Robert Fuest & His Abominable Creations

rfvpVincent Price & Robert Fuest on the set of The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

TCM’s month-long celebration of American International Pictures comes to an end tonight with some of the company’s best productions from the seventies including Martin Scorsese’s Boxcar Bertha (1972), Brian De Palma‘s Sisters (1973), Roger Corman’s Bloody Mama (1970) featuring one of Robert De Niro’s early screen appearances, William Crain’s Blacula (1972) and the little-seen A Matter of Time (1976), which was the last film directed by Vincente Minnelli. I haven’t seen the Minnelli film myself so I’m looking forward to finally catching up with it but today I thought I’d focus my attention on filmmaker Robert Fuest. Fuest directed the first AIP film airing in tonight’s impressive line-up, The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) featuring Vincent Price in one of his most memorable roles.

The late Robert Fuest, who died in 2012 at age 84, has become one of my favorite filmmakers over the years thanks to his artistic direction and ability to mix fear and humor into a creative combustible cocktail that yielded such gems as The Abominable Dr. Phibes and its sequel Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972) as well as the brilliant, stylish and utterly bonkers Michael Moorcock adaptation, The Final Programme (1973). Other films in his impressive oeuvre include Just Like a Woman (1967), And Soon the Darkness (1970), Wuthering Heights (1970) and The Devil’s Rain (1975).

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May 14, 2016
David Kalat
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David Kalat’s Day Off

So this week, on May 15 and 18th, TCM is teaming up with Fathom Events to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Ferris Bueller’s Day off by returning it to theaters for a select engagement.  You can click this link to find a local screening and book your tickets.  And, in honor of this event, I’m taking the day off.  See y’all later!

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Greetings, Movie Morlocks readers. I am Julie Stapel, the only member of the Stapel-Kalat family not to have guest blogged here. And what better time to do it than now—when David has gone on a madcap Chicago adventure just like our protagonist Ferris Bueller (see photos).

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off means a great deal to me and I’m happy for the opportunity to talk about why. First, a bit of origin story on me. I grew up in Columbia City, Indiana, a bodaciously small town (to quote Charles de Mar in another of my favorite movies, Better Off Dead). Growing up, Chicago was my Shangri-La—mythical, perfect. I was fortunate to take both family and school trips to Chicago with some frequency when I was growing up. I would cry as soon as the skyline came into view and again as the skyline faded into the distance as we were going home. Now I commute in every day for work and it still gets me sometime. It’s an impossibly beautiful city.

So imagine my delight when, in 1986, when I was 16, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, was released. Of course, Columbia City had no movie theater at the time so we had to go to Fort Wayne to see it. (Fort Wayne is very nice too but never had the ability to quite capture my heart with its skyline). Not only was I precisely in the John Hughes age demographic, but the movie is a love letter to Chicago with its sweeping aerial shots of the lake and the city that served no narrative purpose at all. They were just beautiful. I saw it at least 5 times in the theater and dozens of times on TV and video in the years since then, including with my own children who never had to long for Chicago.

Now I’m no film scholar and my observations are a bit meandering, but here goes . . . .

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KEYWORDS: Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, John Hughes, Matthew Broderick
COMMENTS: 3
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April 30, 2016
David Kalat
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The Artist Formerly Known as Walter Paisley

As regular readers here know, I’ve got a thing for documentaries that ruminate on the meaning of “art” and dig into the gray areas of artistic expression.  Well, I also like fictional satires on the art world, too—and one of the cleverest, Roger Corman’s gloriously bonkers A Bucket of Blood (1959) is on TCM on Thursday the 5th (set your DVRs).

A Bucket of Blood stars Dick Miller as “Walter Paisley,” lowly busboy in a coffee bar/art gallery. The poor guy is a little slow, and as impressionable as a child. Too bad his biggest influences are self-absorbed young adults preening with affectation: they wear bathrobes and creative facial hair, blather on about organic farming and obscure foodstuffs, constantly projecting an air of bored indifference. They rally around a beatnik poet whose manifesto declares that Art is more important than anything, even the lives of other human beings. And Walter wants nothing more than to be one of them.

