Candles at Nine (1944)

CANDLES AT NINE (1944)
Article 3536 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-26-2011
Posting Date: 4-20-2011
Directed by John Harlow
Featuring Jessie Matthews, Beatrix Lehmann, John Stuart
Country: UK
What it is: Old dark house movie

A singer is the heir to an old man’s fortune, but she can only inherit if she spends a month living in the old man’s spooky mansion.

By the mid-forties, the “old dark house” genre was on its last legs, but this movie does have some novelty value. First of all, unlike most of the others, this one comes from Britain. Secondly, the plot does occasionally go off in different directions other than what you’d expect from the genre. Unfortunately, this is because the movie wanders a bit; I get the feeling that the makers weren’t quite sure what to do with the concept, as if they realized they were swimming in heavily cliched waters and knew they had to do something to freshen things up, but weren’t sure what to do. As a result, the movie just doesn’t achieve any consistent tone; it tries a bit of everything (some comedy, some music, some mystery, some horror, some romance) but never really settles on anything. The mystery elements come across as weak; the true villains are obvious, and the backstory that explains the events is held back from us by the detective until the end of the movie for no real good reason. My favorite character is the old man, who has one great scene before he dies, but that’s not the first time this sort of thing has happened in this genre. Jessie Matthews was apparently a big star in her time, but this catches her on the way back down the ladder, though she would pop up in movies and TV shows for another 35 years.

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Le charcuterie mecanique (1895)

LE CHARCUTERIE MECANIQUE (1895)
aka The Mechanical Butcher
Article 3500 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-17-2011
Posting Date: 3-15-2011
Directed by Louis Lumiere
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Early science fiction

A pig is fed into a machine and pork products come out the other side.

One of the first names you’ll encounter in any comprehensive history of film is that of the Lumiere brothers, whose filmed snippets of everyday life were the the very first movies ever made. Most were plotless, and did little more than capture everyday events; people walking out of a factory, babies being fed, children playing, men at work…that sort of thing. I do remember reading somewhere that these films weren’t always quite as spontaneous as they seemed; the action was sometimes rehearsed to make for an interesting visual sensation. A few were obviously contrived; there’s one involving a prank with a hose that was obviously being acted, and in this one, the machine in question is obviously made up. This is the first science fiction movie, and, unless the machine counts (it’s a box with a spinning wheel in back), there’s no special effects; they put a pig in one end and pull out pork products from the other, all in one take. Oddly enough, there would be a trend of similar films, usually involving dogs being turned to sausages. This is now officially the earliest film I’ve seen for this series.

Clair de Lune Espagnol (1909)

CLAIR DE LUNE ESPAGNOL (1909)
Article 3498 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-13-2011
Posting Date: 3-13-2011
Directed by Etienne Arnaud and Emile Cohl
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Early trick short

A man takes a balloon into outer space where he gets into trouble for taking potshots at the moon.

This movie does owe something to the Melies and de Chomon fantasies of the time in style and action. What really sets this one apart, though, is the fact that it features animation from an early pioneer in the field, Emile Cohl. The moon is the main animated part of the movie, with the traveler’s interactions with it being one of the highlights of the movie. The short is not complete; the first minute of the movie which features the actual voyage into space is missing, but the movie is still quite satisfying even with this segment missing. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing more of Emile Cohl’s work as time goes by.

NOTE: I’ve now seen the full version of this one, and the opening is mostly life action and is concerned with events in a pub that lead up to the man being taken away by the balloon.

Check and Double Check (1930)

CHECK AND DOUBLE CHECK (1930)
Article 3486 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-24-2011
Posting Date: 3-1-2011
Directed by Melville W. Brown
Featuring Freeman F. Gosden, Charles J. Correll, Sue Carol
Country: USA
What it is: Radio stars make a movie

Amos and Andy try to make a go of an open-air taxi service, and are sent on a quest by the Mystic Knights of the Sea.

I’ve run into a few sources that claim this is the only film appearance of Gosden and Correll in their “Amos ‘n’ Andy” characters, but that’s not true; on top of providing voices for a couple of theatrical cartoons featuring their characters, they also appeared in THE BIG BROADCAST OF 1936; this was, however, the only movie in which they starred. They were big radio stars at the time and their show would make a successful transition to TV when the time came; however, they are seen very rarely nowadays in the age of political correctness. They were talented comedians, nevertheless, and there are some good moments to be had here; I particularly like a scene where Andy almost destroys a phone conversation that Amos is having merely by interjecting phrases that Amos keeps repeating. The movie is also historically interesting in that it also features one of the earliest screen appearances of Duke Ellington and his orchestra, and they provide a musical highlight to the movie. However, the movie does suffer from that early-talkie creakiness, and it’s saddled with a dull romance subplot. The fantastic content has the duo visiting a supposedly haunted house as part of an assignment from the Mystic Knights of the Sea, but since there’s no real haunting going on, it just adds a slight touch of horror to the proceedings.

