Archive for Boris Karloff

Brainswapping

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 25, 2021 by dcairns
Bryan Powley relaxes between takes

THE MAN WHO CHANGED HIS MIND turns out to be really good — thanks to Joe Dante for bigging it up at Trailers From Hell. He points out that this little (61 minute) British sci-fi shocker is the role model for all of Boris Karloff’s later Columbia mad scientist flicks, and better than all of them (and I like those films, as I suspect does Joe).

Director is Robert Stevenson, far from his Disney doldrums — his late British films are huge fun, those I’ve seen — NON-STOP NEW YORK and KING SOLOMON’S MINES. Does this mean I have to watch his Jack Hulbert comedies? I suppose it does.

Karloff essays one of his usual turn-on-a-dime plunges into insanity from kindliness, but he’s never THAT kindly — the seeds are sewn in the first act. Anna Lee is smiley again, perhaps a little TOO smiley, and John Loder is a fast-talking newspaperman. But the film’s real treat comes from Donald Calthrop as the disabled assistant/co-conspirator, and the great Frank Cellier, the newspaper tycoon who funds Boris’ experiments in mind transference.

Karloff’s Dr. Laurience has found a way to extract the information — memories and personality — from one brain and transfer them to another. He’s proven this with a placid and an irate chimp, played, I think, by the same ape — the IMDb lists one Bryan Powley as “undetermined role (uncredited)” so I’m going to call the chimp Brian Powley from here on in. Cellier at first backs Karloff, but withdraws support after Karloff, a genius as a brain scientist but a lousy salesman, gives an unsuccessful presentation to the media. So Karloff transplants Calthrop’s mind into Cellier’s body, so his underling can keep the funds flowing in Cellier’s guise.

And, it turns out, Cellier can do a terrific impression of Calthrop’s wheedling delivery. While it’s weird that Karloff doesn’t get to transplant his own mind at this point, our reward is more Cellier and more Karloff. We get less Calthrop but we get enough of him.

It’s also weird that no human character changes bodies with Bryan Powley the chimp of a thousand faces, since he appears in the movie’s most famous still. I’m sure HE could have put on a very convincing and accurate Donald Calthrop act as well.

Boris DOES get to try his invention on himself in the third act, and John Loder, who one never particularly admires, pulls off a striking (and cruel) imitation of Karloff’s stance, which is an assumed old-man gait at this point, but uncannily like the bow-legged hobble Karloff will acquire for real by the 1960s, so I’m assuming he was already suffering it a bit here.

The clever script is by John L. Balderston, a regular writer on Universal’s horror cycle (DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, THE MUMMY, BRIDE OF) and Sidney Gilliat, a regular writer on just about every entertaining British film of the period, and one L. Du Garde Peach, who certainly has a good name.

There are very few British horror films from the thirties — THE GHOUL and MOTHER RILEY MEETS THE VAMPIRE — they’re all of interest. This one is perhaps trying to have plausible deniability since the BBFC really didn’t like the “H” Certificate films… so it’s funny and fantastical too. Worth your time.

Costumes by Molyneux

THE MAN WHO CHANGED HIS MIND stars ????; Ianto; Bronwyn; Bob Cratchit; Wright; Mr. Todhunter; Dr. Grimesby Rylott; Herbert Ponting F.R.P.S.; Joshua Trimble; and Dr. Gribble.

PS The fact that Bryan Powley’s other IMDb roles include Dr. Gribble, Cmmdr Mannering, Capt. Hardy, single gentleman, Col. Burgoyne of the French Secret Service and Sir Isaac Newton may be thought to argue strongly against his being a chimpanzee. But by careful study of his features I’m convinced he is one, albeit a particularly versatile one.

Yesterday

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 31, 2020 by dcairns

A busy day at Il Cinema Ritrovato online:

LIEBLING DER GOTTER, Emil Jannings in an early German talkie. Surprisingly sophisticated — I guess Europe had a couple of years to absorb the early mistakes and discoveries of American sound film, so there’s immediately an understanding that UNsynchronised sound — separating sound from image — offscreen voices and noises overlaid on top of contrasting images — is one of the most powerful and absorbing techniques, at least as valuable as lip-synched dialogue.

