Short Takes: Two Anti-War Classics

dirk_bogarde_king__countryKing and Country is a dark, brutal, effective attack on war by the exiled American Joseph Losey. A shell shocked soldier, one Private Hamp (Tom Courtenay), is put on trial for desertion after he walks away from the brutality and loss of humanity of war. The young soldier has already served three years at the front, witnessing the violent, senseless, inhuman pointlessness of trench warfare. Living in rat-infested conditions, witnessing one atrocity after another, Hamp, after one particular brutal day of warfare, leaves. He wants to go home. Continue reading

Peeping Tom – A Look at Mark Lewis

Carl Boehm

Filmmakers and photographers have one obsession in common. Well, they actually have more than one. However, the one obsession I ‘d like to point out here, and I have spoken about this before, is they like to watch! Just like the audience, everyone in the audience, no exceptions, they like to look, they are voyeurs. Come on, let’s face it, we all like watch and the safest way to watch others is by watching a movie or looking at a photograph.

We have seen voyeurism in many films as diverse as Hitchcock’s “Rear Window,” Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Blow Up” and Brian DePalma’s early black comedy “Greetings.” Taken to the extreme, voyeurism leads to invasion of privacy and even worst, murder as it does in Michael Powell’s 1960 film “Peeping Tom.”

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Scream of Fear (1961) Selt Holt

Scream

Hammer studio was known for reinvigorating the horror film with its revisionist versions of Universal icons Frankenstein and Dracula along with providing a gaggle of sexy semi-dressed female vampires. But Hammer was more than just horror. The studio also made a series of suspense/crime films one of which is the 1961 thriller, “Scream of Fear.” Directed by Seth Holt with a script by Hammer main stay Jimmy Sangster the film contains its share of shocks closer in style to a Hitchcockian suspense thriller than Hammer’s better known blend of monsters and vampires. I first watched this eerie atmospheric film years ago on a beat up rented VHS tape and finally got to watch it again recently thanks to a copy I found at a local library. (1)

The film opens with a prologue prior to the opening credits. It takes place in Switzerland; the police dragging a lake for a body, a woman is soon found and identified as Emily Frencham.  We later find out she was traveling with  her friend Penny Appleby (Susan Strasberg), together on vacation, when Emily, for reasons never explained, left her hotel during the night and ended up dead in  the lake.  Sometime later we meet Penny, a wheelchair bound young woman who returns, for the first time in ten years, to the creepy looking villa of her father on the French Riviera. Her father left England years ago moving to France after divorcing Penny’s mother. After her mother’s recent death and with her father remarried to a woman named Jane (Ann Todd), Penny comes to France meeting her step mother for the first time. Continue reading

Return From the Ashes (1965) J. Lee Thompson

Return Poster

The opening scene in this 1965 J. Lee Thompson film sets the pace and the mood for this interesting thriller. We are on a passenger train; a young boy of about 10 is banging on a door in the compartment. His mother attempts to get him to stop by bribing him with chocolate. The door suddenly bolts open and the boy flies out the door falling off the train to his death. The other passengers in the compartment are all in shock except for Michele Wolf (Ingrid Thulin) whose face remains an emotional blank sheet. The camera then focuses on her arm revealing the tattooed numbers forever burned onto her skin. Continue reading

Short Takes: Cagney, Dodsworth and Scream of Fear

Each DawnEach Dawn I Die (***1/2) It is Cagney versus Raft in this classic 1939 Warner Brothers prison drama. Directed by William Keighley, Cagney is Frank Ross an investigative reporter who exposes a political candidate’s corrupt association with a construction company. After the article is published, Ross is snatched by some goons right in front of the newspaper building. He’s knocked out, soused with alcohol and tossed into a speeding car resulting in a car accident which kills three innocent people. Framed for the murders, Ross is sent to prison where he meets big shot Stacey (George Raft). At first, they get off on the wrong foot with Ross continuing to claim he was framed and innocent, all falling on deaf ears. The two become pals when Ross saves Stacey’s life from an attempt by another prisoner to kill him. Continue reading

The Apartment (1960) Billy Wilder

The Apartment Title Card

Office politics has changed a lot over the years but sex in the workplace, in one form or another, is alive and well. Billy Wilder’s superb comedy/drama is a time capsule look back at one man’s struggle on how to succeed in business by lending out his apartment to four middle level company executives on various nights for their extramarital liaisons. In exchange, the four executives praise our antihero at work, writing glowing reports on him to senior management, including putting in good words with Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) the top dog at personnel.

C.C. “Bud” Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is the original lonely guy, an actuarial, crunching out numbers for a major insurance company. Baxter works at a drab grey desk in a large corporate office building, populated by faceless individuals all working at hundreds of other drab grey desks.

Baxter’s home life consists of frozen dinners, watching TV and cleaning up the empty liquor bottles left over from the night’s escapades, bottles which he leaves outside his apartment door for garbage pickup, suggesting, to his neighbors, Dr. Dreyfuss (Jack Kruschen) and his wife, that Baxter leads a wild life of swinging parties. Continue reading

The Horror of “The Birds”

I don’t really like to complain about multiplexes showing classic movies on the big screen. It’s rare enough that we movie lovers have the opportunity to watch great classics in a theater environment. However, and isn’t there always a however, after the last experience recently at a local Regal Cinema (Citrus Park Mall in Tampa), the real life horror was the theater experience itself, more so than Hitchcock’s excellent film.

I arrived at the theater about twenty minutes before show time. As I headed to theater five as it stated on the ticket, other patrons are all filing out mumbling about a change in the theater. “The Birds” they were told will now be showing in theater nine.  So like a wandering herd of sheep we all went strolling over to theater nine only to discover “Finding Nemo 2″ was already in progress. The manager, now on the scene, was as perplexed as the rest of us. He gets on his handy dandy intercom and promises to straighten this out. A few minutes go by and we are told to head over to yet another theater on the opposite side of the lobby. The sign reads 2016 (shorten for the documentary “2016 Obama’s America”). For many of us it felt like it may be 2016 before we find the correct screening room. Happily, this was the right theater, as the pre-show entertainment i.e. advertisements on the screen were TCM related. Continue reading

Short Takes: Eyes Without a Face (1960) Georges Franju

A brilliant, creepy, unsettling film about a crazed doctor who kidnaps a series of beautiful women, surgically and methodically removing their faces in hopes of transplanting successfully one on to the deformed face of his daughter. Just as you squeamishly hope director Georges Franju will move his camera away from the procedure, he stays securely in place forcing the audience to watch the complete removal of the face as if it were a delicate mask being lifted off, soon to be grafted on to the head of his deformed daughter, Christaine. It’s an unsettling scene, and an amazingly graphic one, considering the film was made in 1960, a year that historically has turned out three master works of horror, Hitchcock’s “Psycho” and Michael Powell’s “Peeping Tom” being the others.

In some ways the film is reminiscent of many other horror films, the mad doctor, obsessed with playing God, think Dr. Moreau, Dr. Jekyll, and Dr. Frankenstein to name a few. In this case, it is Doctor Genessier (Pierre Brasseur) whose beautiful daughter was severely injured in a car accident for which he was responsible. Being a good father, he wants to help his daughter to look beautiful again. Thus begins a series of kidnappings of pretty young things as the doctor attempts to remove the facial skin of his victims and in an extreme case of plastic surgery graft the removed victims face on to his daughter’s. Each attempt has been a failure, as one expects the bodies of missing young women are beginning to pile up.

The doctor is assisted by his loyal and attractive assistant Louise (Alida Valli) whose has had some work done herself. The film opens with Louise driving in the dark of the night to a secluded spot to dump the body of the doctor’s latest victim. Sadly, each experiment fails, leaving the Doctor’s daughter Christiane (Edith Scob) deeper and deeper in despair.

The film is based on a novel by Jean Redon, adapted for the screen by Redon, Claude Sautet, who also was Assistant Director, and the team of Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. Boileau and Narcejac are best known for their novels “D’Entre Les Morts” and “Celle qui n’était plus” which themselves are better known by their film titles, “Vertigo” and “Diabolique.”

Director Georges Franju avoids the standard modus operandi of many horror films, the quick cuts, the tense music that builds up with a calculating beat that something dreadful is about to happen. Instead we get some magnificent eerie, moody photography creating a foreboding atmosphere of dread and fear, also an early music score by Maurice Jarre that is at times almost circus like, adding a strange macabre mood to it all.  Do not misunderstand, Franju does not shy away or forget he is making a horror movie. As mentioned, the film contains some of the most disturbing and unflinchingly graphic scenes to ever appear in a horror film from this period, in fact, if you about to undergo cosmetic surgery in the near future you may want to avoid this film.  Even today these scenes remain very disturbing.

The film was originally released in the United States in 1962. Back then horror films did not receive any respect from the art house/intellectual film audience and when released in a dubbed version as part of a double bill with “The Manster,” another film about a crazed doctor and his strange experiments, the film sank quickly. Even changing its title to “The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus” did not help. But over the years, “Eyes Without a Face” has risen from the “B” film grave and has gained the respect it has been denied. In 1995, the film was released in a new 35MM print and played at the Cinema Village in New York and a few other cities.  In 2003, during the Halloween season, the film appeared again, in another new print, for two week engagement at the Film Forum in New York.

“Eyes Without a Face” is a masterpiece of horror, an imaginative, nightmarish, poetic dream that you will soon not forget.

The Organizer (1964) Mario Monicelli

“The Organizer” is a tough film to describe. Is it a tale of exploited textile workers fighting for better working conditions? A dark comedy? A human drama of class warfare? Well, the answer is yes to all. Set in very early years of the twentieth century in Turin the story focuses on the laborers in the town’s textile factory where the working conditions are harsh and the hours long. They arrive at 6 AM and leave at eight that night with only a half hour for lunch. The machines are dangerous, and there are certainly no health benefits in case of an injury. The workers slave for fourteen hours a day for a minimum wage. When one of the workers is injured in an accident the co-workers collect money to help out the family though they hardly have enough for themselves. Frustrated, the men and women stage a walkout but fail miserably when they neglect to support Pautasso (Folco Lulli), one of the leaders, who is suspended for two weeks. The others are penalized for the time taken off during the strike; they will now have to work on the job with no pay. Continue reading