Run Stranger Run (1973)

RUN STRANGER RUN (1973)
aka Happy Mother’s Day, Love George
Article 3238 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-1-2010
Posting Date: 6-26-2010
Directed by Darren McGavin
Featuring Patricia Neal, Cloris Leachman, Bobby Darin
Country: USA
What it is: Drama with mystery and horror elements

A teenage boy arrives at a small New England fishing village with the intent of tracking down his true parents. The village has also been the sight of the recent disappearance of several residents. These two events are not entirely unrelated…

This is one of the very few directorial credits of Darren McGavin, famous among fans of fantastic cinema and TV for having played Carl Kolchak in THE NIGHT STALKER, its sequel, and the subsequent TV series. He does a good job here; he assembles an excellent cast, including Cloris Leachman, Ron Howard (as the teenage boy), Patricia Neal, Bobby Darin (in his last role), Kolchak co-star Simon Oakland (in what would turn out to be his last theatrical film role, though he would continue to work in television for some time yet) and newcomer Tessa Dahl. Its reputation is understandably uneven; though it is a horror film of sorts, it doesn’t play by the same set of rules as horror films usually do, and this can easily alienate certain viewers. Anyone expecting bloody mayhem from the start will be very disappointed. It’s structured more like a mystery; we meet the various characters, and piece together the facts to get a complete picture of the situation. There are only a handful of hints of the horror content for the first three-quarters of the movie. Ultimately, I found the story and the ultimate revelations satisfying enough to compensate for the slowness, but your mileage may vary. Still, you probably won’t have to work too hard to figure out the identity of the killer, and if you’re alert enough, you should be able to sort out the boy’s parentage before it is revealed.

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The Robber Symphony (1936)

THE ROBBER SYMPHONY (1936)
Article 3178 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-25-2010
Posting Date: 4-27-2010
Directed by Fredrich Feher
Featuring Hans Feher, Magda Sonja, George Graves
Country: UK
What it is: Surreal crime musical?

A bag of loot is stashed in a piano that belongs to a family of traveling entertainers. A gang of robbers tries to get the loot back, and though they kidnap two members of the troop, the third, a young boy, has run off with the piano.

“The Motion Picture Guide” classifies this movie as a fantasy, but whether this movie actually belongs to that classification is a difficult thing to settle. A straightforward discussion of the plot yields little to qualify that classification, but the style in which the movie is shot is determinedly non-realistic, what with its surreal images (an orchestra made up of mustachioed men in bowlers is one touch) and it’s various cinematic techniques (lots of fast motion photography and the occasional moments in which the film is run backwards) tend to give us the feeling that this takes place in another world entirely. Apparently, English and French versions of the movie were made, but the movie tries as much as possible to rely on visuals and music to tell the story (in fact, the credits do not speak of the movie of having been directed but of having been “composed”) that the language is almost secondary; in fact there are moments where the talking is more for the sound of what’s being said rather than for the substance of it. All around, this is one strange and unique movie, sometimes confusing, but made with energy and wit. Director Friedrich Feher appears as an actor in THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, and uncredited co-producer Robert Wiene directed that silent classic, so this should give you a bit of an idea of what you’re getting into here.

Robert Macaire and Bertrand (1907)

ROBERT MACAIRE AND BERTRAND (1907)
aka Robert Macaire et Bertrand
Article 3168 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-15-2010
Posting Date: 4-17-2010
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Comic slapstick chase movie

Two thieves rob a bank and lead the police on a merry chase.

Many of the Melies films I’ve covered are so full of fantastic content that I have no problem justifying my coverage of them. This one is the most problematic in that regard. There are only two touches that throw it into the realm of the fantastic; the first has an explosion launching the thieves on a long journey into the air, and the second is a balloon ascent which, based on the background, shows them being taken into outer space. Both of these elements are pretty slight as far as the content goes, though. This is not to say there isn’t a fair amount of special effects; the trains are obviously not real, and the depiction of an earthquake certainly adds to the special effects content. Mostly, it’s slapstick comedy; it’s sporadically effective, but far from Melies’s best work.

Retorno a la juventud (1954)

RETORNO A LA JUVENTUD (1954)
aka Return to Youth
Article 3141 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-12-2009
Posting Date: 3-21-2010
Directed by Juan Bustillo Oro
Featuring Andres Soler, Enrique Rambal, Rosario Granados
Country: Mexico
What it is: Mexican fantasy/horror on the artier side

A doctor, pining for his lost youth, is replaced by the youthful image of himself in his portrait. However, his new youthfulness leads him into actions that result in murder…

My copy is in unsubtitled Spanish, and I’ve been unable to find an adequate plot description to help me with this one, so there may be some inaccuracy above. Furthermore, it looks as if the movie isn’t really straightforward; there’s a point in the proceedings where the sets (particularly the exteriors) take on a strong non-realistic air to them, and certain events seem incredible, even given the premise. This opens the possibility that much of the movie may be a dream (or nightmare, as the case may be). It’s quite moody, and it reminded me of EL HOMBRE SIN ROSTRO, and I was not surprised to discover both movies had the same director. Still, much of the plot seems to involve the amours of the central characters, and the encounters with jealous husbands, etc. do get a little tiring, a problem that is enhanced by the fact that the language barrier keeps me from really understanding the movie. I’m going to have to say the jury is still out on this one until I can see a dubbed/subtitled version, but parts of it certainly look intriguing.

