Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Life on Mars: US (2008-09)

It's the perogative of Americans to remake everything they can, even if it's already in English. Often maddening, this is one of their most annoying habits, and sure enough they eventually made their own version of UK genre-bending classic Life on Mars. How does it stack up? Is it just as bad as you might be afraid of, or could it actually be half-decent?...

Sam Tyler is a by-the-books cop who's on the hunt for a serial killer when he's hit by a car and wakes up in 1973. He's confused by his setting, and thinks everything's all a hoax at first, until his new police chief Gene Hunt beats some 'sense' into him. Keeping quiet until he figures out what's going on, Sam continues doing what he does best-Police work, but now in a very different era, where norms are different, and history is being made...

It was in 2009 when the US remake of Life on Mars aired on Aussie TV. I'd already seen some of the original, though was more familiar with Ashes to Ashes. While the original was on the ad-free ABC, the remake had all the saturation commercial tv can muster, and I temporarily got sick of the song from all the times I heard it in the ads! I was a little skeptical of the idea, but curious to see what it was like, and checked it out, seeing the whole series as it aired, until its cancellation after only one season.

While LoM US gets a bad rap from some, I thought it was a pretty good show! In its own right it handled the concept decently, and the writing is pretty good throughout. It's your average mid-2000s police procedural, though with a bit more character to it than the endless letters of CSI, SVU, and so on.

While the show does mine the original for material, it isn't bereft of its own stuff, and is at its strongest when doing its own thing with the premise, in the way an American show could but the British one couldn't. Such as Sam realising he's in the past when he sees the World Trade Centre (which manages to totally outclass the changed British skyline of the original). There's also a more US based civil rights episode, and a gay one done well, like when Ray is dismissive over 'just another' gay bashing until an angry Gene tells him he's still a cop, and has a duty no matter what. I also liked the change to one story where the policewoman who's wounded is Gene's younger sister (daughter?). It gave a nice added layer of depth.

Although there are times when the changes are for the worse. Case in point, the serial killer from the first episode. The way the past and present tie together in the UK version is a dark twist at the end, whereas the US version goes out of its way to give Sam a few heart-to-heart moments with the young kid to apparently cure his possible sociopathy and stop him becoming a serial killer in the future.

Of course, the show is also at its weakest when doing new things. Take for example the bizarre and anticlimactic severed head storyline, where a plot thread about this world's reality is explained when a random tall guy with red skin pops up to just say "Oh yeah, that guy made fun of my height so I chopped off his head" only like 10 minutes in. It makes no sense, and feels like an editorial mandate to wrap-up this thread before it goes anywhere.

While predominately serious, LoM has its fair share of comedic moments, some from the original, many new. One I liked was when Same sees a flash of someone wearing a Nirvana shirt, and when he points this out Annie just comments that eastern spiritualism is getting more popular these days. Then there's the amusing way Sam and others spook a homophobic criminal about jail.

The characters are fine. Sam Tyler is a good lead, likeable, empathetic, and a by-the-books cop with a more modern outlook than his new colleagues. While in the past he meets his parents, with his father having a sinister role to play in some cases, as well as an emotional meeting with his mother, who he introduces himself to as "...Luke Sky...Walker". Dude! You could've just gone with Luke Skye! Or hell, just say your real name, since it says so on the badge, and go "What a coincidence!".

Gene Hunt is everything you'd expect. A bit of a brutish caveman, with a somewhat loose sense of the law, but with a strong sense of honour. He may not like you, but by god he'll do everything to help you out. The mix of his more old-school and at times thuggish approach contrasts well with Sam's modern perspective, and the two share good chemistry, which is the linchpin of this series.

Annie is a spunky gal, and develops the closest friendship with Sam, leading to a will they-won't they situation. He also gets a stupendously lucky feel of her heartbeat, leading to an amusing comment from her.

And the supporting cast are pretty good. Ray get the most coverage, being a typical 1970s bloke. And Chris...uhhh, exists? I know I haven't seen this show since 2009, but I swear I remember almost every tiny little thing about it...But I don't remember Chris at all! I'm just gonna assume he's fine. There's no Phyllis equivalent, while instead of 'Jamaican' bartender Nelson, Sam has a hippy-dippy neighbour named, three guesses, Willow, who may know more about this world than she lets on.

