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Cimarron (1931)
5/10
Not as good as I had hoped
13 May 2019
I was personally a bit disappointed in Cimarron. I'm a big fan of 1930s movies, yet Cimarron doesn't seem to have aged as well as many. The Universal horror classics, Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy, as well as the Spanish Dracula, all came out that same year and were sharp and entertaining - although Browning's Dracula dragged a tad in spots. The very next year, enduring classics like Duck Soup, Grand Hotel, Dinner at Eight and the Old Dark House came out. All remain extremely entertaining.

Somehow, Cimarron reminded me of Coquette, Mary Pickford's depressing (and, for her career, disastrous) "talkie" debut. It may have been the lilting, fake accents and laconic deliveries that made me think of Pickford in Coquette and made the dialogue a bit tedious.

It was made in a different era and the stereotypical treatment of the African-American characters will rub many Generation Y & Z viewers the wrong way - especially those who cannot grasp that social mores change over time. I guess the same could be said with Native Americans, although I would counter that Irene Dunn's character is the only one who considers them "savages," and that she shows personal growth during the film, proudly claiming her full-blooded Cherokee daughter-in-law at the end. (The stuttering character is annoying, too.)

To me, though, it seems to be the dialogue and acting of Dunn & Richard Dix that make it hard to get into. That, and the early "talkies" sound still wasn't up to par on this one. Some great films were made in the early 1930s, which are still very entertaining and enjoyable. Despite its Academy Award, I cannot really put Cimarron in that category.
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Life with Elizabeth (1952–1955)
Another solid '50s "ditzy" wife sit-com
10 December 2017
When I noticed this show on Betty White's IMDb filmography, I had to see it. Even though I've never been a huge Betty White fan, I've always had to admire her range. I was surprised to find Life With Elizabeth available from Netflix, so I watched three episodes on a DVD. While those three were plenty – at least for one setting, I did get some enjoyment out of the show. Everyone seemed to be eager to follow the I Love Lucy formula for success in the 1950s: A kooky, mildly attractive housewife, her buddy next door and an ever-suffering husband to shake his head knowingly when the wife's schemes inevitably backfired. It worked for Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez and for George Burns and Gracie Allen. Joan Davis and Jim Backus also had some success with the formula in I Married Joan. Here, too, it proved effective. Like Burns and Allen, the narrator (Jack Narz) stepped through the "fourth wall" and discussed the "plot" with the characters. While this may seem very disconcerting to modern audiences, it was not at all unusual for the 1950s. White, who turned 30 the show's first season, was a lovable enough young wife, who sometimes used her devilish sense of humor to jab husband Del Moore. Moore and White made a believable and likable young couple, grappling with ordinary everyday situations like whether to plant a tree on the patio, going to a drive-in movie, buying a new vacuum, entertaining an old college friend, etc. I see that she also starred in another, similar sitcom, Date With the Angels, a few years later. I'll have to see if I can find it, too. For anyone interested in the history of the American sitcom or for any big Betty White fans, Life With Elizabeth is a must-see. Just don't expect I Love Lucy.
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Blacula (1972)
7/10
Blacula Lives Matter!
29 August 2015
Warning: Spoilers
SPOILERS! This was a film I had heard about for years. I recalled J.J. describing it as "a brother gives a bunch of foxy mammas hickeys," or something of the sort on Good Times.

I actually found it quite entertaining. It stacks up well with other 1970s vampire films. I never quite got the "Blaxploitation" tag for films about black characters in the 1970s. The very name of the genre indicates blacks are being taken advantage of. If films with primarily black casts, aimed largely at black audiences is exploitation, what is the rap/hip hop industry?

In any case, I found it an enjoyable film. Bass-voiced and classically-trained William Marshall was perfect for the role of Prince Mamuwalde, who came back after 200 years as Blacula. Thalmus Rasulala, a frequent face in TV shows, was outstanding as police detective Dr. Gordon Thomas. (Again, a black cop with an M.D., solving crimes & apparently well-respected by at least part of a large metropolitan police force in the early 1970s is exploitation?)

Vonetta McGee and Denise Nicholas are strong as the two female leads, especially McGee in the dual role as the 18th-century princess and the modern-day Tina. No doubt, 99 percent of the audience was rooting for Mamualde to make her a vampire in time to escape and join him in vampiric matrimony. Mamuwalde is the only case I can think of in film history of a vampire suicide, at the end.

Overall it is worthwhile watching for anyone who loves the vampire genre, "blaxploitation" films or who is a fan of any of the primary cast members.
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8/10
Must find an Amish terrarium!
16 May 2015
This is one of those times when one really needs to know what one is watching before viewing it. Had I not realized The Lost Skeleton of Cadavre was a parody of 1950s sci-fi movies, I might not have sat through enough of it to really get into it and enjoy it.

As it was, I was "in on it" from the beginning and really got a kick out of it. Larry Blamire and Fay Masterson are Dr. Paul Armstrong and his cardboard 1950s wife Betty. They borrow a wilderness cabin for a weekend to seek a meteor Armstrong thinks may be made of atmospherium. Trouble is, evil scientist Roger Fleming (Brian Howe) is also searching for it, as are stranded aliens Kro-Bar (Andrew Parks) and Lattis (Susan McConnell).

Kro-Bar and Lattis need it to operate their spaceship on a return trip home. Fleming wants it to bring the legendary Lost Skeleton of Cadavre fully back to life so he can rule the world.

Oh, and the two aliens' pet mutant gets loose and goes on a killing spree. Meanwhile, Fleming "borrows" the aliens' gadget that transforms beings into other beings, making a human mate simply because it "might look suspicious" if he shows up at a secluded cabin without a date. He turns four wild animals into the sexy, but unpredictable Animala (Jennifer Blaire).

Hilarity ensues, with both the alien couple and Animala trying to blend in as normal earthlings and Anamala interpreting the Skeleton's mental command to get the atmospherium as "Get an Amish terrarium." The film succeeds in its goal. It masterfully pokes fun at the inane plots, scripts, acting and special effects of the 1950s sci-fi field, complete with over bearing preachiness about mutual understanding between those in different "worlds."

