Archive for October, 2013

My Classic Movie Pick: Sabotage, for the Hitchcock in Halloween Blogathon

I have  enjoyed Alfred Hitchcock’s films and was delighted to learn about Backlots tribute to the director in Hitchcock for Halloween Blogathon.   I decided to focus on the 1936 film, Sabotage, as I appreciate much of Hitchcock’s earlier films, the films he made while still living in England, before Hollywood came calling.Alfred Hitchcock on Halloween 2013

Loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s 1907 novel, The Secret Agent, which concerns a spy, his anarchist comrades, and their terrorist acts,  Hitchcock took the contents of the novel and moved it from the 1880s to 1936.   The film revolves around 4 characters:  Karl Verloc, his wife, Mrs. Verloc, Stevie, the teenage brother of Mrs. Verloc, and Sgt. Ted Spencer, from Scotland Yard.  While not exactly a “horror” movie, it is suspenseful and takes a look at human evil, with the wanton destruction of innocents by terrorist acts. As I watched the film for the second time, it struck me that the three main adult characters all have secrets.  Hitchcock's Sabotage

Karl Verloc(Oscar Homolka) is a seemingly mild-mannered movie theatre owner, an immigrant to London, considered nice by all of his neighbors and associates.  We find out early on that he is not as he seems, that he is caught up in an anarchist group, doing deeds of sabotage in the city for money.  We aren’t sure if money is his main reason for doing these evil acts for the group or if there is more behind his motives.  Homolka, who I had only known previously for his turn in 1948’s I Remember Mama, as blustery Uncle Chris, is much younger in this 1936 movie.  He gives a great performance as a conflicted man, nice on the outside but inside, full of darkness, and justifications for his evil acts.

Verloc pleased that his act caused a London blackout.

Verloc pleased that his act caused a London blackout.

The luminous Sylvia Sydney plays Mrs. Verloc.  She reveals that she married Verloc when they lived in America, not for love but for security and gratefulness as Verloc agreed to let her younger brother, Stevie, live with them.  We don’t know why she has the sole care of her brother and can only assume that her parents are deceased and that she is Stevie’s only living relative.  Ms. Sydney’s large eyes grab the audience in her gaze  and she uses them masterfully to express and emote; confusion, bewilderment, and shock.  An alternate title for the film was A Woman Alone which put more of the plot on Mrs. Verloc’s shoulders, but I like the Sabotage title better.  To me, that title encompasses all of the characters much better.     I did read in my research that Sydney didn’t enjoy working with Hitchcock so this was their only collaboration.

The Luminous Sylvia Sydney as Mrs. Verloc.

The Luminous Sylvia Sydney as Mrs. Verloc.

Stevie(Desmond Teeter) is perfect as the happy-go-lucky, but awkward teen brother of Mrs. Verloc.  With his mop of unruly, wavy hair, his gangly build, he’s the perfect picture of teenage boyhood.  Eager to please his sister and her husband,  happy with his lot in life as far as we can tell, what happens to him is utterly heartbreaking.

Stevie doesn't know what he is delivering!!

Stevie doesn’t know what he is delivering!!

Sgt. Ted Spencer(John Loder) is undercover, working as an assistant at a greengrocer’s shop nextdoor to Verloc’s movie theatre.  Scotland Yard, Spencer’s employer, has gotten hints about an ararchist group that Verloc possibly is a  member of.  Spencer has been put at the greengrocer’s shop in order to keep tabs on Verloc and to ingratiate himself with the family.  What he hasn’t counted on was a growing attraction to Mrs. Verloc, whom he wants to try and protect at all costs in case it is proven true that her husband is an anarchist and terrorist.

Sgt. Spencer, undercover, takes Mrs. Verloc and Stevie out to lunch.

Sgt. Spencer, undercover, takes Mrs. Verloc and Stevie out to lunch.

