Heavenly Music (1943)

HEAVENLY MUSIC (1943)
Article 2168 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-21-2007
Posting Date: 7-20-2007
Directed by Josef Berne
Featuring Fred Brady, Mary Elliott, Eric Blore

A pop singer goes to heaven, but in order to be admitted to the Hall of Music, he must prove himself before some of the greatest classical composers from history.

This short is pretty hokey, but it’s also charming and beautiful to look at. It’s also an interesting exploration of musical influence; my favorite moment is when the singer presents his favorite song, only to be chided by Tchaikovsky for having stolen his melody, but then the singer turns the tables on him by demonstrating that Tchaikovsky’s melody was derived from one of Wagner’s, who himself lifted it from Brahms. It’s also good that this was a short; as a full-length feature, it would have gotten old quickly. As it is, it’s just the right length. This won an Oscar for the best two-reel short subject in 1944.

 

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House of the Black Death (1965)

HOUSE OF THE BLACK DEATH (1965)
Article 2166 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-19-2007
Posting Date: 7-18-2007
Directed by Harold Daniels, Jerry Warren and Reginald Le Borg
Featuring John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr., Andrea King

A white magician is called in to help in a feud between two black magicians, one of which belongs to a family cursed by lycanthropy.

According to an interview with Jerry Warren by Tom Weaver, Warren was given a the job of taking a mishmash of film footage and cobbling together a movie out of it. I assume that in order to do so, he shot a few scenes of his own to flesh things out. According to Warren, it came out bad (and he’s right) but playable enough so that the investors were able to make a little bit of a return (and I suspect he was right here as well). My main observation is, that if Warren did shoot extra footage, then it’s one of the few cases where he did this sort of thing where I haven’t been able to pick out what footage he added, a problem I’ve never had with some of his other edit jobs. I don’t think this was skill on his part, though; I think it had more to do that the original footage was as dead in the water as regular Jerry Warren footage, so it matched. My guess is that Warren added the Katherine Victor scenes (which involve lots of swearing of oaths). At any rate, this incoherent mess of werewolves and witchcraft is pretty bottom of the barrel, though it is enlivened by good performances from Lon Chaney Jr. and John Carradine, and the occasional effective use of smoke and fog. Beyond that, this is good cure for insomnia.

 

Hercules of the Desert (1964)

HERCULES OF THE DESERT (1964)
aka VALLE DELL’ECO TONANTE
Article 2164 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-17-2007
Posting Date: 7-16-2007
Directed by Tanio Boccia
Featuring Kirk Morris, Helene Chanel, Alberto Farnese

A muscular strongman is summoned forth to help a tribe of nomads lay claim to a land promised to them. However, he has to contend with an evil queen who wants the land for herself.

In contrast to yesterday’s outing, this is definitely standard issue sword-and-sandal adventure. The plot is surprisingly coherent this time, but it’s also the usual one – Hercules (that is, Maciste) is seduced and drugged by an evil queen to keep him from fighting for the oppressed, etc. This movie takes the trouble to explain Hercules’ presence here by having him conjured up by a wise magician to help the people. My print is only in black and white, though the original is in color; this was a bit disappointing for me, especially at the end of the movie where we reach the paradise and, since it’s in black and white, it doesn’t look a whole lot different than the desert. This one is a little on the weak side, and at least one of the reasons is that Kirk Morris is particularly bland here; Hercules is even more one-dimensional than usual. The best moment is near the end, where Hercules does battle with the echo men, a tribe of people who create avalanches by making an incredibly loud racket. This one is fairly run of the mill.

 

Happy Ever After (1954)

HAPPY EVER AFTER (1954)
aka TONIGHT’S THE NIGHT
Article 2144 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-28-2007
Posting Date: 6-26-2007
Directed by Mario Zampi
Featuring David Niven, Yvonne De Carlo, Barry Fitzgerald

When the head of a hunting estate in a small village in Ireland dies, he leaves the estate to his nephew who was raised in England. The nephew arrives, and alienates the village with his new policies, which involve collecting long-owned debts (which the previous owner waived) and the eviction of people from their homes. The villagers decide to do away with the new squire.

This is a fairly amusing comedy, though it’s a little slow to start. The first part of the movie mostly tries to let Irish stereotypes run the show, and this gets rather tiresome; though Barry Fitzgerald can be an amusing actor, I prefer him in smaller doses. The arrival of David Niven as the nephew adds some variety to the proceedings, but it doesn’t come to life until the movie takes its full turn into black comedy by having the residents decide to kill the squire. When a lottery is held, the job falls to the village idiot, a circumstance which causes the rest of the villagers, sure that he will not succeed, to strike out on their own with their own plans. As a result, they end up stepping on each other’s toes more than providing any threat to the squire. The fantastic content isn’t present in the above plot description because it doesn’t come into play until the last quarter of the movie, but I can say this much; there is a legend that a ghost of one of the squire’s ancestors haunts the estate once a year, and the movie doesn’t allow this little fact to go unused before all is said and done. Outside of the usual assortment of Irish character actors. the movie also features a pre-Munsters Yvonne De Carlo as a widow who is as scheming as the squire is.

