Archive for Sam Katzman

Igneous Schlock

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2016 by dcairns

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THE MAN WHO TURNED TO STONE (1957) has a bit of interest and originality, even though it isn’t any good. There might be potential for a remake, if we made this kind of B-movie anymore.

The dialogue is atrocious (“Oh look, now, Tracy, you’re not going soft and spooky on me now, are you? I like you much better when you’re your hard-bitten old self.” “Just the same I’ll bet you a box of girl scout cookies that somebody died last night.”) and sadly it’s by Bernard Gordon, blacklistee — I presume his gig for poverty row producer Sam Katzman was brokered by Dalton Trumbo. But the story has some intrigue.

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Basically, the top staff at a girl’s reform home are all immortals from the eighteenth century, kept spry by regular treatments of mad science. Their procedure requires the sacrifice of a human victim, so naturally they’re preying on the inmates, knocking them off practically nightly according to what we see, which causes some consternation among the higher authorities, but not half as much as you’d expect.

Eric (Friedrich Von Ledibur) is now so old that the treatment is starting to fail, causing him to petrify, to look poorly made-up, and to have a pounding heartbeat audible from across the room. He’s also mute, hulking and (with an effort of imagination upon the viewer’s part) scary looking — stalwart Doc William Hudson sizes him up with the words, “Coarsened features — could be Mongoloid.” Well, nobody ever looked less like they had Downs’ Syndrome. And thank you so much for the crassness.

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Miscasting of this key lummox role robs most of the action of menace, but the lead nasty is played by Victor Jory, who brings conviction, understatement, and Dignity, Always Dignity to the part. Other decent thesps Paul Cavanaugh and Victor Varconi round out the rogue’s gallery, which also includes a woman, Anne Doran, who does too much eyebrow calisthenics but suggests a kind of cold dedication to Jory that’s sort of interesting.

The film actually works much better before Hudson takes over as boring hero — the young female staff member who first suspects jiggerpokery and her prisoner/trusty chum are ineptly written and performed but make more interesting, unconventional protagonists. The film’s sympathies are with the prisoners and you can, with only a few strained neurons, see the story as the kind of leftist parable commie screenwriters were accused of smuggling into pictures. Good for them, I say. It makes sci-fi hokum a bit more interesting. The trouble with this movie is it doesn’t have any arresting imagery to compliment the ideas — Laszlo Kardos’ direction is flat and grey, the mad science equipment doesn’t take any advantage of the possibilities implied by its supposed eighteenth century origins (An Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump could provide all the visual ideas the movie needs) and the hulking behemoth is a skinny old guy with an unhealthy pallor. There’s a writing error too — this guy’s decline from sentience into zombiehood needed to be SHOWN, to give us the horror, rather than opening the film with him already subhuman. Oh well, better luck next time — as producer, Gordon would eventually give us the rather more successful HORROR EXPRESS.

The Sunday Intertitle: Bokononism and the phallic power of Paul Henreid

Posted in FILM, literature, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 21, 2013 by dcairns

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A lovely thought from the start of RED GARTERS, begun by Mitchell Leisen, who was fired and replaced by George Marshall, who brings a heaviness to the proceedings that’s quite counter-productive. Stylised sets require the right blend of stylisation and reality from the performances, and as striking as the film looks, it doesn’t quite get there.

But I was reminded of it when we watched THE MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT, prepared by John Huston but executed by Bryan Forbes. Ironically, a few years later Forbes in turn would be removed from the ocean-bound suspense drama JUGGERNAUT and replaced by Richard Lester, who made a wee classic of it. CHAILLOT begins with a title echoing RED GARTERS’ invocation of the Bokononist comforting lie ~

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MADWOMAN stars Katherine Hepburn who doesn’t seem mad at all — she lacks the air of vulnerability to embody the script’s sentimental idea of a “holy innocent” type of insanity. And the film’s politics is slightly sappy and hippyish too. Huston claimed he quite because producer Ely Landau wanted the film to say the “the young people are going to hell” whereas Jean Giraudoux’s source play was an attack on the faceless moneymen who rule the world. Huston, as so often is the case, was clearly lying his ass off, because after his departure Landau produced a film about the evil moneymen — directed by Forbes who was, I believe, a fairly conservative sort of chap.