Rasputin (1954)

RASPUTIN (1954)
aka Raspoutine
Article 3099 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-17-2009
Posting Date: 2-7-2010
Directed by Georges Combret
Featuring Pierre Brasseum, Isa Miranda, Renee Faure
Country: Italy / France
What it is: Another Rasputin biopic

Rasputin rises to power because of his healing powers which he uses on the son of the Czar and Czarina. However, his debauched lifestyle makes him many enemies…

Same title as yesterday. Same story. Different movie. This one is also in Italian. My copy has subtitles, but only in Greek. Still, it’s interesting to watch these two movies in close juxtaposition, and I must admit that far and away I prefer yesterday’s version. Neither Pierre Brasseur’s performance or face holds a candle to Harry Baur’s, and unless the dialogue is exquisitely fascinating in this version, it looks like a dull bore, static and unimaginatively directed. Its best moment comes early on, when Rasputin stares down a wolf. Granted, any review I write on a movie in which I don’t understand the language is suspect, but film is a visual medium as well, and just on that level, this version comes in a poor second to yesterday’s, and, despite the fact that this one is in color and yesterday’s was in black and white, it seems less colorful.

I promise tomorrow’s movie won’t also be about Rasputin.

Rasputin (1938)

RASPUTIN (1938)
aka La tragedie imperiale
Article 3098 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-16-2009
Posting Date: 2-6-2010
Directed by Marcel L’Herbier
Featuring Harry Baur, Marcelle Chantal, Pierre Richard-Willm
Country: France
What it is: Another stab at the story of Rasputin

This is the story of the rise and fall of the monk Rasputin, who had a hold over the family of the Czar Nicholas after miraculously curing his child.

My copy of this French version of the story of Rasputin is superbly dubbed… into Italian, that is. No, I don’t understand Italian any more than I do French, but you can still tell a good dubbing job from a bad one, even if you don’t know the language; for about the first twenty minutes, I wasn’t even aware it was dubbed, and the actors doing the dubbing give fine performances. In fact, I find it necessary to praise both Harry Baur and whoever dubbed him for this for their excellent portrayal of the title character. He’s presented as a master manipulator; I’m especially impressed on how effective he is at projecting humility and gentleness when his situation calls for it, and it’s extremely easy in this version to see why he is both revered and loathed by those around him. The scene where he cures the young prince is especially effective, even if I can’t understand a word of it. Fortunately, the fact that I was already familiar with the Rasputin story from several other versions helped me quite a bit with this one. The fantastic content is the usual for the story; though he doesn’t appear to use hypnotism, his healing abilities and his near indestructibility provide the fantastic content. In fact, it occurred to me that the slasher cliche of the monster who keeps rising from the dead after being killed may actually have its archetype in the Rasputin story. Incidentally, actor Harry Baur met a very tragic end; he went to Germany to make a movie, and was arrested afterwards and tortured to death by the Gestapo.

The Ruling Class (1972)

THE RULING CLASS (1972)
Article 3094 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-7-2009
Posting Date: 2-2-2010
Directed by Peter Medak
Featuring Peter O’Toole, Alastair Sim, Arthur Lowe
Country: UK
What it is: Black Comic Satire on the Upper Classes of Britain

When the 13th Earl of Gurney dies from a bizarre and stupid accident, the estate passes on to his son, the 14th Earl of Gurney, who is quite mad and believes himself to be Jesus Christ. Scheming relatives seek to get hold of the estate, and in the process, they undertake to cure him of his illness. However, they end up merely replacing one delusion with another…

At two and a half hours, this dark satire goes on too long, but it’s anchored by a fantastic performance by Peter O’Toole (who was nominated for an Oscar for his performance) as the mad 14th Earl of Gurney. The rest of the cast is also great, with special notice going to Arthur Lowe as a butler who is really an anarchist, Alastair Sim as a bishop, and Nigel Green as another madman (though, sadly, not his voice; he committed suicide shortly after this production and was redubbed). The bigger laughs are towards the beginning of the movie, but that’s only because we haven’t been introduced to the darker turns the story takes in the latter half. The fantastic content is there; the theme of madness is present throughout, and we have a character who is able to shoot electricity from his fingers at the halfway point. However, the fantastic content is most prominent towards the end when the movie begins to swerve into real horror territory, but to say more would be to give too much away; suffice it to say that every other plot description I’ve read gives away a plot point that I feel is best left as a surprise, and I have no intention of letting it slip here. Reportedly, Alastair Sim cast himself as the Bishop, and nobody else involved with the production could bring themselves to turn him down.