Archive for Roger Corman

Axe and ye shall receive

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on November 1, 2022 by dcairns

Having taken care of my curiosity about DEMENTIA/DAUGHTER OF HORROR, I thought I might as well tick off DEMENTIA 13 as well — I’d failed to watch it on VHS when I rented it from Alphabet Video back in those days, put off by the pan-and-scan and muddy sound and so on. Now you can see it properly, or nearer properly.

Written and directed by Francis Coppola before he added the Ford, subtracted it again, and then re-added it, DEMENTIA 13 can be regarded as the first film in his informal Irish Trilogy. He followed it with FINIAN’S RAINBOW, you may recall. The third film in the trilogy, CUCHULAIN VERSUS VICTOR MCLAGLAN, has yet to occur to him.

Bits of DEMENTIA 13 are the work of Jack Hill, I believe, brought in to rescue the results of Coppola’s very short shoot, done on the back of Corman’s TOMB OF LIGEIA. I recall being told, though it may not be true, that Roger snapped a pencil when he saw Coppola’s edit, the strongest emotion anyone could recall him ever displaying.

Despite this, if it’s true, the film is rather accomplished. The acting inclines to the “over” variety — and I’m not even particularly talking about Patrick Magee. In scene one the scheming blonde femme fatale has to monologue about her problems and objectives, and that tendency to spell things out for the viewer creeps into most of the actors’ work, whether it’s by arching an eyebrow here or stressing a syllable there. Rather than being simple and truthful, they’re trying to tell the story. A lesson Coppola quickly learned.

The only performance that reaches the heights of entertaining badness is that of Karl Schanzer, cast as “Old Simon”, an aged poacher. Apparently no suitable actor could be found in Ireland so a 31-year-old schmoe from Connecticut is equipped with a bogus cookie-duster and turned loose with a stage brogue calculated to make Orson Welles in LADY FROM SHANGHAI seem like Brendan Gleeson. It’s not his fault, though. (Thinking about it, all Old Simon’s scenes may have been shot back in the States as pick-ups to add a bit more mayhem, which would account for the odd casting.)

I’m not usually sharp-eyed about continuity errors (but I spot mismatched angles) but when the scheming female dives into a pond in her underwear (to plant some dollies on a string — useless to ponder why) I did notice that her panties changed from white to dark grey (who knows what colour they really were?). And then, as I had guessed, we were into the fairly effective murder sequence Coppola filched and played on a psychedelic nightclub wall in YOU’RE A BIG BOY NOW. So that was kind of a spoiler.

It’s a shame to lose Luana Anders, though, she’s the most interesting character — even though she’s a bitch, she has clear goals and is an active schemer. We’re supposed to empathize with the nice girl, Mary Mitchel, but she’s not given any particular needs or wants for us to get interested in.

Now that I can see and hear the film clearly, it’s striking how generally elegant and tasteful Coppola’s filming is. This is not the work of a kid drunk with the possibilities of film, floundering in all directions — he knows what he wants and why he wants it.

One problem: I’m two-thirds of the way through and there are two main suspects. I feel like I won’t be at all surprised whichever of them it is. And I won’t be surprised if it’s somebody else, though I might feel cheated as we’ve had a good look at the killer in silhouette and he’s obviously male, not old, not Patrick Magee. So let’s see if the movie, patterned largely on PSYCHO but with traces of the gothic and LES DIABOLIQUES, can pull off a legit twist.

(We might not expect it to, since Coppola sold the idea to Corman with an improvised set-piece scene, and then concocted a story to go around it, like that weird collar Kermit the frog wears.)

OK, fifteen minutes from the end there’s a big reveal, in which suspicion is lifted from one of the main characters. At this point I decided it was definitely him, on the basis that his being guilty would have the strongest impact on the heroine. (I reached the same conclusion with JAGGED EDGE, the first version of Joe Erzterhaas’ only story.) And I count this as a victory because five seconds later the movie revealed that it was indeed him.

(But there might still be another twist in store.)

Yay! Another twist! Not exactly clear how the first twist is invalidated, it just is. Forget you saw the incriminating clue. But the ending has some strong moments even if it’s wildly unsurprising in plot terms — Patrick Magee turns out to be THE HERO of the film — mud and blood are photographically identical in b&w and so the film is able to deliver some powerful images of abjection without bringing down the censor’s blade — it’s quite a nice tale, on a par with Hammer’s DIABOLIQUES knock-offs, though those sometimes had actual surprise endings.

DEMENTIA 13 stars Koloth; Ellen Sands; Hank (uncredited); Script Supervisor (uncredited); The Chevalier du Balibari; Eileen O’Leary; and Schlocker.

Dank Satanic Mills #1

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 15, 2022 by dcairns

It’s the iron maiden again! Screen right, bottom. The same infernal device Conrad Veidt is consigned to in THE MAN WHO LAUGHS (in his first role, as the hero’s father) and which he later admired from the outside in ABOVE SUSPICION. We saw it again later in Corman’s THE RAVEN, the most recent appearance I’ve spotted by the long-serving instrument of torture. One of the most-used props in films. After a turn in it, you could recover by having a lie-down on Gloria Swanson’s swan-boat-bed.

I would like to discover more appearances.

Anyway, I have to say more about THE STRANGE DOOR because Eureka! granted me a review copyof their ace Karloff MANIACAL MADNESS set. Fun movie — future Star Trek director Joseph Pevney is turned loose in a lot of standing sets (a cucalorus in every room) with Charles Laughton and Boris Karloff. Laughton seems like he needs a couple-three more takes of every scene to get the lines down, but, aware of the tight schedule, I guess, he ploughs on until “cut” (rather than breaking the scene whenever he feels himself drying, as he did with Sternberg in all those I, CLAUDIUS outtakes). There’s a lot of mad invention and lipsmacking craziness, but punctuated by uncertain pauses where he has to slow himself down and then ramp up the energy again when he remembers what’s next.

Karloff, very solid, reunited with his OLD DARK HOUSE co-star, did not get on with him, as reported by Kim Newman and Stephen Jones in their lively commentary. The suggestion that Laughton’s style was becoming old-fashioned is one I’d take issue with — I’d say “Have you seen ADVISE AND CONSENT?” Or, indeed, ISLAND OF LOST SOULS, which always struck me as a very modern bit of camp villainy. If Laughton seems out of date in THE STRANGE DOOR it’s because the whole film is, the dead end of the Universal Gothic cycle (along with THE BLACK CASTLE the following year). And the man isn’t on top form, though he’s certainly ENGAGED.

The climax, with our heroes trapped in a cell whose walls are inexorably closing in (powered by the water-mill I alluded to in our title), is gripping. Walls closing in always makes for a good, suspenseful scenario — I don’t know why they don’t trot the idea out more often, unless it’s that one so seldom encounters it in daily life.

Positively the same maiden

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on June 16, 2022 by dcairns

Already noted here that the iron maiden from THE MAN WHO LAUGHS reappears in ABOVE SUSPICION — in one film, Conrad Veidt is executed in its spiky recess, and in the other he cheerfully lectures on it as a museum piece. In the same blog post I show how Harry Crocker, Chaplin assistant, acquired the prop for his museum, and it was presumably still for hire when MGM made AS in 1943.

But here’s the same prop in 1963 (second from the right), swelling a scene for Roger Corman in his delightful THE RAVEN. Given this 35-year career, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if the contraption were still out there, in some props hire house, gathering dust between occasional gigs.