Archive for September, 2012

The Sunday Intertitle: Penultimate Warrior

Posted in FILM with tags , , on September 30, 2012 by dcairns

Episode 14 of Houdini’s THE MASTER MYSTERY — one to go!

Houdini’s escape from under a pile of rubble is one of his less spectacular — it basically consists of him standing up and dusting himself off. His opponent, Balcom, is less fortunate: not being a trained escapologist, he’s been squashed by boulders. Leave this stuff to the professionals.

Meanwhile, leading lady Marguerite Marsh and Zita the secretary/traitor/possible heiress are menaced by the Automaton and his henchmen, who have also snatched MM’s deranged dad. They’ve thoughtfully gagged him so his Laughing Madness won’t drive them to distraction. Marguerite escapes but Zita is taken.

Q, the Beard Guy, finds Balcom’s corpse and experiences a feeling of something or other ~

Paul Balcom, son of the late creep, visits dad’s house of halberds and ransacks his files, finding something which transforms his outlook and causes him to kick tagalong vamp Deluxe Dora out. What can it be? But meanwhile, Dora has also found revealing documentation and handbagged it away with her. The plot congeals.

We don’t have too long to wait on that one — she hastens to Q’s hissing laboratory and offers him the item for sale: Balcom’s diary. Q is now wholly sane, whatever that means in this context, and accepts the offer with what passes for alacrity with him. DD promises he will learn the truth of Zita’s parentage. Q reads, reacts, and then fetches a small device

Harry somehow knows the location of the Automaton’s new layer, and arrives with a pack of detectives. Since it’s a pleasant day, he brings his girlfriend along too. The lair is some kind of shed or warehouse, rather a come-down after the cavern, the Chinese temple, the hypnotist’s astrological palace, Balcom’s house of halberds, the Black Tom Diner and even the remote roadhouse. It’s jerry-built, too, since our men bash the door down with no trouble and have most of the gang under arrest in an instant. Poor deranged Mr Brent is rescued, but Zita is nowhere to be found. We wait anxiously to see if Harry somehow just knows where she is, the same way he somehow knew where this shed was.

Zita is stowed among halberds by the most obnoxious gang member, with whom Harry has been trading concussions throughout the serial. Somehow this guy has always avoided drowning, falling into the pit of fire or being zapped by the temple laser (what, your local temple doesn’t have a laser?).

HH and MM get Dad home. His Laughing Madness has taken a turn for the worse — his earlier hearty guffaw has faded to a wan grin.

Note to camera operators: always frame for the halberds.

Parentage begins to be sorted out! Paul Balcom tells Zita that she is not the illegitimate daughter of Brent, but the legitimate daughter of nutty scientist Q. Is that good news or bad? Meanwhile, I’ve just worked out who she reminds me of — Mrs Doyle from Father Ted. But that’s probably just a coincidence. She rushes off, apparently no longer a hostage, to share the news with Harry and Marguerite.

Alone with his halberds, Paul Balcom reaches a grim conclusion. But we’re not told what it is.

The last of the gang is arrested, in a bit of plot housekeeping.

And now Q spills the beans freely, as he attempts to win back his daughter’s love. Intertitles pile up like a house of cards. In brief: Balcom had manipulated the insane Q in order to attack Brent — he borrowed Q’s “invention” (some invention, a clunky metal costume) to this end. “Many years ago, Balcom told me that my wife and children were dead. It was one of the blows that wrecked my intellect.” I do like the strange psychology of this serial. Grief dements the scientist, and he is restored to sanity when Balcom, his manipulator, dies. You won’t find that in Freud. You won’t find the Madagascar Madness either, I bet. Anyhow, now Q is overjoyed to learn that Balcom lied about the fate of his daughter, now grown up to resemble Mrs Doyle. You can’t have everything.

Zita (who despite looking like an Irish housekeeper is actually very chic, and a strange, sly sort of actor) reacts to this emotional bombshell by grabbing Marguerite Marsh’s right breast. It’s nice that they’re getting along so well together.

Occasional cutaways of Deluxe Dora, who has nothing to play here, waiting impatiently for the scene to end.

“With a feeble brain, it was impossible for me to complete my invention — so Balcom entered the Mechanical Man to disguise his criminal operations,” explains Q. With Balcom bouldered to extinction, the Automaton must perforce lie inert and trouble the world no longer. But then, just as the light of reason begins to illumine the effluent of plot, the doors crash open and the Automaton marches in ~

Can Harry escape the unlocked room with gaping, broken doors?

Who is inside the Automaton? (Clue: the one major character not already present in the scene).

Are there any more astounding revelations to be made?

Find out in next week’s thrill-packed and CONCLUDING episode of THE MASTER MYSTERY!

