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British spies became all the rage in the 1960s, thanks largely to James
Bond. However, the British television series "Danger Man" actually
predated the James Bond movie series. Curiously, Danger Man's
protagonist, NATO Agent John Drake, is probably unique in that the
character started out as an American and then somehow "morphed" into an
Englishman. In the first year Drake, played by Patrick McGoohan, was
based out of Washington DC (the Capital Dome is clearly visible behind
him in the opening credits) and he spoke with what passes in Britain as
an American accent. In the succeeding years, however, Drake, still
played by McGoohan, was based out of London and spoke with a distinct
What makes Danger man stand out, however, is the high level of intelligence that went into the series. Unlike other 1960s spies Drake did not rely on violence to solve the problems he was given and he almost never resorts to killing anyone. Instead he relied on trickery, maneuver and mind-games, rather than firearms or explosives. In fact, I understand that McGoohan actually turned down the role of James Bond because he objected to the excessive degree of gratuitous sex and violence in the series. In an era when gratuitous sex and violence is far more prevalent than it ever was in the early 1960s, Danger Man makes a refreshing change of pace.
Did the scrawny-looking bird puppet used in this movie inspire Jim
Henson to create "Big Bird"? One might be excused for thinking so.
Apparently the producers were going to employ stop-motion animator Ray
Harryhausen to create the special effects, but then decided to go with
something requiring less time and money. The result elicited nothing
but laughter from audiences, even in 1957.
I understand that the actors never actually saw the ludicrous- looking "monster" until after the movie was completed, which undoubtedly explains how they all managed to get through the production with straight faces. That's probably just as well, since playing this sort material absolutely seriously is the only way it can possibly work. They love to make fun of films such as this on shows like "Mystery Science Theater 3000". However, films such as this really don't need that treatment because they're already so "bad" that they require no external enhancement to be appreciated for what they are. As legendary low-budget film maker Roger Corman once observed, "You cannot set out to make a 'cult movie', only the audience can make a 'cult movie'".
Outside Russia "Lieutenant Kizhe" is known chiefly as the source of
Serge Prokofiev's "Lieutenant Kizhe Suite", which he based upon the
original score that he wrote for this film. That's unfortunate because
this move is a very funny satirical farce about the unexpected
consequences of a typographical error and deserves recognition in for
its own merits. In that sense, while watching this I couldn't help
wondering if it might have provided the inspiration for Terry Gilliam's
Tsar Paul is such a martinet that his courtiers are so terrified to admit to a typographical error in the regimental orders of the day that they resort to inventing a non-existent Lieutenant Kizhe in order to comply with what is written down on the paper. However, matters begin to spiral out of control when the eccentric Tsar takes a personal interest in the "confidential and invisible" officer.
This movie is highly recommended to anyone who thinks that Russian Cinema begins and ends with the heavy, epic propaganda films of Serge Eisenstein. "Lieutenant Kizhe" is well produced and the actors are excellent, but the material is never ponderous. incidentally, for those who may be interested, it is available on Youtube. I might add that even the subtitles are very legible, which is not always the case with Russian films.
It would be trite, but nonetheless true, to assert that this movie
could not be produced today. Only the mind of filmmaker Tod Browning,
who came to the world of film making from a background in carnivals and
circuses, could have conceived of a story this bizarre. Only a great
actor like Lon Chaney could do justice to the dual role of Echo the
Above all, of course, today it would be considered unthinkable to utilize an actor like the inimitable Harry Earles, particularly cast in the role of a villain. But then this film was the product of the equally inimitable Tod Browning, the man who subsequently created the notorious movie "Freaks, which also featured the unique talents of Harry Earles.
The story involves three side show performers; Echo the Ventriloquist (Lon Chaney), Hercules the Strong Man (future Academy Award Winner Victor Mclaglen) and Tweedledee the Midget (Harry Earles). Fed up with life on the midway, the "Unholy Three" team up to open up a pet shop which they intend to use as a front for a series of burglaries. Echo, disguised as a little old lady, poses as the proprietor, while Hercules is her shop assistant. Tweedledee passes himself off as the old lady's infant grandson (apparently nobody ever notices that the "baby" has a full set of teeth!). Also assisting them is "Sweet Rosie O'Grady" (Mae Busch), a pickpocket who had formerly been in business with Echo when they were both working in the carnival.
Although Lon Chaney was known for his spectacular horror films, in his day he made a lot of crime films as well, and "The Unholy Three" falls under that heading. Apart from the scenes in which he is disguised as the "sweet Little old lady", in which he is very convincing, in this film Chaney appears as a regular person, which was a relatively rare thing in his career.
Presented by a superior cast of actors, "The Unholy Three" is certainly among the most unique crime dramas ever filmed. It definitely deserves an 8 out of ten. Incidentally, it is worth mentioning that this movie made such an impression at the time of its release that it was subsequently remade as a sound movie, with Lon Chaney and Harry Earles reprising their roles. In fact, the remake of "The Unholy Three" was the only "Talkie" that the great Lon Chaney ever made before he died, much too soon, at the age of only 47.
