Friday, October 24, 2014

Dinner and a Movie: The Book of Life

From Mexico to Montana in One Night

By Steve Herte

This was a week of learning. I'm always learning new things and I'm of the opinion that when you stop learning new things you die, but this week was impressive in the amount of knowledge gained.

· I learned that it's very difficult to please a girl from Ecuador. You have to be satisfied if you make her happy, and I did.
· I've always known that I was a good listener but I surprise myself every Tuesday night with how little I get to talk about myself. I came up with a new dance step Tuesday and Betty keyed into it right away. Likewise, I finally learned the Texas two-step she's been doing every week to "Folsom Prison" and was able to accompany her.
· I learned that either I'm a lucky (or really good) gardener or that irises are easy to grow and transplant.
· And lastly, I learned that my pastor at church can hardly wait for me to retire and take over the music program.

My quartet is reuniting at the Cheesecake Factory in White Plains with the higher purpose of determining if we have a chance at winning the Senior Quartet Contest, perhaps next year. One thing I know I can depend on is that nights where the movie AND the restaurant are both excellent are rare, and so you'll see. Enjoy!

The Book of Life (20th Century Fox, 2014) – Director: Jorge R. Gutierrez. Writers: Jorge R. Gutierrez, Douglas Langdale. Voices: Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum, Ron Perlman, Christina Applegate, Ice Cube, Kate del Castillo, Hector Elizondo, Danny Trejo, Carlos Alazraqui, Ana de la Reguera, Emil-Bastien Bouffard, Elias Garza, Dan Navarro, Genesis Ochoa, & Placido Domingo. Animated, Color, 95 minutes.

All Souls’ Day is celebrated in Mexico as Dia de los Muertes, the Day of the Dead, and it is on this day that this movie takes place, November 2. A bus of bored, spitball-flinging school children pulls up to a museum and nearly terrorizes the aging tour guide. But deftly using her “Follow Me” sign as a shield, a beautiful red-haired tour guide takes over and leads them through an invisible door and into a spacious hall to witness “the glory of Mexico.”

The children are dazzled and follow her to the far end of the hall, where the Book of Life resides. She opens the book and, using wooden toys to help illustrate it, reads a tale. She starts, “As we all know, Mexico is the center of the universe…”

The story begins in the town of San Angel (the ‘g’ is pronounced like an ‘h’) on November 2, where we meet little Maria (Saldana) and her two friends, Manolo (Luna) and Joaquin (Tatum), who are constantly vying for her attention. Maria is General Posada’s (Alazraqui) daughter. Manolo Sanchez, is from a long line of bullfighters and Joaquin is descended from mighty warriors. Joaquin’s father was the last to repel the fearsome bandito, Chakal (Navarro), and his men.


One day, Maria sees pigs in a pen and decides to free them from bondage with help from Manolo and Joaquin. The pigs stampede into town and cause a bit of havoc, but are followed by a large tusked boar. Joaquin fends off the boar with the skills he’s learned and Manolo demonstrates his keen aptitude for bullfighting to send the boar careening into a wall, where it’s knocked out.

Meanwhile, in the ethereal reaches we see La Muerte (del Castillo) and Xibalba (Perlman), the rulers of the Lands of Remembrance and the Forgotten, arguing over why they rule the places they do. Xibalba sees the two boys competing for Maria and makes a wager with La Muerte over which one will win her hand. He chooses Joaquin and she chooses Manolo. If Joaquin marries Maria, they will switch kingdoms. If not, they will remain in their lands forever.

After the dust clears in the town square the general makes a judgment that Maria is to be sent to a convent to learn how to be a lady, hoping this kind of behavior will be stopped. The two boys are heartbroken. Manolo presents her with the little pig she saved from bondage and she names him “Chewy.” She boards the train with the pig and the boys will not see her again until they are all adults.

While Joaquin learns swordsmanship and battle techniques, Manolo reluctantly learns bullfighting. He really wants to be a singer and play guitar, a talent he clearly possesses.

On the day of Maria’s return there is a spectacle planned in the arena, starting with Joaquin demonstrating his prowess in horsemanship and followed by a bullfight featuring Manolo. They are both amazed by how beautiful Maria has become and both show off for her. But though his techniques are flawless in the ring, Manolo’s refusal to kill the bull embarrasses his father Carlos (Elizondo), and he’s left alone in the arena with his guitar. (Even the bull shakes his head at him.) Maria is clearly attracted to Manolo’s singing and playing, but her father insists she be with Joaquin because, “he is the only one who can help us fight Chakal.”

That night, Manolo arranges a tryst with Maria on the bridge to the town, and it looks like he’s going to win her when Xibalba intervenes. He sends his staff, transformed into a poisonous snake, to bite Maria. Manolo is blamed for her death and becomes an outcast. He vows to bring her back from the Land of Remembrance, and Xibalba is only too glad to accommodate him. The snake now has two heads, and bites Manolo twice. When he wakes up, he’s a skeleton version of himself in the Land of Remembrance.

Soon Manolo learns that Xibalba tricked him as well as cheated on the wager with La Muerte. The single bite Maria received was easily cured by a kiss from Joaquin and she accepts his proposal thinking that Manolo is dead forever. Manolo now has a different quest, to find La Muerte and return to the land of the living.

He meets his entire family who died before him including his mother Carmen (de la Reguera), Grandfather Luis (Trejo), and the opera singing Jorge Sanchez (Domingo). In the land of the living, Chakal attacks San Angel, and Carlos is the first to defend the town and the first to pop up in the Land of Remembrance. Manolo, Carmen, Carlos and Luis travel to the Land of The Forgotten to find La Muerte, but it’s not easy. Only with the help of the Candlemaker (Ice Cube) do they achieve their goal.

La Muerte is outraged that Xibalba has cheated her, and Manolo makes him a wager -- any task he chooses -- to return him to the land of the living. Xibalba chooses fighting every bull his ancestors ever fought at the same time. Eventually Manolo is faced with a coalesced giant bull with flaming red eyes and the choice of his sword or his guitar.

The Book of Life is a glorious animated production on a par with Rio for sheer scope of theatricality and with Madagascar in clever scripting and character development. Even though all the characters are obviously wooden toys, their movements convince the audience they are real. The music and soundtrack are wonderfully chosen songs from pop favorites such as “Creep” by Radiohead, and “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” by Elvis Presley, to original tunes written for the film. The colors are dazzling and the 3D special effects help pull one into the story. It’s a movie for all generations and all ages. It’s squeaky clean in language and the only violence is more slapstick than serious. Even the credits are fun.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Martini glasses.


