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IS IT REALLY HORROR?

 

Universal, it seems ,has not, as previously reported, killed off their DARK UNIVERSE franchise idea. According to Screenrant (https://screenrant.com/dark-universe-monster-movies/ ) producer Holly Goline is still connected to the concept.

Holly Goline had begun as an assistant to actress /director/producer Angelina Jolie ,has worked on films in various capacities until becoming a producer on IN THE LAND OF MILK & HONEY (Sony,2011 ).

So, like the classic monsters of old, there seems to be a spark left in the idea of reviving the collective creatures.

The thing is-should they?? I mean ,are they actually horror films anymore?

The change began with Universal‘s THE MUMMY (1999). Director /writer Stephen Sommers had come to audiences and critical attention with his film DEEP RISING (Hollywood/Disney,1998). That film began as a high seas action adventure story ,with hijackers out to rob a luxury liner, only to end up fighting for their lives against an unleashed monster.

A well written well directed story,with a great cast led by Treat Williams, Famke Janssen, and Kevin J. O’Connor,superb set pieces as well as scares and laughs galore, the film failed to make back it’s estimated $45,000 budget (U.S. box office $11,000) but it did well on home video and cable television .

It was enough to impress Universal  so that they hired him to remake THE MUMMY for a new audience. Columbia Pictures had shown in 1992 that an A budget and all star cast could give prestige and financial rewards with their version of BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA . Though uneven in tone (along with some miscasting and overacting ),the movie was a stylish treat that had both scares and a romance that worked in combination . The film made double its production cost in the United States alone, which made Hollywood take notice.

Columbia tried to have lightening strike twice and revive another classic creature with style , and two years later unleashed MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN . Once again an all star cast was gathered to retell the famous tale, but to this day critics and fans are divided upon this production, and the movie only made back half of it’s production budget for it’s American release . It eventually made a profit overseas and with the home video market .

Universal was undeterred ,and realizing that they had their own original creations that were known and marketable, they decided it was time to make their own monster epic.

With a high budget ( $80 million) , THE MUMMY film clicked with both audiences and critics alike , and made $155,247,825 in the U.S. alone upon its original release, and was a strong seller on video .

But it was the beginning of the slide away from being a pure horror film.

The film had a few jump scares but it was more along the line of a thrill ride , Indiana Jones style. The wonderful pairing of Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz gave us a couple we could cheer on as they went through some exciting adventures set during 1925 (three years after Tutankhamen’s grave was discovered,starting the mania in Egyptian artifacts).  Add to that a wonderful supporting cast including John Hannah and Kevin J O’Connor as comic companions , Odeth Fehr as Ardeth Bay and Arnold Vosloo as the immortal Imhotep  (Bay and Imhotep are the names used by Karloff  in the Universal 1932 THE MUMMY ),and one had a real crowd pleaser.

It resulted in THE MUMMY RETURNS (2001),an animated series that ran for 26 episodes between 2001 & 2003  , THE SCORPION KING(2002) (the last two films truly launching the movie career of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson,with THE SCORPION KING  being a standalone prequel set in the distant past )  and finally THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR (2008).

Each film moved further and further away from horror into more fantasy tinged adventure stories.

Looking at low budget films from the 70s,80s and 90s, I think that the original HALLOWEEN(Compass,1978) and FRIDAY THE 13TH (Paramount ,1980) were a better template for what a mummy movie could have been.   Both figured silent figures who appear invincible and once they decide that you are their target they will not stop until they have killed you, usually in some horrible fashion.  Like  the slower moving Mummy of the Universal classics , MIchael Myers and Jason both strode purposefully ,never running , to overtake their victims , What these films lacked in gloss they more than made up for in suspense and scares ,something that the Mummy series lost more and more as the series went on.

Stephen Sommers only directed the first two Mummy  films (though keeping his hand involved in all of them),prepping instead for an even bigger film . Sommers formed his own production company in 2004 with plans of making an Homeric retelling of the beloved villains.

The result was VAN HELSING (Universal,2004) ,a loud  bloated everything but the kitchen sink major misfire. With a more than generous $160 million production budget (as well as an initially big publicity push ) ,the film was critical disaster, and made only $120 million domestically, luckily for the studio making a profit thanks to overseas box office ( worldwide cume : $300,257,475 ), which was also the start of studios looking for overseas markets to make their movies get out of the red.

 

The film seemed determined to start at 11 (to reference THIS IS SPINAL TAP,Embassy 1984   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xgx4k83zzc ) and build in shrieking volume.  Almost everyone screams their lines (with poor Shuler Hensley ,who had worked with star Hugh Jackman on Broadway in OKLAHOMA!,being the one directed the most to bellow everything      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rev5Z6Dg91A ). The story is a ghoulish goulash has Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman ) as a bounty hunter of monsters for the Roman Catholic church.

He takes on a CGI Mr Hyde and then high tales it to Transylvania ,meets up with fellow monster hunter Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsdale) and goes after the Frankenstein Monster, the insane Igor (Sommers‘  talisman ,actor Kevin J. O’Connor ),a werewolf who is Anna’s brother (Will Kemp) and Dracula (Richard Roxburgh, who was more frightening in his more  semi -comic role for MOULIN ROUGE (Fox,2001))and his undead brides want to hatch a cavern-full of gigantic Alien -like eggs , which are in fact vampires awaiting to be born(Vampires lay eggs??) .

 

Universal was so sure that they had another hit series on their hands , they kept the sets built in Prague for the film up, which meant they had to keep paying for the land  rental use while they remained.  Upon the movie’s release, however, they decided that a sequel didn’t seem like a financially sound idea.  They also scrapped a planned Transylvania land for the  Universal Studios Theme Parks ,as well as a planned Transylvania tv series.

The film failed to work as either an adventure or a horror film, but became a CGI riddled massive video game that seemed to be designed by a ten year old with A.D.D .(a charge which ,to be fair , now seems to describe the majority of theatrical releases lately).

 

Ten years later, Universal wanted to re- reboot their monsters into the summer blockbuster market . DRACULA UNTOLD (Universal, 2014) was the result.  The film basically goes back to the Vlade Tepes legend ,though instead of a annointed sociopathic Prince with a fetish for driving stakes up the hindquarters of his enemies (which included practically everyone), he is transformed into a fierce warrior,loving husband,father and nobleman  (Luke Evans )who makes a deal with The Master Vampire (Charles Dance ) for his aid in getting his son back from the Turks who have abducted the boy and about a thousand other youngsters.   What he gets ,however, slowly transforms him .

The film is indeed epic in it’s look and design, and handsomely mounted .There is also some very clever sound design and editing which gives the audience a bit of a jump once and awhile.  However, as it was planned for a summer market, the film was PG-13 rated, and the scares toned down for a larger target family audience.  Done on a $70 million budget , the film only made $56,280,355 domestic , $160,843,925 internationally for a final  worldwide tally of  $217,124,280 . The film also underwent some reshoots when Universal felt that this film needed to be tied into its just announced idea of their Dark Universe plans.

