Mae Clarke: Frankenstein’s First Bride

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FRANKENSTEIN (1931) airs tonight on TCM at 9:30PM EST/6:30PM PST

The name Mae Clarke might not immediately ring any bells but the fair-haired, spirited and sad-eyed beauty was a promising leading lady in pre-code Hollywood before personal disappointments, mental health issues and a disfiguring car accident took their toll. When Clarke died in 1992 at age 81 most classic film fans remembered her as the woman who gets a grapefruit smashed in her face by James Cagney during THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931) or they might have recalled her daring leap from a window to protect the man she loves in THE FRONT PAGE (1931). Thankfully, many of Clarke’s earlier films have been restored and made available since then. We’re now able to get a much broader understanding of why a 1932 issue of Picture Play magazine prophesied a “brilliant career for her” and Modern Screen claimed, “Mae Clark deserves a place among the big names of filmdom and will get there before long–watch her!”

Today TCM is featuring Mae Clarke in their Summer Under the Stars programming and you can catch her in a number of films including James Whale’s WATERLOO BRIDGE (1930), where she plays the doomed Myra. Many consider it her best film and Clarke often referred to it as her favorite role but today I’d like to focus on her often-overlooked performance in Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN (1931), where she plays the sympathetic fiancé of Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive).

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Break on Through to the Other Side

Overlook 1921

If you stay up past midnight tonight, TCM will be screening an influential supernatural film about a violent alcoholic who at one point will grab an ax to splinter down a door behind which can be found his terrified family. And, yes, ghosts are involved. And, no, it’s not The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980). The film in question is Victor Sjöström’s The Phantom Carriage, which was released in 1921. Fans of The Shining will be quick to notice that this is the same year printed at bottom of the iconic last shot of Kubrick’s film that shows us a black-and-white photograph with Jack Torrance frozen in time. [...MORE]

Freaks

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I was going to write about Lolita (Stanley Kubrick, 1961), which screens on TCM on July 18th, but I got derailed by my backyard screening last night of Freaks (Tod Browning, 1932). There were two 16mm prints in the university collection, and I had not yet seen the one that was a few minutes longer due to the opening scroll that had been added by Dwain Esper in 1947. I’ll share here some highlights I used to introduce the film for the audience last night, all cherry-picked from Dark Carnival, the Tod Browning book by David J. Skal and Elias Savada. [...MORE]

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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SFF Post Mortem

SFF 2015

In my last post I interviewed Stuart Gordon. I also interviewed some other folks while up in Estes Park attending the third annual Stanley Film Festival and, in the interest of making it relevant to TCM readers, I led by asking everyone what some of the older films might be that influenced their careers. People that I talked to included actor/producer Elijah Wood, actor/writer/producer Leigh Whannel, actress Alison Pill, actor/producer/director Larry Fessenden, director Glenn McQuaid, writer April Snellings, producer/director/writer Jen Wexler, actor/writer Graham Reznick, and director/actor Merritt Crocker. Themes that popped up included movies with evil children, classic ghost stories, Freddie Francis, and more. [...MORE]

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April 11, 2015
David Kalat
Posted by:

Mermaids in Love

Curtis Harrington’s Night Tide (coming up on TCM on Thursday) is a thing of sunshine and jazz music, set at a seaside amusement park. Instead of assaulting the viewer with gore or violence, Harrington finds suspense in such subtleties as watching a girl eat a fish, and or when she then catches a seagull with her bare hands.

This is still a genre film, mind you–Dennis Hopper plays a sailor who falls in love with a girl who believes herself to be a mermaid–but the casual naturalism of the film seems unrelated to the world of gothic monsters and bug-eyed aliens that characterized horror fare of the early 1960s. If audiences had ever seen anything quite like this before, it would have been in Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless—a riff on lowbrow genre elements to provide structure to a film that presents itself as slice-of-life glimpse of a disaffected youth culture. The distributors recognized the affinity, and played it up as a marketing strategy. The press kit sold Night Tide as a “unique American New Wave thriller,” and went on to highlight Harrington’s work in experimental film.

Let’s set aside the incongruity of a movie company trying to sell a teen-oriented horror flick on the basis that it was an arthouse film in the French tradition made by an underground artist. That’s weird, but it’s not even the weirdest aspect of all this.

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KEYWORDS: Curtis Harrington, Dennis Hopper, Night Tide
COMMENTS: 3
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A Forgotten Film to Remember: ‘Man in the Attic’

atticposterLast fall, businessman Russell Edwards announced that he had finally uncovered the truth behind history’s most famous serial killer, Jack the Ripper. Edwards claimed that DNA left behind on a victim’s shawl was used to identify the Ripper as Aaron Kosminski, long considered a primary suspect. As soon as the news was announced, DNA experts and Ripperologists came forward to denounce the findings based on doubts about the shawl’s provenance and the likely contamination of the evidence. And, so it goes with our fascination with the Ripper mythology: We want so badly to find out his true identity, but then again, we don’t.

The mystery behind Jack the Ripper’s identity allows filmmakers and writers to use him as a symbol or representative force. The Ripper has been part of cinema history since 1924, when he appeared in a nightmare sequence in the German Expressionist film Waxworks. Since then, a variety of directors have interpreted the mystery, adding to the rich folklore surrounding the historical figure. I recently caught a film version of the Ripper story released in 1953 called Man in the Attic, starring Jack Palance, Constance Smith, and Frances Bavier, and I was reminded of how potent a character he could be.

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February 28, 2015
David Kalat
Posted by:

Kill da wabbit

So—later this week, TCM will be running Night of the Lepus. It’s been on TCM before—but usually relegated to the late night TCM Underground slot. This Wednesday it’s on at 6pm Eastern where decent folk might stumble across it unawares. Which is awesome.

There are few films as mocked as Night of the Lepus. You only have to mention the premise (attack of the giant bunnies!) and the derision sets in on its own. It’s a wonder the whole genre of horror didn’t just curl up and die in embarrassment. Legions of film critics, genre fans, and innocent bystanders have set up their tents in the let’s-make-fun-of-the-dumb-bunnies camp—all sharing the assumption that the problem here was the choice of monster. How could killer rabbits ever be scary?

But if it is self-evidently obvious that rabbits can’t ever be a scary monster… then what would motivate a motion-picture institution run by responsible adults to invest in a thing like this? What were they thinking?

Come on—click the fold and find out. I know you want to. I promise the answer will surprise you.

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KEYWORDS: Night of the Lepus
COMMENTS: 20
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15 Favorite Films From 2014

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I know what you’re thinking. Another list?! Forgive me my trespass but as a member of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists I’m asked to compile a list of my favorite films each year and I wanted to share some of my viewing highlights with you. These are the films that have been occupying my thoughts in recent weeks and many of them haven’t gotten the critical attention that I think they deserve. What follows is an alphabetical list of my 15 Favorite Films from 2014 along with some comments. I had hoped to write more about them all and why I find them worth recommending but I managed to sprain my hand last week, which has limited my typing abilities so some films only get a sentence or two. That said, I hope you’ll find some of my viewing suggestions worth investigating further.

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Mind Over Matter: THE SORCERERS (1967)

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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).

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