Play It Again, Sam
All About Eve (1950)
A Triple-S movie (three suicides in the cast -- Marilyn Monroe, Barbara Bates, and George Sanders), All About Eve has enough dirt to satisfy even the heartiest appetite. A record 14 Oscar nominations for the cast and crew, it is as wicked and sophisticated as they come, with Bette Davis at her eye-popping, cigarette-swinging best as Margo Channing, Broadway's leading diva. Anne Baxter as Eve Harrington is deliciously calculating as the up-and-coming actress who moves in on Miss Channing, first ingratiating herself with the diva and eventually replacing her. The supporting cast is equally fine, with George Sanders as "that venomous fishwife" Addison DeWitt, Celeste Holm as Margo's long-suffering best friend Karen Richards, and an ethereally beautiful Marilyn Monroe as Miss Caswell, "a graduate of the Copacabana School of Dramatic Arts." Mankiewicz's script and direction are superb, with dialogue so crisp and poisonous, it makes you wonder where script-driven movies have gone. Chock full of quotable lines, fabulous New Look costumes, and sheer irony. So thick and rich you'll be tempted to eat it with a fork -- but use a spoon to get every drop. (6/28-29) --Stephen Moser
D:Vincente Minnelli; with Gene Kelly, Van Johnson, Cyd Charisse, Elaine Stewart.
This isn't my favorite Vincente Minnelli musical -- that'd be Cabin in the Sky (of course there's no way on earth I'll get to see that on the big screen) -- but this is my favorite Minnelli/Gene Kelly pairing. Yes, I prefer this to An American in Paris. Why? Well, I think it's the whole mythical twist this movie has. The natural setting. For me, it's kinda like Darby O'Gill and the Little People meets Lost Horizon meets An American in Paris ... and I like that combination. Frederick Loewe's music is simply fantastic, and Brigadoon is filmed beautifully. I suppose I'm one of them sappy guys with a musical soul, 'cause I just love 'em. It's a type of film that just doesn't exist anymore, save for up on a screen like the Paramount's.
The scene of Gene Kelly in America when contrasted to his scenes in Brigadoon ... well, it's perfect. Remember that scene of Morgan Freeman and the metronome in Seven? It was kinda done better here. Though I bet I'm the first person to draw that parallel. Guess that makes me the geek that I am!
A stunning, beautiful musical worth every second of your attention. Timeless and magical. Sigh. Yeah, one of those movies ... (7/17-18) --Harry Knowles
D: Michael Curtiz; with Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Dooley Wilson.
August weekends at my father's North Jersey restaurant were dead. Most of his customers spent their summers at the shore or lounging by backyard pools. Seven-course meals were not in high demand. My father often gave the kitchen Sunday night off, opting to cook himself, and made me come in to help serve. Despite the slower pace, I dreaded those quiet Sundays more than the busiest New Year's Eve. My father was not a professional chef, and every meal he prepared included whopping portions of angst and self-loathing. Nothing was good enough for him, though customers never complained. I was a tad resentful to be wasting my precious summer evening pacing around a nearly empty dining room and struggling to make awkward conversation with my distracted dad. As I waited for a fresh pot of coffee to brew one night, I flipped the channels of the little kitchen television, hoping something soothing might catch my father's eye. It did: Casablanca. My father was drawn to the Humphrey Bogart-Ingrid Bergman classic. He seemed to feel a kinship with Bogart's exiled freedom-fighter-turned-saloon-keeper, Rick Blaine. Though it seemed an upscale Jersey restaurant was about as far away from World War II Morocco as one could get, my father believed he too was fighting some kind of holy war -- his just included a sorbet course. He understood Rick's callous cynicism, his longing for lost love, his need for redemption. Years later, my father even named his restaurant Richard's Cafe Americain -- a nod to the film's famous gin joint. Like Rick's plan to help Ilsa and Laszlo, it always seemed an uncharacteristically romantic gesture. (6/2-3, 6/6) --Lisa Tozzi
The Dirty Dozen (1967)
D: Robert Aldrich; with Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Jim Brown, Charles Bronson, John Cassavetes, Clint Walker, Donald Sutherland, Telly Savalas.