Ted’s Montana Grill
110 West 51st Street (just off 6th Avenue toward 7th)New York


Walking east on 51st Street from 7th Avenue I realize an interesting anomaly. I pass Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, then one door down, the Capital Grill (steakhouse), and then Ted’s Montana Grill with its sleek black awning and white lettering. Hence, there are essentially three steakhouses in a row on one street. This shouldn’t surprise me after being on 6th Street in East Greenwich Village where there are at least 30 Indian restaurants in one block, but steakhouses are different. They’re grander, less intimate places. Ruth’s Chris was my benchmark steakhouse until Capital Grill came from Rhode Island, but when I discovered Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse, the new standard for excellence was carved in stone.

Inside, Ted’s is mahogany paneling, wood flooring, milk chocolate colored faux-tin ceiling, and art deco swags for lighting. There is an enormous bison head hanging on the far wall along with a large antique mirror. The bar is off to the right side attended by a lively young crowd. The young (almost incredibly young) man at the Captain’s Station led me to my table (which was set for four – 6:45 is a good time to get a table with Broadway so near), and I sat for only a short while before Lincoln, my server, took my water preference and cocktail order and presented me with the single laminated card menu. The wine list was on the reverse. Lincoln didn’t appear much older than the man who seated me; even his acne gave him away.

At this point I noted that some people indeed had come with the intent on making an eight o’clock curtain at some show, and brevity and prompt service would be a must to get them on their way. I was not in that situation, but I forgave Lincoln for not introducing himself on that count. He returned with my Beefeater martini in an impressively large glass and asked if I had any questions about the menu. I had hardy begun to read it, but I did ask him how many ounces the filet mignon, Delmonico, and T-Bone steaks weighed. 10, 14, and 16, was his answer. Satisfied with that I told him I needed more time and he left. While the martini was not the best I’ve ever had, it was far from being the worst.

Another server brought a small bowl of sliced sweet dill pickles – a nice touch – and I munched on them while deciding. I was tickled that the menu had appetizers abbreviated to simply “Apps.” The Bison nachos were appealing, but Lincoln assured me it was a hefty dish. I told him that I wished it were Wednesday, because then the Soup of the Day would be Chicken Gumbo. He agreed, as it was his favorite. I settled for the New England Clam Chowder, a Caesar “Side” Salad (as opposed to an entrée salad), and the Bison Delmonico steak with a side of Roasted Mushrooms. The wine list was impressively reasonably priced and I ordered a bottle of the 2012 Ravenswood Zinfandel. Lincoln left to put in the order.


The good-sized bowl of chowder arrived along with the salad first. It was comparable to my benchmark chowder at the Chart House in Boston (hot and with more clams than potatoes), but it wasn’t as amazingly creamy. The salad, though beautifully green Romaine lettuce and crunchy croutons, had no visible (it was there, the leaves were glistening) or tasteable dressing. I asked Lincoln for some chopped garlic to liven it up and he brought back a ramekin of exactly that. It helped. (At least they left off those nasty anchovies.) Lincoln asked me if I wanted the wine with my steak and I told him to bring it as soon as the martini was finished.

I had just finished the chowder and was starting the salad when a young lady brought the main course. “Way too early!” I told her and sent it back. Lincoln apologized and I responded that I neglected to tell him beforehand that I was a slow eater and not going to a show (but he could have asked as well). When my martini was finished, right on cue, Lincoln brought a glass of wine. “Bottle?” I reminded him. And he was off again to correct the mistake. At this time I saw something resembling a breadbasket on other tables and not on mine. Hmm.


I’ve had Ravenswood Zinfandel before and knew it to be a consistently reliable wine and this time was no exception. When the salad was finished the main course reappeared. I couldn’t help thinking that it was put under heating lamps because it looked identical to the dish that came out first, right down to the angle at which the tiny American flag toothpick was leaning. I realize that bison meat is leaner than beef, but my 14-ounce filet mignon last Friday had way more meat on it than this “14 ounce” Delmonico. It was tasty and prepared almost medium (not my stated preference), but also not as wonderful as the Delmonico I enjoyed at the restaurant of the same name downtown (where the dish was invented). The nine (yes, I easily counted them) Bolide mushrooms were golden brown and again, tasty, but …. this is a side dish in a steakhouse? Maybe I’m jaded, but side dishes are usually unfinishable.

I was totally ready for dessert after consuming the main course (the pickles too). Here was where Ted’s finally put their best foot forward. The Banana Parfait, though it looked nothing like a true parfait, was so yummy I started eating it before I remembered to take a picture of it. All of the desserts at Ted’s feature Häagen-Dazs ice cream. That, plus the bananas and the fresh whipped cream, set me on a feeding frenzy. The double espresso was standard but the Grand Marnier was the crown on a dinner that cumulatively didn’t deserve to wear one.

It was 11 years ago that Ted Turner and George McKerrow Jr. opened the first steakhouse in Columbus, Ohio, celebrating bison on the menu and encouraging ranchers to keep and breed them. This is their 50th location, and it’s been open at least a year. I know why tourists like it: the prices are great. Maybe I’ll just have to return on a Wednesday.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

TCM TiVo Alert for October 23-31

TCM TiVo ALERT
For 
October 23–October 31

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

ON BORROWED TIME (October 27, 8:00 pm): I'm recommending two films this week starring one of my favorite actors: Lionel Barrymore. On Borrowed Time is one of the most emotional and touching films I've ever seen. It's also one of the most unique films I've ever seen. Like he did in numerous movies, Barrymore plays a grumpy old wheelchair-bound man (Gramps) who is raising his grandson, Pud (played by Bobs Watson; yeah Bobs as in more than one Bob). Pud's mother and father are killed in a car accident before the film starts, and his aunt wants to raise him, primarily to get her hands on the money left to the boy by his parents. But Pud and Gramps can't stand her, see right through her, and share an exceptionally close bond. But unlike most movies in which Barrymore is the grumpy old guy, the plot twist in 1939's On Borrowed Time is one for the ages. Gramps has an apple tree and the fruit is constantly being stolen so he makes a wish that anyone who climbs the tree gets stuck up there until he permits them to come down. Well, Death (masterfully played by Cedric Hardwicke) comes calling for Gramps and is tricked into climbing up the tree. Not only can't he take Gramps, but he can't take anyone else. The aunt thinks Gramps is crazy and sees this as an opportunity to get him committed and have Pud – and his money – for herself. As the movie progresses, Death tricks Pud into climbing the tree with disastrous results. Just thinking about the film's conclusion gives me chills. Not only does the film have a wonderful storyline, with many funny scenes, but a loving and touching message. Also, the acting is outstanding. Barrymore proves yet again that he never gave a bad performance in a film.