?!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on September 29, 2012 by dcairns

It can’t have escaped your notice that even poor gialli tend to have good titles. And said titles don’t always have anything much to do with the stories — FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON, anyone? At times, the titles seem to resemble haiku, with a set of precise rules for creating beauty — animal name, colour, random atmospheric word, random scattering of prepositions, gauche use or lack of use of the definite article…

Hats off, them, to those films that create their effects more economically — ORGASMO and SPASMO, I’m looking at you. And INTERRABANG (1969), perhaps the only movie to take its title from a briefly fashionable punctuation mark. A combination of question mark and exclamation point, the titular symbol stands for the mystery and shock of life in Giulana Biagetti’s non-thriller thriller, and at first it seems that the title actually IS the conjoined “?!” symbol. Why should a title be a word anyway? It could be a comma, or a drawing of a horse, or anything.

But then the word itself comes up, and the summer begins — yachting, Mediterranean islands, existential angst and cold, treacherous characters. This is a weird one: seemingly more in thrall to L’AVVENTURA and BLOW-UP than to Argento or Lenzi, its is practically cadaverless and takes place in the daylight and open air, eschewing both the gothic thunderstorm and high-fashion interior design. But it is remorselessly chic, with sunglasses and bikinis to die for. It may in fact be one of the great bikini movies, if you don’t mind all the women being skinny model types.

The blissful music of Berto Pisano provides an oblivious counterpoint, along with Antonio Borghesi’s sunkissed cinematography, to the plotting and sniping amid the quartet of a fashion photographer, his wife, her sister and his top model. Stranded during a sea-going manhunt for a dangerous fugitive, they waft around looking trendy and being mean to each other while we wait for the plot to show up. It’s incredibly languid, and would probably best be watched under a sun lamp.

After ninety minutes of nothing much happening, the ending delivers twist upon twist, some of which hint at even more interesting ways the film could have gone. As wayward and brow-furrowing as its title, INTERRABANG is still just about worth a watch. The nudity and sex are strangely listless, but the bikini scenes are infuriatingly erotic.

Vaulting Ambition

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on September 28, 2012 by dcairns

GRAND SLAM (1967) is a jolly heist movie, a multi-national co-production, and a pretty good time. The casting rather lets it down, I feel, even though on paper it’s magnificent — Edward G. Robinson, Adolfo Celli, Janet Leigh and Klaus Kinski getting together to rob a safe full of diamonds during the Rio Carnival seems pretty irresistible.

In fact, the first two actors only appear briefly at the beginning and end, as the brains and the moneyman. Robinson, old and ill, carries so much emotional resonance that you simply can’t flash him up onscreen then remove him and expect us to be OK with that. We want a whole movie about this old guy.

Janet Leigh is around more, but slightly wasted in a “You’re beautiful without your glasses” cliche of a role. She’s the bank employee who must be seduced in order to obtain a crucial magnetic key.

So the team actually boosting the gems is Argentinian George Rigaud as an English butler with a sideline in safecracking, Austrian Robert Hoffmann as the French playboy who must seduce Leigh, and Italian Riccardo Cucciolla as, amazingly, an Italian toymaker with a talent for electronics. And Kinski as Kinski.

KK is at his peak, physically and maniacally, and is pretty hot stuff to watch.  The others are a disappointment, and Hoffman’s blandness makes him a completely incredible loverboy. Plus his seductive technique seems to consist solely of buying flowers. There’s a point where that gets creepy, as even Travis Bickle discovered.

But what we get is some good eleventh-hour twisting, a beautiful vault with some nifty suspense, the spectacle of the carnival (which I was mainly indifferent to), and a bizarre scene where Robinson looks through Celli’s catalogue of super-thieves, in order to pick his team. Here’s what he finds (and I’m not making any of this up) ~

Aristocrats, Atomic scientists, Card cheaters, Charities, Clergy, Doctors, Drugs, Electro-technicians (Edward says YES to this one), Espionage, Gold, Homosexuals (Edward raises an eyebrow, but really, you never know when you might need one), Industries, Judges, Military, Movies, Newspapers, Oilmen, Pentagon, Playboys (again, Edward says YES), Plutonium, Police, Politicians, Poisons, Safecrackers (YES again), Steel, Syndacate Killers (sic), Television, Theatre (European rather than US spelling), Tipsters, Unions, Uranium, Vatican (Edward: “Vatican?” Celli, shrugging, “Why not?”), War criminals.

Eddie G can’t decide between military and “syndacate” killers, so Celli chooses for him — military it is, and Corporal Kinski is duly hired.

I personally would like to see the sequel where Robinson returns to rob the bank again using an alternative team consisting of a nuclear physicist, a viscount, an archbishop, Truman Capote, J.R. Ewing, Alfred Lunt and a dyslexic hitman.

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