Carnival of Souls (1962), a.k.a. Why Do I Put Myself Through This? Halloween Edition

First off, Happy Halloween Night, guys and ghouls!

Secondly – as the title of this post indicates – why do I do this to myself?

Mind you, I really do like watching scary films, but usually in mixed company where my sheer terror can be diffused by the enjoyment of watching the film with a group of people.

Well, not this time – this time, I flew solo in a weekend binge of scary movies on TCM and arrived at Carnival of Souls. Actually “re-arrived” – I have seen this film before, but a time ago, which means fragments of the plot specifics slipped through my sieve of a memory; I did recall a sketch of the outline: shortly after surviving a car crash, Mary Henry (played by Candace Hilligoss) embarks on a trip westward to Utah, where she is set to start a new job as a church organist. Along the way, she encounters a creepy apparition (the film’s director Herk Harvey) and is drawn to a long-ago abandoned pavilion by the lake.

Once settled into her new life, Mary continues to have episodes which she cannot explain, including continued reappearances of the apparition, all leading up to a frightful conclusion.

Made for an estimated $33,000 and produced by industrial filmmakers, Carnival of Souls is a brilliant example of how to scare your audience with simple yet effective “tricks,” tricks which left me peeking through my hands:

  • foreboding, suspenseful organ music
  • dispossessed movements of characters
  • character movement toward the camera (= camera is the 1st person POV)
  • cutaways which yield the occasional (and effective) jump scare

So yeah, it was enough to put the frighteners on my this past Saturday night. And with that, I highly recommend this cult classic, which is available on Criterion disk (DVD/BluRay) as well as in the public domain. When accessing make note of the running time. There is a 78-minute theatrical version as well as an 84-minute director’s cut.

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A Labor of Love

100years_movies10Well, that’s a wrap ladies and gents. As Labor Day 2015 fades into night, the summer is more or less over. What awaits us movie fans? Well with Venice, Telluride, Toronto and New York, we will be hit with an onslaught of award-worthy projects. I will probably discuss these a little later. But for now, I have a little assignment I have set forth for myself as the year comes to a close.

Recently, I took an “online movie list challenge,” consisting of my selecting films that made AFI’s 100, Years 100 Films list, produced over a decade ago.

The results were disappointing to say the very least. Sure, being in the 25th percentile is not a bad place in general, for someone who proclaims to love motion pictures as much as I do, that is a pretty low score.

Determined to right this wrong, I did what any good student would do – reviewed my input. What I found was an interesting pattern … while there are a few outliers, many of the films that I have “overlooked” happened to be produced during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Some movies I have seen bits of, others I have had spoiled for me – but none of them have I seen straight through from opening credits to the end.

This revision gave me an idea – a mini task/project for myself that will see me try to watch each of these missed films from now until December 31st.

Some I will probably review; others may not make it to post, I cannot make any guarantees. But be on the lookout over the next few months for a little cinematic trip back forty-plus years as I watch the following films (order listed is random):

  1. Toy Story (1995)
  2. Blade Runner (1982)
  3. Do the Right Thing (1989)
  4. The Last Picture Show (1971)
  5. Sophie’s Choice (1982)
  6. Easy Rider (1969)
  7. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
  8. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
  9. Intolerance (1916)
  10. The Deer Hunter (1978)
  11. Rocky (1976)
  12. Nashville (1975)
  13. Cabaret (1972)
  14. Network (1976)
  15. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
  16. Tootsie (1982)
  17. Modern Times (1936)
  18. The Wild Bunch (1969)
  19. Raging Bull (1980)
  20. Schindler’s List (1993)
  21. The Graduate (1967)
  22. The General (1927)
  23. Chinatown (1974)
  24. Apocalypse Now (1979)
  25. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

Well lookie here … a perfect 25 films!

So I throw it you, fair reader, take the challenge and let me know how you did in the Comments section below. Good luck!

Still from "Intolerance"

Still from “Intolerance”

The Third Man (1949), RESTORED

My film story, The Third Man was never written to be read but only to be seen … For me it is impossible to write a film play without first writing a story.

– Graham Greene, Preface to The Third Man novella

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Over the years, I have had the occasion to reference The Third Man on this blog. I am sure one could imply that I am a fan, but let me more clearly and officially go on record and declare:

I. FREAKING. LOVE. THIS. MOVIE.

From the moment I heard that haunting zither, I was transfixed by the tale of American pulp writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) and his search to unravel the mystery surrounding the circumstances of friend Harry Lime’s (Orson Welles) recent death in post-war Vienna.

