Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

FAHRENHEIT 451 (1966)
Article #1153 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-11-2004
Posting Date: 10-8-2004
Directed by Francois Truffaut
Featuring Oskar Werner, Julie Christie, Cyril Cusack

In the future where all books are burned, a fireman defies the law and begins to read.

Ray Bradbury was one of my favorite authors as a kid, and I still love his work today. Yet despite this, I’ve never quite warmed up to his most famous novel, which is odd, because I’m inordinately fond of his novella, “Pillar of Fire”, which covers much of the same thematic ground. Furthermore, I’ve seen a few of Francois Truffaut’s movies, and I must confess that I have real trouble appreciating them; there’s something about his style that doesn’t speak to me. It should then come as no surprise that I have some problems with this movie. I think it’s overlong, I find Oskar Werner entirely too distant in the role of Montag, and there are times where I really find myself pining for the visual equivalent of Bradbury’s prose for good stretches of this movie. Still, this movie is far from a washout; on the plus side, Julie Christie’s performances in both her roles are memorable and Cyril Cusack is simply wonderful as the captain of the firemen whose poetic dismissal of the whole book culture is so ringingly beautiful to the ears that it serves to slyly undercut the very gist of his message. I also admire the way the printed word has been almost completely expunged from the sets; even the opening credits are narrated so as to deprive you of the pleasure of reading them. Plus, the movie has at least two unforgettable scenes that more than compensate for any of my other objections; namely, the sequence where the old lady with the secret library takes matters into her own hands with a box of matches, and the entire end of the movie with the book people, a sequence that is sad, beautiful, charming and sometimes quite funny and which never fails to bring tears to my eyes.

Half empty or half full? Me, I’ll probably watch this one again, but I hope you’ll excuse me if I keep the fast forward handy.

Dungeon of Harrow (1962)

Article #1152 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-10-2004
Posting Date: 10-7-2004
Directed by Pat Boyette
Featuring Russ Harvey, Helen Hogan, William McNulty

A noble gets stranded on an island with the mad Count Lorente de Sade.

Imagine you’re watching THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME….

Now imagine watching THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME done on a budget that would barely cover the cost of a pack of Juicy Fruit…

Throw in some lepers and some torture…

Now throw in some people to recite the dialogue in the script. I’d call them actors except that would be misleading…

Now imagine these actors delivering their dialogue. Except it isn’t dialogue they’re reciting. It’s a series of lengthy speeches. Therefore, imagine them speechifying…

Imagine them speechifying badly….

Imagine them speechifying badly and very very slooooooooowly…

Imagine our hero describing his emotions and feelings in voice-over narration. Imagine being grateful at having him let you know how he’s feeling because there’s no way you could have seen it on his face…

Imagine a shipwreck scene that is shot so darkly that it almost (but not quite) completely obscures the fact that the boat is obviously a badly designed toy…

Imagine a scene that takes place in a cabin on the boat during a storm that is even less convincing than the cockpit sequences in PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE…

Imagine sound quality worse than that of a Herschell Gordon Lewis movie…

Imagine that the guy who directed the acting was also responsible for the script as well as the music. Imagine that his level of competence is about equal on all these tasks….

Now imagine that you’re not imagining.

Okay, you can run screaming now.

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968)

Article #1151 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-9-2004
Posting Date: 10-6-2004
Directed by Freddie Francis
Featuring Chrisopher Lee, Rupert Davies, Veronica Carlson

Dracula is resurrected only to find that his castle has been exorcised and the door is barred by a cross. He vows revenge on the Monsignor responsible for this.

Watching movies is a very individual experience. Something in a movie that can distract and bother one viewer may be easily glossed over or even go unnoticed by the second. Furthermore, an interesting touch or telling detail may make a great deal of difference to one viewer but mean nothing to another. It’s not really a matter of good or bad as much as a mark of the individuality of each of us. For example, I myself generally have no trouble with continuity errors and usually don’t notice them.

I only bring this point up to mention that I did notice certain continuity errors that distracted me during this movie. I only noticed these because they involved details that had significant impacts on the plots at certain points; because a previous scene had clearly established the importance of certain details, it seemed very obvious to me when the a following scene failed to follow up on the detail. I won’t mention the details, as I feel continuity-error hunting can take the fun out of a movie and there’s always a chance that another viewer may not notice. Nonetheless, despite these distractions, I did find this a fairly entertaining entry in Hammer’s Dracula series. Though in some ways I miss the presence of Cushing, there really is no role for him here, and the fact that the final battle with Dracula pits him against characters who are all too fallible and vulnerable (one is an atheist whose disbelief in God leaves him without the spiritual strength to effectively battle this fiend, and a priest whose lack of will makes him a too-easy prey; in fact, he’s Dracula’s helper for most of the movie). Christopher Lee is given dialogue this time, though it is kept to a minimum. Everyone does well, with special honors to Lee and to Rupert Davies as the Monsignor.