For anyone familiar enough with the genre being spoofed to enjoy a good parody of it, enjoy it and get ready to laugh out loud. And by all means get yourself an Amish terrarium!
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8/10
The 'Spitfire' still has some fire!
28 December 2011
Warning: Spoilers
When I was 9 or 10 I received a book, 'Immortals of the Screen,' which had photos and short bios of some 30 A-list and B-list stars and some major supporting actors from the 1920s through the 1950s. It was apparently done by a former Hollywood crew hand of some sort, picking and choosing either the stars he had actually worked with or those whose royalty fees he could afford to pay. In any case, I dug it out during the past year to see if there were still any actors I didn't know, my knowledge of classic cinema having grown exponentially during the past decade. One who captured my attention was Lupe Velez. It had stills from four or five of her "Mexican Spitfire" movies. I tried finding her on Netflix (usually a good source for older movies and TV shows), but came up empty. Recently I happened to find a four-DVD set on amazon.com with all eight Spitfire movies. This one, of course, is the film that launched the series. I opted to grab it, although I must admit I had some trepidation. I know Ms. Velez wasn't an A-list star and had no idea what level of acting, directing, writing, etc. her films might contain. Just like many movies today are dogs, films from Hollywood's golden age obviously had clinkers, too. I was absolutely delighted today when I watched the brief 71-minute 'The Girl From Mexico.' It is a totally charming little film. Ms. Velez is adorable and also quite enticing as "spitfire" Carmelita Fuentes, sort of a cross between Ricky and Lucy Ricardo. In this film she meets New York ad executive Dennis Lindsay (Donald Woods), who is in Mexico seeking singing talent. He takes her back to NYC, getting much more than he bargained for. She breaks up his impending marriage, nearly gets him fired and gets into all sorts of Lucy-like mischief with Lindsay's eccentric uncle Matt (Leon Errol), whom she quickly wraps around her little finger. In the end, Lindsay's wedding takes place as planned, only with Carmelita as the bride, thus setting up the next seven films. Obviously films' pacing were different in 1939 than they are today. Yet I never found the film to be dragging. It had a handful of laugh-out-loud (at least for me) moments and lots of wholesome cuteness. It was a very enjoyable little film and I look forward to viewing 'The Mexican Spitfire' (its sequel) and the rest of the series.
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The Wolfman (2010)
8/10
Fine updating of a classic film
17 July 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I am perplexed, after finally getting a chance to see The Wolfman, as to why its ratings are so mediocre. I was thoroughly engaged and entertained by it.

This was a film I had wanted to see since I first heard of its production. The 1941 Lon Chaney Jr. classic was a marvelous film and an icon of the Universal horror days. I personally never warmed to the new-wave werewolves of The Howling and more recent films, where werewolves change forms at will, any time of the day or night. Yes, I know this concept is more in keeping with the ancient legends. Despite that, I was weaned on old-time Hollywood werewolves and that is how I like my lycanthropes. I was thrilled that the story was going to be retold with modern cinematic techniques, but staying true to the old Universal story line.

I was certainly not disappointed! Director Joe Johnston and writers Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self weave a spine-tingly, creepy, very Gothic horror tale amidst the foggy, moonlit woods of rural England. Great care is taken to create the appropriate mood. It even opens with the awesome poem Siodnak created for the first movie, "Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms, and the autumn moon is bright." Of course the great Danny Elfman helps with his wonderful scores. Just over-the-top enough in certain spots, it perfectly builds the tension and helps tell the story.

Walker and Self take a few deviations from Curt Siodnak's screenplay for the 1941 film. Here Sir John Tolbert (Anthony Hopkins) is also a werewolf, who tries to welcome his son Lawrence (Benicio Del Toro) into the fraternity. This makes for a memorable semi-climactic scene.

Del Toro and Emily Blunt are outstanding in the lead roles. Interestingly, in several key shots, the Puerto Rican native Del Toro actually bears a resemblance to Chaney Jr. At least his eyes manage to take on the same haunted, hopeless look that Chaney's emitted. To me this is what makes the Hollywood werewolf special – a decent man is trapped into the life of a beast, against his will, just as the poem says.

Hopkins is great as Sir John, given a much meatier role than Claude Rains was in 1941. Nichalos Day, meanwhile, is excellent as Col. Montford of Scotland Yard. Johnston expertly uses establishing shots of Montford arriving on the scene to set up the building conflict between him and the Talbots. Geraldine Chaplin, by the way, actually bears a minimal resemblance to Maria Ouspenskaya as the elderly gypsy Maleva.

There is just enough gore – a tad more in the unrated version that was included on the DVD – to make it a legitimate horror film and some fine special effects. Lawrence transforming into the beast while strapped down behind the brutal asylum head, Dr. Lloyd (Michael Cronin) who is lecturing esteemed colleagues on how he is curing Lawrence of his werewolf delusions is worth the price of the rental itself. Scenes of the wolf switching from running on two legs to scampering on four legs while pursuing or being pursued adds a nice electric charge to the film.

Not having read other reviews, I am at a loss as to what many people disliked about it. I suspect that some in today's audience might have found the pace slow. To me it was ideal, as the haunted woods, ruined churches and ancient Talbot estate -- not to mention the characters -- were given time to grow on the viewer.

I find the feel of the film perfect. Johnston's work actually makes me think of Tim Burton's wonderful Sleepy Hollow on several occasions. He sets up a similar community of worried, frightened locals, dreading the sun going down (and, in this case, the moon coming up), with a similarly creepy backdrop. The only difference is Johnston imbibes his film with much of Sleepy Hallow's panache, but very little of its tongue-in-cheek feel.

If you like your werewolves traditional, a moderate amount of gore, a little doomed romance and fine Gothic atmosphere, you will love The Wolfman.
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Tortilla Soup (2001)
9/10
Enjoy while the soup's hot!
26 March 2010
Some movies just make you feel good. 'Tortilla Soup' is certainly one of those.

It is the story of a widowed master chef living with his three grown daughters (The premise made me think of the classic Charles Laughton film 'Hobson's Choice.') A fun film, with good dialogue, a sparkling cast and a sweet spirit, it is both hilarious and touching.

Hector Elzondo plays Martin Naranjo, a master chef who has lost most of his sense of smell and taste. (I'm still not sure if he still owns his restaurant, or if he now only helps out there.) He is still living with his daughters, who appear to range in age from about 18 to 30.

Leticia (Elizabeth Pena) is the oldest, an old-maid chemistry teacher who is devoutly devoted to God, her dad and her teaching. Carmen (Jacqueline Obradors) is the middle daughter, who loves to cook, but whom her father has pressed to get an MBA and pursue a career in big business. Maribel (Tamara Mello) has apparently just graduated from high school and is expected to start college soon.

The family is wonderful together. Martin insists on family dinners being respected. He prepares huge restraint-style Mexican meals and expects everyone to be on time and pleasant. With three women under one roof for too many years, though, that isn't often possible.

As the story progresses, everyone finds romance, including Martin. The sisters are fantastic together and each one is fun to watch individually. Stand-up comic Paul Rodriguez is perfect as the high school baseball coach who steals Letty's heart, while Nikolai Kinski is very good as Maribel's Brazilian heartthrob. Former bombshell Raquel Welsh, meanwhile, shows guts at age 60 in playing an over-the-hill near-floozy to perfection. (I am reminded of 1930s love goddess Dorothy Lamour's similar role in 'Donovan's Reef.') Constance Marie, meanwhile, is totally lovable as her daughter Yolando.

Director Maria Ripoll, who has only directed a handful of films, showed an amazingly deft touch – both in the dramatic scenes and especially in the comedic sequences. There are some wonderful moments, including the final dinner together, when Letty and Orlando (Rodriguez) attempt to explain their situation. Elzondo's expression is simply priceless. The same can be said each time he waits to give the 'amen' to Letty's ever-longer blessings before meals.

This is another fine little film that went under the radar. Like 'Off the Map,' 'Eulogy,' 'The Shipping News,' 'An Unfinished Life' and a handful of other little-seen gems of the past decade, this is a delight for anyone who stumbles across it. I recommend at least one large helping of 'Tortilla Soup.'
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Eulogy (2004)
8/10
Great film ... where's Clancy?
24 January 2010
When I first discovered Eulogy at a video store three or four years ago, it quickly became one of my favorite newer films. In fact, I would have sworn I had reviewed it here long ago.

Michael Clancy, who must have a heck of a day job, showed potential to possibly be another Lasse Hallstrom, Wes Anderson or Jean-Pierre Jeunet in this little gem, then disappeared as quickly as he had come. Other than a highly touted short film in 1996, this has been Clancy's only film. This is a true pity. One aches to see whether or not he could have followed Hallstrom and Anderson's footsteps and made the transition from small indie success to studio success. He certainly seemed to have a deft hand in writing and directing Eulogy.

Eulogy is a quirky little dark comedy in the Royal Tenenbaums, Amelie, Garden State, Gilbert Grape family. It combines some very subtle humor with some relatively course slapstick laughs. This, combined with the bizarre but lovable family, makes a satisfying whole.

The lovely Zooey Deschanel is the solid glue that holds the frantic elements of the movie together, just as her character, Katie, performs the same duty for the dysfunctional family. She is actually the story's narrator and her attempt to carry out her late grandfather's wishes and pass on the news of his passing – and how this effort pans out – provides the basis of the story and an extra slice of irony.

Without giving away the ending, let us just say that things just keep getting more bizarre as the story moves along. Edmund Collins (Rip Torn) has just died – apparently via suicide – and his estranged children Daniel (Hank Azaria), Lucy (Kelly Preston), Skip (Ray Ramano) and Alice (Debra Winger) return home to help their mother, Charlotte (Piper Laurie) tend to the arrangements.

The reunion is memorable. Lesbianism, wise-guy kids, some romances, suicide attempts and a very bizarre funeral service are just a few of the events that will keep most viewers laughing. It is a dark comedy and not one for everyone. Generally speaking, most anyone who loved The Royal Tenenbaums, Garden State or Amalie will probably love Eulogy. Anyone who didn't get those films need not bother watching this one either.

Laurie is very good as the depressed widow, while Azaria, Ramano, Winger and Preston are hilarious as the maladjusted siblings who have to come to terms with their late father's frequent absences during their childhoods. Jesse Bradford is solid as Katie's unlucky love interest, while Famke Janssen and Glenne Headly are great as Lucy's lesbian life partner and a helpful nurse respectively. Mark Harelik, Matthew Feder, Allisyn Ashley Arm and Jordan Moen are fun as Alice's silently suffering family, while Rene Auberjonois is tremendous in a brief appearance as a local clergyman. Brian Posehn makes a nice addition as the video store clerk. Real-life twins Curtis and Keith Garcia, meanwhile, nearly steal the show as wise-guy twins Ted and Fred.

This is an enjoyable dark comedy with a little bit of everything, including a good soundtrack. I hope Clancy gives up his day job again soon and tries another movie. He definitely made this one a keeper.
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8/10
Oliver tops even Fields
11 January 2010
Having always heard of David Copperfield, but never having read the novel nor seen the movie, I finally decided to check out the DVD. I found it quite enjoyable with an all-star cast and good Dickensian backdrops.

I have always loved W.C. Fields, but have to disagree with those who say he steals the show. Although he is perfect as Mcawber, to me it is Edna May Oliver who steals the picture. She is delightful as the dotty aunt – especially standing up to Mr. and Miss Murdstone with the loony backing of Mr. Dick (a charming Lennox Pawle).

Of course Lionel Barrymore always makes the most of a part and does so as the gruff fisherman Dan Peggotty. Freddie Bartholomew is excellent as the young David. Elizabeth Allen is gorgeous and delightful as David's mother, while Basil Rathbone and Violet Kemble Cooper are cold and devious as the step-father and his housekeeper sister.

The entire cast is excellent, including Jessie Ralph as Peggotty and Herbert Mundin as the 'willing' Barkis. My only complaint – and this is from one who hasn't read the book – is that the miscellaneous characters get a bit confusing. A guy who apparently had been nice to David in school runs off with and abandons the adopted daughter of Peggotty's brother. Then two men fight during a shipwreck and David sees his school friend dead. Perhaps things were better spelled out in the book.

In any event, it is a quite charming film. Oliver and Field are delightful, along with the rest of the talented cast. I doubt that as better adaptation could be done today.
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7/10
Can't quite capture 'Blair' magic
9 January 2010
Ten years ago a couple of guys with a camera and a handful of unknown actors turned the cinematic world on its collective ear. They produced a bizarre gem of a thriller for less than $25,000. Ignoring the somewhat questionable marketing of The Blair Witch Project, the cast and crew showed that a hand-held camera could serve as narrator and that CGI, monster costumes, blood, gore, etc., were not absolutely necessary to provoke fright.

That technique in and of itself, however, is no guarantee of producing a legitimately scary film. Owen Peli has followed the same formula in the much-anticipated Paranormal Activity. It is a cross between The Haunting and The Blair Witch Project, we were told for months. Well … the plot, perhaps, is a combination of those two, plus Poltergeist and The Amityville Horror. The quality doesn't quite match most of those others.

Overall, I think Paranormal Activity is OK. Rookies Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat turn in stellar work. However, I don't think PA captures the raw emotion and terror of Blair Witch. Chained to the camera-as-narrator device, meanwhile, it fails to evoke Haunting or Poltergeist-like chills, either.

I almost wonder if a film ABOUT the couple trying to capture the occurrences on camera might not have worked better, such as in Poltergeist. In the Blair Witch type films, there is always an awkward moment where there is danger, yet someone takes time to grab the camera, ignoring the others' remonstrations to put the camera down. Of course, if they didn't grab it, there wouldn't be a film. Therefore the quest of 'realism' actually brings about a LOSS of realism. (Would it have cost much more money to have one stable camera recording the events as the couple makes their own video?) The film has its moments. It does gradually build up tension as events escalate and both endings are creepy. Still, there just isn't enough going on throughout the film to really keep an audience on the edge of its seat. Maybe if it were filmed in a more eerie, Gothic setting, where the house had some history, as well as the girl, it might hold tension better.

