Recently Watched: Perry Mason

After some delay, Warner Archives has released a 2-disc set of all six of the Perry Mason films from 1934 through 1937. To commemorate the release, I thought I’d bring over one of my old posts from the SBBN archives, a quickie summary of all six Mason films from 2009. This was written back before I knew how to post pictures properly, plus the imported comments will be in the wrong order, so please forgive the aesthetic chaos. Please note: The screen grabs in this post are from movies recorded off TCM, they are NOT from the Warner Archive set. *** Erle Stanley Gardner’s lawyer-slash-detective character Perry Mason was created in 1933, and within a year Warner Bros. created a film series based on the books. The first film, “The Case of the Howling Dog” (1934), was based on a serialized novel published in Liberty Magazine earlier that same year. In all, six Perry Mason films were made before Mason disappeared from the big screen. In the 1940s, the character appeared on CBS radio for 12 years, voiced primarily by John Larkin. Gardner disliked the radio series and refused to allow it to be made into a TV show in the 1950s, so CBS revamped the radio show and turned it into the soap “Edge of Night” — also starring John Larkin, but not as Mason — and the soap ran for another 30 years. A few years after “Edge of Night” premiered, Gardner forgave CBS and helped create a … Continue reading

Artists and Models (1937)

Artists and Models (1937) is the full 1930s Hollywood entertainment spectacle, complete with music, dancing, celebrity cameos, comedy, romance, and hot chicks in skimpy clothes. Because of all those things and the stars — Jack Benny, Ida Lupino, and Gail Patrick — I was sure I’d love it. I didn’t. I didn’t hate it, but it has some serious flaws that even Jack, Ida, and Gail can’t fix. Jack is Mac Brewster, head of the big name Brewster ad agency, and owner of one of the most fabulous offices I’ve ever seen: We open with a wacky number by The Yacht Club Boys where George Kelly does a Max Bialystock theater producer routine; truthfully, I would not be surprised to learn that at least a few aspects of the Bialystock character came from this film. By the end of the Yacht Club Boys number, a few thousand cast members are on stage, crowded amongst the sets for a dozen plays. It’s wacky, remember. Brewster is asked for his opinion: “It stinks!” Ha! I love you, Jack Benny. Brewster’s ad agency is in financial trouble, but all is saved when rich Alan Townsend (Richard Arlen) gives Brewster a large contract, contingent on finding a new Townsend Silver Girl for advertising their silver products. The Silver Girl should also be the winner of the upcoming Artists & Models Ball, it’s decided, for maximum publicity. Brewster figures his girlfriend and top model Paula Sewell (Ida Lupino) would be perfect. Townsend, though, has visions … Continue reading

Short Subject, Feature Film: Condemned (2010) and Double Take (2009)

Many months ago, writer-director Oren Shai was kind enough to send me a copy of his short subject “Condemned” (2010), a tight, engaging film that combines exploitation cinema with the feel of a 1950s genre Western.  Fortunately, Oren has just released the film online here in streaming video. Because it’s online, I won’t spoil a bit of it for you. It’s a terrific short, and I highly recommend you give it 14 minutes of your time. *** Our feature today is Double Take (2009), a quasi-documentary and meditation on Alfred Hitchcock, commercialism, mortality, and the Cold War. The film combines four main elements: Footage of Hitchcock from his movie cameos and TV series, interviews with Hitchcock lookalikes, clips of Cold War events focusing mostly on the Space Race and Folger’s commercials from that era, all overlaid with a fictitious account of Hitch meeting an older version of himself based on Jorge Luis Borges’ short story August 25, 1983. It seems many reviewers don’t know what to make of Double Take, and I admit, if you go into it expecting solid, concrete links between the four main elements of the film, you will be extremely frustrated. That said, however tenuous they may be, the links between these themes are compelling. Hitch dealt extensively with the idea of doubles and doppelgängers, which connects to a series of clips showing political figures moving fluidly from one double relationship to another: Khrushchev and Nixon, Nixon and Kennedy, Khrushchev and Castro, Kennedy and Castro. It … Continue reading