The Dark Universe franchise was to be Universal‘s answer to the many superhero films whose main power was siphoning the cash out of a willing public . Not having a superhero of their own (did they forget about DARKMAN (1990)?),they looked to the properties which they did have ,and rather than reviving Francis The Talking Mule (which would literally be beating a long dead horse) they turned instead to their creature creations . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfxLdBDr1ww

There had been some talk of Dracula turning up in  a future Dark Universe film only to have executives change their mind again, wanting the Dracula in the series to be different from the one portrayed in DRACULA UNTOLD .Talk about too many mad doctors spoiling the creations!

The “official” first release for the Universal Dark Universe turned out to be –THE MUMMY (2017)!  A re-boot of the reboot (a re-reboot?)of the character again.

                                                             The MUMMY 2017 vs THE MUMMY 1999 -sand bites!

 

With a  $125 million budget  (and an advertising budget said to be at least equal to that),THE MUMMY was slammed by critics and fans, taking in only  $80,227,895 domestically, but being saved by countries where Tom Cruise still opens strong ,taking in a final total  $409,231,607 . The film is considered to have been a failure,due to various costs attached to the project, with as much as a $95 million dollar final loss .

So, Universal decided it was time to quickly kill the DARK UNIVERSE.  Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan, who were in charge , left to pursue other projects. By November, 2017 , the idea was considered dead. Only, as I stated in the beginning,rumors of it’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.    

Is it possible to do a proper horror film on a big budget ? The answer is yes.  The thing is to convince fans to come out and see them.

A perfect example is the 2010 THE WOLFMAN . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZabAU7ySbmE . That movie was a glossy remake of the 1941 classic .  So why didn’t fans like it? A common complaint was that they had seen the story before (but if it had varied from the original ,fans would be crying it varied so much it should not be called THE WOLFMAN ). That the story wasn’t strong ( a bit of tightening perhaps could have been used, but it followed the template fairly closely ).  That it wasnt gory enough, that it used CGI,etc.  Even professional viewers seem to contradict their own opinion . The Huffington Post review said it had cardboard characters, and yet just a few lines down :  “the film spends an obscene amount of time on a twisted father/son dynamic, and not enough time with actual werewolf terror.”  So which is it?

The film certainly looked lavish ,and the make up by the great Rick Baker and Dave Elsey won a Best Make-up Oscar.

 

So where did it go wrong? Benicio de Toro, an avowed fan of the original ,was cast in the lead in 2006 . Andrew Kevin Walker,who wrote Tim Burton‘s love letter to Hammer style horror ,SLEEPY HOLLOW (Fox,1999) ,did the screenplay.

Rick Baker , of course, adhered as much as possible to the classic Jack Pierce creation.

Director Mark Romanek was attached to the film on February 8, 2007. Romanek directed powerful music videos like Johnny Cash’s “Hurt “ video in 2003 as well as the disturbing  thriller ONE HOUR PHOTO (Fox Searchlight 2002).  The budget was set at a  reasonable (for such a big production) $85 million.  After working on the project for a year, Romanek left the project ,using the “creative differences” comment.

Several directors were interviewed including Brett Ratner (no!) ,Martin Campbell (MASK OF ZORRO, Columbia,1998),James Mangold (the  stylish 3:1O TO YUMA remake, Lionsgate, 2007),Joe Johnston (the sadly neglected THE ROCKETEER ,Disney,1991),Frank Darabont (great choice ,a screenwriter of classic horror remakes,as well as directing  some of the best Stephen King cinematic adaptations) and Bill Condon ( another superlative choice . A longtime classic horror fan, he made the James Whale biopic GODS & MONSTERS (Lionsgate ,1998) .

Almost a year to the date that Romanek had first signed on, Joe Johnston took over  to direct on February 3,2008.   Work on the film continued while Johnston brought screenwriter David Self .This was not a good sign to horror fans ,as Self wrote the awful adaptation of THE HAUNTING (Dreamworks,1999) .   Still , changing directors early on and bringing in new writers is not unusual.

 

 Not the 1999 THE HAUNTING ! Gahhh!

 

A month later, filming began in England from March to June ,2008 . Having had only 3 weeks to develop the film,Johnston decided that CGI would help patch over any cracks in the project. Rick Baker expressed his disappointment to that fact, and the increasing use of CGI was the main reason the make up effects ace decided to retire in 2015.

 

The studio began to meddle around with the film ,trying to make a classic period piece and make it a more action packed movie.  Composer Danny Elfman had written his score and left to work on other projects ,and other composers were brought in to bridge the gaps due to retakes and studio demanded edits. The movie ended up losing nearly a half hour of footage ,mostly character scenes.  The Blue Ray restores some of these scenes, and it indeed improves the film.

 

The tinkering went on longer and longer, so the opening date moved from late 2008 to several dates in 2009, only to finally open in February 2010.

 

 

The original 1941  was a modest $170,000 budgeted film that ran 70 minutes.  The newer version ran 102  minutes (though the director’s cut on BLU RAY runs 119 minutes ). The 2010 version  final budget (before advertising costs , ended up totaling $150 million.  Mixed reviews and poor word of mouth had the film fail to recoup even it’s production budget ,taking in only $139 million world wide.

However, I think this film needs to be re-evaluated.  It is a much better film than it’s original reviews led one to believe. It was also a decent remake of the classic film, and it had one thing that several of the other remakes have had, some decent scares. With the idea of the DARK UNIVERSE project, this film was considered a stand alone one-off.

Look also at Del Toro’s beautiful ghost story CRIMSON PEAK (Universal, 2015),not part of the Dark Universe . A feast for the eye with lavish costumes and set designs ,and some actual scares, the film only grossed about $74 million worldwide  on a $55 million budget .  Why did this film not do better?  It was a visual feast for the eye, but it failed to find the audience it deserved. Is it horror fans really now just want more gore and less style?? INSIDIOUS 3(Blumhouse/Focus), released the same year, made over ten times it’s production cost ($11 million).

Perhaps the people now in charge of nursing Universal‘s DARK UNIVERSE concept will reconsider what  made the originals classics and will consider reducing the slam bam action and return to horror.  The original plans were that the “Universe” would be linked by Prodigium, a secret society dedicated to hunting supernatural threats, run by none other than Doctor Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe).  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCowxWN2c_Q      I am sure that concept is now deader than a vampire staked in sunlight while lying in holy water as rose thorns are floating through it atop a garlic garnish.

Projects that were cancelled due to the failure of THE MUMMY were

THE INVISIBLE MAN to star Johnny Depp.

The cancelling of Bill Condon‘s BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN project was perhaps the biggest disappointment of the announced remake.

THE WOLFMAN .

DRACULA

a VAN HELSING reboot –Tom Cruise was once announced for the role, but I guess he decided upon THE MUMMY instead).

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME

THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON – this poor creature has been bandied about for decades, with names like John Landis and Guillermo del Toro attached at different times. Guillermo del Toro got tired  of waiting and made his own version ,called THE SHAPE OF WATER ( Fox Searchlight,2017).   One should note that this wonderful film ,even with Oscar wins, only took in  $194,742,801 worldwide,with almost $64 million coming from the U.S.

Perhaps Universal should study that film,as well as on films like GET OUT (Blumhouse/Universal,2017)  and figure on moderate budget films that deliver on the scares.

I think they could also learn from the old Hammer Studio model of designing films to make use of sets ,etc ,while developing their own stock company of stars .