Those who have never seen this truly bizarre thriller have been missing
a rare treat. Yes, it was made way back in 1933. Yes, it is is
black-and-white. Yes, it is in German, with subtitles. Don't allow any
of that dissuade the viewer, because "The Testament of Dr. Mabuse"
remains among the most bizarre and original thrillers ever filmed. Over
the decades so many elements from this amazing film have been copied by
other filmmakers that it would take far too long to enumerate them
here. However, watch this movie and I'm sure you'll have no trouble
spotting a dozen examples or so without too much trouble.
The story involves a crime wave in a German city that may, or may not, be controlled by an insane criminal mastermind who, for the past ten years, has been existing in a catatonic state in an insane asylum (they used to call them that in those days). Viewers who considered Terry Gilliam's "12 Monkeys" to be really original and bizarre will be astounded at just how far ahead of his time Fritz Lang actually was.
In addition there were serious political overtones to "The Testament Dr Mabuse". Whether those political overtones were intentional or not is still a matter of debate. However, there is no question that the idea of a movie about a mad criminal genius assuming power was not lost on Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime, which assumed power in Germany the very same year this movie was produced. The result was that the movie was immediately banned in its home country and Fritz Lang had to make a hasty departure for Hollywood. For that reason alone this movie would be worth seeing, even it were not as remarkable a piece of film- making as it is.
This movie seems to be pulling in so many different directions at once
that it's difficult to figure out exactly what the filmmakers were
actually trying to achieve. Was this intended to be a science- fiction
thriller, a political comment on totalitarianism, a comedy or perhaps
all three at once? It certainly seems to be a bit of all three at
various times, and sometimes all three at the same time. Perhaps it is
for that reason that the cumulative effect is a bit bizarre and doesn't
quite work. For example, if this movie wasn't intended to be a comedy
then why did they cast Paul Douglas and Leslie Phillips, both of whom
were known principally for playing comic parts, in the two lead roles?
And why do the police who administer the supposed Police State in the
movie go about dressed in comic opera uniforms and seem no more
formidable than the proverbial "Keystone Kops"? Even the head of the
police comes off as such a hopeless buffoon that it is impossible to
feel the least bit intimidated by him. One gets the impression that the
country in the film was supposed to represent a sort of miniature Nazi
Germany or Stalinist Soviet Union, but it simply comes off as a
slightly bonkers version of San Marino or Andorra, complete with the
obligatory colorful folkways.
See this if you have never seen it, just for the experience of a film that is so truly strange that it is almost impossible to categorize under any single genre.
"If I Were King" has a lot going for it. Based upon a 1901 play by
Justin Huntly McCarthy that was subsequently transformed into a
successful operetta by Rudolph Friml, the screenplay for this version
was written by Preston Sturges. That means it includes a significant
amount of Sturges' unique brand of sophisticated and sly wit. This was
early in Sturges' career, before he emerged as a successful combination
writer and director. Sturges' later films included such classics as
"The Great McGinty", "Sullivan's Travels", "The Lady Eve", "The Palm
Beach Story", "The Miracle of Morgan's Creek" and "Unfaithfully Yours".
"If I Were King" also included superior performances by two great actors at the top of their game. Ronald Coleman was the perfect choice to play the swashbuckling poet-rogue, Francois Villon. For the benefit of those not familiar with French literature, Francois Villon really was a 15th Century French poet, he really did graduate from the Sorbonne and he really was a petty criminal who seems to have been constantly in trouble with the law. Born in Paris in 1431, Villon is described as having "disappeared from view" in 1463. To this day nobody really knows for sure what became of him, although the presumption is that he came to no good end. However, there is absolutely no evidence that he ever did anything even remotely heroic. Ronald Coleman possessed more than enough swashbuckling charm to carry the role, as well as the mellifluous voice to make the poetry work as few other actors, even in his day, could have done.
Usually known for playing either villains or Sherlock Holmes, Basil Rathbone, was given a rare opportunity to demonstrate his acting virtuosity by playing an aging King Louis IX; the clever, conniving and cynical French monarch who has become known to history as "Louis the Spider". At one point in the movie Preston Sturges has the King self-deprecatingly remark that, "The people of France already have one 'Saint Louis', another would only confuse them".
During the mid 1960s there was a movie called "The Love One" that was
billed as "The Movie With Something to Offend Everyone". Released
during that same era, "Reflections in a Golden Eye" might well have
been billed as "The Movie With Something to Disgust Everyone". That is
because there is undoubtedly something in this jaw-dropping movie that
will make every single member of the viewing audience squirm in their
seats at some point or other, regardless of their age, gender or sexual
proclivities. Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism, bestiality,
voyeurism, self-mutilation, cruelty to animals, murder, those are just
a few of the things that go on here.