Dorian Gray (1970)

Article #1150 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-8-2004
Posting Date: 10-5-2004
Directed by Massimo Dallamano
Featuring Helmut Berger, Richard Todd, Herbert Lom

A young man wishes that a painting of him would age in his place, and the wish comes true.

It’s no surprise that this one was made; after all, the more permissive times of the sixties onwards opened up the gates for making explicit all the debauchery that is hinted at in the story. Unfortunately, the sex, violence and nudity is handled in that rather cheap, sleazy and exploitative style common to the time which undercuts the elegance and wit which are necessary in any handling of an Oscar Wilde story. Only Herbert Lom (in the character played by George Sanders in the 1945 version) manages to convey those qualities, but even with him, the few lines that actually come from Wilde himself seem out of place with the rest of the production. It was also a bit of a mistake to update the story to modern times; since the story itself takes place over a few decades, it’s hard to believe that any time is passing when the styles at the beginning of the movie look just the same as the styles at the end of the movie, which is a problem that is less noticeable when you leave the story in a period setting. The acting is mostly acceptable, though, and Helmut Berger is well cast in the title role. Nevertheless, when I want to see this story again, I know that it’s the 1945 version I will seek out.

Inner Sanctum (1948)

Article #1149 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-7-2004
Posting Date: 10-4-2004
Directed by Lew Landers
Featuring Charles Russell, Mary Beth Hughes, Dale Belding

A man kills his fiance and disposes of her body by leaving it on the rear end of a train, an action that is seen by a young boy. He then finds himself trapped in the small town where he committed the murder due to flooding, and finds himself staying at the boy’s home.

Despite the title, this movie is not part of Universal’s Inner Sanctum series even if Fritz Lieber’s head resembles that floating head in the crystal ball that usually opened those films. This oddball, almost comic film noir stands on its own. Actually, I’ve never seen a noir quite like this; you know that the murderer is fated to be caught, but fate seems to have decreed here that he must deal with a bewildering array of somewhat comic characters in the process. There’s the boy who is afraid to say what he knows, not so much because he’s afraid of being murdered by the killer, but because he’s afraid of being walloped by his mom. There’s the doting mother herself, a cheerful and talky newspaper editor, and two eccentric old men, one of whom goes down to the flood waters and lays claim to a hoard of beer that he found in the water. The movie has some great lines and tense moments as well, but it’s the comic undertone that really makes this one rather unique. The fantastic aspect of the movie is found in the framing device in the character of the aforementioned Lieber, an oddly prescient character who is telling this story to a woman on a train.

Dr. Orloff’s Monster (1964)

Article #1148 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-6-2004
Posting Date: 10-3-2004
Directed by Jesus Franco
Featuring Hugo Blanco, Agnes Speak, Perla Cristal

Dr. Conrad Jekyll uses a robot monster to murder women to whom he has given necklaces.

I really dread covering Jesus Franco films, not necessarily because I find them unwatchable but rather because of his reputation; his merits as a director are so hotly contested that you can find opinions as diverse as those that consider him an unqualified genius and those who consider him the worst director of all time. You would think that any director capable of inspiring these strongly divided reactions would at least inspire some strong reaction in me, but such is not the case. I find his movies neither particularly unwatchable nor particularly compelling.

In the case of this movie, I find the story coherent but ordinary. The characters in the story are developed serviceably enough to get by, but I don’t find them all that interesting. He has a nice visual sense at times, but it never really seems to inspire me to anything more than a comment like “That’s a nice shot of a castle.” His most striking quality is his tendency toward sleaze, but here that seems muted; the movie features nudity that feels both gratuitous but passionless. My overall reaction after watching the movie was somewhat akin to my reaction to driving to work in the morning; it’s not something I react to but something that I do because I have to.

In short, I have no idea as of yet as to why Franco elicits the reactions that he does. Maybe I’ll know with the next movie of his I see. Maybe not.

Sherlock Holmes’ Fatal Hour (1931)

Article #1147 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-5-2004
Posting Date: 10-2-2004
Directed by Leslie S. Hiscott
Featuring Arthur Wontner, Ian Fleming, Philip Hewland

Sherlock Holmes investigates a murder that takes place in the strongroom of a bank in which no money has been stolen.

As this movie was based on the tales “The Final Problem” and “The Empty House”, I found myself scanning the cast list to see who was playing Moriarity, and was somewhat surprised not to see the name appear. The reason is actually quite clear; the identity of Moriarity is a mystery for most of the movie. However, you should have no trouble figuring out his identity as it seems fairly obvious. This would be the first of five movies to feature Arthur Wontner as Holmes; Ian Fleming appears as Watson and would do so in most of the others as well. It’s fairly creaky, and the sound is bad on my print, but it’s also got a fairly entertaining story (which involves cheating at bridge, gold fillings, counterfeit money, criminal bootmakers and a talking painting) which should hold your interest. The fantastic elements are fairly slight; basically, there seems to be a bit of science fiction in the presence of one of those new-fangled weapons that may not exist in real life.

