Beau Brummel (1924)

Article 4129 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-10-2013
Directed by Harry Beaumont
Featuring John Barrymore, Mary Astor, Willard Louis
Country: USA
What it is: Biopic

A military officer loses the woman he loves because he has no rank or fortune. He decides to take revenge by winnowing his way into the court, becoming a dandy and an avatar of fashion, and living a life of scandal. But things take a turn for the worse for him when he falls afoul of the Prince of Wales…

The last movie I saw from 1924 was HOT WATER, and like that one, this one saves all of its fantastic content for the last few minutes. But then, I didn’t really expect it to have much; after all, this is mostly a love story/biopic about George Bryan “Beau” Brummel, and with very few exceptions (movies about Rasputin, for example), these don’t really fall into genre territory. It’s an entertaining movie, though it gets a bit confusing and dull in the middle, but this may be partially due to the fact that my print isn’t complete; it runs only 80 minutes, whereas the full film ran two hours and fifteen minutes. It’s anchored by a solid performance by John Barrymore, and one thing I do admire about him as that even though he was considered one of the most handsome men in Hollywood, he wasn’t afraid to have himself made up to look decrepit; the final scenes where Brummel has become senile are played with real gusto and feeling by Barrymore. The last scene is also the most touching in the movie, especially when he is visited by his former manservant, who manages to break through the man’s senility at least for a few minutes. The fantastic content is that ghosts of several of the important characters appear in the last few moments; they may be part of someone’s imagination, but they are there in the movie nonetheless.

The Phantom Light (1935)

Article 4128 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-10-2013
Directed by Michael Powell
Featuring Binnie Hale, Gordon Harker, Donald Calthrop
Country: UK
What it is: Mystery thriller

A lighthouse keeper comes to Wales to take over the management of a lighthouse that is supposedly haunted; its last two keepers have vanished mysteriously, and one of the men in the lighthouse has gone mad. Is the lighthouse really haunted, or is there another explanation…?

Even great directors sometimes have to serve apprenticeships, and Michael Powell (who directed such movies as THE RED SHOES, STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN and TALES OF HOFFMANN) spent most of the thirties serving one. This movie is largely a variation of THE GHOST TRAIN, and I’m quite surprised that so many genre guides reject this one; even though the threat turns out to not be supernatural at all, I’ve covered plenty of movies listed in those other guides which have even less fantastic content than this one. At the very least, there’s a lot of talk about the lighthouse being haunted. It’s pretty standard fare, but there’s some nice visual moments here and there, and the editing during some of the climactic scenes is sharply done. The Welsh setting also adds a little color to the proceedings. This one is pretty minor, but not bad.

The Ghost of Rosy Taylor (1918)

Article 4127 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-9-2013
Directed by Edward Sloman and Henry King
Featuring Mary Miles Minter, Allan Forrest, George Periolat
Country: USA
What it is: Odd drama/mystery

A woman is startled to discover that the maid she hired to clean her house actually died several weeks ago… but the house is being tended and cleaned while she is out. She believes it may be the ghost of the maid…but there’s another explanation…

One thing I will give this movie; it throws in the fantastic content so quickly and decisively in the opening scenes that, for a few fleeting minutes, you’re hoping that this will turn out to be a real ghost story. Of course, the movie eventually shifts into the explanation of the ghostly actions of this sequence, but even when it reaches this point, I still admired the movie’s set-up of its premise. The rest of this story verges on the depressing, as it tells the tale of a young woman who, after having been taken away from American and raised in France as a child, suddenly finds herself without a family, money, stranded back in America, and with no means of survival. Things continue to deteriorate, but at least the movie alleviates some of this with touches of humor and acts of kindness from certain characters. The story ultimately relies on a some pretty outrageous coincidences, but that’s forgivable; in fact, when all is said and done, the movie is rather fun. I only wish the print I saw was in better shape, but sometimes we have to be satisfied that these movies still exist at all.

The Possessed (1977)


Article 4126 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-8-2013
Directed by Jerry Thorpe
Featuring James Farentino, Claudette Nevins, Eugene Roche
Country: USA
What it is: Evil incarnate thriller

A girls’ school is beset with incidents of spontaneous combustion and other strange events. A defrocked priest who underwent a near-death experience comes in to investigate.

There’s some nice ambiance on hand at times in this movie, as well as some effective music, a few striking performances (including one from a pre-STAR WARS Harrison Ford and a weird one by Joan Hackett), and a somewhat offbeat feel. But it’s sometimes trying to be too mysterious for its own good, and the movie often comes across as being annoyingly vague. A torpid pace and too many talky scenes mar the movie as well. It’s a bit of a shame; the movie has a unique vibe, and I wished it worked better than it did. As it is, it comes across as a missed opportunity.

L’araignee d’or (1908)

aka The Gold Spider
Article 4125 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-6-2013
Directed by Segundo de Chomon
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: A moral tale

A poor man follows a group of gnomes who discover a spider that can make gold. He steals the spider for himself, but will he be able to profit from his catch?

The first half of this special effects short is on the dull side; it spends way too much time having the man follow the gnomes around in a swamp. It’s only once we get to the grotto of the gnomes that things pick up; there are some neat special effects sequences of the spider making coins, as well as of other insects engaged in other magical activity (including one that is painting a butterfly). Things seem to go all right for the poor man until he shows he has no intention of sharing his riches with a wandering beggar, and then he discovers the price of his greed. All in all, this is a quite entertaining piece from Chomon, and it does show how at this point of time, he was besting Melies at his own game.

Going to Bed Under Difficulties (1900)

aka Le deshabillage impossible
Article 4124 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Comic trick film

A man’s attempt to retire for the night is hampered by the magical appearance of new pieces of clothing on him as he tries to undress.

Sometimes I get the feeling that Melies’s sense of humor was sharpest in his earlier films; this surreal piece of absurdity is perhaps his single funniest film. What makes it work is that the man becomes more frantic and desperate as new clothes constantly materialize on him; he can’t even ignore them and go to sleep because his bed vanishes as well. Perhaps it’s fitting as well that the movie has no ending; this man will be removing clothes forever. It’s not surprising that this silly little short engendered a few imitations from other directors.

La glace a trois faces (1927)

aka The Three-Sided Mirror
Article 4123 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-3-2013
Directed by Jean Epstein
Featuring Jeanne Helbling, Suzy Pierson, Olga Day
Country: France
What it is: Psychological avant-garde drama

The story of a man and his affairs with three women is told.

Let’s get the fantastic content out of the way first. This is one of those cases where it’s not embedded in the plot, but rather, in the distorted cinematic styles employed in the movie. The Walt Lee guide describes them as “dynamic distortions of reality”, and that’s about as good a way to describe it as any; we often see double and triple exposures that reflect the mental life of a particular character, and this at least nudges up against the genre of fantasy.

It does make for some fascinating viewing. Director Jean Epstein had a real talent for capturing telling facial expressions and expressive movements that can often tell volumes about a character while keeping the dialogue (or, in the case of this silent movie, title cards) to a minimum. It is sometimes elusive and difficult, but that’s not entirely unexpected. Still, one has to have a taste for this sort of thing, and I suspect fans of fantastic cinema will probably prefer to stick with his version of THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER.