Archive for Murders in the Rue Morgue

The Batman

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 12, 2015 by dcairns

The Batman from David Cairns on Vimeo.

This is from the Robert Florey-directed THE PREVIEW MURDER MYSTERY (1936). At a certain point in the story, we get glimpses of different movies being shot on different stages of a studio which is being targeted by a murderer/terrorist, who turns out to be… well, I won’t spoil it. But we get to see Hank Mann and Snub Pollard as clowns doing crosstalk patter instead of the slapstick they were famed for (Mann plays the drunken millionaire in CITY LIGHTS, among many other roles through a long career beginning at Keystone), but much more interestingly we witness the shooting of an expressionist horror movie, featuring a character called The Batman. He wears a dark cape and is accompanied by a grotesque figure with a painted grin.

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THE BAT WHISPERS

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THE MAN WHO LAUGHS

This is all very interesting as the DC Comics Batman (known as THE Batman in his early appearances) didn’t make his first appearance until 1939. Creators Bill Finger & Bob Kane always credited the movies, though they mentioned THE BAT WHISPERS (1930) and THE MAN WHO LAUGHS (1928). And indeed, the Bat and Gwynplaine look a lot more like the comic book characters than these doofuses, with the quaint twist that the Bat was a villain and Gwynplaine a hero, rather than the other way around.

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I’m also slightly amused that The Batman in Florey’s film looks so much like Brandon Lee in THE CROW, a much later descendant of the costumed crime fighter.

Florey, of course, directed for-real horror movie MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE and *nearly* got to do FRANKENSTEIN, but for me the more relevant credits are his early shorts, THE LOVE OF ZERO and THE LIFE AND DEATH OF 9413, A HOLLYWOOD EXTRA. Both are made in a Caligariesque kind of cardboard expressionism, and the latter is even a behind-the-screen story of moviemaking like THE PREVIEW MURDER MYSTERY.

As for the actors — the screen’s first Batman turns out to have been German character player Henry Brandon, best known for playing Scar in THE SEARCHERS. IMDb refers to his sidekick as “the gnome,” and the actor is my hero, John George, from TRAIL OF THE OCTOPUS. A dynamic duo by anybody’s standards!

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Primate Suspect

Posted in FILM, literature, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 13, 2012 by dcairns

So, back to my demented quest to see every film depicted in Denis Gifford’s monster bible, A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, and this time it was Roy Del Ruth’s Poe adaptation PHANTOM OF THE RUE MORGUE which passed before my eyeballs, albeit flat rather than in its original 3D. As long as we’re talking about re-releasing Hitchcock’s DIAL M and De Toth’s HOUSE OF WAX in 3D versions, I’d put a vote in for this baby. The 3D gags looked amusing flat, but there were a few things like a shower of gaily-hued Warnercolor balloons that suggested a little more than the usual “poke-em-in-the-eye-with-a-sharp-stick” approach to immersive entertainment.

We begin with some smudgy Parisian rooftops, a perfect match for the gorgeous 2-strip settings of Warners’ 30s horrors DR X and MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM. Throughout, the colour schemes of this film alternate giddily between such subdued, marshy tones, and eye-popping bubble-gum effects more consistent with a musical.

While the aging Del Ruth has lost his handle on a particular kind of gutsy performance style that saw him through the pre-code era (though we can see that misfire spectacularly on his attempt at THE MALTESE FALCON/DANGEROUS FEMALE), he has a comic book sensibility that’s always fun. The zanier moments of this flick, which defy plausibility quite openly and plummet into an inter-stool area of conflicted response (creepy/perverse/amusing/embarrassing) harken back to the director’s days as a gagman at Keystone, particularly this revealing clue —

For a thoroughly daft film (pair it with RDR’s ALLIGATOR PEOPLE but don’t blame me if you laugh yourself through the floor) this boasts some distinguished writing talent — Harold Medford helped script THE DAMNED DON’T CRY and THE KILLER IS LOOSE, and James R. Webb did even better with CAPE FEAR, CHEYENNE AUTUMN and VERA CRUZ. Neither seems to have had a particular affinity for horror films, but they reconfigure Dupin’s detective feats into a new-ish plot which eschews Universal’s Dr Mirakle bestiality shenanigans but gets into some surprising areas — physiognomy and Lombroso, behaviourism and Pavlov, primate communication and psychopathology. Much of this stuff was fairly new to movies, and certainly pretty exotic: research has clearly been done, even if it’s all filtered through the Hollywood screenwriters’ patented bullshittifier.

At the root of it all, as is obvious from the start, is Karl Malden (a man with a face built for 3D) and his pet gorilla, Sultan, the two best actors in the film. Malden suavely walks a tightrope between fanatical, method-y commitment and unavoidable contempt for the material, and Charles Gemora as Sultan turns in a compelling physical performance (reprising his role from the original Universal MURDERS IN THE RM.

The gorilla suit is obviously just that, even if it’s well made, but this ape does have a few more character nuances than most men in suits. There’s also Claude Dauphin, the only Frenchman with a French accent in the film, who’s pretty enjoyable as the worst detective you’ll ever see, and the lovely Patricia Medina (who just died in May) who doesn’t have enough of a part to properly register, alas. Fat credit, thin character.

In the words of Godard, “It’s not blood, it’s red.” Literally, in this case.

I thought this was going to be terrible but we had a blast with it. “I *loved* that!” declared Fiona.

Locked Room Mystery

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on August 11, 2008 by dcairns

Actor Steven McNicoll, in addition to his invaluable services to the nation as actor and funnyman, has a stockpile of thespian anecdotes second to none. Here’s one you might enjoy.

Wilfred Lawson, left, in THE WRONG BOX, suffering from the advanced stages of Wilfred Lawson Syndrome.

I’ve written before of Wilfred Lawson, character actor and celebrated inebriate. One of the few actors who could function quite well with a skinful, and who always seems quite drunk anyway when you see him in films. But there are limits, and you had to get him onstage or in front of the cameras before complete paralysis set in. 

It seems he was to do a live radio show. A minder was given the task of keeping him from the demon drink. The minder escorted Lawson to a dressing room and locked him in. The room had been thoroughly searched, and did not contain a trace of liquor. Lawson was sober when he went in, and had no booze on his person. There were no windows, and the only door was securely locked from the outside. The minder had the only key.

Returning after an hour to collect Lawson for the broadcast, the minder finds him utterly rat-arsed, pissed beyond language. How was this possible?

Readers of John Dickson Carr might have the advantage in guessing this one, since Carr performed so many variants on the classic Locked Room Mystery during his long career (yet there are only a few movie adaptations, THE MAN WITH THE CLOAK being perhaps the best). In The Hollow Man, Carr’s obese detective, Dr. Gideon Fell, actually lists all the different solutions possible to an L.R.M. And it STILL doesn’t help the reader reach an answer to the problem at hand.

For the record, the basic gimmicks are:

1) The crime was committed BEFORE the room was hermetically sealed, despite appearances (see The Mystery of the Yellow Room).

2) The crime was committed AFTER the room was unsealed, despite appearances (the husband rushes in and quietly throttles his fainted wife while his friends are going for the doctor).

3) The room is not 100% sealed — there exists some kind of ingenious secret access (see The Murders in the Rue Morgue, where an inaccessible window turns out to be perfectly accessible — if you happen to be an orang-utan).

4) The crime was self-inflicted, with a cunning mechanism designed to disguise the fact (such as an elastic band that yanks the fatal pistol up the chimney when it is released from the victim’s hand, thus concealing the ugly truth of suicide).

I suppose I ought to tell you the answer to this one, but I’m quite curious to hear your suggestions first.