Elisabeth Lutyens: Horror Queen of Film Composers

LutyensFemale film composers are a rarity but there are some wonderful examples of talented women working behind the scenes who managed to flourish under the tight deadlines imposed by film studios while creating memorable music for the movies.

One of my favorite female composers is the late Elisabeth Lutyens who was born on July 9th in 1906. On the occasion of what would have been her 109th birthday if she had managed to live that long, I thought I’d celebrate her career in British horror films where Lutyens earned her “Horror Queen” moniker by composing some of the genre’s most innovative, accomplished and unsettling soundtracks.


Corridor of Mirrors


corridor of mirrors

It took Christopher Lee’s obituary in the New York Times to remind me of Corridor of Mirrors (Terence Young, 1948). About two years ago I came across information suggesting that Corridor of Mirrors may have influenced Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958). The film was not available at my local video store, Netflix, or Hulu. On Amazon I was able to find a couple out-of-print VHS copies going for about a hundred bucks each. I bought one and had a buddy transfer it to DVD. A Sharpie was used to hand-scribble the title onto the disc and it then got added to a spindle of other DVD’s. The spindle disappeared as more DVD’s got added to the tower. Movies for a rainy day. It was raining hard outside my window when I read the following sentence from Lee’s obituary: “Lest he tower over his fellow actors, Mr. Lee remained seated throughout his first film appearance, as a nightclub customer in Corridor of Mirrors.” [...MORE]

British Science Fiction: A Poster Gallery


Today (May 14th) TCM has programmed a batch of entertaining and inventive British science fiction films beginning with THE TUNNEL aka TRANSATLANTIC TUNNEL (1935) in the early morning hours of 5:45 AM EST/2:45 AM PST followed by FIVE MILLION YEARS TO YEAR aka QUARTERMASS AND THE PITT (1968), VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1961), THE COSMIC MONSTER aka THE STRANGE WORLD OF PLANET X (1958), THE GIANT BEHEMOTH aka BEHEMOTH, THE SEA MONSTER (1959), FIRST MEN IN THE MOON (1964), THESE ARE THE DAMNED aka THE DAMNED (1962), X THE UNKNOWN (1956), and SATELLITE IN THE SKY (1956). In an effort to entice viewers and rouse the imaginations of the most sedate classic film fans I thought I’d showcase some striking film poster art for these surprisingly imaginative films. The timid among us might be put off by the bold graphics, eye-popping layouts and outrageous claims they make but my fellow adventure seekers should relish the opportunity to dream bigger and embrace the improbable. So without further ado, I bring you British Science Fiction Films: A Poster Gallery.


Organization Man: Odd Man Out (1947)

4082_odd_man_out_(1947)movie_Odd Man Out has an absence at its center. It stars James Mason as a revolutionary in Northern Ireland, but he is either missing or comatose for the majority of its running time. A scattered group of fringe players search for his body, from IRA fellow travelers to middle-class families to eccentric bird merchants. What emerges is a portrait of a stunned post-WWII Belfast, tired of violence but in no hurry to pass Mason off to the cops. It is either sympathy or indolence that keeps him alive, as his husk is passed from alley to bar and finally, to the docks. The city’s cavernous, emptied out streets are the setting for Mason’s absolution. For though he is a murderer, Mason’s beatific, radiant performance gives his character a saintly aura, as if taking on the sins of the post-war world. Though it has overshadowed the lower-budgeted Brit-noirs of this period (which are in need of reclamation), Odd Man Out is more than worthy of its reputation. Earlier this month it received the Criterion treatment, released in a new HD restoration on DVD and Blu-ray, with their usual array of copious extras, including a new essay by Imogen Sara Smith.


April 18, 2015
David Kalat
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50 Shades of Miss Blandish

 Tomorrow (Sunday the 19th), TCM will be wallowing in filth. Yup, they’re going to be screening a movie that the Monthly Film Bulletin labeled “the most sickening exhibition of brutality, perversion, sex and sadism ever to be shown on a cinema screen.” Sight and Sound deemed it “a piece of calculated nastiness,” the Daily Mirror called it “as fragrant as a cesspool,” and Sunday Pictorial raved “a piece of nauseating muck.” And if that isn’t enough blurbs to fill out your movie poster with, let’s also add that the Daily Express declared it a “wicked disgrace to the British film industry,” the Star pronounced it “one of the most undesirable pictures ever turned out by a British studio,” and the Sunday Times proposed inventing an all new rating just to classify this one film: “D for Disgusting.”

So, what are we talking about here? A piece of hard-core pornography, perhaps? A snuff film? A work of Soviet Socialist Realism full of secret communist propaganda?

Nope—it’s a 1948 film noir with the unassuming title of No Orchids for Miss Blandish.


KEYWORDS: No Orchids for Miss Blandish
April 4, 2015
David Kalat
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Quatermass and the Definitive SF Movie Franchise

There’s an argument to be made that Five Million Years to Earth (AKA Quatermass and the Pit) is the best science fiction film of the 1960s. By “best” I mean: coolest, weirdest, most lunatic, sharpest, most clever. Not necessarily the best known or most iconic.

