A Christmas Carol (1951)

A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1951)
aka Scrooge
Article 1832 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-21-2006
Posting Date: 8-18-2006
Directed by Brian Desmond Hurst
Featuring Alastair Sim, Kathleen Harrison, Mervyn Johns

A bitter old man with an intense hatred of Christmas is visited by the ghost of an old associate who has a plan for saving his soul.

The classic Dickens Christmas story is so familiar that it’s nearly impossible to look at it afresh. To someone planning an adaptation of the story, it must be very tempting to just trot out all the familiar elements and have done with it. This version of the story is often considered the best one, and I can see why; it manages to make me see aspects of the story that I had never considered before, and I was able to get some fresh perspectives on it. The performance of Alastair Sim is a major plus; from the moment he opens his mouth, I begin to get a very different idea of Scrooge than I usually have. His Scrooge is a full character rather than an icon. For one thing, his Scrooge’s dislike of Christmas has a bit more depth to it; it stems out of the fear of feeling the type of compassion that would undermine his whole business ethic. Yet he must have some innate love of the holiday; otherwise, bringing it up wouldn’t make him as angry as it does.

Furthermore, this version helped me to realize more fully the importance of the character of Tiny Tim in the story. He is Scrooge’s opposite – he is bright and cheerful while living in poverty with severe physical handicaps, whereas Scrooge is miserable despite having plenty of money. His death (during the “what-might-be” visit from the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come) is deeply mourned, whereas Scrooge’s serves as merely the opportunity for the scavengers to gather.

Maybe some of these observations are obvious, but it took this version of the story to make me aware of them. For this reason alone, I would have to rank this as the best adaptation of the story I’ve seen to date; it made me think more fully about the story than any other version I’ve seen. Well done on all counts!

The Chess Player (1938)

THE CHESS PLAYER (1938)
aka Le Joeuer d’echecs
Article 1831 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-20-2006
Posting Date: 8-17-2006
Directed by Jean Dreville
Featuring Francoise Rosay, Conrad Veidt, Paul Cambo

A toymaker who specializes in large mechanical men builds an automatic chess player to hide a refugee.

Well, here’s another movie I can’t say too much about, due to the fact that my print is in French and is only sporadically subtitled. Furthermore, when the subtitles do show up, they are often illegible and/or poorly positioned. Granted, it helps that I have seen the 1927 version of the original movie, but that was more than three years ago, and it’s not fresh in my memory. Let’s just say that the many automatons make for the science fiction element of the story, and that the main appeal of this version seems to be the presence of Conrad Veidt in the role of the inventor / puppeteer. There is the occasional visual highlight, usually involving the automatons. However, this is pretty puny in comparison with the silent version, which is longer, more epic, and easier to find. Despite the presence of Veidt here, I’m afraid the choice is fairly obvious.

Charlie Chan at Treasure Island (1939)

CHARLIE CHAN AT TREASURE ISLAND (1939)
Article 1830 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-19-2006
Posting Date: 8-16-2006
Directed by Norman Foster
Featuring Sidney Toler, Victor Sen Yung, Cesar Romero

When a friend commits suicide on an airplane flight, Charlie Chan becomes suspicious about a mystic who he thinks may have been blackmailing him.

I’ve been fairly critical of Sidney Toler’s performances in the Charlie Chan role for some time now, but I must admit that up to this point, I haven’t seen him perform with the same advantages that Warner Oland had when he played the role; specifically, working with the series while it was at Fox rather than at Monogram and while the series still was commanding good scripts. This is an excellent script indeed, and though I still prefer Oland in the role, Toler does just fine this time round. It makes me wonder if the weakness of the other Toler performances may have had something to do with his awareness of how the scripts had gone downhill, though I must say that this is just speculation. At any rate, he adds just the right touch of humor here to make the role sparkle.

This entry in the series also has perhaps the sharpest fantastic elements in comparison to the ones I’ve seen before. The plot involves spiritualism and hypnotism, and there does exist a character who has (within the context of the movie) a very real talent for telepathy. The seance scene is very moody indeed, with Dr. Zodiac proving a memorable presence. The final revelation is quite good, and Victor Sen Yung handles the comic relief duties admirably. However, anybody who expects the plot elements to have something to do with pirates (as per the title) will walk away disappointed; Treasure Island was a site at the World’s Fair in San Francisco.

Castle of Blood (1964)

CASTLE OF BLOOD (1964)
aka Danza macabra, The Castle of Terror
Article 1829 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-18-2006
Posting Date: 8-15-2006
Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Featuring Barbara Steele, Georges Riviere, Margarete Robsahm

While conducting an interview with Edgar Allan Poe, a writer accepts a bet to spend a night in a haunted castle.