I think the thing I love lost about The Third Man is how in sync my own journey through the film is with that of our primary character, Martins. As the story develops and it becomes more and more apparent that things are not what they seem, the audience, along with Martins, is left wondering what lies around the corner and encouraged to find out the exact truth.

Aided by a wonderful featured cast (that includes Trevor Howard and Alida Valli) and stunning, visually-striking black and white cinematography (courtesy of Robert Krasker), this is a film I can watch over and over again and never tire of.

ThirdManBut, as the title of this post suggests, I am not simply writing here to wax poetic about The Third Man. I wanted to use this opportunity to bring to my readers’ attention that, thanks to UK-based Deluxe Restoration, in association with distributors Rialto Pictures and on behalf of Studiocanal, we now have an all-new, first ever 4K digital restoration of this classic coming to cinemas nationwide starting tomorrow (June 26th).

Regarding my thoughts on this undertaking. As much as I have seen The Third Man, this is the first time I ever saw it on the big screen. And in watching it, was clear, that the film has been “cleaned up” considerably, as one would expect. But beyond that, I don’t have a basis (i.e. a 35mm projection viewing experience) to compare it to; I look to my fellow readers who have had this privilege to comment below if they notice anything. While I know this may be of interest to many, for me, it doesn’t matter in the end. Simply having the opportunity to catch director Carol Reed’s masterpiece projected in a movie theater is more than worth the price of admission.

I have mentioned a few times the general excitement and glee I derive from screening classic films as they were crafted to be displayed. So I repeat – go see The Third Man, be it your first or fiftieth time. Check the listings to find a screening in your area;  if you are local to the greater New York City area, be sure to head down to Film Forum, where you can see The Third Man tomorrow and on through July 9th.

 

The Case For Seeing B&Ws On the Big Screen

This past Tuesday I had the pleasure of seeing Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca in a packed house at the AMC Lincoln Square in NYC. New York was one of the twenty cities selected to screen this all time classic as part of the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) 20th anniversary festivities. After seeing the film, a brainwave hit me for something I wanted to discuss: my new appreciation for watching the classics as they were meant to be seen – on the big screen.

tcm_20_casablanca

Yes it is something that I am getting more and more used to over the years, previously confining my exhibition of said films to home viewings. But a couple of years ago, my preferences started to shift when I asked my readers their thoughts on attending repertory movie theaters to watch restored/classic films. I did not however, take the opportunity to explain fully why I think it is a wonderful way to see such films, mainly due the low number of films I had seen this way. Allow me to do so now.

I know for some the idea of paying for a film or acquiring a free pass, seems like too much trouble, especially when you factor in that you have to leave the comfort of your own house; well I am here to tell you why I think everyone should try it at least once for the following reasons:

  1. Level of Detail: I am not stating any groundbreaking laws of physics or anything when I say the smaller the screen, the smaller all the objects and minor details, whether they reside in the background or foreground. In many of these cases, these objects/actions may have story significance. Seeing them projected on the big screen (obviously) magnifies their visual presence and emphasizes their importance. Remember that these films (made before televisions invaded domestic life)  were made for ALL the detail to be seen since they were produced for exhibition and projection on a theater-size formatted screen.
  2. Audience Engagement: Sorry, but there is just something about seeing a film with an audience (of primarily strangers) that amplifies one’s viewing experience. It really becomes a community event, and barring any craziness with audience members (often the case in NYC) it is a friendly reminder and affirmation of a human desire to congregate around a shared purpose.
  3. It Takes You Back to Days of Yore: This point is a continuation of sorts to my discussion of level of detail (1). Because people my age are accustomed to watching “old”/classic movies on a television screen, we may not think of these actors and actresses of yesteryear as ‘larger than life.’ In doing so, we forget this is  the only way audiences of the time pre-television saw their favorite performers. The stars were very much larger than life. It truly is a transformative experience to see Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman striding across the screen, with a presence like that of gods parading before a mass of humanity, sat lowly in their theater seats.
  4. Support for Your Local Community: On this point, I am a lucky gal indeed – I live in a major metropolitan area, so I am spoiled for choice when it comes to seeing older film at the in a theatre, whether it be a chain multiplex or smaller multi-screen house. But even if I venture, say 30-40 minutes outside of Midtown Manhattan, there are independent movie houses that exhibit new releases and first-run films in addition to offering screenings of restored classics to the community. No matter where you live take a moment to do a quick internet search and see what’s out there. And do not just limit to these indie theaters – libraries, schools, and museums also screen films on occasion.

