Racing down a midnight highway in his Jaguar, Mike Hammer swerves to miss a hitchhiker and picks her up: a young woman wearing only a trench-coat. She's just escaped from a mental hospital. Then the roof falls in on both of them: torture, murder, car bomb, radiation burns, and we follow him through a brutal twisty plot, culminating in a spectacular and bizarre science fiction climax.
When people lampoon hard-boiled detectives, they are thinking more of Mickey Spillane's Hammer than Raymond Chandler's Marlowe. Born in pulp magazines, the genre moves closer to comic book territory with this film.
Here, Hammer still has some of the private detective heritage: he has a bit of knight errantry left and is friends with the poor and downtrodden. He gets beat up and drugged. The police are more of a hazard than a help.
But he is also more of a creep. He pimps his girlfriend (?) to get the goods on his male subjects. He's sadistic when he fights. He has a supply of sports-cars Marlowe never had those toys. And that fine spotless apartment: did some metrosexual neighbor decorate it for him before moving on to Matt Helm? Although: maybe that is a rebellious gesture toward the (supposedly) conformist 1950s. Mike Hammer doesn't care what you think of him or his apartment.
Note the massive wall-mounted telephone answering machine: when did that first appear in movies?
I can't say I followed the plot very closely, but it has some fine photography, plenty of action, many familiar 1950s faces, and a good Frank DeVol score.
Criterion Blu-ray. Two film noir and Aldrich scholars have a nice chat about the film on the commentary track. They are particularly nostalgic for LA buildings that are long gone. They don't agree with me that Hammer has any decency left.
I loved Kiss Me Deadly and think that it's a classic. It has one of the best MacGuffins in the history of film. Those who remember the film will know what I mean instantly. It was film noir at its best, so dark it set your teeth on edge but so stylish you forgave its dark pessimism.
That's Cloris Leachman in the last photo, above, still going strong ("Raising Hope"). Wasn't she the near naked hitchhiker?
Cloris Leachman's Oscar winning role as the mousy, repressed wife of a high school coach made her famous. She was already 45 years old then, so it's easy to forget that in her youth she was very beautiful. She was Miss Chicago in the Miss America contest when she was 20. Leachman is now 87; Holy cow!
The first half is the comic and daring escapades of ivory poachers vs a German colonial governor in southeast Africa just before WW1. The natives are amiable and obedient, and look at that lush plantation house!
After personal tragedy it turns darker with the War, without being exactly a serious drama. It is quite exciting toward the end, but there is also something cut-rate about the whole project. Still: it's a notable addition to the "colonial adventures" genre.
Lee Marvin has great comic talent, but goes over the top if not restrained. Roger Moore can do both funny and serious sides in the same movie. I always liked Barbara Parkins and never got to see enough of her; maybe time to see The Mephisto Waltz again. Ian Holm is a mute Arab servant.
"No animals were harmed": those elephants must be good actors! They sure look shot to me.
Maurice Jarre score.
Available on a rather fine Blu-ray from Shout Factory under their "Timeless Media Group" label. No subtitles, and I had a hard time understanding the German villain sometimes.
Can I say what fine work Shout/Scream is doing in publishing these less-than-famous and genre catalog titles? Things I never would have expected and often looking very decent.
A very light, inconsequential screwball fantasy. It's actually kind of sexy in a 1942 sense: she sleeps over and wears his pajamas, we have skirts blown up and passionate kisses and last minute fiance-swapping.
Fredric March and Veronica Lake are the hexed lovers. Susan Hayward, age 25, is the shrewish fiance, and writer Robert Benchley provides dry wit. Edith Head costumes.
Criterion Blu-ray with heavy grain. Only 76m long.
It was interesting to learn that one reason Veronica Lake was often paired with Alan Ladd (5'5") in movies was because she was only 4'11" which is evident in your screenshots. They were in 7 films together including one of my Ladd favorites. Seems like a lot until you realize Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney were in 9 movies together and Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were in 10. Was a common studio practice back then.
