Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Beat the Devil (1953)

The Maltese Falcon

Private eye Sam Spade is in for the case of his life when his partner is murdered, and he's dragged into a case involving a mysterious statue of a bird, which numerous deadly parties wish to acquire, from the skeezy Joel Cairo, the sinister 'Fat Man', and the beautiful Brigid O'Shaugnessy, who might not be as innocent as she appears...

The Maltese Falcon is a really good film, though I hesitate to say it's one of the greatest films ever made as others do. Nothing against the movie, it's just that I don't see it as quite that great

The plot is Noir 101, and I have a feeling it was hopelessly cliched even back in 1941, but it's not just the story itself that's why this movie is as appreciated as it is, but everything coming together, from the masterful direction by John Huston (in his debut, too!), to the variety of distinctive performances.

Sam Spade isn't all that great a protagonist though, as he's more reactive than proactive, and does very little (if any) investigation. I also don't much like how talky the plot ends up being. Very little actually happens. It's really the characters who manage to bring it to life, though unfortunately much of their screentime is spent talking indoors, rather than actually doing much. In fact, whenever stuff does actually happen, it's usually offscreen! The ending also underwhelmed me. Very little seems to have been accomplished, and the story feels quite pointless. Other issues I have with the film are that we see very little of Miles Archer before his death. After the first scene in which he appears, with not much dialogue, the movie immediately cuts to him getting shot in the street. The absolute worst thing in my eyes with the story is in how it's ridiculously convenient that a character who never appeared prior just happens to show up at Sam's place with the falcon. Sure, we learn who they are and it eventually ends up making sense, but too little too late for me.

The femme fatale here is good, if a bit obvious, and she's never that convincing with her wiles given how little she manages to get done, and how little trust everyone has in her right from the get go. The villains fare better, with Joel Cairo being funny,  though he does repeat himself a bit too much.

I found myself liking Polhaus and Dundee far more than Spade. They're two honest cops trying to do their jobs, one even trying his best to be friendly and accommodating, all while Sam Spade treats them like dirt and doesn't let them in on anything, insulting them, etc. It sure was gratifying when Dundee actually strikes Spade in the neck! Something I'd find neat would be if there was a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead type side-story, telling the story the two policemen's viewpoint. Hell, it can't be any more offscreen than Sam's take on events. Maybe they even had more involvement, and he just didn't know because he's a schmuck!

One random thing I found amusing with the film are the somewhat clunky phone conversations, which usually have characters repeating what the inaudible voice on the other line is saying, for the benefit of the audience. I also had a chuckle at the 1940s style slang with words like 'Horsefeathers!'.

The Maltese Falcon had quite the trouble with censors, 'thanks' to the Hays Code. Toned down from the book, as well as the 1931 adaptation, but it still managed to sneak some stuff past the radar. Some of it's even pretty overt, too.

Amusing sidenote. Whether or not a writer of any sort of detective fiction uses the word gunsel in its correct context is a pretty good gauge of seeing if they know what the heck they"re talking about. I've seen it misused many times, even in a Harry McGraw episode of Murder, She Wrote, where it seems the writers assumed the word meant something like 'gun-hand', not realising that a gunsel is a slang term for a young gay guy in a relationship with an older man.

The acting in The Maltese Falcon is fantastic! Humphrey Bogart fits his role perfectly, while Mary Astor is convincing as the faux 'waifish and terrified' Brigid. Sydney Greenstreet is equally perfect for his role as Bogart was for his, leaving a great impression as Gutman.

The surprisingly young Elisha Cook Jr. is good as Wilmer, and despite being a pretty put-upon character by Sam, he's actually surprisingly intimidating in the role! Not by a whole lot, but definitely not just a wimpy push-over, and not like the characters he'd most often end up playing in later years. Ward Bond and Barton MacLane are enjoyable in their roles, getting some fun lines to chew on. Finally, Lee Patrick is nice as Effie, making the most of her relatively small role.

As an adaption, his seems pretty faithful to Dashiel Hammet's novel, but it's a bit tamer in comparison. I'm glad they left out Effie's final scene from the book, which was bullshit, but I wish they'd written something to take its place. I'm also less pleased by the omission of both Wilmer and Gutman's fates, as that wrapped up their character arcs pretty nicely.

I may have some issues with it, but The Maltese Falcon is still an all-time classic of not only the noir genre, but cinema overall, and well worth watching!...

Beat the Devil

Newlyweds Harry and Gwendolen are vacationing in the French/Spanish/Italian countryside where they meet Billy Dannreuther, an alluring gangster, working with three other unscrupulous individuals in order to secure a land deal in Africa that has tons of money tied into it. Gwen decides to throw her lot in with Billy and co., leaving her husband alone to try and stop them...

I...didn't get this movie. Or perhaps there was nothing to get. I was really looking forward to it, expecting to love or at least like it, but...ummm...

To start with, I didn't dislike Beat The Devil at first, so much as I simply didn't take to it. It had its funny moments, but the story wasn't really grabbing me. As the film rolled on though, I was less impressed, before mild disinterest gave away to outright boredom.

What it is that I don't understand about this film is that I went in with the understanding that it was a partial spoof of The Maltese Falcon, and the noir genre in general. That's why I'm reviewing it as a double bill with that movie. Now, Beat the Devil is a comedy, sure, but a parody? I'm not so sure. It doesn't seem to be sending up anything that I could notice, be it specific movies or books, or tropes themselves. As for its relationship with Falcon, I watched the two films back to back, and besides the presence of Bogie and Lorre (and possibly Robert Morley as a Sydney Greenstreet stand-in), I spotted zero resemblance to The Maltese Falcon. Not in story, or tone, not in cinematography, and not in the acting. Only in the casting does it bear even the slightest resemblance to Falcon. Beat the Devil also has fuck all resemblance to the film noir genre, too! If anything, it's just a goofy crime caper, and even then, it's more of an outright comedy rather than a parody of serious crime capers.

Beyond that, I didn't much like Beat the Devil for its scattered nature. It was reportedly written on a day to day basis, and I can believe it! That would definitely explain the aimless and rambling feel the film's script has, and why it seems to deteriorate the further it goes on. Like I said, this is quite a witty film, but only up to a certain point. It's as if the writers just got a bit tired, and couldn't be bothered keeping the movie up to quality. What started as a semi-decent film ended up as quite the slog, and by the time the characters wash up in a Middle Eastern country and are taken prisoner by Arabs, it feels like we're in a completely different movie!

*That whole section actually kinda reminded me of Sleuth! I thought at first that the Arabic official was maybe Harry in disguise, but that's not the case.

Onto the characters. They're a mixed bag. We start with the group of varied criminals, in personality, and nationality, and they're fun, but feel a bit underwritten at times. Bogart's character, as well as his wife fare better. Funnily enough, at the start, Gwen was my favourite character, and Harry my least favourite, then slowly but surely, they switched, and I grew to dislike Gwen, and like Harry most of all! Pretty much every main character in Beat the Devil is an irredeemable scumbag, even Gwendolen (Hell, especially Gwendolen, as she doesn't have the excuse of being a criminal to fall back on for her horrid behaviour)-All except Harry. He's the only good person in the cast (with Maria being right behind). Unfortunately he vanishes offscreen 20 minutes before the end, and we never see him again!

The acting is very good, with many fun performances. Bogart was reportedly in a car accident midway through production, and lost a few teeth, necessitating the crew to hire someone to dub his voice in certain lines. Some sources say that man was Peter Sellers! Gina Lollobrigida is highly amusing as the English-loving wife of Billy, while the standout for me was Edward Underdown. Peter Lorre is good, as you'd expect, but unfortunately the movie doesn't quite use him to his full potential. Lorre barely says a word in the whole last third of the movie! Also, this film is a bit depressing to watch, as both Bogie and Lorre look decades older, despite looking so much younger in The Maltese Falcon, which was only a few scant years prior. Those two aged pretty roughly! The rest of the acting is decent enough, though the captain of the boat the characters journey on at the midway point is incredibly annoying!

The direction here is decent, as expected when someone of the calibre of John Huston is in charge. As for the look of the film, it almost looks great, but the black-and-white nature impedes the gorgeous Italian locale.

The reception Beat the Devil got on release was far from kind. It was dismissed by most as a witless farce, and worse, but it's since developed a cult following. Bogart himself was not one of those people, and didn't like the movie, even reportedly saying "Only phonies like it.". I imagine he was particularly sore about losing money he invested in the production, as well as its harsh critical reaction. Try as I might, despite going into this film expecting a wickedly funny satire I didn't find it to be that at all.

As the film is in the public domain, some prints are better than others. Mine is Mill Creek (on a 50 movie box-set), and it's decent, though if there are any spiffed-up DVD's out there, I recommend hunting those down. Beat the Devil isn't all that great a film, though you may disagree, and really like the film. Who knows. At the very least, it's slightly worth watching for its cast...

Dual Alibi (1947)

A fact of life that must be regularly reiterated is that Herbert Lom is awesome. Most remembered for his pivotal role in the Pink Panther franchise, the man was an acting legend for well over 50 years! I recently found out something particularly neat-Dual Alibi, a 1947crime/noir starring Lom in a double role!...

In a run-down circus, on a dingy rainy night, circus manager Vincent Barney recognizes one of the vagabonds working as billboard men as one of the famous Delisle Twins-Jules and Georges. Many years prior, the duo were the talk of the town with their trapeze act. Things go wrong when they win a lottery for 1 million francs, and a skeezy publicity agent gets his girlfriend to romance Jules, steal the ticket, and turn the brothers against each-other, hoping to ruin their act. The brothers catch on, but far too late, and the damage has already been done. With very little left to lose, they vie for revenge...

Dual Alibi is incredibly depressing! The first half is happy enough, but tinged with the knowledge that things are going to go terribly wrong, and once that starts happening, things are even worse. It's kind of a tough flm to sit through at certain points in that regard. That aside, this is a well-written movie, with nice pacing, and story progression.

What surprised me most is that the film actually leaves nothing to guesswork, and explains everything, but does so in an effective and emotional way. While it would've been just as effective never knowing which brother committed the murder, and the X who Xed while Xing, the ending we get thankfully doesn't rob Dual Alibi of its subtlety.

While it's not a bad one, the title does kinda spoil how the final act is gonna go (the clumsy namedrop is also not appreciated!). Speaking of the final act, if the twins were set on killing Mike, it would've been better if they'd done so covertly, rather than what they actually end up doing.

Something that I'm still a little perplexed by with Dual Alibi is its genre. Is it simply a crime-drama, or a film noir, too? Many sources online consider it that, but me? I dunno. I suppose given the movie's dour tone and conclusion, it would come under the noir genre, though I'm not sure. I'm not the most knowledgeable person on the subject.

There are a couple of silly things to this move. First is the terrible proposal scene! A minute prior, Jules tries to kiss Penny, but she coyly rebuffs his advances, saying that people are watching. Next scene, he says casually "I know people are watching, but will you marry me?". What?! The dude doesn't even bother kneeling, making a grand spectacle out of it, or even so much as changing his tone of voice from 'casual'!

It's also amusing how when the DeLisle twins catch up to him after he stole their lottery ticket and cashed it in, Mike boastfully proclaims to them that the police won't be able to prove anything...As he and his girlfriend sit at fancy restaurants, in expensive clothing, flanked by legions of hired bodyguards, and generally throwing money about. Yeah, I'm sure the police won't put two and two together and come to the conclusion that you stole the million dollar ticket.

Finally, I wish Penny's character arc would've gotten an ending. Once the brothers know they've been betrayed, she barely appears, or says much. Rather a shame, considering she was a little conflicted about doing what she does, but the movie never delves into this any further.

While not as lively as his turn as, say, Chief Inspector Dreyfus, Herbert Lom still delivers a very good performance, doubly so given its dual nature! Not only did the guy have to act two whole parts, he manages to make the brothers each distinct enough to not just be two of the same person. As for the effects of the double act, I have no idea how they managed it in 1947! What I do know is that whenever possible, the Cromwell twins were used as stand-ins, as well as performing the trapeze scenes.

By the way, even as early as 1947, Lom still had really great enunciation, and an almost British accent! You'd never guess the guy lived in Czechoslovakia for over 20 years before moving to England!

The rest of the acting is pretty decent, from vaudeville and radio performer Ronald Frankau, to famed nude tableau performer Phyllis Dixey as the duplicitous Penny, and Terence de Marney as Mike, the film's villain.

In the end, I suppose this is worth watching for Herbert Lom, but goshdang, it's a miserable film to sit through!...

Night of the Bloody Apes (1969)

Mexican cinema is certainly a fertile ground for horror! From the films of directors such as Carlos Enrique Taboada, Juan López Moctezuma, Guillermo del Toro (who I keep mistaking for Spanish) and another who I'll discuss today, there's certainly a lot to admire! Also a lot to groan at, of course, but that's true of cinema everywhere...

Dr. Krellman, a somewhat unscrupulous but still caring doctor, is distraught at his son Julio's worsening condition from leukemia, and seeks to try a risky procedure to save his life. This involves removing Julio's heart, and replacing it with the heart of an ape. The process seems to succeed, but not without a hitch, as Julio soon transforms into a ravenous ape-man, hell-bent on killing, maiming, and raping as much as possible, loose on the unsuspecting streets of Mexico. Meanwhile, while his luchadore girlfriend Lucy is despondent over accidentally critically injuring an opponent, Lt. Arturo Martinez investigates the mysterious attacks...

Written and directed by Rene Cardona, Night of the Bloody Apes is a 1969 remake of a previous film he made, titled The Wrestling Women vs. the Killer Doctor. Now THAT'S a film I'd like to see! But then again, if it's anything like this movie, but possibly on a smaller budget, then perhaps not*!

*Read: Of COURSE I'll watch it at some point!

Night of the Bloody Apes gets off to a bad start thanks to well over a third of its runtime being devoted mainly to female luchador matches. It's barely even a horror film, and Lucy is a lead player for this section, but once the film FINALLY switches gears to being a horror, she vanishes for over half an hour, and only then returns for a brief couple of scenes! In-case you were wondering if the movie utilizes this first act to develop its characters, not really. Half-an-hour passes, yet in all that time, we barely get to  know them. The son, Julio, barely has any dialogue, or screentime, while his father fares a little better, with a little depth. Julio has no character because once he turns into an ape, he only reverts back to a human at the end, and isn't all that conscious when he does.

Onto the characters. First, with Lucy, superfluous as she may be. She's a tolerable lead, but not all that interesting. She also comes across a little stupid sometimes, like how despite crippling and possibly killing her friend only the previous night, she has no compunction with continuing to wrestle, even throwing another wrestler out of the ring! Stop killing your opponents, lady! Her boyfriend, meanwhile, show's vocal exasperation at her for 'still' thinking about the accident with her friend, despite barely a day passing! He also wants her to retire, which is even crazier, since he's a friggin' police officer. Oh, but nevermind that fact. It would be far too unsafe for his girlfriend to be a...gasp...wrestler!

The remainder of the cast are decently written, from the boyfriend cop, to Dr. Krellman, and his lab assistant Goya, among others.

The finale is INCREDIBLY disappointing! Given the heavy focus on Lucy, as well as the original film's title, you'd expect her to fight back against the beast, in full wrestling garb, no less, but what happens instead? She runs screaming, and is kidnapped by the beast, having to be rescued by her boyfriend. This movie could've had a female luchador fighting a gorilla man, but fucking ignored that opportunity! Even more egregious is that this is a Rene Cardona film, and he was all for making movies about luchadors fighting monsters! All this serves to make the character of Lucy entirely superfluous. There was zero need for any of those wrestling matches beyond the first if she wasn't going to play a big role in the proceedings. Even the first wasn't particularly necessary, as the second heart transplant ends up being pointless, as of course, replacing the malevolent ape heart with a human one (yes, I really just said that) has zero effect on Julio's transformations into an ape-beast.

