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Stan Aubray is something of a cold fish, which I suppose makes him an
ideal role for the corporeal Willem Dafoe. He has no close friends,
displays signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder, lives in a starkly
furnished apartment, secretly drinks and is haunted by a five-year-old
case involving a serial killer who meticulously and symbolically
composed his victims bodies. Now the killings have started again, and a
hot-shot colleague in Aubray's department suspects that the arresting
detective may actually himself be the original murderer.
The plot of Henry Miller's bleak psychological thriller is undeniably intriguing, but Aubray is portrayed as such a remote, detached person that it's extremely difficult for the viewer to like him. The film is almost unremittingly dark, matching its protagonist's mental state and put me in mind of Se7en while I watched it, thanks largely to a series of murders and the bizarre manner in which the killer's victims are left for discovery.
Dafoe gives an understated performance, and is really very good in a thankless role, but his performance isn't enough to leave you with any positive impression. The idea of focal distortion the central theme of the film is also an interesting one, but having come up with the idea, Miller and co-writer Tom Phelan seem to have struggled to come up with a suitable way in which to incorporate it into a serial-killer story.
Angelika Jager, eh? What a woman! Alas, the sad fact is young Angelika
is the only reason this film is worth even half-watching and even
then only if you're a heterosexual male because everything else about
this film is total trash.
Angelika plays Valaria, the sidekick of the Dark One, a deep disembodied voice who issues veiled and not so veiled threats to his lovely assistant as the cartoon power station in which he resides is visited by a young hero called Neo who is well, to be honest I can't quite recall why he's there. Wants to free humankind from the Dark One's tyrannical grip, I think; something like that, anyway. The fact is, the rank amateurishness of all aspects of this film quickly had me sinking into a kind of stupor, from which I would only emerge when the lovely Angelika was on screen.
Now I can't claim that the lovely Angelika is exactly an actress of quality in fact the truth is she could easily be out-acted by a toothpick but she possesses the kind of luminous beauty that makes such matters irrelevant. Anyway, it would be impossible to possess such beauty and acting talent it just wouldn't be fair. Angelika has a sulky, sensuous mouth and a sexy French accent identical to Valerie Kaprisky's in Jim McBride's 1983 remake of Breathless and, although she can't act for toffee, there's something Bergmanesque (Ingrid, not Ingmar) about her that is quite enchanting.
Not that her lack of acting talent singles her out for criticism in this cast of nobodies. Everybody looks as if they're envisaging in their mind the words as they appeared in their script, and very carefully repeating each one, completely forgetting to add any kind of emotion into their lines. The guy who plays the heroine's father has only one expression throughout, regardless of whether he's watching two gladiators scrapping, describing his boffo invention, facing the terror of coming face to face with The Dark One, or being slowly absorbed by the aforementioned Dark One who actually looks like a slimy green egg so that only his living head remains. That expression is one of expressionless boredom an image that will probably be mirrored by anyone who sits through this rubbish.
This gets one mark for Angelika's sultry looks and no other reason
Strapping young Arthur V. Johnson makes an unlikely music teacher in
this early drama from D. W. Griffith. One of his pupils is a wealthy
young slip of a girl who rejects his advances, and whose father
understandably takes offence at her music tutor trying to pluck her
strings. Arthur, who for some reason plays a character called Herr von
Schmidt (presumably because no all-American boy would ever consider
blowing things up in a fit of romantic pique) impulsively joins an
anarchist group (as you do) and, wouldn't you know it, his name's first
out of the hat when his new mates are deciding who's next to get the
honour of blowing up rich people.
Schmidt and his accomplice lurk suspiciously outside their intended victim's home for a while before the other guy sneaks into the basement with a bomb shaped like a black ball. Seeing that bomb makes you wonder whether any like that ever really existed or were merely the invention of comic strip cartoonists and early filmmakers. Anyway, it's black and round and has an impossibly long fuse honestly, you could be in the next state before it exploded and serves as the device by which Griffith struggles to engineer a measure of suspense that resolutely refuses to develop. Needless to say, our hero finds himself tied up next to the bomb after he discovers the home is that of the woman he loves, but everything works out for the best in the end.
This certainly isn't one of Griffith's best, even for such an early example. At a little under 16 minutes, the film contains far too much padding, and it's a little unclear why the young girl and her wealthy dad are suddenly so enamoured of our hero he was only there because he wanted to blow things up, after all. Anyway, many of Griffith's regulars are here Marion Leonard and Frank Powell both have sizeable roles, while Linda Arvidson (Griffith's wife), Gladys Egan, Owen Moore and Mack Sennett are among those who provide the atmosphere.