-Kevin G Shinnick

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1940s, Blu Ray, Carol Landis, Carole Landis, cult, D.W. Griffith, FILM HISTORY, genre, Hal Roach, https://www.facebook.com/scarletthefilmmagazine/, LON CHANEY JR, monsters, review, reviews, SCARLETTHEFILMMAGAZINE.WORDPRESS.COM, SCIENCE FICTION, tv film radio books theatremusic storytelling horror mystery fantasy science fiction thrillers drama, Uncategorized, UNITED ARTISTS, V.C.I., Victor Mature, weird, wierd

ONE MILLION B.C. (V.C.I. Blu Ray)

ONE MILLION B.C. (Roach, 1940) (V.C.I. Blu Ray) B&W,82 minutes. S.R.P. $29.95

https://www.amazon.com/One-Million-B-C-Blu-ray/dp/B071XF71PD/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1513128658&sr=8-1&keywords=one+million+b.c+1940

Hal Roach (1892-1992) began producing short silent comedies in 1915 after receiving a small inheritance. He became the second largest producer of silent comedy shorts ,right after Mack Sennett.

After distributing through Pathe ,he switched over to MGM selling his product in 1927.

 

He began producing talking short subjects in 1929,often re-shooting in several language, his casts(including the Our Gang kids) learning the foreign languages phonetically.

 

In 1931 he began making some full length features (PARDON US) ,and except for The Our Gang/Little Rascals ,which he sold to MGM completely in 1938 ,he ceased production on short subjects.

Roach had a series of hit films like TOPPER (MGM,1937) and switching to United Artists to release his features, he put out such classics as OF MICE & MEN (1939).

One of his biggest and best known non Laurel & Hardy features from Hal Roach is the unique and well loved fantasy feature ONE MILLION B.C. (1940). The #1 box-office attraction of 1940 (excluding the roll-over receipts for Gone with the Wind (M.G.M. 1939)), the film was a special effects wonder ,whose dinosaur battles and earth splitting images were used as stock shots well into the 1960s .

The last film to have any involvement by the silent screen master D.W. Griffith (he directed many of the screen tests but not the actual film itself) , it earned two Academy Award nominations : Best Musical Score (Werner Heymann,losing to Disney‘s PINOCCHIO ) and Best Special Effects (Roy Seawright, Elmer Raguse, who saw that award go to Alexander Korda‘s THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD team).  Griffith had already dealt with cave men in his 1912 comedy MAN’s GENESIS (Biograph ,1912)

Hal Roach Sr & Junior both are credited as directors, they worked together seamlessly ,aided by superb camera work by Norbert Brodine,who was the studio’s chief director of photography on a majority of their films.

Stan & Ollie in FLYING ELEPHANTS (Roach/Pathe,1928)

 

I never noticed how much sweeping camera moves that were used in the film until I got this  Blu Ray,especially travelling around the studio filled sets created by Charles D Hall .Hall is best known for his stunning design work which defined the look of the Universal horror classics ,with his work on DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN(both 1931) .

This film is probably the closest any film came to creating the sense of wonder that KING KONG (RKO,1933) inspired ,as well as the box office results.Dinosaur pictures movies had been made since the silent era when Windsor McCay’s GERTIE THE DINOSAUR (1914). Sadly, few would use the time consuming stop motion that Willis O’Brien had become the undisputed master. ONE MILLION B.C. was another film that eschewed stop motion for men in T-Rex suits and animals and lizards portraying their prehistoric ancestors.

The film begins with a prologue meant to ease audiences into the main story.When a group of modern hikers take shelter in a cave, they meet an anthropologist (Conrad Nagel, billed as The Narrator) who interprets the cave drawings, saying they are about a young couple, similar to two in the hiking group, namely Carole Landis and Victor Mature .

The film then jumps into the story proper ,where we see the violent Rock Tribe ,led by Akhoba (Lon Chaney ,Jr.,who was about 33 ,wearing old age make up and grayed wigs). Tumak (Mature, who was only in his mid-twenties when he appeared in this. Many say that tHis was his debut ,but he had a small role as “Lefty ” in THE HOUSEKEEPER’S DAUGHTER the year prior)has his first kill in a hunt ,though an elderly man is injured and left to die.

 

The beast is roasted, and after Akhoba, the men fight for their piece, leaving the women and children with what remains. Akhoba is still hungry, and grabs the food that Tumak is eating, who strikes his father. Enraged, the pair fight with staffs, resulting in Tumak falling from a cliff. The tribe return to their cave, without only Tumak’s mother to mourn him.

He is not dead, but has to flee from a mastodon ,climbing a tree to avoid the creature. It knocks the tree over another cliff and Tumak and the tree float down river (an amazing combination of miniatures and rear projection combined with live action) .He is discovered unconscious by Loana (Carole Landis ,20 years old,who had worked as a dancer since age 15,had mostly only done extra work and uncredited bits until this role made her a star.It seems D.W.Griffith pushed for her, due to her natural athleticism ,something that the role would require). She is a member of the more social Shell People .She calls for her tribe, who take the stranger in and care for him.

 

He is not sure how to deal with these strangers, who share their food freely. When he takes food from a young boy, Loana gives her food to the child. Tumak,seeing this ,does his first kind act and gives his bowl to her. The tribe applauds, and Tumak then gets some other food that he has hidden and adds it to the communal pile.

Akhoba is gored during another hunt and and left to die. Another takes over as leader .Akhoba, maimed, crawls back to the cave, but now is a figure shunned by most.

Tumak is finding life is good with his new tribe, and he even saves a small child from death by killing the beast with a spear ,a weapon which the Shell Tribe have just introduced to him.

However, he feels the spear should be his due to his courage, and when he is made to return it, he determines to steal it.

For this ,he is once again banished. Loana has fallen for him ,and follows. They feed on apples (a reference to Adam & Eve perhaps? After all, we have humans around the same time as dinosaurs ) and are chased by one creature, then witness a fight between others .

Loana is captured by the Rock Tribe, and Tumak races to her rescue. Tumak becomes the new leader, and tries to show his people about kindness and sharing, even showing kindness to Akhoba.

The next day the men go hunting .A small child wanders off and Loana goes in search of him. At that moment, a volcano erupts, killing many in the lava flow(including the child’s mother!), though Loana does find the lost boy .

Cut off from the Rock Tribe , she returns to her own people with the child. Tumak finds scraps of clothes and thinks that she has perished.

However, he finds out that she is indeed alive and goes to find, arriving to find that she and her tribe are trapped in their cave that is being attacked by a dinosaur.

Quickly, Tumak gets the Rock Tribe to help him. Akhoba advises someone distract the beast while others while others cause a rock slide which kills the monster.

The two tribes unite, and the film ends with Tumak ,Loana, and the child looking to a brighter future.

Tumak, Loana and the rescued child are framed in the dawn of a new day.

The plot, though simple, works . Griffith probably had a hand in story construction,as the film could have worked as a silent feature. Indeed, except for the opening sequence and Nagel‘s narration, most of the dialogue is in a fake cave dialogue , which we follow by gestures and tone.

What the film is best known for is it’s “depiction” of prehistoric life. This is done by disguising modern animals in furs (i.e. ,the Mastodon is merely a fur clad elephant, an armadillo and a snake are used on miniature sets, as are some poor lizards.Nowadays, the ASPCA would not allow such animal cruelty to go on, but here, they are made to fight, dropped, hit with rocks, etc.

