Friday, June 26, 2009

1959: SOME FAVOURITE FILMS FROM 50 YEARS AGO. If I was to schedule a movie marathon for myself of my faves from 1959, here is what I'd probably screen.
ANATOMY OF A MURDER - Directed by Otto Preminger and nominated for 7 Oscars, this film tells the tale of a jaded lawyer who takes up a murder case of a husband who killed a man for raping his wife. Groundbreaking at the time for its simple, matter-of-fact discussion of such rarely mentioned subjects as sperm production and, most notably, women's panties! The cast is superb: James Stewart as the fed-up lawyer, Lee Remick as the hoyden of all hoydens, Ben Gazzara as the husband, veteran character actor Arthur O'Connell as the drunk has-been lawyer, Eve Arden as the wry secretary, George C. Scott as the shark-like prosecutor. . .hell, it even has one of my favourite character actors John Qualen as Deputy Sheriff Sulo! Another spectacular bit of stunt casting is having non-actor Joseph Welch play Judge Weaver; Welch was the real-life attorney who represented the Army in the famous McCarthy hearings that led to the downfall of witch-hunting Senator Joe McCarthy. Welch is famous for disgustedly berating McCarthy with the quote: "Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?" Duke Ellington provides the jazz score (as well as making a cameo in the film). One of the best courtroom dramas.
GHOST OF DRAGSTRIP HOLLOW - Note that I didn't say BEST films up there . . . I only said my faves. And for some reason this dippy movie has appeal to me. Direct from our friends at American International Pictures we have a movie that crams several different genres into one in an effort to make as much money at the box office as possible. It's a teenage/juvenile delinquent comedy that mixes in the AIP horror genre, the "feeling" of one of their beach pictures, heavy doses of middle-of-the-road 50's rock and roll music and drag-racing hot rod gangs! Basically, a Los Angeles teenage car club bops around town getting into trouble, drag-racing, fist-fighting, dodging the cops and THEN somehow or other they end up inside a haunted house giving a Halloween party! This film stars nobody and was directed by nobody (actually a man with the rather unfortunate name of William J. Hole Jr. -- um, I suppose we should be grateful his middle initial wasn't "A"!). It is, in fact, probably the quintessential example of this type of movie which AIP was so expert on putting out and which teenagers, desperate to get out of the house away from the parents and Uncle Miltie on the boob tube, would flock to the drive-ins to munch popcorn and make out to!
HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL - Probably my favourite of William Castle's directorial efforts, this one features a rich guy who promises a group of people a cash prize if they can stay overnight inside a locked haunted house. Vincent Price, of course, is the perfect casting for the sly rich guy, Carol Ohmart (later featured in the cult classic "SPIDER BABY") is perfect as his flinty wife, male ingenue Richard Long (of TV's "Nanny & the Professor") fulfills leading man duties while Elisha Cook Jr. is his usual twitchy self as the lone survivor of a previous attempt. There is also a cameo by Leona Anderson as the blind scary hag; Anderson is the "singer" of one of my favourite awful records called "Music To Suffer By" which makes Mrs. Miller sound like Leontyne Price! The famous Castle gimmick of "Emergo" found a fake paper skeleton wheeled out over the audience during a key scene (which rowdy kids promptly pelted with popcorn boxes). While there is little REAL supernatural goings-on in the film, it's still a fun rollercoaster ride by a master huckster.
I'M ALL RIGHT, JACK -- One of the sharpest British comedies/satires. A naive bumbler (Ian Carmichael) from a rich family decides he wants to get into business but finds he isn't really suited for anything and has to start at the bottom on the shop-floor of a munitions factory. Unknown to him, he is being used as a pawn by his rich uncle to cause worker unrest and cause a strike so that the rich uncle can get a valuable arms contract. A biting satire of both labour and management, Ian Carmichael heads a knockout cast including Peter Sellers as the Hitlerian-looking Communist union leader Mr. Kite as well as British comedy-acting titans Dennis Price, Margaret Rutherford, Richard Attenborough, John Le Mesurier, Milles Malleson and my beloved Irene Handl! It's sad to see that the business world hasn't really changed in half a century! But that's what makes this film STILL funny!
