Archive for Cinema a Critical Dictionary

Hercules Versus Everybody

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , on February 17, 2015 by dcairns

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Italian peplum specialist Vittorio Cottafavi gets a sympathetic airing in Richard Roud’s Cinema: A Critical Dictionary (which is an excellent book: pick up both volumes secondhand TODAY), considered along with Mario Bava and, as I recall, Riccardo Freda. But I’ve never managed to see anything by VC that matched up to the description of his work, all swirling mists and translucent veils. The stuff I’ve seen has been colourful but kind of flat and not very interesting. (In Luc Moullet’s LES SIEGES DE L’ALCAZAR, the film critic hero is held up to ridicule for being a Cottafavi completist.)

But LA VENDETTA DI ERCOLI (THE REVENGE OF HERCULES), a 1960 nonsense with he-man Mark Forest, is somewhat endearing, just because it’s so preposterous. It stands head and muscly shoulders above the average sword-and-sandal slugfest in stupidity, which is saying a very great deal. If you’re not interested in Cottafavi, you would be likeliest to have checked this movie out in order to appreciate the sight of Broderick Crawford in a skirt, since Larry Cohen ommitted that image from THE PRIVATE FILES OF J. EDGAR HOOVER, but I’m here to tell you, come for the skirt, stay for the animal punching.

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Hercules, a truly obnoxious character, kills everything he sees in this movie. In Scene One he stabs a dog to death. Admittedly, it’s Cerberus, the three-headed guard donkey dog of the Underworld. But it’s actually chained up, and seems incapable of movement being as he’s an unconvincing automaton. The stabbing goes on for a very long time indeed: maybe even longer than Willem Dafoe spends punching that poor crow in ANTICHRIST, and that’s a LOOONG time.

In his second scene, Hercules, who still hasn’t actually spoken, murders a… well, I’m not sure what it is. It’s a man on a wire, obviously, dressed in some kind of furry costume with bat wings. I was assuming it was one of the Wicked Witch’s flying monkeys, but when Cottafavi finally dares to grant it a post-mortem closeup, it has the face of a cat. The flying cat-monkey is my favourite character in the film, and I call him Alan.

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Later, Hercules wrestles a real elephant, and you’ll be glad to know the elephant probably quite enjoyed it and doesn’t seem to be harmed.

Then (or was it earlier?) he strangles a bear. The bear is definitely not real. He’s a man in a bear costume, and he’s so unconvincing I’m not even convinced he’s a REAL man. Not like Mark Forest, who, as Hercules the enemy of the entire animal kingdom, chokes the life out of him without hesitation.

There’s also a centaur/faun — in defiance of Greek mythological classification, the character is both goat-legged and horse-legged, depending on mood, I guess. Hercules apparently causes his death, in some mysterious magical way. I didn’t fully understand it. But if anything drops dead in this film, by this point I’m quite prepared to assume Hercules is responsible.

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“Hey, quit it!”

About the only animals not killed by our hero are the horses, and the snakes in the snake pit, though I don’t give great odds for their survival after Brod the Broad falls into the snakepit. I’m laying their deaths at Herc’s door too, unless further information comes to light.

The US release features a stop-motion dragon animated by the great Jim Danforth. I think it’s safe to assume Hercules kills it.

Oh hey, that whole version is online, in pan-and-scan, washed-out pinkoscope. Dragon at 1:07:56.

The vivid animation alternates with some goofy moronimatronic full-scale puppetry. I guess the big fellow is an advance on the dragon from Lang’s NIBELUNGEN because it doesn’t have its eyes in the front of its head like a person (fun fact: Debra Paget’s partner in the snake-dance in Lang’s much-much-later THE INDIAN TOMB *also* has stereoscopic vision, proving that these inaccurate reptiles are not a mistake but an authorial signature… Lang referred to himself as a dinosaur and had faulty vision, so we’re halfway to a theory already…) but we have to deduct points since it only exists from the neck up, like Benedict Cumberbatch. But it’s a long neck. Like Benedict Cumberbatch.

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Are you now or have you ever been a romantic?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on November 22, 2008 by dcairns

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THE RIVER.

One of my favourite books, or two of them, is Richard Roud’s two-volume Cinema: A Critical Dictionary – The Major Filmmakers, which has a nice piece on Borzage by Andrew Sarris, probably the first thing I ever read on F.B. I suspect I first turned to it after seeing those awesome clips from SEVENTH HEAVEN in A Journey With Martin Scorsese Through American Movies, which blew my mind long before I was able to see MOONRISE.

Sarris quotes “David” (more usually Dave) Kehr as saying “MOONRISE [1948] is the last film Frank Borzage completed before the blacklist forced him into a ten-year period of inactivity.” (Borzage in fact directed some television in 1955 and 1956.) This remark, in the Spring 1973 issue of Focus! was apparently the first mention of Borzage in connection with blacklisting. It makes sense though, since Borzage was the embodiment of what HUAC called “premature anti-fascism”, having attacked the Nazi party in LITTLE MAN, WHAT NOW?, THREE COMRADES and THE MORTAL STORM, an informal trilogy covering the history of Germany between the wars, and STAGE DOOR CANTEEN, an innocent-seeming morale-booster features an appearance by some, apparently real, Russian soldiers who are celebrated (by Sam Jaffe) for having “exterminated” the Germans at Stalingrad. (An incredibly glamorous fighting woman grimly intones that should she face another German, “My hand will not tremble.”) This is certainly the kind of thing that could cause a filmmaker career problems further down the line.

Annoyingly, confirmation of Kehr’s claim is thin on the ground — even Sarris seems unsure how seriously to take it, and the Disgustingly Expensive Borzage Book seems to dismiss the idea. It’s been suggested that Borzage may have been banned from the studios because of his drinking problem rather than his political affiliations — more blackballed than blacklisted. There’s also the possibility that illness, particularly depression, stopped Borzage working, and the blacklisting was a figment of Kehr’s imagination or a glitch in his research.

I hoped to confirm Kehr’s remark, using the excellent documentary series THE RKO STORY — I clearly recalled Borzage’s name appearing on an actual blacklist. A black list. A list that is positively black. Legal proof, I thought. A frame grab of a DVD-R of a 16mm film of a document — what could be more legally binding?

Strangely though, when I scanned the show to find the name, it wasn’t there. A hallucination. A figment. Odd!

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Maybe somebody could ask Dave Kehr if he has further information?

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