Once upon a time, there was a race of men who lived on nothing but cigarettes, meat, and liquor. They didn't need any Robert Bly, drum-pounding encounter groups or wild-man sessions; neither did they feel compelled to talk about being self-actualized, empowered, or validated. Rather than talk about their feelings, they just beat the livin' crap out of each other (or someone else). These men shaved when they wanted to, didn't bathe, barely needed women, and went on to single-handedly defeat the Germans in the WWII drama The Dirty Dozen (spawning several inferior ripoffs in the process). Lee Marvin plays the leader of a ragtag band of hardened convicts who are promised amnesty in return for pulling off a suicidal commando mission behind enemy lines in Nazi Germany. This testosterone-injected paean to manly values offers plenty of masculine thrills and dead Nazis as the 12 men-with-a-capital-M leave the Germans wondering what hit 'em. There's nary a Birkenstock-wearing, Volvo-driving, Kenny-G-listening, Zima-drinking, sprout-eating, ponytailed nancy-boy to be found in this top-notch WWII actioner with a cast that makes the comic books' Sgt. Rock look like Richard Simmons. (6/12-13) --Jerry Renshaw
Desty Rides Again (1939)
D: George Marshall; with Marlene Dietrich, James Stewart, Charles Winninger.
Tom Destry (Stewart) knows a lot of fellas. That's a problem for the fiends in the little western outpost of Bottleneck, because every time Destry tells a story about a fella, he almost magically disarms the violence and web of corruption they have so elaborately set up. Destry is good sense personified. Frenchy (Dietrich) is not: She's a rip-roaring floozy who sings at Bottleneck's lone saloon as if somebody put cornstarch down her throat. Perhaps it's fitting that she sings about five octaves too low; it's emblematic, at least, of the thoroughly masculine power she holds over Bottleneck. So when Destry attempts to unravel a card game gone wrong at the hands of Frenchy's cheap swindle, suffice it to say he doesn't get far in his investigation without her tacit consent. "That woman is as crooked as a hawk's tail," one character says of Frenchy, and since at one point Destry compares himself to a postage stamp ("The one good thing about a postage stamp, it always sticks to one thing until it gets there, you know? I'm sort of like that too"), the clash of personalities is as much what this engaging Western is about as land, cards, or that other Western canard, drunk floozies. (7/7-8) --Clay Smith
D: Leo McCarey; with Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Zeppo Marx, Margaret Dumont.
Monkey Business (1931)
D: Norman Z. McLeod; with Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Zeppo Marx, Thelma Todd.
"This is a gala day!"
"Well, a gal a day ought to be enough for anyone." So says Groucho's Rufus T. Firefly to Margaret Dumont's wealthy dowager Mrs. Teasdale in Duck Soup, a superlatively surreal 1933 Marx Brothers masterpiece, and their fifth and final film for Paramount before moving to MGM. Director Leo McCarey crams more sight gags into the frame than humanly possible in this witty skewering of wartime politics. When tiny Freedonia -- ruled by Groucho -- and neighboring state Sylvania go to war over imagined slights, Groucho must defend home and hearth against Sylvanian spies Chicolini and Pinki (Chico and Harpo Marx). Needless to say, nothing goes according to plan, though the gags here are top-notch, including the Groucho/Harpo sidecar schtick, Harpo's animate tattoos, and plenty of lofty silliness from the Brothers' regular foil Dumont. Arguably their best film, Duck Soup is nonetheless rivaled by 1931's S.J. Perelman-scripted Monkey Business (their first Hollywood film), which finds the Marxes as stowaways aboard a luxury liner captained by Ben Taggart and featuring a radiant Thelma Todd. Essentially a chase film (with Harpo chasing the girls, natch), New Yorker scribe Perelman's dialogue holds up brilliantly, with enough obscure one-liners to make Dennis Miller's head explode. (7/2-3) --Marc Savlov
The Exorcist (1973)
D: William Friedkin; with Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Linda Blair, Jason Miller.
