One Exciting Night (1922)

ONE EXCITING NIGHT (1922)
Article 3636 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-14-2011
Posting Date: 7-29-2011
Directed by D.W. Griffith
Featuring Carol Dempster, Henry Hull, Peter Strong
Country: USA
What it is: Old dark house mystery

Several guests are invited to a party at an old dark house. However, a bootlegger was murdered there a few days ago… and it is rumored he left half a million dollars somewhere in the house. Who will find it, and who will they kill to get it?

I rightly guessed that this would turn out to be an “old dark house” movie, but it’s probably the earliest one I’ve seen for this series. That doesn’t mean that the “old dark house” concept started here; this was reportedly made to cash in on the success of the stage play “The Bat”, which would have a straightforward version made just a few years later. I was curious to see what D.W. Griffith would do with the concept, and he concentrates on the backstories of the various individuals, which are more elaborate than is usual for the form; in fact, the “old dark house” antics don’t really get going until the movie is halfway over. Some of the cliches are already in place, including the cowardly black servant, and having it played by a man in blackface (Porter Strong’s specialty) makes it just that much more painful; at least the other major black character isn’t portrayed as a clown (though he may also be a white actor in blackface). Still, the movie is moderately entertaining throughout, and much more so during a spectacular climax involving a chase during a massive storm. And though I did figure out who the murderer was, it did turn out to fairly satisfying from a story perspective.

Advertisements

Os Deuses e Os Mortos (1970)

OS DEUSES E OS MORTOS (1970)
aka Of Gods and the Dead

Article 3544 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-3-2011
Posting Date: 4-28-2011
Directed by Ruy Guerra
Featuring Norma Bengell, Othon Bastos, Itala Nandi
Country: Brazil
What it is: Brazilian New Wave with surrealism

An adventurer (who has already been shot seven times) gets involved in a battle for a cacao plantation, setting loose a wave of bloody killings.

This movie entered my list from John Stanley’s “Creature Features Movie Guide Strikes Again” book under the mistranslated title OF GODS AND THE UNDEAD. With that kind of title, it’s little wonder that he thought the plot involved people rising from the dead, and, to be honest, Othon Bastos’s gruesome makeup certainly makes him look like the living dead. In truth, the movie is an art film, part of the Brazilian “Udigrudi” movement, an offshoot of “Cinema Novo”. Aware of the art movie credentials of this one, discovering that “Udigrudi” subverted traditional narrative film structure, and knowing that my copy was without English dubbing or subtitles, I went into this one without any expectations that I would understand what was going on, and the above plot description is taken from what IMDB has about the film. As usual in this case, I was forced to rely on the visual aspects of the film, and on that level, I can say quite frankly that I was blown away. Perhaps the most impressive aspect I found was the direction and the camerawork; many of the scenes are shot with a what looks to be a hand-held camera, and given that some of the long scenes in this movie were shot in one take, I became fascinated by the way that the camera would weave in and out among the actors, focusing in on the most interesting visual pictures and then moving on, not showing you certain details until late in the scene… whatever else you can say about these scenes, they are stunning pieces of cinematic choreography. The music is also startling and effective, and the movie certainly seems to delve into fantasy and horror before it’s all over. Just on a visual level, it’s often breathtaking, and the movie won a whole slew of Brazilian cinema awards. Even if I never come by a copy in English, I’ll probably give this one another viewing just to appreciate its visual brilliance.

Our Man Flint (1966)

OUR MAN FLINT (1966)
Article 3529 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-19-2011
Posting Date: 4-13-2011
Directed by Daniel Mann
Featuring James Coburn, Lee J. Cobb, Gila Golan
Country: USA
What it is: Bond-style spy thriller

When a cabal of scientists discovers a way to control the weather, thereby gaining the ability to cause worldwide destruction, an outside agent known as Derek Flint is recruited to find and defeat the scientists.

For my money, the Flint movies were the best James Bond knockoffs to follow in the wake of that phenomenon. If anything, I may even like them better. This movie is more overtly comic than the Bond movies without becoming merely farcical. It’s less stunt-oriented than the Bond series, but since I’m no big fan of stunts for the sake of stunts, I’m fine with that. I also like the twists that Flint has to the superspy prototype; he also has a lightning speed deductive ability similar to that of Sherlock Holmes, for example. It’s also nice to see a spy movie of this type that doesn’t try to confuse you with the plot; never did I find myself confused as to what was going on. It takes a quick, direct jab at James Bond when Flint encounters agent 008. All in all, I found this one satisfying and fun. My favorite joke – Flint is introduced to Dr. Wu and Dr. Schneider.

One Family (1930)

ONE FAMILY (1930)
Article 3512 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-2-2011
Posting Date: 3-27-2011
Directed by Walter Creighton
Featuring Douglas Beaumont, Sam Livesey, Michael Hogan
Country: UK
What it is: Bizarre British propaganda

A little boy dreams he takes a tour of Buckingham palace, where he is tasked with the job of making the King’s Christmas pudding. He must visit the various part of the British Empire to gather the ingredients.

