Archive for James Cruze

Deeper Crimson

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2009 by dcairns

A quick update on my See Reptilicus and Die mission — a mission almost as old as Hitchcock Year and likely to run and run. I’m trying to view every film illustrated in Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, a prodigiously visual tome that haunted my childhood like a big green flapping bat. So how am I doing?

As you can see hereherehere and here, the titles previously listed as unseen are gradually changing to blood red, indicating that I’ve tracked them down and watched them. Since I haven’t written about every single film I’ve seen, a quick update might be in order, dealing with the more interesting cases.

THE NEANDERTHAL MAN is directed by EA Dupont, which is just bloody tragic. The auteur of VARIETY must have fallen not on hard times, but straight through them and into some monochromatic pit of hell where cineastes shovel shit while lashed by demons, huckster producers, and their consciences. The sabre-tooth tiger that isn’t anything of the kind is quite funny (Dupont boldly cuts from a real tiger in long-shot to a fanged glove puppet/stuffed toy close-up), and it was surprising to discover that this may have been the first movie monster to not only abduct a screaming starlet, but actually do the nasty with her, caveman style (all discretely off-camera). Even Beverly Garland, as cavebait, can’t save this cro-magnon crud.

THE MAGIC SWORD — Gifford has this Bert I Gordon sword and sorcery romp listed as ST GEORGE AND THE SEVEN CURSES which, given the presence of a Sir George and seven curses in the plot, suggests to me that this was the original intended title, although I can’t find any evidence it was released as such. Wikipedia offers ST GEORGE AND THE DRAGON and THE SEVEN CURSES OF LODAC as alternatives. This was pretty enjoyable! It has Estelle Winwood (she of the widely-spaced eyes that allow her to look you in the eye and see the back of your head at the same time) and Basil Rathbone, who isn’t yet having trouble with his lines (see QUEEN OF BLOOD for evidence of what time did to poor old Sherlock) and thus is great fun. Gary 2001 Lockwood makes a spirited, if very American, hero, and Maila Nurmi (Vampira!) pads out the cast as a hag (“Vamp — I mean, Maila, wanna be in a film?” “Hmm, what’s the role?” “Hag!” “I’ll do it!”). Apart from oddly adult stuff like the damsel’s vacuum-packed bosom and the blood pouring from the injured cyclops, this was inventive and crammed with fancy special effects, all of which were decently special, if cheap. No stop-motion creatures, but the dragon puppet breathed real fire, and the humans were endearing.

VOODOO MAN is a very silly Monogram horror with Lugosi, Zucco and Carradine. The triple-headed threat ought to make the film impressively busy and bursting with fun, but instead it rather illuminates just how very affordable those actors had become. However, the thing is daft as a brush and basically played for laughs, although I’m not sure anyone told Bela. By this point in his life, Bela seems permanently typecast as widowers, perhaps to explain his hangdog appearance. George Zucco runs a garage where he steers women to their dooms, and Carradine plays a simple-minded, simple-bodied (he looks like a stick drawing) henchman. The hero is a screenwriter who tries to pass his adventure off as a movie script in the last scene. Good luck with that, fella.

Boris models the new-look string beard.

THE MAN WITH NINE LIVES is one of Boris Karloff’s many many mad scientist parts, which seem to have been made from a kind of knitting pattern in the early forties — Boris invents something wonderfully beneficial to mankind, mankind (personified by some well-meaning dopes) screws things up and somebody gets killed, Boris gets embittered and crazy and uses his powers for evil. Nick Grinde directed at least three of these with exactly the same plot, and I watched them all. Now this one and THE MAN THE COULD NOT HANG and BEFORE I HANG have all merged into one super-mad scientist movie, which might be called THE MAN WITH NINE LIVES THEY COULD NOT HANG BEFORE. All three are engaging, sympathetic, nicely photographed, and boast committed, only slightly campy performances from the tireless star.

DR RENAULT’S SECRET is far better than I’d expected, with a lovely monster played by J Carroll Naish, product of Dr Moreau-like experiments in accelerated evolution (THE NEANDERTHAL MAN uses the same plot device in reveree, winding back the genetic clock on domestic cats and domestic help). And it’s based on the same Gaston Leroux tale as BALAOO THE DEMON BABOON, another Gifford special which I may have to go to Canada to see…

THE MYSTERY OF THE MARIE CELESTE is a British nautical suspenser from the early thirties, when Lugosi was full of vim and good prospects, even when his characters are not. It makes a change to feel sorry for the character rather than the actor. The movie was moderately interesting, partly because the British version of 30s racism is more bluntly-spoken than the Hollywood equivalent — there’s some very nasty language from some purportedly sympathetic characters.

DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE, starring future director James GREAT GABBO Cruze, can be seen RIGHT HERE ~

It’s not a great work of art — mainly it’s quite funny, with Hyde looking like an unsavory Dudley Moore — but the filmmakers do a reasonable job of straightening out the story, condensing the action, and inserting a romantic lead, all of which actions would be repeated by subsequent adaptors. Stevenson’s story is an all-male affair, apart from the maid heard crying after Jekyll’s demise, prompting me to wonder if a version where Hyde’s secret life of vice took more of a Dorian Gray path might provide a new wrinkle on the story — something that’s sorely needed after a hundred or so different versions.

