Archive for John Carradine

The Return of the Depressed

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on February 27, 2021 by dcairns

I had forgotten there was a film called THE BOOGEYMAN made by Ulli Lommel but a recent project brought it to mind. And quite recently we had watched THE TENDERNESS OF WOLVES and thought it very poor, so hey! Let’s pop it in the Panasonic and say rude things.

I thought the fact that TTOW couldn’t even decide what period it was meant to be set in was a sign that Ulli was an idiot, but now I was hearing that his movies fit into the delirious late-seventies/early-eighties batshit horror cycle of non-Cartesian, as Argento would say, thrillers. Maybe he was an eccentric genius masquerading as an idiot in order to move among his people? We had to find out. The critic’s job, as I see it, is to wilfully misinterpret obvious deficits as cunning flourishes, and I don’t intend to be outdone on that score.

Audacious: the movie begins with thirty seconds of blank screen with Carpenteresque electro-burblings. And then there’s a gel-tinted riff on HALLOWEEN with a kitchen-knife-wielding sprog. But it mixes things up, it’s not a straight rip-off. Where Carpenter has a POV shot that doesn’t make much sense — little Michael keeps looking up at his own hand while he’s raising it to stab — this one has a weird tracking shot in which the lad with the dagger seems curiously tall, and on wheels, and is holding his knife in front of him in a strange way. Serve him right if he tripped and did himself a mischief.

I don’t exactly award bonus points for the scenes of child bondage, but it does suggest a filmmaker who’s not scared of being offensive and horrible.

The film jumps ahead and the two kids (yeah there’s another one) have grown up and one of them is Suzanna Love, Mrs Lommel and the film’s co-writer. Lommel gets extra points by just casually showing another small kid playing on the brim of a well like a fool. Throwaway nervousness.

Lommel has seen HALLOWEEN and THE EXORCIST and some Argento but also, it seems, OF MICE AND MEN — the hulking mute barnstrangles a slattern. The movie moves in lurches, slow and then jumping forward. Here’s John Carradine! As a reassuring shrink. And quite an understated perf, by his barnstorming standards. He could dial it down if you asked him.

Eyebags you could transport mice in.

It’s kind of nice that Love’s character is seemingly crazy but everyone else is far more nuts. Her husband is awful. She freaks out and smashes a mirror after seeing the film’s first victim in it (stocking-masked child-binder) and her man meticulously reconstructs the shards just to be a dick.

But it’s too late — breaking the mirror unleashes everything the mirror has seen! Which inevitably leads to people being killed by their own windows and bathroom cabinets. None of which is scary but some of which is icky or at least surprising. “Boogeyman!” shouts little Timmy, for no reason, before the window descends on his scrawny neck like a guillotine blade.

As far as cheap FX go, I dig the shard of glass glowing red on the carpet, and the levitating pitchfork which rises through frame (held by a crewmember below frame then passed to another above frame). And Ulli is an adherent of the put-scary-music-on-everything school, which is surprisingly effective. Music by Tim Krog (sole credits: this and BOOGEY MAN II. Is Tim is an Ulli preudonym?).

End credits say “Written, produced and directed by Ulli Lommel” but then “Screenplay by Ulli Lommel, David Herschel & Suzanna Love” which is confusing. And maybe a little boastful.

Well, I’m happy I saw it. Love is an interesting presence, un-starry and naturalistic. But I think if you’re going to make an irrational weirdie, you need to have more genuinely startling incidents — since logic does not constrain you, there’s no excuse not to go really nutzoid. TBM only gets partway.

Kings

Posted in Dance, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 13, 2019 by dcairns

WAIT TILL THE SUN SHINES, NELLIE stars Bensinger; Lena Lamont; Dr. Cyclops; Dr. Russell A. Marvin; Phoebe Dinsmore; and Lt. ‘Doc’ Ostrow.

Missed this in Bologna — the Leon Shamroy Technicolor would have been worthwhile — Youtube’s copy, though good by Youtube standards, is terribly dark at times.

But I don’t know what the film’s thesis is — what it’s trying to demonstrate, explicate or make us feel, except on a scene-by-scene basis. David Wayne’s small-town barber is from the “variations on an asshole school of characterisation, but to what end? The final line, after fifty years of story have been covered, celebrates the virtues of a good shave, and that does seem to be the chief lesson imparted. Actually, I kind of liked that bit.