But what a cast — if Hepburn is a bit miscast, Danny Kaye is terrific (straight acting stops him being cutesy) and the bad guys, embodied by Yul Brynner (never better; relishing the chance to play a really extreme character), Charles Boyer, Paul Henried, and even John Gavin, are hugely entertaining. Add in Sybill Thorndyke, Giullietta Masina and Margaret Leighton, plus Donald Pleasence, and you have a guarantee of at least some kind of interest, even if the filmmaking never quite arrives at the kind of consistency Forbes was capable of (Why two cinematographers?). I didn’t see this as the disaster some have called it, just as an intriguing oddity.

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Good bit with Henried as the  military-industrial complex, displaying his many erect missiles.

And then I saw SIREN OF BAGDAD, a truly appalling Sam Katzman Arabian Nights travesty directed by a young and desperate Richard Quine, and once again Henried’s virility is the source of humour ~

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Inadequate dirk? Try a little magic, and ~

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Schwing!

Contrasted with Hans Conried’s lack of rigidity in the shaft ~

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It’s all downhill from here, apart from some odd comedy when Conried is transformed into a glamorous blonde (uncredited, but I think it’s Vivian Mason) who is hilarious even without Conried’s goofy lilt dubbed on. The titular Siren is Patricia Medina, whom we like, but it’d take a greater magician than either Henried or Quine to save this mess.

Face the Spinal Frontier

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on March 6, 2009 by dcairns

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Bela Lugosi wants your spinal fluid. But it’s not like that makes him a bad person. For Bela is afflicted with an unfortunate condition, the result of peculiar off-screen experiments which have left him part-simian, part-Hungarian. Bela is THE APE MAN.

In fact, this terrible medical mishap seems to have resulted only in a full beard, hairy sleeves, and a worrying tendency to sleep with a gorilla. Perhaps he’s not so much a mutant as  a colossal pervert. But anyhow, the upshot is, he needs human spinal fluid extracted from a live victim donor, and anyone who has their spine drained will suffer instant death (WordPress doesn’t do actual blood-dripping letters, but I want you to imagine them in that last word).

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THE APE MAN, manufactured by celebrated bottom-feeding indie producer Sam Katzman, is possibly the dingiest film I’ve ever seen. Though the plot is ludicrous, and sends itself up in the most blatant manner (one erratic idiot character who lopes purposelessly through the action for the whole film, declares himself to be the author at the end), all nascent laughter dies and decomposes in your throat, done in by the effluvial miasma of shame and dissipation hanging over the proceedings like a urine-soaked veil. Nothing good happened to anybody in this film. Lugosi was on his way down, sinking into formaldehyde-swigging alcoholism while gamely attempting a physical performance that strives to suggest the neanderthal, attaining only the symptoms of serious biological depression. The rest of the cast are on their way up — but this ninth circle of the cinematic inferno is as high as they got.

Fiona couldn’t watch this, and young Louis, our ward, observed that the soundtrack made him feel like he had Q-tips in his ears. Billy Graham once suggested, ludicrously, that the very celluloid of THE EXORCIST was infested with a physical evil. Preposterous of course, but I would readily believe that THE APE MAN’s reels are saturated with a pervasive photochemical form of despair, a grimy liquid misery hardened by experience and then projected forth as light, but a strange light that actually makes rooms grow dimmer, more subdued, nearer to death.

I had to watch THE APE MAN, even though I knew from extracts how soul-besmirching it is, because I’ve vowed (“I swear by Kharis and Imhotep…”) to see every movie depicted in Denis Gifford’s horror movie book. But you don’t have to go near it, and I’d advise you not to unless you’re suffering a massive excess of spinal fluid and you need an absorbent substance upon which to vent.

I mean, I still quite enjoyed it, but it’s not as good as THE SEVEN SAMURAI.

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Study this image. Can’t you just feel the hope evacuating itself from every orifice in your body?