I’ve taken a number of potshots at Antonio Margheriti’s science fiction movies, but I’ve always tried to keep in mind that my dislike doesn’t extend to his forays into horror. This is because I’ve always been aware that this movie, one of my favorite Italian horror movies, was directed by him. In some ways, the idea is very conventional, but some of the philosophical ideas are rather interesting (the concept about the senses living on after violent death is one of the central ideas in the story), and the moody ambiance is perfect. It also has two unforgettable scenes; the first involves a snake who continues to live after being beheaded (the scene is only marred by the fact that it looks like they actually killed a real snake onscreen, which may not please animal lovers), and the ending scene involving a gate. If the movie has any real problem, it’s that it spends a little too much time having our hero wander around castle looking around, but this is somewhat alleviated by the fact that the mood is so right. My copy has some footage added back that was cut for the American release, and the movie lapses into subtitled French in these instances, which is somewhat disconcerting at first, (especially as you hear the different voices of the original actors and the ones doing the dubbing), but you get used to it. Margheriti would remake the movie several years later as WEB OF THE SPIDER, but, if my memory serves me right, that one lacks the power and ambiance of this one.

Bulldog Drummond’s Peril (1938)

BULLDOG DRUMMOND’S PERIL (1938)
Article 1828 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-17-2006
Posting Date: 8-14-2006
Directed by James P. Hogan
Featuring John Barrymore, John Howard, Louise Campbell

Hugh Drummond’s impending wedding is once again interrupted when an artificial diamond he received as a gift is stolen.

Yes, it’s another entry in the Bulldog Drummond series of the thirties, and if you’ve seen any of the others, this is more of the same. Which is just fine by me, by the way; personally, I love the whole series. It has one of my favorite running gags of any movie series (most of the movies begin with Drummond about to marry and give up his life of adventure only to be drawn into one), and I like all the continuing characters, who are charming and funny. This one has a stronger-than-usual fantastic content as well – the plot revolves around a scientist’s discovery on how to make artificial diamonds (the scene where one is made is packed with fun lab equipment). John Barrymore, John Howard, E.E. Clive and Reginald Denny all had great chemistry, and it’s great to see them back in their respective roles. And the movie also features a penguin on the loose!

A Witch Without a Broom (1967)

A WITCH WITHOUT A BROOM (1967)
aka Una Bruja sin escoba
Article 1827 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-16-2006
Posting Date: 8-13-2006
Directed by Jose Maria Elorrieta
Featuring Jeffrey Hunter, Maria Perschy, Gustavo Rojo

A twentieth century professor becomes the romantic choice of a sixteenth-century witch who sends him on an adventure through time.

It strikes me that nothing is as potentially awkward as trying to dub a foreign comedy so that it delivers the laughs in another country. It can be done, of course; I think THE TENTH VICTIM is quite successful in this regard. However, it’s much more likely that it will fall flat, and in this case, I doubt that the original language version of this was much of a laugh riot either. The basic plot is almost embarrassing; a man keeps being dropped into another time period where he catches the eye of a woman who tries to seduce him, and just as she is about to succeed, a jealous lover comes in and threatens his life, but he escapes to another time period, where he catches the eye of a woman who tries to seduce him, etc. etc. Now, unless you find this bedroom-farce-style idea the height of hilarity, this comedy will wear out its welcome very quickly indeed. Quite frankly, the best thing about this is Maria Perschy, who was beautiful enough for me to understand why the professor gets so distracted in class. Nonetheless, there are better witch comedies out there (I MARRIED A WITCH , anyone?) and better time travel comedies as well (heck, you’re even better off with FIDDLERS THREE ). This one is aimless, distracted and forgettable.

Voyage to the End of the Universe (1963)

VOYAGE TO THE END OF THE UNIVERSE (1963)
aka Ikarie XB 1
Article 1826 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-15-2006
Posting Date: 8-12-2006
Directed by Jindrich Polak
Featuring Radovan Lukavsky, Zdenek Stepanek, Frantisek Smolik

A spaceship makes a voyage to the green planet in the next galaxy.

According to IMDB, a number of changes were made to this Czech science fiction film (IKARIE XB 1) before it came to our shores under the above title. Almost a half hour of the footage was taken out, and the ending was altered. I don’t know if there is a full version of the original available, but I’d like to see it; even in its compromised form here, I quite liked it. It does help that, amid the other tinkering, that the dubbing is actually above par; the acting level of those supplying the voices was strong enough that the movie retains some of its emotional tenor. Basically, it’s an episodic tale of a spaceship’s journey, and I liked the fact that its perils aren’t just the same ones usually trotted out for this kind of story; despite the fact that they talk about the possibility of it happening, there isn’t a single moment where the spaceship runs into a meteor shower. It was one of those movies that I wish hadn’t ended so soon; I would have liked to have gotten to know the characters better, and one suspects it could have made for an interesting TV series. It’s worst fault is the unsatisfying twist ending, but that is probably the fault of only this version of the movie.