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Ain’t seen this one…

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on September 1, 2008 by dcairns

The 1912 version, extracted. I like the simplicity, probably a necessity since the whole film is only 11 minutes long. Also, Jekyll is old, which is rarely the case in subsequent versions. The changeover is a straightforward jump-cut, a la Melies. Something to build on in future versions. Hyde seems to be somehow more working class, and also afflicted with partial paralysis and missing his front teeth. But I’m not knocking him.

Jekyll’s played by James Cruze, later a director of seriously deranged mainstream Hollywood flicks like THE GREAT GABBO and the Edward Everett Horton star vehicle (!) BEGGAR ON HORSEBACK. Cruze seems to have had a volatile mixture of talent and anti-talent: his bad choices are often more interesting than his good ones.

Although Cruze is credited for both roles, apparently in some scenes Hyde is actually played by Harry Benham — I have no idea why. The idea of separate actors makes complete sense to me, and if we stopped treating the part as a tour de force for a single actor and just cast different guys, the thing would work much more naturally. But separate actors for just SOME SCENES — that’s wonderfully mad. They should have called it THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF MR. HYDE.

The Gabbo-Flamarian Combo

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 10, 2008 by dcairns

A Fever Dream Double Feature.

Anybody seeing James Cruze’ early talkie operetta-revue melodrama nightmare THE GREAT GABBO, must immediately despair of ever finding a partner-film, a companion piece with which it might be paired. Some films, it seems, are destined to live alone. GABBO, the tale of a horribly arrogant ventriloquist free-falling into insanity, played with barely-suppressed inertia by Erich Von Stroheim, is based on a story by the great Ben Hecht, who ran away before actually writing it, leaving script duties to Hugh Herbert, which is quite a come-down. The IMDb suggests that the H.H. in question is THIS GUY, the infamous “woo-woo” man, whose presence disgraces so many golden age movie romps, but I think the likely culprit is F. Hugh Herbert, prolific author of appalling comedies like Otto Preminger’s THE MOON IS BLUE. The same incessant smug goddamn quipping is in evidence.

So, althought the idea may have originated in the brain that powered the hand that held one-half of the pen that wrote The Front Page, what we get is at best echt Hecht. But it is 100% GENUINE HERBERT, as anyone who has struggled through its unpleasantly lengthy, static dialogue scenes can attest.

At any rate, the casting of Erich Von Stroheim as a cross-talking comedian vent act is something that must have been dreamed up on the dipso ward, and the idea of playing out Gabbo’s tragedy against the backdrop of a musical revue featuring singing insects and dancing poultry suggests a story department recruited from bedlam.

But do not despair! A worthy counterpart to THE GREAT GABBO exists, and with supreme symmetry the movie gods named it THE GREAT FLAMARION and cast Erich Von S once more as the Great One.

FLAMARION is a much better movie, since it has Anthony Mann behind the camera. It’s fascinating to watch him at work, enlivening his dubious material within a tight B-movie schedule, with tension-packed compositions and electrifying camera moves — except even he can’t really get the thing up on its feet, no matter what he does. THE GREAT FLAMARION staggers along, burdened with a script so predictable it’s perversely surprising. Von plays a variety act sharp-shooter. Mary Beth Hughes and Dan Duryea are the married stooges who stand still while he blasts cigarettes from their mouths. Hughes seduces Von, but it’s nakedly obvious she doesn’t love him. Never was a femme so fatale. We wait for her to suggest he bump off her troublesome hubby by cunningly FAILING TO MISS during the act. She does. He does. The deed done and passed off as an accident, he arranges to meet her in a Chicago hotel. We wait for her to not show up.

At this point, we get a surprise! No, she doesn’t show up. But Von does a little dance! We weren’t expecting THAT. It’s like a big hand reaching out of the screen and offering us a cupcake.

Then Von realises he’s been had and seeks revenge. He gets it, and dies.

So far, so predictable, but what puts the tin lid on it is the FRAMING STRUCTURE, which makes the outcome clear before the story has even started — Von lies dying, perforated with his own slugs, having throttled the cheating vixen. Which means the entire movie is a playing out of storylines that have already been tied up. Orson Welles begins OTHELLO with Desdemona and Othello dead and Iago in chains, but he has the benefit of more involved plotting and characterisation, plus he may have assumed the audience would have some familiarity with the story he was telling anyway. The title THE TRAGEDY OF OTHELLO provides a strong hint. The book-ends of THE GREAT FLAMARION constitute a different and much dumber kind of design. They testify to the faint hope of starting the movie with a bang, since if it simply played out chronologically the opening would be unbearably flat and suspenseless. Promise them murder then hope they’re too listless to leave their seats.

Mann-fans will nevertheless find much to enjoy in the sharp framing and dynamic camera moves. Von’s general absurdity as romantic lead makes him diverting, and like Bela Lugosi he can provide unexpected hilarity with sudden moments of naturalism. And, uniting the film with GABBO once more, there’s the thrill of BICKERING — both films feature prolonged, depressing scenes of married couples sniping horribly at each other, apparently a staple of entertainment in the eyes of the screenwriters.