There's also a needless fourth act, which also has quite a depressing body count, which is all on the cop lead for not ending the film 10 minutes sooner!

The script is pretty bad, with sometimes hilarious dialogue (how much to blame the original writers or the American dubbers are I don't know). "Boy oh boy. This one's been murdered. Ripped to pieces", a doctor says over a completely intact and bloodless corpse. And then there are the laughable closing lines. In regards to the title, props to the movie for the ape massacre taking place on a single night, and at night! Though there's only one ape, so the title still loses some points

There are lots of little problems with Night of the Bloody Apes. Some can be chalked to up low budget, while others can't. First, there's how the ape-man rapes women, despite wearing pants (which if he somehow undid offscreen (he doesn't), how the heck did he do them back up again?!). Speaking of that, there's a rape scene that's REALLY obviously been filmed at a later date to spice the movie up, as it totally screws up continuity! Funnily enough, a censored version of the film would actually benefit from the scene's exclusion for that reason! That scene also has some amusingly fake grass on what some say is a studio floor. Next up is the poor editing, which often cuts away abruptly, frequently interrupting the score midway through.

Coming to the gore effects, they're actually pretty good! There are neato eye-gouging, scalping, and decapitation death scenes. Then there are the transplant scenes, which used real footage of heart surgery. Firstly, the stock footage is actually edited into the scene pretty well for the most part, despite looking unconvincing in spots thanks to the differing film quality, and the off 'continuity' regarding the amount of doctors at work. Onto my second point regarding this footage-FUCKING WHAT?! Well I guess Thriller: A Cruel Picture now has competition for most gratuitous use of real-life violence in a movie!* Whether this footage was inserted by Cardona himself, the studio or the American distributors for the dubbed version, I'm not sure.

*Thriller of course still comes on top, for decidedly unpleasant and amusing reasons.

The make-up for the ape-man is decent, albeit not very ape-like, and I kinda wish they'd done more than just the face.

The dub acting is pretty bad. Ok at best, and always terribly ill-fitting. I checked out a little of the original Spanish-language version, and while the acting doesn't seem all that better from what I can tell, it is better than the English dub if only by virtue of the actors talking with their real voices.

The score is tolerable, but constantly at odds with the editing, as mentioned above. It also sounded a little reminiscent of The Prisoner, interestingly enough.

Night of the Bloody Apes is a fun little movie, but a little boring. That doesn't tank the rest of the film, but this certainly doesn't rank as one of the better Mexican horror flicks...

Blonde Ice (1948)

I've been on a bit of a noir kick as of late, and once such film I've watched is 1948's Blonde Ice, noteworthy for its especially evil femme fatale, which certainly piqued my interest!...

Claire Cummings is a newspaper columnist who has just gotten hitched with the rich Carl Hanneman, but cares little for him, and still wants to maintain a fling with her former-colleague Les Burns. When Hanneman discovers this, and threatens Claire with divorce, she murders him, and stages a suicide. Unconvinced, the police quickly deduce foul play, and both Claire and Les are under their radar. She seems to have the perfect alibi, however-The best money could buy. A short time later, despite Les believing the two are connecting romantically again, Claire is soon in the arms of an influential politician, set to become mayor. However, things begin to go awry once more...

For the majority of its runtime, Blonde Ice is a pretty standard noir piece. Pretty basic, and nothing too special besides its villain, but even she doesn't get a whole lot to do for the longest time. The movie plods on a bit too much with too little happening, and not showing enough of Claire's scheming antics, and true colours.

Also a problem is how the finale reeks of Hays Code interference. I mean, obviously the film is going to end with Claire's downfall-that much is certain (this isn't Pre-Code, after all)-but how it happens feels a bit forced and abrupt. Strangest of all is the film's 'take-that' closing line!

The film's problems holding her back notwithstanding, Claire Cummings is a pretty neat and interesting villain! The reason this film is as well-regarded as it is is all on her. She begins as a toxic manipulator, then turns into a cold-blooded murderer, calculating and manipulative. From her constant stringing along of Les, to eventually attempting to frame him, to her treatment of would-be blackmailers, and cavalier attitude to the lives of her significant others, Claire is indeed a force to be reckoned with! To describe her with a quote from a character of the movie, "You're like a poison. Take a little bit and you're finished, but too much becomes an antidote".

None of the above would be able to work if not for the acting, and lead Leslie Brooks certainly delivers a great performance. In fact, some of Claire's more insane moments don't even come through in the script. That's all Brooks' acting!

The remaining actors all fare pretty well, with no bad performances. Russ Vincent is especially fun as the slimy blackmailer pilot. Interesting tidbit-He and Leslie Brooks were husband and wife! She was either near the end of her first marriage at this stage, or newly divorced, and I guess she and Vincent must've hit it off while filming, because they got hitched in 1950, and were married all the way up until his death in 2001. Brooks retired from acting in 1949, but briefly returned for an X-rated film in 1971 called How's Your Love Life (presumably not rated X for pornographic content, but rather just 'objectionable material', similar to how Sonny Chiba's Street Fighter got tagged), directed by a Russel Vincent, who according to IMDb is a different person, albeit a different person with literally nothing to his name (not even a bio) but two movies, so it's entirely likely that these are the same person.

Finally, Blonde Ice is still a product of its time in the same respect as The Indestructible Man was, and that's in how naturally since Claire's getting married, she's expected to give up her career. After all, the creature's got a sacred duty to fulfill as a wife now...Uggghhhhhh. Now while Indestructible Man is just hilarious garbage, I'm not sure whether or not Blonde Ice is intentional with this or not. It could be deliberately pushing forward the notion that society is in the wrong for forcing this upon women, and perhaps this is a contributing factor to Claire's villainy, buuut, if that is the case, it does a pretty poor job at it, considering it never delves into such a subject at all. It's probably just the former-A crappy sign of the times.

If you're a newcomer to noir, it'd be better to start of with the classics, like Maltese Falcon, Laura, Double Indemnity, D.O.A., and Detour, rather than Blonde Ice, but this is still an ok sit, and you could do much worse...

British Intelligence (1940)

I've made it a mission in life to watch every movie Boris Karloff was in, and today, that goal has taken me to the 1940's wartime thriller British Intelligence...
During World War I, a German spy named Helene van Lorbeer is enlisted by her government to infiltrate the household of a British official, and steal sensitive information in order to aid the German cause. She meets up with a fellow agent, the butler Valdar, but he may be more than meets the eye. Then again, so might Helene...

British Intelligence is a decent watch, though its pretty standard nature, and at times overcomplicated plot drag it down.

The characters are ok, and none are unlikeable, save for those who are intentionally so. Helene, aka Frances is the lead, and its neat watching a movie like this from the perspective of the villain...Or at least it would if not for the incredibly abrupt and pointless twist, which I have to wonder was studio mandated. = that brings me to something about British Intelligence that I found quite unexpected! It opens with an aerial battle, and the young strapping dude Frank Bennett is downed, ending up in hospital, where he instantly professes his love for his nurse, Helene. I was fully expecting this dude to be the lead, and would sway her to the side of good with his handsome good looks, and rugged masculinity, but he actually never appears from that point up until the 48 minute mark! Then he meets up again with Helene, and we have the scene we were long expecting...and then almost nothing comes of it. He only appears after that in the background for a few seconds at the very end, and the budding romance between the two is never really followed up on. He was just smitten with her from seeing her in the hospital, I suppose we're to infer she feels the same way, and despite only having two short scenes together, they're suddenly an item come the end. One last thing to note about Frank is that he actually seems quite flamboyant at times, without snide comments or jokes at his expense, which is interesting for a movie from this time. Or hell, a movie from now!