The youngest of seven kids, Amy Gebert was the beneficiary of her widowed father's resignation to the inevitabilities of junk food and horror movies. He could fight no more. Mr. Gebert stocked the cabinets with Chips Deluxe and Cool Ranch Doritos and let his youngest rent almost whatever she wanted, ratings be damned. I was fascinated by her freedom. But sometimes Amy went too far. Like the night she rented The Exorcist and dared me to me to come over and watch it with her. She knew what she was asking. At St. Patrick's School, we were taught William Friedkin's shocker was off-limits. Sister Florita said just watching the "sacrilegious" tale of demonic possession was like "opening a window to the Devil." I panicked. My brain urged me to fake an attack of appendicitis, but instead I feigned enthusiasm. I guess I was more afraid of Amy than of Satan. When it was all over, Amy and I tried to laugh off our fear, doing our own raspy imitations of the possessed Regan MacNeil's "devil voice." Despite my bravado, I could not sleep that night. Every time I closed my eyes, the image of Regan's disfigured face would spring my lids open. I curled myself into a ball, pulled the blanket over my head, and prayed that all the windows were locked. (7/14-15) --Lisa Tozzi
Father Of The Bride (1950)
D: Vincente Minnelli; with Spencer Tracy, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Bennett, Leo G. Carroll and Billie Burke.
A strand of pearls around every housewife's neck, an ivied trellis across every porch, and an overblown wedding for every daughter -- these are the things that made 1950s America great (racism and Cold War notwithstanding). And it is men like Stanley Banks who helped make it that way. Big, loving, silly dolts who believe the world is their oyster and are literally astonished when things don't go exactly according to plan. Spencer Tracy perfectly plays Stanley, a respectable businessman and doting father who is losing his beautiful young daughter (Taylor) to marriage. A sort of Clark Griswold of the Fifties, Stanley wants desperately to do the right thing for his daughter, but he's always a step off the mark and the results are sweetly hilarious. From his frantic nightmare of struggling down the aisle while mired in glue to his ridiculous preening in a moth-eaten, too-tight cutaway tuxedo, Stanley is wonderfully human and vulnerable. Weddings are a treasure trove of comedic situations and writers Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich plunder them with glee. Minnelli then displays their spoils with uncharacteristic restraint, and the picture is the better for it. Always close enough to reality to strike a familiar chord, Father of the Bride shows what lovely things can happen when a grain of sand gets in that complacent, middle-class oyster. (6/20-21) --Hollis Chacona
Hail The Conquering Hero (1944)
D: Preston Sturges; with Eddie Bracken, Ella Raines, Raymond Walburn, William Demarest, Elizabeth Patterson, Franklin Pangborn.
If only The Best Years of Our Lives had been made starring, say, the Marx Brothers. Then we might have a real point of comparison for this astonishing Preston Sturges picture. As it is, his raucous farce about a young man's return to his hometown during World War II is one of a kind. Made in 1944, while the country was still deep in conflict with the Axis forces, Hero takes the most sacred of sacred cows in wartime America -- mom, apple pie, and our boys in uniform -- and gives them each a subversive tweak on the udder. The hero? The puny Bracken, a 4-F reject who never got to serve his country but who has been writing letters home as if he's a dutiful soldier, just like dear old dad. When he befriends some Marines in a bar, they insist on escorting him home as a battlefield hero. The faux soldier tries to resist, but the GIs, led by grumblepuss Demarest at his grouchiest, won't hear of it. From there, it's Bracken working desperately to expose the lie, and the Marines -- the Marines, mind you -- fighting feverishly to perpetuate it. Sturges sustains a frenzied pace, taking the bandwagon on which Bracken's small-town friends and fans have jumped and sending it careering down a steep slope. It's a chaotic, hysterical, breakneck ride, full of bravura comic turns and Sturges gleefully, masterfully needling small-town sensibilities and puncturing inflated ideals. There's no film quite like it, but in the ranks of Hollywood comedies, it's five-star funny. (7/5-6) --Robert Faires
D: Melville Shavelson; with Cary Grant, Sophia Loren, Martha Hyer.