Recently Watched: Hildegarde Withers

All three of the Edna Mae Oliver “Hildegarde Withers” murder mystery vehicles were recently show on TCM in a little mini marathon. First up was The Penguin Pool Murder: Anyhow, the Hildegarde Withers series. This series consists of six films that ran from 1932 to 1937, with only the first three starring Edna Mae Oliver, and the remaining three with Helen Broderick and Zasu Pitts. A seventh film starring Eve Arden in 1972 was made with the Hildegarde Withers character, and Billboard reported that a TV pilot called “The Amazing Miss Withers” was filmed in 1955, starring Agnes Moorehead. I have no idea if the pilot ever aired.  But despite four other actresses playing the role, Edna Mae is the definitive Hildegarde, and it’s because of her birthday in November that I managed to follow up “Penguin Pool” (1932) with “Murder on the Blackboard” (1934) and “Murder on a Honeymoon” (1935). Hildegarde is a frumpy middle-aged schoolteacher who manages to get mixed up in murders on a regular basis, much to the chagrin of Police Inspector Oscar Piper (James Gleason). In the first film, “The Penguin Pool Murder,” Hildegarde is at the local aquarium with her students at the same time trophy wife Gwen Parker (Mae Clarke) is there to secretly meet her former lover Philip (Donald “Slightly Less Bland than Donald Woods” Cook). Gwen’s rich husband Gerald is anonymously alerted to their assignation and confronts them, only to be clocked in the face by Philip. He’s left unconscious near … Continue reading

Supplemental Shatner #1: The Devil’s Rain (1975)

“Bloggers think I’m cool,” he said. “I wish I knew what it was about me that was cool so I can repeat it.” William Shatner, “The Many Iterations of William Shatner” – Ever since the Shatnerthon, I have been watching films that some of you fine Shatnerthonians wrote about. Of the films I’ve seen since the ‘thon, one of the best has to be “The Devil’s Rain,” contributed by Pussy Goes Grr! and Scenes from the Morgue. You all know how much I like the big bad B movie, and people, “Devil’s Rain” delivers. It’s got: A delightful amount of Shatness. Ernie Borgie!   Eyeless Lupino!   Stylish satanism.   Crazy witch bling!   Dissolving waxy devilzombie legs!   Goat face!   And I loved the ghost town used in this film.   All I can confirm about this town is that it was in Mexico. I don’t know if it was created for the movie or not, although it looks like a genuine ghost town with a small white church built nearby specifically for the film. However, it’s such a small town with no personal residences, just commercial buildings, that I wonder if it was entirely constructed for this movie. The devil’s rain refers to a large whatsit that looks like a giant glass marble with the souls of the damned inside. The damned apparently hang out in this globe, wail, and get rained on; I suppose everyone needs a hobby. The viewscreen on the whatsit reminded me of … Continue reading

Diana Dors: Sex Symbol

Miss Diana Dors: Singer, actress, and professional sexpot. One of my favorites. The photo shoot with this silver swimsuit must have lasted for days, considering how many pics are floating around.     There is something very Ed Woodian about this one. *** Yes, I was late again! And for my last entry on Diana Dors week, too. Today’s allegedly good reason is because I am in a tizzy, as some newbie film blogger is stealing my shtick! They’re becoming quite popular, too, because I am a genius, and even pale imitations of me glow like a uranium suitcase in the hands of a modern day Pandora. (Impressed? Of course you are. Excuse me while I practice the Queen’s wave…) Speaking of being popular, as Bryce recently pointed out to me, I have hit and passed the 200 mark for Google Followers. Thank you all. I do appreciate it and I love every one of you, even if I get into tizzies and can only express myself in hipster sarcasm. Have a good weekend everyone.

Diana Dors: The Unholy Wife (1957)

The Unholy Wife proves that Diana Dors could, in a pinch, act. It also proves she needed a strong director and a good story, both of which are sadly lacking in this film. The poster tagline — “HALF-ANGEL, HALF-DEVIL, she made him HALF-A-MAN!” — is pretty much a lie. You see nothing of Phyllis (Dors) to indicate she’s an angel at all; one supposes they’re talking entirely about her physical appearance. However, what makes her a “devil” is nothing more than her rejection of a checklist of stereotypical female traits. She doesn’t really like kids, she won’t care for her elderly nutball mother-in-law Emma (Beulah Bondi), she doesn’t like being married to a man who apparently had his whatsit shot off in the war (Rod Steiger)… and it’s that issue with his whatsit that makes him “half a man”, not his wife Phyllis. Oh, and she murders someone. This was all kinds of confusing, but allow me to try to explain: The film opens with Phyllis (Diana Dors) just randomly shooting a gun to scare her mother in law. She pretends there was an intruder in what I assume was part of a cunning plan. Mom-in-law Emma (Bondi) calls the cops. They arrive coincidentally along with Phyllis’ brother-in-law, a priest (Arthur Franz). The cops are satisfied with Phyllis’ story, priest goes home, Emma goes back to bed, then Phyllis’ boyfriend on the side shows up (Ton Tryon). They kiss and argue and kiss and he sneaks out, but Phyllis’ young … Continue reading

