Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Whodunnit Wednesday - Hollow Triumph (1948)

There are basically two types of film noir protagonists: the basically good person who makes a bad decision that eventually leads him into a downward spiral to trouble and usually murder or death, and the desperate bad guy who just can't leave bad enough alone and finds himself on that same downward spiral. Paul Henreid, who plays Johnny Muller in today's feature is definitely the second type.

Hollow Triumph, also known as The Scar, is the story of Johnny Muller, a man just released from prison. In the opening shots of the film we see the prison warden looking over Johnny's file, noting that he is an educated man, once convicted of practicing psyciatry without a license. The reason he has been in jail for the past two years, however, is because of a failed holdup. A job has been arranged for Johnny on the outside - a job that, though meager in pay, is meant to be a chance for a new start on life.

this new start, however, is simply not good enough for Johnny. Instead of immediately taking the bus to his intended new home, he goes to a local flop house and meets up with his old gang, eventually convincing them to pull one more job - holding up a casino run by an extremely well-connected and vengeful gangster. The rest of Johnny's gang seem afraid to cross him, but they also are afraid of the intended target, who is reputed to have once had a man who crossed him tracked down and killed in Paris. Nonetheless, Johnny seems inexorably drawn to the job and he is not going to let anything stand in his way.

The holdup of course goes wrong, and two of Johnny's men are captured. They immediately give up the goods on the rest of the gang, including Johnny. At that point the hood tells his enforcers to find them "even if it takes twenty years". Paranoid, but desperate to get out of town and find a way to lay low, Johnny decides that his best bet is to take the job that had been previously arranged for him.

Chafing at the legitimate work and low pay, Johnny still manages to persevere in his new setting until one day fate intervenes in the form of a dentist who mistakes him for a psychiatrist who works in the same office building. According to the dentist, the two men look exactly alike except for one thing: the psychiatrist has a large scar on his right, or is it his left? who can remember? cheek. Johnny then goes to the psychiatrist's office where he is immediately met and kissed by the man's secretary, played by Joan Bennett, who may very well be the lady the phrase "femme fatale" was coined for. She, too, has mistaken him for Dr. Bartok - at least until she gets a good look at him.

Back at his job, Johnny gets into an altercation with his boss which leas to fisticuffs and his firing. Johnny then receives a visit from his brother infoming him that his second-hand man has been killed in Mexico, and that men are now in town looking for him. Desperate and on the run, Johnny decides to take the place of Dr. Bartok. First however, he must learn all about him - a tactic which includes romancing his secretary. Oh, and there's also the matter of that scar.

A film of many twists, with a wonderfully dark noir atmosphere, Hollow Triumph certainly delivers on the downward spiral mentioned above. The question remains open, however, whether it is fate or simply Johnny's choices that lead him to the inevitable conclusion. During the attempted heist we learn that despite all of his careful planning, Johnny has overlooked one important detail, and it is that same lack of attention to detail that will trip him up in the end. Or perhaps, once the decision is made to stray from the straight and narrow, there is simply no other way for Johnny's story to end.

No trailer today, I'm afraid, but here's the opening moments of the film (with the alternate title) to give you a taste:

The Skinny:
Title: Hollow Triumph (aka The Scar)
Release Date 1948
Running Time: 82min
Black and White
Starring: Paul Henreid, Joan Bennett
Directed by: Steve Sekely
Produced by: Paul Henreid
Released by: Eagle-Lion Films

Hollow Triumph is available to watch or download for free here.
It's also available on DVD from Amazon: Hollow Triumph
It does not appear to be available from Netflix.

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tuesday Terrors - The Bat (1959)

Ok, kiddies, let's just be honest right from the start: just as "everything goes better with Coke", every movie is made better with Vincent Price. It's simply a fact.

Understand, I'm not wanting to take anything at all from the other star of the show, Agnes Moorehead, who plays mystery writer Cornelia Van Gorder, but it is Price, as the seemingly mildmannered but actually cold-blooded Dr. Malcolm Wells who keeps this quaint little mystery chugging along.

Mary Roberts Rinehart, the mystery author who is credited with inspiring the phrase "The butler did it", along with Avery Hopwood penned the Broadway play the film is based on in 1920. This was actually the third filmed version of the story, the first appearing in 1926, and a second, titled The Bat Whispers in 1930.

The play centers around Morehead's Van Gorder, who has rented a house called "The Oaks" for the summer. A celebrated author of mysteries, much like Rinehart herself, Miss Van Gorder is accompanied by her secretary Lizzie Allen. Soon after their arrival, strange things begin happening not only in the house itself, but in the town. The servants begin complaining of hearing strange noises, and one of them even complains of seeing a faceless man haunting the steps of the house. Meanwhile, over a million dollars of securities have been found missing from the local bank vault.

We then cut to a small cabin in the forest where bank president John Fleming is hunting with Dr. Wells. Fleming tells Wells not only that he is the one who stole the money but how he plans to get aaway with the theft. He also gives Wells a clue as to where the money is hidden. Somewhere in The Oaks is a hidden room with the cash. Upon hearing all of this, Wells decides, rather than to split the money as Fleming is offering, to shoot the man in cold blood and take the entire payday for himself.

When Lizzie is bitten by an actual bat and fears that she may have gotten "the rabies", Dr. Wells has the perfect opportunity to insinuate himself at The Oaks and have a look around for the stolen money. Meanwhile, however, another mysterious figure, that of the murderer the police are calling "The Bat" because of his habit of clawing out young girls' throats with his razor-sharp talons, is also seen lurking around the forboding mansion. All of these strands finally come together and in the end The Bat is unmasked to be... well, that would be telling, now wouldn't it?

The Bat is definitely an entertaining film, which is enlivened by the presence of Price and Morehead. Both of them were in their prime at this point, with Price definitely playing off of his suave persona in order to disarm (both literally and figuratively) the other characters in the film.

Let's take a look at the trailer (which even features Price as host and narrator):

And here's the Skinny:
Title: The Bat
Release Date: 1959
Running Time: 82min
Black and White
Starring: Vincent Price, Agnes Moorehead
Director: Crane Wilbur
Producer: C.J. Tevlin
Distributed by: Allied Artists

The Bat is available to watch or download for free here.
It's also available on DVD from Amazon: The Bat.
Netflix also has the movie available for rental as part of a double feature: The Bat / House on Haunted Hill.

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian

Monday, March 29, 2010

Monday Oaters - Angel and the Badman (1947)

"Well, alright, but if I'm gonna be holy, I've gotta get some fun out of it."

Quirt Evans is a man with a nasty reputation and a bad attitude. He's so attatched to his gunslinging way of life that even with a bullet in him and nearly comatose he will not settle down until his gun is placed in his hand. So what happens when this wildman is nursed back to health by a Quaker family whose daughter is accurately described in the title as an angel?

