Archive for Sh! The Octopus

The Sunday Intertitle: Your sins shall find you out

Posted in FILM, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2018 by dcairns

The reassuring smile of Boris Karloff

Weird coincidences. We have a great view of the moon from our front window, in the early evening. During the full moon, we had a double bill of John Carpenter’s THE FOG, which turned out to take place during the full moon, a fact we had forgotten (fun, and I hadn’t seen it since the days of my school film society) and PRINCE OF DARKNESS (not so hot), whose very first shot is the full moon.

Last night, looking for a spooky silent film to cull an intertitle from, I plumped for THE BELLS (James Young, 1926). Which turned out to have a much more disturbing contemporary relevance. I sort of thought I knew the story from having watched Bill Morrison’s THE MESMERIST, which is based around decayed fragments of the movie, but I’d forgotten, if I ever knew, that the plot (by fantasy writers Erckman-Chatrian, a sort of second-string ETA Hoffmann), centres on the murder of a Jewish traveler. The film’s attempt to find sympathy for the guilt-tormented murderer played by Lionel Barrymore fell on somewhat deaf ears, since I was preoccupied with thoughts of the anti-semitic terror attack in Pittsburgh.

The film attempts to enlist compassion for Barrymore from the start, even though he’s attempting to ingratiate his way into political office by giving away free beer. When this leads his finances to a desperate state, he murders the traveler on New Year’s Eve in order to steal the money belt full of gold the guy rather injudiciously shows off. Now, Barrymore has been depicted explicitly as NOT anti-semitic, as he welcomes the traveler at his inn when others are more hostile. But that sort of kindness only goes so far. With my sensibilities perhaps heightened by the day’s tragic and horrible news story, I couldn’t escape feeling that while Barrymore doesn’t hate the Polish Jew for who he is, he is able to see his way to murdering the guy because he’s Not One Of Us.

So I’m afraid I couldn’t really get behind his quest for redemption.

But my, it’s a beautifully made movie. And features an early exploitation of Boris Karloff’s unique physiognomy. And Barrymore is good. There’s also an early iteration of that trick with filters made famous by Mamoulian in DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (and also used in SHIT! THE OCTOPUS!), where Lady Macbeth-style phantom bloodstains appear and disappear on Lionel’s hands, all in one shot (revealed and concealed by a red filter. If you ever carried a Coke can into a dark room and watched half the design disappear when the red light made the red and white parts of the can look the same, you’ve seen this rather uncanny effect in action).


But a creeping discomfort about the film’s attitudes remains, and the intercession of a plaster Virgin doesn’t alleviate it.

Meet the Fleagles; or, Luminous Gravy

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 16, 2010 by dcairns

Sorry, I forgot who recommended MURDER, HE SAYS — it was a good call, though, this was very enjoyable.

Never had a real handle on George Marshall as a director, his looong career having taken in just about every kind of entertainment, including another spooky house comedy, THE GHOST BREAKERS, which he explicitly, and I mean EXPLICITLY, references in this one (Fred MacMurray: “Did you ever see that movie, The Ghost Breakers?”) But he was clearly a guy with plenty of chops: apart from all the bizarre material crammed into this flick, which would have been entertaining in an eye-popping kind of way no matter who’d been in charge, there’s a farce sequence in a dark cellar with characters near-missing and mistaking each other which is really superb — on the page I bet it looked impossible.

Fred MacMurray (a little over-the-top but still likable — admits to being a sax player, too) is another Marshall, Pete Marshall, a census-taker who hasn’t heard the likely fate of such persons when they meet serial killers… Running into the psychotic redneck Fleagle family (a name I had previously only encountered by way of television’s The Banana Splits)  he becomes involved in a search for buried loot in an environment that seems to anticipate certain aspects of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. There’s also polonium-like poison being splashed about, causing various characters to glow in the dark, resulting in some striking visuals. Thanks to a good script and Marshall’s deft control, a movie that could have been as irksome as SHIT! THE OCTOPUS becomes a minor gem.

But why CAN’T I have a glow-in-the-dark Mabel Paige of my own?

Also worthy of note — Porter Hall, the man who can do anything, playing a weaselly bogus intellectual who has “dabbled in phrenology, psychology and the science of hyper-physical manifestation”;  Mabel Paige as the rootin’ tootin’ grandma (and it’s hard for me to believe that mere months ago I was unaware that there WAS a Mabel Paige — today I am scarcely aware there’s anyone else); Jean Heather (Lola from DOUBLE INDEMNITY) as the sweetly simple Elany (somebody get her a date with Boo Radley); and leading lady Helen Walker, who we always call “The Honorable Betty Cream.” She takes a while to show up, though, causing Fiona to protest, “Oh, when is The Honorable Betty Cream going to appear? It’s like waiting for Groucho!”

Worth it.

Pinky and the Ape

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on March 13, 2009 by dcairns


After the lo-fi shambling smear that was THE APE MAN, it was a relief to find that my DVD of THE GORILLA was sharp in picture and sound, and also that it was a plush production with something on nodding terms to a decent script. It’s one of those old dark house comedy-thrillers that can become a bit wearisome — and I’m thinking of THE BAT or, horror of horrors, SH(IT)! THE OCTOPUS rather than the actual, brilliant OLD DARK HOUSE here. But despite being festooned with hoary horror clichés and plywood characters, this simian romp actually delivers a lot of visual pleasure, a bare minimum of laughs, and some pert, yeasty performances from genre faves Lugosi and Atwill.


First, Lionel “Pinky” Atwill, who gets to hone his enantiodromic skills, especially in scenes where flickering firelight illuminates the dark side of his visage. Atwill is thrown at us as such an obvious villain that we naturally assume he must be innocent. But then we look at him and think, no, he CAN’T be innocent. Of anything!


Bela Lugosi meets a woman with a pork pie on her head.

Lugosi impresses considerably in a modest butler role. He doesn’t overact, he’s merely suave and charming like some kind of Hungarian person. He’s relaxed, calm, very much the man on form. Credit must go to director Allan Dwan, whose work I’ve tended to neglect: Lugosi was not easy to control.

I suspect taking THE GORILLA as a starting point for Dwan appreciation would strike most right-thinking cinephiles as grotesque, but the movie has definite merits from a directorial standpoint. Dwan manages the ambidextrous feat of wrestling Lugosi’s wayward talent to the floor and channeling it along the required course, while pulling off slick visuals including a wonderful introductory crane shot that traverses the front of the rainswept mansion-house like a devil bat sniffing out the perfume of death.


And then there are the Ritz Brothers. What? What, exactly? What is the purpose of these brothers? It was interesting to see, I suppose, a triple-act of interchangeable doofus types, exuding the kind of broad schtick that other comics (I would say Jerry Lewis, for instance) individualise and make funny. With the Ritzes, there’s no REAL personality and certainly no individuality (they’re all alike, and also like every other vaudeville type ever), although there’s recognisable skill in their playing and mastery of a whole lexicon of double-takes, gurns and grimaces. They’re comedic or comical rather than being plain funny, because their tenth-generation mimickry has lost all resemblance to human truth.


When comedy goes rhetorical…

Apart from all this, and the faceless romantic leads, there’s Joseph Calleia (hoo-ray!) and a misogynist gorilla (hoo-whaa???) — “He hates women!” and the usual number of secret passageways, twist endings and baloney. A good time-waster, worth it for the craziness of the opening newspaper montage, and Dwan’s suave moves.


What an odd thing to say.