Diana Dors: Deep End (1970)

Note: This post deals with disturbing themes and sexual content. The pics are safe for work, but the overall post may not be safe for work, for your brain, or for your spirit. *** Jerzy Skolimowski’s Deep End (1970) is messed up.  I know that sounds weak, that I should properly be calling it “disturbing” or “dark,” but those words gives the film an air of propriety that I don’t think even Skolimowski intended. I caught Deep End a few minutes into it the first time it was on TCM and, without having seen the beginning, I was convinced that this was another example of lackluster shock film-making of the era. On a second and complete viewing, I confess my first impression was more cynical than it should have been. Now, I think Skolimowski fully intended his characters in Deep End to be so selfish and confused that they appeared soulless. The film, however, seems to be exploring what happens when an excitable teen boy is mistreated and lost in the swinging, sexually free London of the early 1970s. Early in the film, you see the beginnings of what young Mike (John Moulder-Brown) has had to go through. However, the transformational and abusive treatment he endures contains an undeniable undercurrent of sexism, and is often based on the alleged “fact” that women are out of control and need to be put in their place. There is a distinct difference between the female and male characters that underlines this problem. The … Continue reading

Recently Watched: Kurosawa #1

Between the recent Akira Kurosawa month on TCM and the always-changing order of my rental queue, I have seen a lot of Kurosawa’s films. “The Bad Sleep Well” was one of the first. Called “Kurosawa’s unofficial Hamlet“ by critic Ed Park, I found the movie to go far beyond the usual adjectives attached to it: Cynical, realist, obsessive. It is also devastating. This movie ruined my life. It ripped out my heart and flattened it with a heavy heel, grinding it into the concrete and then kicking the pieces apart with its pointed toe. There are moments in film that are difficult to watch. They hit you just right, they move you to an extreme that’s uncomfortable. In “The Bad Sleep Well”, there is a moment you don’t see. Someone’s death, the death of a man whose life-ruining obsessive hate still wasn’t enough to right the wrongs done; a death not shown save a lingering shot of an empty, ruined, bloody Studebaker. The worst thing I have ever seen on screen is not seeing that death, only seeing it acted out by a man who can never be himself again. It’s a cliche to say a movie changed your life. Neophytes say that, people whose lives are so devoid of strong feeling that even the slightest stirring of emotion causes them to believe their lives are irrevocably altered. So it’s not easy for me to say, but it’s the truth that “The Bad Sleep Well” changed my life. It dashed … Continue reading

Recently Watched: The Laughtoniest!

When I watched these films, it had been a while since I had seen a movie made before the 1960s, and that felt very odd. I was glad I had these 2 Charles Laughton films ready to watch. “The Private Life of Henry VIII” is the movie that put Laughton on the map, at least in the U.S., so it’s a little disconcerting that I don’t like this movie much. Part of it, I’m sure, is that I was a huge Henry VIII buff during my misspent youth, and the historical inaccuracies made my teeth grind. It was as though the bare outline of the real Henry VIII’s life was used merely to toss about some semi-witty banter with jokes, such as how his daughter Elizabeth “couldn’t rule a kitchen.” But the biggest part of my problem with the film is Laughton. Early on, he is fidgety, shifty eyed, practically hopping around, and unfortunately made up with heavily penciled eyebrows and sporting a rather thin beard to make him look like the famous painting of Henry VIII. He’s just caricature, but he’s not caricature throughout the film; sometimes his performance is quite measured and pitch perfect, which makes the spazzy bits even harder to understand. The real stand outs in this film are Binnie Barnes and Elsa Lanchester, both extremely good, and much of the male supporting cast — especially Robert Donat — were terrific. Merle Oberon, bless her heart, has more confidence than ability. Wendy Barrie is an actress … Continue reading