Of course, the central question of this movie is a very basic and perhaps eternal one: Can a man change? Must he always be who he once was, or can he find happiness in a new way of life. However, there is also another very interesting query that is raised mostly in the interactions between the Quakers and the atheist doctor who regularly comes to their house to treat the injured gunman - Who is more in the right: the rationalist who sees a man for who he is or the person of faith who sees a man for who he could be?

Fortunately, however, writer and director James Edward Grant doesn't forget, amongst all the deep thinking, to also give us plenty of gunfights, cattle rustling, barroom brawls and womainzing. Even more than that, he doesn't forget to bring the humor to what could otherwise have been a very dusty tale.

As played by John Wayne, Quirt Evans actually seems to be more of a lost man than a true bad man. Raised by a cattle rancher who "sometimes swung his rope too wide", it really seems that Evans has simply fallen in with a lawless crowd where he quickly gained a reputation for ruthlessness. Once taken in and nursed back to health by the Worth family, however, his easy wit and quiet demeanor, and the way that he quickly integrates with his newfound family, makes it easy to forget Quirt's lawless past. Unfortunately for him, however, there are others who are not so forgetful. Or forgiving.

Special mention also absolutely has to be made of Gail Russell, who, as Wayne's love interest and Worth family duaghter Penelope, the titular "angel" of the film, brings a quiet intensity to each of her scenes. It is often said of a particularly lovely actress that "the camera loves her", and in this case it's a love that is shared not only by Quirt but by the entire audience.

This was the first movie on which John Wayne was given a producer credit, and it's easy to see that he truly had his heart in it.

Let's have a look, shall we?

And now, the Skinny:
Title: Angel and the Badman
Release Date: 1947
Running Time: 100min
Black and White
Starring: John Wayne, Gail Russell
Directed by: James Edward Grant
Produced by: John Wayne
Distributed by: Republic Pictures Corporation

Angel and the Badman is available to download or watch for free here. A colorized version is also available on Youtube.
The film is also available on DVD from Amazon: Angel and the Badman.

Netflix also has the DVD available to rent: Angel and the Badman.

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Roger Corman Week - Day 6 - Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

Well, kiddies, with today's feature we come to the end of Roger Corman week. (Tomorrow I'll be presenting Chapter 3 in our ongoing Flash gordon serial, and then next week it's back to the regular rotation.) It's been a fun ride, and a great look back at one of my (and i hope by now one of your) all-time favorite producer/directors. And I've definitely saved one of his most legendary films for last.

Toward the end of 1959, Corman found out that he was going to have short-term access to sets that were going to be left over from another production. He also faced a deadline because at the end of the year the rules regarding royalties that went to actors on a production were going to change and he was going to have to change the way he paid them. Facing both of these challenges, he decided he would use the last week of the year to squeak out one last film before the new rules went into effect and he lost the sets. Assembling a cast consisting mostly of actors he had already worked with including perennial character actor Dick Miller and relative newcomer Jack Nicholson (who had just starred for Corman in the film The Cry Baby Killer, only his second film role), Corman quickly threw together a script and spent three weeks in rehearsals. The film itself was shot, as Corman says, in "two days and a night".

Despite the rushed shooting schedule, the finished film is actually a quirky little gem. Nicholson, of course, steals his few scenes as a masochistic dentist's patient, but the three main roles, Johnathan Haze as Seymour, Mel Wells as Mr. Mushnick, and Jackie Joseph as Audrey, are all very entertaining as well. Even Myrtle Vail, who plays Seymour's bed-ridden mother seems almost archetypical in her misery.

For those who don't know, the basic plot of the movie centers around Seymour Krelboin, a young man working at a florist's shop on Los Angeles' Skid Row. When he (again!) mixes up a delivery order, his boss, Mr, Mushnick, threatens to fire him. Seymour is only able to save his job by showing his boss a hybrid plant that he has developed which he has named after his co-worker and long-time crush, Audrey Fulquard. Knowing that people will come into his shop to see the odd plant, Mushnick gives Seymour his job back, but only if he can perk up the little plant, which seems to be dying. After trying various plant foods and fertilizers, Seymour is working late at the shop one night when he pricks his finger. This leads him to the discovery that what Audrey Jr. really needs to thrive is human blood. At first, the small plant is content with eating only the blood from Seymour's fingers, but as it gets larger, so does its appetite. That's when Seymour also discovers that the odd little plant can talk, as it begins to demand, in ever more insistent tones, that Seymour "Feed Me!".

From that point on, Seymour finds himself in an ever-increasing cycle of violence as the plant grows larger and larger and demands more and more food until Seymour finds himself contemplating the ultimate crime to keep his charge satiated and keep his job - murder!

Upon first seeing his flick when I was but a wee little Perfessor, I'll tell you, it really stuck with me. Especially the images of Seymour feeding various body parts to the plant and his ultimate fate. Upon rediscovering it in college, it was the humor of the film that really struck me. This is definitely a movie that belies its quickie origins and shows just how much Corman could do with so little.

Here's a trailer:

And the Skinny:
Title: The Little Shop of Horrors
Release Date:1960
Running Time: 70min
Black and White
Starring: Johnathan Haze, Mel Welles
Directed by: Roger Corman
Produced by: Roger Corman
Distributed by: The Filmgroup Inc.

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian

Friday, March 26, 2010

Roger Corman Week - Day 5 - Battle Beyond the Sun (1962)

A couple of weeks ago, in writing about the importation of Japanese giant monster movies to the U.S. (specifically Gammera and Godzilla), I talked about the process often used at the time of taking the footage of the original movie, redubbing it, rearranging some of the scenes, and shooting new footage, all in an attempt to turn the film into something the producers and distributers thought would be more palatable to American theatergoers. That is the same tactic that Rager Corman took with today's feature, Battle Beyond the Sun.

In 1962, Corman acquired the American distributuion rights to the 1959 Russian production Nebo Zovyot or  The Sky Calls. Rather than simply releasing it as it was and simply adding subtitles, Corman, who was always a good judge of what his audience wanted in a film, handed it over to Francis Ford Coppola to not only edit and redub, but to shoot new scenes that include a new five-minute introduction detailing the history of the space race leading up to the time of the film, along with a battle between two very odd-looking monsters on the surface of the red planet.

One of the most interesting changes that the Corman/Coppola team made to the film was to its setting. In the original film, as in real life, the space race being depicted was between the Soviet Union and the United States. In an attempt to de-propogandize the movie, however, in his new introduction which takes place in the far-flung future of 1997, Coppola tells us that
In the fear ridden years following the great Atomic War, the Earth and it's people had been reduced to a state of death and destruction. Those who had survived the tragedy began building anew with a hope for the future. But still the world remained divided. This time, man-made boundaries stretched beyond mere countries, forcing the isolated separation of one vast hemisphere from another. These two conflicting powers becam known as the 'North Hemis' and the 'South Hemis'.