 

A Belated St. Paddy’s Day Post: Taking a Look at “The Quiet Man” (1952)

The-Quiet-Man-john-wayne-21939245-1000-791

Hope everyone had a joyful  St. Patrick’s Day ♣ and a great weekend. Mine was spent catching up on Game of Thrones (just in time for the season 3 premier), going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (and getting stuck in post-parade revelry).

Sunday night, however was spent tucking into that blanket known as Turner Classic Movies for at least a bit of their selection of Irish-themed films. You can imagine my (semi) pleasure when I realized I had just caught the beginning of John Ford’s homecoming of sorts, the 1952 Technicolor feature The Quiet Man starring his go-to guy, John Wayne, with Maureen O’Hara, Victor McLaglen, Mildred Natwick and the always entertaining Barry Fitzgerald rounding a solid cast.

SYNOPSIS

Sean Thornton (John Wayne) has returned from America to reclaim his Irish homestead and escape his past. Sean’s eye is caught by Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara), a beautiful but poor maiden, and younger sister of ill-tempered “Red” Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen). The riotous relationship that forms between Sean and Mary Kate, punctuated by Will’s pugnacious attempts to keep them apart, form the main plot, with Sean’s past as the dark undercurrent. (Source: IMDB)

Now I must personally state for the record, that I grew up in a rather anti-Wayne household. Well maybe that may be a bit harsh – my dad was ambivalent at best and my mom could give a care about him. That said, as a classic film buff I (slightly) broke away from the family line and decided to see and judge for myself what I though of Mr. Wayne’s oeuvre.

The result? While I must admit that the ambivalence has translated down the generation, I do give Wayne props for his performance in the western he made with Ford four years after this film, The Searchers.

But I digress. The question of this post is What did I think of The Quiet Man?

Overall, I would say it was an enjoyable watch. The film balanced romance, comedy and drama very effectively and I cannot imagine a more sublime way of capturing the Emerald Isle than in the vibrancy of Technicolor. Honestly that was enough to pass the sniff test for me.

Now on to the acting. As I implied above, I am quite the fan of Barry Fitzgerald and love his screen presence; in this film my response is no different. Maureen O’Hara was solid as the fiery redhead who captures our hero’s heart. As for the main man himself, he does what he needs to make the performance convincing – enough so that it carried me through to the end.

It should also be noted that this film was a departure for Ford and Wayne, who, in case you didn’t know, primarily collaborated on Westerns. The Quiet Man was released by independent studio Republic Pictures, mostly known for it B-movie offerings. Due to the success of the picture, it garnered the studio its only “Best Picture” nomination in its history.

The one thing I did not see coming was the motivation for Sean Thornton’s desire to retire to a quiet, country life – packed quite a punch IMO (Note to self: the clue is in the title).

In end …

  1. Did I like it – yes and more than I anticipated.
  2. Will I be adding The Quiet Man to my video collection any time soon? Very likely not.

 

Have you seen this film? And what did you think of it? Submit in the Comments section below.

Capra: One (Many) for the Common Man, A Retrospective

Always a fan of Mr. Capra’s work, I took great pleasure in participating in the event hosted by The Lamb. While many may easily dismiss his work as corny or saccharine, I feel, many have missed the point of his work. I find that in fact, it is a balance that falls somewhere in the middle – not overly cynical or schmaltzy. For goodness sake, he seemed acutely aware of the pitfalls and despair that are a part and parcel of the human condition (his films dealt with suicide on more than one occasion – read Meet John Doe and It’s a Wonderful Life), but ultimately, he saw the human spirit as an overwhelming force of good and one that would overcome any obstacle. Remember, in his heyday, the country was in the depths of a Great Depression and struck the right, hopeful tone that I can only imagine the everyday day would appreciate and celebrate. He also had the capacity to be completely madcap and screwball (read: Arsenic and Old Lace and, to a lesser extent, You Can’t Take it With You). The following films are four of my favorite Capra films. Note – I LOVE It’s a Wonderful Life with all my heart, but intentionally left it off this list because I wanted to shine a light on some other noteworthy Capra films.