THE DEVIL DOLL (October 31, 8:15 am): Because Lionel Barrymore's characters are so likable in nearly every role he played, it's somewhat difficult to imagine him playing a vengeful criminal (wrongfully convicted, of course). His character escapes Devil's Island and plots his revenge against those who framed him in this 1936 film directed by Tod Browning, who co-wrote it. Oh, and he dresses like an old woman at times. But Barrymore was such a pro that he handles himself exceptionally well in this science fiction classic in which he shrinks people to one-sixth their size. Maureen O'Sullivan is good as his daughter and Rafaela Ottiano is amazing as his partner in crime who takes evil to new heights.

ED’S BEST BETS:

ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT (October 23, 9:00 am): Humphrey Bogart had many good qualities as an actor, but the ability to take a bad film and elevate it with his performance was not one of them. However, give him a good film and he often elevated it with the quality of his performance. This is a perfect case in point – a film with a lead that, in the wrong hands, could potentially sink it. Bogart, however, takes to it like a fish to water and comes off totally believable as a gangster who finds himself up against Nazi saboteurs led by Naughty Nazi Conrad Veidt. The performances supplied by such as Judith Anderson as Veidt’s assistant, Peter Lorre (in a wonderful turn as a sadistic henchman), William Demarest as Bogie’s sidekick, Jane Darwell as Bogie’s mom, and Kaaren Verne as a singer in peril give the film a luster that raises it above others released in 1941. The fact that this was made as Bogie began to catch fire with movie-going public as an actor to watch certainly helped, but we must also give kudos to director Vincent Sherman (his first film) and producer Hal Wallis, who kept a close watch on the movie as it was shot. It’s a film that works on every level.

DIABOLIQUE (October 26, 2:15 am): Frankly, I cannot recommend this picture enough. Think of a perfect Hitchcock film without Hitchcock. That’s Diabolique, which is directed by Henri-Georges Cluzot. To no one’s surprise, he’s known as “the French Hitchcock," and Hitchcock himself was influenced by this film. This is a masterful psychological horror film that builds slowly to a final 15 minutes that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Although the twist ending murder plot has been done many times since, it’s never been done better. Diabolique takes place at a school where Simone Signoret helps her friend Vera Clouzot (real life wife of the director) drown her ogre of a husband (Paul Meurisse), who “returns to life” in a really terrifying scene. It’s a taut, beautifully woven thriller with a climax that will truly shock you. Fans of Hitchcock will love this, as will anyone that loves a well-written thriller with the emphasis on character rather than going for the cheap thrill.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (October 27, 6:00 pm)

ED. A-. The censors watered down Tennessee Wiliiams’s classic Pultizer Prize winning play about greed and mendacity in the South, but it still packs one hell of a punch, thanks to a great cast, especially Elizabeth Taylor, who gives one of her best performances and steams up the screen in doing so. Jack Carson scores in one of his last roles as Paul Newman’s brother (and Burl Ives’ son). Newman himself isn’t as dominant in this as he usually is in other films, but still manages to give a powerful performance nevertheless. However, considering the censorship, this is a film that should have been made during the ‘80s, when such topics could be honestly addressed, as Williams did in his play. It’s the excellent cast that puts this film over the hump for the audience, and it’s a wonderful film to see just for the performances.

DAVID: C+. This isn't a bad film, but there are a number of reasons I don't think it's anything special. First the good: Burl Ives is fantastic as Big Daddy, the patriarch of the dysfunctional family featured in the movie. He plays his role to near perfection. To begin the not-so-good list, the screenplay of this Tennessee Williams' play is too melodramatic. As I've mentioned before, I'm not much of a fan of Paul Newman or Elizabeth Taylor. This 1958 film is an example of why. The pair lack chemistry together, and, yes, I know the idea is the two have marital issues. But that doesn't mean Newman and Taylor can't work together to make a good film. Taylor's character goes from understanding to psychotic in the snap of a finger, and she fails to convey any authenticity, which comes as no surprise to me. As for Newman, he overuses "method" acting in this film as he was prone to do when playing angst-ridden characters. His character broods and then lashes out during the entire film for no logical reason. The Hays Code wouldn't permit the heavily suggested homosexual aspects of Newman's character that are in the play to be included in the film so viewers are left to wonder: why is any of this occurring? To make matters worse, the characters and the film are pretentious.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Psychotronic Zone: The Ape

By Ed Garea

The Ape (Monogram, 1940) Director: William Nigh. Writers: Adam Shirk (play). Curt Siodmak (adaptation and s/p), Richard Carroll (s/p). Cast: Boris Karloff, Maris Wrixon, Gene O’Donnell, Dorothy Vaughn, Gertrude Hoffman, Henry Hall, Selmer Jackson, & Philo McCollough. B&W, 62 minutes.

And you thought only Bela Lugosi made movies this dumb.” Michael Weldon, The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film.

In 1938, Boris Karloff signed a six-film deal with Monogram Studios. The Ape was the final picture under the contract, and possibly the worst of Karloff’s career. The screenplay was co-written by Curt Siodmak, adapted from Adam Shirk’s 1927 play of the same name. We have one first-rate actor and screenwriter working on the film. So what went wrong? Simple, it was made by Monogram.


Karloff is Dr. Bernard Adrian, a kindly doctor in the town of Red Creek. But though he’s a very kindly doctor, he keeps to himself, immersed in research for a cure for polio. Because of his reclusive ways, the good folk of the town distrust him. Some proclaim that he should be run out of town and circulate rumors that he used his patients as guinea pigs for his experiments. In one scene, the good doctor is at a shop where the shopkeeper warns him that a mob is forming because of the missing dogs in the neighborhood and the constant rumors about his experiments. This is a scene from which we’re expecting some sort of action against the good doctor, but it just stops there and goes no further. The Ape is full of scenes such as this, which promise much and deliver nothing. Could it have been an editing of the original script, or just plain laziness? Who knows?

Even the kids in town despise the doc, throwing rocks through his windows when he’s not home. Now the doc doesn’t have many patients, but he does have one special patient. She’s Frances Clifford (Wrixon) and she’s suffering from polio, which the Doc has vowed to cure. He takes special interest in Frances, as she reminds him of his late daughter. On his latest visit, he gives her a jewelry case that belonged to his daughter, remarking that she would have turned 18 this very day and the jewelry case was to have been her birthday gift. Dr. Adrian lost both his wife and daughter to polio, hence his determination. Talking with both Frances and her mother (Vaughn), Adrian suggests that Frances get out more. A circus has recently come to town, and that would be perfect entertainment. At that moment, Frances’s boyfriend, Danny Foster (O’Donnell) shows and Frances suggests the excursion to him.