So what was the ultimate result of all of these changes? Well, Corman and his crew took what was originally a fairly straightforward forward-looking and rather unique film about the possibilities of the space race and turned it into a fairly muddled, rather cheesy and ultimately forgettable mish-mash of a space adventure. At the same time, it must be noted that while Corman may have admired the High Art embodied in the original, what he turned out was what would sell to the audience he would be trying to entertain, and in the end, for Corman, (as for pretty much anyone in the industry) the bottom line was and is producing what sells. (Please note, I mean absolutely no slight towards Mr. Corman in the preceding statement. It's simply a matter of The Way Things Are.)

(This was not, by the way, the only time that Corman used the redub/reshoot method to bring foreign films to American shores. Another example is L'isola Degli Uomini Pesce which, under Corman's hand, became Screamers.)

Let's take a look at the trailer, shall we?

And now, the Skinny:
Title: Battle Beyond the Sun
Release Date: 1962
Running Time: 75min
Starring: Aleksandr Shvorin, Ivan Pereverzhev
Directed by: Mikhail Karyukov, Aleksandr Kozyr
American adaptation by: Roger Corman, Francis Ford Coppola
Distributed by: American International Pictures

Battle Beyond the Sun is available to watch or download for free here.
For those interested, the original Russian version with English subtitles is available for viewing here.
Amazon has Battle available on DVD: Battle Beyond The Sun.

The film isn't available to rent at Netflix, but they do have it available for instant viewing: Battle Beyond the Sun.

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Roger Corman Week - Day 4 - Dementia 13 (1963)

As we noted on Day One, one of the major reasons both for Roger Corman's success in the industry and for his long-lasting impact is his eye for talent. He is credited for discovering or helping to develop the talent of a number of actors and directors who went on to become big stars and household names. One of his biggest discoveries is the director of today's Corman produced feature, Francis Ford Coppola.

Coppola, the director of films such as The Godfather, The Conversation, and  Apocalypse Now, in 1963 was working as a sound man on Corman's film The Young Racers. Finding himself with $22,000 left in the budget from the film but needing to get back to New York (the crew had been filming in Ireland), Corman suggested that Coppola stay and direct a quickie horror film using the leftover money. He gave Coppola a few guidelines - he wanted a film in the tradition of Psycho, with a homicidal maniac, an axe murderer and a twist ending - then left the fledgeling director on his own. Coppola whipped up the outline of a script overnight, and with Corman's approval filming soon began.

The finished film, to which Corman insisted some changes be made before release, is honestly something of a mess. It begins with a couple feuding over the husband's mother's will. Louise Haloran, the wife, is upset that everything is designated to go to a charity in the name of a mysterious woman named Kathleen. After informing Louise that she had better be careful because if he dies before his mother she will get nothing at all, John, the husband, promptly dies of a heart attack. Hiding the body in a lake, Louise pretends that her husband is still alive, just "away on business", and ingratiates herself into the family's ancestral home.

Once there she (and the audience) meets John's mother, Lady Haloran, and his two brothers, Billy and Richard. It's immediately obvious that something is not right in the house, a suspicion that is confirmed when she spies upon the trio carrying out a ritualistic ceremony that is an annual tribute to the brothers youger sister Kathleen (remember the mysterious Kathleen?) who drowned many years before.

Devising a plan to drive the mother mad, Louise takes some of Kathleen's toys to the middle of the lake and plants them so that the next day they will be seen to mysteriously float to the surface. However, (and this is where the Psycho connection bears its fruit), as she pulls herself from the lake, Louise finds herself at the feet of an axe-weilding madman. From this point on, the body count begins to build as the focus of the movie shifts from the psychological drama of Louise's plot to a hunt for the unknown killer.

All-in-all, Coppola's hurriedly-written script definitely has its flaws, the dialogue is incredibly stilted, and as noted, Corman was not terribly happy with the end result, reportedly storming out of the creening room and demanding extensive changes. Nonetheless, it's easy to see why Corman had enough faith in this budding film-school graduate to hand him the budget for this film. Coppola, even this early, is obviously developing the eye that would soon turn him into one of America's most celebrated directors.

Let's take a quick peek, shall we?

And now, the Skinny:
Title: Dementia 13
Release Date: 1963
Running Time: 75min
Black and White
Starring: William Campbell, Luanna Anders
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Produced by: Roger Corman
Distributed by: American International Pictures

Dementia 13 is available to watch or download for free here.
It's also available on DVD from Amazon: Dementia 13.
Once again, Netflix unfortunately doesn't appear to have this one in stock at the moment, but you can reserve it: Fright Night Horror Classics: Vol. 2: Dementia 13.

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Roger Corman Week - Day 3 - The Wasp Woman (1960)

So today we move to what really has to be the bulk of Mr. Corman's output - generally low-budget, quickie horror and sci-fi flicks. One thing that must be noted, however, is that almost without exception, no matter how low the budget, no matter what kind of other restraints Corman and his crews were filming under, the end result may not have been high art, but it was generally entertaining.

Of course, probably the best known of these were the Edgar Allan Poe adaptations that he produced in conjunction with AIP, most of which starred Vincent Price. Though usually quite loosely (to be kind)adapted from the original source material, titles such as The Pit and the Pendulum, The Fall of the House of Usher, and The Masque of the Red Death, were great hits both for Corman and the studio. Beyond these, however, Corman's output was definitely prodigious. His IMDB page is littered with credits such as Creature from the Haunted Sea, A Bucket of Blood, The Undead, Attack of theGiant Leeches, Humanoids from the Deep, Deathstalker, House, Piranha, and Death Race 2000.

And, of course, today's gem from the treasure chest, The Wasp Woman.

The Wasp Woman is the story of aging model and cosmetics entrepreneur Janice Starlin. Concerned because her advancing years are making her no longer suitable to be the youthful face of her company, Ms. Starlin is desperate for a way to make herself younger. When she is approached by research scientist Eris Zinthrop, who claims to have a serum derived from a queen wasp's royal jelly that gives youth back to test animals, Janice thinks she may have found the answer she is looking for. She immediately insists, over the scientist's objections that it is not ready for human testing, that she be injected with the experimental formula. Though the reaction was immediate with the guinea pig that she was shown, there is no discernable change in Ms. Starlin. Desperate, she begins to sneak into the lab at night and inject herself with larger and larger doses of the serum. Soon, the changes begin to kick in, though they are definitely not the type she was looking for. Fortunately she is able to find a way to stave off the horrific change that she is undergoing. Unfortunately, that way involves the drinking of human blood.

Admittedly the film is a slow burn. And, unfortunately the transformation that Starlin undergoes is nowhere near as dramatic as that shown in the movie's poster. Nonetheless, the movie and it's players have a certain charm that keep it entertaining despite its obvious flaws.