 

You Can’t Take it With You (1938)

lionel barrymore, james stewart, jean arthur & edward arnold - you can't take it with you 1938

A perfect combination of that sentimental feeling and zany comedy I just mentioned above. Jean Arthur is a member of an eccentric/free-spirited/bohemian family led by Lionel Barrymore. She falls in love with the “boss’ son,” in the form of one Jimmy (not James) Stewart. ILC’s take: ♥♥♥♥♥ (outta 5)

 

Meet John Doe (1941)

For me this film strikes a decidedly dark tone but again from the darkness there is a beacon of light, which has been fashioned by Capra as his vision of the unrivaled American spirit. Barbara Stanwyck stars as a reporter on her way out who finds a lifeline through a story of her own creation – because of the state of the world, a dispirited “everyman” (Gary Cooper) has decided to publicly end his life.

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The overtly jingoistic message may not resonate with contemporary audiences, but stellar performances by a world-weary Cooper and a determined Stanwyck make this one worth the watch. (Available in the public domain) ILC’s take: ♥♥♥♥

 

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

with Boris Karloff and Cary Grant,  Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

A pure gem and an all-time personal favorite. The perfect Halloween film with so much going on that you may wonder who’s coming and who’s going – but in the end, it is well worth the ride. Cary Grant shows a true mastery of the physical comedy genre with a great supporting cast, including wonderful turns by Raymond Massey and Peter Lorre. ILC’s take: ♥♥♥♥♥

 

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Hollywood's Greatest Year: The Best Picture Nominees of 1939

Capra’s entry into the “Golden Year of Hollywood,” 1939. An idealistic young politician (Jimmy Stewart) arrives in town and soon realizes that the inner workings of the political system are not as principled and virtuous as he thought. I know, SHOCKER. This makes my list principally became I love political theater ILC’s take: ♥♥♥♥

 

So, that’s my take; let me know what you think in the comments below.

Revisiting E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial

Although all the films that I have watched as part of my ‘celebration’ of the 100th anniversary of Universal Studios, this one really has particular is one that registers quite emotionally for me. Yes yes yes, I, like most sentient beings, cried my eyes out when I first saw E.T.

Unfortunately I did not have the pleasure of seeing it in the theater. For whatever reason (maybe due to my age) my dad took one of my brothers. So for the next few years, my only connection to the movie was in my father recalling how he was moved by the impact the film had on my brother. Of course, I would never fully appreciate just what that experience was until my dad brought home the “special edition” VHS tape years later.

As for the film itself, it always amazes me that such a wonderful fairytale comes from the grown-up mind of Steven Spielberg. Or maybe it shouldn’t surprise me – this is after all a man who created CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, another family favorite, and is obviously, a wonderful companion piece to E.T – the adult who is convinced that there is something out there and decides to explore (CLOSE ENCOUNTERS) and the child who stumbles upon an alien creature through happenstance and is forever transformed by the experience (E.T.).

In the case of E.T., the story of love, loss and everlasting connection is timeless and one that spans the generations.

 

As part of the 100th anniversary, E.T.: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL is being released on a remastered BLU-RAY video disk (October 9th) and, in cooperation with Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events, there will be a one night only viewing of the film in cinemas nationwide (Wednesday October 3rd).

Revisiting “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962)

This was originally scheduled to go out last month but alas, time apparently does not stand still while you are trying to get on with the business of your life. In any regard, this post is the latest entry in my continuing look at some the classics that Universal Studios has given the cinematic world in its landmark 100 years.

Today I will be taking a quick look at To Kill a Mockingbird, the moving adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel. Before I get into particulars, let me state for the record: I have not read the source material; I have made at least two wholehearted efforts to do so, but given my history of not completing novels, it should not be entirely surprising. Also, I have not seen the film is quite a while so my recollection of the finer details of the plot should not be heavily relied upon.

For those who have not seen this film in the 50 years since its initial release, it has become a stalwart representation of American cinema at its very best, often appearing on several “all time” lists.

Adapted for the screen by noted playwright and all around wordsmith Horton Foote, and with memorable performance by one Gregory Peck (as Atticus Finch – AWESOME name BTW), the film is seen through the eyes of his daughter Scout, played by Mary Badham and son Jem (portrayed by Phlip Alford). Atticus is a lawyer in the fictional Maycomb, Alabama, who is tasked with defending an innocent black man, Tom Robinson (Brock Peters); Tom has been accused of raping a young white woman. The ensuing trial shatters the wide-eyed naivety of Scout and Jem, who for the first time, are seeing the ugly side of humanity in the form racial prejudice and injustice.

I almost find it hard to put into words Peck’s performance in this film, mainly because I find it hard to summarize a characterization of a man whose morality is unflappable in face of all that surround him. He is a Superman for the Everyman, I guess. In fact all the players (including Robert Duvall in his film debut) resonate with an authenticity and sincerity that draw you in and keep you captivated throughout the story.

