Monthly Archives: January 2010

City Lights

Directed by Charlie Chaplin
Produced by Charlie Chaplin (uncredited)
Written by Charlie Chaplin
Starring Charlie Chaplin
Virginia Cherrill
Florence Lee
Harry Myers
Music by Charles Chaplin
Cinematography Rollie Totheroh, Gordon Pollock & Mark Marklatt (uncredited)
Editing by Charlie Chaplin (uncredited)
Distributed by United Artists
Release date January 30, 1931 (US)
Running time 87 minutes
Country United States
Language English (original title cards)

By 1931 everyone in the movie industry had given up on making silent films and were now making talkies. Everyone that is except for Charlie Chaplin. Sound came to film in 1927 with Al Jolson‘s The Jazz Singer, but Chaplin continued to shun talkies until 1940 when he made The Great Dictator. In that intervening 13 years he made three of the greatest comedies of all time. I have already watched The Circus, which I thought was very funny. Both of his 1930s films, City Lights and Modern Times are masterpieces.

City Lights is a romantic comedy from 1931. At times it seems to be more like a melodrama than a comedy, as it does feature a huge helping of Chaplin’s famed sentimentality, but at other times there is some great and very funny slapstick moments that can still make the viewer laugh out loud. The scenes with the Tramp‘s ‘friend’, the drunken millionaire whom Charlie saves from committing suicide are particularly funny as is the boxing match. W.C. Fields once said that he thought Chaplin was more a ballet dancer than a comedian, albeit the best ballet dancer he ever saw. This comedic ballet is on view here in the boxing match scene which seems very cartoonish. In fact it seems that both Walt Disney (Mickey’s Mechanical Man) and Chuck Jones (Rabbit Punch) both were influenced by this scene when they made their boxing cartoons as the influence are plain to see in these cartoons.

The main plot of the film revolves around the Tramp’s relationship with a blind girl who he is smitten with, and how he goes about raising money for her to have an operation which will restore her sight. This of course puts Charlie in a bind, the girl thinks that he is a well-to-do gentleman and if she regains her sight she will see him for who he really is. This leads to the finale of the film which features perhaps the greatest and most recognisable closing shot in all film history. It is here that we realise that love is blind to prejudice and poverty and that kindness and charity will win out in the end.

City Lights is a great film that I really recommend everyone to see at least once in their lifetime. It is beautiful and shows that sometimes talking is unneccessary when it comes to telling a great, funny story.

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Sabotage

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by Michael Balcon
Written by Joseph Conrad (novel The Secret Agent)
Charles Bennett (screenplay)
Starring Sylvia Sidney
Oskar Homolka
John Loder
Cinematography Bernard Knowles
Distributed by General Film Distributors (GFD) Ltd.
Release date December, 1936
Running time 76 min.
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Sabotage is a 1936 film by master director Alfred Hitchcock. This movie, made in Britain four years before Hitch went to Hollywood, is quite eerie when watched from a modern perspective, thanks to its ending which sort of prophesied real life events some seventy years later. This film is a part of Force Entertainment’s Hitchcock Collection Volume 2, which can be picked up for around $20 from JB Hifi and KMart, although occasionally they have it discounted to just $10 in some stores.

The films starts quite slowly and mysteriously, as Hitchcock lets us in on the suspicious activities of cinema owner Mr Verloc, his wife and her brother. It seems that Mr Verloc may be a saboteur who was somehow involved in London’s recent blackout, but nobody knows for sure. Mrs Verloc is not wise to her husbands’ activities, although Scotland Yard detective Ted Spencer has the Verlocs and their cinema under observation and suspects that the Verloc’s could be terrorists working for a foreign power (the Nazis).
About half way through the film takes a twist, when Verloc’s co-conspirator tells him that he is unhappy with the only act of sabotage being the blackout and wants things to be more destructive. He instructs Verloc to go to collect a bomb to plant into the busy Piccadilly Circus tube station. Verloc protests that he doesn’t want to endanger any human lives, although it seems that he really doesn’t have a choice in the matter. He either does it or he will be killed. His hope to not hurt human lives seems almost noble here, even though Hitchcock does continue to portray him as the evil foreigner who cannot be trusted throughout the film, however it later seems that this humanity that Verloc has is simply a façade as he commits one very evil act that many will judge the entire film by.