Here's a preview:

And, the Skinny:
Title: The Wasp Woman
Release Date: 1960
Running Time: 73min
Black and White
Starring: Susan Cabot
Directed by: Roger Corman, Jack Hill
Produced by: Roger Corman
Distributed by: The Filmgroup, Inc.

The Wasp Woman is available to watch or download for free here.
Amazon has the film available for purchase on DVD: The Wasp Woman.

Netflix has the movie available to reserve for when they get more copies: The Wasp Woman / Attack of the Giant Leeches.

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Roger Corman Week - Day 2 - The Intruder (1962)

We continue Roger Corman Week with a look today at one of his more unusual films and the one out of his whole body of work that he claims actually lost him money.

Corman, of course, is best known as a producer and director of horror, sci-fi, and exploitation films. However he certainly was not afraid to tackle other topics and genres. he made racing movies such as the original The Fast and the Furious, westerns like The Oklahoma Woman, gangster films like Machine Gun Kelly, biker films like the Peter Fonda vehicle The Wild Angels, and even a World War I fighter pilot movie, Von Richtofen and Brown. Then there's today's film, The Intruder, also know as Shame and I Hate Your Guts, which tackles the issue of racial prejudice.

In the film, which is based on a novel by Charles Beaumont, William Shatner plays a man named Adam Cramer who comes to the small southern town of Caxton in order to incite racial hatred and to fight court-ordered school desegregation. This was, of course, a hot topic at the time, and Corman was certainly trying to tap into the popular zeitgeist. Shatner's Cramer is an unapologetic racist who seems to be in town simply to see how much trouble and hatred he can stir up. He is presented at first as a very charming person who eaasily ingratiates himself to the towns majority white population. It is soon revealed, however, that his easy charm is a facade and he is simply out for his own goals and to lead the townspeople to violence against their black neighbors. Finally, after a fiery town hall steps speech by Cramer, the townspeople do turn violent, burning a cross in one family's yard and nearly lynching another.

Not all of the townspeople have fallen under Cramer's sway, however, and one of those, Tom Maxwell finally stands up to Cramer and his hate speech. Unfortunately, his reward for his bravery is a massive beating that costs him an eye. Cramer is then able to manipulate Maxwell's daughter into blaming the towns blacks for her father's beating and as a result she falsely accuses one of them of rape. Meanwhile, Cramer has also been busy seducing the wife of Sam Griffin, a businessman who has been out of town. Upon returning and discovering what Cramer has been up to, Griffin, rather than using the same type of violence against Cramer that the smooth-talker has been trying to incite, decides to get his revenge by really hitting Cramer where it hurts, destroying his reputation, calming the mob that has formed as a result of Maxwell's daughter's accusations, and even getting her to publicly admit that her story was a lie. In the end, Cramer shows the people the truth of what they have been doing, and gives Cramer a ticket to get back on the bus out of town that we first saw him arrive on.

By not allowing the film to simply degrade into some sort of slugfest or revenge flick or letting the film slide completely into melodrama, and by presenting both Cramer and Griffin as men who have both their good and bad points, Corman presents a much more mature and balanced film than one might expect considering the topic and the times. It is very much an exploration of the ways that people can be manipulated and how those manipulations can often swing beyond the control of their originators. It also, despite having a satisfying conclusion, does not really offer a "happiness and light" ending. Nonetheless, or perhaps even because of these touches, despite a modest $80,000 budget, the movie was not able to find an audience and did not make money at the time. Upon it's home video re-release some fourty years later, however, Corman says that it finally made it's money back. Still, one must credit Corman for going ahead with a film that he thought was important to make even though he was repeatedly advised beforehand that it would probably not be a winner. It's defnitely a powerful film, and one that deserves to be seen even today.

Rather than a preview, today I'm going to give you a little featurette featuring an interview with Corman and Shatner talking about the harrowing time they had making this film on location:

Ok, kids, here's the Skinny:
Title: The Intruder (aka Shame, aka I Hate Your Guts)
Release Date: 1962
Running Time: 84min
Black and White
Starring: William Shatner
Directed by: Roger Corman
Produced by: Roger Corman, Gene Corman
Released by: Pathé-America Distrib.Co.

The Intruder is available to watch or download for free here.
It's available on DVD from Amazon: The Intruder (40th Anniversary Edition).

It appears to be unavailable at Netflix, though you can reserve a copy for when it is available: The Intruder.

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian

Monday, March 22, 2010

Roger Corman Week - Day 1 - Swamp Women (1955)

Hiya Kiddies! Yer Ol' Professor is back from his travels and ready to celebrate one of the all-time great B-movie directors of all time! That's right, it's Roger Corman week here at the Public Domain Treasure Chest.

Those of you who watched the Academy Awards a couple of weeks ago will have seen that Mr. Corman was given a special Honorary Lifetime Achievement Award, and there may be some, hard as it is for me to believe, who may not know why. So we're going to spend the week (including Saturday) taking a look at the man, his work, and his impact and influence on the film world, and hopefully by the time we're all done those of you out there who don't know the man and his legacy will have a greater appreciation for what he has accomplished.

Born in 1926, Roger Corman studied engineering in college, but he always found himself drawn to movie and to the technical aspects of movie-making. Deciding to finally pursue a career in the film industry, he got a job as a young man as a messenger at 20th Century Fox. Moving up through the ranks there, learning all he could alng the way he finally became a story analyst and then in 1953 got his first break as a producer and screenwriter on the movie Highway Dragnet. Two years later, he made his directorial debut on today's film, Swamp Women. From that point on, Corman became an unstoppable force, often producing a many as six or seven films a year. Some of them were extremely low budget and quickly made, others, such as the Edgar Allan Poe films he made starring Vincent Price, show the quality and showmanship that Corman could achieve on a very tight budget. In all, his IMDB page credits him as producer on 389 films (his latest, Dinoshark, just had it's debut on the SyFy channel earlier this month) and as director on 56.

More important perhaps than all of that, though is Corman's eye for talent. He is credited for discovering, giving breaks to, and helping develop stars such as Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern, Michael McDonald, Dennis Hopper, Talia Shire, and Robert De Niro, and David Carradine and directors Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Peter Bogdanovich, Jonathan Demme, Gale Anne Hurd, Joe Dante, James Cameron, and John Sayles, among many others. Carradine was even once quoted as saying "It’s almost as though you can’t have a career in this business without having passed through Roger’s hands for at least a moment."

So today we'll begin our retrospective with Corman's directorial debut. Swamp Women is a fun little "women in prison" quicky that, while early in his career still shows Corman's deft eye and his talent for putting every cent of his budget on the screen. The plot involves a policewoman who goes undercover in prison to hook up with a gang of female jewel thieves. Soon they have broken out of jail and are on the run through the swamps and bayous of Louisiana. What follows is a mash-up of sexy women running through the swamp in cut-off jeans, mud wrestling, rubber crocodiles, lots of stock footage of the bayou, and Mike (Mannix) Conners (credited here as "Touch" Conners) who spends most of the flick with his hands tied behind his back.