I looked for HItchcock’s cameo shot and missed it.  There are a lot of crowd scenes so I am assuming he is in one of those.  Cinematically, what caught my eye were:  the opening shot of a page from a dictionary showing the definition of the word Sabotage,  a light bulb filmed up close, showing its brightness, then a cut to London at night, all lit up, and its citizens happily moving here and there to whatever interests are theirs for the evening,  another quick shot of that lighbulb, only now it’s dimming and then goes out, followed by a second shot of London, of Big Ben, all going dark.  Instead of hysteria, the plucky Londoners find candles, matches, torches(flashlights for us Yanks) and happily continue on their way.  Then there is  another quick shot of men at a power plant examining machinery and they find sand had been put into it, “Sabotage!”, one of the men exclaims.    Verloc arriving home, sneaking in so his wife, running the ticket booth won’t see him.  He washes off his hands in the bathroom sink and we see sand left behind in the sink, and we know, he is the one who commited the sabotage at the power plant.  Another scene that caught my eye was when Verloc has met his anarchist contact at London’s Zoo to find out about the next terrorist job.  He has been ordered to deliver a bomb and told who to get the bomb from.   After the anarchist has left the Zoo’s aquarium  where this latest plan was discussed, Verloc stares at a tank of fish and before his eyes it turns into a group of London buildings that collapse in an explosion, and then this imaginary scene turns back into the fishes swimming in a tank.   Lastly, there is the building of suspense as Stevie has been asked by his brother-in-law to unknowingly take a part in the terrorist act, with quick shots of Stevie traveling to a destination to make a 1:30 pm delivery,  getting waylaid on his journey by traffic jams, a parade, a street vendor, and cuts to various clocks showing the time.   Shots of Stevie, to a clock, and back and forth builds the tension and suspense to a fever pitch.  Then the movie has a bit of a calm before the final storm, when Mrs. Verloc realizes that is up to her to stop her husband.  With the arrival of Scotland Yard, another anarchist, and Sgt. Spencer, the films ends quite differently than Conrad’s novel does.  Hitchcock's poster 2

Sabotage is shown now and then on Turner Classic Movies, it is available to purchase or view on instant rent at Amazon.com,  and it is also available to see via Netflix and it’s also on Hulu.  I highly recommend it for the Hitchcock movie fan in your life and it would make a great addition to their movie collection if they don’t have it already!

For a look at an great Hitchcock film prior to his output in Hollywood, look for Sabotage!

Here is a movie poster showing the alternate title.

Here is a movie poster showing the alternate title.

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My Classic Movie Pick: The Curse of the Werewolf

When I learned that one of my favorite blogs, Classic Film and TV Cafe was hosting a blogathon on Hammer Studio’s films, specifically their  horror films, I quickly volunteered to write a piece.   I chose 1961’s The Curse of the Werewolf because it was the first Hammer horror film I ever saw, and I saw it purely by accident.  I was 7 or 8 years old and rambling around the house on a weekday afternoon.  I noticed that the tv was on and a movie was playing and yes, you guessed it, The Curse of the Werewolf was that movie.  I only saw the first part of the movie, but those images have stayed with me.  Hammer Horror Blogathon

Hammer Studios, in England, had been in the movie making business as far back as 1934, but in 1957, when they received permission from Universal Studios to remake Frankenstein, as The Curse of Frankenstein, in full color, it proved to be a box office smash hit and the studio found their niche in horror films.  In 1961, they decided to make a new werewolf movie but their movie’s plot followed the 1933 novel, The Werewolf of Paris, written by Guy Endore, not Universal’s 1941 film, The Wolf Man, which starred Lon Chaney Jr.