The miniature disaster,combined with on set effects ,makes for effective depictions of the earth cracking open, and volcanoes erupting their destructive forces.

The new VCI Blu Ray is a wonder to see. Most prints I have seen of this film have been muddy and lack sharpness. Indeed, I have read (unfair) criticism of previous VCI Blu Rays quality.

This print, however, is a revelation. It is so sharp that one can at times see where certain matte shots merge ,which gives away the trick but not the charm of the film.The elements come from the UCLA Film Archive ,and are remarkably clean (also aided by a 2K scan)and have wonderful graduations of gray ,and strong whites and blacks.

The audio is also crisp and clear mono . It is fun seeing the pseudo cave language appear on screen when the optional subtitle open is applied.The subtitles ,however, are also serve as good descriptive subtitles for the hard of hearing .

As to extras, there is a non stop and informative enthusiastic commentary from Toby Roan ,whom I first recall enjoying from his commentary on Olive Films’ NIGHT OF THE GRIZZLY Blu Ray. He is obvious a fan of the movie but is not above pointing out items of interest along the way,all the while dropping tid bits about the films production history,its cast ,and reception.

Also, a 10 minute (!) long slide show of ultra rare production stills, private photos, international posters, and re release lobby cards from the films re issue as CAVE MAN .

In 1966 ,Hammer/ 20th Century Fox remade the film ,they added a “Years” to the title, ran about 20 minutes longer(original U.K. release),in color, with incredible special effects by Ray Harryhausen and the incredible effect that was Rachel Welch in a fur bikini.

Both are fun fantasy films but there is a wonderful charm in the original that any fan of classic movie would make this a must have to add to your collection.

Highly recommended .

-Kevin G Shinnick

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THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST (Republic 1945)(Blu Ray & DVD from Olive Films)

THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST (Republic, June 1945) B&W 59 minutes (OLIVE FILMS Blu-Ray https://olivefilms.com/product/the-vampires-ghost/ $24.95. Also available on DVD $19.95)

 

Back in 2013, SCARLET THE FILM MAGAZINE ‘s print edition had an in-depth review of the Republic horror films (SCARLET #9, Feb. 2013). In that over view, one of the film’s covered was the neglected gem, THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST.

Republic saw the success of the RKO horrors, and decided to get into lucrative monster market. Their films were always entertaining (THE LADY & THE MONSTER, Republic ,1944, is probably best known, due to it starring Erich Von Stroheim) but never received the respect and love that RKO or Universal’s horrors have gotten.

Luckily, Olive Films is hoping to remedy that with their release of various Republic titles. They have already released a magnificent THE QUIET MAN (Republic ,1952 https://scarletthefilmmagazine.wordpress.com/2016/10/25/the-quiet-man-olive-films-signature-blu-ray/ ) and MACBETH ( Republic 1948/1950 https://scarletthefilmmagazine.wordpress.com/2016/11/17/orson-welles-macbetholive-films-blu-ray/ ),and are also releasing their overlooked features like SABOTAGE (Republic ,1939 https://scarletthefilmmagazine.wordpress.com/2017/01/18/sabotage-1939/ ) and now THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST .

 

Set somewhere in Africa in a fictional village of Bakunda, a voice over narrator intones: “Africa, the dark land where Voodoo drums beat in the night…Africa… where men have not forgotten the evil they learnt in the dawn of time… I always come back to Africa… but even here there is no rest for me. The path of time is curved here like a sickle…I cannot die…I cannot rest. I cannot rest. I cannot rest…”

Right away, you can see the influence of Val Lewton films like “I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (RKO,1943), that also open with a voiceover.

The narrator is Webb Fallon (played with a weary sadness by actor John Abbott, the English character actor, who worked with the likes of Olivier on stage, and is perhaps best known as Ayelborne in the Star Trek episodeErrand Of Mercy “(Paramount, season one episode 26, March 1967).

 

As his story above unfolds, we see a map of Africa, then a drawing of the village that fades into the “actual city” of Bakunda (what looks like a cleverly disguised Spanish village set from countless Republic westerns). The camera prowls through the streets, until we come upon a door, wherein a hand enters the frame and opens the door.
There we see a sleeping native woman, who awakes in horror. Fade to black.

The town of Bakunda is the latest village to suffer a mysterious death, with each victim having been partially drained of their blood. Father Gilchrist (Grant Withers, who often played villains or police officers for Republic, Monogram or PRC) suspects that another village has reverted to voodoo, and may be responsible for the killings.


Roy (Charles Gordon,for whom it seems this was his largest role of his ten-year career), greets his fiancé Julie Vance (Peggy Stewart, born in 1923, is still working, having appeared in  THAT’S MY BOY (Columbia ,2012) as Grandma Delores) who has just returned from Johannesburg, South Africa. Thomas Vance (Emmett Vogan, who appeared in over 500 films and television shows in his career, including appearing as the Coroner in THE MUMMY’S GHOST, Universal ,1944) invites them all to his home.


They discuss how the murders are affecting the natives, who are fearful, and abandoning the fields (so, not so concerned about their safety as how they affect production??). Roy decides to visit Webb Fallon, who owns the local dive bar. Fallon has a knowledge of the rituals and superstitions that often surpasses those of the natives themselves.

 

 


We jump to the club and witness a sensual dance by Lisa (Adele Mara, a former dancer/singer for Xavier Cugat who in 1946 appeared in Republic’s horror film THE CATMAN OF PARIS). Fallon is winning at the crap tables in the club, which angers gruff Captain Jim Barrett (Roy Barcroft, whom Leonard Maltin once described accurately as “Republic’s number one bad guy”). Roy shows up to invite Fallon over to Vance’s to discuss the murders, but Barrett and his crew accuse Fallon of cheating, and a fight breaks out. Roy is knocked down quickly, but Fallon does a lot of damage himself with single punches. When Barrett is about to stab the unconscious Roy, Fallon grabs the Captain’s wrist and stares intently at him, at which point the Captain drops his weapon.

 

Roy and Fallon go to Fallon’s room to clean up, and Fallon shouts at Roy when he touches a small wooden box. Upon it, we read “E.R. WEBB FALLON 1588”. Fallon says it was a gift given to his ancestor after whom he was named by a grateful Queen Elizabeth.

Fallon and Roy go to Vance’s and are chatting after a meal. Father Gilchrist at one point puts his hand upon Fallon’s shoulder, and Fallon collapses into a chair claiming it to be a bout of malaria. They decide though to go out to visit the village which may be causing the trouble. Simon Peter (Martin Wilkins, who appeared in RKO’s 1943 classic I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE), Vance’s servant, notices that when serving Fallon some coffee, that Fallon has no reflection in the mirror, notices too, and the mirror shatters. When the others question what could have caused that, Simon Peter declares Evil.

 


Has any other vampire smoked so much ?

They set out at dawn to explore the area near the village they suspect the trouble is coming from. Roy sets off a gun trap, which seems to miss Roy and Fallon, but hits one of the bearers, Tara, in the arm (Zack Williams). When they encamp for the evening, Taba tells Simon Peter that he was behind Fallon and wonders how Fallon did not get shot. Simon Peter checks out Fallon’s tent, and sees that the bullet did indeed pass through him, but left no blood.

