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Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Watch List For 4/25/13

CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961) --- Among televised shocks to senses: I'm more reading than paying attention one late-80's night to Curse Of The Werewolf on syndicated UHF, and in comes Yvonne Romain for a stab at Anthony Dawson that till then barely registered thanks to censorship of both the US theatrical and TV prints. Now all of a sudden she's plunging a dagger-like wall sconce over and again into his withered frame with blood spattering this way and that. Had any audience for Curse ascended to such Hammer heaven? Put-back cuts kept coming ... a blood squib burst when the werewolf was climactically shot, with colors enhanced from fading and pink that had cursed Werewolf's Eastman 1961 processing. Now there is Curse Of The Werewolf on Vudu's HD stream line, a best-ever rendition to convert a merely good Hammer into something approaching their best.

Color and creative use of it was this company's gift. Doorways, lamp-lit corners, most of all costuming here, vibrate with reds, greens, deep blues and blacks --- Hammer was never just application of gore as then-critics accused. Universal kept subcontracting the UK firm to do horrors because none made stateside could approach style so in evidence at Hammer, and given results like these at such bargain price ... well, why not continue making them? Ancillary markets, especially television, made Hammers US-viable even when revenue slipped otherwise, which it did, and continued doing, right from the first Uni/Hammer partnership, Horror Of Dracula, their summit of domestic theatrical revenue. Curse Of The Werewolf was said to have disappointed in a '61 summer market with co-feature Shadow Of The Cat, and fault was laid on lack of names familiar to Hammer following, though now we count fortunate the casting of neophyte Oliver Reed at full and dynamic strength.

Cruel content of Curse might lay some low --- it admittedly kept me away from repeat-viewing to same degree of all-time favorite Brides Of Dracula, but Anthony Dawson as decaying remnant of corrupt aristocracy does compel for sheer flesh-picking decadence --- was Hammer social commenting here? Looking at this and an opening reel of their Hound Of The Baskervilles from two years previous (not to mention Hell-Fire clubs to come in Plague Of The Zombies, others), you'd think so. To topic of censorship, peruse closely these stateside-issued stills for Curse Of The Werewolf, and note discreet airbrushing of Yvonne Romain's cleavage both in portraiture, and her notorious confront with would-be diddler Dawson. Hammers were scrubbed safe for school's out consumption that '61 summer, both onscreen and at theatre entrance displays.

FELIX SAVES THE DAY (1922) --- I've been reading about the Felix cartoons (that's how much time is on my hands) and still await conclusion that he's a wonderful, wonderful cat (recalling a theme song for revamped Felix of the early 60's). Yes, the silent ones are primitive, and how, but they're said to get better going along, so I need to forbear criticism till much deeper into a long and incredibly prolific series. Here's the remarkable and largely forgotten thing about Felix: He was Number One cartoon star of the 20's, supplanted only by talkies (owner Pat Sullivan didn't want to be bothered with sound) and arrival of Mickey Mouse, latter among few instances of a cat truly gotten the better of by a mouse. Felix as animated here doesn't flow; he sort of jerks along. Saves The Day nuttily combines live action with cartooning, but not in ways Disney and others eventually would. Well, these things had to begin somewhere. Really early drawings on the move are always a curiosity, but be warned to apply in moderation. Excess of Felix could do psychic damage.

GIRL WITHOUT A ROOM (1933) --- Wacky artists' colony goings-on in Paris, dabbed with Paramount precode paint, and cast with lookers Marguerite Churchill and Grace Bradley as rivals for affection of Charles Farrell. The latter's voice was somehow better by this juncture --- improved recording technique? His had been the speech John Gilbert was ridiculed for having. Churchill/Bradley are oft-unclad or barely so, as observed by humor support Charles Ruggles as unlikeliest of bohemians. Girl Without A Room sums up Paramount as vessel of Euro-sophistication, maybe not at Lubitsch-level, but there's fun enough, and precode stripes are earned. Plentiful swipes are aimed at pretensions of the art community, Farrell's canvas a success only when it's displayed upside-down. TCM Archives should team with Universal to disc-release this offbeat pleasure.


Blogger Reg Hartt said...

How does the streaming version of CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF compare next to the dvd in Universal's Hammer set?

The film credits Guy Endore's THE WEREWOLF OF PARIS as its source. Unfortunately, the picture has nothing to do with the novel which is first rate as I recall (I was around 16 when I read it. Guy Endore's KING OF PARIS is one of my essential books. It is the life of Alexandre Dumas.

CURSE I have always liked but also have always felt a let down.

Few people, perhaps none,have seen regular audiences react to early animation in public screening on a regular basis. I found that music is the key to putting them across. Music by people like Herbie Mann works way better in my programs than does conventional silent film music. The secret to showing a program of silent Felix cartoons (or any other character from that era) is having completely different music for each film otherwise it seems like the same picture over and over. This is true whether I program a series of mixed silent animation or one character. I programmed four hour marathons of animation. Variety was/is the key to maintaining interest. Also good to forget fans as they only want to see what they approve of which makes for boring programs. Themes sound nice on paper but lead to seeing the same cartoon over and over.

Just read Jean Cocteau's DIARY OF A FILM (about the making of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST). Cocteau writes of the inattentiveness of educated audiences as opposed to working-class viewers, the only ones who listen and look. I am with him on that and was thrilled to see him state in print what I have observed all these years.

Had no idea of the Hell Cocteau and his crew went through creating that film. That's because none of that shows on the screen (which it shouldn't).

CURSE is a typical Hammer in that it is so far below the mark set by the source material. This is what doomed the studio. They always tried to do everything on the cheap (which is not to say the studio did not make good or great films). Christopher Lee was always underpaid by Hammer who did their best to write him out of their DRACULA series so they could avoid paying him his proper fee (which is why he appears half-way through TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA. They made the film for Warner release. When Warner's found out they were getting a DRACULA film without Christopher Lee they said, "You put him in there."

The studio had great talent but always misused it. They are not the only one that did that. The studios still do it.

8:01 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Wow, CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, always one of my favorites from that first rush of Hammer horrors. And, yes, even as a kid I cut this one slack thinking oodles of good stuff must have been left on the censor's floor. Like Reg, I am curious how the streaming version compares to the Universal DVD. Make-up guy Roy Ashton was usually not at his best creating outright monsters (they mostly had unconvincing gray parchment skin and lots of black stuff smeared around the eye sockets) but the wolfman design was his masterpiece; very original in its day. Seeing barrel chested Oliver Reed with that pig nose, kitty ears and jack boots coming at you was nightmare enough for this 10 year old! I prefer to think of him brick red, as shown in poster art and your retouched photo (molesting his 'mom' Yvonne Romaine, no less) rather than the film's actual timber wolf gray.

I love the silent Felix toons, but Reg makes a good point as to the music. Makes all the difference. I always thought those old 16mm prints of 1920's Paul Terry cartoons with random Winston Sharples cues attached seemed livelier (and funnier) than many more famous classics.

2:10 PM  

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