Archive for the FILM Category

Under the Microscope

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , on July 23, 2019 by dcairns

Since Felix E. Feist started his career, kind of, with the spectacular DELUGE, and later made DONOVAN’S BRAIN, which I must say doesn’t capture the brilliance of Curt Siodmak’s source novel (I always thought of Curt as a classic “idiot brother” figure until I read this one), I became curious as to whether he had a third science fiction movie under his belt. “One should always talk about doing trilogies,” as Terry Gilliam once said.

Well, he doesn’t, but if you turn to his TV work, you get several episodes of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, which I immediately discounted as unworthy of my, or indeed his, attention, but you also get a single episode of The Outer Limits.

I’m not a huge OL fan — I’ve never seen an episode that wouldn’t be better with a half-hour runtime. But the combination of Feist and Stefano’s anthology show seemed worth exploring.

In The Probe, a plane crashes in a hurricane, and we immediately get stock shots of model huts being blown away — maybe from Ford’s THE HURRICANE? At any rate, this harkens back cheerily to the miniature apocalypse of DELUGE, making this definite trilogy material.

It’s also crap material. The various human figures presented are just as stock as the disaster movie footage, indeed no attempt whatever to distinguish them is made. I kept expecting more of them to die, so at least they’d be individualised by manner of demise, but the show is oddly tender-hearted towards its worthless populace. Even Peggy Ann Garner, an Oscar-winner for A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, evinces a difficulty in saying basic English words.

The dialogue is the worst and best thing about the episode. Worst, in that it ruins suspense by having the characters figure stuff out with impossible ease. Trapped in an alien craft, they hear a whine. “Powerful engines?” suggests one. “Atomic?” suggests another.

On the other hand, the dialogue is terrible in a much more entertaining way. The show’s best moment is when the characters, at sea in a life raft, suddenly find they’re indoors. But while the notice that their tiny craft is resting on a metallic floor, they never react to the walls, and don’t seem to notice or consider the implications of being inside an artificial structure until long minutes later. It’s as if visual decisions were made without regard to the script, and nobody considered tweaking the lines to ensure that the characters didn’t come off as mad or blind or simply acting in a different show.

There’s a shit monster. Almost literally.

“Take a step towards that thing,” the square-jawed commander says to his square-jawed subordinate at one point, which somehow fails to elicit the normal response, “Fuck off, YOU take a step towards it.”

Foreground miniature!

Feist blocks the action well, but there’s little of the appeal of his noirs. A really creative adaptation of DONOVAN’S BRAIN, which is a kind of noir or at least crime book, could have exploited his shadowy talents to fine effect. But since Feist is credited as a screenwriter on the resulting brainfest, we have to hold him responsible and admit that he didn’t have a lot of feeling for sci-fi.

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Prochainement

Posted in FILM with tags on July 22, 2019 by dcairns

The Sunday Intertitle: Him

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on July 21, 2019 by dcairns

My complimentary copies of THE KID BROTHER arrived. I did a video essay about Harold Lloyd’s comedy persona and about his work with Josephine the monkey. There’s even a Henry King reference, from before I got facinated with Mr. K. To see it, you can buy the disc or access it on the Criterion Channel if you’re a member.

Also included are two early Lloyd shorts, OVER THE FENCE and THAT’S HIM. These have never been previously released on home video, to my knowledge, and survive only on home-cine formats in 9.5mm and 28mm. This also means they’re incomplete, severely cut down in the case of the former, which was the first appearance of Lloyd’s glasses character. What remains of it is pretty weak as comedy but essential viewing as history. Regular Lloyd antagonist Snub Pollard’s weird kabuki makeup is only one of the unamusing but fascinating attractions.

A nice debut for Mr. Glasses, revealed behind a dimishing stack of boxes.

THAT’S HIM, asides from being more complete, is much more winning and funny, with care taken to establish sympathy for the everyman protagonist. If the structure seems not fully resolved, that may be partly due to the truncation, though this one is a lot more intact.

The blackface train porter is the only bum note, but a historically revealing one. He’s in full minstrel get-up, not even trying to pass as the real thing. Maybe that’s actually 1% MORE defensible than the casting of a white guy in shoe polish in Keaton’s SEVEN CHANCES? They want you to notice it and be amused by it, they’re not just trying to avoid paying a black actor.

“Unfortunate” would still be a fair description of the scene, though.

That aside, both shorts showcase early Lloyd with Pollard and Bebe Daniels, the dream team. Real Loyd fans need to own this, even disregarding the main attraction.

Many thanks to Karen Stetler and all at Criterion.