“Vampire!”, intones Taba. Simon Peter says the one way to stop the vampire is a spear dipped in molten silver ,which they quickly make (where did they get all that silver? Is the cutlery gone ?).They are attacked by the evil villagers (with bones through their noses.at least one of whom appears to be a white actor in dark makeup!) ,and Simon Peter is hit . He, however, hurls the spear into Fallon, who is impaled in the chest as he turns. Roy brings Fallon to his tent, and removes the spear. There is no blood on the tip of the weapon, and Roy realizes the truth. Fallon tells Roy how he was cursed 400 years ago for causing the death of a young woman, which cursed him as one of the undead.

(white actor in dark makeup ? )

He hypnotizes Roy, and keeps him from being able to tell what he knows. Fallon wishes Julie to join him in his undead eternity. Will Roy be able to break the curse and save Julie?

 

The film is a remarkably subtle one from Republic (the bar fight is short, and battle scenes are kept to a minimum). Mood is key to the film, and director Lesley Selander does a superb job with ensuring that. A fine example is when later in the film Fallon stalks and kills Captain Barrett, his shadow falls upon the stunned sailor, the shadowy hands reaching for the victim’s neck. Selander was mostly a director of westerns but rose to the occasion when the story required. He also directed Republic’s THE CATMAN OF PARIS, and handled sensitive stories like RETURN FROM THE SEA (A.A.,1954), as well as 54 episodes of the long running television series LASSIE (Lassie Television/Columbia 1955-1974).

 

He was blessed with a strong screenplay by Leigh Brackett (based upon her story) and John K Butler. Butler spent most of his career writing westerns for films and later for television, with an occasional foray into mystery (THE PHANTOM SPEAKS, Republic,1945). His work was efficient but nothing memorable. Most of the credit must therefore go to Brackett.

Brackett began as a science fiction writer (‘Martin Quest”, Feb 1940 issue of Astounding Science Fiction) and indeed was the first woman nominated for a Hugo Award (started in 1953, Brackett was nominated in 1956, though she didn’t win).

 


She also wrote crime fiction, starting with “No Good for A Corpse” (Coward McCann, Hardcover,1944) as well as western novels. Her “No Good for A Corpse” brought her to the attention of Howard Hawks, who wanted “this guy Brackett” to work with William Faulkner and Jules Furthman for THE BIG SLEEP (W.B. 1946). She later wrote other screenplays for Hawks, like RIO BRAVO (W.B.,1959, again with Furthman). She is best known for having submitted the original draft for the STAR WARS sequel, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (Fox ,1980) before she passed away from cancer in March ,1978.

 

THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST was her first credited screenplay, and I wonder if Butler was assigned to work with her to show her how to write an efficient (and budget conscious screenplay). If so, the pair succeeded superbly.

Rather than following the rules of most vampire films of the era, they had a few of their own (the silver tipped spear). Some feel that John William Polidori’s 1819 story “The Vampyre” (The New Monthly Magazine, April 1,1819) was the inspiration. Polidori wrote his tale that same summer at Lake Geneva, wherein a telling of ghost tales led to this story and Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” (Lackington Hughes, 1818). The original story featured Lord Ruthven and was set in England and Greece. It also had a vampire able to walk about in daylight, and moonlight could heal Ruthven.

 

The cast, for the most part, does a superb job. Outstanding, of course, is John Abbott. He brings a wonderful world weariness to his role. When he wins at the dice table, he looks at the wad of money that he has won, and tosses it to a drunken sailor. The only thing that seems to move him is the idea of Julie joining him as an eternal companion.

Personally, I would have gone with Lisa. Mara bring a vitality and energy to her role, and indeed a sensuality. By her looks and body language, you feel that she is in love with Fallon.

Barcroft, Withers, and Vogan are all solid performers who make their characters interesting. Speaking of interesting, Zack Williams, and especially Martin Wilkins, despite being a native porter and servant respectively, play their roles strongly and without playing the commonplace quivering stereotypes that were the norm of the period. Indeed, they are the first to question Fallon and discover his secret and try to destroy him. At the end, the character of Simon Peter does indeed do that (with the aid of the priest and a cross).


The two romantic leads are good looking but to be honest not much beyond that. Poor Roy as portrayed by Charles Gordon, is sort of the Jonathan Harker of the tale. The titular romantic lead who does get the girl at the end, but is knocked down immediately in the bar fight, is as even he acknowledges saved twice by the vampire and spends most of the film under Fallon’s control. Peggy Stewart’s Julie is -the girlfriend. Perhaps due to the short running time, her character development was sacrificed for pacing.

 

 

(Anyone remember which other film used this statue? I cannot recall)

 

 

When the film came out, it was dismissed by the critics of the time (see Variety Wednesday June 6,1945- “script, setting and camerawork just so-so.” On the same page, co -screenwriter’s John K. Butler’s THE PHANTOM SPEAKS, also from Republic, is much more favorably reviewed.). This is more than likely because of the common feeling that horror films weren’t worth serious study. https://archive.org/stream/variety158-1945-06#page/n11/mode/1up

 


Olive Films has done a superlative job of restoring this neglected gem to a lustrous presentation. A 1080p transfer 1:33:1 aspect ratio shows the images in extremely sharp black and white, with varying levels of gray. The audio is a DTS-HD Master 2.0 channel track. No effects have been added to move sound around speakers, but it is crisp and clear with dialogue, music, and effects track coming across clearly.

The optional English subtitles are white and are easy to read, following the dialogue and describing audio cues clearly.

No other extras are added, but again, that such a rarity has gotten such a superlative transfer makes this a must have for collectors of classic horror that they need to add to their collections.

Recommended.

-Kevin G Shinnick

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KISS OF DEATH (Twilight Time Blu Ray)

KISS OF DEATH. (Twilight Time Blu Ray) 20th Century Fox 1947. B&W. 99 minutes. Region Free. $29.95 .Limited to pressing of 3,000 discs. https://www.twilighttimemovies.com/kiss-of-death-blu-ray/

People who have never seen the complete film know of it due to the iconic scene of a giggling insane Tommy Udo (essayed by Richard Widmark in his stunning film debut) pushing a helpless wheelchair bound woman (Mildred Dunnock) down a flight of stairs as she screams in abject horror.

 

KISS OF DEATH is a classic example of film noir that needs to be in every film lovers collection. Dark storytelling with the sense that violence and death permeates the entire story. Shot mostly in New York City at many actual locations (though, in my humble opinion, I think the interior apartment scenes and stairwells are sets, as knowing the size of the old Mitchell 35mm cameras, as well as lights needed, that is a heck of a lot of equipment and people to squeeze into such small spaces, not to mention loading in and out). around the city.

Ex con Nick Bianco (Victor Mature, at the height of his stardom) and three others botch a jewel robbery that results in Nick getting arrested.

Rather than turn on his accomplices, Nick is sentenced to twenty years at Sing Sing Prison. Nick thinks that his accomplices will protect his family, but three years into his stretch, Nick’s wife commits suicide and his two daughters are sent to an orphanage. Nick tries to make a deal with the Assistant D.A. D’Angelo (Brian Donlevy) but too much time has passed to make a deal. However, if Nick will help the A.D.A. on another case, Nick will get paroled.