The print I saw of this short Max Linder film from 1909 was so degraded
that it was difficult to see what was supposed to be happening most of
The story involves an old lady receiving a new pair of dentures which, although initially seeming OK, soon take on a life of their own and start biting anyone who comes within snapping distance, causing much Gallic waving of arms.
There's very little else to say about this blurred example of Linder's work. Perhaps, one day, a better print will surface, but until then I suppose we should just be thankful that a print exists at all, regardless of its quality.
There's no doubting this is a very bad film by anyone's standards, but
it isn't without some entertainment value. Bruce Dern clearly on his
uppers back in '71 takes on the mad scientist role with such
laid-back indifference to the part that his performance alone is worth
the cost of the rental or purchase or ninety minutes of your life.
Never will you see an actor so clearly embarrassed by the rubbish he
has somehow found himself saddled with or trying so hard to appear
invisible. Dern speaks each of his lines with a kind of preternatural
calmness that leaves you wondering whether some underhand producer
hasn't drugged him so that he believes he's floating through a dream.
His character is assisted by Max (Berry Kroeger) who, quite frankly, is
the creepiest thing in the film like a strange uncle whose lap your
mum warns you not to sit on when you're a kid
The plot follows the typical monster-movie template. Once again our monster is stitched together from people's body parts in a fortress-like laboratory to which access is denied to the good doctor's long-suffering wife (Pat Priest). But, unlike Frankenstein, this is no meditation on the dangers of man playing God, rather than a frank attempt to titillate undemanding teens. Of course, wifey can't resist having a peek in the lab and before you can say 'don't open the door!' she's opened the door and well, I'm sure you can get the rest.
The poor simpleton who has a maniacal killer's head grafted onto his neck (don't you hate it when that happens?) is something of a giant, and he's filmed from a low angle so that no money has to be spent on special effects. I'm sure Messrs Bloom and Cole must have been pretty close friends by the end of the shoot. Of course the killer quickly becomes the dominant partner and forces his neck-mate to embark on a killing spree. He lumbers around the countryside, chancing upon necking teenagers and wasted bikers who, for some reason, find it impossible to outrun him and, cackling wildly, summarily dispatches them for no apparent reason other than he's completely bonkers.
The single moment of any worth in the film is the point at which director Anthony Lanza cuts away from the murder of the female biker, just as those brainless cackles are beginning to rise. It's a moment of restraint totally at odds with the rest of the movie.
It would be nice to be able to discuss this film without having to
refer to its politically incorrect depiction of blacks, but it's
impossible to do so. The film, which is a remake of director John
Ford's own Judge Priest from the 30s (in which Will Rogers played the
title role), must have seemed curiously dated even when it was
released, and feels like it was made in the early forties rather than
the mid-fifties. Whether that's because of its outdated attitude
towards blacks and the presence of slow, scratchy-voiced Stepin Fetchit
is open to conjecture it could just be that the fog of nostalgia that
hangs over the entire work is the reason.
Charles Winninger makes an amiable old judge whose quiet wisdom puts to shame the hypocritically puritanical attitudes of his small town's people and the racist assumptions of an unruly lynch mob out to hang a blameless teenage Negro. The storyline is kind of meandering, reflecting the apparently relaxed pace of life in the turn of the century Deep South, and you do really get a taste of Southern gentility whether accurate not. Its various sub-plots are linked together by the judge's bid for re-election, which serves to emphasise the importance of standing by one's principles no matter what the possible personal costs may be. Of course, the truth is Billy Priest is too good to be true, but I don't think anyone was out to make him a more realistic figure in this milieu than Santa Claus or God would have been.
John Ford's notorious sentimentality is in danger of becoming cloying at times, but he just about manages to rein it in at key moments. The film says as much about Hollywood's take on American social attitudes in the mid-50s as it does about the same in the Deep South at the turn of the century, which isn't in itself a bad thing. I suppose it's even possible that one day films like this will be shown in classrooms to demonstrate the gigantic positive strides made in the cause of racial equality in the latter half of the 20th Century. Better that than they are wilfully ignored in the name of political correctness.
I was surprised by the quality of the writing in this forgotten
exhibition of the comic talents of radio personality Fred Allen. The
story is one of those madcap farces in which a virtually non-existent
plot is held together by a relentless barrage of jokes and quips which,
for a change, hit more often than they miss.