From the opening credits suggesting a circus, we are led to believe this is a film about a circus, but no such luck, as we’ll see. Actually, the real reason for the circus is to introduce our other main player. While Danny and Frances are enjoying the acts, we cut to another section, where we see a gorilla in a cage. It’s in the process of being taunted by its handler (the unbilled I. Stanford Jolley). Seems he hates the beast because it killed his father. As the handler is also drunk, we can quickly figure where this is going. You guessed it the ape reaches through the bars and returns the favor. The cigar in the handler’s mouth drops into the nearby hay, starting a fire and enabling the gorilla to escape.

The injured handler is brought to the doctor’s place. Dr. Adrian has his maid, Jane (Hoffman), help him bring the wounded man back to his laboratory. After everyone else has left, the doc gets to work. While his patient is begging Doc not to let him die, Doc gives him a spiel about how he’s about to make history. Adrian then sticks a syringe into the man’s spine and draws out his spinal fluid, and that’s that for our handler. The next day, Adrian visits Frances, telling her that he has developed a radical new form of treatment. It’ll be painful, he warns, but when it’s all over she’ll be able once more to walk. She’s all for it and he injects her in the back.

Less than a day later, Frances tells Adrian that she feels heaviness in her legs, in which she never had any feeling since becoming ill years before. Adrian is ecstatic, and rejoices later in his lab. Unfortunately, in the midst of his reveries, the vial with the magic fluid rolls off the table and shatters on the floor. Uh-oh.


What to do? In such a film as this I need not remind anyone of the next twist in the plot. Of course the ape, being hunted by Sheriff Halliday (Hall) and his posse, breaks into Adrian’s lab, probably looking for his ex-handler. In one of the great preposterous scenes in B-dom (or B-Dumb), the Doctor, who looks as if he’d have trouble punching his way out of a wet paper bag manages to outwrestle the ape, crack him on the noggin with a bottle of anesthetic, and when the monkey is three sheets to the wind, knife him in the heart from behind. Now, lest that seem unbelievable, what happens next will really boggle the mind. Adrian skins the ape and uses both the ape’s skin and head as a disguise in order to obtain more spinal fluid. Again, to quote Weldon, “What a brilliant idea! Nobody would notice a gorilla killing people!”

The first victim of the “ape” is an adulterous banker. Before his untimely demise we were introduced to him in what seems to be an attempt at a sub-plot. His villainy is played up during a scene with his wife, where he turns down her dinner of lamb stew and dumplings, telling her he’ll eat out. “I wish you wouldn’t keep on going here where we live,” she whines, knowing full well what he’s up to. She then tells him that she doesn’t want to be pitied; she has no one but him, no folks and nowhere to go all of it falling on deaf ears. Of course, after his body is found, the townsfolk are saying how sorry they feel for his widow. The townsfolk also learn that the ape must be prowling nocturnally.

Meanwhile, Adrian gives Frances another shot of his newly obtained serum. But he has some problems. The first is Frances’s boyfriend, Danny. It seems he can’t get it through his thick skull how anything that causes Frances such pain could be helping her. "I don't like things I don't understand," he tells Frances. A bigger problem is another doctor from out of town, a Dr. McNulty (Jackson), who Sheriff Halliday has brought in as coroner and medical examiner in the gorilla case. McNulty notices the syringe marks on the backs of the victims. This gets him to thinking, and we learn that he and Adrian go way back together back to a research foundation that expelled Adrian years ago for his questionable experiments. Even back then Adrian was consumed by the idea that spinal fluid from healthy people might just result in a cure, and it seems he was no more discerning where he obtained it than he is now.

So, is the jig up for Adrian? Of course not: this is a B-movie made by Monogram, so when shown evidence in the person of Frances, who can now move her foot slightly, that such a controversial experiment did work, McNulty just doesn’t back off. No, he offers to let Adrian return to his old job with the foundation, but Adrian blows him off, saying it’s too late.

However, there now arises one problem Adrian has failed to anticipate. It seems that the sheriff, despite all his dimwittedness, has figured out that his bloodhounds go nutzoid whenever they come near Adrian or his domicile. Adrian had earlier deflected the hounds’ suspicions by claiming they were sniffing his insect repellent, the late handler’s coat, it was that time of the month, yada, yada, yada. Nevertheless, the sheriff is certain that something is going on around Adrian’s house, so he stations his deputies where they can both keep a close watch on the house and the surrounding woods.

Adrian tries one more attack, but only gets knifed for his efforts. While running back to his house, he is shot on the doorstep, and everyone now learns it was Dr. Adrian in the ape suit all the time. Adrian raises his head to see Frances take her first steps and then dies. Frances and Danny share the final scene, as Frances can now walk and has burned her wheelchair.


As we have seen, the plot is nothing short of idiotic. So how about the acting? Considering the leads, Gene O’Donnell comes off as entirely wooden. Maris Wrixon is good, considering she doesn’t have much to do. But it’s Karloff who shines and makes this worth watching. It seems that no matter how lousy the film is, how utterly worthless, Karloff always gives his all. Were it John Carradine or Bela Lugosi trapped in such a mess, they would have mugged their way through, but not Karloff; he always gives a dignified performance and nothing less than 100%, even if the vehicle he’s in isn’t worth his time. And it’s the case here Karloff plays Dr. Adrian not as mad, but with as single-minded with the best of intentions. He wants to cure Frances no matter what, and the people he kills along the way were not of the best moral fiber, not that it excuses killing, but the way the film positions its characters, it relieves Karloff of real malicious intent, instead presenting us with a totally misguided altruism.

The supporting roles are filled with Poverty Row veterans like Henry Hall (Kid Dynamite with the East Side Kids, The Ape ManGirls in ChainsThe Return of the Rangers, and Voodoo Man among his appearances) and Selmer Jackson (Bowery BoyDick Tracy vs. Crime, Inc.Paper BulletsDillinger, and Black Market Babies, among others). These were actors who gave average performances in below-average films. The man in the ape suit is none other than Ray “Crash” Corrigan, here in an unbilled role as both the ape and Dr. Adrian in the ape suit (it was too heavy for the slightly-built Karloff to don). Corrigan was both an actor, not famed for his Westerns, and a stuntman that owned his own ape suit. Other stuntmen famous for playing apes were Charles Gemora (Road to ZanzibarCharlie Chan at the CircusThe Monster and the Girl, and Africa Screams) and George Barrows (Gorilla at Large, and the unforgettable Robot Monster), who owned a gorilla costume which he rented to producers.