Curse of the Werewolf was directed by Terence Fisher, produced by Michael Carreras and Anthony Hinds, who also wrote the screenplay under the pseudonym John Elder.   The cast included: Clifford Evans, Oliver Reed, Yvonne Romain, Catherine Feller, Anthony Dawson, Richard Wordsworth,Hira Talfrey, John Gabriel,  Michael Ripper, David Conville, and Justin Walters.  Cotwerewolf poster 1

Set in Spain in the 1700s, the story opens with a beggar(Richard Wordsworth) entering a town where no one is about.  He is curious about this absence of townsfolk walking around so he enters a cantina and inside he sees most of the men from the town.  The beggar asks why is no one about?  Is it a holiday?  One man answers his questions.  It is the local Marquis’s wedding day and in fear of him, the town has decided to stay indoors.  The Marquis(Anthony Dawson)  is a man known for his bad temper and unfair punishments.  The beggar vows to go to the Marquis’s palatial home to beg for money.  The men in the cantina laugh at the beggar’s plan and try to warn him to stay away from the Marquis.

The Marquis ordering the beggar to dance for food.

The Marquis ordering the beggar to dance for food.

The beggar asking the Marquis for money.

The beggar asking the Marquis for money.

The beggar is allowed to enter the Marquis’s home and is shown to the banquet hall where the wedding reception is underway.  The beggar is desperate for food so he agrees to perform silly dances in order to receive food from the Marquis.  When the Marquis escorts his new bride from the reception to the stairway of the home, the beggar, over the din of the guests cheers and applause, says loudly, “Have a good night!” and winks at the Marquis.  This angers the Marquis and he orders the beggar to be thrown into the dungeon!  Years go by and the beggar is forgotten in the dungeon.  His only contact with humans is the jailer and his daughter, who is a mute.  The beggar slowly goes mad.  Eventually, the jailer dies and it is his mute daughter, who is now a beauty(Yvonne Romain) who makes sure that the beggar is fed each day.  The mute maid also has household duties and one day, as she is cleaning up the ashes from the fireplace in the Marquis’s bedroom, he decides to make a grab for her and force his attentions on her.  (We are told that the Marquis’s wife died some years ago.)  The mute maid fights back and bites the Marquis’s hand.  She is able to run away but the Marquis has his guards find her and throw her in the dungeon.   The crazed beggar sees the beautiful maid in his cell and he attacks her, raping her.  She manages to convince the guards to let her out the next morning and they do so.  The beggar is shown in the cell, with unusual amounts of hair growth on his arms, and he is dead!  Before the maid flees from the Marquis, she is taken to his room and as he prepares to grab her once again, she stabs him and runs for her life.

The Marquis planning his evil deeds on the mute maid.

The Marquis planning his evil deeds on the mute maid.

The mute maid wanders the countryside living in the woods for months.  One morning, as she is clinging to a log in a stream, Don Alfredo Corledo(Clifford Evans)  out for a hike  sees the maid.  He quickly pulls her from the stream, takes her to his home, and cares for her with the help of his trusted housekeeper Teresa(Hira Talfrey).  Teresa informs Don Alfredo that the young lady he found is with child and that she hopes it will not be born on Christmas Day.  Don Alfredo listens as Teresa explains an old superstition, that a baby conceived in a bad way, and born on Christmas Day, will have an evil in its soul.  As the story continues, the maid does indeed give birth to a baby boy on Christmas Day and then she quickly dies!  Don Alfredo raises the baby as his own son, naming him Leon, and Teresa is looked upon by the child as an Aunt, not just as a housekeeper.   At baby Leon’s baptism, the priest(John Gabriel), Don Alfredo, and Teresa can’t ignore the sudden flashes of lightening and the baptismal waters in the font being stirred up and bubbling!

The baby has been born on Christmas Day!

The baby has been born on Christmas Day!