One element missing for LoM US are the easter eggs from 1970s British TV culture, like test card girls, Jackanory, Camberwick Green, etc. This remake is just plopped in a more general past, where you know it's the 70s because it's tinted a slight shade of yellow and every man has a handlebar moustache. While this a shame, I do get why. British and US media landscapes were very different. There were probably weird little public access products, programs, and bumpers, but they might only be regional, so a viewer from Texas might point and go "Oh, I get that!", but literally everyone else in the US would be baffled. It's been said that unlike England, which is much smaller and tighter knit, America is too big to know itself.

And now we come to the most controversial aspect of Life on Mars US-The ending! The UK version ended by design only two short seasons in, with a powerful ending that let things remain ambiguous, and it's a great note to end on! The US version though explains away everything! We find out exactly how Sam Tyler was sent into the past, who Gene Hunt and co. really are, everything! I was so mad about this when it first aired, as were many others. Typical bloody Americans, lacking any kind of subtlety, can't leave a thing unexplained!

However, only a couple of years later, something happened which would mellow my opinion-Ashes to Ashes, the LoM sequel, ended, also definitively explaining away the nature of Gene's world! In a different, and many would say better way, but it explains the mystery all the same! So on those grounds I guess I can't judge LoM US too harshly.

What I can judge though is the execution, and there are a few little details, good and bad. Starting with the good, the fact that this cancelled series had the time to actually give us an ending at all is very much appreciated! No cliffhanger or loose ends! The lead-up is all great stuff too, from Sam and Annie's romance, to Sam admitting his true name to his mother, him sticking up for 1973 and its denizens to the mystery voice on the phone, and his emotion in the last scene with Gene. All punctuated with the brilliant musical choice of Elton John's Mona Lisa's and Mad Hatters. No David Bowie, yeah, but that could admittedly be an obvious choice.

As for the bad, I'm not saying this is a terrible explanation, but a lot of it is a bit muddled, and may not hold up to scrutiny. The double twist is mind-boggling, and many smaller details may make you scratch your head. The final scene with Gene in 1973 is weird, like we're missing several pages of script. The writers also took the show's title far too literally! Same for the name Gene Hunt. The reveal also completely invalidates everything that's come before, in 1973 and 2008. Despite all this though, that final shot of a regular shoe stepping onto the surface of Mars is a brilliant one, and could even hold a hint of ambiguity.

The cast here do fine jobs. Jason O'Mara is a good lead, getting across all the personality he needs to. Harvey Keitel is in a way the true lead, and embodies the character of Gene Hunt perfectly! It's neat seeing a film actor willing to 'slum it' in television, and he does great. Gretchen Mol is gorgeous, with a sense of sweet charm to her, Michael Imperioli has fun and the goofier hairstyling, while I presume Johnathan Murphy does a fine job. And all of the guest actors do well.

Just like its predecessor, LoM US has a great period soundtrack, full of classics! The visuals are also spot on too, with some great imagery. The yellow colour palette may annoy some, but it's possibly not overdone.

Overall, Life on Mars US is a pretty good remake, that suffers from a few American hangups, but it's still a good time for the most part, and a fair remake! The original is recommended over this of course, but this is worth checking out if you feel like it, and at pretty much the same episode count as the British version, plus the allure of an ending that gives definite closure, it's not a bad investment at all...

Kibar Feyzo (1978)

In a rural Turkish village, humble farmer Feyzo is trying to eke out a living, and make enough money to buy the dowry for his beloved Gülo. But the corruption that rules this town makes life impossible, despite his best efforts. Eventually his persistent non-compliance earns him an exile, but this proves to be a big mistake on the landlord's part, because Feyzo is exposed to big city life, and realises how things are supposed to be. Armed with this knowledge, he returns home to bring fairness back to his village, and reclaim his fiancee...

