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Monday, November 27, 2023

Parkland Picks with Popcorn #2

 


PPP: It Came from Outer Space, I Walked with a Zombie, The Adventures of Superman, and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves


IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953) --- Freak tent that was 3-D moviegoing made fad impression, then withdrew, a process repeated since fifties vogue, most recent before televisions stopped being equipped to play depth. What was industry trying to tell us? Will my 3-D discs become useless for there being no hardware to host them? Universal is lately out with 4K of It Came from Outer Space, but not 3-D in 4K. Maybe technology does not exist to support that. I can’t go back to flat after seeing a feature deep. That goes for Space, the Creature duo, any of them. It Came from Outer Space needs 3-D for being much the flatter without it. We never board the alien craft and aliens themselves are too shapeless and ugly to please. The build-up is effective for trading on fear 1953 had of invasion-from-without, things not of this earth a concern to rival what Reds had afoot. Science-fiction was topical also during short window when folks figured saucers had crashed or been captured and being hid from us (well, were they?). Sci-fi encounter of its own was 3-D being projected, seldom got right it seemed, too few operators skilled enough to keep right and left prints in harmony. Engagements curdled with depth seen sudden as shallow, theatres relieved to chuck glasses plus the system. Seventies scour of the Liberty found scores of specs shoved to a corner, me not caring enough even to take samples. I venture It Came from Outer Space, the 3-D lot in fact, looks leagues better than any of it did when new. Some of us chanced a 1981 revive of Space plus the first Creature in Concord, NC, enough to make anybody exit depth for keeps. Concord's I think was the red-green deal, or over/under, who cares which, it blew either way. You barely saw the too-dim image, only good thing Richard Carlson swinging a telescope round and us nearly conked by it. 3-D led with chins until digital came to decades-later rescue, It Came from Outer Space finally giving value for novelty promised when new, but taking all this time to fulfill.



I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943) --- Happy day was this Lewton favorite turning up finally on TCM with a new transfer, giving us glimpse of what eventual Blu-Ray (we hope) will look like. Anything of Val Lewton needs whatever visual support they can get, old prints more matter of imagining what beauty once gleamed off nitrate surface. I Walked with a Zombie stayed in theatre circulation, at least NC-wise, right into the mid-sixties, a Winston-Salem downtown venue using it to prop a live appearance by “Dr. Evil” of Charlotte late night fame, this 1964 booking a last record I found of Zombie before a mainstream audience as opposed to art house or “revival” situations. I Walked with a Zombie had earlier supported RKO genre stuff on reissue, second to The Body Snatcher in 1952 and King Kong in 1956, Zombie more chaser than classic on these occasions with exhibitors complaining it did not pack chills their audience expected. Perceived weak sisters could clear a house of youth that might otherwise sit for repeat of King Kong, Zombie and paired-with-Kong in 1952 The Leopard Man good for emptying seats so more paid admissions could plop down. Yes, we love Lewton, but his stuff fell down quick after Cat People, rentals and satisfaction-wise. It needed Karloff to come in and hypo the lot with The Body Snatcher, though even he couldn’t float Lewton after loser that was Bedlam in 1946. I Walked with a Zombie has nice story values and a halfway wow where women walk to a voodoo ceremony, vivid stuff of placement wherever art of Val Lewton is celebrated. I read where Frances Dee took gracious applause for starring in I Walked With a Zombie, but privately confided that fame of the show was mystery to her.



THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN --- Two episodes recommended by a friend. I need guidance to these, for it is too many years since watching on afternoon TV. Such occasion could be tense where I argued at age five for The Mickey Mouse Club and my brother insisted on Superman, only one set in the house to supply either. Was Superman too adult for me? By ten, I was ready, or maybe lure was George Reeves as paternal figure, which he widely was for mass of boy (and girl?) watchers. In fact, my sister sent away for Superman club membership spawned by the series for which she got a nice card and booklet, circa ’53 or so. First out of the DVD box for me was Night of Terror, initial season entry when harder-edge was maintained and Phyliss Coates was Lois Lane. She gets knocked around lots by heavies (for real it is said, bump on her head big as a turkey egg). Superman doesn’t show up until a last critical moment to give baddies a pasting. What if Superman hit a guy too hard and killed him? That had to be an issue for the Krytonian, a need always to pull punches lest he deal lethal blows. Clarity of digital permits us to spot doubles for Reeves. Did they borrow his costumes, or was there a closet filled with stuntman suits? Bullets bounce off Superman, but what if one ricocheted and hurt Lois or Jimmy? I’m taking these too literally. Superman had a likeable enough ongoing cast so it mattered less if he seldom did truly super things. How, with costs so stringent low? That was part of the show’s charm too.



The color episode I watched was Superman’s Wife, her played by Joi Lansing, and yes, this was  reason for picking it. Superman in color had a cobalt effect when first encountered that way in the mid-sixties, mainly because too few knew (anyone?) that episodes had been rendered that way (early runs were resolutely B/W). Just seeing the suit with its red, yellow, blue was thrill aplenty, even if content fell down from the first two seasons. At right is a 1973 display for a Greenbriar college program which included a five or so minute color clip I had come across from a Superman episode, novelty enough to flash upon an auditorium screen and set students upon wing of nostalgia. I like how Clark interacts with Daily Planet colleagues, then as Superman becoming the authority figure, even impatient when Lois proves dense as to water pressure and its effect on diving bells. LL by now was Noel Neill. She is motherly to Jimmy, critical of Clark, jealous, almost teary at prospect of Superman marrying Joi. There is no ceremony, so we assume no vows were exchanged, but mere possibility of such a thing galvanized viewers at the time. Per before, not necessary for S to do s things to engage us. It was personalities that sold these shows. Had anyone but Reeves been aboard, I don’t think Superman would have lasted long, because then kids would insist on action, and flying, and more action. Adults liked Superman according to expert Michael Hayde. Character and interplay appealed in lieu of dollars (not) spent, Reeves bursting through cardboard walls an endearing if not convincing ritual. Superman has been done too much, and by too many, to allow for much memory of George Reeves and the fifties series. I can’t see fans today canvassing all of episodes and committing situations and dialogue to memory. Is it reasonable to expect they would? Chance of Warner spend to upgrade The Adventures of Superman to Blu-Ray seems remote. We’re lucky enough to have entirety of the series on standard DVD.



ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES (1943) --- Suppose clouds lifted and Hollywood’s star system was somehow restored. What sort of vehicles might spotlight fresh personalities? (I read of late that there are no real “stars” left under the age of sixty) Tar pits these days are referred to instead as “challenges.” Might a blighted industry, specifically Universal, remake Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves? Could be a swell idea, even if absurd on its face, but no more so than Disney throwing $300 million at The Marvels and facing loss of it all. A Classic Era was where if you needed stars, you’d simply create them, or take a familiar face, if vaguely so, and confer fame to same. The Montez/Hall series was brilliant application of a simple and sure principle. Arabian Nights used applicants that were Maria Montez (a starlet, if that), Jon Hall (minor beach wear up to then), Sabu (a Korda find, but untried domestically), plus character and comedy favorites. All proved a click, and so came a lucrative series of six. I watched Ali Baba and was charmed, same as with the other five. Look how the idea sustained … Tony Curtis as a 50’s son of Ali, a sixties pastiche of stock footage from ’43 called Sword of Ali Baba. There was even Popeye to lead late-thirties way with a souped-up Technicolor cartoon. Is the concept of Ali Baba hopelessly past, or worse, forbidden by modern edict? I envision U seeking sand nearby as did forebears and bringing back a desert epic on modest terms, let’s say twenty or so million as latter-day counterpart to less than a million the 1943 Baba would have cost. Cast three attractive leads, don’t mock the myths, and see how theatres react (yes theatres … don’t throw it away on Peacock, Pelican, or whatever Universal’s streaming platform is called). Fresh Ali Baba would be a gamble sure, but with far less than Marvel money down recent drains. What if it sold? Stranger things have happened for an industry steeped in dreams and miracles, fresh out of latter lately. In a meantime there is Kino’s Blu-Ray of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves to enjoy.





Monday, November 20, 2023

Works Well with Whisky #2

 


WWW: Hard Times, The Deep, and Five Easy Pieces


HARD TIMES (1975) --- Walter Hill’s first go at direction, Hard Times came as indirect result of success Dillinger had for AIP a couple years before. Inexpensive action films gained currency, maybe more so, by the mid-seventies as drive-ins maintained presence even in the face of gas shortage chipping away at outdoor show-go. Extras on Eureka’s Masters of Cinema Blu-Ray give good behind-scene account courtesy Hill and producer Lawrence Gordon. They wanted and got Charles Bronson to lead, his three million tab leaving but one million to complete the film, star salaries on daily uptick by this time. Is money currently paid to known names creeping downward? Director Hill says he took advice from Raoul Walsh, Hard Times giving evidence of that, being of Depression era when more-less hobos fought bare knuck for betting spectators, illegal sport as was boxing earlier in the century, that period captured colorfully by Walsh in 1942’s Gentleman Jim. Enough of 30’s flavored New Orleans was still around in 1975 for Hard Times to score realism without spending beyond means. Bronson speaks little but conveys plenty, withholding a best policy as observed by action men. He seems to have been an odd breed of loner wolf offscreen. Few knew Bronson, fewer still understood him. Hard Times is 94 minutes ideally seen on beverage terms, ice cubes added to make a tall drink taller. Hard Times was perhaps taken for granted in its day, or lost in a shuffle of lesser Bronsons. Those who went were gratified and would remember how good Hard Times was, and still is. The Eureka Blu rewards for not only extras, but being region-free.



THE DEEP (1977) --- I'd not cover 1977 in laurel, though others (many) will call it cinema’s banner year for bestowing Star Wars, if little else. Revisit to some dismissed then can seem tastier now, for instance The Deep, welcome to spirits gather where beverage goes down smoother than seawater Nick Nolte, Jacqueline Bisset, and Robert Shaw got gulps of. That man Shaw led us to figure The Deep for more sharking after Jaws model, ’77 a year when nature ran roughshod over man, no trip to the College Park complete without whales, grizzlies, what not, feeding upon hapless humanity. Were we really afraid to go into water after Jaws? As I recall, yes. Not much liking the ocean anyhow on theory that if you can’t see your feet, stay out, and not living near the shore besides, it was preferred (by me) to stay safe in chlorinated pools. Yes, The Deep had sharks, and TV spots emphasized them, plus Shaw doing his Quintish thing.



Also upon front burner was Bisset submerged in a T-shirt that sold at least as many tickets as any aspect of The Deep, viewers sated by that spectacle in an opener dive sequence that is not repeated, sort of like Hitchcock cameos, as in give them what they’re waiting for early so they can concentrate on narrative after. The Deep tells a good story by Peter Benchley, who also wrote Jaws, his a gilt-edged bestest seller for run-up year to The Deep, elements in place to secure lush-for-then $47 million.  The Deep was of “Blockbuster” bent, such the H’wood mentality since Jaws led ways. Five months were spent making it, underwater effect like none achieved before, the more impressive for stars doing their own jumps overboard. CBS hosted an hourlong special on the ordeal narrated by Robert Shaw, a bonus with the Blu-Ray, and enjoyable. The network also broadcast a three hour “expanded” version of the feature, from which a number of scenes augment the Blu-Ray. I watched all this stuff and came away with belated regard for a show I took for granted when it was new. By all means, see it with libation you love.