For a late-Fifties love story/comedy, Houseboat's depiction of kids facing the sordid mess of divorce and abandonment is so right on, so real and so true, that it makes pale the pathetic treatment of child characters in too many of today's hit movies. No cardboard cutout Home Alone-rs or "gee-whiz"-spouting Anakin Skywalker caricatures here, nope. And while Cary Grant and Sophia Loren's star power alone can float boats, it's the kids in Houseboat -- the three young Winston siblings who have recently lost their mother -- that keep this vessel seaworthy, a tribute to director Melville Shavelson's handling and realistic script. Veteran child actor Paul Petersen (Mickey Mouse Club, Gidget, The Donna Reed Show) portrays kleptomaniac David, whose 13-year-old broken heart is carefully concealed by typical eldest-son bravado. Mimi Gibson is cutie-pie middle daughter Elizabeth, the first to crack their estranged dad's disconnected facade. The real scene stealer, however, is Charles Herbert as youngest son Robert, who calls it like he sees it and escapes to the solitary comfort of his lonesome harmonica when things get unbearable. Somehow, this motley crew, with the help of their sexy Italian nanny, head for calmer seas and keep hope for a happy ending afloat. The ballast is that Houseboat's humor -- unlike other recombinant family comedies of its day -- is as much in its pathos as in anything overtly funny. (6/7-8) --Kate X Messer
The Lady Eve (1941)
D: Preston Sturges; with Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda, Charles Coburn, Eugene Pallette.
Barbara Stanwyck, now that's a dame. And the dame was never sharper, never more alluring, never more cunning than in this 1941 Preston Sturges comedy. Stanwyck is a fast-talking con artist to Henry Fonda's wealthy dolt who has "stooge" written all over him. Stanwyck performs the rare trick of creating a character with a checkered history and more than a few miles on her, yet she maintains enough basic decency in her to make her irresistible to a button-down guy like Fonda. A dame sure, but no skank. There's nothing new about the general premise of this rollicking movie. What makes it noteworthy and utterly delightful is its execution. And in Sturges' lickety-split dialogue and direction, and Stanwyck's and Fonda's refreshing take on stock movie characters, this widely tackled formula comes alive. Stanwyck literally sparkles in Edith Head's dazzling costumes. And she and Fonda figuratively sparkle in this polished diamond of a Forties comedy movie gem. And at the Paramount, you can be almost as sophisticated as Stanwyck, especially if you take advantage of the bar and toss back a dry martini as you go along for the ride. (7/5-6) --Barbara Chisholm
The Little Foxes (1941)
D: William Wyler; with Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall, Teresa Wright, Patricia Collinge, Dan Duryea, Richard Carlson.
