The Hound of the Baskervilles Review
Director – Terence Fisher
Cast – Peter Cushing, Andre Morell, Christopher Lee, Marla Landi, Ewen Solon, Francis de Wolff, John Le Mesurier, Miles Malleson
The great detective Sherlock Holmes is the most prolific character in screen history. Having so many interpretations of the character floating around, I can only imagine how any actor must feel upon taking on the role. It would be tough, to be sure. Peter Cushing has the unenviable task here, and he carries it off reasonably well. He is no Jeremy Brett, who played the role in the revered BBC series of the 80’s/90’s, or even a Basil Rathbone of the ’40s films, but we can’t really complain. Andre Morell is an excellent Watson, and is perhaps a bit more succesful in his part than Cushing is in his. He plays Watson as an intelligent and eager man, and as someone you can imagine having spent time in the army. This is miles away from perhaps the most famous Watson, Nigel Bruce, who played the role opposite Rathbone as a stupid and out of touch English gentleman. As Holmes is MIA for a good portion of this movie, I’m glad I didn’t have to put up with any Bruce-ish bumbling.
But on to the movie itself. Plot-wise, we find Holmes and Watson taking on a case of attempted murder, and they fear the victim (Christopher Lee, playing Sir Baskerville) is still in danger. Watson accompanies Baskerville back to his country estate on the ancient moors of Dartmoor, while Holmes insists he is far too busy to leave London, but will follow at some point. As Watson eventually discovers, Holmes in fact does come down from London. Making a camp in a rocky outcrop on the moor, he investigates from afar. Meanwhile, a legendary hound is rumoured to be roaming the moors… perhaps the same one that was famously rumoured to have killed Sir Baskervilles ancestor?
Watching Holmes and Watson go toe-to-intellectual-toe against the forces of menace is always a treat for me. I read the original stories and books as a kid, and love returning to the various versions that have been made. Downey’s Sherlock Holmes series, while arguably playing a bit fast and loose with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s intended tone, is bringing Holmes back into the public’s conscience, which is not a bad thing. While I do manage to enjoy that series (and at running a risk of comparing apples to oranges) the BBC show Sherlock is much better. Ironically, the TV series has found a greater reception amongst Holmes fans despite updating the stories to modern times, and in fact ditching most of the actual original plots. But I digress…
This version of The Hound of the Baskervilles is just the right side of gothic camp, and the added/emphasized horror elements work within the style we are presented with, but do not really clash with the Sherlock Holmes world of realism.Cushing and Morell bring the appropriate energy to their interactions, and the story here is relatively engaging. But I found myself absolutely unable to look away from Christopher Lee throughout the whole movie. He is strangely entertaining… perhaps it is from the shock of seeing him a) not in Dracula makeup, and b) young. He is tall and strong here at age 37, and has a commanding presence. His voice is not as deep and rich as we know it now, but we can hear where it will go. It was great to see him here.
I’ve always loved movies that take place on the English moors, Wuthering Heights for example. There is such a feeling of desolation and hopelessness, and that certainly holds true here. You feel utterly alone out on the grey and green expanse of grass and moss-eaten rock. It is fortunate, and perhaps done on purpose, that Hammer Films (a company best known for their Dracula series with Cushing as Van Helsing and Lee as the count, and other such films) chose to produce a film version of what is probably the most gothic of the Holmes stories. The traditional Hammer gothic tone fits right in with the cold, dreary, and desolate landscape.
The Hound of the Baskervilles is a good solid Sherlock Holmes story, with a decent cast. The movie is suitably atmospheric, with all the Hammer Films trademarks (including, it must be said, a cheap looking set or a not quite convincing effect here or there). I would gladly recommend this to Sherlock Holmes fans, or anyone who might just like an old mystery.
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The Man with the Golden Arm REVIEW
Director – Otto Preminger
Cast – Frank Sinatra, Eleanor Parker, Kim Novak, Arnold Stang, Darren McGavin
The Man with the Golden Arm stars Frank Sinatra as “Frankie Machine” (is it just me who hates it when a character played by a huge star has the same first name?) in a story about drug abuse that was controversial and even revolutionary in its time. The Motion Picture Association of America wouldn’t even certify the film, which would generally signify certain death to a film. It was released however, and found an overwhelming success, both critically and in terms of box office receipts.