FIVE EASY PIECES (1970) --- It matters a lot when/where we first see a particular film. Five Easy Pieces in 1970 was so far past my level of maturity as to speak foreign tongue. Why was I even at the Liberty for such a thing? Best recollection is some of us from Youth Group driving down from Sunday evening meet for the 7 PM show, not particular as to what was playing and knowing barely what Five Easy Pieces was (we would attend Doctor’s Wives for similar obscure purpose). Being sixteen and recipient of license to drive plus access to screen alphabet generous in R and M (ratings), I figured Five Easy Pieces for fruit once forbidden and no longer so. Even bad movies were saved by the seventies thanks to content unseen hitherto but welcome, nudity a preferred option but violence and language OK too. Criterion for its laudable Blu-Ray called Five Easy Pieces “searing” and “a lasting example of early 1970’s American alienation,” response alien to me for what was I then alienated from apart from aspects of school and fact Castle of Frankenstein wasn’t being published more regularly? Did we realize an “Era of Discontent” had engulfed us? Shield that was ongoing childishness protected me like Perseus from Medusa. Changes many call convulsive barely if at all made contact, my life experience as of then limited and conception of changes narrow beside those markedly altered by them. Off the hook for Viet Nam thanks to tender age, I might have wondered how Nicholson’s Bobby Dupea got round the draft.



Being adrift among working folk despite his own educated background raises current question as to why Bobby hangs with class inferiors. Was he slumming in ways not unlike Godfrey Powell buttling to the rich without telling them he is also rich? Bobby sort of wants things both ways and maybe that is his principal trouble. He attacks and insults invited guests to his father’s home where Bobby shares duty as host, a same sort of insufferable rudeness exhibited by K. Hepburn as Linda Seton targeting visitor relatives in Holiday. Why do such scenes strike me as sop to a then-audience themselves inclined to be obnoxious? The chicken sandwich order is more along such line, celebrated in ’70 till real-life servers got a glimpse and excoriated filmmakers for making Bobby the up-yours victor, but wasn’t this just lashing out at a worker class he sees as beneath him? Such wrinkles enrich Five Easy Pieces and keep it fresh after half a century. Bobby hitching aboard a truck in the final scene rings accurate as to resort a man might take given same circumstance. Was this ending what seared so in 1970?





Monday, November 13, 2023

Anything But a Happy Ending


Off the Grid Again: This Time, Suspicion


Said Greenbriar, September 14, 2009: “Suspicion remains a frustration for me, and I don’t think that’s ever going to change.” Well, it has changed, utterly. Most who read GPS have seen Suspicion. Being increasingly of changeable mind, it comes late but not too late for me to recognize Suspicion as most stealth of Hitchcock creations, “Johnnie Aysgarth” (Cary Grant) getting away with one murder and certain to escape penalty for a next to follow end titles. Why did I not gather this before? Will admit to being alone (?) in now-interpretation of Suspicion, no critics nor Hitch historians so far found who saw/see the story in terms I do, so maybe it is delusion that drives me. If so, by all means unmask jester I’ve become, as it will not be my first time so doubted. Why discuss movies if not to take sometime radical account of them? Like Cody freely said, Maybe I am nuts. Hitchcock, claims me, knew what he was doing and got satisfaction upturning critic and audience assumption, perhaps a deftest trick a great director ever played. Did he compromise Suspicion's finish, cop-out, give-in to Code limits? Scholars say yes, and I till recent believed them. No more. Suspicion a runt among Hitchcocks as averred in 2009? Not now. Suspicion as of 2023 tickles edge of one-hundred list I hope to complete eventually: let’s make it 101 for present consideration. How about blanket-101 for ongoing placement of films that so far haven’t make premium grade. Will a next twenty years see these overtake Top One-Hundreds? Remind me in 2043 and we’ll review how chips fell in the meantime.