The joke is that he wins their accolades and respect only by taking that callous screed literally – he kills people and turns their corpses into Art. That part is familiar – on loan from House of Wax (1953), the film that made Vincent Price a household name just a few years earlier. A Bucket of Blood distinguishes itself not by plot points but by context – let Vincent Price mummify his victims with nary a tongue in cheek, but Dick Miller’s body of work is gloriously absurd.

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KEYWORDS: A Bucket of Blood, Dick Miller, Roger Corman
COMMENTS: 10
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April 16, 2016
David Kalat
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Abbott, Costello, Jekyll, Hyde

So, this weekend TCM has got it into its corporate head to screen the 1953 comedy Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In case you didn’t already know, this is one of the lesser-regarded, least-loved entries in the already rather shopworn and degraded pile of B-movie fodder that is the Abbott and Costello oeuvre. I know I’m misusing several words there—both oeuvre and B-movie, at least—but I do so advisedly. I’m a sucker for Golden Age Hollywood comedies, and comedy teams, and slapstick, so I have a soft spot for old Lou and Bud, but seriously it’s hard to defend their Universal films as anything more than programmatic filler recycling some vaudeville schtick well past its sell-by date. That being said, Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is substantially better than its reputation suggests, and definitely worth the time of anyone who bothers to read my weekly rantings here. Just go in with sufficiently lowered, realistic expectations, and let the isolated bright spots of this thing impress and surprise you.

But that’s not what I wanted to write about this week. I’m more interested in the movie TCM won’t be screening, because it doesn’t exist. The movie that might have been, in some alternate universe, where the original ideas for this film didn’t get curtailed and redirected into stale formula. Because at one point, this movie was set to be called Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde. And boy, what a difference that extra letter makes.

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KEYWORDS: Abbott and Costello, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde
COMMENTS: 11
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The American Artist

While vacationing in Paris recently I was struck by how much Parisians love their artists.  The streets are named for major cultural figures, the city is awash in museums, and at the newsstand kiosks at the entrances to the subway you can find, nestled between the tabloids and porno mags, a huge portfolio of works by Modigliani.  That’s how they roll.  And it’s ever been thus: once upon a time, Auguste Rodin was commissioned to do a sculpture in honor of the author Balzac.  The resulting statue was perceived as being “too avant garde” and triggered outrage, public complaints, and threats of lawsuits.  Has anything remotely like this ever happened in the US?  Has there ever been an artist, in any media, who was so beloved and so intimately intertwined with our national sense of self that anyone would bother to complain that an honorary statue wasn’t sufficiently reverent?

(Well, I mean aside from Lucille Ball, naturally)

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March 19, 2016
David Kalat
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Arbuckle Up, It’s Gonna Be a Bumpy Ride

DVR alert: there is a fabulous block of Roscoe Arbuckle comedies coming up on Sunday night, way past your bedtime. Roscoe appears onscreen in only a couple of them, but taken together this is an opportunity to see the great Roscoe Arbuckle working and collaborating with a wide variety of comic talents of the teens and twenties: Mack Sennett, Mabel Normand, Ford Sterling, Buster Keaton, Al St. John, Lloyd Hamilton, and Johnny Arthur. (Don’t worry if you didn’t recognize that last name—you’re not missing out on much. But hopefully the other names rang some bells, and if not, just keep reading and I’ll catch you up).

Seeing Arbuckle’s collaborations with some many disparate talents is important, because it can help settle some misunderstandings—but I won’t tell you just why, yet, because I want you to click the dashed line below and keep reading. So, if you can’t already guess why comparing Arbuckle’s work with different comedians might be revealing, or if you’re burning with curiosity to find out why “Lloyd Hamilton” is, then come on, click the fold, and let’s party on!

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KEYWORDS: Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, lloyd hamilton, Roscoe Arbuckle
COMMENTS: 4
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January 30, 2016
David Kalat
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The Immigrant

For the last several weeks I’ve been circling around the legacy of Charlie Chaplin, with posts about him, his influences, and his contemporaries. This week I return to where I started, the man himself, to look not as Chaplin’s aesthetics but his ethics. There’ s something very important about the little fella I haven’t remarked on, and now is the time.

Let’s just start by saying that The Immigrant is my favorite Chaplin film, but that it got to be that by earning the spot. You see, I used to go around to elementary schools with a 16mm projector and put on an hour-long show of short comedies. I’d originally intended it to be a rotating selection, chosen by my mood at the moment and whatever tied in best with what the class was working on at the time. Sometimes I might include Big Business if it was Christmastime, or some Melies shorts if the class had been studying France, and so on. But very quickly on, I realized that for every class and every time I did this, The Immigrant got the biggest reaction. It became the tentpole of the show, by default.