Kibar Feyzo (Polite Feyzo) is a comedy with a satirical edge to it. Helmed by auteur Atıf Yılmaz, it tells a story of village life in the east of Turkey, where feudalism still rules, thanks to the governance of town landlords (Ağa's), and the corruption that enables them.

The plot revolves around simple villager Feyzo and his efforts to get married, despite all the adversity he faces, thanks to specific people in charge, as well as the accepted rules of this small society in general. Feyzo and his beau Gülo are very much in love, but her dad quite literally refer to his daughter as property, acting like marrying her off is a business transaction. And if the suitor doesn't provide enough of a dowry, he won't sell his property. Hell of a change to the West, where the father pays the dory to the groom!

All of this might make Turkey of the 1970s seem hopelessly backwards, but the stark difference between the country and the city is outlined when Feyzo goes to the big city. He witnesses a wedding, and after asking, both the husband and father openly say the woman is her own person, and marriage is a simple matter of choice. Following this we see an enlightened Feyzo bringing modernity to his insular village and hoping he won't get killed for permissiveness and trying to change their set-in-stone ways.

The social commentary here is quite strong. In the wrong hands it could have come across impenetrable for foreign viewers, [who don't even know what an Ağa is]. But not only is it not difficult to understand, the film is actually a very helpful introduction to such issues for newcomers. There are a few lines that act as easter eggs or in-jokes for Turkish viewers (presumably those over the age of 50 at this stage!), but as with the best in-jokes, they're the kind you don't even notice if you don't get them.

Kibar Feyzo could have already been an effective commentary on Turkish issues no matter who directed it, but the fact that someone like Atif Yılmaz is behind it really hits the nail on the head. He tackles his favoured themes of feminism, and sexuality to a degree. The film also has a fun framing story, almost hitting the fourth wall.

The comedy here is entertaining enough. Simple in the best ways, with some well-done jokes, and quick dialogue. Some jokes might make locals laugh more than others, and it is a bit 'lowbrow' in places, but it's fine all round. Some of the more lowbrow moments contain some extremely satisfying punishments for the Ağa!

Feyzo is an endearing lead. A bit of a dope, but he's a goodhearted guy who tries his best. And his mind is clearly open to new ideas, and he's smart enough to know what to do with them too. He makes for a good father too, despite his absences in exile. Although there is one scene where he tries selling his baby that felt a bit much. Like he may be a bit dumb, but he's not heartless! Thankfully everyone in town acts appropriately to this.

Gülo is a sweet girl, and firmly on Feyzo's side. The romance in Kibar Feyzo is perhaps the biggest surprise! Given Kemal Sunal's unconventional appearance, he wouldn't always be paired with more attractive girls (although there are certainly plenty of exceptions to this rule). But here it's sweet just how into Feyzo Gülo is! At no point is she anything but totally devoted to him, even if he isn't a hunky bodybuilder.

Gülo's father is a money-grubbing knobhead, while her brother meanwhile is a more likeable dope. He goes along with his dad/society's orders,  although he's more willing to get along with Feyzo, and sticks up for him at times. Then there are the villains. Fellow villager Bilo is Feyzo's rival. Despite him not having the slightest shot at winning Gülo over, he still tries. But the main antagonist is village landlord Maho Ağa,

Feyzo's mother is an amusing presence. She tries exerting control, not approving of his marriage solely because of the cost, which she could instead use to buy an ox. She soon comes around though, and despite her henpecking edge, she really rallies behind her son. Although her cockblocking really isn't appreciated! The 'newly'weds are trying to make love. Leave them alone to get busy, and don't intrude!

Events progress very well after Feyzo's return from the city, with new ideas to galvanise the people into action. It's here where I wondered if the film was maybe stretching itself a bit. It seems like things are changing, only for the Ağa to round everybody up and beat into submission again. And so we've gotta sit through things building up again. None of it's bad of course, and with the film only running at a brisk 80 minutes it's never slow or tedious. But I did wonder if things could've come to a head sooner, or this moment been delayed till later.

The climax is satisfying when it comes, with the Ağa getting a suitable punishment. There is a bit of an abrupt ending, and the film ends on an ambiguous note, although I imagine things will work out fine. They'd bloody better after a whole movie of things not working out the hero's way!