Ostensibly the story takes place on an Army base somewhere in the southern United States. Actually, however, it takes place in some bizarre and perverse parallel universe where Tennessee Williams meets The Twilight Zone. Certainly if the U.S. Army bears even the slightest resemblance to what is depicted in this movie than the country is in a whole lot of trouble.
The plot revolves around two Army officers and their respective wives, who are best friends and next-door neighbors on an Army Base. By far the most normal of the four characters is that played by Brian Kieth, who is merely committing adultery with his best friend and next-door neighbors's wife. But hey, can you blame him when his friend's wife is a very-willing Elizabeth Taylor? Besides, Kieth's own wife, who had suffered a miscarriage a few years earlier, hasn't had any use for him since. Played by Julie Harris, Kieth's wife is definitely what a Harley Street Psychiatrist would label, clinically speaking, "Barmy".
For her role Liz comes across like a combination of Scarlett O'Hara and Martha from "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?". It's not very surprising that she is having an affair with her neighbor because her own husband, played by Brando, is a closet case, and she obviously knows it. They're just your typical well-adjusted American couple; she has complete contempt for him while he absolutely loathes her. So, while Liz is having it off with Kieth while Brando is out stalking enlisted men around the Army Base. Watching this movie one can't help wondering, if this is how things are in the Army, what can it possibly be like in the Marine Corps?
"Reflections in a Golden Eye" is meant to be an adult drama. However, everything about the film is so extremely over-the-top that the only way to enjoy it at all is to view it as if it were some sort of parody. In that sense it is somewhat reminiscent of "The Fountainhead", another dramatic movie that can only really be enjoyed if it is viewed as a comedy.
I saw this film for the first time and was not surprised to learn
afterwords that it was suppressed for over 30 years after being
completed. I understand that the Army commissioned John Huston to make
it. I have no idea what the Army authorities expected the result to be
but what the got was something truly extraordinary. Nevertheless, the
idea of mentally-disturbed veterans being treated by psychiatrists must
have been considered a pretty sensitive subject during the immediate
Although the term "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder" did not exist in the 1940s, the syndrome certainly did. In World War I it was referred to as "Shell Shock" and in World War II it was called "Battle Fatigue" or "Combat Fatigue". Put another way, the subject of this film is the men whom General George Patton would have treated by slapping. Fortunately, however, the treatment received by the soldiers depicted in this film is psychotherapy combined with hypnosis and sodium pentothal. The results are truly remarkable.
I can empathize with this film because I know that my own father returned from WW-II suffering from what was later called "PTSD". Although his symptoms were not as extreme as the soldiers depicted in this film, I know that he was shipped home before the end of the war because the doctors had declared him no longer fit for combat. I know that, after witnessing hundreds of men killed in battle, he went into shock after seeing a woman hit by a car while en route home, and came to in the hospital three days later. I know that, soon after returning home, he left town because he felt guilty about having survived the war, and he couldn't bear to see the wives, sisters and parents of people that he knew wouldn't be coming back. I know that, despite having flown numerous combat missions during the war, he couldn't bring himself to fly in an airplane for years afterwords.
Like the soldiers depicted in the film, my father eventually managed to get on with his life in a productive manner. However, I don't think he ever really did entirely get over what he experienced during the war. I don't imagine the soldiers in the film did, either.
Monsieur Verdoux has always been an odd number in the canon of the
works of Charles Chaplin. Although many consider it one of the greatest
works of perhaps the greatest film maker of all time, it was not a
great success when it was first released. For one thing it features
Chaplin in a role vastly different from his familiar "Little Tramp"
persona. However, I think a more important reason may have been that
Monsieur Verdoux was a black comedy that was released shortly after the
close of the most destructive war ever fought. The world had just
emerged from a great bloodbath and people were eager to forget and get
on with living, and here was the world's greatest comedian coming out
with a comedy about a sympathetic serial killer.
I therefore think that the reason Monsieur Verdoux was not a success was simply because, even though the story was clearly set in the pre-war era, it made post-war audiences feel uneasy about themselves and the world in which they lived. Perhaps it made audiences of the day ask too many questions about the world and about themselves. In any case, the film is undoubtedly far more highly appreciated today than it was in the late 1940s. It is undoubtedly among the greatest of Chaplin's films, and makes especially good use of the considerable comedic talents of Martha Raye.
If there is a fault to be found with Monsieur Verdoux it is with Chaplin's choice of Marilyn Nash to play "The Girl". Clearly the character was meant to be very important to the story since her brief appearance exerts a great influence over Verdoux. However, Nash was clearly an actress who had little to offer, and her performance in what should have been an important film debut falls flat. Chaplin discovered and showcased a number of talented young actresses in his films who went on to achieve great things, such as Paulette Goddard and Claire Bloom, but Marilyn Nash clearly did not have what it took to be one of those.
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