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Thursday, January 09, 2020

Seeing Browning Out At Metro


Miracles For Sale (1939) Is More Thriller Than Chiller

I think I'd rather have seen Tod Browning credited here as writer than director. He was down in dumps as both by 1939, MGM having signed him off years before as meaningful guide for story and players. How the mighty fell at Culver. At least Browning had funds to ride out retirement and be comfortable for the twenty-three years he had after final work that was Miracles for Sale, a bow-out project that would seem ideal for this veteran of magic and filmic sleight-of-hand. I've a feeling, however, that bosses simply handed him the script, done entirely by others, and said, Shoot it as is, and quick. Miracles for Sale is a B, and nothing's wrong in that, but there's more adherence to conventional whodunit than we'd like, especially considering potential for bizarre touches Browning could bring given stops-out. The lead is Robert Young as a spiritualist de-bunker, that alone promise of good things, but not followed through beyond a handful of shudder moments. Miracles For Sale entertains past norm of workmanlike mystery, just because it's Browning and milieu he knew when checks were blank and he had run of Leo's cage. There's fascinating account of Browning's slide and fall at Metro in David Skal/Elias Savada bio of the director, Dark Carnival.

8 Comments:

Blogger Kevin K. said...

It has a promising opening as I recall, but quickly becomes a nothing movie. Too bad; even the title suggests an interesting show.

12:50 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

I'll have to read the book and take a look at this. Mark Gatiss dismissed Browning's DRACULA for its lack of cinematic bravado while praising the Spanish version as the superior film. Seems a lot of folk are doing that.

One Saturday morning back when I screened 16mm here I woke up with a desire to watch DRACULA which I thought odd as I have seen the film hundreds of times in my screenings.

Nonetheless I watched it. I was astounded by how physically beautiful the film is (and that was a 16mm print). Now when I watch the film on Blu-ray that beauty is even more pronounced.

I believe Browning felt the film would be more powerful the more simply told. We have the acronym, "K.I.S.S." (Keep It Simple Stupid).

I keep hearing of audiences laughing at Lugosi's delivery of dialogue. Strange as in over 50 yeas of showing the picture that does not happen at my screenings.

I do know that college and university audiences are the worst audiences of all to present a film too (or anything else for that matter).

The late John Herbert told me a story when I first met him of witnessing a student theater audience at Stratford, Ontario watching his play FORTUNE AND MEN'S EYES in a production done before the play was presented in New York. The students howled with laughter until their teacher stopped the play and told them to behave like a real audience.

For me Bela Lugosi will always be Dracula. I have several of Browning's silent and sound films. I like them all. The jewel in the crown however is DRACULA.

Admittedly when I first saw DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN I was not happy with either as I had read the books. That is true of a great many films adapted from books.

I had to learn to take the films on their own merits.

Once I did that I was able to see far deeper into them then I had before.

In fact, I grew to love them.

MARK OF THE VAMPIRE is a let down because we learn the vampires are just actors. The much hoped for recovery of LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT if it is ever found will be an even bigger disappointment as MARK OF THE VAMPIRE is the same story.

What the film does show us is what Browning could have done with DRACULA had he chosen to.

My feeling is he made the right choice with DRACULA. The film grows in power each time I see it.

I found the new BBC adaption an interesting riff but ultimately one that fails.

Still it has so many moments that are exciting that it is well worth checking out.

9:52 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

I blame Young. I think he's irredeemably dull in pretty much everything he's in, which makes him a perfect leading man for Metro: all surface with no real substance beneath the facade.

Put someone with a little oomph -- Chester Morris, Richard Dix, Lloyd Nolan, Boris Karloff, Warner Baxter; hell, even Lugosi (all lend-outs, to be sure) in the part -- and you might have something.

4:25 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Over the years I've found the Lugosi performance less and less "hammy." Seeing the film today (on a large screen 4K TV instead of a crummy copy presented by a clueless host on a Monsterama 11 PM showing with commercials on a 17-inch tube TV) is a revelation. And nobody laughs anymore.

1:38 PM  
Blogger Marc J. Hampton said...

Reg...I hear you on audiences laughing. Actually in college I never heard anyone laugh at anything inappropriately...in fact they were usually very respectful, especially when the professor sprung LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN on us...without warning of what was coming our way...everyone was in shocked silence. No laughter at NOSFERATU either, thats for sure.

But watch something at NYC's Film Forum...and brace yourself for everything being laughed at....everything delivered with sincerity is an occasion for mockery, from the usual jerks. It got to the point I just stopped going there.

I haven't experienced that at MoMA tho.

I love DRACULA ....especially the gorgeous print we have now. As for Browning, I'll take a film with basically only a spectacular opening 20 minutes to offer..... over how many hundreds of horror films since with nothing whatsoever to offer.

Dave...agree on Robert Young. Synonymous with so many utterly benign MGM films in my mind.

10:33 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Yes, true about the Film Forum, with everyone trying to show how oh-so sophisticated they are. Haven't been there in years.

11:19 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

I think Robert Young's art was much better served by the medium of television; I suppose there were a number of players who started their careers on the big screen but whose gifts were simply better suited to the style presented via the television sets of that era, but I'm not going to try to list them. Young is a standout of that class of player, though. Alright at best in movies, but much better on TV.

3:36 PM  
Blogger MDG14450 said...

I agree with Dracula being less than compelling, cinematically, once the story moves to England. But I enjoyed it more, recently, by appreciating it for capturing the "stage performances" of Lugosi and Van Sloane.

Unfortunately, I can't get behind Mark of the Vampire or Devil Doll--the stories are just too ridiculous.

Re: Robert Young--Haven't seem many of his 30s-40s movies, but his weary cop in Crossfire is a revelation.

4:50 PM  

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