NORTH BY NORTHWEST - Another classic Hitchcock film featuring another "wrong man" situation. Cary Grant is an advertising exec who gets mistaken for a spy, has to go on the run because people are trying to kill him and then gets mixed up in a murder. Grant is perfect in the lead role ably assisted by Eva Marie Saint, evil James Mason, even evil-er Martin Landau and Leo G. Carroll. Another classic Bernard Herrmann score. One of Hitch's best.
PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE - Definitely NOT the worst movie ever made! (After all, there's MANOS, HAND OF FATE, THE KILLER SHREWS, NINE MONTHS and VAN HELSING to consider). We all know the tale: Ed Wood has a couple minutes of unused Bela Lugosi footage and inserts it into his magnum opus of "grave robbers from outer space". For the record, the flying saucers WERE NOT paper plates or hub caps; they were in fact actual flying saucer model kits picked up in a hobby shop. Besides the great Lugosi (who is badly mimicked throughout most of the film by a chiropractor with a cape held over his face) we have the cult icons Vampira (Maila Nurmi) and Tor Johnson as well as the typically marvelously inept sets and directing of Edward D. Wood Jr. But the film is NEVER dull and is a hoot from start to finish. Anyone who REALLY thinks this is the worst film ever made is "stupid! Stupid! STUPID!!!!"
RIDE LONESOME - Another in the classic series of Budd Boetticher minimalist westerns starring Randolph Scott as the grizzled old cowpoke. This time Scott is a bounty hunter who is taking a wanted murderer back to be hanged. But it's not as easy as that as he rescues a woman from an Indian attack, picks up a couple of shifty characters to give him more muscle should the Indians attack again and also has to contend with the murderer's brother trying to free him. Oh, and did I mention that the Indians themselves are after the murderer so that they can turn him in and get "amnesty" as a reward? Randolph Scott is perfect as usual as the elderly western hero who has seen it all. The rest of the cast is filled out by Karen Steele ("Star Trek - Mudd's Women"), Pernell Roberts (Bonanza, Trapper John M.D.), James Best (THE KILLER SHREWS, The Dukes of Hazzard), Lee Van Cleef and James Coburn.
RIO BRAVO - One of the greatest westerns of all time. Howard Hawks' deliberate riposte to Fred Zinnemann's HIGH NOON, this is the director's own take on what happens when an outlaw and his men come back to town to take revenge of the lawman. Rather than Gary Cooper being abandoned by the town and facing them alone, this time it's John Wayne as the lawman aided by hid drunken deputy Dean Martin, young hotshot Ricky Nelson, grizzled old Walter Brennan and flashy Angie Dickinson. Ward Bond and Claude Akins round out the stellar cast.
SLEEPING BEAUTY - Animated Disney venture which, admittedly, isn't really a great film; it's actually half a great film. The first half is rather a lot to wade through but the climactic second half battle against Maleficent (one of the out and out BEST Disney villains EVER!) is a classic. Voiced by Eleanor Audley with a sense of threat AND sly humour, Maleficent is that rare thing: A Disney villain that is actually SCARY!
SOME LIKE IT HOT - Billy Wilder's wild romp about a couple of musicians (Jack Lemmon & Tony Curtis) who witness a gangland killing and have to disguise themselves as women (in an all female band) in order to hide from the mob. Marilyn Monroe is funny (if looking slightly unwell) as bubble-headed musician Sugar Kane and who can resist veteran gangster legend George Raft as Spats?!?! Features one of the best final lines in a movie by classic silent comic Joe E. Brown.
SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER - Joseph Mankiewicz directs this Tennessee Williams adaptation which is actually campy and rather bad but immensely watchable. The hothouse delirium of Williams is there, all right, but the screenplay was "altered" -- the REAL play was too hot to adapt wholesale to the screen in 1959 -- and the ending is really dopey! Poor Montgomery Clift (post-car accident) is somewhat somnambulant while Elizabeth Taylor chews up the scenery like there's no tomorrow. Really, the saving grace of the picture is Katharine Hepburn's portrayal of the praying mantis-like controlling mother Mrs. Venable; who can resist her urging Clift to cut up Liz Taylor's brain!!! Not me! The cast also features the great character actors Mercedes McCambridge (JOHNNY GUITAR, THE EXORCIST) and Albert Dekker (DR. CYCLOPS, KISS ME DEADLY). Mankiewicz was impatient and cruel to the fragile Montgomery Clift during filming and, famously, Katharine Hepburn asked the director (and her old friend Mankiewicz who actually introduced her to Spencer Tracy) on the last day if all shooting had been completed. Mankiewicz said yes and Hepburn replied "You're sure?". When Mankiewicz assured her that the picture was finished, Hepburn spit right in the director's eye and vowed never to work with him again for the shabby way he treated Clift.