 

 

 

On the streets, Tommy Udo(Widmark)who served time with Nick, tracks down the mother of Rizzo. Rizzo, who is unseen in the film, was supposed to guard Mrs. Bianco, but instead it was hinted that he raped her, which resulted in her committing suicide. Tommy looks up to Nick (and many critics feel an almost homoerotic passion) and so when Rizzo’s mother (Dunnock) lies to him, we end up with the famous stairwell killing.

Udo tries to show off to Bianco, taking him to various establishments and talks freely about his previous crimes, to impress his “friend”. Nick, however, turns the info over to the Assistant District Attorney, who indicts Udo and grants Nick his pardon.

Nick tries to restart his life on the straight and narrow, marrying friend Nettie Cavallo (Coleen Gray ) who used to baby sit his daughters when he first went to prison. However, despite evidence, Udo is acquitted and wants revenge.

The film when it was first released was not an enormous success, but over the years its status has grown to where it is now acknowledged as one of the great film noirs of all time.

The film has been available on video and DVD in previous releases from Fox Video, but TWILIGHT TIME has really gone all out with its definitive release of this classic piece of cinema.

First off, the 1080p High Definition scan has increased the sharpness of the imagery, showing off the beautiful cinematography of Norbert Brodine. Brodine began working in the silent era (including Lon Chaney’s A BLIND BARGAIN, Goldwyn,1922), and during the early sound period he hopped around from major studios to independents (Bela Lugosi’s THE DEATH KISS, KBS,1932; DELUGE, Tiffany 1933) before finding a home at Hal Roach (TOPPER ,1937; OF MICE & MEN,1939; ONE MILLION B.C.,1939).

By the mid-1940s, he went over to Fox, where he had prior to KISS OF DEATH had lensed the noirish HOUSE ON 92nd STREET (1945).and the overlooked gem SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT (1946). His black and white photography has deep blacks and various shades of gray.

The sound is mono (DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0) and there is really no need for surround sound, as the music dialogue and sound effects are crisp and crackle free. David Buttolph’s music is sparse but always efficient when used.

As to extras:

There are two audio commentary tracks that are well worth listening to.

Original to this release are popular Twilight Time Film Historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, who have a more conversational style and while knowledgeable, still have the joy of fans.

Kirgo, for example, points out that she grew up in NYC and recalls how it looked somewhat as the film presented it. They also go into the homoerotic feelings that Widmark’s character may have had for Mature (“Ya can’t have fun with dames about”).and how Widmark originally thought the script hilarious (!) and read the script to friends in the voice he used in the movie. It made me wonder if the erotic undertone was added by Widmark, similar to  what Stephen Boyd did years later to Charlton Heston in BEN HUR (MGM,1959).

Ported over from the prior Fox Film Noir series DVD release is the Audio Commentary with Film Historians James Ursini and Alain Silver has a more scholarly tone but never monotonic while delivering so much information on the making of the film and behind the scenes going ons (for example, Miss Dunnock had to be flung down the stairs TWICE because the cameraman was not ready!). They also discuss the (loose )1995 remake.

The music score is also available on a separate audio track. The trailer features legendary columnist Walter Winchell praising the film with hyperbole that must have made the publicity team go crazy about. The optional white English subtitles are clean and easy to read, and follow the dialogue and action.

Get it and add it to your collection or Tommy may have to visit you!

 

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Kevin G Shinnick

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Riccardo Freda: The Life and Works of a Born Filmmaker

Riccardo Freda: The Life and Works of a Born Filmmaker
Roberto Curti Price: $45.00 40 photos, notes, filmography, bibliography, index
376pp. softcover (7 x 10)McFarland  2017                                                http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/book-2.php?id=978-1-4766-6970-0

Like many American film fans, my knowledge of director Ricardo Freda was mostly limited to his
Horror films I Vampiri /THE DEVIL’S COMMANDMENT (Titanus,1957),Caltiki il mostro immortale /CALTIKI,THE IMMORTAL MONSTER(Lux,1959),L’orrible segreto del Dr. Hichcock /THE HORRIBLE DOCTOR HITCHCOCK(Panda,1962) and Lo specttro /THE GHOST (Panda,1963).

• However, Freda had a career in cinema that lasted from 1937 (Lasciate ogni speranza /LEAVE ALL HOPE ,Juventus Film) until 1994 (La fille de d’Artagnan /REVENGE OF THE MUSKETEERS ,Canal+ )starting and ending his career as a writer.

• Writer Roberto Curti of Cortona Italy has done a remarkable job tracking down an amazing amount of information on Freda’s life and career.His love for the subject comes though with his very detailed synopses of these rarely seen (outside of certain countries), providing the history behind many of them, production facts, and their success or failure in various territories as well as changes made to them .

Curti uses Freda’s memoir Divoratori di celluloide (Emme Edizioni (1981),164 pages)as a starting point ,but also researching though film magazines and newspapers from several countries, as well as tracking down and watching the titles from the director’s long career. Curti points out that the director could often be petty and recall incidents that might not always match the facts.Curti’s interviews and research sometimes contradicts what Freda put into his book.

• Still ,the Egyptian born Italian director lived La Dolce Vita, being an extravagant personal spender and gambler as well as womanizer. It is ironic that he despised films like Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (Riama,1960) as well as the entire neo-realist movement of films like Ladri di biciclette/THE BICYCLE THIEF(Ente Nazionale,1948).

He was more a storyteller who felt that film should be escapist,and take us out of reality. Not only did he have those skills, he was also able to make limited budgets look richer than they were, due to his understanding of film editing and camera placement ,as well as working with innovators like the great Mario Bava. Indeed, the short tempered Freda walked off the set of a I Vampiri ,leavinng it to be  finished by Bava. We see throughout the book that Freda had a habit of walking off set, much to the detriment of his films and career.  I Vampiri has an important place in Italian horror films ,as it was the country’s first true sound horror film (the first Italian horror film may have been Il monstro di Frankenstein(1920) a now sadly lost silent picture).

Freda had prior to I Vampiri had done a lot of regional comedies ( he cared little for the comics in many of his films ,but put in many physical gags inspired by the likes of Buster Keaton ,historical dramas and swashbucklers . Indeed ,his love of classic novels and adventure tales seemed to have merged into Caccia all’umo /LES MISERABLES( Lux,1952) ,making it more of an action thriller!

His swashbucklers seemed to have broken new ground in storytelling in Italy, being more inspired by American filmmakers than the home grown artisans. His love of tracking shots to get a lot of detail within a long take was developed during this period .Having reviewed the Italian historical drama La cena delle beffe / THE JESTER’s SUPPER* (Società Italiana Cines,1942 ,not by Freda, but by a contemporary),I would love to see more these  rarely motion pictures                (see review at https://scarletthefilmmagazine.wordpress.com/2017/05/07/the-jesters-supper-dvd/ ) .

Freda also was one of the first to leap into the sword and sandal films ,even telling an earlier version of the tale of SPARTACUS(Spartaco(API,1953),released in the U.S. by RKO as SINS OF ROME ). He hopped from genre to genre with various budgets and varying success. Comedy (at which he seemed to have a lot of success),drama ,spy thrillers ,Krimi( he faced off and WON against the antagonistic Klaus Kinski) ,swashbucklers,historicals, and of course horror.

His indifference to some parts of the movies he made show with some sloppy work (in ROGER LA HONTE( Comptoir Francais du Film Production ,1966,one of his later films with a decent budget, he allows a major stunt to show clearly that a “woman” passenger is actually a stunt man since his trousers are clearly visible ),as well as his indifference to actors (he was notorious for using doubles when actors gave him any grief). Yet in staging ,he often surpassed the budget with strong imagery and tracking shots that convey a lot of information .Plus several actors who worked with him praised the director .

Curti’s book makes me want to revisit several of Freda’s films and seek out some of his rarities. Curti has done what any film researcher should do, and that is evaluate and place into historical context the work of the subject.

McFarland is to be commended once again for putting out such a detailed volume about a filmmaker not as well known as perhaps he should be. Each film has b&w illustrations of the film posters or on set photographs, The graphics are sharp and easy to see.

This is a MUST HAVE for lovers of film, especially for those who love Euro-Cinema.

Highly Recommended.

Kevin G Shinnick

 

                  "Acquista il libro o ti farò del male ..."

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The Jester’s Supper (DVD)

SCARLET THE FILM MAGAZINE DVD REVIEW
THE JESTER’S SUPPER (La Cena delle Beffe) 1942 Italy 82 minutes B&W –Historical Drama – $19.95 from CAV Distributing Corp / One 7 Movies. Region 0 DVD available through http://www.oldies.com/product-view/83234O.html as well as Amazon and others.

 

 
Thanks to Turner Classics, I have been on a foreign film binge of late so the arrival of this DVD could not have been better timed.

 

 

 
The film THE JESTER’S SUPPER (la Cena delle Beffe) was an extremely popular costume drama produced during WWII. For those who think Italian Cinema began with the neo- realists after the war, this film will come as something of a revelation. With the output from Hollywood cut off, the Italian populace truly embraced their home grown productions. The Fascist government, under son, Vittorio, realized the power of film, sponsor movies (even constructing Cinecittà studios) but their films were mostly of a propaganda nature. However, they also produced comedies and historical dramas that rivaled American productions with their artistry and skills.

 
THE JESTER’S SUPPER is based upon a popular play by the Italian writer Sem Benelli, which was first staged in Italy in 1909. In 1919 the play was put on in New York City . The play was the basis for an opera La cena delle beffe composed by Umberto Giordano with a libretto written by Benelli himself. It premiered at La Scala Opera House in 1924.

 

 

 

The film was shot at Cinecitta using leftover sets from a previous big budget epic from 1941 La corona di ferro (The Iron Crown). Set in Renaissance era, two aristocratic brothers, Neri (Amadeo Nazzari) & Gabriello (Alfredo Varelli ) Chiaramantesi, have been abusing the people of Florence with impunity due to their power and station. Things begin to change when Neri dares to ravage Ginevera (Clara Calamai) in front of her lover Giannetto Malespini (Giannetto Malespini) then toss him into the river. He survives, and what happens next is a tale of revenge best served Italian style.

 

 
Amadeo Nazzari, usually a hero, was cast against type and played the lecherous villain here. He usually sported a mustache and I could see why .Even clean shaven, here he resembles Errol Flynn. Amazingly, he turned down Mussolini’s request to join the Fascist Party and yet continued to have a successful career during the War years. He played a movie star (!) in Fellini’s classic Le notti di Cabiria/ NIGHTS OF CABRIA (1957).

 
Valentina Cortese, then 19, appearing as Lisabetta, is perhaps best remembered (she is still alive at this writing, age 94!) for her Oscar nominated turn in Truffaut’s La Nuit américaine /DAY FOR NIGHT (1973).

 


THE JESTER’s SUPPER boasts one of Italian Cinema’s first topless nudity scenes, when actress Clara Calamai has her top torn from her by the lustful Neri. In interviews, Calamai had not wanted to do the scene, but felt compelled to by the director. That quick flash of nudity is a reason that people went to see the film again and again. Though often cited as the first bit of nudity in an Italian sound film, Vittoria Carpi showed a bare breast for a moment in THE IRON CROWN/La corona di ferro  (1941)   which was also directed by Blasetti. Horror fans may recall Calamai from Dario Argento’s Profondo rosso /DEEP RED (1975) coming out of retirement to portray the eccentric matriarch, Marta.

A kissing scene and the topless scene both appear in the final montage of CINEMA PARADISO (1988).( http://www.filmsite.org/cinemaparadisokisses.html )
Some of the performers did not live long after WWII. Due to their Fascists leanings, both Osvaldo Valenti and his pregnant mistress Luisa Ferida, who appeared in several movies together, were executed without trail on the streets by partisans.


Director Alessandro Blasetti was called the father of Italian Cinema because he led to the revival of Italian Cinema in the 1930s and becoming one of the leading figures during the Fascist era. He is also known as one of the first directors of what became Italian neorealism with his 1942 film Quattro passi Fra le nuvole /FOUR STEPS IN THE CLOUDS. Amazingly, even though he seemed to have strong ties with the Fascists government, it does not seem to have affected his career, as he is listed as having made films after the War from 1946 to 1969.

 

 
The print used by ONE7 MOVIES is incredibly sharp, with just a little digital artifacting appearing on certain shots. The subtitles (which have an on/off option) are quite easy to read .The sound is clear and the score by Giuseppe Becce sounds rich even in its original mono sound. The only extra is a brief photo gallery that appears to be frame blow ups.

 

 

 
Raccomandato (recommended!).
-Kevin G Shinnick

(originally published on SCARLET THE FILM MAGAZINE REVIEWS FACEBOOK PAGE,May 18, 2015. Updated May 7,2017)

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ONE OF OUR AIRCRAFT IS MISSING (Olive Films Blu Ray)

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ONE OF OUR AIRCRAFT IS MISSING ( Olive Films) -Blu Ray-b&w.1942. 103 Mins. $29.95 http://store.olivefilms.com/War.67/Olive_Films.38/One_Of_Our_Aircraft_Is_Missing__Blu-Ray_.6319.html also available on DVD

ONE OF OUR AIRCRAFT IS MISSING (British National Films/U.A. (U.S.)) is a classic WWII war films is a must see for anyone who is an history buff, classic cinema, British Cinema, war films- heck anyone who enjoys a superlative film.

This was the inaugural film by The Archers, the producing team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. The two men would share directing credits on several films, including on another WWII drama, THE 49TH PARALLEL (General Films, Columbia ,1941) THE RED SHOES (General Films,1948), and BLACK NARCISSUS (General Films, U.I. ,1947) dissolving the partnership with one more WW II film, PURSUIT OF THE GRAF SPEE (J Arthur Rank,1956).

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Made as a propaganda film with full approval of the Ministry of Information, the film stands as an engrossing drama of courage of various types, with many exciting set pieces that are balanced by marvelous human moments. Done in a documentary style, the film has a marvelous sense of realism that is lacking in many other films of the period, even going so far as to shun a film score.

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It is hard to believe that the film went into production before a fully finished script was in hand, but Powell kept rewriting the film when the military consultants would mention new innovations. Powell would then work these ideas into the film. That the film seems seamless is a credit to all involved, editor David Lean (who had co directed parts of MAJOR BARBARA (General Films,1941) uncredited the year before).

