Tripping through England with The Wrong Box and Time Bandits

The Wrong Box This Saturday you’ll have a great opportunity to take a little crash course in British comedy courtesy of a double feature of two period films (more or less): Time Bandits (1981) and The Wrong Box (1966). In addition to featuring once-in-a lifetime rosters of talent in front of and behind the camera, both are the result of some of England’s most enduring contributions to comedic pop culture in radio, TV, and film, showing how profoundly media could shape the approach to screen humor from one decade to the next. [...MORE]

Fay Wray: The Clairvoyant (1934)

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“When Fay Wray was a child she wasn’t permitted to scream because her throat muscles were delicate and it was feared her voice would be ruined. When she grew up she screamed her way to fame in horror pictures!” – from a 1934 issue of Hollywood magazine

TCM’s annual Summer Under the Stars celebration is underway and today Hollywood’s first ‘Scream Queen’ gets her due. Fay Wray was an independent actress who operated outside the star system and refused to sign a long-term contract, which allowed her to work with many Hollywood studios. Despite her best efforts to carve out a distinct identity as a free agent, she was typecast as a horror starlet after appearing in Doctor X (1932), The Most Dangerous Game (1932), The Vampire Bat (1933), Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) and King Kong (1933), which cemented her scream queen moniker.

Following the huge success of King Kong, Wray was inundated by proposals to appear in more horror films and thrillers but she was tired of being pigeonholed. In an effort to dodge expectations, she accepted an offer from Gainsborough Pictures in England to costar with Claude Rains (fresh off the set of The Invisible Man; 1933) in an unusual film called The Clairvoyant (1934). Wray, eager to make dramas and comedies, apparently thought the film would broaden her acting opportunities but when her plane landed in the U.K., she was greeted by BBC reporters who immediately asked her to scream for them. Despite Wray’s best efforts to change the trajectory of her career, The Clairvoyant is actually an interesting addition to her horror résumé and you can catch it airing on TCM today. It’s also currently available on TCM On Demand.

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Give Us Absolution

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The passing of screenwriter and playwright Peter Shaffer this summer (June 6, to be precise) is another reminder of how most successful writers tend to be remembered for one or two signature works. In this case, all of his obituaries focused on two titles, both of which he translated from stage to screen himself: Equus, filmed in 1977 by Sidney Lumet with Richard Burton and Peter Firth, and Amadeus, turned into an Oscar-winning 1984 film directed by Milos Forman with F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce.

Less remarked upon but not entirely ignored was the fact that Peter was preceded into this world by five minutes in 1926 by a twin brother, Anthony Shaffer,  who also turned a successful, Edgar Award-winning 1970 play into a hit film: Sleuth (1972), directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine.  (Harold Pinter later overhauled it considerably for a 2007 version directed by Kenneth Branagh, with Caine switching roles opposite Jude Law.) [...MORE]

Beware of Birds: Crow Hollow (1952)

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Actress Natasha Parry, star of Crow Hollow (1952)

Crow Hollow (1952) is a little seen low-budget British B-movie typically categorized as Film Noir in the few books where I’ve seen it mentioned. After catching up with it recently I discovered that it had much more in common with Gothic mysteries, Gaslight (1940) inspired thrillers and classic “Old Dark House” movies. Directed economically by Michael McCarthy, who excelled in television and made a number of suspenseful WW2 dramas such as The Accursed (1957) and Operation Amsterdam (1959), the film lacks the stylish flourishes and sophisticated set pieces that the material cries out for. But it is held together by some sharp performances and a twisty plot based on a book by Dorothy Eden and it’s Eden’s involvement that drove me to watch Crow Hollow.

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Fatal Charm: Cast a Dark Shadow (1955)

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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.

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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.

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Corridor of Mirrors

 

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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

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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.

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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.

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April 18, 2015
David Kalat
Posted by:

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.

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