Bette Davis looks like an Edwardian porcelain doll in The Little Foxes: hair swept upward above a high forehead; fine gowns adorning an aristocratic frame; and a ghostly face of impenetrable features. But her Regina Giddens is no innocent -- she's ruthless, calculating, and cold-hearted, an emblem of American greed at its most wanton. Lillian Hellman's classically constructed play about a family of vultures in the turn-of-the century South remains stagebound in William Wyler's screen adaptation, in adroit recognition that the melodrama's potency lies in its drawing-room backstabbing and betrayals. Blood isn't thicker than water in The Little Foxes; it's more like poisonous bile. Hellman was at the top of her craft here, intertwining plot, theme, and character with a precise mastery that leaves nothing superfluous. In the film's big scene (shot with deep-focus mastery by cinematographer Gregg Toland), Davis sits frozen in the foreground, her wide eyes full of fear and exhilaration, as her dying husband crawls up the stairs in the background. In her long and estimable career, this oft-mannered actress gestured her way through many a movie, but her subtle performance as Hellman's monstrous matriarch chills to the bone. Viva Regina! (6/28-29) --Steve Davis
Mildred Pierce (1945)
D: Michael Curtiz; with Joan Crawford, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott, Eve Arden, Ann Blyth.
Joan Crawford's big, Oscar-winning comeback after being labeled Box Office Poison (as exquisitely chronicled in Mommie Dearest), Mildred Pierce is a fine jewel in a noir setting. A chillingly sordid tale of a woman, Mildred, who sacrifices everything to give her ingrate of a daughter, Veda (played to perfection by Ann Blyth), the best that money can buy. Manipulative Veda, never one to be satisfied so easily, sets her sights on her own stepfather, Mildred's husband, the ineffectual and foppish Zachary Scott.
"Alligators have the right idea -- they eat their young," says Professional Best Friend Eve Arden, who is delightful, as is Professional Ninny Butterfly McQueen, as a supporting player in Mildred's grand scheme. And as Mildred, Joan is Joan to the Bone, struggling up from utter tackiness to even greater tackiness with her string of pie and chicken restaurants, all for the greater glory of Veda. But Veda isn't impressed with Mildred's money and its smell of grease. In short order, she fakes a pregnancy to blackmail money from a boyfriend, runs off to become a hoochie dancer, and seduces her mother's husband. And then things go from bad to worse. And the movie goes from divine to sublime. (6/30-7/1) --Stephen Moser
Mommie Dearest (1981)
D: Frank Perry; with Faye Dunaway, Diana Scarwid, Steve Forrest, Howard Da Silva, Mara Hobel.
You couldn't drag me to this movie even to get laid. I loathe this film. I requested writing about this movie just so I could warn you people. It is, quite honestly, one of the most evil pieces of film ever created. I first saw Mommie Dearest at the ol' Longhorn Drive-In here in Austin back in 1981. I was nine years old, and I still bear the psychic scars them dang wire coathangers left. As a result of this movie, I can't watch any Joan Crawford or Faye Dunaway movie. This film single-handedly made me a huge fan of plastic coathangers. Parents: Is your child annoying? Want to whip 'em into shape? Take them to this movie, then wave wire coathangers at them for the rest of their lives. You'll see that Pavlovian twitch in their left cheek muscle. I beg you, don't go see this movie. It'll hurt you. It's a great psychological horror film, but it'll hurt you. This one leaves pain in your soul as you walk away. Beware. However, I must say that you should check out director Frank Perry's first film, the 1962 flick David and Lisa. A truly fantastic film that will warm you. (6/30-7/1) --Harry Knowles
Pillow Talk (1959)
D: Michael Gordon; with Rock Hudson, Doris Day, Tony Randall, Thelma Ritter.
Lover Come Back (1961)
D: Delbert Mann; with Rock Hudson, Doris Day, Tony Randall, Edie Adams.
