BLACK WIDOW (1954)--- Joyful was I at how much
fun this 20th Fox Cinemascope mystery turned out to be, a straightforward
whodunit given ornamentation of All About Eve-ish Broadway setting and catty
dialogue out of that theatrical trunk. As with wide ones done early in the
game, an all-star group stands along an anamorphic landscape like police
line-up, we the judges of which killed kittenish would-be home wrecker Peggy
Ann Garner, Fox's formerJunior Misswho once grew trees in Brooklyn, but is
now felling them in Manhattan.
Chief suspect is Van Heflin, who always seemed more natural than
thesps projecting big in contrast to his low-key. C'Scope cameras could be cruel, what
with new ratio short of perfection and edge-of-frame "mumps"
sometimes inflicted. Merciless too was glimpse of Gene Tierney at premature
aging and indication of off-camera stress that would soon exit her off the
Broadway ego'ing and creative clash was well
enough explored in All About Eve to make others have a go, thus Forever Female and The
Country Girl from Paramount
within prior or after year of Black Widow. Fox plugged B'way's colorful background into dour
detecting enlivened by Nunnally Johnson's smart dialogue, him showing again how
brittle such stuff could be given right setting. Pleasing too is George Raft
rescued from Lippert to law-dog amidst penthouses and bring a bigger name
killer to justice. New York
streets are the real thing, so there are White Way marquees and Yellow Cabs like
roving sunbursts, all vista-lensed and novel to 1954 audiences. Fox's DVD, by
the way, from its Noir Collection, looks sensational, and directional stereo
had me turning around every time doors knocked or phones rang (was that
someone calling them or me?).
THE FIGHTING HERO (1934)--- There's a terrific
book by Michael Pitts called Poverty Row Studios: 1929-1940 that clued me to
background of "Reliable Pictures Corporation," which produced this
Tom Tyler of admittedly dubious merit, but like any series western from the
30's, has at least curiosity to recommend it. Also a plus is the first quality
DVD available from Sinister Cinema, one of the cleaner renditions I've lately
seen of an ancient oater. Tom was ever reliable at riding/fighting to
believable effect. Some of the scraps, in fact, don't look pulled, as if Tyler
and opponent were told to get out there, mix it up, and may the best of two win.
Before faking fisticuffs became such an art, I wonder how many brawls were
on-the-level ones, maybe taken up for real once shooting stopped. Tom gets in
more acting and even love scenes here than accustomed. Wonder if he dreaded
days when such was on schedule. Did screen cowboys prefer flight and fists to
carrying thesp load? With few exceptions, results worked out better when they
THE CURSE OFFRANKENSTEIN (1957)--- The
bellwether for horrors to come, specifically ones from Hammer Films, achieving
with this and successors an ongoing (two decade) cycle of mostly profitable
Brit features (was the James Bondseries an only duplication of their
success?). We can watch now and appreciate how disrupting Curse was to genre
convention and proprieties imposed by US filmmakers cowed by the Code.
What patrons got for a first time here was true stench of death, Peter
Cushing's strained expression as he carves off heads letting imagination run
rife as to gore below the frame line. Region 2's Blu-Ray restores a shot of
eyeballs, out of respective sockets as we Hammer-heads prefer them, and yes,
I'd have liked seeing discard noggins disintegrated by acid, but one can't
Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee usher in a
next generation of horroriconography here. Wonder how long before their names alone
were enough to pull patronage, or indeed if that day arrived at all. Would
Frankenstein or Dracula in the title remain necessary to fill seats forCushing/Lee ventures? Curse sets and
costuming somehow look done in miniature, as though drawn from a period doll
chest (love Robert Urquhart approaching the door in his stovepipe hat). It had
to be known well in advance that this thing would hit. Imagine Warners'
projection room peek and immediate resolve to push Curse hard (and how they
were rewarded for doing so!). Not one of the sequels approached pioneering CoF to
my mind. The Blu-Ray does a best as possible job with accessible elements.
Certainly prints I saw in 16mm never looked so good as this, and 1968's first viewingat our Starlite Drive-In had not color comparable (eastman 35mm prints
having already begun to fade).