As a side note, here’s a little trivia quiz. I saw a gadget being used in this movie that surprised me, not because I’ve not seen it before, but rather because it has popped up in three times in the last month. I don’t know if the gadget is just a prop or an item that’s used in real life, but since it looks the same and has the same function in all three movies, I’m willing to bet it’s real and used commonly in the making of movies. Given the following clues, can anyone tell me what it does?

– It appears not only in this movie, but in THE CRIMSON CULT and THE MIRACLE RIDER.

– It’s a hand-held item with rotating fan-like blades.

Answer: It’s a machine that makes cobwebs.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)

Article #1146 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-4-2004
Posting Date: 10-1-2004
Directed by Victor Fleming
Featuring Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman, Lana Turner

A doctor experiments with a drug that ends up bringing out his evil side.

There is a controversy among horror fans as to which version of the Robert Louis Stevenson story is better; this one featuring Spencer Tracy or the 1932 version with Fredric March. First of all, I find it interesting that these two in particular are singled out for the competition, whereas the John Barrymore version from 1920 doesn’t enter into the fray. Having now seen the Tracy version for the first time in years, I’ve developed a bit of a theory about that, and that is that these two movies are so similar (I think there are several chunks of dialogue that are identical) that in watching them both, you get the sense that one of them is unnecessary. The question is – which one?

Rouben Mamoulian was a very flamboyant director, whereas Victor Fleming was more the seasoned professional; the 1932 version is certainly more audacious, but there are times where the direction in that version distractingly calls attention to itself, a problem that never occurs in the 1941 version. I also like certain touches and details in this one, including that of allowing Hyde to look much more human than in the 1932 version; after all, Hyde’s monstrousness is psychological rather than physical. I also think the acting is slightly better throughout the 1941 version, and the movie has a subtler touch throughout.

However, one big problem with the 1941 version is that it was made after the Hays office went into effect. As a result, much of the ferociousness of the 1932 version is not to be found here; everything looks neater, cleaner and classier, and the whole movie feels a lot more polite. Also, this version is a good 20 minutes longer than the 1932 version, and this is most noticeable during the scenes with Ingrid Bergman, which go on much longer than the equivalent scenes in the 1932 version, no doubt increasing the size of her role. Furthermore, though I think she’s a better actress than Miriam Hopkins, she also feels a little too classy for the role, and when she’s trying to be seductive and sexy, I find her less believable. As to which does a better job with the title characters (Tracy or March), I’m willing to call that a draw, as I really don’t have a preference.

So how does it balance out? Well, in my case I’d have to go with the March version. Not only do I feel it’s a more efficient telling of the story, but the first time I saw it, it blew me away, and that’s something the Tracy version never managed to do. Not that this will settle the controversy, by any means; I feel both movies will be watched and discussed for years to come.

The Devil’s Messenger (1961)

Article #1145 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-3-2004
Posting Date: 9-30-2004
Directed by Herbert L. Strock and others
Featuring Lon Chaney Jr., Karen Kadler, Michael Hinn

The devil picks a recent suicide to deliver items to various people to lure them to hell.

How about that; I’m watching a movie that consists of several episodes of a failed TV series that is hosted by a horror icon. When was the last time I covered one of those?

This time, the series was a Swedish horror anthology from Curt Siodmak called “13 Demon Street”. The individual episodes here aren’t bad, but they don’t exactly sparkle, either. The first one is probably the best; it involves a photographer who finds himself haunted by one of his photographs after he commits a rape/murder. The second starts well (a woman is found frozen alive in a block of ice for 5000 years), but ends lamely, and the third (about a man discovering his destiny in a dilapidated old building) is just average. The linking story is fun, though; Lon Chaney Jr. really seems to be enjoying his role as the devil If it does seem to be taking a long time to wind up after the third story, you might want to stick with it; it has one of those meaningful endings that is quite likely to elicit horselaughs because it comes totally out of left field. And wait until you find out who will receive the last delivery.

The Miracle Rider (1935)

Article #1144 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-2-2004
Posting Date: 9-29-2004
Directed by B. Reeves Eason and Armand Schaefer
Featuring Tom Mix, Joan Gale, Charles Middleton

A Texas Ranger tries to protect the indians of a reservation from the machinations of an industrialist trying to scare them off of their lands.

As of yet, I haven’t covered any of the many western serials that were made, but the reason for this is that the western serials were the ones least likely to have any fantastic elements. There are exceptions, of course; one of the more famous serials is THE PHANTOM EMPIRE, which is chock full of both western and science fiction elements. This lesser-known serial also has definite science fiction elements; the possession of a powerful element known as X-94 is the drivng force behind the plot, and the first few episodes feature a remote-control flying mini-plane used to scare the indians. This would be the last film of silent western star Tom Mix, who was well into his fifties when this was made, but he still seemed pretty energetic. He wore a big hat, and furthermore, he knew how to use it; there are a few times here where it serves as a decoy to draw fire. The serial itself is not bad, but then I also just enjoyed the novelty of watching something a little different from the usual serials I’ve watched. Some of the cliffhangers go beyond cheating to outright lying; a cliffhanger that shows him about to be trampled by horses is so completely redone in the following episode that the peril vanishes altogether.