THE BAT - The umpteenth adaptation of Mary Roberts Rinehart's hoary old dark house stage play, this one ain't all that good either but there's something about it that I've always liked. Of course, it's got Vincent Price teamed up with Agnes Moorehead (something we didn't see enough of despite the fact that BOTH had been associated with Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre) in a film which must have seemed old-fashioned even at the time. But that's really the film's charm. The cast also features Gavin Gordon (who played Lord Byron in James Whale's BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN) as well as former "Little Rascal/Our Gang" child star Darla Hood. The story doesn't really matter; there's a maniac called "The Bat" running around killing people in an old dark house. There's also a wacky, rock & roll theme song by lounge-meister Alvino Rey. What more do you need?!?
THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES - Ahh, when Hammer Horror was new. Fresh from their triumphs with CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HORROR OF DRACULA, Hammer Films decided to produce this fine adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous Sherlock Holmes story. The major problem with ANY adaptation of THE HOUND is that Holmes disappears from great chunks of the action; a severe handicap for any Sherlock Holmes film. However, Peter Cushing as Holmes and Andre Morell (PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES) as Watson are so eminently watchable we hardly notice. Add to the mix SIR Christopher Lee as the beleaguered Sir Henry Baskerville (plus a demonic black hound from hell) and this is one of the nicest adaptations of that novella. All the best of Hammer went into this film: James Bernard's classic score, Roy Ashton's makeup, Bernard Robinson's miraculous sets and Jack Asher's masterful photography together make this a sumptuous feast. Classic Hammer horror director Terence Fisher helms with distinction but the film, not being the "horror" film audiences expected from Hammer, wasn't successful at the time. However, nowadays fans see it for what it is: a Hammer classic. Because of the film's relative failure, a proposed series of Sherlock Holmes films from Hammer starring Peter Cushing never came to fruition. Our loss.
THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS - How many times did THIS play on Creature Double Feature during my 70's youth?!? Classic 50's b-movie horror that basically has a much nastier version of the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Only this time, instead of wanting to swim with Julie Adams, this monster would rather decapitate you and leave your body to wash up on the California coastal town of Piedras Blancas (yes, it's really there). I remember as a kid, this was pretty strong stuff; the monster routinely carries around severed heads! The local lighthouse keeper leaves the monster meat in the vain hope that his daughter will be safe from the monster's attack. The rest of the town, presumably, is on its own! Veteran 50's horror/science fiction actor Les Tremayne stars. A greatly beloved (if nasty) monster icon from the fifties.
THE MUMMY - Speaking of Hammer, after their mega-successful adaptations of Universal's Frankenstein and Dracula movies, what would you expect but for Hammer to do an adaptation of THE MUMMY. However, it's not the classic 1932 Boris Karloff vehicle that's being adapted here; instead, it's the later 1940's Mummy series of pictures that ultimately starred Lon Chaney Jr. as Kharis. Peter Cushing stars as the Egyptologist who battles Christopher Lee as the cloth-wrapped mummy controlled by George Pastell's vengeful Mehemet Bey ("He who robs the graves of Egypt DIES!"). Oddly, James Bernard was not tapped to provide the musical score; however Franz Reizenstein's lush score is absolutely perfect for an Egyptian Mummy movie. Jack Asher is behind the camera while Bernard Robinson handles the superb set design and Roy Ashton returns to provide the makeup effects. The beloved Hammer horror actor Michael Ripper has one of his showiest and funniest scenes.
UKIGUSA aka DRIFTING WEEDS aka FLOATING WEEDS - The great Yasujiro Ozu directs this story of a travelling theatre troup arriving in a seaside Japanese town. The ageing head of the troupe (Ganjiro Nakamura) looks up his old flame with whom he had a son; however the son is told the man is actually his uncle. An actress in the troupe becomes jealous and manipulates a young ingenue into seducing the son. Ozu (who co-wrote the screenplay) painstakingly composes each scene and provides a magically gripping experience for the viewer. The film unfolds almost musically with a rhythm all its own.