CALIFORNIA SPLIT — I’d seen this years ago and knew it was good — Fiona hadn’t. More sound innovation, as Altman mixes untold layers of overlapping gab, sometimes allowing a clear conversation to emerge from the wordstream, sometimes smothering bits of it in crosstalk, sometimes submerging everying in burbling accretions of babel.

The film itself is terrific. I recall Elliott Gould talking about it in Edinburgh. He was a producer on it and said that the ending was originally supposed to show him and George Segal exiting the casino, filmed from outside: they’re friendship is over.

Altman approached Gould and suggested, it being very late/early and everyone tired, that they could end the film indoors and save themselves relocating and setting up a new shot. Gould agreed, and has wondered ever since if he made a mistake, and if the film underperformed because of it.

Maybe the very end is a tiny bit lacking — but not in a way that hurts your memory of the experience. A good illustration of Kurosawa’s point that, when you’re tired, your body and brain tell you that you have enough footage when you really don’t. The only solution, AK counsels, is to go ahead and shoot twice as much as you think you need.

A hard lesson!

The movie is wonderful — I miss the pre-McKee era when films could shamble along loosely, apparently neglecting all rules of structure, until at the end you realised that everything was there for a reason and an artful design had been functioning all along, UNDETECTED.

We also watched TAP ROOTS (George Marshall, 1948), beautiful Technicolor but by God it was dull.

Apart from Boris Karloff as a Native American with an English accent, and a fairly well-written part for Van Heflin, and the odd political interest of this GONE WITH THE WIND knock-off (Susan Hayward being flame-haired at the top of her voice) in which the South wins the Civil War against itself (a valley of abolitionist Southerners is invaded by the Confederates), the most striking moment was a surely unplanned incident in a river battle where one horse, improvising wildly, mounted another, trapping the hapless actor on Horse (2)’s saddle in a kind of Confederate sandwich with horses instead of bread. Looked painful. I have never weighed a horse but I believe they’re not featherweights.

The Sunday Intertitle: Your sins shall find you out

Posted in FILM, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2018 by dcairns

The reassuring smile of Boris Karloff

Weird coincidences. We have a great view of the moon from our front window, in the early evening. During the full moon, we had a double bill of John Carpenter’s THE FOG, which turned out to take place during the full moon, a fact we had forgotten (fun, and I hadn’t seen it since the days of my school film society) and PRINCE OF DARKNESS (not so hot), whose very first shot is the full moon.

Last night, looking for a spooky silent film to cull an intertitle from, I plumped for THE BELLS (James Young, 1926). Which turned out to have a much more disturbing contemporary relevance. I sort of thought I knew the story from having watched Bill Morrison’s THE MESMERIST, which is based around decayed fragments of the movie, but I’d forgotten, if I ever knew, that the plot (by fantasy writers Erckman-Chatrian, a sort of second-string ETA Hoffmann), centres on the murder of a Jewish traveler. The film’s attempt to find sympathy for the guilt-tormented murderer played by Lionel Barrymore fell on somewhat deaf ears, since I was preoccupied with thoughts of the anti-semitic terror attack in Pittsburgh.

The film attempts to enlist compassion for Barrymore from the start, even though he’s attempting to ingratiate his way into political office by giving away free beer. When this leads his finances to a desperate state, he murders the traveler on New Year’s Eve in order to steal the money belt full of gold the guy rather injudiciously shows off. Now, Barrymore has been depicted explicitly as NOT anti-semitic, as he welcomes the traveler at his inn when others are more hostile. But that sort of kindness only goes so far. With my sensibilities perhaps heightened by the day’s tragic and horrible news story, I couldn’t escape feeling that while Barrymore doesn’t hate the Polish Jew for who he is, he is able to see his way to murdering the guy because he’s Not One Of Us.

So I’m afraid I couldn’t really get behind his quest for redemption.

But my, it’s a beautifully made movie. And features an early exploitation of Boris Karloff’s unique physiognomy. And Barrymore is good. There’s also an early iteration of that trick with filters made famous by Mamoulian in DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (and also used in SHIT! THE OCTOPUS!), where Lady Macbeth-style phantom bloodstains appear and disappear on Lionel’s hands, all in one shot (revealed and concealed by a red filter. If you ever carried a Coke can into a dark room and watched half the design disappear when the red light made the red and white parts of the can look the same, you’ve seen this rather uncanny effect in action).

 

But a creeping discomfort about the film’s attitudes remains, and the intercession of a plaster Virgin doesn’t alleviate it.