The plot is one of the ultimate under-dog stories. Frankie Machine is a recently recovered drug addict. He is not a poor man, but he is certainly not well off. He is a bit down on his luck, but we get the impression when we first see him that he is a changed man. Throughout the film we see him slip more and more towards that original man, but we never see him go back across it.
Upon his release from the detox center we see that Frankie’s invalid wife has since lost her trust in him. She pretends to be still wheelchair-bound despite having recovered during his stint in rehab, worrying that Frankie will leave her if he no longer feels he must support her. His old employer, for whom Frankie dealt illegal card games, tries to rope him back in, and his old drug dealer tries to bring him back into the fold as well. He resists these temptations very well at first. He has an oppurtunity to play drums for a big band, and looks forward with great anticipation to the moment where he can lift himself out of his old life. His dealer, of course, has other plans…
So, while the movie perhaps fail to directly use the phrase “drug addiction”, we then come to realize that it certainly will not fail to address the actual issue in a brutal and bracing way. We see Frankie go from the “high” of being released from the detox center to the lows of re-addiction. Heroin’s grip on him increases, until he, with the help of a “close-friend” (his mistress) he decides to quit cold-turkey. In the movie’s most famous scene he is locked in a room for three days, til he no longer feels the addiction. We see Frankie rolling around on the floor and the bed in agony, as the camera passively watches. It is a powerful scene, and one that cinched Sinatra’s Oscar nomination.
In some ways it is hard to see how the film could have caused such an uproar, and in other ways not. It is certainly an intense film that follows its character through quite painful lows, but there isn’t even one use of the word “drug” or “heroin” or “addiction” once in the whole thing. Any actual mention of the issue is danced around so much… but I guess that is an indication of the social mores of the time, rather than an artistic decision. While this may throw off some of today’s viewers, if taken in stride and seen as an example of the times in which the film is made then it isn’t too much to worry about.
When talking about the performances it is of course necessary to give Sinatra all praise possible not only for his wonderful acting (through which he never trivializes the role of “drug slave”), but for his pure bravery in taking on such a controversial film, and thus giving it an audience it never would have had otherwise. However Kim Novak (as Frankie’s mistress) is definitely worth a mention as well. Here, three years away from her famous role in Vertigo, she delivers a performance that is much better than her turn in that film. She looks, speaks, and moves much more naturally than most other female actors of the time. For example her co-star here, Eleanor Parker, acts very much in the style of the melodramatic female stars of the earlier film era. Novak is convincing and subdued, which works perfectly well against Sinatra.
This movie can ultimately be said to be about forgiveness, and whether or not people should have a second chance. The answer given un seems to be “No, they should not have a second chance until they have been proven worthy of it, or changed themselves of their own volition.” One may need a dear friend to get through it, but it must in the end come from within. Frankie is a good man, one who is led astray, true, but he is a good man at heart. While it is a movie about a bleak subject, it ends on a note of ultimate optimism. The movie asserts that good people will triumph in the end. Frankie certainly does, and we are right along with him.
I find it hard to give The Man with the Golden Arm the praise which I feel it deserves, both as a remarkably gripping film and as one that was ahead of its time in its outlook. The acting is impeccable, and the tone is presented perfectly. Most of all, I think it is written very well, and that is, in the end, where such believable characters come from. Kudos to all involved for doing so well with the material, and also for taking on material that was so controversial (for its time). Recommended to all.
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Director – Alfred Hitchcock
Cast – James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Del Geddes, Tom Helmore
Vertigo was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and based on the book D’entre les morts (The Living and the Dead) by Pierre Boileau and Pierre Ayraud. Despite a rather lukewarm reception upon its initial release, it is today frequently called Hitchcock’s masterpiece.