The final part of the film is the most disconcerting and is what caused Leonard Maltin to dub this as the film in which Hitchcock took things much too far. Years later even Hitchcock said he was disappointed with the way things ended, as he realised that he built up the suspense for the viewer but did not give them time to catch their breath. Verloc instruct his wife’s teenage brother Stevie to deliver the bomb to its final destination, due to his discovery that Spencer has him under observation. Verloc does not tell Stevie what he is delivering, and Stevie just assumes that it is a film, which back in the 30s was very unstable anyway. All Stevie knows is that the package must be left in the cloak room at Piccadilly by 1.30pm. Unfortunately for Stevie he is delayed along the way and the bomb explodes while he is on a bus on route to the destination. What happens seems eerily similar to what occurred in London in 2005. Mrs Verloc finds out and ends up killing her husband whilst Disney’s Who Killed Cock Robin is playing in the cinema. Spencer discovers this but declares his love for Mrs Spencer and determines that they should run away, although Mrs Verloc wants to confess.

The bomb maker’s wife finds out that her husband’s bomb blew up the bus and that it may be traced back to him. He is instructed to go to Verloc’s to retrieve the evidence. When he gets there he finds that the police want to arrest him. He also discovers Verloc’s dead body and decides to blow himself up, making it impossible to know that Verloc was dead before the bomb went off. Hopefully Mrs Verloc and Ted lived together happily ever after.

The film is quite slow in parts and the ending is a little off putting, but I do think that this film is quite enjoyable.


Way Out West

Directed by James W. Horne
Produced by Stan Laurel & Hal Roach
Written by Jack Jevne, Charley Rogers, Felix Adler & James Parrott
Starring Stan Laurel
Oliver Hardy
James Finlayson
Rosina Lawrence
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date April 16, 1937 (U.S.)
Running time 65 minutes
Language English

Way Out West is an old-fashioned film, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Like many comedies made in the 1930s it has dated a lot, yet even compared to its contemporaries it feels old-fashioned.  Even though it was made in 1937 and is a talkie (only Chaplin was still making silent movies at this time) it feels almost like a silent film, probably because there are so many cut shots to either James Finlayson or Oliver Hardy doing a take and mugging for the camera. This of course was something that was common in the silent era but it is something that becameoutdated as the 30s wore on. You’d rarely see Groucho Marx mugging silently at the camera after some minor tragedy had been bestowed upon him. (If the camera ever cut to Groucho he’d make sure he had a quip.) I don’t mean this as a criticism, just as an observation.

Having said that Way Out West is enjoyable if only because the two main stars of the film. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy are so likable and work so well together that you have to laugh at their antics. They were both veterans of the cinema at this time and had worked together for over a decade. Here their great chemistry is on show in the skits, while their song Ballad Of A Lonesome Pine is a treat. You still have this feeling that this is all very old-fashioned, but in a good way. There is also a great chemistry that the boys have with their co-star James Finlayson, although I did think he spent too much time mugging for the camera. The movie is kind of short, at only 65 minutes long, so it never overstays its welcome either and is a good introduction for anyone who wants to watch the films of Laurel & Hardy.


The Wolfman


Directed by George WaggnerProduced by George Waggner
Written by Curt Siodmak
Starring Lon Chaney, Jr.
Claude Rains
Warren William
Ralph Bellamy
Patric Knowles
Bela Lugosi
Maria Ouspenskaya
Evelyn Ankers
Cinematography Joseph Valentine, ASC
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s) December 12, 1941
Running time 70 min
Language English

“Even a man who is pure in heart
and says his prayers by night
may become a wolf when the wolf bane blooms
and the autumn moon is bright.”

Since the new Wolfman movie comes out next month I thought it would be good to have a new look at the original. As a kid this movie really scared me and has since given me a lifelong fear of werewolves. The Wolfman is one of the classic Universal horror movies from the 1930s and 40s which also includes Dracula, Frankenstein, Bride Of Frankenstein and the Invisible Man, but by the time that The Wolfman came along Universal were just about coming to the end of their monster movie cycle, and the films of the 1940s did not have the budgets or quality of their predecessors. That does not mean that it’s a bad film.

This movie is from 1941 and stars Lon Chaney Jr. as the  unfortunate Lawrence Talbot, the man who is cursed when he is bitten by a werewolf. Having just watched this film yesterday I would say that it is not so much as horror movie, as there are really no instances of tension, fear or horror, however it does work as a great psychological study of a man who is tormented by the things he will do when the moon is full and he changes into a dreaded werewolf. This is of course Chaney’s signature role and what he is best known for today, although his performance here does echo his earlier role as Lenny in the 1939 Academy Award nominated version of Of Mice And Men, for which Chaney won much critical acclaim.