I’ve had kids come up to me, years later, and recognize me—you’re the guy who showed us that Charlie Chaplin film. I showed a bunch of stuff, but that’s the one they remember. Keaton’s One Week, the two reel version of Harold Lloyd’s Hot Water, Harry Langdon’s Remember When—those were fleeting, ephemeral moments. Chaplin’s The Immigrant made an impression on these kids, and I decided to start studying it closely.

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KEYWORDS: Charlie Chaplin, The Immigrant
COMMENTS: 9
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January 23, 2016
David Kalat
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Musty Suffer

It’s March 1, 1916 (or its November 1915 if you want to be pedantic and argumentative. I know who you are, and I’m ready for you). Let’s start again: It’s March 1, 1916. There. This is the day that the first film in the “Mishaps of Musty Suffer” series is released: Cruel and Unusual.

For the next two years, Musty Suffer’s mishaps will unspool over a raucous cycle of unruly two-reel shorts, full of surreal imagery and violent slapstick. Largely forgotten today, but available to the curious in an outstanding set of DVDs, the Musty Suffer films are remarkable both for what they are and also for what they are not. They are artifacts of what happens when talented and inventive people go significantly out of their way to take the road not traveled. And to understand just why these singular oddities deserve special attention beyond their immediate joys, we need to focus on the significance of that date—these would make sense if they’d been a few years before, or a few years after. But 1916?

That’s just nuts.

 

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KEYWORDS: Charlie Chaplin, Musty Suffer, Silent comedy, Slapstick
COMMENTS: 10
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January 16, 2016
David Kalat
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The Fall and Rise of Max Linder

There’s an autographed photo of Charlie Chaplin, inscribed “To the one and only Max, “The Professor”. From his disciple, Charlie Chaplin. May 12th 1917.”

The “Max” in this scenario was Max Linder, the seminal French comedian.  Chaplin was often stingy about acknowledging his debts to his various collaborators and peers, but he was never shy about praising Linder.  When Max Linder, died, Chaplin shuttered his studio for a day out of respect.

Linder’s influence extended far beyond Chaplin, though.  His screen comedy laid the groundwork for the entirety of the silent comedy era that followed: he made films full of absurd sight gags and slapstick, grounded in character and driven by farcical situations.  There’s scarcely a comedian who came in his wake whose work does not bear an overt and demonstrable debt to Linder’s.

That being said, Linder’s films are not nearly as well known as you’d expect given that background.  Some of his best works show up on TCM from time to time and are available on DVD; some of his pioneering early shorts are available on a Blu-Ray box set from France—true, true.  But being available and being watched are two different things.

Linder’s legacy is clouded, you see, by the unsettling facts of his life.  If I tell you “Max Linder is a genius of comedy, go see his films,” your next question is going to be, “Sounds great—tell me more about him.”  At which point, this whole conversation takes a sudden dark turn, and that’s the problem.

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KEYWORDS: Max Linder
COMMENTS: 6
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January 9, 2016
David Kalat
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Life, Police, and Trouble

Lately I’ve been enjoying the outstanding Blu Ray box set from Flicker Alley of Charlie Chaplin’s Essanay films from 1915-1916 (do you own one of your own?  Why not?). And while watching them, I found myself falling down a rabbit hole. It’s a rabbit hole that other Chapliniacs (Chapliniados? Chaplinners? Chaplinians?) have fallen down before—some have even pursued it to absurd, quixotic lengths. But, being the obsessive fella that I am, I burrowed down this well-worn path too, and finally emerged for air. I’d like to take this week’s post to share my journey, perhaps to help spare some other poor sod from wasting as much time as I did.

This is the story of three movies. One of these movies was never made. The second was made, but has at times been alleged to be a wrongheaded bastardization of its creator’s true intentions. The third film is most decidedly a wrongheaded bastardization, but was deceptively promoted as being the real deal.

This is the story of Life, Police, and Triple Trouble.

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KEYWORDS: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Essanay, Police, Triple Trouble
COMMENTS: 6
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