Heaven Can Wait (1978)

Article 4439 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-3-2013
Directed by Warren Beatty and Buck Henry
Featuring Warren Beatty, James Mason, Julie Christie
Country: USA
What it is: Remake about the afterlife

When the soul of a quarterback is removed from its body by an inexperienced angel, the manager of the afterlife way station has to find him a new body in which he can live out his proper span of time.

I will start out by saying that this is a solid, well written, strongly acted, and quite funny remake of HERE COMES MR. JORDAN, which itself was solid, well written, strongly acted and quite funny. I remember it was very well received at the time and was nominated for a slew of Oscars. So I was quite surprised to see it sitting on IMDB with a lowly 6.9 rating, which, though not bad, is still very low for a movie that was once so highly regarded. My main guess as to why this happened is that, though it is well done, it doesn’t really transcend its status as a remake of an already established classic, and I don’t really feel it adds a whole lot new to the mix of the original film. As such, the original film ends up feeling more authentic; just for example, even though I think Jack Warden does a fine job in the role of Max Corkle, when I think of the character, it’s James Gleason that will come to mind first. In fact, with the exceptions of Charles Grodin and Dyan Cannon (whose characters are given more comic business to do here than in the original), in all other cases, I’ll think of the actors in the original version first. So, ultimately, despite the fact that this movie is very good, it also feels a bit unnecessary, and I think that’s something that becomes more noticeable with the passage of time. This, of course, may be one of the pitfalls of doing a remake in the first place.

Der Hund von Blackwood Castle (1968)

aka The Hound of Blackwood Castle, Horror of Blackwood Castle
Article 4376 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-24-2013
Directed by Alfred Vohrer
Featuring Heinz Drache, Karin Baal, Horst Tappert
Country: West Germany
What it is: Krimi

Visitors to Blackwood Castle are killed by a mysterious hound. Could this have anything to do with the death of the owner… and the fact that a hidden fortune may be found there?

It strikes me that it’s pretty tricky to make a good krimi. The plot has to be convoluted enough that it’s fun to follow, but not so convoluted that you get totally lost. There has to be enough characters to make for an involving mystery, but not so many that it becomes too easy to lose track of them. Furthermore, it helps if the comic relief is actually funny, and there’s always the chance that substandard dubbing may damage the presentation. Fortunately, this is one of the krimis that actually does all these things right; there’s enough intrigue in the story to keep you interested, just the right number of characters, the humor is actually funny, and the dubbing is well enough to get by. It’s also one of the most light-hearted krimis I’ve seen, which was apparent from the comically bizarre theme song that plays during the opening credits. There’s also plenty of horror content, what with the “Hound of the Baskervilles” thrust of the plot, some “old dark house” antics and visitations from the dead. Of course, being a krimi, there are logical explanations for all of it, but since krimis are mysteries rather than horror movies per se, that’s to be expected. This one is a lot of fun.

Hammersmith is Out (1972)

Article 4371 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-19-2013
Directed by Peter Ustinov
Featuring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Peter Ustinov
Country: USA
What it is: Darkly comic allegory

An aide in an insane asylum is promised power and riches by an inmate. He springs the inmate, and the riches start rolling in… but the inmate’s methods of acquiring them are highly questionable…

Richard Burton must have loved the Faust story, only five years after having done DR. FAUSTUS, here he is again in another variation on it. The big difference is the switching of roles; he played the Faust character in the earlier movie, and here he is playing Mephistopheles. Granted, the movie is no straight telling of the story; it is, in fact, downright strange, and it is one of those movies that I would imagine would alienate quite a few people. I found it rather engrossing, myself, partially because the movie is full of interesting lines of dialogue and partially because it’s one of those movies where Burton turns on the quiet intensity, and that’s when I like him best. Peter Ustinov does a weird turn as the Doctor of the asylum; allegorically, he is God in this one. Elizabeth Taylor’s performance is not bad, but I will admit to being put off a bit by it; it’s not the type of role I would imagine her playing. Beau Bridges is effective as the crass bumpkin who becomes Hammersmith’s pawn.

The fantastic content is a little more difficult to pin down, and it may not qualify. Despite the fact that the Faust story has plenty of fantastic content, that’s not explicit in this symbolic take on it. There’s the theme of madness here, and Hammersmith may be looked on as a serial killer, though the fact that he only kills to accomplish his chosen ends rather than as a psychological compulsion makes that less likely. Actually, the most telling clue that the fantastic content may be real is a single line from Burton’s character in which he describes human beings in a way that implies that he himself is not one of them. At any rate, this might be an interesting choice to watch if you’re into quirky, dark allegory.

