Continuing with movies I watched this month. (You can find Part I here.)
Get Out (2017) Jordan Peele
DVD – library (1:44)
Get Out, which you could not avoid on social media just a few months ago, proves that sometimes the hype is justified. Jordan Peele’s film about a young African American man going to meet the parents of his white girlfriend walks a fine line between horror and social commentary, with just enough comedy to balance the scares – not an easy thing to do. My hat’s off to Peele. Can’t wait to see what he’ll do next.
Clash of the Titans (1981) Desmond Davis (2x)
Ray Harryhausen was already a legend (and then some) by the time he worked on Clash of the Titans. Although the cast is impressive (Laurence Olivier, Ursula Andress, Maggie Smith, Claire Bloom, Burgess Meredith), the film certainly won no awards for acting or script writing. The story is a mixture of various tales from Greek mythology combined with Harryhausen’s stop-motion animation, which is still impressive, especially the Medusa, certainly one of his finest creations. I’ll be honest: I watched Clash of the Titans in anticipation of the Indicator Series Sinbad box set, which features Harryhausen’s work on The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973), and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977), which I’m still working through. As far as Clash goes, I’d give Harryhausen’s work five stars; the rest of it… not so much. But it’s still lots of fun and you should see it at least once.
The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927) Alfred Hitchcock
Although I consider myself a big fan, this is the first silent film I’ve seen from Alfred Hitchcock (which probably disqualifies me as a “big fan”). Based on the Marie Belloc Lowndes novel The Lodger and the play Who Is He?, The Lodger is really a Jack the Ripper story that stands as an early example of several emerging Hitchcock themes, primarily that of the innocent man accused. It’s great fun to watch the interesting camera angles and lighting, clearly influenced by German filmmakers. A good one, recently released on Blu-ray from Criterion.
High Risk (1981) Stewart Rafill
Despite the impressive cast, I’d never heard of this film until it was discussed on a very early episode of Pure Cinema Podcast. So we’ve got James Brolin, James Coburn, Bruce Davison, Cleavon Little, Anthony Quinn, Lindsay Wagner, Chick Vennera, and Ernest Borgnine, for cryin’ out loud! The story is ridiculously implausible: four friends (Brolin, Davison, Little, Vennera) decide to head down to Columbia to steal millions of dollars from a drug lord (Coburn). It’s totally wheels-off, but also entertaining. Ernest Borgnine nearly steals the show as a weapons dealer who makes the guys all swear that no animals will be harmed in their adventure. And then you’ve got Anthony Quinn as General Mariano, an aging rebel leader with a dedicated, quirky following. High Risk is fun if you don’t think much (or preferably at all). I should point out, however, that the DVD I watched was atrocious. Proceed with caution.
Ice Station Zebra (1968) John Sturges (2x)
I’d been wanting to revisit this movie for years and finally found it on DVD at a good price while vacationing. I tweeted that I was watching it and got a comment from Eddie Muller that the film was Howard Hughes’s favorite movie. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that…
James Ferraday (Rock Hudson) commands a nuclear submarine whose mission on paper is to reach the North Pole to rescue the personnel at a British weather station, but his real mission is something so secret Ferraday isn’t even told about it. He is told that a mysterious British agent called “Mr. Jones” (Patrick McGoohan) will be onboard with the real orders. You should probably know that I love submarine movies, even bad submarine movies, and this one takes a long time to get going, but the suspense, tension and espionage angles all work for me. So much of the film – particularly the last half hour or so – simply does not work, so much so that large parts of it are laughable. But for reasons I can’t explain, I really like it. Call it a guilty pleasure. I’m not sure what that says about me or Howard Hughes…
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) Nathan Juran
Indicator Series Blu-ray (1:28)
The story of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad – of Sinbad (Kerwin Mathews) sailing home on his way to Baghdad and meeting a lot of strange people, beings, and magic along the way – is pretty standard fare and the acting’s not exactly memorable. So what has made this box set (mentioned above in the Clash of the Titans review) so highly sought-after? I’ll tell you: Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion special effects. The film is certainly flawed, but it’s also charming, the kind of film that would enrapture you as a kid and much of that magic still holds up.
If you’re interest in buying the Sinbad box set or the upcoming The Wonderful Worlds of Ray Harryhausen Volume One: 1955-1960, order soon: both are limited editions from Indicator/Powerhouse Films.