The screenplay was written by Curt Siodmak, a German Jew who fled the Nazi atrocities of the 1930s for America. He is the person responsible for much of the traditions that are today associated with the werewolf legend, such as the transformation at the full moon, the werewolves’ victim being marked by a pentagram and that the only way to kill a werewolf is with silver. According to the excellent documentary that accompanied the DVD, Siodmak wrote The Wolfman as an allegory to the genocide occurring in Europe at the time and how even the nicest of men could become beasts if the conditions were right.

Then there is the performance of Lon Chaney Jr., as Larry Talbot, the man who must carry the terrible curse of the werewolf. His acting seems quite over the top and hammy here but it does add to the fun of the film. The Wolfman became Chaney’s signature role and makes this movie a lot of fun to watch. Jack Pierce’s make up work is great and the transformation scenes are very good considering this film is almost 70 years old. It is an enjoyable film and I only hope the remake is half as much fun.

* Buy The Wolfman from Amazon* (Note this is a region 1 DVD and requires a region free DVD player to be played outside North America)


20 Million Miles To Earth

Directed by Nathan H. Juran
Produced by Charles H. Schneer
Written by Bob Williams & Christopher Knopf
Starring William Hopper
Joan Taylor
Frank Puglia
Cinematography Irving Lippman & Carlo Ventimiglia
Editing by Edwin Bryant
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date June 1957
Running time 82 minutes
Country United States

I must make a point of the fact that of all the movies that I have watched so far this month, 20 Million Miles To Earth is the first one that I have watched with a pen and notebook in hand to jot down anything of importance that I may want to add to this blog. For all the films that I have watched so far, I have written my thoughts after the movie has finished. Sometimes I have waited around 12 hours before putting my thoughts down.

20 Million Miles To Earth is another 1950s Sci-fi film. It features one of Ray Harryhausen’s most memorable monsters, the Ymir, although he is only referred to as the creature throughout the film. I believe that the armature (skeleton) of the Ymir was later used for another Harryhausen monster, the Cyclops from The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad.

The plot begins when a secret US rocket ship crash lands in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Sicily. They were on a return flight after a secret mission to Venus, yes, the planet Venus, when the space craft is hit by a meteorite that causes it to crash-land. The crash landing looks quite dodgy and extremely primitive from a special effects point of view. There are only two survivors of the flight as we soon find that most of the crew have succumbed to a strange disease caused by poisons in the Venusian atmosphere. Soon after the crash, one of the survivors also dies of the fatal disease.

After the ship crash a canister that the astronauts collected from Venus ends up washed onto the shore, where it is found by the young and annoying Pepe. Inside the canister Pepe discovers some ectoplasm containing something or other. Naturally he sells it to Zoologist Dr. Leonardo. The thing inside the ectoplasm soon hatches and it is the lizard-like Ymir. At first he is quite small but ugly, but he grows rapidly and before long is wrecking havoc throughout the Sicilian countryside. He is eventually captured and taken to Rome where he escapes, attacks an elephant, runs amok and then finally climbs the Coliseum in what was homage to the original monster movie, King Kong. He is finally brought down by modern weapons of war.

This is a fun little movie and quite enjoyable. Most of the stop-motion animation is first-rate although it is not as polished as some of Harryhausen’s later work. Some scenes such as the rocket ship crash look very awkward, while the scene of the battle royal between Ymir and Jumbo the elephant also seems a bit primitive and fake. Perhaps it is because there a too many switches of shots between the live-action and animated elephant and it is very easy to identify which is which. Still, if you can overlook this you will find 20 Million Miles To Earth a very enjoyable film to watch.