The Damned (1963)

THE DAMNED (1963)
aka These Are the Damned
Article 1825 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-14-2006
Posting Date: 8-11-2006
Directed by Joseph Losey
Featuring Macdonald Carey, Shirley Ann Field, Oliver Reed

When an American on vacation falls afoul of a gang of Teddy Boys in London, he tries to escape by breaking into a top secret installation that is performing secret experiments on a group of children.

This is only the third of the movies of Joseph Losey that I’ve seen for this series, and though this by no means makes me an expert on his oeuvre, I suspect that children do not occupy an enviable position in his universe. In THE BOY WITH GREEN HAIR , the main child character is ostracized by his status as a war orphan; in M, they are preyed upon by a child killer, and here, they are the victims of an experiment sponsored by the government. This one is perhaps the bleakest of the lot, because once you know the nature of their situation, you know there is little chance of rescue, and that doom will follow in the footsteps of anyone who comes into contact with them. The movie itself is a fascinating experience, and I do rank it with Hammer’s best movies, though it certainly doesn’t fit in easily with the rest of their output. Excellent performances abound in this one, though I feel the need to take special notice of Oliver Reed, who manages to give a restrained (for him) performance without sacrificing that intensity that is his trademark. Also fine are Macdonald Carey as the hapless American caught up in the situation, and Viveca Lindfors as an artist who manages to discover something that means her end. This one is sad, powerful, tragic and unforgettable.

Devil Doll (1964)

DEVIL DOLL (1964)
Article 1824 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-13-2006
Posting Date: 8-10-2006
Directed by Lindsay Shonteff and Sidney J. Furie
Featuring Bryant Haliday, William Sylvester, Yvonne Romain

A reporter investigates the strange relationship between a ventriloquist and his almost human dummy, Hugo.

The concept of a ventriloquist and his evil dummy is a pretty clever idea; it is, however, one of those ideas that can only be used once before losing a lot of its impact. That’s how it is for me, anyway, and I generally have little use for ventriloquist-and-dummy tales after the idea was used in DEAD OF NIGHT . Fortunately, this movie is playing a somewhat different game, which becomes clear at about the halfway point when the dummy visits a reporter, asks for help and passes on vague information for the reporter to follow. From here on out, the details unfold in a very different way indeed. The movie also benefits from some extremely moody photography and some clever camerawork; notice how quite a few of the scenes seem to be shot with a low camera angle, giving us a subtle but inadvertent attachment to the only character who would see things from that angle – Hugo the dummy. I do wonder just how successful the Great Vorelli’s ventriloquist act would be; sure, it’s an amazing act, but it’s humorless and depressingly uncomfortable much of the time. The movie does have a couple of problems; the story isn’t quite long enough to fill up its running time, and the very serious and somber tone of the story only falters in the very last moments of the movie, giving the final scene just a twinge of campiness that undermines it a little. Still, for those who get caught up in the movie’s strengths, this last problem will serve as no real impediment.

Scream of Fear (1961)

SCREAM OF FEAR (1961)
aka Taste of Fear
Article 1823 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-12-2006
Posting Date: 8-9-2006
Directed by Seth Holt
Featuring Susan Strasberg, Ronald Lewis, Ann Todd

A young crippled woman returns to her father’s home in France, but her father is not around. After getting contradictory stories on where her father is, she begins to see his corpse popping up at odd times.

You should be able to figure out what some of the twists will be in this black-and-white Hammer thriller; in this way, a bit of this thriller is fairly predictable. However, the scares are so effectively staged and the movie’s use of sound is so stunning that you’ll probably get caught up in the story anyway. Furthermore, even if you do foresee some of the twists, there are others you won’t, and the whole story builds up to a truly satisfying ending. All in all, this is one of Hammer’s best thrillers; it’s only real problem is that it gets a little slow in the middle of the movie. There are some great scenes here, including one with a freezer, another with an out-of-control car, and a late-night dive into a swimming pool (and the Applebys really needed to clean that thing out!). Christopher Lee is on hand in a supporting role, and he even tries on a French accent. Director Seth Holt has only a handful of movies to his credit, but his oeuvre also includes another of my favorite Hammer thrillers, THE NANNY .