Saturday, October 20, 2018
The Walking Dead (1936)
Well, I must say The Walking Dead was certainly different than I expected! Older too. Heartening to see so many on social media embracing the classics! Could've sworn this was a tv show...
A notorious crook and racketeer has just had the book thrown at him by the staunch Judge Shaw. Eager to take him out of the picture, the crook's gang turn to recently released John Ellman, and convince the down-on-his-luck musician to spy on the judge for them, under the guise of investigating a supposed infidelity. The judge is soon found murdered, and Ellman is framed for the crime. With the only two witnesses not coming forward in time, Ellman is executed, but they eventually exonerate him posthumously and send the body to their scientist boss, who brings the man back to life. Ellman is shook, and not quite the same, but he still possesses the musical skills he had in life, which the doctor is eager to showcase to his peers. This modern day Lazarus has other plans, however, filled with an innate desire to find and punish those who caused his death...
It's a testament to Boris Karloff's acting abilities and his quality control that he appeared in multiple movies about being unjustly executed then brought back to life, and managed to make them not all seem like the same movie! The Walking Dead is an at-times slow picture, but otherwise a very good watch, equal parts gloominess and pathos.
The movie is perhaps more of a crime-drama for a lot of its runtime, but as events fall into place, you know things are going to get spooky soon, and they do, even if it's in a more subtle way. The revenge part of the movie does take its time coming though, and we have to wait until the final 20/15 minutes. It's not bad the way it is, but I guess I would've preferred the death scenes to have been a little more spaced out, so this feels like a horror movie for more of the runtime rather than the switch coming so late in the game. The deaths themselves also come across a bit comically after a while. They're all good, but when each victim ends up dying through their own sheer stupidity, it gets a bit hilarious, with one falling back onto a speeding train, another having a heart attack (then falling out of a window to boot, making that scene that much more amusing). Poor Karloff doesn't even seem to want to kill these hapless dopes, but they're so terrified of him they just keep dying!
I didn't much care for the climax though. While I liked the poetic justice that befalls the final two villains, I didn't like how they have their encounter with John, then just drive away scot free while he has his last moments with his friends. It doesn't feel too unsatisfying since John clearly knows what's befallen them in the end, but I'm still a bit disappointed that he doesn't play a part in their end, indirectly or otherwise.
Something I really like about the movie is how completely it vindicates Ellman. While it comes too late for the guy in life, he's exonerated in the eyes of the authorities and in the public in every way, and there's never a point where his crusade of justice feels like a deranged man going off the deep end. Instead he's like a divine instrument, who is not seen as in the wrong, and never even outright kills his enemies, but rather lets them do it themselves, like a cosmic punishment.
The movie's best scene is an oft-discussed one, for good reason, when Ellman is giving a piano recital and looks at all of the guilty parties who did him wrong, watching as they grow more and more nervous and leave one by one, scared out of their wits.
Dr. Beaumont is a pretty good character. His arc is that of an increasingly growing obsession of finding out what lies beyond in the afterlife, sometimes giving way to almost callous ideas, but ultimately being dissuaded of the idea that the living can ever know by the movie's end. He's written quite believably. He's not a stereotypical mad scientist despite his unexplained ability to resurrect the recently dead, and he is a good guy, despite his unhealthy drive. There are a few moments where his actions make the movie aesthetically veer towards Frankenstein, what with resurrecting the dead in electricity filled laboratories, and proclaiming "It's alive!".
I didn't find myself very endeared to Nancy at first. She's a bit of a callous bitch who all but signs Elman's death warrant by pressuring Jimmy to not come forward with their evidence, getting the guy convicted and zapped in the process. Thankfully she does eventually have a change of heart, and is one of the people on the medical team bringing him back to life, so I guess that makes up for what she did a bit. Jimmy on the other hand starts out more likeable, but rapidly deteriorates as he starts getting pissy about Nancy spending time with Ellman instead of devoting all her attention to him. then promptly vanishing. Whether intentional or not, he comes across as an amusingly pointed indictment against sexist men in the workplace. They might come across like it's the job they care about, but as soon as women start doing what they want, the guys suddenly claim they don't care about the job anyway and leave in a huff. What a sap.
Boris Karloff does very well with the material given, delivering a performance that's emotional and angry. He does especially well in portraying the hollowness that fills Ellman after returning from the grave, with the make-up and hairstyling he receives aiding his spooky appearance. Edmund Gwenn , while Ricardo Cortez is pretty good as the defacto main villain. Marguerite Churchill and Warren Hull are fine as the two young lovers, and Henry O'Neill as the helpful District Attorney.
The Walking Dead is a spooky film well befitting of that title. With subtle chills, and effective drama, it's quite an entertaining picture...