The Snake Pit (1948) Anatole Litvak
DVD – interlibrary loan (1:48)
Anatole Litvak’s The Snake Pit begins with two women conversing on a park bench. They could be any women anywhere, but they’re not. Virginia Cunningham (Olivia de Havilland) is confused, not realizing where she is. When she rises from the bench, things move at an alarmingly fast rate with visual clues building upon each other so quickly you probably won’t realize you’re holding your breath. A nurse walks among a group of women, barking orders at them as if she’s been doing this for years (and perhaps she has). There’s a marvelous 180° turn of the camera from one end of a long line of women to the other, a dizzying moment in which Virginia realizes that she’s trapped in a mental institution.
Capitalizing on such a powerful opening is difficult, but Virginia’s story is so compelling (as is de Havilland’s performance) we can’t look away. We learn how she got there, why she doesn’t recognize her own husband (Mark Stevens), and wonder how in the world this will all get straightened out. Or will it? The Snake Pit was one of the first Hollywood films to take a serious look at mental illness and it still packs quite a punch.
Ghosts on the Loose (1943) William Beaudine
Unlike The Snake Pit discussed above, Ghosts on the Loose packs almost no punch whatsoever. I’ll be honest: I bought this DVD at a Friends of the Library sale while on vacation in Asheville, NC only because it stars Bela Lugosi and Ava Gardner. Actually the verb “stars” is a bit of a stretch: if you add up the screen time for both Lugosi and Gardner, you’ll probably have a grand total of seven minutes (maybe less).
The plot involves the East Side Kids (who starred in a series of 22 movies from 1940 to 1945) trying to help their friends Betty (Gardner) and Jack (Rick Vallin) start their marriage on the right foot by decorating their new house. But they get the address wrong and stumble upon the headquarters of a group of undercover Nazis led by Bela Lugosi.
Ghosts on the Loose is a low-budget Monogram Pictures effort directed by William Beaudine, also known as “One Shot” since he nearly always used the first take of a shot regardless how how many mistakes were visible (and often the mistakes are legion). Ava Gardner later recalled in her autobiography Ava: My Story (1990), “I don’t remember much else about the film because it was shot at such enormous speed. We had one film stage and it took one week. Action – film – print!… In one scene the hero accidentally stumbled over a prop and fell. Nobody cared. No retake. Print it!”
The saving grace of the film (for me) is in discovering a phrase that my childhood friend Mark’s dad used to say all the time when we were kids knocking on the door:
Scruno (Ernie “Sammy” Morrison): “Who dat?”
Voice off camera (Lugosi): “Who dat?”
Scruno: “Who dat say ‘Who dat?’ when I say ‘Who dat’?”
Voice off camera: “Who dat say ‘Who dat?’ when I say ‘Who dat’?”
You take life’s simple pleasures wherever you can find them…
Batman: The Killing Joke (Animated 2016) Sam Liu
Blu-ray, borrowed from my friend Dan (1:26)
Adapted from one of the most famous Batman comics of all time, The Killing Joke (written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Brian Bolland), was obviously going to need additional material to stretch a 64-page story into a full-length animated feature. That extra material comes at the beginning, focusing on the relationship between Barbara Gordon/Batgirl and Batman, a relationship that has proven enormously controversial among fans, although the main thrust of the comic and the film is revenge/origin story of the Joker. It is an extremely violent, disturbing story, one that Alan Moore practically regrets having written. (You can read some of Moore’s thoughts here.)
I don’t watch a lot of animation, but I thought the look of the film was quite good and the ending – while not as powerful as the original comic – worked well. I just wish they’d come up with a better opening.
The Italian Job (1969) Peter Collinson
The Italian Job (not to be confused with the 2003 remake, which I have not seen) is a comedy/heist film that contains one of the most outrageous chase scenes in the history of the movies, and for that alone it should not be missed. Yet everything about the film works in a tongue-in-cheek way with an undercurrent of charm that’s infectious. I plan to discuss this film more later, but when you’ve got Michael Caine, Noël Coward, Benny Hill, the music of Quincy Jones, red, white, and blue Mini Coopers, and an Aston Martin falling down a cliff, how can you not have a good time?
A few more next time to wrap up July. Let me know if you watch or plan to watch any of the above. And let me know what you’ve been watching.
Photos: Indiewire, Gone With the Twins, DVD Beaver, Multitude of Movies, Blu-ray.com, Passion for Movies, Snag Films, The Bela Lugosi Blog, Screen Rant, MUBI