Movie Diary 10/30/2018

Manila in the Claws of Light (Lino Brocka, 1975). A great film, structured around the classic set-up of a young man from the country (Rafael “Bembol” Roco) who comes to Manila in search of his girlfriend, who has vanished there some months earlier. He drifts from thing to thing (including brutally exploitative construction work and gay prostitution) and meets people both kind and cruel. Brocka’s style is occasionally blunt to the point of crudeness (there are some 1970s zooms that will snap your neck) but the overall experience is an incredibly dense, first-hand picture of a city locked in a cycle of inequality.

Cast a Dark Shadow (Lewis Gilbert, 1955). A cheeky fortune-hunter (Dirk Bogarde) kills his older, wealthy wife (Mona Washbourne), only to discover she didn’t leave him all her money after all. He sets his cap for another pigeon (Margaret Lockwood), but she turns out to be cannier than expected; meanwhile, a stranger (Kay Walsh) turns up to further complicate things. The movie sounds like a shadowy thriller, and there are indeed shadows and thrills, but the overall attitude – led by Bogarde’s tendency to raise an eyebrow at the end of a scene, meant for maximum audience amusement – is irresistibly camp.

Bohemian Rhapsody (Bryan Singer, 2018). The Queen story, or the Freddie Mercury story, or some kind of plodding musical biopic. The obligatory “but Remi Malek is excellent” notices are indications that most reviewers don’t know how to assess acting. Kudos to the casting of Mike Myers as a craven record exec; he lifts the movie for a couple of scenes and provides an unexpected Wayne’s World in-joke. (full review 11/2)


Movie Diary 10/29/2018

The Witch’s Mirror (Chano Urueta, 1962). Last in a series of the Edinburgh Film Guild’s screenings of Mexican horror. This is not, perhaps, an unusually elegant example of the form, but it scores points with its willingness to throw in new kinds of crazy shit every five minutes or so. The basic outline has a man murdering his wife so he can marry another woman; but the dead wife’s witchy godmother manages to sort-of raise the departed from the dead, with help from a magic mirror. All kinds of medical horror in this one, with some grisly detail on dismemberment. Among the shockers is the way the second wife turns into a human torch in one sequence; surviving the incident, the husband turns to grave-robbing to acquire the human specimens needed to rebuild his beloved’s body. There’s also some premature burial and the old routine about transplanted hands that carry evil to their new owner. In short, a lot to keep up with, and a lot to relish.

Movie Diary 10/28/2018

Wanted for Murder (aka A Voice in the Night, Lawrence Huntington, 1946). Part police procedural, part precursor to Strangers on a Train (complete with fairground predations); a madman is killing women in London, taunting Inspector Roland Culver and Sergeant Stanley Holloway with his hand-written promises to kill again. Meanwhile, a nice young woman (Dulcie Gray) who works in a gramophone shop is torn between a distinguished suitor (Eric Portman) and a bus conductor (Derek Farr). Pretty good all the way through, with a dollop of psychological claptrap and pleasant humor. One of the screenwriters is Eric Pressburger. Bonar Colleano plays a small role.

To Dorothy a Son (aka Cash on Delivery, Muriel Box, 1954). Bizarre on every level, this one betrays its roots as a stage play even though it roams around a little. Peggy Cummins – who does not leave her bed for the entirety of her performance – is pregnant and due, as husband John Gregson tries to finish a composing commission in their house in the countryside. Complication: His American ex-wife (Shelley Winters) arrives because she needs to make sure that (hold on) he has not had any male children yet, because her dead uncle, not realizing the couple had divorced, left him 2 million dollars (unless they are childless, in which case she gets all the money). Will the baby arrive before the cut-off date for the inheritance? Will husband tell second wife what is really going on? Will Cummins ever get out of bed? I guess I spoiled that last one. Pretty labored, and no, that pun is not intentional.


Horror Killer (This Week’s Movies)


Gerard Butler, Hunter Killer (Lionsgate)

Links to my reviews published this week in the Herald and Seattle Weekly, and etc.

Hunter Killer. “This movie embraces its hairy old hokum so thoroughly that it creates a pretty fun contraption.”

Johnny English Strikes Again. “You won’t be embarrassed if you take your kids, but you won’t be remembering this one in years to come, either.”

