Archive for John Brahm

Vincent Gallows

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on May 23, 2011 by dcairns

Limerwrecks is celebrating the anniversary of Vincent Price with a round of lims in the Great Ham’s honour — here’s mine. Be sure to check out the other VPLs (Vincent Price Limericks — why, what did you think I meant?) already posted, and those to follow in the coming days.

Another Uncle Winnie-lim to tide you over —

This magician’s not right in the head,

And his tricks might well render you dead,

He’ll saw you in half,

With a maniac’s laugh,

Or else simply abscond with your head.

Referring of course to THE MAD MAGICIAN, directed in 3D by the normally-zestier John Brahm.

Hey Presto

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 26, 2009 by dcairns

Mad Magician web classic poster

THE MAD MAGICIAN is the second of Vincent Price’s horror flicks, after HOUSE OF WAX (factor in SON OF SINBAD and Uncle Vinnie must be one of the most persistently three-dimensional of actors, for reasons I can’t quite fathom), and despite boasting a story by Crane Wilbur, who scripted the earlier film, and direction by John Brahm, who had brought expressionist/noir chiaroscuro stylings to two Laird Cregar shockers (THE LODGER and HANGOVER SQUARE), it’s easy to see why it doesn’t have the same killer rep as Andre De Toth’s wax museum penny dreadful.


Obviously shot on a lower budget, MM is black and white, but a slightly gray and washed-out kind, not quite up to the usual standards of Brahm or ace cinematographer Bert Glennon. I suspect the technical difficulties of the 3D resulted in over-lighting, or something. I can’t think of any b&w 3D movies with outstanding cinematography, actually. And Brahm doesn’t do too many of the great off-balance compositions and slow advances that made his Cregar movies deliciously spooky — I suspect Price’s physog just doesn’t inspire him the way lovely Laird’s bloated kisser obviously did.

The plot has compensations — Price may be the only killer in screen history to frame his first victim for his second victim’s murder, and he attempts to repeat the trick with a third target. The gimmick is rubber masks, which Price has developed as part of his job designing tricks for magicians (imagine if the BBC’s Jonathan Creek went bad — and not in the sense of slowly running out of ideas and charm and droning on endlessly with a mounting sense of desperation, because obviously that couldn’t happen). He also uses lethal tricks such as a buzz saw and a crematorium to dispose of his enemies, although ex-wife Eva Gabor is despatched via simple strangulation. Which is odd — you’d think she was the kind of person who could inspire a far more creative homicide.


Actually, the film’s most surreal moment is when the script requires Price to slap Gabor, something he just can’t do with conviction. Price is an ungainly actor, a brilliantly athletic face mounted atop a stiff, bumbling frame, with a bandy lope of a run — only his hands seem to obey his mind, forming beautiful flourishes in the air. They might wield a whip or pull a maleficent lever, but slapping a face is something they draw the line at.

The whole thing is reasonable fun, slightly unpredictable, vestigially original and worth watching for the Brahm completist, which is me. It’s interesting that Brahm really got his mojo back on TV, where some of his Twilight Zone episodes are even more visually inventive and striking than his best movies. In this he was not alone — Jacques Tourneur, whose late features are largely a sorry bunch, whether compared to his 40s and 50s masterpieces or to run-of-the-mill studio pablum, managed a terrific Zone episode, Night Call, which I recommend to all his admirers, and Mitchell Leisen’s The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine, with Ida Lupino, could serve as his epitaph.


We watched THE MAD MAGICIAN flat. A guy with a paddle-ball routine turns up, as in HOUSE OF WAX, and the buzz saw looks like it would be fun in 3D, spitting splinters and sawdust in our faces. With Brahm at the helm, it seems likely that some of the more interesting effects are less obvious and can only be discussed after an “in-depth” viewing.

Hooray! Some clips —

And actually that does look a lot more interesting than the flat version would suggest… (You might have to double-click the image to call up an anaglyph version.)

Thugs with Ugly Mugs

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2008 by dcairns


Every private eye’s office should come equipped with a kookalorus to throw crazy shadows on the walls when the lights are dimmed. Standard equipment, along with the snap-brim fedora and raincoat.

My copy of THE BRASHER DOUBLOON turned out to be not exactly pristine. The 20th Century Fox logo looked like it had been filmed underwater, in murky conditions, which was a first, and the rest of the movie had a grubby, dirt-streaked quality as if I was watching it with dirty, dirty eyes.

“…Bunker Hill, which used to be the choice place to live in Los Angeles. Nowadays, people live there because they haven’t got any choice.”

It’s Philip Marlowe! Hello Phil. Phil’s looking a little different because he’s not Humphrey Bogart or even Dick Powell or James Garner or Robert Mitchum, he’s George Montgomery, handsome but not particularly characterful. But his private eye voice-over marks him out as Marlowe alright.

John Brahm, following in the footsteps of Edward Dmytryk’s FAREWELL MY LOVELY and Howard Hawks’ THE BIG SLEEP, does certain film noir things by the book, so Marlowe has a neon sign outside his office window, and a voice-over, and never manages to grab some shut-eye except when he’s sapped on the head, which is often. Also, someone is always pulling a gun on him and he’s always pulling a fast one on them. On the other hand, he smokes a pipe, which seems positively aberrant behaviour for a shamus.

“When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.”  — Raymond Chandler.


Brahm may not have the stars or the originality, but he has a vibrant compositional style, and a great eye for bit-part casting. Even the great, chunky and enervated Fritz Kortner pales alongside some of the rogues’s gallery he’s surrounded by here. I can think of few movies before Leone where the supporting bad guys and background schlubs have such grotesque and inspiring kissers. Maybe Fritz Lang’s M, and maybe some Sternberg. And Kurosawa — such care taken with minor creeps and losers in THE SEVEN SAMURAI.


This fellow, with his straw boater and vaguely Mittel-European accent, is like a debauched ancestor of Polanski’s little bruiser in CHINATOWN. The sleepy eye is a winner. He’s an amazing physical actor too (who the devil is he???) — even his body language has a foreign accent.


This raddled old coot actor rejoices in the name of Housely Stevenson. Houseley, there’s a name you don’t hear nearly often enough. Looking at his credits, I see he played the role of “Old Man” quite a bit. It’s good to have a speciality to fall back on.


A face only a mother could love, and even then, only when viewing it through a welder’s helmet.

One could go on, but there is a fine line between appreciating a bit-part player and mocking the afflicted. I enjoyed Brahm’s film muchly (I read The High Window, the book it comes from, years ago), although viewed today, Marlowe’s eagerness to cure Nancy Guild of her phobia of being touched strikes me as a little more than professional. It’s the Dr. Louis Judd  method. The story comes off as more silly and contrived than I remember in the book, as does the whole movie, but “silly and contrived” is Brahm’s preferred mode — you don’t look to him for subtlety or depth. He’s Mr. Panache.


Marlowe’s hit-on-the-head POV shot. Since this shot also appears in THE DEVILS, a Ken Russell comparison suddenly seems intriguing, except I think Mad Ken is more clever than Brahm, although he often pretends not to be.


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