Archive for Charles Laughton

Dank Satanic Mills #1

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 15, 2022 by dcairns

It’s the iron maiden again! Screen right, bottom. The same infernal device Conrad Veidt is consigned to in THE MAN WHO LAUGHS (in his first role, as the hero’s father) and which he later admired from the outside in ABOVE SUSPICION. We saw it again later in Corman’s THE RAVEN, the most recent appearance I’ve spotted by the long-serving instrument of torture. One of the most-used props in films. After a turn in it, you could recover by having a lie-down on Gloria Swanson’s swan-boat-bed.

I would like to discover more appearances.

Anyway, I have to say more about THE STRANGE DOOR because Eureka! granted me a review copyof their ace Karloff MANIACAL MADNESS set. Fun movie — future Star Trek director Joseph Pevney is turned loose in a lot of standing sets (a cucalorus in every room) with Charles Laughton and Boris Karloff. Laughton seems like he needs a couple-three more takes of every scene to get the lines down, but, aware of the tight schedule, I guess, he ploughs on until “cut” (rather than breaking the scene whenever he feels himself drying, as he did with Sternberg in all those I, CLAUDIUS outtakes). There’s a lot of mad invention and lipsmacking craziness, but punctuated by uncertain pauses where he has to slow himself down and then ramp up the energy again when he remembers what’s next.

Karloff, very solid, reunited with his OLD DARK HOUSE co-star, did not get on with him, as reported by Kim Newman and Stephen Jones in their lively commentary. The suggestion that Laughton’s style was becoming old-fashioned is one I’d take issue with — I’d say “Have you seen ADVISE AND CONSENT?” Or, indeed, ISLAND OF LOST SOULS, which always struck me as a very modern bit of camp villainy. If Laughton seems out of date in THE STRANGE DOOR it’s because the whole film is, the dead end of the Universal Gothic cycle (along with THE BLACK CASTLE the following year). And the man isn’t on top form, though he’s certainly ENGAGED.

The climax, with our heroes trapped in a cell whose walls are inexorably closing in (powered by the water-mill I alluded to in our title), is gripping. Walls closing in always makes for a good, suspenseful scenario — I don’t know why they don’t trot the idea out more often, unless it’s that one so seldom encounters it in daily life.

Books on my floor

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 2, 2022 by dcairns

I did crazy good this week on book purchases —

The Laughton and Altman books came from the All You Can Eat book shop, which is rarely open but always affordable. £1 each. I know Simon Callow’s Laughton book is probably better than Charles Higham’s, but a cursory glance revealed this one to have some merit, and Elsa Lanchester cooperated in it. The Altman book is great and makes me think I should spend a week just catching up with oddities from his long career which have hitherto escaped me, from Combat to THE COMPANY.

I figured I’d read a few snatches of the Laughton — page 17, maybe, and in fact I did read the bit on Sternberg — and then forget it was there, but Fiona grabbed it and devoured it cover to cover so it’s paid its way. Also, there are some wonderful artists’ impressions of the Great Man:

Two by Elsa, and —

One by James Mason and one, a collage, by Brecht.

The Polanski book came from a nearby charity shop. A pretty handsome volume for £5. Polanski provides quotes on each film. There’s not a lot of meat to it — I read it in an afternoon — but it’s glossy and handsome. Many many of the pictures show Polanski doing other people’s jobs — sewing or arranging fights, swinging a log at an outsize opponent.

The Tod Browning one cost the most, from secondhand record-and-bookstore Elvis Shakespeare, a regular stop on my constitutionals. It happened to tie in with a little project I have on the go, so I couldn’t very well pass it up. £15. It’s pretty good — a series of essays on different aspects of Browning’s work. There are some howling factual errors — Roger Corman directing Christopher Lee in DRACULA — but they’re all sort of off-topic. On Browning’s films, the book is informative and insightful.

Pig Race 2000

Posted in FILM, Radio with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 3, 2022 by dcairns

Sorry, the whole of PORKY’S ROAD RACE isn’t on YouTube, so you’ll just have to believe me when I tell you this Loony Tune by Frank Tash(lin) is the Warners 1937 animated version of DEATH RACE 2000. Tricked-out cars causing mayhem with tacks and glue and grease…

For some reason, it’s not just that, though, it’s a race of Hollywood caricatures

WC Fields is paired with Edna May Oliver, which might have been a good casting idea for a feature; Laurel & Hardy power a car jack with a see-saw; a very poor Charlie Chaplin, envisaged as a long thin chap in white trousers; Charles Laughton as Captain Bligh, but in a car.

Some of the references are quite obscure:

I guess this is meant to be George Arliss, Leslie Howard and Freddie Bartholomew?

And here’s one that required actual research:

Definitely John Barrymore. In a car called Caliban. Pursued by a woman in a car called Ariel (with an aerial). The first source I checked was baffled, as Barrymore had never appeared onstage in THE TEMPEST. But they did identify the woman as Elaine Barrie, his wife at the time. It turns out he’d played the part on the radio, as part of a 1937 series called Streamlined Shakespeare. I don’t know if a recording survives, but here’s Twelfth Night. Anyway, that seems like a moderately obscure set of references even for 1937. It’s a cartoon that needs annotated.

Of course, as in the other DEATH RACE 2000, there’s a Frankenstein, but instead of David Carradine it’s, naturally enough, “Borax Karloff.”

The concept overall is weird, there aren’t really any good jokes, and Tashlin’s fanboy side is charming but when he did gags about film technique rather than about movie stars, he was funnier. The closest thing to that is the disclaimer at the start, which starts great but fizzles out, but hey, at least it starts great.

Aaaaaaaaaand thanks to @GearGades on Twitter, here’s a link to the full toon: