Sunday, October 15, 2017

Cinéma Inhabituel for October 16-31

A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea

In the last column I spoke about B-Westerns. TCM is showing quite a few this month, but they are from RKO. As I love B-Westerns, I have some suggestions: I remember TCM showing a few Westerns from Monogram a while ago starring the Trail Blazers (Ken Maynard and Hoot Gibson). There are also loads of Westerns from PRC and Republic as well. When the Maynard-Gibson oaters were shown I got quite a few e-mails from fellow cinephiles who were delighted the station was showing them. How about a Spotlight featuring such B-Western stars as Monogram’s Range Busters series (Ray “Crash” Corrigan, John “Dusty” King, & Max “Alibi” Terhune); The Rough Riders series (Buck Jones, Tim McCoy & Ray Hatton); Columbia’s The Durango Kid series (Charles Starrett); Republic’s Three Mesquiteers series (Bob Livingston, Crash Corrigan & Sid Saylor); PRC’s Lone Rider series (George Houston, later Bob Livingston); The Texas Rangers series (Jim Newell, Dave O’Brien, Tex Ritter & Guy Owen Wilkerson); The Frontier Marshal series (William Boyd, Art Davis & Lee Powell); The Billy the Kid Series (Bob Steele, later Buster Crabbe, both backed by Al “Fuzzy” St John); Lash La Rue and Fuzzy St. John, & Eddie Dean; and – especially – Hopalong Cassidy (William Boyd), perhaps the quintessential Western hero for Paramount and UA. A lot of Boomers watched these on television as kids and still remember them fondly. There’s a lot to be mined here and TCM should get in on the fun.


October 18: At 8:00 pm TCM will air a trilogy of films directed by Ernst Marischka about Empress Elisabeth of Austria, Sissi (1955) and its sequels, Sissi: The Young Empress (1956) and Sissi: Fateful Years of an Empress (1957). The films follow the life of Elisabeth of Bavaria, who became Empress of Austria when she married Emperor Franz Josef. Sissi focuses on the fateful meeting of Elisabeth and Franz Josef. When the young emperor met he he instantly fell in love and declared he would marry no one else, For her part Elisabeth was a free spirit who was reluctant to become involved with the responsibility of an empress, yet within the year they married and Sissi learns the duties and responsibilities her position entails.

Sissi: The Young Empress focuses on her life at the royal court and the heartbreak, as Franz is away for long periods and her mother-in-law has decided to take her granddaughter away from the Empress and raise her herself. This marked the beginnings of Elisabeth’s physical and mental health issues, as she becomes unable to endure life at court and starts spending more and more time away from it.

Sissi: Fateful Years of an Empress sees her deteriorate further, becoming so ill that her doctors begin to despair for her life. Help arrives when her mother, Ludovika, arrives and nurses her back to health, Now completely well, she returns to her husband’s side and resumes her duties as Empress.

I have seen only the first of the trilogy. Marischka does a wonderful job of setting the stage, with superb settings and superior camerawork. Schneider brings the empress to life and with her co-star, Karlheinz Bohm, capture the pomp, circumstance and romance of the House of Hapsburg. 


October 22: At the late hour of 3:45 am, TCM is airing the superb Kwaidan. This 1964 production, directed by Masaki Kobayashi, adapts four tales of the supernatural from 19th century writer Lafcadio Hearn’s collection of Japanese folk tales, Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, and Shadowings. In the first, The Black Hair, a young, impoverished samurai divorces his wife to marry the daughter of a noble family. But far from finding the expected happiness he is haunted by the image of the wife he abandoned. The second tale, The Woman in the Snow, a woodcutter named Minokichi and his mentor Mosaku take refuge during a snowstorm. A female snow spirit kills Mosaku, but spares Minokichi because of his youth, warning him never to speak of what he has witnessed or she will kill him. In the third tale, Hoichi the Earless, a blind musician agrees to sing for a royal family unaware of the fact they are ghosts. Finally, In a Cup of Tea, a writer awaiting a visit from the publisher writes a story about a samurai who is disturbed by the recurring image of a strange man in a cup of tea.