The cast here is a good one! Kemal Sunal is an endearingly silly lead. Müjde Ar is pretty, and gets some cute moments, while Adile Naşit gives an amusingly batty performance. Şener Şen is a great villain, getting across the character's foibles perfectly, while Ilyas Salman has a decent role, though perhaps a bit small to be really good.

The music here is good, with a fun theme and other tracks. The assorted men and women of the village also act as a Greek chorus, singing their thoughts on whatever's going on with Feyzo and his beloved's struggle.

The setting here looks great, shot in a real village with old-school clay huts, and little hovels, as well as large farmlands. The costumes are varied and colourful, bringing a lot of vibrancy to this otherwise sandy yellow village.

Kibar Feyzo is a good film to check out, and shines a light on then-important social issues, and acts as a great historical artifact, as well as a more universal comedy...

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Tosun Paşa (1976)

In the occupied deserts of Egypt, two rival Ottoman families are feuding over who gets the lush Green Valley. They both get it in their heads to ask for the local magistrate's daughter Leyla's hand in marriage, but after a head injury, and a brainwave, the Tellioğulları family decides to make their clumsy butler Şaban pose as Tosun Pasha, a revered figure in the military. Will their plan succeed, or will something go wrong? Or how?...

Tosun Paşa is an entertaining Turkish comedy. In a way it's part of a loose trilogy, along with Süt Kardeşler and Şaban Oğlu Şaban. While none are connected, all three share the running theme of military and Ottoman life. One is about the navy, one the army, and this focuses on the Colonial side of the empire.

The film is a very funny portrayal of the local history. The comedy is pretty universal. There are misunderstandings, slapstick, and over-the-top characters, and it's all a hoot.

The story is simple but effective, and pretty much an excuse to let the various gags and situations play out.

I imagine the relation to the setting and the plot is no mistake either. I'm not sure when exactly this is supposed to be set, but if it's anywhere near the late 1880s, early 1900s, this whole conflict is immaterial anyway! These families are fighting so hard to get territory that's gonna be gone in only a few years time anyway when the Ottoman empire crumbles, and the Arabs take back control.

The film does a great job showing off Turkish culture, from their little habits and customs, to their various 'carnival' games, and of course hamams and Turkish oil wrestling! It's here where the film becomes incredibly homoerotic. I understand cultural differences, and in many ways the Turks (and Europeans in general) have a much healthier definition of masculinity than westerners. On the other hand they had to have known how it looks, and been playing it up for laughs!

The characters are a kooky and kinda unlikeable bunch, but in a harmless and funny way. The two families are Tellioğulları and Seferoğullarına, and no I'm not typing those in full again! The Tellio's are the leads, and are determined to get the land they see as rightfully theirs. After a Sefer-induced head injury results in their patriarch thinking their rivals are the bees knees, and butler Şaban is his father. One thing leads to another and they find themselves posing him as a high official and war hero. Sure enough, the power immediately goes to Şaban's head, and he begins scheming for himself.

If I had to pick a complaint though, it's that we don't really get much from the Sefer family. None are really characterised, nor do they get a lot of screentime. They're basically all the same.

Local mayor Daver Bey is a levelheaded, if slightly oblivious guy. He's fairly wise to the antics of these feuding families, but taken in like a dope by the fake Pasha. Then there's his daughter Leyla, who's a bit of a fickle girl, really! None of the men in this film really love her for her, only for what she can provide them. While she has a thing for a handsome young Sefer man, yet doesn't hesitate to cuddle up with what she thinks is Tosun Pasha, or the real one!

The real Tosun Pasha eventually shows up in the last act, biding his time under an alias to see what exactly's going on, and who's behind it.

This all culminates in a great free-for-all climax, with a big brawl. It does re-use a few jokes a touch, but is still funny, and there's plenty of great stuff. Like how the real Tosun Pasha notices Leyla and is instantly attracted, and they casually have a conversation while there's chaos around them.

The ending sees everyone getting their just desserts. Leyla has ended up with her best option, and the Green Valley is in good hands. And you can guess whose hands that's not...