But enough talking about it, let's take a look, shall we? Here's a short clip:

And now, the Skinny:
Title: Swamp Women
Release Date: 1955
Running Time: 84min
Starring: Beverly Garland, Marie Windsor, Mike Connors
Directed by: Roger Corman
Produced by: Roger Corman
Distributed by: Woolner Brothers Pictures Inc.

Swamp Women is available for free to watch or download here.
It's also available on DVD from Amazon: Swamp Women.
And Netflix has it available for rental: Swamp Women.

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Saturday TV - The Adventures of Robin Hood

Still traveling, but here's a bit of TV history for you. Episode 16 from Season Two of The Adventures of Robin Hood featuring a guest appearance by once and future Dr. Who Patrick Troughton. Enjoy!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Friday Funnies - One Body Too Many

Hiya, Kiddies! I'm taking a couple of days to travel with my girls, but rather than leave you completely featureless, here's another old dark house comedy mystery for you. From 1944, Bela Lugosi returns in One Body Too Many. The preview is below, and you can watch the whole feature here.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

100th Anniversary Special: Edison's Frankenstein (1910)

Hiya, Kiddies! So today we're gonna take a break from our regular round of films and celebrate a true milestone. Today is the 100th anniversary of the debut of the first filmed version of Mary Shelly's acclaimed Frankenstein.

In the early days of filmmaking, one of the most famous names associated with the productions was that of Thomas Edison. Although he actually had little to do with the production company that bore his name, Edison had been instrumental during the early years of filmmaking, both inventing new ways of filming and projecting images, and developing and improving on other patents. By 1910 his film company was putting out some 30 short films per week. Generally these films would be shot in less than a day, so the fact that the men behind this one actually spent three days making it indicates that they perhaps knew thay had something special on their hands.

The film is actually a fairly impressive display of early special effects work, especially when it comes to the creation of the monster. Rather than the electrical apparatus that has been associated with this scene ever since the 1931 Universal version of this story, this film actually hews closer to Shelly's original with a combination of the scientific and the supernatural. In order to film the scene, a dummy was made up to look like the monster. It was even given a movable arm to help with the illusion of life. The dummy was then set afire and allowed to burn to ash. When the film was afterwards reversed, it appears to be assembling itself from the constituent parts its scientist "father" has assembled.

Here is a synopsis of the plot taken from the Edison Kinetogram, an advertising catalog (pictured above):

Frankenstein, a young student, is seen bidding his sweetheart and father goodbye, as he is leaving home to enter a college in order to study the sciences. Shortly after his arrival at college he becomes absorbed in the mysteries of life and death to the extent of forgetting practically everything else.

His great ambition is to create a human being, and finally one night his dream is realized. He is convinced that he has found a way to create a most perfect human being that the world has ever seen. We see his experiment commence and the development of it. To Frankenstein's horror, instead of creating a marvel of physical beauty and grace, there is unfolded before his eyes and before the audience an awful, ghastly, abhorrent monster. As he realizes what he has done Frankenstein rushes from the room, only to have the misshapen monster peer at him through the curtains of his bed. He falls fainting to the floor, where he is found by his servant, who revives him.

After a few weeks' illness, he returns home, a broken, weary man, but under the loving care of father and sweetheart he regains his health and strength and begins to take a less morbid view of life. In other words, the story of the film brings out the fact that the creation of the monster was only possible because Frankenstein had allowed his normal mind to be overcome by evil and unnatural thoughts. His marriage is soon to take place. But one evening, while sitting in his library, he chances to glance in the mirror before him and sees the reflection of the monster which has just opened the door of his room. All the terror of the past comes over him and, fearing lest his sweetheart should learn the truth, he bids the monster conceal himself behind the curtain while he hurriedly induces his sweetheart, who then comes in, to stay only a moment. The monster, who is following his creator with the devotion of a dog, is insanely jealous of anyone else. He snatches from Frankenstein's coat the rose which his sweetheart has given him, and in the struggle throws Frankenstein to the floor, here the monster looks up and for the first time confronts his own reflection in the mirror. Appalled and horrified at his own image he flees in terror from the room. Not being able, however to live apart from his creator, he again comes to the house on the wedding night and, searching for the cause of his jealousy, goes into the bride's room. Frankenstein coming into the main room hears a shriek of terror, which is followed a moment after by his bride rushing in and falling in a faint at his feet. The monster then enters and after overpowering Frankenstein's feeble efforts by a slight exercise of his gigantic strength leaves the house.

When Frankenstein's love for his bride shall have attained full strength and freedom from impurity it will have such an effect upon his mind that the monster cannot exist. The monster, broken down by his unsuccessful attempts to be with his creator, enters the room, stands before a large mirror and holds out his arms entreatingly. Gradually, the real monster fades away, leaving only the image in the mirror. A moment later Frankenstein himself enters. As he stands directly before the mirror he see's the image of the monster reflected instead of his own. Gradually, however, under the effect of love and his better nature, the monster's image fades and Frankenstein sees himself in his young manhood in the mirror. His bride joins him, and the film ends with their embrace, Frankenstein's mind now being relieved of the awful horror and weight it has been laboring under for so long.
As was typical with films of the era, Edison's Frankenstein would have gone through the exhibition circuit, being shown in various locales in the US and England, and then most of the prints would have been returned to the production company and destroyed, so that the silver used in making them could be recycled. Thus it was thought for years that this was a "lost film" and that modern viewers would never be able to see it. However, in 1963 a copy of the Kinetogram quoted above was discovered, and the synopsis was quoted, among other places in Forrest J. Ackerman's magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. This was enough to ignaite the fires of film buffs, horror buffs, and history buffs, and soon the search was on to see if a copy of the film still existed. Eventually a collector named Alois F. Dettlaff Sr cam forward to announce that he had a complete print of the film. It was eventually restored, and is available today for all to view.

So, without further ado, I give you, direct from 1910, Edison's Frankenstein:

And now, the Skinny:
Title: Frankenstein
Release Date: 1910
Running Time: 12min 41sec
Black and White / Tinted
Starring: Augustus Phillips, Charles Ogle
Directed By: J. Searle Dawley
Produced by: J. Searle Dawley
Released by: Edison Films

Frankenstein (1910) is available to watch or download for free here.
It has not yet been released on DVD, though a release has been promised for later in the year in celebration of the movie's centenary.

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Whodunnit Wednesday - The Shadow Strikes (1937)

"Who knows what Evil lurks in the hearts of men?"