This movie ended up on my “Ones that Got Away” list, but an online version became available from the British Film Institute; unfortunately, the print is in bad shape, and the viewing was extremely buggy. I had to restart the movie several times and jump ahead to various points to catch most of what was left of the movie, and this made for a difficult watching experience. The movie is essentially a travelogue for the British Empire, and was the first movie to be filmed in Buckingham Palace. It was produced by British Instructional Films in the hope it would get a commercial release, but the movie (which started production as a silent) was plagued with problems, and then had to have dialogue post-dubbed because of the demand for talkies. Rather than making a bundle for BIF, the movie was a commercial disaster. Even given the fact that my viewing experience was very far from ideal, I suspect that the movie wouldn’t make much sense even in a complete state. As it is, it’s one of the most bizarre movie-viewing experiences I’ve ever undergone. Still, I suspect this is the only chance I’ll have to see this one, and I’m glad to check it off my list. The fantastic content seems to consist of the bizarre fantastical ways the child has of traveling to the various parts of the world.

Onesime aux Enfers (1912)

ONESIME AUX ENFERS (1912)
aka Simple Simon and the Devil
Article 3507 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-25-2011
Posting Date: 3-22-2011
Directed by Jean Durand
Featuring Ernest Bourbon and Gaston Modot
Country: France
What it is: Supernatural comedy

A simpleton sells his soul to the devil so he can pay for his lunch. He then goes to hell. Hilarity ensues.

Well, they don’t call him Simple Simon for nothing. Onesime was a comic character who appeared in quite a few early French shorts; I’ve encountered him before in ONESIME HORLOGER. So what is hell like in this one? Well, in true Melies fashion, it’s full of tumbling imps, as well as beautiful women who, when Onesime tries to kiss them, turn into fat demons or policemen. It also has a twist ending that I just knew was coming. This is another charming early short.

Once Before I Die (1966)

ONCE BEFORE I DIE (1966)
Article 3423 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-18-2010
Posting Date: 12-28-2010
Directed by John Derek
Featuring Ursula Andress, John Derek, Richard Jaeckel
Country: USA / Philippines
What it is: Oddball war movie

A group of soldiers in the Philippines are caught off guard by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and make a journey across the island, bringing with them a beautiful woman.

As a director, John Derek seems to be mostly known for his movies designed to show off the body of his wife Bo Derek; he gave us stuff like TARZAN THE APE MAN, BOLERO, and GHOSTS CAN’T DO IT. This is probably his best movie, though that doesn’t mean it’s particularly good; it is rather offbeat, though. Granted, it is a vehicle for one of his earlier wives, Ursula Andress, and it seems to revolve around her, which is unfortunate; she seems lost and characterless throughout. That’s probably why the movie is stolen by Richard Jaeckel, who plays Lieutenant Custer, who, unlike his historical namesake, shaves his head; he is the only actor here who really seems to be committed to bringing his role to life.

Now the big question here is – why am I covering this movie? It’s listed in John Stanley’s “Creature Features Movie Guide Strikes Again”, and his justification for it is the Andress is the “angel of death” because every man she kisses dies. Maybe so, but the movie never once makes that explicit or even really drops hints; it’s just one way to interpret the events on the screen, and I personally think this movie doesn’t qualify in its fantastic content. Still, at least it gives me another John Derek movie to compare with before my inevitable encounters with TARZAN THE APE MAN and GHOSTS CAN’T DO IT.

Oh, God! (1977)

OH, GOD! (1977)
Article 3420 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-13-2010
Posting Date: 12-25-2010
Directed by Carl Reiner
Featuring John Denver, George Burns, Teri Garr
Country: USA
What it is: Deity comedy

God appears to an assistant manager of a grocery store and recruits him to spread a message to the people of the world. The assistant manager soon finds himself in over his head in dealing with the repercussions of fulfilling his task.

I think the best thing about this comedy is the casting of George Burns in the title role; his graceful aging and gentle comic persona make for a very approachable and likable deity. I think another aspect that also helped was that George Burns developed a style that made his joke-telling simple, straightforward and easy, and these also lend themselves to bringing this role to life. The movie was quite popular, if I remember right, and spawned two sequels, but this is one of those movies I wish didn’t have sequels; what works as a one-time idea loses its appeal when turned into a franchise. The other performers do a decent job, and I can’t help but notice that Teri Garr must have had a real workout playing housewives who suspect their husbands are going crazy; she also appeared in the same type of role in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. One of the big surprises I had this time is how many well-known actors appear in the movie in very abbreviated roles; Donald Pleasence gets fourth-billing and has only one line, and you don’t see much of Jeff Corey or Barry Sullivan either. In the end, I find myself really liking the movie, though I think it may be a little too simplistic for its own good, but then, that was probably one of the reasons it was so popular. And I will say this much; if God exists and is anything like George Burns is here, I wouldn’t have any objections to believing in him.