Notion that no way could charming Cary Grant be a killer was what allowed Suspicion to skate past bar set by fans and censorship, but were any aware, then, or today, of Hitchcock’s truer intention? It was easier in 1941 to discount possibility of Cary killing, remains so to a degree, though Notorious and even Charade let us glimpse possibility that Grant harbors ill-intent. Consider number of likeable leading men who'd turn lethal as cynicism dialed up, then stratified finally in modern films to make such spins almost expected. Suspicion proposes that Cary Grant's Johnnie is simply too good to be true. We if not 1941 audiences regret Grant didn’t practice more along such line, but what of youth seeing
Suspicion fresh today? To minds unencumbered by familiarity with him, the question might better be, why not Cary Grant doing murder? His Johnnie is a deadbeat at first sight, seating himself in a first-class train compartment his ticket does not entitle, cadging from “Lina” (Joan Fontaine) a postage stamp that will make up the rate difference. Johnnie is a user who relies on facile charm and inborn talent to lure vulnerable women. We don’t know if he’s been married before but suspect he has. Is ground filled already with previous Aysgarth wives? No Hitchcock character not a killer came before or after with so much baggage or spent as much screen time unpacking it. Could anyone other than Grant as Johnnie get by on such bad behavior? Lina is reading a book on child psychology when she should read one on predatory men, her an ideal target Johnnie identifies right away. Being “a carefully brought-up young lady” cinches Lina as quarry Johnnie will easily track and ultimately kill, if offscreen, and after we have left the theatre.



Lina is no patsy for Johnnie, being on to him from their first meeting, helpless however because love-at-first sight clouds her better judgment. It frustrated me that she would tolerate such a bounder and as result Suspicion seemed an unworthy Hitchcock.  Did I not understand the nature of people where blinded by love? To be disarmed like Lina might happen to anybody. How often do we say of others, How can he/she live with her/him? We accept Lina’s thrall for Johnnie's overwhelming charm and attractiveness. Audiences would have said sure, for after all, he’s Cary Grant. Hitchcock knew this and realized his public would buy Lina’s response to Johnnie despite improbabilities. For how many would Johnnie selling the chairs be a deal breaker, let alone stealing money at work, and from his cousin yet. Johnnie is self-possessed and presents himself as a most eligible bachelor. Other women see him a same way and make no secret of it, Lina influenced despite misgivings she otherwise has. How many hang on in relationships because the person alongside them looks good enough to make them look good? Surface can compensate for reality where one is admired for benefit others imagine he or she has. Lina was slated for old maidhood. Even her parents acknowledged it. Johnnie coming to rescue means she’ll forgive a lot, almost anything, to keep him. Only when murder becomes a possibility does Lina balk, even then tentatively. There are indicators, Johnnie a card-cheat they say, stole a wife from her husband maybe. He seems to manhandle Lina in a long shot that words will not explain away (“What did you think I was trying to do, murder you?”), flags raised before the marriage, plus Johnnie telling Lina that she would be better off shed of him, “I think I’m falling in love with you and I don’t quite like it” enough warning to cool ardor, but who’s sensible in such emotionally charged circumstance?



Suspicion
then is “Hollywood” writ large but has whiff of real life and how many experience it, despite thinking they’d not buy blandishments of a Johnnie Aysgarth. Lina exults in Johnnie’s glow as it reflects on her. Parents and friends will no longer think her a loser and wallflower, trophy that is Johnnie to surpass any they’d expect for her. Johnnie is even of Lina’s class, though there is something of the gatecrasher about him. Is she better off despite his irresponsibility and evident fortune hunting? Lina is not unlike Catherine Sloper in The Heiress, who maybe should have opened doors to a pleading Morris Townsend. He was Montgomery Clift after all, and Catherine could never get a show pony like him again. Suspicion stakes are higher of course because Johnnie may be, is I think, a killer, and that’s what makes Hitchcock’s a dangerous game. Lina imagines she can contain Johnnie by treating him as a child: “I’m just beginning to understand you. You’re a baby,” this mere weaponry he’ll use to further manipulate her. Johnnie’s best friend “Beaky” (Nigel Bruce) is a houseguest who confirms for Lina her husband’s guile but surprises her (and us) when he goes along with a grandiose real estate scheme Johnnie has cooked up. Lina has Beaky sized up as well: “Isn’t it time you grew up?,” while it is Lina who needs to grow up and adjust a patronizing attitude toward others in her life. She’ll begin to suspect during a Scrabble-like game called “Anagrams” that Johnnie is plotting to kill Beaky, this a segment sixty-two minutes into the feature that would demonstrate Hitchcock’s mastery of suspense in compilations to come. More unsettling however is Johnnie’s cold reaction when Beaky unwisely drinks brandy and has an allergic reaction to it. “He should have known better. One of these days it will kill him.”