A piece on horror movies available via streaming services.

For Scarecrow Video’s blog, I contribute a Seasoned Ticket entry that covers Val Lewton, William Shatner, the only movie made in Esperanto, and the 1945 Picture of Dorian Gray. Read it here.

Parallax View’s retrospective of 1998 movies continues with my review of Martin Brest’s Meet Joe Black.

Movie Diary 10/24/2018

Jet Storm (Cy Endfield, 1959). Richard Attenborough is a madman with a bomb on a transatlantic plane, Stanley Baker the even-tempered pilot, Diane Cilento a resourceful passenger, Mai Zetterling the bomber’s wife. A very watchable cast in a small-scaled disaster movie, in other words, with various interesting types among the passengers, including Hermione Baddeley, Goon Show member Harry Secombe, Dame Sybil Thorndike, Elizabeth Sellars, and David Kossoff. It’s tidy all the way around, and Attenborough makes the most of his opportunities. Also in the cast is early Brit rock and roller Marty Wilde, who croons the title song, which is sadly not available on YouTube.

House of Blackmail (Maurice Elvey, 1953). Odd little comedy whodunit, in which a woman (Mary Germaine, a hip presence) drags a wisenheimer hitchhiker (William Sylvester) into the home of a blackmailer – her brother owes the loanshark a huge amount of money. Murder happens. The breezy tone makes it pleasant. Sylvester is the U.S.-born actor who made a career in Britain and plays the inimitable Dr. Heywood Floyd in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Johnny English Strikes Again (David Kerr, 2018). A harmless third film for Rowan Atkinson’s terrible secret agent, with a reasonable amount of slapstick jokes and Emma Thompson as the Prime Minister.

Movie Diary 10/23/2018

Scream of Fear (Seth Holt, 1961). Susan Strasberg plays a young woman in a wheelchair who returns to the family Côte d’Azur estate to find her father out of town and the place run by a frosty-blank stepmother (Ann Todd) and the strapping chauffeur (Ronald Lewis). A guessing game, with a few horrific moments, ensues. Man, there were a lot of movies like this at the time. This one is very nicely handled, as Holt and cinematographer Douglas Slocombe create a morbid sense of the home as a trap. Strasberg doesn’t leave much of an impression, but Ann Todd (a few years past her work on The Paradine Case and her films with ex-husband David Lean) squeezes every ounce out of her ambiguous close-ups.

The Green Man (Robert Day, 1956). A very swift, sprightly movie, with some of the sardonic humor of Kind Hearts and Coronets. Alastair Sim plays an assassin (usually killing people who deserve it) plotting to place a bomb in the vicinity of a politician (Raymond Huntley). This leads to major farcical complications involving a vacuum cleaner salesman (George Cole) and the assassin’s new neighbor (the fun Jill Adams); her fiancé (Colin Gordon) is a stuffy BBC radio host from whom she needs to be liberated. Terry-Thomas gets high billing but only appears in the final act, to amusing effect. Good comic timing throughout, and Sim gives a very spirited, physically busy performance. This was the first film directed by Robert Day, who went on to a long career in Hollywood, making some key early-70s TV-movies and working on pretty much every TV series you can name. Apparently he didn’t get on with Sim, and part of this film was directed by Basil Dearden.

Movie Diary 10/22/2018

blackpitThe Black Pit of Dr. M (aka Mysterios de ultratumba, Fernando Méndez, 1959). A dying doctor (Antonio Raxel) swears to send a message from the afterlife to his colleague Dr. Mazali (Rafael Bertrand). The movie has a tendency to forget about this promise while it conjures up a variety of other horrors: a madwoman (Carolina Barret) who can only be calmed by a music box, an acid scarring that turns an innocent orderly into a raving killer, an episode of soul transmigration that includes an excellent example of rising from the grave, and so on. Adding value is the dead doctor’s daughter (Mapita Cortés), a dancer, who is summoned to the hospital by her father’s ghost. Dr. M digs her, but she is more age-appropriate to his medical student (Gastón Sandos), who is also not a mad doctor. This is another of the Mexican horror films that leans heavily on chiaroscuro lighting and smoke effects, which is not a bad way to lean for 71 minutes.