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Die Nibelungen: Siegfried (1924)
Can you believe: a film made in 1924 with the drama, excitement and interest of a film made a century later. Yes, there are creaky passages and actors more used to the theater than film. Oh, you know: the wide distended eyes and flaring nostrils, the standing still wrapped up like a mummy, and the signs of histrionics; but you get past that stuff and focus on the plot. There's a powerful story line that carries along the viewer over many a hump. I didn't know the basic plot of the Nibelungen saga. My knowledge of Wagner's opera actually spoiled an appreciation of this movie since the stories took different directions. But I found myself chasing down the history on Wikipedia that gave rise to the story lines which the movie tries to hew close to. The folks in the era who saw the original film knew what the movie was talking about, so they could appreciate the depiction of fabled events around AD 450. As for the movie, the opening scenes will entice the modern viewer with the hero's encounter with a dragon. Maybe not as good as the first KING KONG in terms of special effects, but still amazing for its time. Once hooked a viewer has to see more.
Brutal, violent, almost non-stop action
I saw part one of the two part movie which takes well over four hours, and was intrigued enough to watch part two. The story takes up after the first phase of the rebellion by the aborigines on Taiwan against the Japanese invaders. Historically, the events depicted in the film took place in 1930, well after the Japanese acquired Taiwan by treaty and started to colonize it and began exploiting its natural resources, especially its lumber. The occupation was brutal, and the native population, which was distinct from the Chinese (the Han) who had migrated there, had much to grieve about. The Japanese, like the Spanish in the Philippines, attempted to impose its culture on the natives whom they considered "savages"; and in some cases they were successful in converting the people. Some tribes were converted and remained loyal, and they fought the rebels. But many fierce natives remained unconverted and resentful. Led by a compelling tribal leader, the natives mounted a terrible rebellion that resulted in the massacre of a Japanese community, women and children not being spared. The depiction of the events leading up to the massacre is in part one of this epic. Now, in part two, the movie goes on to describe the events that followed. The rebels knew they could not succeed and were doomed, but they believed that their actions would merit a glorious afterlife. So began a tale of death, destruction, and reprisal. The movie becomes an unending depiction of the horrors that can occur after a rebellion -- shootings, decapitations, ambushes, drownings, suicides, executions of the innocent, bombings from aircraft, poison mustard gas. As a movie, it becomes hard to tell the characters apart since the inter-cutting of scenes is consistent. There are so many deaths that any sympathy gets suspended. Only the main character, the leader of the rebellion, remains the focus of attention and memorable. What happens to him is not really made clear, and whether he ever crossed his mythic rainbow to his promised land is a mystery that the movie does not reveal. There is no joy in this movie, no sense of triumph or accomplishment, just an overwhelming sense of loss.
Seven Dials Mystery (1981)
Slow at first and then a speed up
SPOILER POSSIBLE! The version I saw (1981) came without captions, so I floundered a bit getting used to the dialogue without the help of captions. I also had a bit of trouble with the outdoor visuals which were not as clear and sharp as the interior shots. Then I thought I was in a quicksand of a movie that would drag me to the Infinite Boredom. Incredibly, the pace picked up and my interest was piqued. Cheryl Campbell, who excelled in PENNIES FROM HEAVEN and much later in the Poirot APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH, shone forth with her talent, and James Warwick seemed to be a perfect match for her. Was this another "secret six" kind of movie in which masked individuals plotted world domination, and didn't Christie write something like this before? It's more of a romp for the "bright young things" of the flapper age, as things turn out, not to be taken seriously since the plot is absurd. Still, high marks for the eventual conclusion which took me by surprise (OK, I am a sucker for unexpected revelations). Christie did it again: she bamboozled me. Takes patience to watch it all, since the movie runs over two hours, but it is rewarding. By the way, you have to watch the dexterity of John Gielgud in a small role as a English lord, father of the Campbell character: a great actor who can make even the smallest role memorable.
Something to Shout About (1943)
Worth while to see Janet Blair
As other commentators have noted, this is not a prime not-to-miss musical. Don Ameche and Jack Oakie make the best of trite material, but I think the real star of the show is Janet Blair. Just skip the first 50 minutes of the movie to get to the musical numbers. There is a weird Asian number where the chorus girls wear head coverings that look like Chinese coolie hats. Then Janet Blair comes on to shimmy and shake with serpentine dexterity. Later on in the movie, she sings Cole Porter's "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" with Ameche joining in. It's not a big production number, just tossing off and downplaying one of Porter's better songs. As a matter of taste, the production numbers are small scale, compared to the lavish dances in the early Astaire/Rogers films of the 30's. Did I count only 20 or so chorus members? The camera begins by taking a long view of the stage, and it tightens up to focus on mid-level action with few if any close ups. No Busby Berkeley shots. Nonetheless, Blair is charming, fetching, and very attractive. She went on to a middling career on TV in the 50's/60's, but she never became a big star like some ladies who worked for MGM. Too bad since she was a good performer who deserved more recognition.
