Thursday, April 11, 2019

Murder in the Private Car (1934)

Young telephone operator Ruth Raymond gets the surprise of her life when she turns out to be the long lost daughter to wealthy railway tycoon Luke Carson. Together with her friend Georgia, her boyfriend John, and a mysterious private eye who dogs her tracks and keeps her safe from harms way, Ruth ventures to reunite with her father, facing all kinds of dangerous encounters...

Murder in the Private Car seems like a pretty self-explanatory film from that title-A murder-mystery set on a train, with a colourful set of suspects. Sounds like fun! However, the film actually takes its sweet ass time even getting to that part. One thing I'll commend it for is that it spends plenty of time on the set-up. The problem is that it spends perhaps a bit too much time on it, and so it feels like an eternity before we even get to the train. We're rather quite inundated with the plot, to the point where I started getting confused, but also still stuck in the first act, so it takes forever for Ruth (or us for that matter) to meet her father, not even getting into the murder.

Now we come to the halfway point. My brain was beginning to melt by the time the train temporarily derailed and was accosted by a group of circus animals, but then things get crazier! We go into full comic book territory with a mad villain revealed to have perfect control over the train car. Talking from an unseen location with a creepy voice, he has secret panels cover the doors and windows, has the floor open up to reveal a cache of dynamite, and cuts the carriage loose from the main train. All sounds well and good. But then he's immediately killed just as he finishes his malevolent speech!

This whole high concept cat-and-mouse game on the train only begins when there's 10 minutes left, then it feels as if the writers didn't even want to bother, so the villain is unceremoniously killed offscreen. It nearly comes off as a parody with how effortlessly it happens despite all his expert planning. Overall, Murder in the Private Car wastes so much time with fiddle faddle that important plot developments as well as characters take forever to come into play, and feel confusing when they do finally arrive. I thought "Who's that?" to myself quite a lot!

Despite all these issues, the writing itself is pretty good,with many lines making me laugh. Ruth "I'll tell that office hour Romeo I'm a one man tune!"
Ruth: "Well, I don't know whether to call him father, or dad, or...what do people who have fathers call them?"-Georgia: "Ah, well I'd say that all depends. If he's rich, something like Father, or dad, or even Pater usually pays pretty good. My old man only rated Pappy."
Georgia: "If I don't wake up for two or three days, I'm not dead, I'm just resting."

The direction is pretty neat. The climax is very well filmed! I'm pretty astounded that any movie from back then would've been able to pull off stuff like this (or indeed, been allowed to!). Then, just when you think you've seen it all, we get even more thrilling stuff to witness! The rail changing scene is definitely bound to make your heart leap to your throat, and I bet Hitchcock himself was grinning if he watched it. Really my only issue with it is that the actors/characters take a backseat to the spectacle, not helped by the rushed ending.

Charlie Ruggles and Una Merkel receive top billing in this production, which made me assume they were the leads. I was frankly surprised at how laidback and normal Merkel was, and how squeaky and manic Mary Carlisle was, because usually it's the other way around...Yeah, there's a reason for that. As it turns out, despite those two getting top billing, they're the supporting cast. Carlisle and Russell Hardie and the two leads. Though while Carlisle is her usual good self, Hardie as the love interest was rather boring, and didn't do much.

Charlie Ruggles is weird as the snoopy private eye. Perhaps a bit too weird, and certainly too old for the role considering how often he's referred to as young, yet his love interest is 20 years his junior. Still, he gets his moments. Una Merkel is fun too. Manic, yeah, but she has life in her performance.

For his fleeting screen appearance (all of one scene) Some Guy (uncredited) does a really good job as the spooky voice, sounding pretty creepy! African American actor Jeff Toones is somewhat endearing as Titus, though delivers a pretty annoying exaggerated voice. Whether he's to blame or the director, I can't say. Thankfully his character is never the butt of any mean jokes. He's in the thick of it just as much as everyone else, and treated as an equal.

Murder in the Private Car is a bit too weird for my liking, but has got enough little good qualities to make sure the movie at least doesn't sink like a stone. It certainly could've done with some fine tuning, but it's not horrible...

Monday, April 1, 2019

The Downfall and Reformation of Hiram Stokely: A Beach Party Essay

It is once again that time of year to discuss the artistic merits of the acclaimed Beach Party series, friends! Today we will be delving into the life and times, and afterlife of the on and only Hiram Stokely...


Before we know of the beginning of this man's life, we will see where he is at the beginning of the movie/story.    A deceased spirit who wishes to make up for his conniving ways before he moves on to Heaven.

Hiram Stokely began life as an industrious and poetic[reverse?] young man interested in the trade of  the theatrical. He worked his way up the ranks of the circus world, wowing audiences everywhere with his magic tricks, including the greatest of all-The Girl in the Invisible Bikini! Sadly, tragedy struck when his love and partner Cecily died in an accident during a performance. Hiram retreated from public life and inside himself, where he became hardened to the feelings of others and decided to use his = skills for crime...

The rest of this man's life sailed by, as he conned people out of their money and got rich off of the proceeds, living inside a stately old Gothic mansion (complete with Chamber of Horrors, of course), under the guidance of his sinister lawyer Reginald Ripper. Eventually he passed away, finding himself in his crypt, and is met by the spirit of his long departed love Cecily. She has been sent from the afterlife to help Hiram redeem his past misdeeds and make his way up to =. While he can't leave the confines of his crypt, only able to watch the actions at the house from his magic ball, the ghostly Cecily will take a more proactive approach to try and defend those present at the will reading from the wiles of the murderous lawyer.

While Hiram may have been given the chance to pull off one last good deed before he moves on, he's not being given a reprieve only after his death, for if you pay attention, you'll realise he already invited his heirs over for the will reading when he was alive. Since he has no descendants of his own, you're probably wondering who they are, and that's a good question. They're the children of the victims who lost [everything] due to Stokely's con-tricks!

Heirs Chuck and Lily are skeptical at first, but the will turns out to be on the level. While even to the end Hiram still had a love for the theatrical, and felt that rewards should never come too easily to those who haven't necessarily earned it, he ultimately left the entirety of his fortune to [the families of] those he hurt in life. It's one thing to suddenly try and redeem oneself when already dead and acutely aware of where they might end up, but the fact this this process began earlier shows that he was a changed man before he was in the grave. Perhaps this is what earned him that post-mortem chance in the first place!

In the end, Reggie Ripper is stopped, and the money is divided between those to who it belongs, though they may have to beat three dozen teenagers away in order to access it. They're an easily pleased lot though. Give 'em a Chamber of Horrors to party in and they're happy. Cecily returns to Hiram with the good news, and they set out to begin their new journey.

In the closing of this day, I think we should all raise a glass in salute to the late Hiram Stokely, and may he wow many in the afterlife with those famous invisible bikinis!...

*PS, as is an April Fool's Day post I'm of course taking the piss to an extent, but partially sincere. I'm not actually making anything up this time! The Boris Karloff-Susan Hart scenes were of course shot after the fact when the movie was completed, but it's interesting to think that even the original offscreen Hiram Stokely is still an unexplored wealth of character! The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini of course comes recommended, though with the proviso that it's perhaps more fun than 'good'...

crystal ball
sign, 9:44, 13:45, 22:50, 25:13

Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Kid Sister (1945)

Joan Hollingsworth is a disappointed girl. Restricted by her stern mother, whose traditional nature makes her favour the eldest daughter in the family, Joan feels like an unwanted lump, so she tries having a bit of fun by pretending to be a maid, to gain access to one of her mother's parties. She quickly bumps into the attractive J. Waldo Barnes, and Becomes smitten. She doesn't have long to react though when she ends up accidentally on the run outside, and in the company of a burglar who mistakes her for a getaway driver...

The Kid Sister is a pretty simple affair, but an amusing one! Running at 53 minutes, it moves very briskly. Perhaps too briskly! It rarely feels rushed, but I do feel it could've been a bit longer, if only because I was enjoying myself so much. This is a pretty funny film, with a good story. Simple, and to the point, with just the right amount of misunderstandings, and a dash of romance.

Joan is a fun lead character to follow. She's a rebellious soul with a proactive streak, and her snark is appreciated. I particularly liked her role in the climax, where she saves the day single-handed, and is both badass with her words and actions!

The romance is handled well. The main couple has good chemistry, to the point where I didn't even notice the large age gap until it was pointed out to me.

Waldo is a fine love interest. Never unreasonable or unlikeable, even if he does get annoyed by the deceptions flying past his head all the time, as well as his loud maids and their brawling. Joan's old friend Tommy meanwhile is a bit of a wet blanket. His personality is a bit weird, actually. We see him at the beginning as an impressionable partner in Joan's mischievous antics, then suddenly he's a stern voice of reason. It's not that his behavioural shift doesn't make sense, but it feels a bit out-of-character when in literally the only other scene we saw him in before this point, they were as thick as thieves. I guess the solution would be to have had him appear a bit more, or cut the character out altogether, since we've already got a potential love interest/exasperated male in the form of Waldo.

Lastly, Joan's family doesn't really appear enough for my liking. We see them enough to totally understand Joan's predicament, but I still feel they could've had more screentime.

The short length of the film does detract in a couple of moments. It feels like there's a bit missing when Joan finally gets home, and the reaction of her mother is only related to us in her voiceover.

The dialogue in The Kid Sister is a real hoot! I won't reveal it all, but I'll give you a couple of samples...
Burglar: "You alright, lady?"-Joan: "I'll answer that as soon as I pull my feet out of the floorboard" "Well I gotta hand it to myself, huh". "I'd like to pick one right up from the ground and hand it to ya." "What are you crabbin' about?" "Didn't you get me into this weird mess of grief?" "Didn't I get you out of it?" "I don't know, the final returns aren't in yet.".
Waldo: "Don't forget now, you were going to have a talk with Martha."-Mrs. Wiggins: "Oh, I won't forget. When I get through telling what I got to tell her, she won't forget it in a hurry, I tell you that"

The acting here is all good. Everyone delivers fine performances, especially leading lady Judy Clark. She's simply adorable as Joan, and you really both the admiration and exasperation/frustration that poor Waldo feels with her. Frank Jenks is quite good as the villain too, getting across both a harmless humourous side in the funnier scenes, but also more of an intimidating edge in the later scenes. Not too extreme of course since this is still a comedy, but it was pretty impressive to me.

As expected with PRC films, this works within its means, and thus doesn't look low-budget at all! I don't get at all why these kinds of pictures were called 'Poverty Row'!

The Kid Sister feels like it could've been longer by all means, and I think would've made a fun little movie or tv series! A shame it never went beyond one 53 minute movie, but oh well. At least what we got was a funny time to be had. Definitely a good example of how charming and innocent older comedies could be...

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Who's Singing Over There (1980)

On the 5th of April 1941, the eve of the German invasion of Yugoslavia, a collection of varied and often at-odds people end up stuck together on a long bus trip from the country to Belgrade. Along the bumpy ride they come across many trials and have plenty of misadventures, all while hoping they get to Belgrade before the day is out...

Who's Singing Over There ('Ko to tamo peva' in its mother tongue) is an interesting comedy courtesy of Serbia (then Yugoslavia). Isolated to a single bus for a lot of the running time, the movie is devoted entirely to the antics of its cast. Never boring or ill-paced, this is very funny, and utilises its concept well. It feels in a way like a microcosm of the people of Serbia, with all their quirks, similarities and differences, and failings present, often colliding with each-other like a chemical reaction.

There are about a dozen characters to keep track of in your head here. It may seem overwhelming at first, but since the movie is set in this confined space with pretty much just these guys, you memorise them all eventually, aided by the distinctive and quirky personalities they all exhibit. While we never learn the names of a lot of them, their personalities shine through and make you recognise them straight away. There's the dishonest busdriver and his simple son, the constantly late hunter, The fancy singer with his eyes on any woman in the area, the naive and travelstruck newlywed and her lustful and blissfully unobservant husband, the hypocritical and nazi sympathising businessman, the perpetually downbeat hypochondriac, and many more.

Each of them gets their chance to shine, such as Miško's blindfolded bus drive, the hunter's explosive mishaps, the 'roll in the hay' the young lovers partake in and their pervy audience (leading to one of the film's funniest lines), and many more. A lot of the dialogue here is golden, and very quotable, having become popular staples among Serbian people!

As the film progresses, there are many setpieces and amusing confrontations, with the group never getting a moment's rest even when simply trying to sit down and have lunch or fix a tire. They can never just follow the main path to Belgrade either, because there's always something in the way, like a cosmic practical joke. Military checkpoints, irate farmers, and broken down bridges are some of the things opposing these folk from reaching their destination

Even in its darker moments, Who's Singing Over There is never overtaken with depression, keeping a fun tone all the way through. When it begins to feel truly confronting is in the ending, showing the danger of stereotypes and hostility.

Filmed on location in the countryside, there are many nice bits of scenery to look at! The desolate surroundings give the movie a definite ambience, and you really feel like you're in the middle of nowhere, and just like the passengers on the bus, you feel every single mile of the journey alongside them.

The actors here all do good jobs, with not one of them feeling forgettable. Quite impressive given the number of them! Even minor characters really pop out from the screen.

My complaints with the movie are minimal. My biggest would have to be with the score. It's mostly very good, with its boing boing percussions, almost spaghetti western style tune, and of course the Gypsy songs that act like a Greek chorus of lamentation. The only issue I have is that the western bits are sometimes a bit piercing.

Still popular in Serbia even to this day, Who's Singing Over There is a fine example of their cinema, showing the great promise the Yugoslavian people have for film! I recommend it if you're interested in foreign pictures, as well as thought-provoking comedies in general...

Monday, March 25, 2019

Jungle Bride (1933)

Doris Evans is on a cruise ship with her journalist fiancee John Franklin. Together they're hounding the man believed to have murdered a gangster and left her brother to take the blame for it. This man, Gordon Wayne, has another story, which neither of those two are willing to hear, but he's made a good pal in amateur showman Eddie. One night, the boat is suddenly capsized, and the four are cast away on their lifeboat to the shores of Africa. There's hostility at first, but Doris gradually becomes more comfortable with her previously unwanted company, soon realising after Gordon saves her from a lion that he's not a vicious/ruthless killer after all...

Jungle Bride starts off pretty amusingly, with a dash of intrigue, before suddenly turning into Titanic! From here on the movie is good, but a little too staid. The characters never really make much of an effort to go exploring, and instead just stay   It's like the script was written for characters stuck on a deserted island, but was changed sometime during production to Africa, which has the effect of making you wonder why the characters just don't trek for the couple of miles that'll no doubt take them to a populated city, like Johannesburg or something.

There are some neat scenes as we progress, and though they don't quite give the movie enough oomph for it to be great, they're still certainly engaging. The ending is pretty abrupt, and leaves a fair bit unsaid. It's decent as far as getting across the bare minimum goes, but is otherwise a tad unsatisfying. The 'Fin' title card at the end however is very well designed!

The characters are a fine bunch to be shipwrecked with for the duration of a motion picture, with plenty to them. Doris begins as a woman determined to get revenge for a perceived crime, only to gradually soften after life in their new home. I feel the romance develops well. Even though Doris doesn't know for sure what really happened yet, her newfound love for Gordon either overcomes that, or allowed her to understand the truth instinctively. Gordon is enigmatic at first, and becomes a heroic figure once we realise the truth, though I feel he's a bit gutless in the end, with how he doesn't tell Doris the truth about her brother, with her coincidentally hearing a report on the radio confirming his absolute guilt. Given he got into a brawl with his best friend over the matter of telling her the truth, I feel he should've been the one to tell her.

John makes for a believable antagonist. I like how his overly macho 'alpha male' posturing basically turns him into a law enforcer  It's reflective of his forceful and arrogant personality, I think, how he immediately tries to settle into a dominant position when given the opportunity and power. Lastly, Eddie is a bit weird at first, but he's pretty endearing, even getting a few effectively dramatic moments.

The acting is fine all round. Anita Page in particular looks like a silent film star. On that note, I wonder where she's getting her make-up from. Desert Island Cosmetics Ltd.? Charles Starrett does a good job with his character, leaving the audience unsure as to what the truth really is, with it becoming apparent to the audience through his actions first rather than any exposition, as well as other non-verbal moments. Eddie Borden proves/shows himself to be more than just comic relief. Kenneth Thomson is likable enough to begin with, then undergoes a well-executed/handled transformation into a real asshole after the lion fight.