The format works, as we have seen, but has its built-in flaws. Blair Witch never seemed to suffer for those flaws. That cannot truthfully be said of Paranormal Activity. Somehow PA misses matching Blair Witch's intensity and frightfulness by half a step.
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3/10
Oh my goodness
29 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Oh my! I decided to take a chance and rent a DVD from Netflix with this one, Legend of Bigfoot, Capture of Bigfoot and Shriek of the Mutilated. I'm not sure which one was worse. Well, no, that's not true. Legend of Bigfoot (1976, not to be confused with Capture of Bigfoot -- 1979, which also went by that title) was so bad I couldn't finish it. The other three merely left me scratching my head, amazed that I grew up in the 1970s and somehow turned out normal.

SPOILERS AHEAD After seeing one film, in which the Yeti was faked to cover a satanic cannibalistic cult, I didn't think a Bigfoot plot could get any more bizarre. I was wrong. A hillbilly and a Bigfoot capturing women for each other to share has to edge out the cannibals for weirdest plot.

At least this was the most passable Yeti costume of the four films. (Mind you, that's not saying MUCH!) Long scenes of totally irrelevant sex, a long sequence of interesting but totally irrelevant folk music and some characters whose actions defy logic make this a somewhat typical 1970s B horror flick. Add the asthmatic-sounding heavy breathing whenever Bigfoot is apparently getting reasonably close to anyone, a one-scene appearance by a sheriff who looks more like a Silver Dollar City blacksmith, the annoying habit of the prof and a couple of the bad guys either talking to themselves or thinking out loud to narrate the action and a Bigfoot who is somehow impervious to automatic weapons, and you get a 1.6-rated film.

Should I waste ink pointing out plot holes in such a film? Well, maybe. Let's see…the grad student throwing herself at the middle aged professor is a bit much – and her 'you saved my life' remark made no sense at the time. (It would have, had it happened at the end of the film, I suppose.) The prof is being chased by men with a pack of hounds, yet somewhere along the way they disappear. The rich guy funding the expedition is a tad unbelievable. Sure, he wants the creature dead…but he is apparently willing to let his goons kill the prof and the girl to get it? I've seen worse films – even some with much bigger budgets. If one likes B horror with the obligatory semi-nude scenes, flimsy plots and a little gore, this might be worth your while. If you're looking for The Shining … or even Lady Frankensatein, this isn't it!
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7/10
Surprisingly solid little film
22 November 2009
Although the first one/third is a little slow, 'The Demons of Ludlow' winds up being a surprisingly decent little B horror flick.

The premise is very good, with a 200-year-old New England town in which the history has mysteriously disappeared and those who know about it refuse to talk. A pair of apparent siblings, supposedly on some sort of journalistic assignment are in town, checking into its history, when a historic piano, belonging to the town's founder, is returned to the town by the founders' ancestors. As soon as the apparently generous gift is received, locals begin dying grizzly deaths.

There are a few plot holes and one gets a bit tired of the preacher's alcoholic wife constantly calling, "Chris, is that YOU?" The DVD I have (part of a collection of 50 B thrillers) is a bit dark and in a few cases it is hard to tell one female from another – not to mention one figure running through the snow in the distance from another. Plus, about the second and third/eighths of the film seems to bog down a little, and the colonial ghosts somehow all resemble pirates. Still, it manages to capture a creepy mood that works pretty well. For a 26-year-old low-budget film, it has some pretty good special effects and the unknown cast does decent enough work. Overall, it's one of the better ones I've found so far on this super collection of B and C horror flicks. If you like B horror, this is well worth watching.
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Off the Map (2003)
9/10
Perfection in simplicity
20 October 2009
Some big films leave one dissatisfied and some little films leave one feeling very satisfied. 'Off the Map,' while living up to its title by easing onto DVD with no fanfare at all (Was it ever in mainstream theaters?), is certainly one of the latter.

I doubt that it will connect with many 16-25-year-old males … at least not the ones who need sex, several explosions and characters morphing into super humans to be entertained. It is one of those quiet films where very little actually 'happens.' Of course, many of the better films in history, from Carl Theodor Dreyer's awesome Le Passion de Jeanne d'Arc to All About Eve and 12 Angry Men to The Big Chill and the Royal Tenenbaums, are essentially about people sitting around, talking, when one gets right down to it. Each tells a significant tale and tells it extraordinarily well. So does this little gem.

Any film with Sam Elliott in it has a certain element of class. (He even lent a smidge of dignity to Ghost Rider.) He is magnificent here as the depressed Charley Braden. He is a man who has built his life and family on a survivalist creed that a man wastes time working for an employer. Instead, he should be learning skills he can put to use. He can fix anything, his family brags, and presumably this skill is bartered, along with firewood, plant care and other services. The family survives on virtually no money and home schools the narrator daughter, 11 or 12-year old Bo (Valentina de Angelis).

The film depicts a summer (apparently during the 1970s or 1980s) when Charley somehow plummets into depression. His lovely and sturdy wife Arlene (Joan Allen) is pushed almost to the breaking point dealing with his condition. Meanwhile, Bo dreams of a "normal" life with all the trappings of the adult commercial world, briefcases, appointment books and credit cards, not to mention public school.

Their world is transformed that summer when depressed IRS man William Gibbs (Jim True-Frost) shows up for an audit. He winds up staying almost indefinitely, taken in by the awe inspiring landscape and by the simple family – especially Arlene.

The cast is outstanding. Elliott and Allen are perfect as the minimalist couple, who apparently have been happy and productive for years in their chosen lifestyle. As others have said, Allen's solid foundation holds the film together, just as her character does the fictional family. True-Frost does marvelous work as the displaced agent, who finds himself as a painter and becomes a family member. DeAngelis is perky and enjoyable as the precocious Bo. I can certainly see such a bright young kid who lacks some of the social graces of regular social intercourse with others saying and doing the slightly bizarre things that Bo comes up with. J.K. Simmons is also very good as Charley's loyal buddy, George.

For a "talking" film to work it takes good cinematography and believable characters one cares about. This film has these in spades. The landscape shots are spectacular. (It's too bad almost nobody got to see it on the big screen.) The characters, meanwhile, are quirky and likable, and the acting is first-rate. Director Scott Campbell succeeds in telling a rewarding story of love, individuality and determination.