Definitely worth seeing.
I bought the Legend edition which presents both the colorized version and the original black & white from 1935. Seymour Hicks is among the first actors to play Scrooge on sound films and remains one of the more successful. A look at IMDb reveals a Homeric catalog of great actors who have played Scrooge over the years on TV or in film: Fredric March, Basil Rathbone, Albert Finney, Tim Curry, Michael Caine, Patrick Stewart, Jim Carrey, among many others. Alistair Sim in the 1951 version, and Reginald Owen in the 1938 MGM version, of course, stand out amid this panoply. Lionel Barrymore was supposed to do the MGM version, but became unavailable for health reasons. Still, he went on to do many a radio version of Scrooge which can be heard today on cassette or CD. About the version by Hicks: he was 64 when he made the film, younger than the 51 of Sim and Owen when they made their versions, a more appropriate age for the role. He had played Scrooge on the stage for years beforehand, but he never quite shuffled off the theatrical acting style he was used to. Note how he rolls his eyes in his bedroom scenes when the ghosts come visiting. Still, he does a masterful job of portraying Scrooge as a miser. He is probably the most disreputable, dirty looking Scrooge you will ever see, a shambling wreck of a man, badly needing a bath, haircut, and a new wardrobe. Eating his cheap meal in a restaurant, he takes his change and doesn't leave a tip, much to the scorn of the waiter. It's amazing that he has a housekeeper who serves him his breakfast. Even some misers have their indulgences. I recommend this film as I would a Shakespeare play performed by different actors. Each actor brings something new to the familiar story, each production brings something novel and interesting. The Dickens story is timeless.
The Case of the Black Parrot (1941)
Competent and pleasant, but no great shakes
A lot of mystery movies came out in the 30's and early 40's which were not in the film noir tradition that flourished in the later 40's and beyond. This 1941 movie may be among the last in the who-dun-it style which featured an attractive couple, an amateur sleuth, sawdust headed cops, comic relief by an assistant to the main character, and a genuine puzzle. Here, the puzzle is also "how-dun-it." There is always an assortment of likely suspects, and always a least likely villain. Well, the elements are all here, and the lead actors are pleasant and nice to look at although neither of them became "A" list stars. Very much a time filler to watch, better than some, but not as good as STAR OF MIDNIGHT, say, or some of the Charlie Chan films of the same era. There are always loose ends in these movies, and I highlight just two of them below in a SPOILER QUERY.
SPOILER QUERY: So how did the two victims of the Parrot actually find the secret murder method and how did they restore things before dying when death was instantaneous? Also, did the villain actually get away with the swag at the end when captured and taken out the door by the cops? No one mentions the real motive for the murders as the villain is captured, apparently holding on to the booty.
Arsène Lupin Returns (1938)
One of the better MGM crime films of the 30's.
The first MGM Arsene Lupin sound movie featured John and Lionel Barrymore as mighty antagonists, master thief and super cop. The RETURNS movie builds up the contest of similar seeming antagonists, a successful G-Man, forced to resign because of his self-promoting publicity, and a legendary thief who seems to have come back from the dead. The beginning of the film builds up the character of Warren William as a sleuth on the trail of a thief calling himself "Arsene Lupin." In short order, William is in France where he meets an aristocratic lady (the beautiful Virginia Bruce) with four young Boston terriers, which we never see again, and Melvyn Douglas as her friend. Douglas apparently has a country estate with various farm animals running around. Then begins the apparent duel -- William versus Douglas, one man suspecting that the other is the real thief who escaped death and the other thinking that he has to evade suspicion for committing a crime and maintaining his life style. The two dance around each other with their witty exchanges, while paying attention to the lovely Bruce. Douglas has to contend with the unexpected appearance of two buddies from his past (Clive and Pendleton) who think that their old life style has returned. Meanwhile, a formidable French police officer (George Zucco) is on the trail. Then begins a succession of events, all centering around a $250,000 emerald necklace, amid a flurry of misdirections, red herrings, shadowy figures, safe cracking, and a deadly shooting, until the satisfying conclusion is reached. A nice touch: the "confetti" thrown at the end. William is as suave as he is in his role as Perry Mason, Douglas is as debonair as he is in his films with Garbo, Bruce is more gorgeous than she is in BORN TO DANCE, even Zucco is more believable than he is in his horror films of the 40's. Also, watch for noted screen chewer Vladimir Sokoloff in his much younger years. One of the better crime films of the '30's with witty repartee, handsome actors, and a clever plot.