We do, however, get to view the second and third most terrifying shaves in screen history (after THE COLOR PURPLE), one where Wayne is so drunk he can’t walk, and one where he’s contemplating murdering the man in the chair.

King is celebrated for his Americana, the nearest thing to a personal interest displayed in his cinema. There’s more of it in ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND (1938).

King claimed his staging of the musical numbers in IN OLD CHICAGO got him this gig, which reunites stars Power, Faye and Ameche from the earlier quake-fest, but his song-and-dance stuff here is far, far better. IOC basically observed Faye in three shot sizes as she transmitted a bunch of oldy-time standards from her big face. This one has proper PRODUCTION NUMBERS and I became a fan of capering imp Wally Vernon.

You also get a chance to contrast the performing styles of Alice Faye and Ethel Merman. Merman at this point is not an actor, but she speaks her lines with an appealing and convincing simplicity. And she sings the same way, only of course she has that powerhouse voice. Faye, giving the best performance in the best role I’ve seen her in, can do a lot more with inflection and phrasing and meaning, but lacks the ability to vibrate an iron bridge to pieces with her vocal cords.

The IMDb promised us cameos by Rondo Hatton (memorable in IN OLD CHICAGO in the role of “Rondo”) as a barfly, and Lon Chaney Jr as “photographer on stage,” but the on-stage photographer we see clearly ain’t Chaney and Hatton’ s barfly does not appear (how could you miss him?) so it’s left to John Carradine to bring the horror (which no fantasy about the birth of a musical movement should be without). John does not disappoint.

Carradine’s role is officially that of cabbie, but his plot function is to play Cupid, and who better? Picture him nude with a little bow and arrow. Charm itself! Hired by Power, he basically abducts Faye to bring her to his Carnegie Hall concert. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? You let John Carradine kidnap you.

JC’ s laidback manner is terrifying: the more relaxed he gets, the more death seems imminent, and preferable to his company. His Dracula was never this alarming. He was really a fine actor, but needed to be aimed in the right direction. King appears to have launched him straight up, to land wherever he may.

At first, we suspected John was probably going to drive Alice Faye to a lock-up somewhere and torture her to death with pliers.

But, as the sequence went on, we became sure of it. An improbable end to a musical, but the only thing that would have made sense of his performance.

The actual ending is quite a bit happier than that. But as for the history of ragtime, its origins and purpose are still a total mystery.

ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND stars Leonard Vole; June Mills; Mortimer Duke; Lieutenant Hurwitz; The Tin Man; Dr. Paul Christian; Parthy Ann Hawks; Maj. Cassius Starbuckle; Larry Talbot and the Hoxton Creeper.

The Sunday Intertitle: Personally Embroidered by Darryl F. Zanuck

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on April 28, 2019 by dcairns

The embroidered intertitle is a rare enough beast to be worth remarking on. This one features in John Ford’s DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK, and the fact that it’s 1939 (yet also, simultaneously, the American Revolution), makes the appearance of such hand-crafted text all the more remarkable.

The movie needs to fall back on silent narrational technique, (OK still very much a thing in the pre-code era) it turns out, because of its uncommonly loose, baggy structure, itself at least in part a consequence of the shapelessness of the historical events covered. I found that, while I could appreciate the reasons for the episodic approach, I prefer Ford when he has a tighter story to weave (or sew). I’m not a keen enough Fordian to indulge his more rambling yarns, though it was nice to see an Indian character (Chief John Big Tree) treated, despite the inevitable ethnic humour, with enough sympathy that he could be entrusted with the kind of jovial domestic violence joke usually reserved by Ford for the Irish.

“Sir!… Sir!… Here’s a good stick, to beat the lovely lady.”

Henry Fonda is well suited to the frontiersmanship etc, but Ford gets rather an overwrought turn from Claudette Colbert: she perhaps has her limitations, but I have never seen her be shrill and grating and hysterical as she is here. It might be understandable, given the situations, but it’s hardly appealing or fun to watch.

In common with BLOOD AND SAND, the movie delivers quite a lot of value for John Carradine fans, who did great work for Ford the same year in STAGECOACH.

The second-hand DVD I picked up turned out to be a fuzzy, out-of-sync Korean bootleg (“An enjoyable film that is still very good!” cries the blurb) but curious and dedicated Fordians are recommended to the Twilight Time Blu-ray, which purportedly does astonishing justice to the Technicolor work of Ray Rennehan & Bert Glennon.