I came away with a very satisfied feeling after watching Off the Map. It's certainly the best new film I've seen in 2009. For anyone who can appreciate a skillful and deep, yet simple film, this is a real winner.
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8/10
Wonderful, fun film
18 August 2009
Always a pleasure to watch, 'The Old Dark House' is a brilliant piece of work. Other than expecting a pure horror film, I cannot understand why anyone would be disappointed with it.

So much of what became cliché both in pure horror films and in the 'scary/funny' sub-genre, got its start in this film. (In a way, it's like watching 'Stagecoach.' It may seem clichéd at first, until one realizes that this is only because every following western followed ITS pattern.) The creepy black and white cinematography, eerie sound effects and wonderfully decrepit old mansion combine with a dream cast and an incredible group of bizarre characters to form a classic. Of course the dialog is also outstanding, with just enough tongue-in-cheek effect to lend the film a delightfully campiness three quarters of a century later.

Gloria Stuart, 65 years before 'Titanic,' was a hottie and a very young Melvyn Douglas and Raymond Massey were great as always. Of course Charles Laughton was NEVER less than superb and is outstanding here. (I think I may actually like him even better in comedic roles than in dramatic ones. If you haven't seen him in 1954's 'Hobson's Choice,' you should seek it out!) Lilian Bond, another looker, was especially good interacting with both Laughton and Douglas.

The stars of the show, though, were the Addams Family-like inhabitants of the manor. Brutish mute butler Morgan, an interesting if not especially challenging role for Boris Karloff, is the first the travelers meet. He, however, is dull in comparison to the members of the Femm family! Ernest Thesiger and Eva Moore are absolutely delightful as aging siblings Horace and Rebecca Femm. She is pious, but curt and suspicious and he is charming and hospitable, but mocking and frightened. (It is hard to imagine such opposites living together for years; yet isn't that how it often happens in families?) I just love these two. They add to the dark humor element as well as the eeriness. So many lines keep popping into my mind: 'No beds! No beds!' 'Laughter and sin! Laughter and sin!' 'Have a potato?' Thesiger is a favorite of mine. He was outstanding in so many great films: Karloff's frightened butler in 'The Ghoul,' Dr. Pretorius in 'Bride of Frankenstein' and the undertaker in the Alastair Sim version of 'Scrooge,' to name a few.

Even stranger family members await upstairs and one cannot help wondering about some of the back story. Why, for instance, is Horace wanted by the law? Was Saul lying about the others murdering the dead sister? Had Horace always lived at home, or had he fairly recently returned, following whatever brush with the law he may have had? It is interesting to contemplate. Of course, if it were made today and made any money, a sequel and quite possibly a prequel would be forthcoming. Sometimes I think it is just as well to let these questions lie unanswered and left to the imagination.

That, of course, is what films of this era did. They left much to the viewers' imagination and the results were frequently much more satisfying. 'The old, Dark house' certainly is.
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10/10
As good as any with Curly
19 July 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Almost certainly the best Three Stooges short with Shemp, 'Brideless Groom' is as good as any of the trio's best shorts featuring Curly. Memorable Stooge moments abound. The opening with 'Professor' Shemp giving voice lessons to homely, untalented and lascivious Miss Dinkelmeyer (Dee Green), wincing at her horrendous singing notes and fighting off her advances, is an excellent example of Shemp Howard at his best. Many considered him the most naturally funny of the Stooges.

Later, when Moe and Larry try to help him get spiffed up to find a wife (and claim $500,000), Shemp thinks he has cut off his head when his mirror gets flipped backward. Fixing the mirror, he cries with relief, "THERE I am…and pretty as a picture!" "Yea," Moe quickly replies, trying to hem his slacks, "of an APE!"

The best scene (and maybe Shemp's best with the trio) comes when he pays a call on attractive young Miss Hopkins (Christine McIntyre). Mistaking him for long-lost "Cousin Basil," she smothers him with hugs and kisses (also leading to a hilarious bit between Moe and Larry in the hall), not giving him a chance to explain his true identity. Suddenly the REAL Cousin Basil calls and she goes berserk, slapping him repeatedly and accusing him of taking advantage of "a poor …. helpless…defenseless … woman!" That final line is delivered as she socks him in the jaw (with a real punch, according to Shemp and crew members), knocking him through the door and into the hall in a perfectly executed gag. "What happened, kid?" Moe asks. "Can I help it if I ain't Cousin Basil?" Shemp asks before passing out.

Other classic bits include Moe and Shemp getting tangled in a phone booth, trying to find a lost coin, Larry getting slapped because of Shemp's bad looks (his face pressed against the phone booth glass), and the great girl fight in the Justice of the Peace's apartment. The great Emil Sitka delivers his classic line (inscribed on his tombstone), "Hold hands, you love birds" over and over as his apartment is trashed.

I prescribe 'Brideless Groom' as medicine for anyone who thinks the Stooges' glory years ended when Curly left. True, Shemp didn't have as MANY great shorts with the group as Curly, but that was due to an increasing lack of support from Columbia and his (and the others') advancing ages. When Shemp was healthy and the trio was given decent material to work with, they were still on the top of their game.
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Would love to see it
30 December 2008
I wonder if this film survives.

I have seen stills from it in a book on Asta (in German, so I can't actually read it) & it looks like a fun little film, with Asta obviously playing a dual role, via trick photography.

It almost appears to be a comedy. At least I get that impression from the wonderfully shocked look on her face and body language as she sees 'herself,' the other version of her grinning knowingly as the first Asta nearly collapses back onto a table.

I'm sure it would be a blast to watch, whether it was a comedy or not...much like Mary Pickford's masterful work in 'Stella Maris' four years later.

I wish more of Asta's films were available on video. The few I have seen greatly speak to her possession of 'it' and to her ahead-of-her-time naturalistic acting style.
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9/10
Another late silent classic!
10 December 2008
After finally getting to see The Man Who Laughs all the way through, I am struck by how good Conrad Veidt was and also what a wonderful Dracula he would have made. For those who don't know, instead of Tod Browning directing Bela Lugosi in Dracula, we very nearly had Paul Leni directing Veidt as Dracula. Leni's untimely death in 1929 ended that delightful possibility. The scenes in which Veidt hides his carved mouth bring home what an ideal vampire profile he had. And of course, Veidt always oozed of menace when the camera was on.

That is one reason his work here impresses me so much. For once he is cast as a sympathetic figure and carries it off quite well. Horrific, pathetic and sympathetic, his Gwynplaine is a complicated character and one of the more memorable ones of the silent era.

Of course Mary Philbin is an angel and gives probably her best performance as Dea. Brandon Hurst is wonderfully smarmy as the lecherous jester and steamy Olga Baclanova is great as the spoiled duchess who likes to let her hair down and play with the peasant class. Cesare Gravina is also touching as the kindly Ursus. In fact the whole cast is strong from Josephine Crowell as Queen Anne to Zimbo the Dog as Homo!