William Nigh, Monogram’s house director, helmed The Ape. To say he was prolific is somewhat of an understatement, as he directed 121 features in his career, which began with Salomy Jane in 1914 and ended with Stage Struck in 1948 (his retirement), mostly for Poverty Row studios. He was renowned for his assembly-line approach to film-making, and made movies in almost every genre, whether action, Westerns, musicals, comedies, dramas, war films, mysteries, and even film noir. (So much for auteur theory.) His films with Bela Lugosi and the East Side Kids have become cult classics, and he was familiar to Karloff as the only director the actor worked with while at Monogram. Ironically, his 1918 feature, My Four Years in Germany, was such a hit that it established Warner Brothers as a major player in Hollywood.

Faces In The Crowd: Maris Wrixon

Born Mary Alice Wrixon on December 28, 1916, in Pasco, Washington, Wrixon has 64 film and television credits to her name, yet she’s practically unknown today.

With only a bit of theatrical background, she signed with Warner Brothers in 1939. She had the necessary endowments and beauty to take her to stardom, yet her career at Warner’s never got off the ground. She appeared in 13 films in ’39, and 12 in ’40, mostly as an unbilled background character or given a line or two at best. When not in the studio, she modeled for numerous women’s magazines, such as Vogue, where she appeared on the cover. She was reportedly a favorite of George Hurrell, Sr., Hollywood’s premier glamour photographer.

Wrixon did eventually move up playing leads in such B-movies as The Case of the Black Parrot (1941, opposite William Lundigan) and Bullets for O’Hara (1941, with Roger Pryor and Anthony Quinn). She also had good roles in features such as Footsteps in the Dark (1941, starring Errol Flynn and Brenda Marshall) and Million Dollar Baby (1941, starring Priscilla Lane and Jeffrey Lynn). When not working at Warner Bros., she found herself loaned to Republic, where she worked with Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and the Weavers, and Monogram, which she described as “being in a foxhole.”

Warner Bros. released her in 1942, and except for a couple of films at Universal, she worked on Poverty Row. Her last film, As You Were, with William Tracy and Joe Sawyer, was made for R&L Productions and distributed by Lippert in 1951. She then worked guest spots in such television shows as The Cisco KidBoston BlackieSea Hunt, and The Untouchables until her retirement in 1963. Her personal life was more of a success: from January 28, 1940, until her death on October 6, 1999, from heart failure, she was married to German émigré film editor Rudi Fehr.

Trivia: Nigh had previously directed a version of The Ape as House of Mystery in 1934 (again for Monogram).

Friday, October 17, 2014

Dinner and a Movie: Dracula Untold

Of Dracula and Rare Steak Or Never Take a Vampire to a Steakhouse

By Steve Herte

When I was a teenager I had a passion for building models, mostly model cars. I had a Cadillac, a Lincoln Continental, a Corvette Stingray, a Toronado, an Avanti, and a Chevrolet Impala. I customized them and painted them in great detail. I wonder where they went? Then I got into ships, but I stopped after the Aircraft Carrier Shangri-La - too many parts. It was simpler to build the models of the Universal Studios monster collection. Number one of these was Dracula (the Bela Lugosi model), which was easy to do because it came in black plastic and I only had to fill in the pale face and red cape inside, and minimal painting before display. But all of these are in the past with only the memories remaining. I still think vampires are cool, but I'm not sure I'd like to be one. The only thing you get to eat or drink is blood. I like my restaurants too much to give up food for immortality. Which brings me to Dinner and a Movie. Enjoy!

Dracula Untold (Universal, 2014) Director: Gary Shorte. Writers: Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless (s/p). Based on characters created by Bram Stoker. Cast: Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper, Art Parkinson, Charles Dance, Diarmaid Murtagh, Paul Kaye, William Houston, Noah Huntley, Ronan Vibert, Zach McGowan, Ferdinand Kingsley, Joseph Long, Thor Kristjansson, & Jakub Gierszal. Color, 92 minutes.

"Sometimes people need a hero, and sometimes they need a Monster."

Having read Bram Stoker’s original story of “Dracula,” “Nosferatu,” all of Anne Rice’s tales of the vampire Lestat, and having seen all the incarnations of Dracula from Bela Lugosi (still the best) through Max Shreck, Louis Jourdan and George Hamilton, I was eager to see the movie that explains where it all began. Granted, Lestat had his own beginnings back in ancient Egypt, but it’s the inspiration for the legend of Dracula (Son of the Dragon), that this Universal film relates.

For this we must go back to the mid to late 15th Century in Romania, where Vlad Tepes III (Evans) is king. The Ottoman Turks are advancing into Europe and are about to attack Hungary and Austria. Romania has been paying tribute to Turkey to avoid war. Vlad’s father paid a human tribute of 1,000 young boys for the Turkish army, but Vlad will do anything to keep his people safe.

When a battalion of Turkish soldiers venture onto and inside Broken Tooth Mountain, they are mysteriously slain to a man. The Sultan thinks it was Vlad and his troops and sends an emissary to collect the tribute, plus 1,000 boys (including his son) to fill his ranks. Vlad tries to reason with his old friend Mehmed (Cooper). They became friends when Vlad’s father sent him to the Turks along with the 1,000 boys the first time around. His prowess and violent methods in battle won him the title “Vlad the Impaler.” But now that his kingdom is at peace he wishes it to stay that way. Mehmed, however, is unmoved.

A small contingent of soldiers comes to pick up the boy and Vlad kills them all in a whirlwind of swordplay. Mehmed is really mad now, and sends a large army after Vlad. The Romanian people accuse their king of starting a war they cannot win. But Vlad has an idea. He had met the creature living in Broken Tooth Mountain in an earlier scene where a Turkish helmet washes downstream from the peak and, investigating the cause, he and his men enter a cave. The remains of the Turkish battalion are scattered all over the floor of the cave when the creature attacks. Vlad loses a man, but was spared by the daylight streaming into the mouth of the cave. He knows that this monster has a secret to his power and that he might gain that power to vanquish the Turks.


Vlad climbs back up the mountain to the cave and confronts the Master Vampire (Dance) with his dilemma. The creature breaks a skull open, slashes his wrist with his teeth and pours his blood into the skull bowl. He tells Vlad to drink it and he will gain the awesome power of the Master Vampire. If he can resist the thirst for human blood for three days he will revert to his normal self. If he cannot resist, he will remain a vampire forever and the Master Vampire will be freed from his mountain prison. Vlad drinks.

From then on the movie is a computer-graphic joyride. Vlad discovers his new powers quickly and uses the capability of dispersing into a colony of bats and reforming to slay an army of 1,000 men solo. Vlad tells his men not to relate what happened on that battlefield.