There's interesting direction in more than a few places, such as the funeral pyre ship, and the fight interspersed with the signalling to a boat near the end. The location work is great, always looking convincing. The presence of local African animals also feels authentic, and you can plainly tell little to no stock footage was used, even if it does sound like the monkey noises are guys offscreen going ''Unh, unh'. Lastly, I don't know how these guys managed to make a friggin' hut as good as the one they've got, but it loos really fancy! I wouldn't mind staying there myself.

The score is quite nice, with a few good songs  one tune almost sounds like that famous Hawaiian guy's version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. A coincidence of course, as this film predates even The Wizard of Oz by nearly 10 years.

Perhaps better titled Beach Bride, or Island Bride (and even that's putting it too strongly, given they never even explore that much land!), Jungle Bride is a decent watch, and while it's not the best Hollywood film to make use of Africa's landscape, it's not awful at all, and worth checking out.

sailor, 45:33

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Phantom (1931)

The terrifying crimelord known as The Phantom has conducted a daring jailbreak on the eve of his execution, and he has his eyes set on revenge. He sends an ominous note to the District Attorney responsible for sending him up the river, who's given round-the-clock police protection, along with his daughter Ruth, whose journalist fiancee Dick has also come along to investigate the Phantom's sinister promise. What could he want? And what does he have to do with the sinister Doctor Welden at the creepy old sanitarium?...(Nothing. He has nothing to do with him, I tell you!)

What in the name of the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia did I just watch?!

I had read a few things about 1931's The Phantom before I watched it, which described it as a 'comedy chiller', or 'one of the looniest films of the horror-comedy cycle'. Now that I've seen it, I can tell you that it's neither chilling nor funny for the most part, but if there's one word that could describe this film in a nutshell, it's weird! It's not weird in a straightforward way, like a detective film starring a unicorn private eye with a chip on his shoulder solving the mystery of unpaid parking tickets that rewind time, but is instead weird in the sense of how mundane and uninteresting it all seems for the longest time, before suddenly veering into a bizarre plot about mad doctors, deranged freaks, and human brain transplant.

The Phantom starts out pretty normal, with a plot concerning a devious master criminal known as The Phantom escaping prison just before his execution in order to get revenge on the people he blames for his capture. So far, so good. Then he makes a mysterious proposition with the District Attorney, which we're not privvy to. The plot thickens! Because we didn't hear this straight out the gate, it must be important! This meeting is interrupted by the arrival of the police, and the Phantom flees...And is literally never seen again!

The first 23 minutes of the film are devoted to building up this escaped convict after revenge story, but after he leaves the meeting at the 21 minute point, the story suddenly shifts gears into this completely different insane asylum story. Making things weirder is that the characters frequently refer to the Phantom as if he's still present and playing an integral role in events, even though he's clearly not.

The asylum portion of the story doesn't make much sense. If this doctor was forced to go on the run after a (murdered) dead body was discovered on his property, how come he's still running an insane asylum packed with patients? If this place is still full of patients that suggests it's still operational, so why is it so run-down and abandoned-looking? Did it officially shut down, but nobody ever noticed that it was still filled with howling loonies?

The characters are largely negative, but with some high points. The two leads are wholly unremarkable, and often disappear into the background. Despite his spooky name and fearsome reputation, The Phantom is just a garden variety mobster, and since he vanishes, there's nothing of note from him. The DA is likewise set up to be important, before becoming largely irrelevant.

The sanitarium villains are interesting, though underdeveloped. The doctor is typically mad. We never find out who the mystery 'thing' in the fancy clothes is, nor what he was doing in the Hampton household to begin with when he took a fancy to Ruth. The Dutch or Swedish inmate/servant Oscar is also a little confusing as a character in that at first he seems like he's gonna be one of the baddies, but...isn't? He's almost helpful to the heroes in a way.

The most distinguished characters are the family servants Lucy and Shorty, who are both equally hysterical scaredy cats. They get the lion's share of the screentime, and while they can sometimes get grating, they're by far more entertaining than the two heroes, and get some funny moments.