Horror Hospital (1973)

Article 4333 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-11-2013
Directed by Antony Balch
Featuring Michael Gough, Robin Askwith, Vanessa Shaw
Country: UK
What it is: How do I begin…?

A pop song writer and a woman looking for her aunt find themselves trapped on the estate of a mad doctor who intends to experiment with their brains.

I have a friend who really admires British actors; he likes to say that no matter what kind of crap they’re given in the scripts, they always end up treating it like Shakespeare. Well, I don’t think he’s seen this movie; here the actors treat it like the silly piece of idiocy that it is. Now usually a comment like that is how I’d begin a pan of a movie, but I don’t really have the heart with this one. I think it’s because the opening scene of the movie (where the doctor deals with two runaway patients from his estate) was, in its own demented way, nearly perfect; I immediately knew that the movie was going to be bloody, sleazy, campy and (most importantly) not to be taken seriously on any level. And that’s just how the rest of the movie is. I’ve never seen a movie before where every character consistently makes the most monumentally stupid decisions at every opportunity, and after a while you just sort of roll with it. Michael Gough (who can sometimes annoy me when he overacts) manages to hit just the right note with this one, but the movie is stolen by Skip Martin as the dwarf manservant of the estate; his comic tone is spot on. No, this is not what I would call a “good” movie, but if you’re in the mood for a certain type of bloody goofiness, this one will fill the bill.

Heartbeeps (1981)

Article 4330 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-8-2013
Directed by Allan Arkush
Featuring Andy Kaufman, Bernadette Peters, Randy Quaid
Country: USA
What it is: Romantic robot comedy

Three robots (two of which have fallen in love) escape from a factory to live in the wilderness. However, the employees and the factory want them back, and a crime-busting police robot is on their tail…

I’m going to come right out and admit that I was actually a bit moved by a sad scene near the end of this movie, an admission I make with the understanding that it reveals me to be the old softie I am. It is an embarrassing thing to admit, though, because when you come right down to it, the movie isn’t really worth it; though the central idea is interesting enough, the script is woefully underdeveloped, and unless you’re into recycled Henny Youngman jokes, it’s terribly short of laughs. The movie tries to get most of its laughs from the robotic spin that the two main characters give to their conversation, but ultimately that’s more lightly whimsical than actually funny, and it gets old long before the movie is over. This is Andy Kaufman’s sole leading role in a movie, but he’s really not the type of performer whose style lends itself to the movie medium, and though I like the physicalization he gives his character, there’s not much he can otherwise do with it. In the end, I had more fun seeing familiar faces pop up in small roles; Richard B. Shull, Dick Miller, Mary Woronov, Paul Bartel and Christopher Guest all pop up. Ultimately, the movie is quite bad, but it is at least an offbeat curio.

Hercules in New York (1969)

Article 4328 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-6-2013
Directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman
Featuring Arnold Stang, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Deborah Loomis
Country: USA
What it is: Fish out of water story

Much to Zeus’s anger, Hercules leaves Olympus and goes down to Earth after many centuries of inactivity. He ends up in modern New York and befriends a pretzel salesman.

You know, the concept of sticking Hercules in modern times might make for an interesting comic idea; the trouble is, despite the fact that there is some humor in the movie, it more or less takes itself seriously. Granted, I’m not sure that, with the talent involved, making it a comedy would have helped; the comic moments are as flat as the rest of the movie. It’s unimaginitively directed, most of the acting is poor, there’s nothing fun in the special effects department, and the movie just limps along from one setpiece to another until it ends. It’s more interesting for its trivia value; it was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first movie, and because he was an unknown, he was billed as Arnold Strong so that it would fun to see the name billed next to Arnold Stang’s. His accent was considered too thick to be understood, so he was dubbed on the released print; the undubbed print is available, though. The most fun I had during the movie was seeing a poster for a movie called HERCULES AGAINST THE MONSTER, because I couldn’t help noticing that the monster that appears on the poster is Godzilla; now there would be a movie to see. There also seems to be a little controversy on one point; does John Candy make an appearance in the movie? Some people insist that he isn’t, but all I know is that early in the movie, an actor who resembles and sounds like him says a couple of lines; he’s not listed in the cast, though. Incidentally, I had the choice of watching the version with Schwarzenegger dubbed or undubbed; I chose the dubbed for this viewing.