8 years go by and Leon(Justin Walters) is having a nightmare.  Don Alfredo goes to the boy to comfort him and help him go back to sleep.  Leon tells his father about his nightmare, that he was remembering a recent hunting trip with local hunter and cantina owner Pepe.  Leon goes on to share that Pepe shot a squirrel even though Leon had begged him not to shoot it.  Leon decided to examine the dead squirrel and tasted some of its blood and it tasted so sweet to him that he wanted to kill something to get more of that blood.  Don Alfredo is horrified by Leon’s account of the hunting trip.   A couple nights later, with a full moon out, there is noise coming from Leon’s bedroom and when Don Alfredo and Teresa go there, they see Leon clinging to the window bars, acting crazy, trying to get outside, and the boy’s canine teeth have turned into fangs!  Bewildered, knowing that the area shepherds have been having unexplained attacks at night on their sheep and goats,  and with Teresa reminding him of the curse about a child born on Christmas Day, possibly a child conceived via a bad deed, Don Alfredo goes to see the priest.   The priest is concerned about Leon and tells Don Alfredo that unconditional love and the continued good care that he and Teresa give to Leon should drive the evil out of his soul.

A crazed Leon wants out of his room!

A crazed Leon wants out of his room!

Don Alfredo seeking the Priest's advice.

Don Alfredo seeking the Priest’s advice.

Raising Leon as the priest suggested proves successful and soon, Leon has reached adulthood.  Leon(Oliver Reed) has decided to make his own way in the world and is about to embark to a neighboring village where he has been hired on by a local vintner, to work in the wine bottling business at the vineyards.  After fond farewells to Don Alfredo and Teresa, Leon is soon on his journey.  He arrives at the job site, is shown where he’ll live, and meets his bunk mate, Rico(David Conville.)   Leon also  sees from afar the daughter of the vintner, Cristina(Catherine Feller) and it is love at first sight.  She is unfortunately engaged to someone else but that doesn’t stop Leon from meeting her and soon she has fallen in love with him.  Seeking her hand in marriage, she tells Leon that her father will be against them as he wants her to marry her fiance, a wealthy man from the village.  She agrees to run away with Leon and they can then be wed.  In the meantime, Rico, a fun-loving guy, suggests they visit a place he knows of in town where there will be music, dancing, drinking, and girls!  It is at this place, that Leon has the attack that turns him into a werewolf and he kills one of the establishment’s girls and Rico!

Love at first sight for Leon and Cristina.

Love at first sight for Leon and Cristina.

The next morning, Leon is found by Don Alfredo, in his old bedroom.  There is dried blood on Leon’s hands, and he has no memory of what he did the night before.  He soon dresses and goes back to the vineyard where the local police are asking questions about the murdered Rico.  Leon admits to the police that he and Rico had been at the business in town where a girl was also murdered and that he cannot remember what he did last night, other than being at the business and having a drink or two.   After the police leave,  Leon goes back to his father to have a meeting with the priest.  Leon begs to be put into jail and begs them to burn him alive so that the evil inside him can be destroyed once and for all.  Don Alfredo doesn’t want to do this and the priest suggests that Leon be taken away to a monastery for the rest of his life.  Leon is put into a cell and Cristina is sent for, as perhaps her love for Leon and his love for her can destroy the evil inside of his soul.  The Mayor is brought in about this werewolf matter and he wants Leon to remain in jail, to stand trial for the two recent murders.  The Mayor scoffs at the werewolf notion and sends Cristina, Don Alfredo, and the priest out of the jail.  A full moon is rising, noticed by the unfortunate drunk (Michael Ripper)sharing Leon’s cell and, well, the werewolf curse rises in Leon again.  He escapes from the jail to run amok in the village, climb to the roof of the church, and with the villagers throwing flaming hay bales at him, he has to know that they want his death.  Don Alfredo had been told earlier by Teresa to get the silver bullet Pepe, the hunter, had made from his wife’s silver crucifix, as a shot with such a bullet can kill a werewolf.   With his gun at his side, Don Alfredo has to do what no parent would ever want to do, and the curse is ended with Leon’s death.

Leon beginning to turn into a werewolf!

Leon beginning to turn into a werewolf!