“The Shadow, Lamont Cranston, a man of wealth, a student of science, and a master of other people’s minds devotes his life to righting wrong, protecting the innocent, and punishing the guilty. Cranston is known to the underworld as The Shadow, never seen, only heard... as a haunting to superstitious minds, as a ghost, as inevitable as a guilty conscience…”

"The Shadow, the mysterious character who aids the forces of law and order, is in reality Lamont Cranston, weathly man about town. Years ago, in the Orient, Cranston learned a strange and mysterious secret; the hypnotic power to cloud men's minds so they cannot see him. Crantson's friend and companion, the lovely Margo Lane, is the only person who knows to whom the voice of the invisible shadow belongs."

"The weed of crime bears bitter fruit..."

Ummm... yeah. Really, Kiddies, you might as well forget all of that today. It certainly seems like the makers of The Shadow Strikes did. Actually, if I had to guess, I'd say that Grand National, the company behind this film, probably got a request for a Shadow film from Street and Smith, the pulp hero's publisher, had a mystery script already lying around, and figured with a little tweaking it would work. Too bad they didn't take the time to actually read any of the shadow stories or even turn on their radio.

Which is not to say this is a bad picture. Actually it's a fairly entertaining if rather light little mystery involving secret identities, inept police, gangsters gambling, and the usual suspects. It's just simply not really a Shadow movie.

You know, it occurs to me now that I may have been wrong about this movie. Even though he never makes mention of it, there is the possibility that Lamont Cranston is usuing his power to "cloud men's minds". It's really the only way to explain how everyone in the film (especially the police) tend to act so stupidly.

Ok, let's take a short look, shall we?

And here's the Skinny:
Title: The Shadow Strikes
Release Date: 1937
Running Time 61min
Black and White
Starring: Rod LaRocque
Directed by: Lynn Shores
Produced by: Arthur Alexander, Max Alexander

The Shadow Strikes is available to watch or download for free here.
It's also available on DVD from Amazon:  The Shadow Strikes.
It appears to be out of stock at Netflix, but here's the link to reserve it: The Shadow: The Shadow Strikes / International Crime.

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tuesday Terrors - Night of the Living Dead (1968)

You know, Kiddies, it occurs to me upon thinking about the upcoming release of George Romero's latest "living dead" project, Survival of the Dead, that the franchise has actually become not unlike its eponymous monsters - a thng that is not-quite-living, not-quite-dead; seemingly unstoppable as it continues its progression across the landscape; stirring up memories of things that once were; but ultimately, by this point, brainless and simply out to consume.

Ok, prehaps that's actually a bit harsh. One certainly has to respect Romero for staying true to his vision and for keeping the franchise low-budget and independent. Oh, certainly he's done his share of big-budget movies, and his share of Hollywood just-for-a-paycheck films, but recently, in his later years, he seems to have re-embraced his independent spirit, taking the franchise which made him a major player back to its roots and at the same time trying to update and innovate within it.

But we're not really here to talk today about the entire franchise, or even the latest installment. Instead, we're going back to the beginning, the grandaddy of the modern zombie genre, 1968's Night of the Living Dead.

This movie is always a tricky one to cover, because there are so many spects one can talk about - the black and white photography, the origins of the zombies and of the idea, the use of Duane Jones as the lead and the symbolism of his death at the end of the movie, the fact that it was shot in and around Pittsburgh for a budget just around $113,000, the influences, sequels, remakes, and the split between Romero and partner John Russo which resulted in Russo spinning off his own set of "living dead" movies, and so much more. But at the same time, those topics have been done and done and done, and probably better elsewhere than yer Ol' Professor would in this limited space. So instead, since this is the Public Domain Treasure Chest, what I want to spend just a few minutes on is the p.d. status of the film and the impact that that has had not only on the film itself, but on its legacy and the legacy of George Romero.

So how does a film like Night of the Living Dead end up in the public domain in the first place? Well, it's pretty simple, actually. In 1968, when the film was made and released, one of the copyright requirements was that prints of the film had to carry a proper copyright notice. The thinking was that if the producers didn't even care enough to put the notice on the film, then they didn't care enough to maintain the copyright. This also provided a way for people to know who to contact in caase they wanted to license the film, to perhaps reuse part of it, or even if there was some kind of copyright dispute with the film itself. Unfortunately for Romero, a last minute title change insisted upon by the film's distributor meant that the copyright notice, which had previously appeared in the same frames as the title, was left off of the prints, resulting in the film immediately entering the public domain.

Considering the impact and legacy of the film, George Romero has at times been understandably bitter about this development, even claiming that the distributor "ripped us off." (Note, by the way, that it is the distributor that Romero blames, not the copyright system. Everyone knew what needed to be done, and had the distributor followed through on placing the proper notice on the prints, things would have turned out differently.) However, over the years he also seems to have mellowed his stance some, realising that it is the public domain aspect of the film that has, in large part, led to its fame and ubiquity. Had the film retained its copyright status, it's likely to have been just another forgotten little horror film among many from that era. However, during the home video boom, when releasing companies were looking for anything that they could throw onto VHS (and later DVD) for cheap, they found this absolute gem of a movie. Therefore anyone who had access to the equipment was putting out their own print of the film. According to Wikipedia, as of 2006, the IMDB listed 23 copies of NOTLD being sold on DVD and 19 on VHS. Also, as of this writing, the film was the second most dowloaded film on the Internet Archive with almost 650,000 free downloads. It's also a late-night perennial, and a film that I dare say almost every horror host in the country working since its release has featured on his or her show.

Certainly, this is the film that (deservedly) made Romero's name, and led him to go on and make a whole string of other films besides the sequels, and it's doubtful that we'd be sitting here 42 years later waiting for the latest of those sequels if the original had not gained the kind of widespread viewership and appeal that it has through these many viewings and showings and incarnations made possible through the public domain.

Ok, enough talk. Let's have a peek at the film itself:

And here's the skinny:
Title: Night of the Living Dead
Release Date: 1968
Running Time: 96min
Black and White
Stars: Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea
Directed by: George Romero
Produced by: Karl Hardman, Russell Streiner
Distributed by: The Walter Reade Organization

Night of the Living Dead is available to watch or dowload for free here.
amazon has lots of different versions of it on DVD. Here's one: Night of the Living Dead (Enhanced Edition) - 1968.

And, of course, Netflix has it available to rent of for instant viewing: Night of the Living Dead.

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian

Monday, March 15, 2010

Monday Oaters - Death Rides a Horse (1967)

Hiya, Kiddies! Y'know, if the word "spaghetti", when mentioned in the context of films, makes you think only of lady and the tramp meeting in the middle of a strand of pasta, then today's flick. If, on the other hand, the word "spaghetti" brings to mind images of Clint Eastwood or the star of today's offering, Lee Van Cleef, on a trail of vengeance, six guns blazing, then you're probably right in line with where we are today.