By the late Fifties, the golden age of movies was over and television had stolen its thunder. Hollywood tried to lure audiences back to the movie houses with teen exploitation films, overwrought potboilers, and European-influenced but all-American "sex comedies" like Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back. Both are just gussied-up boy-meets-girl-in-the-big-city plots, but they have style to burn and are well-written, playing up the still-vibrant chemistry between stars Doris Day and Rock Hudson. It's worth noting that Pillow Talk was second only to The Glenn Miller Story in top-grossing movies of the Fifties, and that Rock Hudson was jumping tracks from dramatic leading man (Giant) to comic leads when he was cast. Doris Day had made the transition from big band singer (she sings the title tunes) to a remarkably deft screen comedienne, but this marked the first of a string of comedy successes that lasted through the late Sixties. Pillow Talk sees Hudson as a promiscuous but goodhearted composer and Day as a liberated but virginal interior decorator vying for the use of a shared telephone line. The film makes use of split screens to good advantage; it splits in thirds when the frustrated Day keeps picking up the phone as Hudson woos women. Finally, Hudson dons a disguise in order to woo her and all's well that ends well. In Lover Come Back, Day and Hudson re-ignite onscreen, this time under the guise of big business. They play rival advertising executives, he a playboy and her a, well ... playgirl. Hudson goofs on Day by concocting an imaginary product called VIP, then masquerades as the "scientist" who invented it. Day, naturally, falls for the nerdy scientist over the strapping ad exec but ends up pregnant and married (in that order) to Hudson in a series of preposterous but hilarious events. The sub-references are a scream. In Lover, Hudson-as-scientist tells Doris Day about a trip to a nightclub where Hudson-as-advertising-exec smokes pot. "He took me to this club, and he made me smoke this funny cigarette that didn't have any writing on it." In Pillow Talk, Doris very bluntly asks Thelma Ritter how a woman gets to have sex, "What is a girl supposed to do? Go out in the street and ask the first man she meets to come home with her?" This was pretty racy stuff for the times. Although it's true that a ridiculous amount of effort goes into establishing Day's virginity in both films, both retain a high level of sophistication and the innuendo is smart rather than sniggering. It's also a reminder of a time when a light film could be termed a "romp" and that wasn't a bad word. (7/9-10) --Margaret Moser
Rosemary's Baby (1968)
D: Roman Polanski; with Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Sydney Blackmer, Charles Grodin.
With Rosemary's Baby, you're either in on the joke or you're not. If you are, it's not necessarily because you're a hip cinephile, but because you've seen it already and can watch the movie a second time in an almost scientific manner. For me, a recent second re-viewing opened up the film's naturally twisted humor, an element that may bypass first-time viewers consumed by the film's disturbingly penetrating creepiness. Isn't there some award we could bestow on Mia Farrow for her ability to convey a wry and barbed sense of humor? For example, Rosemary (Farrow), after several months of a pained pregnancy and uncomfortable closeness with the neighbors, a doting elderly couple, decides to throw a party for the friends she hasn't seen in months. Her husband (Cassavetes) reacts to this decision in a typically overblown and distressed manner, to which Rosemary replies by saying, "It's going to be a very special party. You have to be under 60 to get in." There's nothing particularly hilarious about that line, but the way Farrow utters it, it has nearly enough resonance and humane bravado to it to get you through the morbidity of the rest of the film. (7/14-15) --Clay Smith
Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (1954)
D: Stanley Donen; with Jane Powell, Howard Keel, Jeff Richards, Russ Tamblyn, Julie Newmar.
Bridget Hanley as "Candy Pruitt" from TV's Here Come the Brides was just about all I thought about at age six. Ooh, those double-layered petticoats, gingham bibs, long flowing pioneer dresses, and long, flowing pioneer tresses! I really, really, really wanted to be a lumberjack. So my affection for 1954's Seven Brides for Seven Brothers makes total sense. The plots of both concern the outfitting of strapping wilderness hunks with buxom babe brides. Well, bless the Paramount's beautiful hide for bringing this Stanley Donen classic back to the big screen -- where the brothers' blazing technicolor plaid and hellion-hued hair can rage in all their VistaVision glory (can you say "aspect ratio?"). Seven Brides may not be the first thing that pops to mind when tallying the best of American musicals, but the barn dance is one of the most rip-roaring chunks of American choreography caught on film -- right up there with better-known classics like the rumble from West Side Story (featuring Brides' brother Russ "Gideon" Tamblyn as Jet leader "Riff") and the umbrella ballet of Singin' in the Rain (directed by Donen). And heck, as far as songs go, you can't get better than Johnny Mercer, the man behind the lyrics. (Why "Sobbin' Women" isn't his best-known song is beyond me.) But the real treat, my friends, comes in the form of snuggly corsetted amazon bride-to-be "Dorcas," played by newcomer Julie Newmeyer. If that doesn't pet your kitty, perhaps you just don't recognize the name -- later changed to Newmar. Meeee-ow! (6/19-20) --Kate X Messer
The Shop Around The Corner (1940)
D: Ernst Lubitsch; with Margaret Sullavan, Jimmy Stewart, Frank Morgan, Joseph Schildkraut, Sara Haden, Felix Bressart, William Tracy.