As I watched this version of the werewolf saga, I was struck with how well the cast did, and especially Oliver Reed.  It was his first role in a movie where he received credit in the cast list.  His performance carries the movie from the moment he enters in it to the very end.  I actually felt very sorry for his character, who is so despondent over his errant, violent nature which he can’t control, and he is willing to be put to death to stop it  and its evil consequences.

There were only 2 flaws that I picked out of the plot:  One, Don Alfredo is the film’s narrator for the beginning third of the movie.  Seeing as he doesn’t enter the film until he rescues the mute maid in the stream, and since she is mute, how would he know of the Marquis, the beggar, and all that the maid has suffered, since she can’t talk??   Two, Leon and Cristina fall in love extremely fast.  One shot, Leon is seeing her for the first time and in the next scene they are pledging their love to each other-whoa!  That Leon is a quick worker on romance!  Other than those two bits, the movie flowed well.  Besides Reed’s excellent portrayal of Leon, the rest of the cast does well too.  Anthony Dawson must have had a field day getting to play such an icky persona as the Marquis, Yvonne Romain conveys a lot through her eyes as her character cannot speak, Clifford Evans is kind and caring as Don Alfredo, and that can also be said for Hira Talfrey as housekeeper Teresa.  Justin Walters, who plays Leon as a child, looks uncannily like Oliver Reed so my hats are off to the casting personnel for this movie for finding Walters for that role.  My only other quibble with the movie is that Yvonne Romain is so beautiful, that perhaps she would have been better cast as Cristina and Catherine Feller should have played the mute maid?Cotww spanish poster 3

The Curse of the Werewolf has been put on Youtube in its entirety, in 10 parts.  It is also available through Amazon,com and TCM Shop.  For a fresh look at the werewolf story, catch Curse of the Werewolf by Hammer Studios!

Cotww poster 2

My Classic Movie Pick: The Window

The Window is a simple,  little film, that came out in 1949.   Shot in New York City at a tenement building the movie’s setting doesn’t change very much, the action staying at the tenement building throughout most of the film.  The Window was based upon the short story, The Boy Cried Murder, written by Cornell Woolrich.   The title of the short story tells the plot: a 9 year old boy has witnessed a murder.  He tells his parents, he tells some police officers he knows at a  nearby station house.    Due to the boy’s reputation for  habitually telling lies, no one believes him.  The killers find out that this boy saw them commit their crime and they are on the hunt to snatch him and kill him, too.  TW poster 1

Playing the part of Tommy Woodry, the 9 year old boy, was Bobby Driscoll.  Driscoll gave an impressive performance.  He was in almost every scene, and he had a lot of emotions to display which he did so well.  I cannot imagine the pressure that may have been put on his young shoulders, to know that he and his performance had to carry an entire movie, but Driscoll shone in the role and his performance is considered one of the best given by a child actor in any movie.  The Academy Awards that year gave Driscoll a special Oscar for his performance in The Window.   Driscoll is best remembered today for two other roles he played, Johnny in Song of the South, and Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island.  Those two movies were made by the Disney Studios and he also did the voice of  Peter Pan for their animated movie of J.M. Barrie’s classic book.

Tommy’s parents, Mary and Ed Woodry, are well played by Barbara Hale(Perry Mason’s future secretary) and Arthur Kennedy.  They do a fine job of playing Tommy’s exasperated parents, tired of his telling lies all the time.  Due to their disbelief of Tommy  seeing a murder committed by their neighbors, they unwittingly put their son in danger.

Joe and Jean Kellerson, the evil neighbors who commit the murder, are aptly played by Paul Stewart and Ruth Roman.  They both do  well, playing murderers trying to cover their deed, and the suspense in the movie really begins to build as they try to catch Tommy and do him in  to keep him quiet forever.

Director Ted Tetzlaff and cinematographer William Steiner created a tight, suspenseful film.  C.K. Bakaleinikoff  aided the film with his musical stylings that help the taught suspense to build.  Turner Classic Movies recently aired The Window, early on October 18th and hopefully they will air it again soon.  The movie is available through their TCM Shop, and  it is available through Amazon.