While it trods along well enough, this film ends up becoming needlessly confusing, and climaxes very abruptly. Rather a shame, really. British Intelligence's hour long runtime actually didn't impede it at all, until its final five minutes. Then it completely falls apart. Allegiance switches four or five times, a bomb that was meant to destroy an entire mansion and all of the British cabinet is out of harms way simply by throwing it out of the cellar door and into the garden, where it creates a small puff of smoke, and nothing more.

There's also a poor presentation of a twist reveal at he midway point. The problem is that it's very casual. There's no musical sting, and not even so much as a dramatic camera angle. Karloff's character just walks randomly into the room, and starts discussing British intelligence stuff with Bennett and co.

The acting here is all good, with Margaret Lindsay carrying the film well. Boris Karloff is of course the MVP, and he portrays an intimidating villain, whose side you're never sure is on.

The effects here are quite good, with decent integration of stock footage, for the most part. The finale's  blitz is REALLY well handled, especially for what I presume was a low-budget movie! The whole climax has a great atmosphere.

One last thing to note is something mentioned on the film's wikipedia page, which talks about there being a comic relief scene at the start of the film with a bumbling corporal bearing a 'startling resemblance to a certain Nazi dictator'.  I haven't been able to find a source for the quote (which is on numerous websites describing British Intelligence, and seemingly attributed to a New York Times article that doesn't seem to exist much), but I can tell you for sure that it is bullshit. Nevermind that this is a British production*, not American as the quote claims, there are zero comedy scenes, and certainly no goofy Hitler analogue! The entire film is a serious WWI picture!

*Well, I think it is, anyway. It's got an American Director and Producer, but a very English plot with the entire cast made up of British actors? It's doubtful that this movie is American. Backed by an U.S. company perhaps, but a British film nonetheless.

Just a couple of things to note about the dialogue. There's one very strange parting line Frank gives his war buddies-"So long, you creepy lizards!". Well that's one way to say goodbye! Another amusing thing wasn't the movie's fault, but mine. I didn't hear the end of the line I've got to call the war office, immediately". I instead heard it as "I've got to call the war off, immediately". Funny how the simple lack of three letters can so drastically effect a sentence! Finally, there are a couple of patriotic mini-speeches, the first of which is actually quite good!

British Intelligence is nothing special, but it's an ok enough flick, and anyone who's a Boris Karloff fan is gonna watch it, no doubt, and there's certainly enough of him to please such people (of which I am one)...

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Orgy of the Dead (1965)

Orgy of the Dead is certainly a title that sticks out! Does this 1965 movie live up to that name though? Not really, as rather than a necro-porn flick, it's actually more of a nudie-cutie, written (but not directed by) the incomparable Ed Wood! With that in mind, it's kind of surprising this wasn't a hardcore necro-porn! That tale of weird love came later!...

Young couple Bob and Shirley are driving to a secluded cemetery to seek inspiration for the former's novel, but their car crashes, and the two later wake up and stumble across the graveyard, where they witness several nude women dancing for a mysterious man. Soon enough, they're captured, tied up, and forced to watch the proceedings, afraid of what'll become of them once the dancing ends...

Orgy of the Dead isn't much of an actual movie, sort-of. Rather than have a story, it's instead basically just a nude dancing reel, with just a little plot surrounding it to give it flavour. Most of the screentime is devoted to the dancers, who range from a tribal Native American woman, to a streetwalker (that performance being my particular favourite, along with the gold dancer, and the fluff girl), and a skimpy bride who air-swims and super-jiggles her boobs. The problem though is how the dancers lose their tops. They go from being fully clothed, to almost nude in a single cut, their clothes just vanishing between shots, and that bugs me. So much for a proper burlesque striptease! The worst is the 'fluff girl', who's whole schtick is fashion, yet loses all those clothes almost immediately. Thankfully not all are this abrupt, like the cat woman, who we actually do see disrobe, but she's pretty much it. There's also not a great deal of effort put into the costumes for the most part. The most egregious is the Day of the Dead performer, who's just briefly wearing a Flamenco shirt and a veil, with zero ooky make-up, or anything creative like that. The film also has a touch of BDSM to it, which some may enjoy.