The cast here is a high point. Kemal Sunal is a fun goofy lead, while Şener Şen is his usual shouty and grumpy self, rotating through various emotions, from fury, to desperation, and more. Some other Turkish regulars are here, like Adile Naşit and Ayşen Gruda, fun as usual. And Müjde Ar is gorgeous! The remainder of the cast is a good one, with some distinct looks.

If there is one oddity it's the complete lack of any Arabs (or at least, Turks playing Arabs). This is supposed to be Egypt, yet there are no Egyptians anywhere to be found, not as retainers, nor plotting sedition in the background. This is understandable since that's not what the movie's about, but it is odd for them to not even be here.

The film looks very good, with countless gorgeous costumes for the ladies, and snazzy suit and fez combos for the guys (so many fezes! A sea of them!), not to mention the tassles. The locations
a sense of DIY grandeur, which fits with the theme of the Turks just plopping themselves down in the middle of a desert, setting up a few stands, and calling it home.

The direction overall is really good, and the mixing of the dessert with these colourful costumes works really well. Regular actor Kartal Tibet is behind the camera, and proves his worth beyond acting once again.

Tosun Paşa is another Turkish comedy classic, and a fun time! Ideally it should be watched with English subs if they can be found, but even if you can't, as long as you're developing an interest you'll get the gist ok. It's funny regardless...

Monday, August 14, 2023

Scream and Scream Again (1970)

...Uhhhh...Ummm...I'm gonna give this my best shot. A jogger suddenly collapses and wakes up in a strange hospital, missing an arm! He screams and passes out, then later wakes up to find another limb missing. Elsewhere, a vampiric serial killer is on the loose, and the police try to catch him. Meanwhile, skulduggery is afoot in a totalitarian Eastern European nation, and a mad scientist in the countryside is conducting his own experiments. What strange horrors are these, and how does it connect all these events?...

Scream and Scream Again is a pretty notorious picture. It's not that it's a bad film exactly, but it stands as one of the most confounding ever put to screen! There are at least 3 plots going on, possibly 5 depending on how you count them. Each could probably get their own movie. It's mystifying trying to watch and figure out if they'll come together, let alone how. The plots don't connect until an hour in, and even then it's pretty light on details. We only have all the facts in the case by the very end, and how good of a job it does explaining depends.

This is a shame, because the story and themes here are actually pretty interesting! It's a Frankenstein type story set amidst the backdrop of the Cold War, with a 1984 style country. A unique mix of old and new, and they could produce many interesting ideas. Unfortunately Scream and Scream Again is so crowded it never really gets the chance to go anywhere, and the audience is too confused to really enjoy themselves. It's rare that a film works when you only know what's going on in the last 5 minutes. Although this does reward rewatches.

With all this promise, I do wonder if the plots to Scream and Scream Again could've ever made a cohesive movie, if only it was written better. I'd say No, since the best fix would be to trim at least one story, but maybe if you were talented it could work. But the solution I hit upon was this. The film is a co-production with Amicus, who were most known for their catalogue of anthologies! Imagine Scream Again and its myriad plots not as one single story, but several different ones. Set in the same world, building on each-other perhaps, but each with their own beginning middle and end.

Scream Again is slightly genre-bending. More thriller, with a hint of sci-fi, but with definite horror elements. Particularly the jogger's fate, which must be the stuff of nightmares. The whole serial killer chase feels more like a police show, but with a spooky twist. It's this sequence that really tests your patience, as it manages to last a full 17 minutes! First they chase him by car, then on foot, before finally cuffing him...until he finds a novel way of escape, and the chase restarts! It drags on even longer, before finally coming to an end when the killer runs into a seemingly random barn, where there just happens to be an acid pit in. He decides he would rather die than be killed, and presto!

The main hero is ostensibly Superintendent Bellaver, and he's an alright bloke. Although I question his wisdom in placing a piece of vital police evidence in a glass case in an unlocked conservatory! He's randomly killed with half an hour still to go, which feels like a pointless and unsatisfying fate. This leaves us with only one lasting hero-Young doctor David. He's tolerable, but not great, and he's completely unqualified to fight these villains.