What follows are some scenes from the movie:

A New York City tenement, much like the setting for The Window.

A New York City tenement, much like the setting for The Window.

Tommy Woodry, an only child, loves the attention that telling lies gives him.

Tommy Woodry, an only child, loves the attention that telling lies gives him.

A hot night in the city, so Tommy seeks the fire escape to sleep on for the night.

A hot night in the city, so Tommy seeks the fire escape to sleep on for the night.

Tommy hears a noise coming from the neighbors apartment.  He peeks in their window and sees a murder happen!!

Tommy hears a noise coming from the neighbors apartment. He peeks in their window and sees a murder happen!!

Tommy immediately tells mom what he saw, but she dismisses it as a nightmare.

Tommy immediately tells mom what he saw, but she dismisses it as a nightmare.

Tommy tells Dad about the murder but  Dad doesn't believe him!

Tommy tells Dad about the murder but Dad doesn’t believe him!

Ed and Mary discuss the telegram and what to do about visiting the ill sister.

Ed and Mary discuss the telegram and what to do about visiting the ill sister.

The murdering Kellerson's first attempt at snatching Tommy.

The murdering Kellerson’s first attempt at snatching Tommy.

The Kellerson's second attempt at getting Tommy.

The Kellerson’s second attempt at getting Tommy.

Finally Tommy is believed!!

Finally Tommy is believed!!

The Good, the Bad, but not the Ugly

First, the Bad News: Rolla High School’s football team has yet to win a game this season.  Their record so far is 0 wins, 6 losses.  I can only imagine the pain the team feels at this turn out of their season thus far.  Practices since August, some players lifting weights all summer in preparation to play well, and  no wins to show for all of their hard work.   My husband knows this kind of pain and disappointment.  When we were seniors at Defiance Highschool in Defiance, Ohio,( ironically our highschool was also the home of the Bulldogs,  just like at  Rolla High.) The football team went 0-10 for the 1982-83 school year.   I was thinking about that football season driving home after Rolla’s latest loss last Friday night.  I asked my husband if any lessons were learned from that experience and he said,” Yeah, how to lose!”  RHS Bulldog 2

Despite the disappointing football season, I have noticed a remarkable phenomena.  The home games have been packed.  Parents of the players, friends, relatives, fellow RHS students, all decked out in maroon and white t-shirts, or now, jackets as the temps are getting cooler at night, fill up the stadium.  One would think that with the record that has been amassed so far, the stadium would only have the visiting teams fans sitting there and crickets chirping where the Rolla folks sit.  But surprisingly, and in a moving way, the Rolla faithful have turned out for every home game and pack that stadium.    RHS football

Any lessons that can be learned from all of this?  The main lesson I can see is that no matter how disagreeable or disappointing an event can be, if one has signed up to take a part in that event, one must soldier on and do one’s best.  Don’t run away from one’s responsibility.  The coaches and players committed to having a football team this school year, and must keep on trying.  Life is hard and full of bumps along the way, and learning to survive and persevere, well it is better to learn it on a football field at the ages of 14-18 then to have to learn it at the age of 30.  Despite the losing Defiance High football team in 1982-83 school year, that same program went on to win the state championship in Ohio  for AA schools in 1997.

Now for some  Good News:  This Saturday, Oct. 19, beginning at 2:00 pm is the Route 66 Marching Band Festival.  Rolla High’s Marching Bulldog Brigade is hosting this  event at the football stadium.  12 area high school bands will be marching and performing their absolute best marching, musical shows.  The bands attending are from the following towns: Eureka, Fulton, Hermann, Houston, Owensville, Salem, School of Osage, St. James, Warsaw, Washington, Waynesville, and Union.  With Rolla having a new, artificial turf football field installed this summer, this Route 66 Marching Band Festival can once again be held.  For a wonderful afternoon and early evening full of bands doing what they do best, be sure to attend the Route 66 Marching Band  Festival!  RHS Band