The Best Looking Movies Ever

Today on TCM, one of the films on the lineup is Mad Love, directed and photographed by acclaimed cinematographer Karl Freund.   Well, actually, Chester Lyons and Gregg Toland photographed it under Freund’s supervision.  The film has an amazing visual quality to it and like many of the films photographed by Tolland and Freund, is filled with shadows and flickering light.  That’s no surprise and not because Tolland and Freund were such great talents, although obviously that’s a part of it, but because the horror genre itself has produced some of the best cinematography in the history of cinema.  Think of the most visually famous movies of the twenties and it’s a sure bet The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu will pop into your head almost immediately.   Oddly, though, if you look at the Oscar winners for Best Cinematography, you’ll have a hard time finding a horror movie anywhere at the winner’s table.



Fatal Charm: Cast a Dark Shadow (1955)

On Monday, October 12th TCM is airing a batch of suspenseful films focusing on “Treacherous Spouses.” Most critics wouldn’t classify any of these films as horror but some of them contain genuinely horrific moments. The impressive line-up includes Experiment Perilous (1944), Suspicion (1941), Strangers on a Train (1951), Dial M for Murder (1954), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) Elevator to the Gallows (1958) and the day’s programming commences at 6am EST/3am PST with Cast a Dark Shadow (1955).

You can’t go wrong with any of these fine thrillers but today I’d like to single out Cast a Dark Shadow, a gripping and remarkably grim British production starring Dirk Bogarde as a suave young Romeo who seduces wealthy older women for financial gain and then murders them in cold blood. Clocking in at a brisk 82 minutes and featuring some stellar talent behind and in front of the camera, Cast a Dark Shadow presents an interesting early example of a seductive and unscrupulous serial killer who will stop at nothing to satisfy his basest urges.


This week on TCM Underground: Street Fighter (1974) — Viva Chiba! — and Enter the Dragon (1973)


What do Charles Bronson, Sonny Chiba, and Charles Dickens have in common? Thank you for asking!


The 2015 New York Film Festival


To stud its carpets with stars, the 53rd New York Film Festival has turned to the biopic. It opened with The Walk, Robert Zemeckis’ recreation of Philippe Petit’s World Trade Center tightrope walk, gave a centerpiece slot to Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs, and closes with Don Cheadle’s Miles Davis movie, Miles Ahead. Though I haven’t managed to see those high-gloss productions, biographical approaches extended throughout the festival and into many of my favorites. Manoel de Oliveira’s Visit, Or Memories and Confessions is a wistful and austere reflection on his life, his career, and the house he lived in for forty years. Hong Sang-soo puts another of his wayward film director characters through a structural ringer in Right Now, Wrong Then, and the weight of history and mortality is felt in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cemetery of Splendour, set in his hometown of Khon Kaen, Thailand, and which he has described as “a search for the old spirits I knew as a child.” Soldiers afflicted with sleeping sickness dream away their lives in a makeshift hospital, situated on top of ‘an ancient burial ground. Those sleepy spirits of history seem to have wandered throughout the festival and through the avant-garde Projections sidebar, much of which is on Weerasethakul’s somnambulant wavelength.


Makeup vs. Acting


The recent gangster biopic Black Mass stars Johnny Depp as real-life organized crime boss Whitey Bulger, a fixture in Boston’s criminal underworld from the 1960s through the 1990s. Depp gives an intense performance as the ruthless mobster, who was legendary for his unpredictable behavior and violent methods. The actor embraced the role, mastering the South Boston accent and adopting street-tough mannerisms. I recommend Black Mass, which was directed by Scott Cooper (Out of the Furnace; Crazy Heart) whose realist style serves the story well.