October 29: Ugetsu, director Kenji Mizoguchi’s 1953 tale of the supernatural, airs at 4:15 am. This is a masterful tale of two poor villagers who seek to profit from a shortage of pottery during a civil war in 16th century Japan. Though they make a fortune, they pay later for their misdeeds as do their wives. Mizoguchi’s film is beautifully filmed and realized, merging reality with fantasy in a supernatural tapestry of the price paid for war, avarice, dishonesty and lust. 


October 22: It’s a Hammer Studios Dracula double feature, with Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1965) at 8:00 pm, followed by 1968’s Dracula Has Risen From the Grave. Both star Christopher Lee as the famous vampire. 

October 29: The Hammer Draculas continue with another double feature: Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) at 8:00 pm, and Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) at 10:00 pm. Again, both star Lee as Dracula. Read our essay on the latter film here. One thing I’ve noticed about the Hammer Dracula sequels is that the vampire has become reduced to having mortals not only doing his dirty work, but also tending to his person. 


October 17: TCM airs an evening of horror classics, Hammer Style, beginning at 8:00 pm with The Devil’s Bride (1968), with Christopher Lee battling Satanist Charles Grey for the soul of Patrick Mower. At 9:45 pm Peter Cushing and Lee star in The Curse of Frankenstein (1956). Lee is Kharis the Mummy in The Mummy (1959) at 11:15 pm, threatening a group of archaeologists (led by Peter Cushing) who defiled his tomb. Then, at 1 am, Oliver Reed suffers from The Curse of the Werewolf (1961). Andre Morell does battle with an evil landowner (John Carson) who uses zombies to work his mines in Plague of the Zombies (1966), airing at 2:45 am. Finally, at 4:30 am, Indian snake worshippers turn explorer Noel Willman’s daughter (Jacqueline Pearce) into a monster in The Reptile (1966). Yes, they get sillier as time goes on.

October 24: More classic horror, highlighted by The Innocents (1961) at 8:00 pm, the excellent and underrated Curse of the Demon (1957) at midnight, and the thoroughly unsettling Carnival of Souls (1962) following at 2:00 am. 

October 31: More classics, led by James Whale’s The Old Dark House (1932) at 8:00 pm, 1963’s The Haunting at 9:30, William Castle’s classic schlock House on Haunted Hill (1958) at 11:30, Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard in Paramount’s remake of The Cat and the Canary (1939) at 1:15 am, and Vincent Price and Agnes Moorhead in 1959’s The Bat at 4:30 am.


October 19: Wounded mobster James Fox gets more than he bargained for when he takes refuge at the mansion of reclusive rock star Mick Jagger in Performance (1970) at 4:00 am.

October 21: Bruce Davison and friends take revenge on his tormenting boss, Ernest Borgnine in Willard (1971) at 2:00 am. Problem is that his friends are all rats. Sort of like a psychotronic pied piper. The sequel, Ben (1972) follows at 3:45 am. 

October 28: Catherine Deneuve goes slowly and tormentingly mad in Roman Polanski’s 1965 horror classic, Repulsion (3:45 am).

October 31: Panned when released, White Zombie (1932) is regarded as a classic. Starring the great Bela Lugosi, it can be seen at 8:30 am.


October 16: At 8:00 pm comes the chance to see a rarely shown film from none other than Cecil B. DeMille, Filmdom’s most overrated director. One might think from the title that Madam Satan is a horror picture. It isn’t, though it is a horror of another kind. This 1930 effort from DeMille is so bizarre that we guarantee you’ll never forget it, and when you do remember it, you’ll naturally cringe a bit. It stars Kay Johnson as Angela, a wife tired of husband’s (Reginald Denny) infidelity. She decides to win him back by disguising herself as an alluring masked guest at a masquerade ball. Naturally Bob goes ga-ga over her, and gets the shock of his life when she reveals her identity. This leads him to declare that “I’ve been such a fool.” Also along for the ride are Lillian Roth as Trixie, Bob’s tasty bit on the side, and Roland Young as Bob’s BFF, Jimmy. 