But Mehmed figures out what Vlad has done and sends 10,000 men after him.

What does a vampire do when his men are hopelessly outnumbered and he can only fight at night? Well, he calls upon the millions of bats living in his country to do some of the fighting for him, creates a huge thunderstorm to enable him to fight in the daytime, and makes his entire people into vampires (except for his wife and son) to completely decimate the Turkish horde. Unfortunately, he loses his wife in a plunge from the highest tower of the monastery (where his people took refuge) and she begs him to drink her blood with her dying breath. Ergo, he’s a vampire forever and the Master is released.

Dracula Untold is a typical blockbuster-style movie, grand in scale and with a lot of fast action. It’s not the scary Dracula story we all know, but it’s a good concept for a prequel. Evans is much better looking than any of the pictures of Vlad Tepes, but that’s Hollywood. It’s quite jarring to hear Mehmed drop the Turkish accent and sound Russian several times, and the Castle Dracula looks more like Notre Dame Cathedral than a castle in the Carpathians. The special effects are great. Needless to say, there is a lot of bloodshed and impaling (parents, this is where your good sense comes in). There are also primal growls from the vampires and bone-crunching sounds when they bite.

The theater, for the first time in a long time, was almost full with a wide range of ages. In the last scene of the movie I heard someone say, “Sequel.” The scene is modern day Romania, castle Dracula is a tourist attraction, Vlad, who was saved by Shkelgim (McGowan), meets a beautiful blonde flower sales girl named Mina. This is where I came in.

Rating: 3 ½ Martini glasses out of 5.


The Strip House Next Door
11 East 12th StreetNew York

There’s nothing like a good old vampire movie to make one hungry for a rare steak and, two blocks from the theater at Union Square, the opportunity exists to have one. The Strip House is a 14-year old establishment in Greenwich Village at 13 East 12th, and the adjacent downstairs location (once a speakeasy) is its 2½-year-old offspring, “Next Door.” Sheltered from the garish red neon sign and black awning of the parent restaurant by a tree in autumn color, it’s only 10 steps down from the sidewalk.


Inside all is red-flocked wallpaper and photos of famous actresses as pin-up girls, and if you look closely, the pattern of the flocking on the walls is composed of female forms as well. A cheery young blonde girl in a black dress wearing killer lace stockings greeted me at the Captain’s Station and led me to the “perfect” table at the end of the bar. The intimate space comprises some 20-odd tables in addition to the massive bar. The lighting is low, but not dark, and there are votive candles in red glass on the white-clothed tables.

The equally cheery young man who would become my server welcomed me and took both my water preference and cocktail order as he presented me with the menu and separate wine book. He reappeared with my Beefeater martini before bringing the water and made witty note of the odd situation. I did my best W.C. Fields and told him, “I don’t really drink water. Fish DO IT in it.” He laughed and went to get the water.


Meanwhile, another server brought a silver bowl of homemade potato chips (complete with dip) as an Amuse-bouche and the breadbasket – one roll and a pretzel breadstick (that went first). I told my server I already felt spoiled. He recited the daily specials and left me to decide.

After a little while, sipping my perfect martini I choose three courses and a side. The menu was surprisingly simple. To start, I chose the Lobster Bisque – Maine lobster, pearl couscous, and a dollop of sour cream. It arrived without a spoon. I looked around to see if I missed it but . . . no. My server hurriedly produced one with, “This usually comes with this dish.” We both laughed. The bisque was smooth, hot and creamy and the pearl couscous at the bottom was a pleasant surprise.

The wine book was impressive in amount of pages and after hysterically giggling at the huge number of outrageously priced bottles I found the reasonable ones at the back of the book. There I found a 2011 Bucklin Bambino Zinfandel from Sonoma County, which was exactly what I needed. It was full-bodied without being overbearing and a rich red color.


My second course was a plate of oysters, three East Coast, three West Coast. They were deliciously fresh and cold, served on a bed of ice and accompanied by both a vinegar sauce and a horseradish sauce. Another server saw me taking pictures of my food and asked if I wanted a photo of myself with the oysters. (Another light-hearted moment.)

The main course (and the thing I craved after the Dracula movie) was a special of the day, a 14-ounce, bone-in Filet Mignon (On second thought, doesn’t the bone cancel out the Filet part?). It was a good inch and a half high blackened crisp on the outside and bright red on the inside, just the way I like it.

Sharing the plate was a head of baked garlic with a tree of rosemary sprouting from its center. The side dish was one I craved since I saw it on the website, Crispy Goose Fat Fries. I had no idea what this dish would look like. It was a baseball-sized crispy brown-coated ball of potatoes crowned with rosemary leaves. It was tasty but could have used less rosemary and more goose fat – something I noted to my server.

I was rapidly becoming sated but enjoying myself nevertheless when dessert time arrived. “The cheesecake’s on the house!” announced my server, and I agreed. But the slice of fluffy cheese on a graham cracker crust proved to be too much for me and I had them box half of it to go. Surprise, surprise, I didn’t even have room for espresso or an after-dinner drink. I called for the check.


The Strip House Next Door is a pretty, definitely cheery, little steakhouse, and comes in at number 92 on my database of steakhouses. But it ranks up in the top 20 as far as enjoyment goes and food quality. I may go back with a guest because, when my server was listing the specials he mentioned a 40-ounce T-Bone. I’m dying to see what that looks like but I don’t think I can finish it alone.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Cinéma Inhabituel for October 16-31

A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea

STAR OF THE MONTH

We continue with Janet Leigh, the Star of the Month for October. While most of the programming scheduled for the two remaining days of her reign is mediocre, there are three classics definitely worth watching.

October 22: The pick of the night airs at 2:15 in the morning. It’s John Carpenter’s The Fog (1980), one of the better horror films on the ‘80s, and one certainly worth a view.


October 23: The fun spills over into the next morning at 6:00 am with Leigh in one film she would have liked to have forgotten, the abysmal Night of the Lepus (1972). She and Stuart Whitman are married scientists seeking a serum to control rabbit breeding. Instead they have created a formula that causes the rabbits to grow to gigantic proportions. Imagine - hordes of pet bunnies on the loose, accompanied by the occasional stuntman in a bunny suit to inflict damage of unsuspecting humans. Yes, it’s an all-time laff riot and demands to be seen in all its “glory.”

October 29: Two great classics with Leigh are airing tonight. At 8:00 pm, it’s Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), and at 10:00 pm, it’s Orson Welles’s overlooked classic, Touch of Evil (1958).

FRIDAY NIGHT SPOTLIGHT: AFRICA

Each Friday night this month, except Halloween, TCM will run films about Africa or shot in Africa.