Johnnie plans a trip to Paris with Beaky, supposedly to cancel the land deal, but Beaky dies there for overdrinking brandy again. There is conversation later to clear Johnnie, vague enough to allow all sorts of ways he could have been present and did in fact arrange for Beaky to have the drinks. I am satisfied that Johnnie arranged Beaky’s death and got away with same, convinced as well that Hitchcock left doors wide for viewership to reach a same conclusion. Here was cleverest trickery up a Master’s sleeve, but he could not boast of it at the time, nor later when to do so would alert Code authorities of a hoodwink and resolve them never to trust him again. Hitchcock was not an only filmmaker 
cunning enough to outwit limits, though none of others I’m aware of did it to such degree as he does with Suspicion. Did any review at the time dig sufficiently down to expose the circumvention, 1941 early perhaps to detect insidious masks Hitchcock wore to tangle us and those who oversaw him? Did Cary Grant on seeing Suspicion puzzle out Hitchcock’s intent, or was he like others just puzzled? Again, I’ll admit possibility that the one deluded is me. Every consumer has his/her option to receive art on chosen terms. Mine re Suspicion deepens enjoyment ten-fold. What other films have hidden values yet to discover? Much of what I see nowadays yields secrets not detected before. To point that is poison milk: Yes, it was poison. Why would Johnnie express interest in undetectable lethal dosage and borrow an author friend’s book on the “Palmer (poisoning) case” without a specific purpose for doing so?



Suspicion
wrap-up where Lina concludes it was Johnnie's intent to off himself makes little sense, her more grasping at straws than facing facts. Johnnie has merely noted that Lina did not drink her milk and so segues to Plan B, which he will also abandon readily as he did the real estate venture (but wait, did Johnnie ever intend anything other than Beaky escrowing the cash in both their names, cash Johnnie would collect upon settlement of Beaky’s estate?). Johnnie is deviant enough to switch on a dime. Suppose he figures to dispose of Lina during their drive to her mother’s, an idea too offhand even for reckless Johnnie to consider, but necessary after the milk scheme failed and he had to concoct something else. Johnnie must meditate upon crimes to execute them successfully, per Beaky and likely others prior to this narrative. To liquidate Lina on the road, let alone pitching her off a cliffside, is a plan rife with loose ends. How to account for her fall, and why would they pause at such a precipice in the first place? Changing his mind amounts to nothing more than a delay for Johnnie. Besides, Lina unknowingly gives him an out, suggesting he intended to kill himself for having put them in financial distress. Her intense and ongoing love for Johnnie obliges Lina to rationalize his conduct, and as before, Johnnie will seize upon something Lina says to forward a strategy her words inspire. So he'll “return home to face a prison term”? Like hell he will. Control remains altogether his. Lina begs Johnnie to drive her back, and by “persuading” him to do so, seals her own fate.