I REALLY WASN'T PLANNING TO WRITE A THING ABOUT THE DEATH OF MICHAEL JACKSON. Truthfully, I have never been a big fan of him but I have always found something worthwhile in ALMOST every album he's produced in his nearly 45 year career (this appreciation stops with the "HIStory" double cd). I may never have been a fanatic about his music but the truth is that, looking at my ipod, I have 17 songs from his solo career in there (and that's NOT counting songs from The Jackson 5). So, whether consciously or no, I must have been at least a casual fan.
You know, I was frankly stunned to hear that Michael Jackson was dead. Farrah's death has been expected for a while now but Jackson's came out of the blue and was so unexpected that it really was unbelieveable at first. I grew up in the 70's and loved the Jackson 5 songs when I was a kid and enjoyed "Off the Wall" and "Thriller" when they came out in high school. While there was less to like after that, I found several songs I liked on his albums from "Bad" all the way up to "HIStory (Disc 2)" (believe it or don't). In fact, I've always said that my favourite Michael Jackson song actually comes from "HIStory" Disc 2, if you can believe it: a song most people probably don't know called "Stranger in Moscow".
Most people have had a hard time separating his music from his personal life. I never have. I have always found I can enjoy music for its own sake regardless of the fact that, for instance, Richard Wagner was a raving anti-semite or even that Phil Spector is a convicted murderer. The person can be someone I would never want to spend any time with but I can divorce myself from the individual and still be swept away by the prelude from "Die Meistersinger" or find the production on The Ronettes' "Be My Baby" to be a work of pop genius. I can enjoy the music of someone whose personal views I find reprehensible, whose political or social beliefs are totally opposite to my own. As long as it doesn't intrude on the music, I can judge the music on its own terms without the failings of the person who created it intruding upon it. That's what music is supposed to be: something above ourselves which can uplift, soothe or inspire us regardless of the all-too-fallable human who created it.
Which brings us to Michael Jackson. This man was certainly a freak show but it cannot be denied that he had a talent for making music. As for the child molestation charges, I have gone back and forth between agreeing with those who think he's a sicko that should be locked up and those who don't believe any true molestation happened. The truth is the man was never convicted on any of the charges and I still believe in one of the foundations of this country which states that we are all innocent until proven guilty. Maybe that makes me naive but (while I never intensely studied the allegations) his guilt was never proven in a court of law. Surely, a lot of money CAN buy off witnesses. But it is ALSO true that a lot of money draws certain types of people to see what they can GET. It has been fairly well-established that Michael Jackson had a horrible father and basically had no childhood at all. In the words of The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan: "There are two things to say about him. He was a musical genius; and he was an abused child. By abuse, I do not mean sexual abuse; I mean he was used brutally and callously for money, and clearly imprisoned by a tyrannical father. He had no real childhood and spent much of his later life struggling to get one. He was spiritually and psychologically raped at a very early age - and never recovered. Watching him change his race, his age, and almost his gender, you saw a tortured soul seeking what the rest of us take for granted: a normal life. But he had no compass to find one; no real friends to support and advise him; and money and fame imprisoned him in the delusions of narcissism and self-indulgence." Many of the people who came into close contact with Michael Jackson for any amount of time have described him much like one of his lawyers did as "a 12 year old in a 45 year old's body". This was clearly a very messed up individual but, in the words of my good friend Daddy Pax: "don't judge him too harshly, his life was probably not as black and white as you think it may have been." It is not normal to sleep in a bed with little boys; but if sleep is all that they did (and there have been no convictions proving that anything else happened besides sleep) then nothing criminal has been shown to have taken place. And while the thought of any other 45 year old man taking a nap with little boys would seem ludicrous, there is some reasonable justification to think that a "mentally stuck as a 12 year old" adult could, in fact, have done just that without committing any abuse. While this does make Michael Jackson a freak (which NO ONE, I think, will dispute), it doesn't make his a pervert. The truth is, frankly, that we'll probably never know. For all those who allege that abuse took place, there are just as many who allege (among them Macauley Culkin) that the idea is ridiculous. The truth is, I don't know WHAT happened and neither do you. All I know is the guy's music and that's all I'm qualified (or justified) in judging.