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Also, major kudos to the effects team under Douglas Woolsey, who contributed realistic battle effects to several British films like CONVOY (Ealing,1940). The effects wizards could construct an amazing large scale replica of Stuttgart thanks to art director David Rawnsley who covered the entire studio floor with his miniatures. Effects Cameraman Freddie Ford filmed the sequence by laying on his stomach from the studio rafters floor ten hours a day to get some of the shots. So, convincing is it that it is easily blended with actual flying footage. That the film cost only £700,000 is a miracle.

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When the film was first released by United Artists in the United States, they edited out 20 minutes of footage, which, while probably allowing for more showings per day, probably robbed the film of much of its power. Still, the film is so well crafted, that it received two Academy Award nominations. Oddly, this was Michael Powell’s only Oscar nomination. Due to its critical as well as financial success J Arthur Rank offered Powell and Pressburger a film by film deal to choose any subject they wanted.one-of-our-aircraft-is-missing-movie-poster-1942-1020198733

 

The movie opens with a title letting the viewer know that the film was made with the full cooperation of the Royal Air Force, the Air Ministry, and the Royal Netherland Government in exile at that time in England. It is then followed by a telegram informing us that five farmers in the Netherlands were executed by the Nazis for helping several downed British Airmen escape the country. We then jump to an airfield in England where we see that a British bombing squadron is returning, all save one. The Vickers Wellington bomber designated “B for Bertie” has not returned.
We then see the plane flying over the ocean, but that it is completely empty of crew. Finally flying over land, the ghost plane crashes into some power lines and explodes.vlcsnap-00409
This opening is an exciting tease for the tale that unfolds as we jump back in time and are introduced to the brave crew of “B for Bertie”. The flight crew is made up of
– Sir George Corbett (Godfrey Tearle, memorable from Hitchcock’s THE 39 STEPS (Gaumont-British,1935)) the old man of the group, going on one last mission as the tail gunner,
-former pro soccer player tuned radio operator Bob Ashley (Emrys Jones in his film debut, who later did a lot of British television and stage work),
-pilot John Haggard (Hugh Burden, who years later appeared in the film ONE OF OUR DINOSAURS IS MISSING (Disney,1975), a title that references this film),
-farmer turned second pilot Tom Eanshaw (Eric Portman, who a year earlier was a fleeing Nazi in THE 49TH PARALLEL for the same production team. ONE …. is a variant of that film. In 49th, a Nazi U-Boat squad must try to evade capture in Canada when their vessel is destroyed, and flee to the then neutral United States. One of his earliest film roles Portman had appeared in a Tod Slaughter production (MARIA MARTEN, or THE MURDER IN THE RED BARN (George King Productions,1936)),
-Cockney front gunner Geof Hickman (Bernard Miles, later the second actor after Lawrence Olivier to be given a peerage)
-and former actor turned navigator Frank Shelley (Hugh Williams, who later with his wife Margaret Vyner wrote the stage play and later screenplay for THE GRASS IS GREENER), who is obsessed with his wife’s upcoming BBC radio performance.

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The squadron takes off, and soon they are over their target. The bombing mission is a mixture of actual flight footage mixed in seamlessly with effects sequences. After dumping their payload, “B for Bertie” is struck by anti-aircraft fire, and the crew is forced to bail out over occupied Holland. As we had seen earlier, the plane did not crash until it had reached England.

 

Five of the crew regroup, but find that Bob is missing. Trying to decide what to do next, they come across some Dutch children. Not sure if they will turn them in or help, the children explain that they support the British, and can be identified by the safety pins that they wear, a sign against oppressors and to keep together. Currently, this symbol is once again popular, first in England due to those who opposed Brexit (feeling that everyone was stronger together) and now in the United States as a symbol against oppression perceived in the Trump administration.

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The children bring the airmen to meet teacher Else Meertens (Pamela Brown, in her film debut. A successful stage actress, she would live with director Michael Powell until her death in 1975). She questions the airmen to see if they are not disguised infiltrators. Satisfied that they are who they say they are, the Dutch disguise them and try and slip them by the Nazis via bicycle. A brief stop at a church has them nearly caught when the Nazis stop there after they discover one of the parachutes. Look for a young Peter Ustinov (later to star in ONE OF OUR DINOSAURS IS MISSING) in his film debut as the priest. The organist Alec Clunes had given Ustinov his first stage acting break, and is perhaps best known for having played Hastings in Olivier’s RICHARD III (London Films,1955).

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Stopping at the home of the local Burgomaster (Hay Petrie, famous for playing many of Shakespearean clowns on stage during the 1920s,he had a long and varied film career, hoping from comedy to drama with ease),they are confronted by Dutch collaborator De Jong (ballet dancer/actor Robert Helpmann, perhaps best known for portraying a choreographer in the film THE RED SHOES (General Films/J Arthur Rank,1948)and who in 1978 broke his back while filming the Australian horror film PATRICK (Australian Int./Filmways)!)but who has the tables turned on him.swedish_one_of_our_aircraft_is_missing_r_ja00169_l                                                                                      (Polish  film poster)

Back on the road they see a football match being played, and among the players is their missing crewman Bob! Once again, the Nazis appear, and say that there are too many people at the gathering and 50 people must leave. The Burgomaster says that then they will all disperse, to annoy the Nazis sense of control and order. The Nazis allow them all to stay. The brilliance of this simple and courageous act of defiance is truly quietly moving.

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They are escorted out in some supply trucks, but when the Nazis wish to search them, they are confronted by Jo De Vries (Googie Withers, probably best known for appearing the haunted mirror segment of DEAD OF NIGHT (Ealing,1945) who with quiet authority gets the trucks safely through a check point. It should be pointed out that the women in this film have strength, intelligence and courage, and are in positions of authority. De Vries hides the airmen in her own home, letting the fliers know that she is thought to be pro German since she lets it be known that her husband was “killed” in a British raid, but she knows him to be safe in England working as a Voice of Freedom for Radio Orange). This is even more dangerous as the Nazis are garrisoned on her property.

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They are awaiting an air raid, when the German Soldiers are ordered into their bunkers and De Vries can slip them into the cellar unseen where there is a secret inlet that leads to the river and a boat awaits them. While they wait, there is some magnificent dialogue where courage, loyalty, and bravery are discussed.

Finally, the raid occurs, and the escape attempt begins in earnest. Will the brave air men get back home to England?

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The Blu Ray does not have any extras, but the film is so superior, it is worth the purchase price, as I feel it will be a film you would watch over and over. The movie has been out on the home video format since VHS, but the quality was always of a very washed out print. The Olive Films is the complete 103 British print from the best elements possible.   This release very sharp black and white images that complement the cinematography of Ronald Neame (later to become a producer with David Lean on such classics as BRIEF ENCOUNTER (Eagle Lion, Universal,1945) before becoming a director in his own right (POSEIDON ADVENTURE, Fox ,1972). The mono sound is clear and hiss free. Optional English subtitles are clean, easy to read and follow the action and dialogue.one-of-our-aircraft-is-missing-united-artists-1942-title-lobby-card

Highest Recommendation.
-Kevin G Shinnick4696633_l6

Thanks to John F Colaresi for catching some errors.

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