He’ll not kill her today but certainly will later, given better and safer opportunity. Lina perceptive? She is anything but, suicide a joke to a practiced sociopath like Johnnie, who may now anticipate not only Beaky’s money, but Lina’s family inheritance when her mother dies, plus life insurance on Lina herself once timing is right for Johnnie to achieve his aim, a round robin that will allow Johnnie to prosper and graze further upon nobility reckless enough to invite this merry widower among their circles. Truest words Johnnie speaks to Lina: “People don’t change overnight, Lina. I’m no good.” Again an admission (mine) that I could never fully trust Cary Grant. There was always too much hidden about his screen characters. Did it have to do with Grant's persona being altogether a creation, little if nothing to do with the person Archie Leach was? Players I cleave to mirror more what they play, at least seem to. Cary Grant ideally suited Hitchcock for deceiver qualities he had. I don’t think there was an actor anywhere who could embody Johnnie Aysgarth so well. We believe in Grant/Johnnie’s ability to dominate and control a romantic partner. Hitchcock asks us, specifically asks women watching, if dying is a worth-it price to pay for rapturous here-and-now. Nothing so good lasts long anyway, and if Lina loses Johnnie, what’s to live for? Proposed ending where she willingly drinks the poison was clever but would not have worked so well as truly transgressive finish Suspicion does have. Lina will pay the price of love and gift to her vanity such love represents, but not where we will witness it, being an event happening amidst ether where all movies go after end titles fade off.





Monday, November 06, 2023

Film Noir #26


 Noir: The Big Chase, Blackout, Blood Simple, and Brass Monkey


THE BIG CHASE (1954)
--- Part of a box entitled “Forgotten Noir: Collector’s Set, Series Three,” from VCI, latter in present custody of the Robert Lippert library, from which these plus numerous other noirs derive. “Forgotten” is a fair label for the lot, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad, at least not all bad. As curiosities each are OK, and for run-times barely past an hour (The Big Chase 60 minutes on the nose), none need go begging for our entertainment dollar. The Big Chase was pillaged from a 3-D featurette called Bandit Island, which got limited play flat or third dimension. Those 26 minutes ended up as final third of The Big Chase, surrounding story cobbled by son of Lippert, Robert Jr., who colorfully told the story to Tom Weaver for a rollicking interview in Earth vs. the Sci-fi Filmmakers, a 2005 collection highly recommended. The Big Chase has a familiar and likeable cast: Glenn Langan, Adele Jergens, Jim Davis, Douglas Kennedy … and who invited Lon (no dialogue) Chaney to the party? Yet here he is, and Lippert Jr. gave Lon considerable credit for bringing off the “big chase” of title derivation. This is breed of dog that history has kept largely in kennels --- it took digital formats to loose them. Laugh if one likes, but men like Lippert (and son) kept theatres open, their own and others, using product like this, and I doubt they felt a moment’s shame over it, nor should they. Anyone careless enough to pay ways into a show like The Big Chase deserved what they got, and who knows, it might have pleased well as anything major studios tendered. There is no accounting in the end for an audience’s taste.



BLACKOUT (1954) --- Another of Hammer noirs fronted by Robert Lippert and featuring an imported American star. Dane Clark was a name, but not one lately associated with tops of bills. Lippert must have estimated bookings to a pinpoint before committing to these, like program westerns on ways out. He had enough theatres of his own to almost pay freight, product generated cheaper overseas than stateside. Hammer had begun shooting at their Bray facility, everyone in close quarters as sets were necessarily small. To look upon ingenuity applied here is to appreciate how well Hammer delivered under very frugal conditions. Despite success that came with horror films, there was always struggle to keep lights on and staff in groceries, making me wonder if distributors didn’t rake off excess bounty the small company might have been entitled to. Hammer after all was no match for giant UK circuits, let alone sharks swimming in the US used to grabbing it all where they could do so unchallenged. Blackout (alternate title Murder by Proxy) has twists enough to engage. I was wrong on my guess as to the killer’s identity, advantage Hammer and experienced writing hand of Richard Landau. Brit support always made Yank leads look good. They let Dane Clark be the big noise without reminding him theirs was the bigger talent. “Journeyman” is a badge of honor where worn by character folk who seemingly could perform anything and had done so for long a time at least as any arriver from the colonies. Hammer was already softening UK accents to make dialogue decipherable. There had been complaints about British speech as heard by American viewership, and an only checkmate to this was training artists to speak in US-plain, a tip Bob Lippert no doubt conveyed at start of all his Brit-lensed projects. Blackout streams here/there, was sold at one time by Kit Parker, but a lot of their UK-noirs appear to have gone out of print, tolls pretty high if we want any of them now.