The phrase "spaghetti western" is generally used to describe a sub-genre of westerns that were made in the late 60's and early 70's usually by Italian producers and directors working in conjunction with Spanish partners. The films generally utilized mostly Italian stars, though they would also include one or more Americans in order to raise the box-office appeal of these films in the U.S. Probably the best known of these films are the "Man With No Name" trilogy which starred a young Clint Eastwood - A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. Other prominent examples would be Sergio Corbucci's Django and its sequels, Gianfranco Parolini's Sabato, the Trinity films of Enzo Barboni, and Sergio Leone (who was also behind the Eastwood films above)'s Once Upon a Time in the West and A Fistful of Dynamite.

Death Rides a Horse (Italian title: Da Uomo a Uomo) fits pretty squarely in the middle as a fairly representative example of the genre. As the movie opens, we see bandits break into a house, kill all the men, rape and then kill the women, and leave only one survivor, a young boy named Billy.

Fifteen years later, Billy (now played by John Phillip Law, whom some of you may remeber as Sinbad from the Ray Harryhausen spectacular The Golden Voyage of Sinbad or as the angelic Pygar from Barbarella) has grown to be a man thirsty for vengeance, though he has only one clue to the identities of the men who killed his family - a single silver spur. Fortunately for him, Lee Van Cleef's Ryan has just been released from jail (after, perhaps not so coincidentally, fifteen years) and seems to be on the trail of the same characters that Billy is searching for. When Ryan shoots a couple of intruders in his hotel room, the local sheriff recognizes the spurs the two dead men are wearing and takes them to show to Billy, thus reigniting his quest for vengeance against the men who killed his family. From there on out, He is destined to cross paths with Ryan a number of times, as both men look for revenge.

Dirty, intense, thrilling, blood-soaked - all of these are words that could be used to describe Death Rides a Horse, but I think the most appropriate one is "entertaining". Van Cleef puts in his usual solid performance, Law proves an apt performer as the young man caught in something bigger than himself, and the rest of the performers, well, they fill their roles well enough. It even has music by famed composer Ennio Morricone.

I should also note that it's fairly obvious that Quentin Tarantino obviously had this films as one of his inspirations when he was making Kill Bill, becasue it is referenced quite often, both visually and musically in that film.

So, how about a trailer to get your adrenaline flowing?

And the Skinny:
Title: Death Rides a Horse
Release Date: 1967 (U.S. release 1969)
Running Time: 120min (Italian version) 114min (US version)
Starring: Lee Van Cleef, John Phillip Law
Directed by: Giulio Petroni
Produced by: Henryk Chrosicki and Alfonso Sansone
Distributed by: United Artists

Death Rides a Horse is available to download or watch for free here.
It's also available on DVD from Amazon: Death Rides A Horse .

And it's available for rental from Netflix: Death Rides a Horse

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Saturday TV - Beat the Clock

Ah, game shows - who doesn't love them. And, of course, classic game shows can provide not only entertainment, but a portrait of the lives of people from their time period - their manner of dress, their jobs, their attitudes, the items that were given as prizes, and of course the prices that those items were valued at - all of these add up to an interesting slice-of-life picture of America at different times in its recent history.

Today's show, Beat the Clock, actually went through a number of different versions, but it was a perennial for almost 30 years. Begun on CBS in 1950, it moved to ABC in 1958. That version went off the air in 1961, but the show came back in syndication in 1969 and lasted until 1974. It then came back to CBS in 1979, but that version only lasted until 1980. A revival was tried in 2002, but personally I suspect that its low-key "let's just have some fun" attitude was too far out of sync with the modern "it-all-about-who-can-stab-who-in-the-back" emphasis of so much of today's TV game and reality shows that it never had a real chance.

The basic concept of Beat the Clock was pretty simple - a couple of contestants would come on, they would have a certain amount of time to complete a stunt, and if they did, they would have "beaten the clock" and would win a prize. There would also be "bonus stunts" which would allow the contestants to compete for a jackpot which, if it was not won on one show, would be carried over and added o on the next.

Our example today come from the first iteration of the show. I'm not sure of the exact date, but it's likely from the mid-50's. The host is Bud Collyer, who will be familiar to old-time radio buffs as the voice of Clark Kent/Superman on the Adventures of Superman radio show.

This and other episodes of the show are available to watch or download here.
There are also a couple of episodes available on this DVD: Game Shows Of The 50s: Beat The Clock / I've Got A Secret.

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian

Friday, March 12, 2010

Friday Funnies - Jack and the Beanstalk (1952)

It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Take a well-known children's story, full of outlandish, memorable characters, quests to find magical items, and good triumphant over evil. Then film opening and closing sequences in the present using sepia-tone, but let most of it take place in a fantasy-filled land which would be filmed in full color. Add in a liberal dash of songs. And then mix it all up with the hijinks of one of the world's best comedy teams. Nope, as the last bit should indicate, I'm not talking about the 1939 film great The Wizard of Oz. Instead, I'm talking about a film made some thirteen years later, Abbot and Costello's adaptation of Jack and the Beanstalk.

Bud Abbott and Lou Costello began working together as a Vaudeville team in 1936. They made their feature film debut in 1940 in the film One Night in the Tropics.From 1940 to 1956 the duo made a total of 36 films, most under contract with Universal, which afforded them the ability not only to team with some of the greatest stars of the day, but also to play around in the pool of some of Universal's great characters, leading to such films as Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (which, along with the titular monster also included Lon Chaney Jr.'s Wolfman and Bela Lugosi making his last turn in the cape as Dracula). However, the pair also had written into their contracts a clause which allowed them to make one independent film a year. it was this clause which led to the making of Jack and the Beanstalk.

Simply put, even though Bud and Lou were two of the most popular and highly paid entertainers of their time, and had just signed a contract to star in their own TV show, there was no way that Universal was going to spend the money to make a color Abbott and Costello film. So, instead of depending on the studio, the boys decided to produce it themselves through Lou's company Exclusive Productions. Of course, this also meant a lower budget than they likely would have had with the studio, but the filmmakers do seem to have made the most of what they had. The beanstalk sequences, for instance, are a good combination of perspective effects, animation, and creative set design. Really, the only misstep in the film is in the opening and closing scenes. Rather than shoot those scenes in Black and White and then color them, the decision was made to shoot them in color then process them for the sepia. This technique, while not terrible, does give these scenes a bit of a murky feel, especially when compared to similar sequences in Oz or other films where the black-and-white process  was used.

Time for a trailer? Yeah, I think so:

Guess that just leaves us with the Skinny:
Title: Jack and the Beanstalk
Release Date: 1952
Running Time: 78min
Color / Sepia Tone
Starring: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello
Directed by: Jean Yarbrough
Produced by: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Pat Costello, Alex Gottlieb
Distributed by: Warner Brothers

Jack and the Beanstalk is available to watch or download for free here.
It's available on DVD from Amazon: Jack and the Beanstalk.
And Netflix has it available for rental or for instant watching: Jack & the Beanstalk.

