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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Watch List For 3/25/13

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963) --- James Bond veers left of Dr. No's comic book thrilling to beat Russians and SPECTRE out of a decoder with no specific military or strategic value, just a box we'd call "McGuffin" after Hitchcock example. Interesting was borrow of that device, as The Master disdained on-the-nose intrigues of 007 and further steals from his canon (Russia's helicopter assault on Bond a grab off North By Northwest). Would youth today that like Daniel Craig quick-cuts sit for this? 007's briefcase  introduced here was what Santa brought me for 1965 Christmas. The case itself fell apart readily enough, but I still have the billfold, rubber dagger, pistol, and scope. Russia was always the "thinking" Bond fan's favorite, "the most like Fleming's novels." Is there snobbery afoot here? FRWL suited me fine with Dr. No for a summer '65 combo, being starved as I was for anything to freshen gulp of Goldfinger that so revolutionized this boy's theatre-going.

Modesty was maintained in the second of Bonds --- elephantitis still a couple of entries off. Latter-half travel over rails emits warm glow of Sherlock Holmes and Hitchcock (him again) having train-crossed to final dénouement with villainy. In fact, much of what happens after Connery subdues Robert Shaw while aboard seems anti-climactic. I'd almost forgotten stuff with the helicopter and boats until here they were again, but not the stinger of Lotte Lenya's (and how) orthopedic shoes. Bondian lifestyle is further explored and celebrated. I like just watching his check-ins and scan of hotel digs for bugging gear. Little things Connery did made such difference, like hesitation before tossing his hat on the bed, then going ahead as if to tempt bad luck. Did SC ad-lib this, or was it in the writing? 007 menu choices are always healthy ones. Should I order green figs and yogurt for my next Hadley's breakfast, or will they send me packing for deviation from biscuits/gravy and near-raw bacon per usual? The Blu-Ray of From Russia With Love is fantastic --- I don't know how it could look any better.

CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) --- At last on home 3-D, other than 16mm abridgements sold decades ago by Universal with red/green spectacles that lent small enhancement to depth effect. Does the added dimension click on digital? For me, most definitely. Glasses I used were more like goggles, light loss made up by Uni's exemplary transfer. Part of why 3-D tanked in the 50's was slapdash projection. Not a problem here, margins for error being reduced considerably thanks to digital rather than further attempt at Polaroid or stone-age go at Simplex sync-up. I now recognize 3-D as essential adjunct to Creature viewing, and am resolved not to watch again the flat way (and by all means, Universal, include Revenge Of The Creature with 2013's hoped-for further packaging of Blu-Ray monsters).

The Gill Man's triumph lay largely in the suit, plus sympathetic qualities (like Frankenstein's monster, he's more sinned against than sinning) that align him with gothic-bred forebears. Did science-fiction's first 50's cycle incubate other outcasts whose pain we so felt? Dinosaurs were maybe too large and impersonal for group hugs, and being animated or man-in-a-suit, could not achieve expressive range of the Creature (was King Kong the only really big monster that managed it?). Gilly's was admittedly a limited wardrobe, but he was a most exquisitely turned-out of beasts Universal generated during the 50's, this Creature truly off costuming's Savile Row. I wonder if he wasn't the leading boy-crush of Aurora model builders who'd take exquisite pains at painting webbed hands just so.

My closest brush with a real-life Creature was a hotel register encounter with Ben Chapman at which he asked to borrow my pen. Yes, he did. But I didn't seek an autograph in return. Why not? Guess it's tough associating a human face with the Gill-Man's. Of course, these were numerous through the three-pic series. I like how Richard Carlson stands down at the first one's end rather than finishing the Creature off. Left unsaid, but distinctly understood, was Let's Save Him For the Sequel, which everyone on board surely knew would come. I'm only amazed that Universal hasn't got round to rebooting the Gill-Man (but am aware of aborted attempts toward that over years since '54).


Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Very glad to hear about your conversion to the merits of 3D.

Now take a look at DIAL M FOR MURDER.

6:36 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

I already have. It's fabulous. Am now awaiting "House Of Wax," and Warners --- PLEASE include a Two-Color faithful Blu-Ray version of "Mystery Of The Wax Museum." A lot of us want that as much as a 3-D "House."