Halloween II (1981)

Article 4326 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-4-2013
Directed by Rick Rosenthal
Featuring Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Charles Cyphers
Country: USA
What it is: Slasher sequel

Michael Myers is still alive and killing anyone who stands in his way. Can Laurie Strode survive another encounter with this killer?

One of the things I felt about the original movie in this series (which basically kicked off the whole slasher craze) was that it was actually quite a bit of fun in the way it set forth its thrills; it just seemed like a wonderful movie for Halloween. Well, one of the earlier scenes in this sequel has a mother bringing her little boy to the hospital because he’s got a razor blade stuck in his mouth, no doubt the result of someone planting one in a candy bar. That’s the sort of event that can really take the fun out of Halloween… and, unfortunately, that event became something of a metaphor for my reaction to this movie. It’s bloodier, and the body count is higher; I’m sure some people would consider these as plusses. But the surprises are gone, and the suspense and thrills are lacking; if the original kicked off the whole slasher cycle, this one is just another slasher movie. Jamie Lee Curtis can’t really help much in this one; she’s given little more to do than project terror and fear, and though she’s good at it, it’s still a one-note affair. For me, the best thing about this one is Donald Pleasence, whose character Dr. Loomis is a piece of work; you’re never sure just how sane he is. Overall, I suppose it’s passable for an entry in the slasher genre, and there are a couple of decent moments, but I have to admit that for me, the fun wasn’t there.

Hurricane Island (1951)

Article 4263 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-13-2013
Directed by Lew Landers
Featuring Jon Hall, Marie Windsor, Romo Vincent
Country: USA
What it is: History on a budget

In order to recover from a curse brought about by a poisoned arrow, Ponce De Leon must find the fountain of youth. Unfortunately, pirates are also after the fountain of youth… and the gold that is supposed to be there.

Sometimes the opening credits can set the appropriate expectations; the second I saw that the producer was Sam Katzman, I knew this rather fanciful historical epic was going to be very budget-conscious. Still, there are worse directors for this sort of thing than Lew Landers, and though much of the movie is stiff and silly, it’s also entertaining enough to get by, the acting is mostly acceptable, it does have some decent spectacle, and, despite the historical background, it doesn’t back away from the fantastic content (the fountain of youth really exists). It’s far from great, but if you keep your expectations in check, it passes muster.

The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929)

Article 4223 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-8-2013
Directed by Charles Reisner
Featuring Conrad Nagel, Jack Benny, John Gilbert
Country: USA
What it is: Musical and comedy revue

Jack Benny and Conrad Nagel host an assortment of musical numbers and comic bits.

As an artifact of the early sound era, this is worth catching. There’s a lot of novelty value in seeing scenes such as Joan Crawford singing and dancing, Laurel and Hardy interacting with Jack Benny, John Gilbert and Norma Shearer performing “Romeo and Juliet” under the direction of Lionel Barrymore, etc. However, it really does require that bit of patience that is always necessary for an early talkie, and if you’re not particularly partial to the music of the era, this two-hour movie can prove a bit of a slog. The best musical numbers are the ones that use strong visuals; the opening number plays around with reverse photography to good effect, and the big production number of “Singin’ in the Rain” (with rain falling all about) is pretty interesting. The comedians aren’t really at their best here, but as a respite from the music, they’re more than welcome; I like Laurel and Hardy even when they aren’t at their best, and watching Buster Keaton as a dancing princess trying to convince us that a string of sausages is a deadly snake is a vision to behold. Given the revue nature of the movie, it’s probably no surprise that the movie wanders into fantasy occasionally; we have at least three scenes involving performers looking like they’ve been reduced to Lilliputian size. Still, the main appeal to fans of the fantastic is the musical number, “Lon Chaney Will Get You if You Don’t Watch Out”, which involves a number of dancers coming out in monstrous makeup; this would be the scariest scene if the movie didn’t also contain a sequence in which Marie Dressler appears as a four-year-old girl (and dressed accordingly).

Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (1906)

Article 4220 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-5-2013
Directed by J. Stuart Blackton
Featuring J. Stuart Blackton
Country: USA
What it is: Early animation

An artist draws several figures on a blackboard which come to life.

Here’s another example of early animation, with chalk and blackboard being used to animate several images. It’s a simple but fun little trick film. We see him draw the first character, but from then on the characters appear seemingly without human involvement. My favorite sequence uses backwards film, as two partially erased faces come back to vivid clarity, only to vanish into the chalk of the artist. It lacks the stream-of-consciousness feel of Emile Cohl, but it’s well-conceived and well-rendered. This one is a lot of fun.