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Thursday Romance - Sword of Lancelot (1963)

Oh, Lance, Lance, Lance... Haven't we been over this again and again and again? When are you going to learn that that woman ain't nothing but trouble for you? Plus, she's just gonna mess up that great bromance you've got going on with Arty.

Yep, it's time to revisit one of the all-time great love triangles. One that has, I think, endured for so long because of the number of issues that it raises and the way that it resolves them. Which is more important: a man's love for his king or his love for a woman? Which will win out: a king's devotion to the rule of law, his devotion to his wife, or his devotion to his best friend and good right hand? What is the ultimate cost of betrayal? And in this particular version, just what kind of a man is it that actually uses soap?

Sword of Lancelot actually began its life as a British production co-produced, co-written, directed by, and starring Cornel Wilde called Lancelot and Guinevere. (The name change was made for its American release.) Wilde even hired as his "loveliest of all queens" his then-wife, Jean Wallace. Brian Aherne assays the role of Arthur, one he had played quite a few times before, and Michael Meacham rounds out the cast as the villainous Mordred.

The story skips Arthur's early years, and moves right to the heart of the story, presenting him as an older king in the final processes of consolidating his kingdom. He has also decided that it is time to take a bride in order to produce a legitimate heir to take the place of his illegitimate son Mordred. In pursuit of both of these goals, he has sent a request to a rival king that he acknowledge Arthur as the King of all the Britons, and that he send his daughter, Guinevere to be Arthur's Queen. Instead of accepting Arthur's demands, the king challenges him to a duel of champions and says they will let the right of might determine who is to be the true king. Lancelot, of course, jumps at the chance to defend his kings honor, and in a great jousting tournament scene, Lance defeats the king's champion, thereby winning the beautiful lass for his king. Unfortunately, she may prove to be more than he, or the king, can really handle.

Sword of Lancelot uses a number of interesting touches to make it's Camelot a very interesting place. Briton is a land just on the edge of civilization, and this is shown in many ways, but perhaps one of the most interesting is the introduction of soap! When it is first mentioned, one of the nights has spied Lancelot lathering up, and he fears the knight has taken ill and foam is pouring from his body. Once Lancelot arrives at the meal table, he is greeted with fear and astonishment, but he soon explains that what the young knight saw was a gift given to him by Merlin that is used for cleaning called soap. Of course he is roundly mocked by all the manly men at the table for smelling like  woman. However, when he later shares some of his soap with Guinevere she too is at first astounded and then somewhat fearful that, since it came from Merlin, it might be magical - even cursed!

Nor is Guinevere your typical fainting maid. Even on the way back to the castle, before meeting her husband-to-be, she shows her strength and courage by dispatching with a single sword stroke one the the band of brigands that has attacked her traveling party. Of course, this show of fearsomeness and resolve, while making her an even better fit to be queen, also raises her esteem in Lancelot's eye. Which, while in general a good thing, in this instance? Probably not.

Overall, this is a pretty good interpretation of the story. All of the players play their parts well, and while there are no real surprises, there are no disappointments, either. The fight scenes are well carried out, and have a good sense not only of drama,  but of pacing.

Ok, courtesy of Video Detective, here's a trailer: (Unfortunately, you'll probably have to sit through a short commercial to get to it, but it was the only one I could find.)

And the Skinny:
Title: Sword of Lancelot
Release Date: 1963
Running Time: 116min
Starring: Cornel Wilde, Jean Wallace, Brian Aherne
Directed by: Cornel Wilde
Produced by: Cornel Wilde, Bernard Luber
Distributed by: Universal-International Films

Sword of Lancelot is available to watch or download for free here.
It's also available on DVD from Amazon: Sword of Lancelot.
And finally, Netflix has it available for rent: Sword of Lancelot.

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Whodunnit Wednesday - D.O.A. (1950)

"I want to report a murder."
"Sit down... Where was this murder committed/"
"San Francisco. Last night"
"Who was murdered?"
"I was."

Ok, seriously, Kiddies, with an opening like that it's obvious that while the title of today's film may be D.O.A., the movie itself definitely isn't.

Edmond O'Brien plays  Frank Bigleow, an accountant in the town of Banning California who walks into the homicide division of the local police station to make the above announcement. Oddly, the detective he is talking to (unlike the audience) not only doesn't seem surprised at what he says, but seems to have been expecting him. From there we are told the story in flashback from Bigelow's perspective.

Surprising his secretary/lover by announcing he is suddenly taking a trip out of town, Bigelow soon hooks up with a group of conventioneers upon arriving in San Francisco. While out on the town at a local jazz club, we see that, unknown to him, Bigelow's drink is swapped for another. When he awakens the next morning feeling badly, he goes to a doctor who tells him that he has been poisoned. from there on, the film turns into a true noir mystery with Bigelow trying to track down not only who killed him but why, and to do it before the clock runs out on his own life. There is a growing sense of desperation throughout the film as the poison begins to take effect and Bigelow feels his life slipping away with every tick of the clock. Can Bigelow find out what and who is behind his poisoning, or is he destined to die without even knowing why?

On its initial release, D.O.A. was not exactly a critical darling, with the New York Times, for instance, calling it "fairly obvious and plodding recital, involving crime, passion, stolen iridium, gangland beatings and one man's innocent bewilderment upon being caught up in a web of circumstance that marks him for death", but I think that focuses way too much on the plot. The true appeal of this movie is in the performances and the atmosphere, and this has been reflected in later reviews, such as the one from A.K Rode which states "The lighting, locations, and atmosphere of brooding darkness were captured expertly by [director Rudolph] Mate and director of photography Ernest Lazlo." or Michael Sragow's review which calls it a "high-concept movie before its time." The film has also been recognized and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress which cited it as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

I'm gonna give you a bit of a different trailer today. Apparently this was done as a school assignment and posted to YouTube by ShadowMaster0511. It's not official, but i think it actually does a pretty good job of giving you the essentials and picking up on the tone and atmosphere of the film. And it's a good example, since the film is part of the public domain, of one of the things that can be done with it:

Ok, here's the skinny:
Title: D.O.A.
Release Date: 1950
Running Time: 83min
Black and White
Starring: Edmond O'Brien
Directed by: Rudolph Mate'
Produced by Leo C. Popkin
Distributed by: United Artists

D.O.A. is available for free to watch or download here.
Amazon has the DVD for purchase: DOA (Enhnaced) 1950.
It's also available for rental at Netflix: Film Noir Collection: D.O.A..

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian
Unless otherwise noted, all movies discussed on this blog and all associated materials are believed to be in the Public Domain. If you are a copyright holder for any of these materials, please email me. Unless otherwise noted, all material created for this blog by Professor Damian is licensed under a Creative Commons license as described below. Creative Commons License
Professor Damian's Public Domain Treasure Chest by Professor Damian is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
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