It’s a variation on his silent sex comedies such as Old Wives for New (1918) and Don't Change Your Husband (1919), where husbands and wives flirt with infidelity before reuniting in a good old-fashioned moralistic ending. When DeMille made this film, MGM was already doing a better job with Robert Montgomery and Norma Shearer. The first half-hour moves at a pace so slow that you may be tempted to catch something else. But hang around, for the last part of the movie is pure camp, as the masquerade ball is held aboard Jimmy’s zeppelin. You read that right – zeppelin. The ball is highlighted by outlandish ballet led by The Spirit of Electricity and his ballet troupe in a scene seemingly right out of Metropolis and Dante’s Inferno, with bizarre costumes and little motor cars driven by waitresses. When a storm arises and rips the zeppelin from its moorings everyone aboard simply parachutes out to safety(!). The sheer audacity of the ending makes the slogging through the first 30-plus minutes bearable. Costing over $1 million, Madam Satan lost a ton of money at the box office. Critic Mordaunt Hall, in The New York Times, hit it on the head when he noted that “it is an inept story with touches of comedy that are more tedious than laughable.” At any rate, it’s not to be missed.

October 19: Paramount sent two of its best newsreel photographers, Willard Van der Veer and Joseph Rucker, to the South Pole to capture history in the pioneering documentary With Byrd At The South Pole (1930). It airs at 8:00 am.

October 21: Gangster Dave the Dude (Warren William) helps apple vendor May Robson impersonate a society woman to impress her visiting daughter in Frank Capra’s 1933 comedy, Lady For a Day at 6:00 am. It’s followed at 8:00 am by John Barrymore as a man who deserted his daughter long ago, but must now help her out of a jam in Long Lost Father (1934). Helen Chandler co-stars. Ironically, both Barrymore and Chandler later drank themselves to death.

October 22: Katharine Hepburn won the Oscar as a stage struck young actress determined to make in on Broadway in Morning Glory (1933) at 7:00 am.

October 26: Dashing Russian nobleman Douglas Fairbanks Jr, is forced to flee the Russian Revolution with former servant Nancy Carroll in Scarlet Dawn (1932) at Noon. 


October 19: At 5:15 pm it’s the howlingly bad docudrama Adventure Girl (1934). Billed as the true adventures of self-styled explorer Joan Lowell, it recounts her journey to the wilds of Guatemala. The movie’s forward tells you all you need to know: 

A year ago Joan Lowell returned from a trip to the vastnesses of Central America, with a tale of well-nigh incredible adventures. So lurid and exciting was the story of her exploits that she was persuaded to duplicate them – only this time with a motion picture camera. "ADVENTURE GIRL" is a re-enactment of Miss Lowell's fantastic journyings (sic) and depicts her experiences in this tropical land noted for its bewildering equatorial beauty.

Or so she’d have us believe. In search of pirate treasure in a lost city Joan sails off with crewmen Bill and Otto. A gale catches their sailboat and blows off a mast. Bill is blown overboard, and Joan dives in to save him. Meanwhile, the sailboat, caught in the gale, speeds away without them and Joan and Bill are forced to tread water in the Gulf of Mexico for two hours. However, the camera is right in there with them, recording their travails to the sound of Joan’s hysterically loud narration. Eventually our three intrepid explorers are in Guatemala, looking to steal a fabled emerald that's in the eye socket of a Mayan idol. They are captured by natives, who make plans to roast Joan at the stake. It’s a scene that must be seen to be believed, as the “natives” stare into the camera and giggle embarrassedly while chanting goona-goona curses at Joan. We can’t help but be aware of the camera and the cameraman behind it filming away while Joan is in desperate need of immediate aid. Later Joan gets into a bitch-slapping cat fight with a Guatemalan woman, Princess Maya, who looks suspiciously like a caucasian made up as a native. What makes this such a howler is that the proceedings are presented with the utmost solemnity. Yet, we can easily see it’s faked so badly that it’s laugh-out-loud. Joan’s hilarious overacting in the film is accompanied by some of the most outrageous narration this side of Criswell and Ed Wood. If you can, hold on until the climax of the film, where Joan is comically chased downriver by boats of savages. Joan and Bill dump gasoline into the water and set it on fire, but end up encircling themselves. In the end Joan confesses her greed and vows never to be tempted by material wealth again. Not to be missed. So low budget that even its distributor, RKO, had to make a profit. By the way, the screenplay is based on Joan’s autobiography, The Cradle of the Deep. It was even a Book-of-the-Month selection when published in 1929, but was later found to be a work of fiction.

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