Paris Precinct (1955)
See it if you can, but it might be disappointing,
So I was 12 or 13 when I saw this show on TV, and I was not sophisticated about crime dramas on TV. In 1955 I knew DRAGNET and PERRY MASON, but nothing about what the Brits were doing in one of their prime specialties. Seeing a French detective show in the USA was more than novel. I recall watching more than a few episodes when the program was shown on our local TV station. My Mom thought Jourdan was especially handsome, having liked Charles Boyer when she was much younger and he was the great French heart throb in that era. Jourdan replaced Boyer in my Mom's heart, and he would go on to greater fame in GIGI and other films after this TV syndicated show. But, as far as I recall about Paris PRECINCT, Claude Dauphin was the lead 'tec in the programs, and Jourdan was the aide. Dauphin was not physically attractive like the handsome Jourdan, since Dauphin was somewhat short and doughy, but the two characters would eventually solve their cases or come to a final resolution. The other things I recall about this series on American TV are (1) its visual graininess and lack of sharp focus and (2) the sense of grayness that seemed to hang over Paris constantly. I think the shows were filmed during the off season in Paris before tourists invaded -- that is, during the late fall, winter and early spring before Paris put on her makeup. Might be worth trying to find DVDs of the show, but remember it's the 50's and film quality may not be the best. Also, for those mystery/detective story fans, it's a police procedural, not a cozy mystery, not in the who-dun-it tradition.
Endless Night (1972)
Very much worth seeking out
I just watched Julia McKenzie in the recent adaptation of the Christie novel, inserting Miss Marple where she was originally absent. I clicked on the IMDb and Amazon to learn more about the production and found that there had been a 1971 movie which hewed more closely to the original. A purchase of a used DVD gave me pleasure for my money. It's interesting to see how different script writers turned and twisted the basic story lines and how the movies surprised and shocked the viewer. I won't repeat the comments that have already been said on this forum about this '71 film, but I will emphasize the value of seeing the opening minutes again to pick up fat clues that might be missed on first viewing -- the footsteps heard in the Van Gogh museum and the statement of the mother later that her son had experienced something significant. The movie just seems to sail along making one wonder what the mystery is, what the crime was, until the revelations that suddenly come toward the end. Talk about the technique of the unreliable narrator in mystery stories! By the way, Jon Tuska in his great critical work THE DETECTIVE IN Hollywood casually dismisses this movie as not very good. He's wrong.
The Spanish Cape Mystery (1935)
First attempt at playing Ellery Queen in film
Donald Woods plays the detective in this film. He has the distinction of being among the few actors to portray at least two fictional sleuths on film or on TV. Woods played Perry Mason in 1937 in the movies, and Craig Kennedy in 1952 on TV. Hollywood sees certain actors playing detectives and casts them in roles that may seem at odds with the character known in books. Warren William as Perry Mason, Philo Vance, and Sam Spade; Wm Powell as Philo Vance and Nick Charles (The Thin Man). Bogart as Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. The fictional Ellery Queen is a hard role to cast since the character in the books by Dannay and Lee changes over time as the series proceeds over nearly 40 years. The first several books which feature the word "mystery," a derivative of a country, and a common noun ("Dutch Shoe," "Greek Coffin," "French Powder," etc.) feature a detective as esthete, erudite and epicene as Philo Vance and Peter Wimsey. Then EQ is "humanized" and becomes more of a regular guy, but along the way he becomes faceless and without much character. He loses his pince-nez glasses and no longer drives a Duesenberg. He becomes just a problem solver with less than compelling personal problems. So he is then a mere great mind who can be played by any actor, and as time has gone on he has been -- Ralph Bellamy, Lee Bowman, Hugh Marlowe, George Nader, Jim Hutton, and whoever. None of these actors had the distinct personality to create a character on screen like Suchet did with Poirot or Brett with Sherlock. Cumberbatch as Sherlock, too. So Woods is a cipher as a character and as Ellery Queen. The most interesting thing about this oh-hum movie is wondering why Helen Twelvetrees didn't make better movies.