Is that future Golden Globe and Academy Award-winning actor George Chakiris performing one of his many earlier Hollywood duties as chorus boy, front and center in the third pic down on the right side? I know he appeared in the chorus of White Christmas as well as the chorus of several other movie musicals of the 1950s, so I assume it is he in that shot. I haven't seen that movie in years. I had a big crush on Vera-Ellen when I first saw it as a kid, but am now a bit shocked by how thin she was when I revisit her movies on DVD/Blu-ray.
A surgeon attempts repeated face transplants for his daughter, disfigured in a car accident. The donors are kidnapped and disposed of afterwards.
This is one of the creepier films I had never seen before. It plays on very common fears: of surgery, of being cut, of being at the mercy of the men in white. It also has elements unexpected in a 1960 film:
We would suspect that young Christiane would be innocent of the crimes committed for her -- but it is not so, at least at first.
Given the careful avoidance of her face ("an open wound") and her lovely, eerie mask, but don't expect to see her disfigured face -- but we do.
We don't expect to see the explicit surgery of a victim's face removed -- but we do.
It makes us reflect on the nature of beauty, and how love and obsession interact with repulsion.
The doctor's loyal assistant is Alida Valli, who was so cool and mysterious in The Third Man and The Paradine Case. I saw her most recently in Senso (1954).
Great movie. One of the extras is the American trailer for its release as The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus, which is interesting in that Lopert knew they had a quality foreign film on their hands. Its double feature companion was The Manster, an American film filmed in Japan, which actually is pretty creepy as well. Lotsa good info about it on Wikipedia.
I hadn't seen this since I was a kid. It made me queasy then, and it still does a bit now. I didn't know it was in color, and I'd forgotten that everyone is supposed to be French for some reason.
An early example of body horror, you can see why David Cronenberg wanted to do the remake. Transformations of the New Flesh are always perilous.
Given the glossy titles and lush Paul Sawtell intro score, you might think this will be a high-concept science fiction or thriller film, but it is a leisurely-paced murder mystery with a horror solution. We have ample coverage of the matter transmitter in operation. The great fly hunt goes on too long and is kind of ridiculous, but we're not laughing.
Queasiness: we don't see it explicitly, but the wife crushes her husband's head under a hydraulic press. His hand is still twitching afterwards. Earlier he transported the family cat into an unknown "elsewhere" and we hear its ghostly yowling. Finally, the spider and the web and "Help me!".
I perceive some messages, whether they were intended or not. First, the plausible fear that science does not comprehend the complete human being, and that a copy will never produce good results. That we are more than matter.
Second: it's ok to kill your loved ones if they change too much. It's like mercy killing. (Well, in this case, it really is).
Screenplay by James Clavell. Filmed in 18 days.
Available on Blu-ray. The commentary track is a chatty conversation with David Hedison.
In most ways this is a standard Hammer Films vampire production of the period. It takes a lightly morbid topic and treats it seriously, without irony or mugging. The plot trundles along in a non-vital way, eventually reaching the final scene where the undead are staked.
As the decade passed more explicit violence was allowed, although honestly there is not that much this time. The film is nothing like as lurid as its poster art. What we do get is more nudity and sex, in this case lesbian vampire sex. The movie delivers quite lovely boobage: we see Ingrid Pitt in her bath, she rises and eventually chases mostly naked Madeline Smith around the room and they roll on the bed. I bet that made a big percentage of the 1970 audience happy that day.
Of course, vampire stories feature a sort of sublimated sex, so it is natural to bring it out in the open. This confuses the symbolism and perhaps spoils the mythology, but we're long past caring.
The victim's account of her scary-erotic dreams actually rises above the standard for the series. In an extra, Madeline Smith says she was a total innocent on sexual matters and when the director told her she had to do a orgasm scene, she had no idea of what he meant. "Just pretend you're having a really bad nightmare".
Carmilla's anguish and genuine longing are also very good, showing attributes rare in vampires.