Who the villains are here is unclear for the most part. We know they exist? The one with the most scrreentime is mad scientist Dr. Browning, as played by Vincent Price. When David shows up at his base at the end, Browning is affable, and genuinely excited to show him what's going on, scrubbing up =. Browning's plan is a bit out there, and doesn't make a lot of sense, in a few ways, but it's still neat to hear. And he has some pretty insightful dialogue in places.

I was a little confused though by the end, was Browning evil or wasn't he? On one hand he is a mad scientist, but then he seems genuinely concerned at Konratz's behaviour, and what it means for others of his kind. Although I'm not sure how the vampire killer fits into all that. And if he doesn't consider himself evil, why is he dismembering joggers? It's not even clear who exactly is doing that, as if those scenes were filmed separately.

Christopher Lee's character is one of the least interesting, precisely because we see so little and know less about him. He's just some government guy. Whether he's good or not is up for debate. I guess he is? His line at the end is ambiguous, but erring on the side of nice.

The vampiric serial killer has little character. He's a creepy 'charmer with the ladies, and he slurps blood out of his victims like out of a milkshake straw. The second he's rumbled by the police, he basically becomes a vehicle for action, till his eventual death. I'm surprised a man so intent on self preservation would be so quick to suicide!

Then there's the film's other villain, state assassin Konrad. He kills his victims with neck pinches, and is somehow able to just wander into these high security places and kill major figures with no trouble. He also gets the film's defining line-"You won't understand and I won't explain.". His role in events is confusing, and I didn't understand why he wanted all the evidence of the vampire murders. Nor why he's asking Christopher Lee's character, considering certain revelations.

The climax is ok, with its fair share of ghoulish moments, and a return of acid pit shenanigans. The young 'hero' though proves to be utterly useless, getting knocked out twice in the same scene, and the day is only saved by internal squabbling.

The cast here is a great one! Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing? All in one film? Yes! Together? Sadly no. They rarely if ever share the screen, and their collective screentime is barely over 15 minutes. Cushing only has the one 3 minute scene early on, while Lee gets a little more, and Price has the more substantial role. He's still sporadic and underused, but he's enough of a presence to justify putting his name prominently on the poster. Despite all three getting top billing, the real stars are Alfred Marks and Christopher Matthews, who do well (with the latter getting an odd moment where he's dubbed to say Garbage when he clearly said Crap). The rest of the cast includes Marshall Jones as the assassin, Michael Gothard as the serial killer, and a cameoing Peter Sallis!

The music here is pretty standard stuff, feeling at times like a 70s police show. There are also some songs courtesy of band Amen Corner, such as the title track. The chorus is pretty boppy, and it is fun when movies include songs that sing the title! But every other part of this one made me want to block out my ears.

The effects are pretty neat, with some severed limbs, and a satisfactory amount of blood. As nightmarish as the idea of helplessly losing limbs is, the effect is a little funny to look at, but props to them for trying. The direction is fairly decent Special 'praise' must go to how Price and Lee manage to share almost an entire scene without being on camera together, and one stares the other back into an acid bath.

And the location work is pretty good. The car chase is shot well, and moves on foot to a neat area, that's framed really well! We don't see a lot of the totalitarian state, and what we do is regular streets and sunny green fields. It's not terribly unconvincing, though their insignia looking like a road sign isn't good for much but a laugh.

Scream and Scream Again is a bizarre film, and if you go in expecting these great horror stars, you'll be disappointed. But it's still worth checking out just to see how crazy it gets. Or if you want the really compressed version with some funny jokes, you could watch the great Dark Corners review!...

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Dr. Renault's Secret (1942)

Dr. Larry Forbes is visiting a cosy French village to meet his fiancee, and her uncle Dr. Renault. He is quickly introduced to Renault's strange assistant Noel, and he swaps rooms with a drunk American tourist, who is found murdered. There's some concern the killer was after Larry, which he brushes off. But he's soon given pause for thought when more killings occur, and Dr. Renault has his own suspicions, tying back to a secret from his past...

