Three Cases of Murder and One Uncredited Director

I love a good horror anthology so you can imagine how thrilled I was when I recently sat down to watch THREE CASES OF MURDER (1955) for the first time. This unusual British film seems to have gone relatively unnoticed by numerous horror film historians and if it does warrant a mention it’s usually dismissed without much afterthought. But with a cast that includes Orson Welles and a segment directed by one of Britain’s first female directors (Wendy Toye), THREE CASES OF MURDER stands out as a wonderful example of early British horror cinema that rivals the highly acclaimed anthology DEAD OF NIGHT (1945).

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Leslie Nielsen, 1926 – 2010

Leslie Nielsen always played off the beat. Before he delivered a punchline, there was a hitch, a pause, a dumbfounded look off-screen – that made him a devastatingly funny actor. When he finally delivered the deadpan kicker it was in a sonorous tenor drained of emotion, a hollow thud of obliviousness. With his granite-jawed, silver-haired good looks he could say any absurdity with a straight face and a straighter vocal tone, and in collaboration with non-sequitur artists like the Zucker brothers and Jim Abrahams, he created some of the most ingratiating buffoons in film history. And this after a long and overshadowed career as a genial and arrogant leading man on television.  Mr. Leslie Nielsen passed away yesterday at the age of 84, while being treated for pneumonia.

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The Rising of the Moon (1957)

Tyrone Power introduces the first of three stories told in the film The Rising of the Moon (1957) with the wry comment that “This is a story about nothing, or perhaps about everything.”

For the director John Ford, this roughly 84 minute black and white movie, made in Ireland, which he did for free and “the sake of my artistic soul,” may be among his most personal films–even though today it is probably the least seen of this celebrated filmmaker’s movies from the sound era. As revealed in a piece by the New York Post’s film critic Lou Lumenick last year, even the director’s grandson, Daniel Ford, has only a videotape of this now rare movie, and the exact copyright ownership of the movie appears to be a bit mysterious. Preoccupied, as almost all of Ford’s movies were, with the inevitable dissolution of traditions, communities and ties, it was not a realistic movie, having about as much to do with “life as we knew it in the ’50s in Ireland as Prince Valiant did to life in the Middle Ages,” as one Irish-born friend pointedly told me once. The stories woven in this anthology film also feature magnificent casts, with Noel Purcell, Cyril Cusack, Donal Donnelly, Frank Lawton, Dennis O’Dea, Jack MacGowran and Eileen Crowe giving life to these off-hand tales.

The quirky The Rising of the Moon (1957) looked back nostalgically through Ford’s somewhat foggy, affectionate lens at an imagined world as it might have been or as the director wished it to be. Originally entitled The Three-Leaf Clover, (as well as Three or Four Leaves of the Shamrock, according to some sources), it tells a trio of stories, all related to the theme of personal freedom, in a loose-limbed way. Each of the segments adapted by longtime Ford screenwriter Frank S. Nugent for scale, unfolded, in their seemingly ramshackle way, and celebrate the rituals of comradeship, tradition, chaos, and wholesale blarney that underpinned Ford’s vision of Irish life. These casually told and seemingly rambling stories are all tinged with the melancholy that a child of immigrants might feel about a romanticized past he could never fully experience first-hand.

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Tony Sarg: Floating Above Reality

If you are like millions of Americans, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade may be playing as video wallpaper in the background of tomorrow’s holiday hubbub in your household. In between stuffing that turkey and unsuccessfully averting your eyes from the crasser, materialistic moments of the television broadcast, it is still fun to catch sight of those unwieldy balloons straining while remaining afloat above the crowded street. Depending on luck, fashions in pop culture and our memories of balloons past (where is Underdog?) these gargantuan floating creatures seem as familiar as that stained recipe card you may be consulting. Yet, as the above image from a 1930s Macy’s Parade illustrates, they were not always quite as cuddly as they seem today. Just as these helium behemoths sometimes elude their handlers and occasionally deflate, the origin of these now familiar fixtures is not well known. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the originator of these unique inflated fantasies dipped a toe into the movie business just as it started to take off as an art form.

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The View in the Rear View Mirror

A brooding James Cagney drives his cab as if he's doing penance in The Roaring Twenties (1939), while Priscilla Lane remains oblivious to his despairHave you a favorite cab driver from classic movies?

Is he (or she) loud, pushy and aggressively seeking a faster route and big tip–maybe a Alan Hale, Sr. or Nat Pendleton type, quick with his mouth and his fists when needed? Or is the celluloid cabbie you cherish a comical “hail fellow well met” type, eager for conversation and filled with an inexplicable sense of bonhomie–perhaps played by a George Tobias, Red Skelton or Frank McHugh? Might another compelling favorite be those Charon-like figures behind the wheel, ferrying passengers across the dark city, musing philosophically about the pulse of the lifeblood of the city while guiding those in the back seat to a physical and spiritual destination–weightier characters captured by such diverse actors as Tom D’Andrea and Paul Lukas?

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A Dog-Eared Movie

Just as I enjoy reading and sometimes re-reading a beloved book of short stories, some movies bear watching repeatedly.

The enjoyment I derive from episodic movies might be indicative of our fragmented concentration in this dizzying information age. Yet, as someone who loves to curl up with a book of short stories, I also enjoy movies that follow that portmanteau format, at least loosely. Some of the films mentioned are literary, some dream-like, and some just plain movie fun. Hardly any would ever make one of those AFI best movie lists, but they have given me a great deal of diversion.

The following is a partial list of my favorite anthology films, which, despite the often critical disdain that greets them, continue to pop up from the early talkie period to today. Their sometimes hit or miss quality seems to have kept most of them from ever being the critics’ darlings as a genre, but there is lots of entertainment in some of these often imaginative and films, whether they are directed by one person or a clutch of varying talents. Curiously, many of the older films mentioned are very hard to find and haven’t been broadcast in years, but are well worth seeking out. I hope that you’ll add your suggestions to the list. I’m sure that there are some that I’m overlooking: [...MORE]

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