Lastly, one character that got a surprising amount of depth was Ruth and Dick's boss, who's in love with her, but finds it isn't reciprocated, and he concedes graciously and helps the two young lovers rather than being vindictive and vengeful. I thought for sure he'd end up being the villain and try to split the two apart, but nope!...But then in the final act...Nothing happens. There seemed to be a few suspicious glances, but otherwise he's totally innocent of any wrongdoing, and is always honest. Because his acceptance of Ruth and Dick's romance isn't a ploy, it aids in fleshing out his character to an interesting degree for a silly little horror film from this time.

The acting is pretty bad. Some performances are better than others, but a lot of them don't impress, namely the screechy Janet Gaynor-like voice of leading lady Allene Ray.

Another off-putting thing about The Phantom is the complete lack of a score! Not even any background or incidental music! It's really quiet, and makes the dull scenes drag out even further.

The best thing by far about this movie is the cinematography, which is beautiful! Say what you will about the movie itself, but the direction cannot be faulted! Just a shame it wasn't for a better movie.

The Phantom is a truly bizarre little film, equal parts boring, annoying, and unsatisfying. I guess I'd recommend it for the visuals, but really I screengrabbed some of the best moments in this very review, so you probably needn't go further than this very post. Still, if you're in the mood for something truly strange, you certainly couldn't go wrong with this!...

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

La Hija de Fu Manchu '72 (1990)

Spanish actor Paul Naschy was a latter day veteran of horror. Inspired by all the multi-faceted and multi-faced icons of the genre such as Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi, and the Lon Chaney's, he carved himself out a considerable career in his home country. He managed to play all the classic monsters, from a Wolf Man (more than twelve times, in fact!), Dracula, Frankenstein, a Mummy, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and even a few distinctive characters of his own.

18 years after the dreaded Fu Manchu was seemingly stopped for good by the noble hero of Scotland Yard, Sir Nayland Smith, his daughter returns to wreak trouble for her old enemies...

A short film for a Spanish comedy TV series, I think, La Hija de Fu Manchu is quite a fun watch to begin with! The biggest problem right out of the gate though is the fact that the titular antagonist barely appears. I kept waiting for him to show up again, lurking in the shadows as he watches the arcane tortures of his prey, but nope! He's actually dead I guess (except he's not?). Really, the fact that the movie's name is The Daughter of Fu Manchu probably should have tipped me off.

The film is a good mix between parody and homage. It pokes fun at the old films and plays everything with a silly tone, but never in a mean way, and you can tell the people behind the camera really cared for the source material. The humour works most of the time, getting a few laughs, such as during a torture scene where the interrogator has to tear away the heroine's already ridiculously skimpy outfit.

Some moments are more farcical, while others are played pretty straight, such as the portrayal of Fu Manchu himself, who wouldn't be out of place in a proper entry! One moment that didn't feel as fitting though was the torture scene. It certainly could've been funny, but what spoils it is the bloody (literally) effects, making it seem a little too brutal for you to feel like a lighthearted chuckle. Really, that whole scene could've been cut down by half, since the movie's only 19 minutes long, and almost a third of it is devoted to Fu Manchu's daughter victimising this lady with various means.

Unfortunately the ending left me unsatisfied. Not much really happens and it's kinda anticlimactic, and what we get is a 'comedically' subversive ending that I'm not quite sure I understood. It's rather quite unpleasant and depressing, really.

La Hija de Fu Manchu is strange at times. It's relatively light on dialogue (so not speaking Español is no excuse to give this a miss!), has dreamy music, and a weird psychedelic dream involving filtered stock images of Bruce Lee. This has the effect of making you feel like you're watching a student grade arthouse film at times.

The acting here is pretty exaggerated, with reaction times being intentionally either too slow or unnaturally fast. Some play it straight though, namely Paul Naschy himself, who does a fine job, despite appearing so fleetingly. The actress playing his daughter does an alright job too. Not so much so that I'd rather see a Fu Manchu feature with her at the helm rather than Naschy, but ok.

The sets and effects are all convincing and convincingly reminiscent of old pulp films. Because this is trying to imitate the effects of older films, it actually manages to look very good for a no doubt low budget TV short! The best effect has got to be the miniature for Fu Manchu's castle. It's obviously a miniature, but it's a good one!

Overall, La Hija de Fu Manchu isn't great, but it's certainly an interesting curio, and if nothing else it allowed Paul Naschy the chance to cross off another horror icon off the list!...