20 Million Miles To Earth is a part of the Ray Harryhausen Gift Set with It Came From Beneath The Sea and Earth Vs The Flying Saucers. The special gift set featuring a Ymir figure is available from Amazon for $69.49. You can purchase it by clicking here…

If you just want the Gift Set with 20 Million Miles To Earth, It Came From Beneath The Sea and Earth Vs The Flying Saucers and a book but without the Ymir figure, it can be purchased from Amazon for $44.99. You can purchase it by clicking here…

20 Million Miles To Earth is also a part of the Fantastic Films of Ray Harryhausen – Legendary Science Fiction Series DVD box set with It Came From Beneath The Sea, Earth Vs The Flying Saucers Mysterious Island and H.G. Wells’ First Men In The Moon. It can be purchased from Amazon for $43.49 by clicking here…

Buy the 50th Anniversary edition of 20 Million Miles To Earth on DVD or Blu Ray from Amazon by clicking here…

Please note that this is a region 1 release that requires a region free DVD or Blu Ray player to be viewed outside North America.


The Circus

Directed by Charlie Chaplin
Produced by
Charlie Chaplin
Written by
Charlie Chaplin
Starring
Charlie Chaplin
Al Ernest Garcia
Merna Kennedy
Henry Bergman
Music by
Günter Kochan (1969)
Distributed by
United Artists
Release date(s)
January 6, 1928
Running time
70 min
Country
United States
Language Silent film
English intertitles

Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus is one of his most underrated films. It is not as renowned as some of his other masterpieces such as The Gold Rush, City Lights or Modern Times, which is a shame as it is a very funny film. There were actually a few scenes which made me ‘laugh out loud’, whilst it is very easy to see the influence that this film and Chaplin has had on every other film comedian since 1928.

One thing that I appreciated was that I was easily able to empathise with the Tramp in his jealousy and his unrequited love for the girl, who naturally, only has eyes for the dashing young tightrope walker. Charlie agrees to walk the tightrope himself after the tightrope walker doesn’t turn up to perform, so he can prove his love for the girl even if it kills him. This is a very funny scene and something many guys, including myself, can empathise with. We’ve all done something stupid or dangerous just to get a girl to notice us! Seeing the Tramp up on the wire with monkeys climbing all over him is just hilarious, even now, 82 years after the films first release.

One thing I like about this film is that Chaplin is not trying to make a grand statement or a great melodrama like his other films. It is not overly sentimental like a lot of his later films either. The film is not a dusty old relic or nostalgic look at how things used to be like Keaton’s Steamboat Bill Jr., it is still very funny as it deals with something that is still relatable today, unrequited love. I know that many people such as Woody Allen see Chaplin as being over-rated but The Circus shows why he is the best of the silent movie comedians. Unlike his other films there is no giant serving of sentimentality or pathos, just lots of laughs and funny gags.


Treasure Island

Directed by Byron Haskin
Produced by Perce Pearce
Written by Lawrence Edward Watkin
Starring Bobby Driscoll
Robert Newton
Basil Sydney
Finlay Currie
Music by Clifton Parker
Cinematography Freddie Young
Editing by Alan Jaggs
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
Release date(s) July 19, 1950
Running time 96 minutes
Country UK/USA
Language English

“Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!” Treasure Island was Walt Disney’s first wholly live action film and it is a beauty me hearties. Unlike Disney live action films that followed, Treasure Island does not feature any light-hearted comic relief moments, it is just a faithful adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel.

Treasure Island is a rip-roaring swashbuckling pirate movie, but it primarily the story of young Jim Hawkins, played here by Disney’s first child star Bobby Driscoll. Driscoll’s performance is fine, although his American accent is initially a bit annoying, as are some of his weird facial contortions and expressions.

The star of the film is of course Robert Newton who plays the opportunist scoundrel pirate Long John Silver. Newton’s enjoyable performance gives the one-legged rogue a lot of charm, and whilst he is a villain, it is hard to dislike someone who is just so darn likeable. Long John is a bit of a conundrum as while he leads a mutiny and puts Hawkins’s life in danger, he has an affection for the boy and protects him from the other cutthroats, even though he makes it quite clear that the only real loyalty he has is to himself. He really is a fun character and it is clear that Newton is enjoying himself throughout the film.

Treasure Island is a lot of fun to watch. While it is a lot more serious than some of Disney’s later live action productions it is a good and enjoyable film to watch.

* The film must have been successful, at least in Australia, as an Aussie made non-Disney sequel followed in 1954 with Newton reprising his role as the iconic pirate Long John Silver. This will be coming to DVD on February 10th. A TV series also followed.

*Considering it’s popularity in Australia, it is surprising to see that Treasure Island was not released in this country until 15 February 1951, some seven months after it was released in the US.

* Buy Region 4 (Australian) release of  Treasure Island on DVD from EzyDVD for $17.97 *