October 17: There are three excellent films scheduled, beginning at 8:00 pm with MGM’s remake of King Solomon’s Mines (1950), starring Deborah Kerr and Stewart Granger. The incredible Trader Horn (1931) follows at 10:00 pm, where Great White hunters Harry Carey and Duncan Renaldo travel deep into the jungle to trade wares with the locals and find themselves captured by a bloodthirsty tribe ruled by White Goddess Edwina Booth. You have to see it to believe it, but it’s great fun if not taken seriously.

Airing at 12:15 am is Mountains of the Moon (1990), an intelligent look at the competition between British explorers Richard Francis Burton and John Hanning Speke to find the source of the Nile River.

October 24: A night of heralded films begins at 8:00 pm, with Robert Redford and Meryl Streep in Danish writer Isak Dinesen’s autobiographical tale, Out of Africa (1985). Following at 10:45 is Sigourney Weaver in Gorillas in the Mist (1988), another film based on a true-life story. This time it’s the story of naturalist Dian Fossey and her ultimately fatal struggle to save the gorillas of Rwanda from poachers.

At 1:00 am, it’s The English Patient (1996), a strange tale of a badly burned man who remembers a tragic wartime romance. It won Juliette Binoche an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in one of Oscar’s biggest upsets. The overwhelming favorite going in was Lauren Bacall for her role in The Mirror Has Two Faces.

And, wrapping up at the wee hour of 4:00 am is the classic sequel, Tarzan and His Mate (1934).

OUT OF THE ORDINARY

October 18: One can always make room for a classic, even if one has seen it umpteen times, and if the classic is John Ford’s The Searchers (1956). John Wayne is amazing in his portrayal of an Indian-hating Civil War veteran searching for his niece, kidnapped by Comanches many years ago. Anyone who thinks the big glom couldn’t act should check this one out at 10:00 pm and eat crow.

October 19: An excellent double feature from Spain comes our way with El Sur (1983) at 2:45 am, followed by The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) at 4:30. The former is a moving story of a young girl living in an isolated northern Spanish town. She is in awe of her father, and gradually comes to realize that he has a great secret and the realization that this secret is the center of his life while she is only a facet of that life. What this great secret is becomes her mission to find out.

The Spirit of the Beehive is an acclaimed film about two innocent young girls who see Frankenstein at a special showing in their village. The power of the film causes them to embark upon a mission to find the monster. It is a wonderful evocation of village life and the imagination of childhood that will keep viewers mesmerized throughout. It’s one to catch.


October 25: A very strange and interesting film is on the agenda at the late hour of 2:30 am. It is called Ciao! Manhattan, an avant-garde film from 1972 directed by John Palmer and David Weisman and starring the late, tragic, counterculture idol, Edie Sedgwick. It could be called a semi-autobiographical tale, as it follows the life and career of young Susan Superstar (Sedgwick) through her time as one of Andy Warhol’s Superstars. Using actual audio recordings of Sedgwick's account of her time in Warhol’s Factory in New York City, and coupled with clips from the original unfinished script started in 1967, the film captures the deterioration of Edie Sedgwick, aka Susan Superstar. It is not only a requiem to Edie Sedgwick, Warhol’s first superstar, but also to the New York Underground scene, which blossomed on the ‘60s and died from its own excesses.

THE B-HIVE: A TRIBUTE TO EDGAR G. ULMER

On October 21, TCM is devoting an entire night to the films of director Edgar G. Ulmer. Ulmer, known as the director who did the most with the least, was the Auteur of Poverty Row. Not that he particularly wanted to work there, he was blackballed by the Hollywood studios in the mid-‘30s as a consequence of his affair with Shirley Alexander, wife of producer Max Alexander of Universal, a nephew of Universal’s president, Carl Laemmle. Shirley divorced Alexander to marry Ulmer and remained his wife until his death in 1972. Ulmer worked everywhere in the low-budget world, from films in Yiddish to fly-by-night production companies. He hooked up with PRC in the ‘40s, the largest studio he would work for, and created several minor masterpieces while there. Anyway we put it, Ulmer was an interesting character, and his films are always interesting to watch.

The night begins at 8:00 pm with the PRC drama Her Sister’s Secret (1946), a weeper about a woman who becomes pregnant by her soldier lover, who takes a powder. She gives the child to her sister only to have the lover return intent on having a family.

At 9:30, it’s a wonderful documentary about Ulmer’s films and influence, Edgar G. Ulmer -- The Man Off-Screen (2005). At 10:45 pm, it’s Carnegie Hall (1947), a story of a young piano prodigy and his stage mother. Following at 1:15 am is Murder Is My Beat (1955), a nice little quickie from Allied Artists about detectives’ search for the killer of a businessman.


Detour (1945), widely regarded as Ulmer’s masterpiece, airs afterward at 2:45 am. Then, it’s The Amazing Transparent Man (1960), which may just by Ulmer’s worst film: a story of a gangster who can become invisible. The less said, the better.

PSYCHOTRONICA

October 16: As part of the Special Theme - Ghost Stories, TCM is airing the superior horror-comedy, The Ghost Breakers (1940), with Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard, at 8:00 pm. The other interesting films of the night are two spook comedies from The Bowery Boys, beginning at 2:15 am: Ghost Chasers(1951), and Spook Busters (1946).

October 18: Tune in at 2:30 am for director John Carpenter’s updating of Howard Hawks’s Rio Bravo in an urban setting - Assault on Precinct 13 (1976).

October 23: An excellent double-bill of ghost stories beginning at 8:00 pm with The Innocents (1961), based on Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, and at 10:00 pm, Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey in the superior ghost story, The Uninvited (1944).

October 26: It’s Lon Chaney’s silent horror-comedy, The Monster (1925), at 12:45 am, followed by Henri-Georges Clouzot’s classic thriller, Diabolique(1955), at 2:15 am.

October 28: It’s an entire day of horror films. The best of the bunch begins with Bela Lugosi in Columbia’s The Return of the Vampire (1944). At 8 pm, it’s Ealing’s classic anthology Dead of Night (1945), and at 12:15 am the anthology Kwaidan (1965) from Japan.

October 30: Films worth catching include the unintentional comedy I Was a Communist For The F.B.I. (1951) at 3:45 pm, The House on Haunted Hill(1958) at 8:00 pm, and The Haunting (1963) at 1:00 am.

October 31: A good day for horror films. Try Carnival of Souls (1962) at 4:45 pm, Repulsion (1965) at 6:15 pm, the original Night of the Living Dead(1968) at 8:00 pm, and Curse of the Demon (1958) at 10:00 pm.


