Due to having several projects in the queue, most of my thoughts on the movies I’ve watched lately will be brief. Hopefully there’s enough here to stir (or dispel) your interest. If you missed it, here’s Part I of what I’ve watched in October so far. And here’s more…
Gaslight (1944) George Cukor
AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center (1:54)
The Hard Way (1943) Vincent Sherman
DVD – interlibrary loan (1:49)
Helen (Ida Lupino) wants her sister Katie (Joan Leslie) to have a better life, to break out of their small town so Katie can let her talents find an audience. But is Helen really looking out for herself? Nice romantic drama with lots of music, co-starring Dennis Morgan, Jack Carson and Gladys George.
Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) Chantal Akerman
An amazing film I can’t even begin to talk about just yet. I certainly want to see it again and reflect upon it at length; it deserves such treatment. Needless to say, a huge thank you goes out to The Magic Lantern podcast for bringing this film to my attention.
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) Tay Garnett (2x)
I’ll be taking a closer look at this for one of the aforementioned projects I’m working on, but I can say that I had forgotten many aspects of this cornerstone film noir, not the least of which is John Garfield’s excellent performance. Again, I’ll have more on this one later.
The Haunted Palace (1963) Roger Corman
Borrowed from a friend (1:27)
In 1875, Charles Dexter Ward (Vincent Price), the great-great-grandson of a warlock named Joseph Curwen, comes to the town of Arkham having inherited the Curwen palace. No matter than Curwen put a curse on the entire town of Arkham and its descendants for burning him over 100 years earlier. Does the spirit of Curwen live on inside the palace? (If not, we’re looking at a 15-minute movie, so the answer is yes!) Although marketed as an Edgar Allan Poe film, this one is really an H.P. Lovecraft story all the way. The Haunted Palace is wonderfully atmospheric and features yet another excellent performance by Vincent Price as well as appearances by Lon Chaney Jr., Elisha Cook Jr., and Debra Paget in her final film role. The film also earns the “Most Green Make-Up Used in a Movie” award for 1963. (Check out Lon Chaney Jr’s mug in the photo above.)
The Dark Tower (1943) John Harlow
Borrowed from a friend (1:33)
Herbert Lom steals the show as Stephen Torg, a hypnotist looking for work with a traveling circus that’s about to pack it in due to sparse audiences. Torg proves he’s the real deal by hypnotizing aerial acrobat Mary (Anne Crawford), but her partner/boyfriend Tom (David Farrar) doesn’t trust Torg. (Would you trust a guy named Torg?) Enjoyable for the most part, but also pretty routine. Watch it for Lom’s performance.
Dead Weight (TV 1971) Jack Smight
Columbo: The Complete First Season DVD (1:15)
I’m going to start listing these Columbo episodes individually and not collectively since they’re all 70 minutes or more, practically short movies (although Letterboxd won’t let me add any of these Season One features except for the show’s two pilots). In this one, a legendary retired General Hollister (Eddie Albert) murders a colonel in the general’s own home, shooting him with the one-of-a-kind pearl-handled Colt 45 that made Hollister famous. Not a smart choice. Also not a smart choice to commit the crime in front of a window, where Helen Stewart (Suzanne Pleshette) observes the murder from a boat just outside Hollister’s home. Although it’s fine entertainment, Dead Weight suffers mainly from a weak clue that Columbo purses to bring Hollister down, plus I had a tough time believing Eddie Albert as Hollister was really that charismatic. But still, a good way to spend 75 minutes.
Suitable for Framing (TV 1971) Hy Averback
Columbo: The Complete First Season DVD (1:15)
Art critic Dale Kingston (Ross Martin) murders his wealthy art collector uncle to get at his art collection, right? Well, there’s more to it than that, much more. Kingston has an accomplice, an admirer named Tracy (Rosanna Huffman), who helps him with his master plan. But then that shabby-looking detective starts hanging around…
Dale Kingston – complete with crushed velvet tuxedoes and awful shirt-and-tie combinations – is one of the Columbo’s best first season villains: he’s insufferable, rude, condescending, and has little patience for Columbo. The build-up and the reveal at the end are simply spectacular, but the supporting cast is amazing, featuring Kim Hunter, Don Ameche, Vic Tayback, Mary Wickes and Barney Phillips. My favorite scene involves Mary Wickes trying to find a suspect for Columbo in a photo album, treating the detective to some of his own medicine.
Aventure Malgache (1944) Alfred Hitchcock
Borrowed from a friend (0:30)
The second short propaganda film Alfred Hitchcock made for the British Ministry of Information (the first being Bon Voyage, produced the same year) is unfortunately pretty boring. Paul Clarus (playing himself) relates a story to two other stage actors as they prepare for a performance. Clarus tells the tale of his time in the French Resistance on the island of Madagascar during WWII. During this time (told in flashback), Clarus tells how he was working for the Resistance while pretending to support a Vichy official (Paul Bonifas). The film seems much longer than a half hour, is tremendously talky, and bears almost no distinguishing Hitchcock touches. For Hitchcock completionists only. In French with English subtitles.
The Black Room (1935) Roy William Neill
Borrowed from a friend (1:10)
In late 19th century Austria, twin boys are born to a baron and his wife, but the celebration ends when a prophesy determines that the younger Anton will kill the older Gregor in the castle’s “black room.” To avoid this, the room is bricked up so that Gregor will always be safe, at least from Anton. Years later the twin boys grow up to be… Boris Karloff!
Anton left the castle years ago, returning to visit his brother Gregor, who has turned into a sadistic, murdering ruler of the peasantry. The locals have had just about enough of Gregor’s shenanigans and force him to abdicate so that Anton can rule. You can see where this is going, but it’s a lot of fun getting there. The style and art direction aren’t up to the level of some of the Universal monster films, but it’s quite good. It takes awhile for things to get going, but not only do we get Karloff playing two roles, but three as one of the brothers (I won’t tell you which, but it’s not hard to guess) pretending to be the other. If you’ve ever doubted Karloff’s acting ability, just see The Black Room, which also features a nice scene with Gregor pontificating on the pleasures of pears.
That’s it for this time. More on the way…
Photos: TCM, The Columbophile, Speakeasy, World Cinema, Cool Ass Cinema, This Island Rod