BLOOD SIMPLE (1984) --- Among first noirs to omit any sense of outrage from mayhem committed on screen. We see a most sympathetic of ragtag characters bury an enemy alive yet think little of it. Just a necessary measure to make us deep accessory to an act seldom done outside horror movies (did it inspire Scorsese’s end for Joe Pesci in Casino?). Blood Simple is entertainment folks would once have been ashamed to watch, that day past as even harsher if less effective noir proliferates today. As Blood Simple approaches a 40 year anniversary, we could dub it Night of the Living Dead of a jostled genre, being shock to all that would still endorse boundaries. Repurposed early 80’s noir more sex-explicit was still rose-hued, comfortably within classic confines despite ramped-up raunch (Body Heat), which “erotic thrillers” to come were rather like perfume ads than odor Blood Simple gives off. Was Blood Simple too near the knuckle for its own commercial good? Modern go’s at noir were far enough afield of reality to unease no one. Detectives private or civic still solved crime, rougher than previous sure, but within safety net that was normalcy we aspire to. Blood Simple tore all asunder and I don’t wonder many were as confused by that approach as narrative that was challenge to keep even with. We see not one authorized investigative figure in a whole of running time, as if they’d left the field to barbaric lot remaining. Noted since is Blood Simple being the Coen Brothers’ first in creative charge. They take paperback nasty to frightful new level, style chased further aground in Fargo (1996), a larger success to suggest audiences had finally caught up with them. Hollywood clearly had, for look at all of imitators since Blood Simple. Best of crime stories make us complicit in evil engaged. It becomes a matter of picking lesser bad among a bad lot and hoping they will at least survive the ordeal, if not profit by damage they do unto others. Blood Simple has violence exhilarating for its savagery, like when Frances McDormand slams a window on a man’s hand then pierces it with a kitchen knife to secure him, a clip I confess to watching several times on You Tube. Maybe Blood Simple is what cultists ought to call “Guilty Pleasure.”



BRASS MONKEY (1948/1951) --- A Brit anomaly, being noir and spun off a popular-over-there radio program featuring Carroll Levis, Canadian born but successful enough in the UK to topline this weirdest of genre mixes. We expect lightweight mystery, but here come at least three murders to muddy water amidst wacky numbers and routines (several performed by Terry-Thomas), parts of a broadcast played out as killings are resolved and an admittedly surprise guilty party is unmasked. “Guest” by way of American personality is Carole Landis, but how could even she increase interest in what was in large part transcription of a British revue not heard ever on our shore? Free passes might have gone to whatever US patron could recognize Carroll Levis. He was sure no Phil Baker. Of reasons to watch (if any), one stands out: Ernest Thesiger, always worth sacrifice of 81 minutes, in fact more if necessary. He's a slightly dotty collector of antique treasure, not murderous, but pursuing goals “at any cost.” Herbert Lom is sinister and largely on sidelines. Landis was hard luck known for details of her ultimate demise, but what I did not realize was fact she contracted malaria during one of many war entertaining tours, that condition being oft-recurrent, so things surely were bleak after cessation of hostilities. Could health have been a factor in her decision to lower life’s curtain? Landis wrote a book that inspired Twentieth-Fox to make a successful film, Four Jills in a Jeep. That should have raised TCF’s estimation of Carole Landis. It is said that Rex Harrison was ostracized for a time following her tragic finish (their affair, and him married to Lilli Palmer). Unfaithfully Yours, released six months after Landis' death, failed in part as result of Harrison starring. There are latter day fans for Landis, fervent ones, her among sadder pages from the Classic Era.

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