Given the entire movie is just dancing, you'd think it would be boring, but it surprisingly isn't! Perhaps that's because it's just so overt in what it is. It makes no pretenses about being anything else other than simply an excuse to showcase dancing bevvies showing their boobs, wrapped in a framing story, and that helps it a lot. It never tries to be something its not.

Despite often overdramatic delivery, some of the dialogue here is actually pretty good. "It is on nights like this that the creatures are said to appear and to walk. The day is gone, the night is upon us, and the moon, which controls all of the underworld once again shines in radiant contentment.". The closing lines are quite effective, in a way, too!

The remainder of the dialogue in this movie is golden! There are many hilariously bad lines, made even better by the deliveries. "Pussycats are born to be whipped.", "No-one wishes to see a man dance.", "Torture, torture, it pleasures me!", and "Your puritan upbringing holds you back from my monsters, but it certainly doesn't hurt your art of kissing!", among others. Best is the exchange of "The moon is almost gone!" -"There is yet time. Don't you want your own pleasures?"-"Oh, if there was only time."-"Ah, there is always time. All in good time.There is always time".

Orgy of the Dead's effects are actually quite good, for the most part, because the film works within its means. It just wants to show nude-dancing in a foggy cemetery, and it nails both counts. Where it falters is the costuming for the Wolf Man and Mummy, which are...less than convincing, in an amusing way. The Wolf-Man is either getting on in years, or resembles a skunk! The ill-fitting, poorly-matched voice acting is really what sinks those two monsters though. There's also a vat of melted gold that looks more like blue dye brought to the boil, but I'll give the movie the benefit of the doubt and assume it was a cauldron of random magic goop that turned the woman gold. Said gold woman looks decent, by the way, like a sight straight out of Goldfinger! Later on, there's an unconvincing skeleton which has a hook on its skull, like Ed procured it from a classroom! Finally, the fog is really good in some places, but in others, it seems they left the machine running too long!

The acting in this movie ranges from almost decent to laughable. Criswell, of Plan 9 from Outer Space infamy, plays the nefarious leader of the ghouls, and is by far the funniest thing about Orgy of the Dead. I bet he must've been enjoying himself! Probably the easiest paycheck of his career, just sitting back and watching nude dancing for over an hour! Vampira was intended to play his pale and sexy sidekick, but I guess she was either unavailable, or just didn't want to be in the film, and Fawn Silver played the role instead. Frequent sexploitation actress Pat Barrington stars as the girlfriend, and she manages to keep her top on for most of the film. Though despite being bound, her blouse still manages to strategically unbutton itself gradually, before the ghouls (specifically, not-Vampira) eventually start doing it themselves. Of note is that Barrington has a double role, also showing up as the busty dancer who gets showered, then painted in gold. I didn't even recognize it was her on first viewing!  Anyway, enough about her nude contribution. How about her acting?...Yeah, it's awful! In a funny way, though.

Onto the choreography. Some of the dancing looks pretty amateurish, but others are better, or at least well-thought-out, like the slave girl dancing, with the chains on her wrists becoming an accessory in the routine (though not for long). Good dancing is vital in a movie like this, so thankfully it delivers.

The scoring is decent for the most part, but a bit annoying here and there, most notably in the 'Hawaiian' dancer's segment.

One final thing to mention is the surprising fact that Orgy of the Dead is based on a novel! (written by Ed Wood himself, of course). How is that even possible?! I actually wanted to procure a copy, partly just to read it for its own sake, and also to compare to the movie in this post, but the only copies around are rare and expensive. There was a more recent printing, but I couldn't find any copies of that, either.

As a film, Orgy of the Dead is hilariously terrible, but for what it is, it's also not that bad. I recommend it if it's your kind of thing, or want to see a quintessential Ed Wood-ian flick. I won't judge you...