Finally, at 5:00 am, it’s one of the most exotic and disturbing films from France, Eyes Without a Face (1959). Directed by Georges Franju, it’s the story of a surgeon (Pierre Brasseur) who kidnaps young women and grafts their faces onto that of his disfigured daughter (Edith Scob). It’s a “can’t miss” if you’ve never seen it and a “must see again” if you have.

Monday, October 13, 2014

TCM TiVo Alert for October 15-22

TCM TiVo ALERT
For
October 15–October 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

I CONFESS (October 17, 10:00 am): How great was Alfred Hitchcock at directing? This 1953 film is excellent and it barely makes it into his 10 best movies. Montgomery Clift, an under-appreciated but outstanding actor, plays a priest who can't say anything about a murder because the killer told him about it during confession. To top it off, Clift's character becomes the main suspect in the crime. Hitchcock had issues with Clift while making the film because he wasn't comfortable working with method actors - even Clift who was easily the best from that concept of acting. However, you would never know it as the film is well paced with extraordinary acting and the master directing it.

THE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE (October 19, 4:30 am): A wonderful Spanish film, released in 1973, about two very young girls living in the time shortly after that nation's civil war when the army of Gen. Francisco Franco defeated Republican forces. The movie was made toward the end of Franco's reign and some have called it a commentary on Franco's time ruling Spain. Maybe, but it's much more than that. The two girls are greatly affected after watching 1931's Frankenstein and their imaginations run wild with one believing an escaped Republican soldier she discovers is the film's Monster. New York Times film critic A.O. Scott wrote this movie "is at once lucid and enigmatic, poised between adult longing and childlike eagerness, sorrowful knowledge and startled innocence." That's a somewhat heavy concept, but having seen the film, it's a pretty accurate description.
  
ED’S BEST BETS:

THE GHOST BREAKERS (October 16, 8:00 am): Place Bob Hope as a cowardly guy on the run from the Mob alongside lovely Paulette Goddard, give them a spooky place to investigate, along with plenty of suspicious characters and unexplained events along the way, and we have a funny and entertaining film. The year before this film was made, 1939, Hope and Goddard starred in a remake of The Cat and the Canary. The film was an unexpected hit, and both patrons and exhibitors alike called for Paramount to reteam the duo in another one just like the first. So the studio found another old script that had been filmed a few times, updated it, and turned it into The Ghost Breakers. Hope is a radio columnist who has to leave town to escape the wrath of the Mob. He hides in the hotel room of heiress Goddard, using her trunk to leave the hotel. She’s bound for Cuba to claim her inheritance of a haunted castle, and Hope is now along for the ride. With him is his valet, played by the inimitable Willie Best, and together with Goddard unravel the mystery surrounding the castle. The sets are sumptuous, especially the castle, and the photography by Charles Lang is superb. The film made even more money than its predecessor and started a trend in Hollywood to make more Old Dark House comedy/mysteries. Even those who don’t especially care for Bob Hope may end up liking this one.

DETOUR (October 21, 2:45 am): It’s one of the most vaunted film noirs ever made; a cult classic that first gained its reputation in France and quickly spread to American film buffs. It was also one of philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’s favorite films, and looking at the existential irony that propels much of the film, that is no surprise. The myth that now surrounds the film is such that we are now led to believe it was shot by director Edgar G. Ulmer over three days for about $100. Of course, that’s exaggerating some, but Ulmer was known for his ability to stretch the most from the least. For instance, a simple street lamp in a fog-enshrouded studio represents New York City, and a drive-in restaurant and a used-car lot symbolize Los Angeles. The story itself is a simple one: Al Roberts, an unemployed piano player, is hitching it from New York to Los Angeles, where his girlfriend is as singer. When he hits Arizona, a dissolute gambler picks him up and relates a story about a female hitchhiker he had picked up earlier. Shortly after he dies of a heart attack. Al, panicked, leaves his body by the side of the road and takes his car. He stops to pick up a female hitchhiker, and the nightmare begins, for not only is she the hitcher referred to earlier, but also she’s as venomous as a room full of scorpions. This is a film that, if you haven’t yet seen it, you should make room on your recorder. It’s highly entertaining, and the performances by Tom Neal, and especially by Ann Savage as the Hitchhiker From Hell, are classics of Noir. Even if you’ve seen it before, it’s worth catching again, just for the hell of it and to see a master craftsman at work.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . HIGH ANXIETY (October 19, 4:00 pm):

ED: A. There was a period from 1974, with Blazing Saddles, to 1983, with To Be Or Not To Be, when everything Mel Brooks touched turned to gold. High Anxiety, made in 1977, is another of Brooks’s spoofs of genre films. He had already made Blazing Saddles, a spoof of Westerns, Young Frankenstein, a spoof of horror films, and Silent Movie, spoofing the days of the silents. High Anxiety is a very clever spoof of Alfred Hitchcock. Brooks takes familiar Hitchcock plots and adds his very special kind of low humor. For Hitchcock fans, the delight of the film is to see which of the Old Master’s films is being spoofed at that moment. The setting for the film is straight out of Spellbound, where, instead of “Green Manor,” the mental hospital is named “The Psychoneurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous.” Brooks’s character, Dr. Richard Thorndyke, suffers from vertigo, which he calls "High Anxiety,” hence the title. And the hospital is one where we can’t tell who is loonier, the doctors or the patients. It’s a wonderful, funny poke at the plot devices and conventions of Hitchcock done in a most reverential and loving way. Brooks is aided and abetted in the film by his usual cast of zanies: Harvey Kormann, Cloris Leachman, Ron Carey, Howard Morris, Charlie Callas, and the superbly talented Madeline Kahn, who almost steals the picture. It’s one of my favorite Mel Brooks films, and a lot more entertaining than the recent spate of films about Hitchcock that made their way to the screen in 2012.

DAVID: C. This film is neither entertaining nor clever. High Anxiety had a few amusing moments, but overall it wasn't a funny movie in 1977 and is even less funny today. The spoofs of Alfred Hitchcock films are mostly juvenile, such as pigeons pooping on Mel Brooks' character rather than attacking in an attempted parody of The Birds. It's campy, corny, uneven and I can't help but groan at times at the simplicity of most of the spoofs. The film had potential, but failed to live up to it largely because of the weak plot. One of the bright spots is a funny set-up of the shower scene in Psycho. Also, some of the performances, such as Madeline Kahn and Cloris Leachman, save this film from being a total disaster. But High Anxiety isn't up to the quality of two of Brooks' other parodies, Young Frankenstein and Silent Movie though it's not as awful as Spaceballs, which doesn't say much.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.