Again director Robert Mulligan proves that he was quite masterful at telling the “small-town American story” with a lovely, sentimental heart.

 

That’s me done: have you seen this film? What did you think about it?

Revisiting “Frankenstein” (1931)

IT’S ALIVE!!!

IT’S ALIVE!!!

For my latest entry where I cover the Universal 100th series, I am going to take a look at a film where (finally!) I have read at least one of the sources upon which the story is based.  Although known primarily by its Gothic novel by Mary Shelley, the film is actually based on the stage play written by Peggy Webling. This is similar to the film (and earlier ILC entry) Dracula.

For those unfamiliar with the story, I suggest you read the story. Dr. Frankenstein (portrayed in this film by Colin Clive), is obsessed with reanimation, the recreation of life. In order to achieve this, he and his assistant Fritz (Dwight Frye) harvest body parts, all in the hope of creating life through electricity. Unbeknownst to them, one of the parts they have collected (the brain) comes from a criminally psychotic man. You can guess where this is leading …

For me the most moving and touching scene is when The Monster (Boris Karloff) is on the run and he starts playing with the little girl. In fact this scene leads into probably the most iconic scene of them all – the marching of the townspeople hell-bent on revenge tragedy involving the village girl, when the townspeople are in pursuit. It is a sequence which has remained with me all these years later.

If I were to choose between the two monster movies (Dracula or Frankenstein), I would say that this is by some measure my preferred film.

Check out this original trailer for the movie:

Along with a couple of my favorite scenes:

Revisiting “Jaws” (1975)

I decided to save this selection from the “Universal 100th” for the time around the summer blockbuster season. For, we are told, it is the film (Jaws) that CREATED the summer blockbuster. I think this passage found in “the Wikipedia” just about sums it up as best as possible:

Generally well received by critics, Jaws became the highest-grossing film in history at the time. It won several awards for its soundtrack and editing, and it is often cited as one of the greatest films of all time … Jaws was pivotal in establishing the modern Hollywood business model, which revolves around blockbuster action and adventure pictures with simple “high-concept” premises that are released in the summer at thousands of theaters and supported by heavy advertising.

Source: Wikipedia

As for the movie itself and my reaction to it,  let’s just say it took me a while to be able to sit down and watch this one through. This film may be singlehandedly be responsible for my avoiding beaches and the like for the greater part of my childhood and team years.

From a visual perspective and when compared to present-day effects-laden spectacles, one could argue that the film’s bark is worse than its bite. But of course they are wrong; there is something happening here that is WAY beyond visual effect. The imminent threat that is mostly not there is the most frightening and affecting aspect of the film . I would even go as far as to say that you do not even need to see the shark, as evidenced by the opening sequence, where we see a young skinny dipper being pulled under water.

Based on the best-selling novel by Peter Benchley, Jaws is set in the fictional town of Amity where, after the aforementioned attack, Police Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) wants to close the beach. But seeing as it is the peak tourist season, he is forced to go along with keeping the beach open and suppressing the true nature of the attack.

After a second person is attacked and killed by a shark on the beach, Amity draws the attention of marine biologist Hooper (Richard Dreyfus) and “shark bounty hunter” Quint (Robert Shaw). And the battle of men versus beast begins …

My favorite scene? When Quint (Shaw) recounts the tale of the USS Indianapolis (a real-life WWII incident). The fact that this is actually happened adds even more dramatic tension and fear to what we see onscreen.

Based on the evidence of this film, one can easily say that in the subsequent 37 years since its initial release, we have been offered up, for the most part (there are notable exceptions, of course), increasingly inferior and lackluster blockbusters. Nothing beats the original.

On a related note: can you believe that Steven Spielberg was only twenty-seven years young when he co-wrote and directed this feature? WOW!

Let me know your thoughts on the film below.

OTHER TRIVIA

According to filmsite.org, the plot for both the novel and the film were taken from several sources including:

  • Herman Melville’s 1851 Moby Dick, about a search for a monstrous sea creature (a great white whale) by a determined Captain Ahab
  • Ibsen’s 1882 classic play An Enemy of the People
  • the exploits of diver Peter Gimbel’s shark expedition recounted in the documentary film Blue Water, White Death (1971)
  • Peter Matthiessen’s 1971 non-fiction book Blue Meridian: The Search for the Great White Shark
  • two great 50s horror films: The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954) and The Monster That Challenged the World (1957)
  • a real-life incident on the New Jersey shore in the summer of 1916 that claimed five lives over the course of two weeks

Source: filmsite.org