I don't know why they have candles in the bedrooms: the off-scene electric lighting is shockingly brilliant, destroying the illusion of place and time and mood.
The score is overblown in the early scenes but settles down for some nice background. I'm guessing the composer was a Herrmann fan.
Available on Blu-ray from Shout Factory. Three extras and a commentary track with the director, writer, Ingrid Pitt and others. I can't tell if they are all together at once.
They say: Peter Cushing had only a small role, but was characteristically meticulous in his preparation. He arrived with watercolor illustrations of the General and lists of object such a man might have in his pockets.
A feuding couple file for divorce, then each makes strenuous efforts to spoil the other's budding romances. The awful truth is they are meant for each other and are still in love. They make their way up to the traditional north woods cabin and stumble into sex in the final moments before the divorce is final. Which must make it Code compliant, by seconds.
A great screwball comedy with Irene Dunne and Cary Grant both showing impeccable wit and timing. Grant invents a persona he would often use in the future. Tall, handsome, clever and funny: you don't often get that combination so well assembled.
Ralph Bellamy does his trademark rich but boisterous and unappealing country rube. Let's not forget Skippy, better known as "Asta", the hardest-working terrier of the 1930s, featured in The Thin Man and other movies. He has his own fan site.
Rich costumes and locations: Depression audiences wanted shiny fantasy. They say each day's shooting was pretty much improvised.
My DVD is of pretty rough quality; I hope elements exist for a restoration.
I thought it was curious how Grant and Bellamy would be cast in the same type of roles in His Girl Friday a few years later. A winning combination I guess.
Ralph Bellamy was similar to a bunch of Hollywood stars in the '30s and '40s in that he almost always played a version of himself, that is tall, handsome, and dignified. He spent his career in such roles, the pinnacle coming with his portrayal of FDR on Broadway in Sunrise at Campobello, for which he won a Tony Award.
Dr Anton Phibes (PhD Theology, Heidelberg, and noted theater organist) may have had his face burned off and can speak only through a tube, but that will not stop him from exacting revenge on the doctors who could not save his wife. His means: cleverly sadistic murders inspired by the Plagues of Egypt.
This horror-comedy is a remarkably odd little film, a 1920s art deco piece proleptically informed by 1960s mod art motifs and crooner music. The visual composition sometimes rises above B-movie needs and becomes quite fine.
Despite the appealing weirdness, I prefer Theatre of Blood (1973), a similar comedy revenge story Price made with Diana Rigg a couple of years later.
Phibes also has a young, pretty, mute assistant, but no explanation of who she is or how she comes to be with him.
We have no reason to think the doomed doctors were negligent, but Phibes is deranged by his love for his dead wife, making this a horror-romance. Actually, that's a continuing theme in Price's horror films.
One of the murders has a man impaled on a brass unicorn's head which we are told was fired from a catapult. I don't know which plague that was supposed to be.
Available on Blu-ray with an unexpectedly good image. Two commentary tracks: a low energy (and very faint) conversation with the director, and a gushing appreciation by a serious fan.
A scientist predicts catastrophic failure of a new alloy (via cold fission!) used in an airliner, and then finds himself over the Atlantic in just such a plane as it approaches its final hour. Crazy as he sounds, the captain and crew begin to believe him, and it becomes a white-knuckle flight. And that's just the first half.
Fondly remembered and just recently available on DVD-R, this is an early example of the airplane disaster film genre that would become popular many years later. It's good as a psychological portrait of the lone man courageously doing outlandish things that he feels to be right.
James Stewart is fine as the absent minded professor, and he appears again -- after Destry Rides Again (1939) -- with Marlene Dietrich, quite good as a humane film star trapped with him on the flight.
Many other well-known British cinema faces.
A nice subplot: it is the story of a man, damaged by the loss of his wife in the war, who regains his humanity after hiding in the cold, emotionless world of mathematics and engineering.
Like all DVD-R titles of a certain age, it's available for rent from ClassicFlix.