Blazing her own path


Ida Lupino is the Keith Richards of female directors. Lupino was born in London during a WWI German zeppelin bombing. Richards was born in London during WWII while V1 and V2 rockets tore through the sky – thus inspiring one of my favorite lines in rock: “I was born in a cross-fire hurricane”. Richards picked up a guitar to became the ultimate bad-boy of rock-and-roll and was exiled from his own country. Lupino was quoted in the Hollywood Reporter as saying “My father once said to me, ‘You’re born to be bad,”… And it was true. I made eight films in England before I came to America, and I played a tramp or a slut in all of them.” Richards blazed his own path. So did Lupino, who recognized that the studio was treating her like “the poor man’s Bette Davis” so she got behind the camera and joined the ranks of directors like Sam Fuller and Don Siegel, cinema rogues who found inspiration in dark alleys as they tackled tough subjects on their own terms.  [...MORE]

October 3, 2015
David Kalat
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Dance, Girl, Dance

It is one of Hollywood’s most revered myths—the talented yet undiscovered starlet from some flyover backwater, desperate to make it big in the city. Forget The Voice, this stuff goes all the way back to the dawn of mass media. You could be forgiven for wondering which was more numerous: the wanna-be stars or the movies made about them.



Why Do We Complain About Horror?

Have you ever heard anyone complain that “family drama” has been done to death?  Whether it’s The Magnificent Ambersons, Ordinary People, or In the Bedroom, family drama has been around for a long time and accounted for a substantial amount of movies.  How about war films?  Ever heard someone say, “Oh no, not another war movie?”  How about a good detective thriller?  Political drama?  Sports movie? Even the dreaded romantic comedy, aka the “Rom-Com,” doesn’t get the complaints that it’s done to death.  Oh, people may hate them, but they don’t think there’s an overload.  But mention zombies and, oh crikey, here we go.  “Zombies? Oh, I can’t take anymore zombie movies!”  In fact, every few years it seems like we tire of a specific subgenre of horror.  The seventies gave us too many devil movies, the eighties into the nineties, too many vampire flicks, starting with Salem’s Lot on tv, moving into the comic horror of Fright Night, and culminating with Francis Ford Coppola’s romantic opera, Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  Also in the eighties we got slasher films and everyone got tired of those.  But like any good horror monster, they keep coming because everyone knows, no matter how much we complain, we’ll always want more.



Nameless Fear: The Lost Moment (1947)

Poster_of_the_movie_The_Lost_MomentI felt the past closing all around me like a fog, filling me with a nameless fear.
- Lewis Venable (Robert Cummings)

After enjoying many of the Susan Hayward films that aired on TCM last month, I decided to seek out some of her other work and in the process I stumbled across The Lost Moment (1947). And as regular readers know, I usually focus my attention on horror films and thrillers during the month of October and this neglected black-and-white gem that tells a haunting story about lost love and an unspeakable crime of passion is the perfect film to kick-start the season of scaring.

This surprisingly sumptuous Universal production takes place in Venice where an ambitious publisher named Lewis Venable (Robert Cummings), disguises himself as a writer and takes lodging in a sprawling waterway estate owned by the 105-year-old lover (Agnes Moorehead) of a renowned poet who disappeared under mysterious circumstances decades earlier. He hopes to gain access to a stash of love letters written by the poet to his lady love but the woman’s stern niece (Susan Hayward) suspects that the publisher is up to no good. While attempting to find the missing letters, Cummings’s character uncovers many horrible family secrets hidden within the walls of the crumbling cobweb coated estate that he hadn’t bargained for.


This week on TCM Underground: Rattlers (1976) and The Swarm (1978)


This week on TCM Underground, two “animal revenge” shockers from the latter half of the 1970s. Before I begin, a confession: when I was a pre-teen I killed a snake in the side yard of my childhood home. I didn’t have to kill the snake, it wasn’t threatening me in any way, it wasn’t even all that big… but I had been socialized to fear and hate snakes and to think of their presence on my property as a crime punishable by death. Watching that snake die in front of me changed me in a major way and I will never forget its death agonies, the way its mouth gaped as the life ran out of it. So with that on my conscience, I go into animal revenge movies with some reluctance because, even though they invariably target mankind’s corruption of the natural world, they still turn animals — God’s creatures, if you want to look at it that way — into constructs of fear and loathing when the truth of the matter is that far more animals die by the hand of man than vice versa. As a Cub Scout leader it is my job, and my honor, to try and undo some of that damage when I lead scouts into a wilderness setting, to teach kids that they don’t have to go into the woods with an aim to kill animals, even the dangerous ones. I will admit to not having the highest enthusiasm for this double feature of “animals attack!” movies but, to paraphrase a recent Internet meme, I will still do my job and tell you all about them.

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