 

High Treason (1928)

HIGH TREASON (1928)
Article 2141 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-25-2007
Posting Date: 6-23-2007
Directed by Maurice Elvey
Featuring James Carew, Basil Gill, Alf Goddard

In the future (1950, to be exact) the world is split up into the European States and the Atlantic States. A conspiracy sets up an international incident at a border station in order to bring the two nations to war in the hopes of profiting by it. As the anger and tension spirals, a peace organization based in London sets its sights on preventing war, eventually taking drastic measures to do so.

This was one of the movies made on the cusp of the sound era, so both sound and silent versions were made. I’ve not seen the sound version, but this one is pretty interesting if flawed. The movie definitely has a point of view, especially at the end when a certain character is lit in such a way as to make him a Christ figure. If you set aside the propaganda aspect, it’s an interesting exploration as to how a war can start with a single incident and how fear, misunderstanding, and some nudging from a small conspiracy can bring things to a head. I like some of the moral issues the movie brings up, even if it takes a somewhat simplistic approach to it; in particular, I found myself wondering about whether any causes really do require extreme measures to support them. I do like the visions of the future, even if they’re a little dated from our vantage point in time, and even if much of the effects obviously look like models. And even if the movie definitely takes a pacifist viewpoint to the proceedings, it’s undercut by moments such as the woman (who has been drafted into the war effort) who decides that war is hell once she sees the ugly uniform she’ll have to wear.

 

Hollywood Meat Cleaver Massacre (1977)

HOLLYWOOD MEAT CLEAVER MASSACRE (1977)
aka MEATCLEAVER MASSACRE
Article 2128 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-12-2007
Posting Date: 6-10-2007
Directed by Evan Lee
Featuring Christopher Lee(!), Larry Justin, J. Arthur Craig

Four students on a drunken binge break into the home of a professor of the occult, kill his family and leave him paralyzed for life. However, the professor is able to conjure up a demon to seek revenge.

If there’s any one thing I can say about this movie, it’s that it surprised me – instead of the psycho killer movie I was expecting, it turns out to have more of an occult bent then I expected. It also wasn’t near as bad as I expected it would be, but that’s no recommendation; it’s still fairly awful. The story itself is straightforward enough, but the movie engages in arty dream sequences, one gratuitous nude scene, lots of dull stretches where nothing is happening, and the occasional surprising touch of intentional and unexpected humor that may be the best thing about the film; if I have a favorite moment here, it’s when one of the students is distracted from committing suicide by something very mundane.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this movie is the presence of Christopher Lee, whose presence provided two things that the movie needed; it padded out the running time and added some star power to the movie. Actually, he only appears in beginning and ending bumpers, and, if the reports are true, he made these scenes for another producer, who then sold the footage to the makers of this movie. The other surprising presence is of Ed Wood as a photographer in the movie; it looks like he was associated with stinkers right to the end. As a result, this is the only time Ed Wood and Christopher Lee ever worked together, albeit inadvertently. And please take note that one cast member here is named Robert Clark, not Robert Clarke.

 

High Tor (1956)

HIGH TOR (1956)
TV Movie
Article 2111 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-26-2006
Posting Date: 5-24-2007
Directed by James Neilson and Franklin J. Schaffner
Featuring Bing Crosby, Julie Andrews, Nancy Olson

The owner of a mountain called High Tor wiles away his time hunting and fishing, much to the chagrin of the woman who loves him. He finds himself fending off the advances of two men who want to buy the mountain while dealing with the ghosts of sailors waiting for the arrival of Henry Hudson’s boat.

There are some definite charms to this musical version of the Maxwell Anderson play. Bing Crosby and a young Julie Andrews singing are two of them, and a likable cast (including Hans Conried and Everett Sloane) is another. The story itself is rather unique; it’s an odd little fantasy that is very unlike any other ghost story out there, with the ghosts not scary or malevolent but simply as part of the action of the story. However, time hasn’t really been too kind to this episode of “Ford Star Jubilee” (which is considered in some quarters to be the first TV movie); the modest production values and the self-conscious poetry of the dialogue really start to wear on me after a while; it’s one of those movies where the actors talk endlessly about how they feel rather than showing us how they feel by their actions. Still, take the limitations in stride and there are some pleasures to be had here.