6:53 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon looks back on James Bond and the Creature in multiple parts (Part One):

Hi John,

I often cry in my beer that I missed the great Harryhausen kiddie stunners "7th Voyage of Sinbad" and "Mysterious Island" in their first runs, which I KNOW would have blown my lid off simply because I actually DID luck out and see the least of these, which was sandwiched in-between: "The 3 Worlds of Gulliver". As little an impression as that may make on contemporary kiddies, much less adults, it has a lot to recommend it still in my esteem, but you can't possibly communicate to anymore, even sometimes the sensibility of your own, adult self, the mystical realism a film like that imparts on a child's eyes and imagination. (I was seven when it came out---perfect age.) HOWEVER, this being mere prelude, I DID have the very good luck to see each and every one of the great, early James Bond films in order of appearance. I still remember it was announced to my little brother and I that we were "going to the movies" one evening, always a pleasurable sentence, and I asked, "What're we going to see?" I seem to recall that my mother replied, somewhat unconvinced, "Well, your father wants to go see something called "Dr. No"." This is hard to believe now, but that fell on my ears almost as if someone would tell a young boy today, "Well, we're going to see a movie called "Mr. What" ." In fact, I think I was nonplused and even asked my mom to repeat the title! It was the same---I'd heard right. So, hoping to redeem the evening, I hopefully asked, "What's the co-feature?" (By this point I was a much more worldly nine years old and knew terms like 'co-feature'!) She replied, "Something called 'The Mermaids of Tiburon'!" Oh, noooo, I thought. This was going to be a long haul! We piled in the family station wagon which was by ritual driven past the local submarine sandwich emporium for our dinner, and then off to the Century Drive-In. I think the listless "Mermaids..." dead freight was screened first, because otherwise I don't believe my dad would've stayed to watch it, and I remember we had to, anesthetized throughout. I can't remember a damned thing about it, 51 years later. But, then "Dr. No" started...and, with the lowest-possible expectations as a know-nothing (about Ian Fleming, e.g.) kid, it got my attention RIGHT NOW with the now-famous gimmick of a mystery figure (IS in Bond...?) walking in profile, and then firing at you down what I thought was some kind of sewer pipe! I still don't know what it was supposed to be, but perhaps a gun barrel (?) And, the 'cartoon' [my all-purpose mental term for anything animated] 'blood' flowing down the screen. Hey, I thought! THIS is something I didn't expect. The movie's suspense as well as its beautiful locations in Jamaica held my interest all the way through, and once we got to the Ken Adam-designed den of Dr. No himself, a character and a plot right out of a comic book, I was already hooked. I can attest that earlier scenes such as Bond's cold-blooded execution of Anthony Dawson's spy, was shocking in 1962. Audiences could still be shocked by something that cynical and cold, in '62! Alas, not for much longer---but Bond anticipated a lot of things, which was part of the secret of its early success.

1:47 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two from Craig Reardon:

At nine I was a little bit early to fully appreciate the phenomenon that was the young Ursula Andress, but I could almost sense my father's hair standing on end when she showed up. What an animal! Wow. And, you know, even a little boy who was destined to be your average (well, maybe below average...I was very shy) heterosexual American male was also blown away by the incredible charisma and machismo of young Sean Connery as the hairy-chested James Bond. This guy's impact, in that part, can hardly be overestimated. He was worth every dollar (pound?) the American-born producers had to shell out, increasingly more and more, for having him portray their golden goose of a modern-day superhero. In fact, let's admit that James Bond is a superhero and his movie adventures were the precursor of today's frankly comic-book based sprees. There was nothing genuinely sophisticated about James Bond, but there was a wonderful faux sophistication to the character that was skin-deep, what with his endless accoutrements of martinis "shaken, not stirred" (please...), swanky digs, elegant wardrobe, fantastic cars, supernaturally-gorgeous women, and ridiculously arch "villains". Today, we've got Kim Jong Un---unfortunately---who's right about at the same level as Dr. No, only scarier because he's "real" and much more stupid, though most of the time he doesn't seem real. But in those days these bad guys, who might just as well have stepped out of the pages of DC comics (moreso, I must admit, than Marvel, which were more jejune), were our stand-ins for the Commies of the day.