Of course Leni, in one of his final films, shows his usual deft touch. What a shame it was that two of the silent era's best directors, Leni and Murnau, never got a chance to explore sound film.

The Man Who Laughs isn't that easy to find, but is well worth looking for.
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Way Down East (1920)
8/10
Gish's glory outweighs Griffith's gaffes
2 December 2007
Warning: Spoilers
One of D.W. Griffith's last big commercial successes, 'Way Down East' represents much that was good in Griffith's directorial style and much that was wanting in it. Overall, it is a very solid movie and leaves the viewer satisfied in the end. It is certainly not the ideal film to show someone who has never watched a silent feature film, however.

Anyone who has studied film history knows about the famous ice flow scene in which Lillian Gish put herself at tremendous risk in real-life blizzard conditions. This is the climax, but it comes only after a long and occasionally dragging journey.

The lovely Ms. Gish plays Anna Moore, a naïve small town girl, tricked into a fake marriage by notorious womanizing playboy Lennox Sanderson (Lowell Sherman). Finding out about the sham only after telling Sanderson she is pregnant, she is abandoned and later evicted after both her mother and the baby die. Her past later catches up with her after she has established herself as a beloved maid in the Bartlett household, where son David (matinee idol Richard Barthlemess) is in love with her. It is when her past is revealed and Squire Bartlett (Burr McIntosh) throws her out into a blizzard that the famed ice flow sequence takes place.

There are some faults in 'Way Down East.' It is long – probably a bit longer than it needs to be. Plenty of time is spent in establishing the various characters, both major and minor, and the locales. There are a few spots where things seem to drag a bit. Of course Griffith strongly moralizes as usual, too. One fault that some critics have flagged that I do not necessarily agree with is Griffith's insertion of comedy relief. In many films of the era this did indeed mar films. In 'Way Down East,' though, the bumbling minor characters have a charm of their own and are naturally enough melded into the story that their actions do not seem to be at all intrusive to me. Vivia Ogden as the gossip Martha Perkins is quite good and her interaction with Seth Holcomb (Porter Strong), a goateed old goat who always seems to be at the Bartletts, is enjoyable. We are told Seth has followed her around for 20 years and she doesn't seem to mind his attention. Shy 'Professor' Creighton Hale is amusing at times, flirting clumsily with both Martha and the squire's niece Kate (Mary Hay.) Perhaps rolly polly hired hand Hi Holler (Edgar Nelson) could be dispensed with, but his screen time is limited and not a distraction. The music is at times heavy handed, but is appropriate in mood setting – including the forays into comic relief.

True, this is a potboiler melodrama with some heavy-handed Griffith preaching. Still, it also includes Griffith's famed build-up of intensity and speed as the climax is neared. It is also pictorially attractive, with snow-covered New England countrysides and landscapes. Also, Gish and Barthelmess never looked better. As other have noted, Gish by 1920 had fully come into her own as an actress and could make a very strong argument for being the best of all silent screen actresses.

There are other silent films much easier to sit through in their entirety. This one is worth the effort, though. Griffith, warts and all, could tell a good story.
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6/10
'Bloody' well done!
26 November 2007
The B horror movie lives! No, this isn't John Carpenter or Steven Spielberg … or even Tod Browning … but it isn't half bad. 'Cemetery Gates' is a slightly original variation on the traditional B horror theme. One variation is that the main group of protagonists are filming their own horror film when true horror strikes THEM.

Anyone who likes blood and gore will love this one. The plot isn't great shakes, but it holds up as well as any B horror plot. We have brain-dead college kids, including a girl with a bra size bigger than her IQ. One improvement in this film is that at least here the big-chested bimbo isn't pawned off on us as a 'graduate student' or someone who would have to have considerably more brains than she has. These are just friends of a college student wanting to make a zombie movie as his class project. One can imagine that three of the six students would probably have flunked out in another year, had they all lived. Of course one does wonder why he would entrust his film to dope-smoking bums and a bimbo.

The student making the film (Peter Stickles) is the son of an unprincipled scientist (Reggie Bannister) who has mutated a Tasmanian devil, turning it into something akin to the man-eating cartoon creature in Bugs Bunny cartoons. The beast, 'Precious,' is pretty cool and can really put the hurt on its victims, all of whom die much slower than they would like.

The film is not without some interesting background. The old cemetery where the kids are filming their zombie film contains a memorial marker for 200+ miners killed when nearby tunnels were flooded in 1925. Apparently the bodies were never recovered and our teens fall through sinkholes into the labyrinth of tunnels that includes skulls and mummified bodies. Naturally Precious makes this her home after being released in a nearby state park.

Without giving the plot away, you could say 'Many are called; most are eaten.' For B horror fare, this is a pretty satisfying production, with good special effects, plenty of blood shooting, dripping, spurting, flowing, etc. The acting from the no-name cast is solid and the handful of attempts to move the plot away from a stale B horror formula appreciated. This isn't the one to do a major term paper on in a film theory class, but is perfect for relaxing with on a late Friday or Saturday night!
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El vampiro (1957)
8/10
Lee > Robles; El Vampiro > Horror of Dracula
26 September 2007
Warning: Spoilers
In a way the brilliant 1931 Spanish version of 'Dracula' and this fine 1957 Spanish-language film have similar strengths and weaknesses. Both lack a Lugosi or Lee in the title role, but both have outstanding cinematography, atmosphere and supporting casts.

While the English and Spanish 1931 films are often compared, it seems reasonable to compare 'El Vampiro' to Christopher Lee's 'The Horror of Dracula,' a contemporary work. German Robles is no Christopher Lee. Almost effeminate in his count's formal attire, one suspects that if he had succeeded in bringing his dead brother back to life, the brother would immediately have taken charge. He almost seems uncomfortable with his mouthful of fangs.

A weak vampire is not enough to derail an otherwise outstanding film, however. The cast overall is quite good and the black and white cinematography much creepier than the bloody Hammer color. Simply put, this movie just plain works. The sets out great, the costumes and makeup are great and the cast is very sound, including Ariadna Welter as Marta, Abel Salazar as Dr. Enrique, Jose Luis Jimenez as Emilio, Carmen Montejo as Eloisa and Alicia Montoya as Maria Teresa. Montejo, as the vampire follower of Duval and Montoya as the near-crazed Maria Teresa are especially outstanding. Montoya somehow makes me think of Morticia Addams or Lilly Munster on a bad hair/makeup day! Even the servants are quite good.