You've Got Mail, minus the big budget, the book biz setting, the marketplace conflict, the lush Manhattan visuals, the references to The Godfather, the Nineties power coupling of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, and all that free advertising for AOL. What does that leave? Only one of the most charming romances ever committed to celluloid. Not to slight Nora Ephron's take on Nikolaus Lazslo's durable comedy Parfumerie -- also the basis for Judy Garland's In the Good Old Summertime and the stage musical She Loves Me -- but it spread this epistolary romance all over New York, from skyscraper suites to dockside yachts, and in doing so, abandoned one of the pleasures of the 1940 screen version: its smallness. The earlier film is set in a little notions shop, where two lonelyheart letter-writers work side-by-side not knowing each is the other's pen-pal soulmate. The cozy locale and proximity of the lovers allows for a marvelous intimacy, and director Lubitsch delivers it deliciously, with all the grace, wit, and elegance that he did in Ninotchka a year earlier. Sullavan is smart and captivating, Stewart, of course, is affable and earnest, and their slow discovery of each other is a disarming blend of comic folly and tenderness. And Frank Morgan -- that old whiz of a wiz -- backs the pair up with a lovely balance of good humor andpoignance. The film's smallness keeps the characters and their feelings paramount. Like the perfumes sold in the title shop, it is a romance distilled to its essence, an intoxicating and delightful scent. (7/20-21) --Robert Faires
The Black Cat (1934)
D: Edgar G. Ulmer ; with Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi.
The Mummy (1932)
D: Karl Freund; with Boris Karloff, Zita Johann, David Manners.
The Wolf Man (1941)
D: George Waggner; with Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr., Evelyn Ankers, Claude Rains.
D: Tod Browning; with Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David Manners.
D: James Whale; with Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, Boris Karloff.
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
D: James Whale; with Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Elsa Lanchester.
Spanning the decade from 1931 to 1941, this sextet of Universal terror tales inarguably started our whole beloved Monster Movie genre. Long before special effects deracinated the art of cinematic storytelling, horror movies were cryptic, creepy examinations (exhumations?) of the human psyche, love, death, the whole knotty shebang. Directors such as James Whale (Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein), Karl Freund (The Mummy), Tod Browning (Dracula), and George Waggner (The Wolf Man) plumbed the depths of (in)human depravity and our ongoing ventures into realms not meant for mortal men with stylish, atmospheric aplomb. A few frightful, black-and-white highlights to watch out for: Lugosi's Transylvanian castle is crawling with not only rats but also armadillos (!) in Dracula; the giggling archaeologist driven mad by the off-screen appearance of Karloff's shambling, resuscitated Imhotep in The Mummy; Franz Waxman's brilliantly evocative score for The Bride of Frankenstein; and, of course, every scene featuring ghoulish gypsy Maria Ouspenskya in The Wolf Man. Far from the cluttered, hatchet-strewn mish-mash of today's splatter epics, Universal's horror classics were heavy on the bizarre, the surreal, and although it's been almost 70 years since their release, they still hold that magical power to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. We don't call these classics for nothing, you know. (6/14-19) -- Marc Savlov