"From Russia With Love" was a sequel that everybody in our little family unit thought was perfectly satisfactory, because as you note the emphasis in these movies was still on men, albeit larger-than-life types. The intrigue was still very important, too. This one is probably remembered as "Bond for adults" because there's less stuff with 'Mr. Big', Ernst Blofeld, and/or he's kept offscreen in an amusingly, heavy-handedly 'mysterious' manner which is nonetheless a lot of fun. This film also reinforced the scary and appalling sense that life is cheap, but in this one it's Blofeld who, sang froid et sans merci, has the gnomelike Rosa Klebb kick 'em in the calves with her poisoned stiletto boot! That name, Rosa Klebb, is almost as memorable as the actress's own name, Lotte Lenya! (And, how many actresses are immortalized in the lyrics of a great song, like her late husband's "Mack the Knife"?) I'm most impressed with Pedro Armendariz in this movie. I think the special features included with the Blu-ray explain that it was actually John Ford, of all people, who suggested the hiring of Armendariz, and that he was aware that the fine Mexican star was mortally ill with cancer. It said that Armendariz wished to make a good payday to have something to leave his family with. Reckoning on ALL that, it's amazing to see what a confident, charismatic performance he gives, showing no apparent effect of the illness he was dealing with, nor the fate he was facing. I think he's terrific in the movie, and I always feel bad when his character is killed off.

1:49 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Three from Craig Reardon:

The other almost equally powerful presence is Robert Shaw's assassin. This is the first I ever heard of Robert Shaw as a kid. My whole family was impressed by his look and his formidable presence, which just about matches Sean Connery's. When the two finally get down to a grappling fight to the death, it benefits in suspense from the evenly-matched casting. I also remember that it delighted me as a kid how Bond's rather preciously tricked out briefcase paid off in several functional ways in this climactic battle. And, you're right, John---the movie barely survives the removal of Shaw! The rest of it sort of runs down. However, I'd never seen "North by Northwest", so the valid point that the helicopter pursuit ripped off the deadly biplane assault on Cary Grant was beyond me, then. BUT, it was NOT beyond one of my smart schoolmates, who---even at nine or ten!---insisted on the playground the next day that these James Bond films "...were nowhere near as good as 'North by Northwest'!" At that point in the series, he was right. Damn, at that age, all I ever heard from my buddies was now much better movies I hadn't seen were! "7th Voyage of Sinbad", "North by Northwest"! I was irritated and it sounded like sour grapes. It was only much later that I finally caught up with these and realized rather disconsolately that they were dead right.

It wasn't until "Goldfinger", however, that James Bond truly blasted into orbit. THAT is the one that catapulted it. I think from the very opener when Bond walks out of the room having just discarded another assassin (and a luscious beauty like a half-eaten candy bar) on one of his trademark wisecrack puns and the screen is abruptly filled with the face of a literally golden woman and the crashing chords of John Barry's first, brilliant title songs that James Bond at the movies was really fully launched. Needless to say, with "Dr. No" and "From Russia..." under our belts, we went to see "Goldfinger", and wow. That was not only a stunner, but one of the big, big, BIG films of the year (1964.) It wasn't actually until "Goldfinger", as best I can remember, that that toy briefcase/arsenal you fondly remember was put on the toy market, along with lots of other promotional stuff. "Goldfinger" was the dam breaking on that, and the instigator of most of the copycat "spy" films, too.

1:50 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Four (and conclusion) from Craig Reardon:

Finally, as per "The Creature...", I couldn't agree more with all your comments. I don't own a 3-D Blu-ray player or TV, wah-wah! I wish I did. However, I have a pal who has both, and I've seen long stretches of "The Creature..." at his place, and even commonplace shots---of which, let's face it, there are more than plenty in any Jack Arnold movie!---suddenly acquire new interest due almost entirely to the sensation of 3-D. I was truly impressed how big and expansive 3-D makes even mild 'establishing'-type shots of the backlot 'Black Lagoon' with the tugboat moored in it (in about, what, maybe 4' of water, obviously?) Naturally the location footage taken underwater in Florida in fresh water springs is famously effective in 3-D. But another shot that suddenly took on tremendous and unexpected fascination for me, due to 3-D, was the baleful appearance of the captured Creature, peering up from behind the barred hatch in the onboard tank of water, toward the end of the movie. Wonderful! That impassive "fish face", not at all ferocious---quite the contrary---is one of the great paradoxes in the who canon of beloved movie monsters. Somehow or other that deftly-modeled 'thing' fascinates one and all, and fully communicates a sense of dread that we must all be partially projecting upon it. It's truly elegant-looking, and most professional makeup artists and lab men (as the 'boys in the back room' are called) agree that it's the greatest man-in-a-suit monsters ever conceived and constructed. I think it was almost serendipitous, as we've all seen the atrocious first shot at the Creature, with its kind of milk bottle head and featureless body. The suit was actually handled like a gigantic appliance makeup, with overlapping pieces that could be individually adjusted and therefore 'tailored' perfectly, versus a big molded costume which could suffer from either too-tight or too-baggy areas. More than one sculptor was involved, but I knew the chief one, Chris Mueller, who was an amazingly versatile guy who'd worked on everything from the Giant Squid in Disney's adaptation of Verne's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" to several of the other U-I films ranging from monster/sci-fi to parody like "A & C Meet Jekyll and Hyde", and even architecture (Chris modeled the supposedly carved-from-wood grand staircase that Dolly Levi [Barbra Streisand] descends in the title number for "Hello, Dolly!", e.g.) I LOVE 3-D, and I'm thrilled to have "The Creature..." and WB's welcome 3-D Blu-ray of "Dial 'M' For Murder" in my 'hope chest' against the day when I might be able to afford to get a 3-D setup for my home. I just hope the gear doesn't go completely out of fashion before that happens!


1:51 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson shares some James Bond memories;

Saw FRWL and most of the following Bonds in a theater; pretty sure FRWL was the first although I was aware of Bondmania by then. By the time I caught up with Dr. No and Goldfinger on TV I knew much of the plots from bubblegum cards (B&W photos with a serialized summary on the backs) and much of the gadgetry from Sears Christmas toy catalog (lusted after the Corgi car, the only "real" version in my view). The British comic strip turned up briefly in our local paper, but I don't remember comic books at all. Were there any?

Still not clear about some of the plot, including the guy climbing out of the painted mouth of Marilyn Monroe (somehow odd to contemplate Monroe and Bond overlapping in time). Recall Dad chuckling a little when the speedboats started exploding and saying something like "don't recall this from the book." He had a bunch of Fleming paperbacks mixed in with his more serious novels.

At some point the tradition seemed to be a new movie every year or so and some old ones on ABC during the summer. I remember a sex-and-violence disclaimer that always began "The following James Bond movie . . ." In time I had my own place with cable television and felt a certain thrill at seeing uncensored versions, especially since I now got the jokes (I honestly didn't comprehend the excitement about Miss Galore's name for years).

Eventually the Bonds became one more franchise in a cinema packed with franchises. Now they're as omnipresent on basic cable as the Bowery Boys used to be. Sic Transit Et Al.

2:43 PM  
Blogger coolcatdaddy said...

Thanks for the great post on "From Russia with Love", my favorite Bond movie.

I grew up in the 1970s, so I only got to see the Roger Moore efforts on the big screen, with a regular diet of ABC television showings of the classic Connery efforts to really peak my interest in the franchise.

Seeing them on network tv, edited and chopped up for commercials, the Connery Bonds seemed to all blur together. The only way to tell them apart was the "hook" of each one - the Lecter in "From Russia with Love", the volcano hideout in "Dr. No", the underwater stuff in "Thunderball" or poor James pretending to be Japanese in "You Only Live Twice", Fort Knox in "Goldfinger".

The Connery Bonds are like "comfort food" movies for me today. If I'm feeling down or feeling like there's nothing new to see, I'll put one on to rekindle my love for the movies.

Roger Moore's efforts always seemed rather silly to me, especially seeing them new in my hometown theater. The Connery Bonds had an element of danger - you could suspend disbelief and feel that the guy was in peril. With Moore, the focus on lightness and humor made the things play like a tv show.

10:34 PM  
Blogger rnigma said...

About a decade ago Julie Adams, Ricou Browning and Ben Chapman reunited at Wakulla Springs near Tallahassee, where most of the underwater scenes for "Creature" were filmed, and reminisced about the filming. Wish I could have been there to meet them.

Browning, who hailed from the Tallahassee area, certainly had a thing for water... he worked with Ivan Tors and went on to create "Flipper."

12:11 AM  

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