Based on a 1911 novel by Gaston Leroux, Dr. Renault's Secret is a fairly standard 1940s b-movie. A mad scientist with a fascination in gorillas is doing experiments, the usual. Broadly this isn't anything we haven't seen before, but the finer details are where it gets more interesting!

Renault's assistant Noel is the key to the film's success. He seems relatively normal, if perhaps mentally simple. He's passed off as a native from Indonesia, but in actuality his origin isn't what it seems. Noel, the talking standing human being, used to be an ape! Usually when we see primates in the captivity of mad scientists, they're just animals, but Noel used to be an animal, and is now a human, who acts like us, and can even speak! It's a fascinating idea, how a completely different life form would adjust and learn, and how it can be more like us.

Despite this change to his nature, Noel is still an animal at heart. He yearns to be free and experience things how he used to, and feels frustrated by Dr. Renault's attempts to keep him 'civilised', as a boring old human. While Noel may be simple, he understands that the doctor is trying to make him something he's not. In a way making him every bit as Renault could have hoped!

The film has a nice sense of ambiguity. Noel's animal desires often translate to violence. He loves Madeline...and may kill to keep her from another man. He likes dogs, but they don't like him, leading to a cross-species punch-up. As the body count racks up, Renault is convinced Noel is the guilty party, but we never actually see him commit those first murders, and he may well be innocent! But the point still stands, he's capable of it, as we see when he does murder two heckling townsfolk (in pretty spectacular fashion!). Noel is neither portrayed as entirely good, or evil, and our sympathies are meant to lie with him.

The titular Dr. Renault is quite ambiguous himself. He's not evil, and his experiment is perfectly benevolent. He even intends on taking action when he thinks Noel has killed people. But it's his whole attitude that makes you wonder. Although I really think the movie coulda worked a bit harder to make his actions questionable. Because as it is, all he's done is turn an animal human, teach it English, and employ it as a butler. Nothing really illegal, no egregious tampering in God's domain. In fact if he brought his findings to the scientific community as is, not only would he not be charged with anything, he'd be lauded!

The final act takes place at a local fair, where fun and games are had, until Noel dispatches two tormentors, before confronting the doctor. Meanwhile Madeline is kidnapped by a more human villain, and only Noel can save her. This leads to a fun climax, and Noel is absolved of his previous murders by dying to save the day. After which we get a pretty abrupt ending!

The leading guy and girl are an alright pair, but nothing more than standard. Noel gets the lion's share of development, and is interesting to follow. And Dr. Renault is an affable host, but with something to hide. Even if he doesn't technically do anything villainous, and his heavy-handedness with Noel only comes when he thinks he's been killing people, he still meets a sticky end. He's pretty much forgotten by the end though! I'm not sure if anyone even learns he's dead, let alone his daughter, nor do we see her mourning him.

The supporting players range from the townsfolk, who can be nice at times yet also bullies (They are such brazen assholes!), the lilting Irish police inspector, and Renault's shifty ex-con gardener. And then there's the most adorable dog! He's such a big boy, and gets in some nice pats!...Yeah, you'll wanna skip past minutes 28-29.

The direction in Dr. Renault's Secret is very dynamic. Scenes are shot and framed well, and there's a creative use of dutch angles! In fact it goes a little overboard. Half the movie is tilted on its side! The film believably recreates a quaint little French village, and has some nice locations and sets. There's not much in the way of effects besides set destruction, which is done well. I also liked the effort that went into Dr. Renault's picture book! Most other films woulda used stock images, but not this.

And lastly, the acting here is a real high point! George Zucco is a fun mad scientist, while the young couple are tolerable. And the townspeople are varying degrees of entertaining, with Mike Mazurki being a traditional hood. The accents are funny too, with everyone in this French town either sounding American, British, or Irish! And most importantly is J. Carroll Naish, who delivers a great performance! He delivers his lines in an effectively stiff way, like someone who's only just learned to speak, without sacrificing emotion. And his mannerisms really nail the not quite human feel of his character.

Dr. Renault's Secret is a pretty good film! And short too at only 58 minutes, so it definitely can't hurt checking it out...