The Centerfold Girls (1974)

THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS (1974)
Article 3471 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-9-2011
Posting Date: 2-14-2011
Directed by John Peyser
Featuring Andrew Prine, Jaime Lyn Bauer, Tiffany Bolling
Country: USA
What it is: Slasher / anthology film

A psycho is on the loose killing a year’s worth of centerfold girls in a men’s magazine.

The central plot element here is hardly the stuff of novelty; given how many movie psychos have sexual hangups, the idea of one knocking off centerfolds comes across as pretty obvious. I do have to give the movie points for its odd structure, though; it splits the action into three stories, each concerning one of the centerfolds and their adventures that proceed the psycho’s attack. Still, the concept is better in conception than it is in execution; the stories are mostly exercises in sleaze and unpleasantness, and two of the stories (the first and the last one) seem mostly concerned with just how thoroughly they can humiliate and degrade the centerfold girl before she meets the psycho. The second story has the biggest surprise plotwise by varying the formula, but in the end, it really does little more than not stop at one killing. Andrew Prine plays the psycho, but I’m a little disappointed by his performance; outside of giving his character horrible clothes sense, he does little to make his psycho stand out from the pack. The movie is mostly a compendium of pandering, sleaze, unpleasant characters, and nudity, and it proudly wears its grindhouse roots on its sleeve. Still, by doing so, it targets its audience well, and you probably already know whether you’d want to bother with this one.

Catacombs (1965)

CATACOMBS (1965)
aka The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die
Article 3462 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-28-2010
Posting Date: 2-5-2011
Directed by Gordon Hessler
Featuring Gary Merrill, Georgina Cookson, Jane Merrow
Country: UK
What it is: Thriller

A man is stuck in an unhappy marriage with a rich but dominating woman. He hatches a plot with one of his wife’s business associates to kill her for the money. However, complications arise…

One of these days I’m tempted to make a list of the most imitated movies of all time, and on that list will appear a French thriller from the fifties that inspired a whole slew of imitations. Here’s another one of them, and once you recognize the pattern, there will be very little to surprise you plotwise here. However, it does get some points for interesting characters and the avoidance of stereotypes; Gary Merrill gives a strong performance that makes you feel just what it must be like to have to make love to a woman who repulses you, and Georgina Cookson’s domineering wife character has some really fascinating ways of wielding her power. This was also Gordon Hessler’s first movie as a director, and overall it holds up pretty well; it’s certainly easier to follow than some of his more famous movies. Not bad.

Casino Royale (1966)

CASINO ROYALE (1966)
Article 3445 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-11-2010
Posting Date: 1-19-2011
Directed by Val Guest, Ken Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish, Richard Talmadge
Featuring Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, David Niven
Country: UK / USA
What it is: James Bond parody

The original Sir James Bond comes out of retirement to take over investigation of the disappearance of secret agents from all over the world.

Yes, you saw right; there are six directors on this movie. You should also be aware that there are twice as many writers credited on IMDB. This is almost a sure sign that the resulting movie is a mess, and this is no exception. Actually, it doesn’t start off too bad; the opening scenes establish an interesting premise, in that the current James Bond actually got his name from a respected old-school spy who finds the woman-chasing gadget-ridden style of spydom to be ridiculous, and had the movie kept its focus on the theme of the conflict between the two styles, it might have worked. Unfortunately, the movie descends into a confusing quagmire shortly after this and never recovers. It ends up being neither exciting or funny; several people seem to be playing below their abilities (I was particularly disappointed with Orson Welles and Peter Sellers here), and only two actors managed to get a laugh out of me – Woody Allen (who probably wrote most of his own dialogue) and George Raft in a cameo. I’m almost tempted to to say the end of the movie shows enormous desperation, but I don’t think that really describes it; my impression is that the whole movie seems blithely unaware of how badly it’s failing. I don’t have a problem with the Burt Bacharach score; he seems an odd choice for a James Bond movie (even a parody), but he does give the music an authentic sixties flavor. The real stars of this movie are those responsible for the art and set design; quite frankly, the movie is stunning to look at throughout, and I’m especially taken with the Caligari-like design of the sets in the Berlin sequence. It’s a pity they didn’t have a solid movie to film on those sets.