Island of Lost Souls (1932) Erle C. Kenton

Audiences must have been shocked by “Island of Lost Souls” back in 1932. Bizarre, daring; a sadistic filled sideshow of strange creatures, and of course the perennial mad doctor. By then, the movies already had two other crazed doctors who believed they had God like power in both James Whale’s “Frankenstein” and Rouben Mamoulian’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Then came Doctor Moreau.

The film is based on H.G Wells nineteenth century novel, “The Island of Dr, Moreau.” At the time Wells wrote the novel (1896), vivisection, the testing and experimental surgery on living animals without the use of any type of anesthesia, had gained some curious sort of acceptance in European circles. Wells novel helped lead to the forming of anti-torture animal groups such as “The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection” set up to investigate, monitor, and ban the torturous testing of animals in scientific experiments.  But Wells was no fan of the movie and was frank in disparaging the film as a mockery of his work.  In Wells homeland of England the film was banned, along with “Freaks,” another “shocking” 1932 horror film, until the 1960’s. In the U. S. with state censor boards free to edit and cut scenes as they saw fit for local moral standards, many did just that. Continue reading

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The Far Country (1954) Anthony Mann

James Stewart’s dark side is on full display in this upper north western. As usual with an Anthony Mann western the landscape plays an important part, the Canadian Rockies are majestic, though here the landscape is a combination of the natural beauty and artificial backlots whereas Mann’s other westerns were filmed entirely on location. This gives “The Far Country” a more ethereal tone that fits in with Stewart’s character, Jeff Webster, a man who isolates himself from all others in the film except for Ben Tatum, Walter Brennan’s old timer, whose death will trigger him into action.

Stewart’s Jeff Webster is a loner by choice, anti-social, he lives by his own code and depends on no one. “I don’t need help, I take care of me,” he tells Ben, the only person in the film he lets in anyway get close to him. They have been good friends for many years and Ben is very fond of Jeff. Yet, like the Canadian landscape, where much of the film takes place, Stewart remains cold and isolated from everyone else. Continue reading

The Americanization of Emily (1964) Arthur Hiller

“The first dead American on Omaha Beach will be a sailor!”

    Six years before Catch-22 and M*A*S*H were released in theaters, The Americanization of Emily appeared almost out of nowhere. Vietnam was still low on the boiling plate of the American conscience, however, this film does hold the distinction of being the first anti-war film of the Vietnam era. Sweet Julie Andrews, only a few months earlier had burst on to the screen in the Disney film, Mary Poppins (1964). Five months after the release of Emily, she would be forever anointed in the public’s mind as Miss Goody Two Shoes with more sugar than a Cuban cane field, after the release of The Sound of Music (1965). Yet, in between those two films, slipping under the public’s radar, Andrews appeared in this dark biting anti-war satire.

   James Garner is Lt. Commander Charlie Madison whose official position is acting as an aide for Admiral William Jessup (Melvyn Douglas). More importantly Madison’s unofficial position is being a “dog robber,” an aide who will obtain whatever the Admiral wants, legally…or not so legally, and Charlie’s the best.  Charlie’s bartering arsenal includes a large supply of Hershey bars, stockings, bourbon and clothes to get what he needs. Stationed in England just prior to the D-Day invasion, Charlie can “buy” anything his commanding officer desires including steak, wine and women.  Everyone knows good ol’ Charlie and likes him. If Charlie needs a favor, a box or two of Hershey’s chocolates or maybe a couple of pairs of nylons will help secure it. Remember, this is England, heavily rationed during the war.

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Desk Set (1957) Walter Lang

“Desk Set” is not the best Tracy and Hepburn comedy. For that, you would have check out superior films like, “Adam’s Rib” or “Woman of the Year.”  Then again, it’s not the worst either, I personally reserve that position for the preachy, badly directed, annoyingly written but crowd pleasing, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”  “Desk Set” is a charming piece thanks mostly to its charismatic beloved two stars. The film is also a look back at a time when computers, first entering the workplace, were so huge they required special rooms with specific climatic conditions. Today all that computer power is compacted into a laptop that you can carry anywhere. It was also a time when smoking in the office place was common and a no smoking sign was one of those special conditions reserved for the new computer room.  The film is also a reflection on how office politics has changed. Women were mostly regulated to secretarial jobs, or if they were in a supervisor position, like Hepburn, it was in a backroom reference library type position. Finally, there is the Christmas party, the kind filled with champagne overflowing with every bottle that is popped! Continue reading

Talking Vertigo with Author Patrick McGilligan

This interview originally appeared as a contribution to The Lady Eve’s Reel Life marathon, A MONTH OF VERTIGO which for any Hitchcock admirer is a must to check out. Just click right here! The month-long event had a spectacular list of contributors from such writers as Steven DeRosa author of WRITING WITH HITCHCOCK and Dan Auiler author of VERTIGO: THE MAKING OF A HITCHCOCK CLASSIC. In addition there are a whole list of contributions from some very fine bloggers covering just about every aspect of the film.

Biographer Patrick McGilligan, author of Alfred-Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light  graciously agreed to answer some questions I posed on this Hitchcock masterpiece. This is my second interview with Patrick. We previously discussed his latest book, Nicholas Ray: The Glorious Failure of an American Director. You can read that interview by clicking here.

Finally, I want to congratulate Lady Eve on a spectacular job with A MONTH OF VERTIGO, an event I was proud to be part of. Continue reading