The music is just a tad over-the-top, loud and repetitive. Still, it is effective in setting the mood…and mood is the name of the game in 'El Vampiro.' With its creepy crypts, spooky woods, spider webs and ancient books, it captures an eeriness that color films have trouble matching. The lighting and camera work accentuate this and help make 'El Vampiro' one of the half dozen or so better vampire films ever made. It is certainly among the creepiest and most atmospheric.
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6/10
'The Haunting' meets 'Hillbillies in a Haunted House!'
2 September 2007
At its best, 'The Ghosts of Hanley House' has the feel of a poor man's 'The Haunting.' At its worst, it has the feel of the forgettable Ferlin Huskey (old-time country singer for those who don't know) vehicle, 'Hillbillies in a Haunted House.' Part of this feeling was due to the guy who took the bet to stay overnight in the house (don't know the actor's name since even IMDb doesn't know who played whom!) sounds JUST like old Ferlin … which is to say a Hillbilly country singer stuck in a haunted house!

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised. As others have said, the production values, at least as far as sound goes, are terrible! It sounds like a very, very early "talkie" from about 1929! I think the ghost was standing outside the house, holding the microphone in many scenes! The camera work, though, is quite good. The film almost seems to have a blue tint, as in silent film days…except of course the handful of somewhat overdone scenes of a man's silhouette standing outside the house with the picture in a gaudy blood-red tint. The house itself is wonderful. I suspect the availability of the house may have led to the movie. I can almost see Louise Sherrill visiting the house and going 'Dang! I've GOT to make a haunted house movie about this place!'

Sometimes Ms. Sherrill gets a little heavy-handed on making sure we understand what we're supposed to see. We hear and see cars trying to start for 30 seconds to show that the cars won't start. We have at least two looks out the front door, each 20-30 seconds of panning every inch of terrain just to show that no one was REALLY knocking on the front door. A few other things that don't add up would be the painting of Mrs. Hanley looking NOTHING like the flashback image of her, the haunted house scenes at the opening bearing little or no relation to the crime that had been committed there, etc.

Don't expect 'The Haunting' or 'The Shining.' If you like B horror, though, this one should be well worth viewing.
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Venus Flytrap (1970)
3/10
'Revenge of Dr. X'? How about 'The Long Rough Road'?
18 June 2007
Warning: Spoilers
After going to IMDb and seeing Ed Wood's name affixed to this interesting 1970 concoction, I suddenly understand all I need to understand.

Where can we start in dissecting this film? How about the title (which is 'The Revenge of Dr. X' on the version I have)? Let's see…first of all, there IS no Dr. X…just good old Dr. Bragan. Secondly, he doesn't seek or get revenge against anyone … or have any REASON for revenge. He merely agrees to take a much-needed vacation to Japan to ease work-related stress … although it certainly appears that he may have a brain tumor or some other physical problem coming on.

The movie is quirky enough, with James Craig, who looks just like Clark Gable at the end of his life, and the attractive Japanese assistant (who goes nameless, since IMDb only lists TWO cast members!). Throw in some topless, well-built female divers, the obligatory hunchback helper (also unnamed) and shot after shot after shot of the two lead characters driving up and down and up and down rugged roads in a convertible, back and forth and up and down – much of the time with silly Gilligan's Island-like comedy music playing.

The basic plot is NASA scientist Dr. Bragan is getting stressed out and takes the advice of co-worker Dr. Nakamura (James Yagi, the only other listed cast member) and visits his cousin in Japan. On the way he picks up a Venus fly trap from a snake-handling gas station attendant in North Carolina. Although the plant apparently doesn't exist in Japan, he seems to have no trouble at all carrying it in. Meanwhile, his co-worker's cousin turns out to be an attractive young female, who makes arrangements for them both to go to an abandoned resort her father owns, out in the country. The road is bad, she warns him – and director Kenneth Crane and/or Wood make darn SURE we understand this by showing them driving back and forth and back and forth over the rough road on various errands.

Meanwhile, Dr. Bragan is getting more and more secretive, working with his flytrap. The only thing we see more of than them driving the convertible back and forth is the girl awakening to a dog barking, going to the window, looking out to see Dr. Bragan tip-toeing to his laboratory, then going back to sleep. This happens about half a dozen times! I won't even mention the man in the plant costume with two pot-holders that are supposed to be man-eating Venus fly-trap hands…OR the scene straight from every Frankenstein movie where he cranks the fly-trap up, through an opening in the ceiling during a thunderstorm to bring it to life! (No kidding!) Still, for those with insomnia or those who want to see every project the legendary Wood was associated with, it can be amusing. The backdrops at times are breathtaking, as the pair go to Tokyo (after braving that rough road for another 60 seconds of film driving), visit a museum, go to the ocean, meet topless divers and prowl around on the ocean floor while eerie haunted church music plays. A threatening volcano is thrown in for good measure.

Instead of 'The Revenge of Dr. X,' I might title it 'The Long, Rough Road' or 'Dr. Bragan Goes to Tokyo … Then Breeds a Killer Venus Fly-trap.'
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9/10
A forgotten but outstanding film
13 June 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Talk about your films you wish you had seen on the big screen! I honestly thought Nikolai Mullerschon's upcoming 'Der Rote Baron' was the first movie about Manfred von Richtofen. Then I happened upon 'Von Richtofen and Brown,' thinking it was a documentary when I ordered it.

To my surprise, it was a full-fledged movie and quite a good one. I just wish I had seen it on the big screen instead of a small box on my 17-inch computer screen (because this DVD wouldn't play on my TV/DVD player)! Filmed in 1971, 'Von Richtofen and Brown' has some of the best World War I combat sequences I've seen. (OK, MAYBE Howard Hughes' scenes from 'Hell's Angels' would have been more breathtaking, had they been in color!) To see the fabled Flying Circus taking off in living color is worth the price of the DVD itself. This film is exquisitely done! The bulk of the flying sequences were done with vintage WWI planes and the crashes convincingly done with models.

Overall, it seems historically accurate, too. Only the ending is a bit disappointing (though not surprising) in this regard. It came out in 1971, two years after P.J. Carisella and James W. Ryan's book, 'Who Killed the Red Baron?' had blown the lid off the myth of Capt. Arthur 'Roy' Brown shooting down the baron. As Carisell and Ryan surmised, and as Dale Titler confirmed in his 'The Day the Red Baron Died' in 1971, Australian anti-aircraft gunners almost without question fired the fatal slug that killed von Richtofen as he chased Lt. Wilfred May and was chased by Brown.

Other than this and Herman Goering's erroneous presence during the bulk of the film, I found it accurate and quite entertaining – even on a 14 x 7 inch screen! B-horror/gangster director Roger Corman turned in nice work. My only complaint is that, since they were letting myth ease into the picture, why didn't they go ahead and include the baron's 'wife of six weeks?' This myth of him secretly marrying the nurse that nursed him back to health after the first of his two crashes could have made an interesting subplot. Maybe Mullerschon will tackle this myth – or maybe he'll stick 100 percent to the facts! In either case, the baron makes for a fascinating film subject. This one is definitely worth watching.
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7/10
Would be fascinating to see!
13 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This is the first time I have ever reviewed a movie I have not seen. I doubt if this film survives. However, under the circumstances, I could not help doing a brief review, to join my plot summary (above).