Allen plays Fred F. Trumble Floogle, the penniless owner of a flea circus who unexpectedly comes into an inheritance when a distant relative is murdered. What Fred doesn't realise is that most of the fortune has already been siphoned off by crooked lawyer John Carradine and his cronies, and the few hundred thousand dollars that remains is hidden in one of a set of five chairs that have been sold at auction. There then follows a fast paced hunt for the missing chairs that leads Floogle into the paths of all manner of unusual characters. One of these is Jack Benny, and the film has a great time poking fun at his legendary stinginess. Two of the chairs have been sold to a nightclub where Floogle finds former stars Don Ameche, Rudy Vallee and Victor Moore working (Ameche has run out of things to invent in the movies so is reduced to working as a singing waiter to make ends meet.)
The story continues in this vein for ninety minutes, but very rarely does the pace or quality of the jokes flag. Others have pointed out that many of the gags will be lost on those with no or little knowledge of the period, but there's still plenty of timeless jokes that still work today.
Most of the ingredients of slapstick comedy are evident in this early
example - the soda syphon, the pie in the face, the tack on the chair -
but none of the sophistication (for want of a better word) of the art
is present yet. Oddly, Ben Turpin, the instantly recognisable silent
comic, is barely recognisable here; presumably, his eye had slipped
into that cross-eyed position by now (strangely, it was something that
happened to him as an adult while working in vaudeville) but director
Btoncho Billy Anderson presumably saw no comedy mileage in his star's
affliction so we never get a close-up of his face.
The film is merely a series of sketches tacked together in which Ben plays a hapless man about town who just can't stop himself from stroking the chins of the women who serve him - the shop assistant, the manicurist, the barber, the switchboard operator, the soda clerk, etc. You'd think he'd learn his lesson after the first couple of knock backs - they always turn the table on him, hence his name - but poor Ben just keeps on harassing. Sadly, the film is almost completely bereft of laughs, and even at just four minutes long, quickly becomes repetitive.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Country Doctor opens and closes with a slow panning shot of
pastoral countryside, the effect of which is lost until you learn that
the closing shot was apparently originally given a blue tint to make
sense of the final intertitle, and it's a fitting epilogue to a rather
sombre piece from D. W. Griffith.
In a long-ago land filled with American Biograph logos (to foil dupers), the country doctor of the title lives an idyllic life, strolling through fields of wheat with his wife and daughter, grinning insanely and just inviting fate to deliver a fist to the solar plexus. Sure enough, little Edith, the smallest member of this ideal family unit, is stricken by some unspecified illness. She looks like she is in the process of turning after being bitten by a zombie, but little Gladys Egan gives such a wonderfully restrained performance (seriously) that we can be sure it's something much more mundane (but no less fatal) that her character is suffering from. Luckily, the doc is on hand to hold her wrist and look concerned - until, that is, a poor neighbour knocks on the door and begs him to come and tend to her own sickly child. What, we wonder, is the doctor to do?
Apart from Egan's great performance, the other key performances - Frank Powell as the doctor and Florence Lawrence as his wife - are a little overwrought even for such dramatic circumstances, and while Griffith's construction of the film is spot on you can almost hear him barking instructions to the players as they go through the melodramatic motions.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a wholly unremarkable, but also inoffensive, adaptation of a John Grisham novel that serves only to make me believe I haven't really missed a lot by never reading any of the good Mr. Grisham's work. The plot follows a familiar template for the legal thriller: the dynamic young lawyer taking on a lost cause (for whatever reason), the unsympathetic villain languishing on death row, the increasingly desperate legal measures taken by the lawyer to win the day, the behind-the-scenes political intrigues that assure as many obstacles as possible are put in the lawyer's way. Usually, the prisoner receives a last minute reprieve, but not in this case; here we join racist redneck Gene Hackman in his last few moments as he is strapped into the eponymous chamber and struggles to hold his breath while the poisonous gas swirls invisibly around him. Foam issues from his mouth as the gas takes effect, and you wonder why you had to see that. The only reason I can think of is because the film was made one year after Dead Man Walking.
Gene Hackman is as good as you'd expect him to be; he must be one if not the greatest actors of his generation, and he makes young Chris O'Donnell look wholly insipid. To be fair to O'Donnell, there isn't that much in his character to grab hold of the only characteristic he has is the desire to see his grandpappy saved from the chamber. And when the poor lad isn't being acted off the screen by Hackman he has to contend with Faye Dunaway giving one of the better performances of her later career as Hackman's alcoholic daughter, who is haunted by the mistaken belief that she may have prevented a murder she witnessed as a child had she not chosen to remain silent at the fateful moment.
The Chamber isn't a classic by any measure, but it's probably better than its rating on this site might lead you to believe, although judging by some of the comments you might enjoy it more if you haven't read the book on which it is based.
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