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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Watch List For 3/12/13

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 former Junior Miss who 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 lot.

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 did.

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (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 Bond series 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 everything.

Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee usher in a next generation of horror iconography 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 for  Cushing/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 viewing at our Starlite Drive-In had not color comparable (eastman 35mm prints having already begun to fade).


Blogger Vienna said...

Love your review and pictures from THE BLACK WIDOW. And description of George Raft escaping from Lippert!

Vienna's Classic Hollywood

12:57 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Yeah, I first saw CURSE during that late 60's re-release too! Paired with HORROR OF DRACULA - my initial viewing of that classic also! A great afternoon! I had already seen EVIL OF FRANK (or as my little brother affectionately referred to it, the shoe-box-head Frankenstein) during it's first run, doubled with the b/w thriller NIGHTMARE. Tacky, but since that one was a special treat for my 13th birthday, it remains my sentimental fave. Had also seen REVENGE by this time, although I didn't care for it at all as a kid; fifty years later I can objectively place it as one of the best things the studio cranked out.

3:21 PM  
Blogger MDG14450 said...

"Curse sets and costuming somehow look done in miniature, as though drawn from a period doll chest..."

You captured something here that contributed to my general dislike of Hammer for a lot of years--in their period pieces, it often seemed like a lot of "play acting." The sets and costumes always looked brand new, not "real."

I like a lot of Hammer now a lot more than I used to, but still not a big fan of the Frank and Drac films (despite Cushing's portrayals of the doctor).

2:59 PM  
Blogger iarla said...

Watched BLACK WIDOW last night, for the first time, after reading your review. It was painless, and it did remind me how important presentation is when watching -especially- Fox cinemascope pictures from the period. Doubt if i could have tolerated this in pan and scan and those blue-ish hues that haunted TV screens for decades! I'm always reminded of a seventies TV series that Jack Haley jr produced called THAT'S HOLLYWOOD that raided the FOX vaults! Suprised you didnt mention Peggy Ann Garner, erstwhile 40's child star, who faintly pre-empted a sort of joanne woodward syle performance here? just a little? and Reggie Gardiner, a little tired in colour. Rogers and Raft adrift, though Tierney in her memoir recalls problems with her dialogue, Aly Khan, and her mind. Still beautiful, i thought.

8:22 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

But I DID mention Peggy Ann Garner.

8:40 AM  
Blogger iarla said...

My apologies, john. You did , indeed, mention Peggy. It's my fault. I posted days after reading your review and should have rechecked. The truth is that GREENBRIAR is very important to me - i feel like i have read everything(!) there is to read about the golden age of movies and i just cant get excited about film writing anymore, untill i found your site. Theres you and David Thomson. I prefer you because you mention Box Office earnings! This is gold to me! When are you going to publish a book?

2:16 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Thank you very much for your kind words, iarla.

I do have a book coming out at the end of May, entitled "Showmen, Sell It Hot!," which your question prompts me to mention for the first time. I hadn't said anything before, because I wanted to be sure we'd have it ready by then, but revisions are done and it goes to the printer on April 1. They promise to have it ready by the week before Memorial Day, so we anticipate having the first copies at our dealer's
table for Columbus Cinevent.

4:40 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Hot damn! SHOWMEN, SELL IT HOT,eh? Can't wait!

11:32 PM  

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