The story features a retired detective (is there any other kind?) called “Scotty”, who is played by Jimmy Stewart. He suffers from a condition which gives him vertigo, or the fear of heights. He is lured back into one more case by a friend, who fears his wife’s body is being taken over by a dead ancestor. However, with all apologies to Shakespeare for the butchering, the twists the thing, wherein to catch the attention of the audience. Without the mid point twists, where the movie shifts gears dramatically, the movie would have been a hopelessly derivative one, but thankfully the plot I just described is only the springboard Hitchcock uses to get to the second act,where the real themes of deception, obsession, and loss come through.
The movie treats these themes maturely and honestly. We are shown Scotty losing a loved one and then obsessing over her, even meeting a stranger on the street who resembles her and harassing her until she goes to dinner with him. Scotty is never excused for his actions, and due to scenes showing his illness after her death (and the fact that he is played by Jimmy frickin’ Stewart) we always sympathize with him. This is rather chilling, as we realize we are being made to sympathize with a man who becomes nothing less than a stalker, who brutishly forces another woman to become his lost love. This is most likely, I think, the reason why critics and audiences weren’t as kind to this film as to other of Hitchcock’s films. It is in fact, rather off putting at first. However, Hitchcock sticks to his guns, and never excuses Scotty, which was a brave move and, in the end, a great one.
In 1996 Vertigo‘s actual physical film negative underwent a complete restoration. It was extensively cleaned and polished, as it had degraded considerably. It became known as a rather controversial restoration, as the color mix was alleged to not be exactly the same shades as was originally intended, and the sound mix was also redone from scratch. The original actors voices were, of course, kept, but all sound effects were totally redone.
My point is, this movie has become so loved (even obsessed over, which is interesting as obsession is a main theme of the film) that people are upset when even the sound effects are replaced with (apparently identical sounding) replacements. I find this dangerous, and is the type of devotion usually reserved for the “Greedo shot first and Lucas changed three shots in the new release of A New Hope and so I want the Original right now” variety of movie goers. It is important when reviewing any movie (ESPECIALLY a revered classic) to keep an open mind, and, not to put too fine a point on it, to see and recognize where things go wrong. And while Vertigo is really a wonderful movie (and one of my favorites) there are some things wrong with it. Small things of course, but they are there nonetheless.
The main thing wrong is the ending of the movie. Without giving any details away, the editing is awful. If one cut (of about half a second) had been made to a single shot, the movie would have ended on a much more convincing note. If you have seen it, you most likely know of what I am speaking. If not though, please don’t let it bother you. If that is all a movie has wrong with it, it must be a good one indeed.
The only other major problem is a character called Midge, or rather, how she is used. She is Scotty’s ex-fiance, but the two are on wonderfully good terms. She is played beautifully by Barbara del Geddes. Rarely will you find a more caring, strong , and even complex woman character on film. She is a strong supporting character throughout the film, yet she is abandoned with still a large part of the movie to go. I wanted some resolution for her character, yet none is given. Now in the DVD I have of the movie they include a “European Ending” to the film, which Hitchcock was mandated to make for the European market. Part of it shows Jimmy going to Midge’s home after the events of the film are over. He says nothing, and she says nothing, and they stand silhouetted by the window, with drinks in their hands. It is a simple shot, but it says so much, and it is inferred that the two stay friends, with Midge helping Scotty through his hard times. If only this ending was used!!
(The “European Ending” also has Midge listening to the radio, and the announcer describes how the “bad guy” of the film is caught. This was a requirement of the time, but Hitchcock was so angry to be forced to change the film that he added a bit to the newscast. The announcer goes on to read (after the announcement of the villain’s capture) a report of high school students mounting a cow and riding her up the steps of the Town Hall. This totally ruins the seriousness of the scene, and was Hitchcock’s middle finger to the censors who made him change his film. With this taken out however, I much prefer the European Ending.)
There is not much else to say, as this film has been reviewed to death. All I can do is recommend you watch this (of course, with an open mind as always.) Hitchcock is on the top of his game here, as are the major performers. Bernard Hermann’s score is nothing less than iconic, and the film altogether is one of the moodiest and atmospheric meditations on human behavior you will ever see. Enjoy!