The films that do claim the title of most iconic SF of the 60s (2001, Planet of the Apes) generally owe no small share of their success to having tapped into something in the zeitgeist. They weren’t just SF Films of the 60s—they were Films of the 60s, and concerned with nuclear war, race relations, the space race, the culture wars, drug trips, and so on.

Five Million Years to Earth (pay attention to that odd title—“years” not “miles”) isn’t really specific to the 1960s. It’s about the military-industrial complex and a mentality of total war, and the story pivots on the politicization of science, in which facts are spun (or changed) to suit political expediency. In other words, it’s a film as much of our time as theirs.

You really need to set your DVRs for this treat coming up on Wednesday—it’s a taut and utterly modern-feeling SF thriller with a serious bite.


KEYWORDS: Hammer Studios, Quatermass 2, Quatermass and the Pit, The Quatermass Xperiment

Hammer Noir: A Poster Gallery


This evening (5 PM PST and 8 PM EST) an interesting batch of British noirs produced by Hammer Films will be making their debut on Turner Classic Movies. The four films scheduled to air include HEAT WAVE aka The House Across the Lake (dir. Ken Hughes, 1954) featuring Hillary Brooke as a seductive blonde who convinces an American writer (Alex Nicol) to help her murder her wealthy husband. This is followed by PAID TO KILL aka Five Days (dir. Montgomery Tully, 1954) where Dane Clark plays a suicidal man with money problems who has second thoughts after he hires a hit man to kill him and the aptly titled GAMBLER AND THE LADY (dir Patrick Jenkins, 1952), which also features Dane Clark as a successful gambler who attempts to “buy his way into British society.” The programming comes to a fun finish with WINGS OF DANGER aka Dead on Course (dir. Terence Fisher, 1952) starring Zachary Scott in one of his more sympathetic roles as a former pilot plagued by unpredictable blackouts who learns that a friend and fellow flyer may be involved with smugglers.


Mind Over Matter: THE SORCERERS (1967)


Since Michael Reeves unfortunate death in 1969 at the age of 25, the British director’s life has become the stuff of cinematic legend. His reputation as a sort of Byronic hero who challenged the British film establishment was secured when he died much too young due to an accidental drug overdose leaving behind just a handful of low-budget horror films that attained cult status in subsequent years. His distinct talent and the ephemeral nature of his work have led many of Reeve’s colleagues and admirers to speculate on the direction his career might have taken if he had lived longer and it’s not uncommon to see his name mentioned along with better known British filmmakers who also dealt with controversial material including Michael Powell and Ken Russell. Reeves’ bone-chilling WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1969), which explored the brutality of the witch hunts in England during the 17th century, is often cited as one of the greatest and most gruesome horror films produced during the 1960s but his most intimate and introspective film might be THE SORCERERS (1967).


Saying Good Night to Brian G. Hutton (1935-2014): Night Watch (1973)

taylorhutton1Last week this blog started to resemble the obituary section of my local newspaper and while I hate to continue that trend I couldn’t let Brian G. Hutton’s demise go unmentioned. The New York born director and actor is best remembered today for his work on two popular big-budget WW2 films, WHERE EAGLES DARE (1968) and KELLY’S HEROES (1971) but he also appeared in some memorable films such as John Sturges’ GUN FIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL (1957) and the Elvis vehicle, KING CREOLE (1958) as well as many popular television shows including GUNSMOKE, PERRY MASON, RAWHIDE and ALFRED HITHCOCK PRESENTS. The last film Hutton helmed was the Indiana Jones inspired HIGH ROAD TO CHINA (1983) and soon afterward he retired his directing chair. According to the fine folks at Cinema Retro, Hutton’s self-deprecating sense of humor often led him to criticize his own movies and he didn’t look back all that fondly at the time he spent in Hollywood but many film enthusiasts like myself appreciate the eclectic body of work he left behind.


Hammer Noir: Terence Fisher’s STOLEN FACE (1952)

Classic movie enthusiasts usually associate Britain’s Hammer Films with horror, fantasy and science fiction but the ‘studio that dripped blood’ also released a significant number of crime thrillers. TCM will be airing four of the studio’s earliest films on June 16th in a tribute to Hammer Noir. The four films scheduled to be shown were all directed by Terence Fisher who’s responsible for many of Hammer’s most celebrated productions and include MAN BAIT (1952), BLACK OUT (1954), THE UNHOLY FOUR (1954) and my personal favorite of the bunch, STOLEN FACE (1952). These short, bleak, black-and-white films showcase Fisher’s early attempts at generating atmosphere and maintaining suspense on a minuscule budget. Noir fans will undoubtedly enjoy the June 16th line-up but horror fans should tune in as well, particularly to catch STOLEN FACE starring Paul Henreid as a Dr. Frankenstein prototype who attempts to use his surgical abilities to transform an ex-con (Mary Mackenzie) into the woman he loves (Lizabeth Scott).


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