I recently won an October 1916 Photoplay magazine on ebay and found an intriguing summary of the movie in it. Apparently it was commonplace for short story-like versions of an upcoming movie to be published in the movie magazines, with stills from the actual film, when available.

Jerome Shorey writes a detailed recap of the story in this issue, complete with some very intriguing stills. The Fox film is the story of a wild young woman named Ellinor, who has been raised by an aging lighthouse keeper on a remote beach after he rescued her and her dying mother in a lifeboat years before.

Now entering womanhood, Ellinor has known virtually nothing but 'Old Pete,' the lighthouse and the sea. They can sit for hours, staring out at the sea, which holds a mysterious power over both of them. Gradually, though, Ellinor begins feeling other yearnings and a desire to see what the future may have for her beyond the sea.

One day she sees a ship in the distance, then spies a man swimming to shore. Mason, it turns out, has mutinied and killed a cruel ship captain. He is now on the run … but takes time to visit with the attractive young woman. He takes a ring of his and one of Ellinor's and joins them, throwing them into the surf. 'Now you're mine,' he tells her. 'Whom the sea hath joined, only the sea can part.' He then hightails it, leaving Ellinor to brood over these events.

Later, George Hudson, a well-to-do widower from the nearest port village, visits and also falls for the attractive, mysterious Ellinor. He convinces her to spend a year with a friend who will help refine her, before joining him as his wife. Although reluctant to leave Old Peter, the lighthouse keeper, she does so.

The story picks up a year later, as she marries Hudson and vainly tries to win over his 12-year-old daughter, Ann. The girl can't let go of her late mother (dead since she was 7) and builds up a wall of silence that nearly drives Ellinor back to the sea.

She has all but given up on making the marriage work when she remembers Mason and his rings. She tells her legal husband about this ritual and he naturally laughs it off. This is a 1916 melodrama, though, and no sooner has Hudson reminded Ellinor that this mysterious sailor never did return, when who should burst into the house but….(you guessed it!) Mason, the long-lost sailor. Of course he sees the Christian marriage vows as being as silly and meaningless as Hudson sees the old ring-tossing vows.

Ellinor, increasingly miserable in the Hudson household, opts to go with Mason. She has just convinced Hudson of the inevitability of this when (melodrama, remember!) the daughter runs sobbing to Ann and begs her not to go … even calling her 'mother!' Now Mason bows to the inevitable and leaves, muttering that only love can overwhelm the power of the sea.

While I, of course, cannot comment on the performances of the cast, the stills look most interesting. Valda Valkyrien, a real-life countess and quite a looker, is most captivating in the photos … going from wild animal-like youth on the beach to refined wife to tortured soul who still hears the call of the sea. I wish I could see this one, if for no other reason, to see whether or not the enchanting Danish baroness is as enticing and captivating in the film itself as she is in the stills.
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Poor Jenny (1912)
9/10
Foreign titles, bad print, but ... WOW!
28 May 2006
Warning: Spoilers
So few Asta Nielsen films are available in the United States today that it is difficult to really understand this marvelous actress' influence on silent film. The only true feature film widely available that features her is The Joyless Street. In it, she is upstaged by the young and upcoming Greta Garbo – whom we know patterned herself after Nielsen. Asta was also 44 when the film was made, an age at which Garbo, Pickford and others had already disappeared from the camera lens. (Of course there is also her gender-bending version of Hamlet.) Die Arme Jenny is one of only a small handful of surviving early Nielsen films that an average fan outside of Sweden or possibly Germany can get his/her hands on. Unfortunately, the version I found seems to be a dupe of a dupe of a dupe. Any subtlety of shading, any creative light-and-shadow work and any tenting that may have graced the original celluloid version are long since gone.

Still, after a couple of viewings – even without being able to read the German titles, it becomes clear that Asta was indeed something special. Actually, had I seen more 1910-12 US melodramas, I am sure my appreciation for Die Asta would rise even more. As it is, I find myself comparing her with later American and German performances – performances that were most likely influenced to some degree by HER! Many have said that they see Garbo when watching Nielsen at her peak. Personally, just from this one film, I saw more Gish than Garbo in her. Then again, this very early work (apparently one of her first after she and husband/director Urban Gad moved to Germany) has only a couple of semi-close-ups and poor surviving film quality. Yet Nielsen's screen personality and restrained style shine through more than enough to show fans why Die Asta was a national treasure in two nations (and supposedly carried in photograph form by soldiers of several countries during WWI).

Were the tight close-ups that Griffith would popularize with Gish already at Gad's disposal in 1912, we would probably be truly blown away – especially by an original or first-generation print of this film. In long-shot, it certainly appears that Asta makes some very "modern" and very believable mood changes that Gish or Garbo would have struggled to match at their primes.

Spoilers – to some extent – follow. Since the titles are in German, it took me two viewings and reading a badly computer-translated plot summary on-line to piece together just what was going on. An adult (or late teen, perhaps) daughter of a factory foreman and seamstress mother, Jenny Schmidt meets a rich young man, Eduard Reinhold (Leo Peukert), while cleaning in the building where he lives. He makes a brief pass at her and leaves her a card – apparently with a time and place to meet him written on the back.

Jenny – with the help of her sister – sneaks out of the house in her Sunday clothes and goes on a date (and apparently to bed) with Reinhold, leaving her mother to do her sewing by herself. Without surviving tinting, one cannot tell what time of day or night it is when she leaves or when she returns. Whenever she gets home, her enraged father throws her out of the house, despite tearful pleas by all the household females. Without titles I can read, I am not sure if he is too proud and pure to harbor a "fallen woman," if he is hacked off that she sneaked off behind their backs, or if he doesn't want her dating (or being taken advantage of by) someone in a higher class. Maybe this is her dad's boss. (I need to find someone who reads German to watch it with me!) When she realizes Reinhold is embarrassed to acknowledge her in polite society, she seems to realize she has no future with him. She drifts first into work as a dance hall girl, then as a prostitute. When she reads in the paper that Reinhold is getting married, she snaps and gets to do the ending that Gish and other American actresses were usually denied: wondering despondently into a snowstorm and apparent death.

While the plot is melodramatic, Die Asta is not. She shows why she influenced a generation of players and was a role model for Garbo. This is about the best surviving example of Nielsen at her peak. A better-quality print would be sensational, but the worn copy I have seen is good enough.
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