Most of the founding fathers were slaveowners; one of the most reprehensible, horrific and disgusting crimes ever perpetrated upon human beings. This doesn't mean that we should throw out the Constitution which they wrote. The ideals of which they wrote are still worthwhile even if the flawed humans who wrote it didn't manage to live up to those ideals. I think Michael Jackson was a hot mess but this also doesn't mean I think we should throw out the good music he's left us. Again, I don't know why I'm writing this since I never planned on posting a thing about Michael Jackson's death. It's probably just my usual altruistic belief that it's very easy to ACCUSE someone of something without proving it; the result being that many lives can be ruined without proof of any wrongdoing. This is what the Catholic church's Inquisition was very good at -- and the Protestant witch trials AND bad old Senator Joe McCarthy & HUAC. Accusations are much too easy. I still believe that we have a responsibility to provide proof before we act on allegations.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

STAN ROGERS (1949-1983). 26 years ago on June 2, 1983, the talented folk singer/songwriter Stan Rogers was killed in an in-flight fire on Air Canada Flight 797. Stan Rogers' exquisite songwriting and sensitive baritone have been a favourite of mine for decades. With the recent anniversary of his death, I've been thinking a lot about him and his music and I just wanted to commemorate his talent and hopefully bring him to the attention of all who have never heard of him. While Stan was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of his beloved Nova Scotia, his songs will always be here. One of his most beautful songs is "DELIVERY DELAYED" here heard from a concert in 1979; and typically, while I've been talking about death -- Stan is singing about birth.
  • "How early is 'Beginning'? From when is there a soul?
  • Do we discover living, or somehow are we told?
  • In sudden pain, in empty cold, in blinding light of day
  • We're given breath and it takes our breath away.
  • -
  • How cruel to unformed fancy, the way in which we come --
  • Overwhelmed by feeling and sudden loss of love
  • And what price dark confining pain, (the hardest to forgive)
  • When, all at once, we're called upon to live.
  • -
  • By giant hand we're taken from the shelter of the womb
  • That dreaded first horizon, the endless empty room
  • Where communion is lost forever, when a heart first beats alone
  • Still, it remembers, no matter how it's grown.
  • -
  • We grow, but grow apart --
  • We live, but more alone --
  • The more to be, the more to see
  • To cry aloud that we are free
  • To hide our ancient fear of being alone
  • -
  • And how we live in darkness, embracing spiteful cold
  • Refusing any answers, for no man can be told
  • That Delivery is delayed until at last we're made aware
  • And first reach for love to find twas always there."

Sunday, June 21, 2009

"ME, MOTHER DIRECTRESS": THE MARVELOUS IDA LUPINO is given a rather nice write-up by Wheeler Winston Dixon over at the film site Senses of Cinema. While Lupino is well-known as one of the leading ladies of the golden age of Hollywood, her possibly greater career as a film director (helming such great films as "THE HITCH-HIKER" and "OUTRAGE") is sadly underrepresented on DVD. Dixon makes the obvious and quite right proclimation that no one deserves the DVD box set treatment than Ida Lupino; I know I would be first in line to buy a box set of Ida Lupino's directorial work! So if you're at all interested in reading a nice career retrospective on Ida Lupino (and if you AIN'T, what're you doing reading this blog?!?) just click here. The article is gives a really god overview of this actress-turned-director.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

PREPARE FOR BLAST OFF AS WE FOCUS ON MUSIC FROM THE MOON over at our sister audio blog BATHED IN THE LIGHT FROM ANDROMEDA! Click here to experience the most bizarre, rare and space age bachelor pad type sounds.

Friday, June 05, 2009

LINDSAY WAGNER AND THE RETURN OF THE ELVIS LAMP! If there was EVER a question of whether it was cool to own an Elvis Lamp or not, this should put to rest all doubt. In this 1986 episode of KATE AND ALLIE, guest star Lindsay Wagner (one of my childhood celebrity crushes no less) revealed that she had her very own Elvis lamp in her old room at her parents' house. Grok the sequence. I particularly like the double take when she notices the ole Elvis there! Now. . .if she starts sportin' a bun and a tractor. . .THEN I'm gonna get worried!