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A Christmas Carol (or Scrooge (US)) REVIEW
Director – Brian Desmond Hurst
Cast – Alastair Sim, Mervin Johns, Michael Hordorn, Michael Dorn, Francis De Wolff, C. Knoarski, Glyn Dearman
Watching A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve is one of those traditions that all families seem to have. The version they tend to watch is this one, starring Alastair Sim. He is often called “the definitive Scrooge”, and while I have not seen too many other Scrooge’s, I can see why people may think this. Personally I am still waiting to find “my” Scrooge so to speak, but until then Sims is a perfect substitute.
Alastair Sims portrays Scrooge as not particularly cruel, but as a man who is tired of life and who is concerned with keeping himself alive and well in a hostile world. His attitude (as directly expressed in one scene) is that the world is a hostile place, and to survive in it you must also be harsh and hostile. This is certainly not as we tend to view the Scrooge character in our popular culture today. We instead see him as a mean, grumpy creature who loves others misfortune. He is more three dimensional here.
However I do think that Scrooge is presented as a bit too nice. He changes almost right after he is shown his first vision. Also, the first ghost , The Ghost of Christmas Past, takes up almost half of the movie, while the others have progressively smaller roles.
The atmosphere of the movie is well done, but not extraordinary. It is presented in Black & White, so the grimness of London and Scrooge’s life attitude are represented well. The special effects are good for their time, mainly consisting of two of the ghosts being fairly transparent.
The DVD on which I watched this was not of the highest quality though, and I believe that is the only copy available. It is certainly the only one I’ve seen. It claims to be digitally remastered, and they even have a demonstration in the Special Features of before and after the remastering. However this is almost laughable, as the difference between the two is nearly non-existent.
A Christmas Carol is a fairly faithful, albeit traditional and badly aged, presentation of the original story. Sims makes a great Scrooge, and the supporting cast is suitable. At times it may go a bit over the top, but its all in earnest. If you get in the spirit it is quite a good movie.
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The Caine Mutiny REVIEW
Director- Edward Dmytryk
Cast- Humphrey Bogart, Jose Ferrer, Van Johnson, Fred MacMurray, Robert Francis
The Caine Mutiny was adapted from a bestselling book published a few years before this films release, 1954. Quite simply, it is an excellent movie. The casting is perfect, both the stars (Humphrey Bogart, Fred MacMurray, Jose Ferrier) and the relative newcomers (Van Johnson, Robert Francis) all hold their own. The court scenes are riveting, and the scenes aboard the actual ship, the Caine, are excellent and hold the viewers attention. The only quibbles that can be had with the movie are the romantic side-plot (which seems a bit tacked on, however not so much as to be annoying) and the quite obvious splicing in of the WWII footage (which can be forgiven given that the movie WAS made in 1954, without the advantages we have today with film restoration etc.)
What is really great about the movie is that although these and a couple other flaws do exist, the rest of it is SO good that it easily makes up for it. The tension is palpable throughout the whole film, and the cinematography is perfectly fitting. Of special mention is Humphrey Bogart’s performance, easily the best I have ever seen of his. Throughout he is nothing like the Casablanca or Maltese Falcon roles with which he made his stardom, but is quivering, nervous, and beaten down, but NEVER over the top. The scene in the courtroom where he begins to break down is Oscar-worthy. It’s a great film, with intrigue, tension, courtroom drama, and romance, recommendable to anyone.
The courtroom scene which focuses on Captain Queeg’s testimony is easily the best in the film. It is as riveting as it is tense. Humphrey makes you feel sympathy for him as well as feeling that he is indeed not fit to command a ship, which is what the movie hinges on.
This is an older movie, so some viewers may be automatically turned off by that. However, it is an excellent film, featuring excellent acting and a very well structured story. Deinitely recommended to lovers of older movies, and also to anyone looking for an intelligent, sometimes humorous story. And Bogart will blow anyone away, especially those just familiar with his mainly tough gangster type roles.
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