swashbuckling roles). Power's Zorro is less athletic than Douglas Fairbanks' version, but then no actor, with the sole possible exception of Burt Lancaster, could ever hope to approach Fairbanks in that department. However, there is little dispute that Power was at his very best at the time he made The Mark of Zorro.
Power's co-star, Linda Darnell, who was still only 17 years old, was just beginning the period of her best work when this film was made. Unfortunately, she was given little to do in this film, besides look beautiful (with which she had no trouble). It is also unfortunate for Darnell that she shared most of her scenes with one of the screen's finest character actresses, the much-unappreciated Gale Sondergaard. That is no aspersion on the talent of Darnell, because Sondergaard was fully capable of stealing scenes from the best scenery-chewers in the business, including the likes of Betty Davis and Claude Rains. For example, during the same period when Zorro was produced, Sondergaard was also featured in the cast of "The Letter", in which she memorably dominated a scene shared with no less an acting presence than Bette Davis, and did it without even uttering a single word of dialogue!
A movie like the "The Mark of Zorro" wouldn't work unless all the elements, actors, sets, costumes, music score and direction, come together. In this particular case, everything came together perfectly.
One cannot help but give full marks to the H.P. Lovecraft Historical
Society for their efforts to bring H. P. Lovecraft's eerie stories to
the screen in a manner in keeping with the texture and mood of the
original material. Although there have been other attempts to film
Lovecraft stories, most have generally been unsatisfying failures due
to misguided attempts to modernize or glamorize them. Not so with
HPLHS, who have gone out their way to keep faithful to the period and
locales in which the tales were set, even going so far as give the film
the feel of an early-1930s black-and-white movie. Even their logo is an
homage to the the old Universal Studios logo of the early 1930s (the
studio which produced such classic horror movies as Frankenstein,
Dracula and The Mummy), replacing the familiar
airplane-circling-the-earth with a dirigible.
The plot involves Albert Wilmarth, a college anthropology professor specializing in folklore, who becomes intrigued by a series of unusual newspaper stories reported from a rural part of Vermont after a period of particularly heavy rains. It seems that bodies have been observed washing down from the mountains in the swollen rivers, bodies which are, reportedly, neither human nor animal. The bodies apparently also recall, among the older inhabitants, old tales of strange beings that live in remote parts of the hills, beings that are neither human nor animal, and possibly not even of terrestrial origin. Wilmarth begins his investigation into these stories on the basis that they are nothing more than mere interesting folklore, but soon finds himself dealing with something far more sinister.
Admittedly, the producers of the movie added some material and characters not present in the original story. In fact, the short story actually ends at a point only about one hour into the film. However, the original version was, after all, only a short story, and I suppose the makers felt that they had to add some material to the plot in order to expand the short story into a full-length movie. nevertheless, the movie still does a far better job of evoking the feel of H.P. Lovecraft's writing than any other movie versions of his works, with the only possible exception being the resent silent film version of The Call of Cathulhu, which was made by the same producers.
One addition to the film is a debate staged between the protagonist, Professor Wilmarth, and Charles Fort. While that was not a part of H.P. Lovecraft's original story, it is interesting period touch because Charles Fort was actually a real person, a celebrated and controversial author of the early 1900s who was known to contemporaries as "The Mad Genius of the Bronx". Fort, who died in 1932, wrote about what are now called paranormal phenomena before that term was even invented, and is credited, among other things, with coining the word "teleportation".
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