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March 1, 2014
David Kalat
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While the City Sleeps: Hell, Yeah!

Last week’s post on Jean Renoir’s The Elusive Corporal brought to light a pocket of fans of Fritz Lang’s While the City Sleeps—and so in honor of that long-suffering cohort, this week I figured I’d properly pay tribute to one of Lang’s unsung classics.

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KEYWORDS: Dana Andrews, Fritz Lang, George Sanders, Ida Lupino, M, Vincent Price, While the City Sleeps
COMMENTS: 8
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Diabolique vs. Scream of Fear

I was gonna call this week’s post “2 Girls, 1 Swimming Pool” but decided against it.  But inspired by TCM’s upcoming screening of one of my all-time favorite thrillers, Henri Georges Clouzot’s Diabolique (AKA Les Diaboliques), I’m taking the opportunity to celebrate the twisted artistry of this gloriously macabre picture–and taking stock of one of its many knock-offs.

Clouzot’s is a dark and cynical cinema, devoid of hope and happy endings.  Which is unsurprising, since that is an equally apt description of Clouzot himself.  “All his work has been surrounded by an air of scandal and affront,” writes Roy Armes, “and the shooting of all his films is conducted in an atmosphere of bitterness and recrimination.  His own urge to dominate is perhaps reflected in his urge to dominate is perhaps reflected in his characters who seek outlets for their lust, hatred, and violence.”

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The Incredible Shrinking Woman

As our weeklong tribute to Richard Matheson nears its conclusion, I thought it was high time that someone got around to commenting on Matheson’s comedy work. The only problem is, Matheson wasn’t really a comedy writer and didn’t have much in the way of comedy work. I could have gone with The Raven, or the Buster Keaton episode of The Twilight Zone–these would all have been solid choices. But man do I have a soft spot for the 1981 Lily Tomlin vehicle The Incredible Shrinking Woman.

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Remaking the Marx Brothers

Last week I talked about a low-grade Marx Brothers outing, A Night in Casablanca, and collectively we found more than a little love for the thing. This week I approach a quite impressive Marx Brothers comedy that is unlikely to find much if any appreciation here, simply for its sin of not, y’know, actually including Groucho, Chico, and Harpo, but rather a group of imitation Marxes.

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Will the real Sherlock Holmes please stand up?

I’m going to wind up my exploration of pulp mysteries with the ultimate pulp detective of them all—Sherlock Holmes.  And for any of my regular readers, the fact that I’ve chosen Zero Effect with Bill Pullman and Ben Stiller instead of the more obvious selections like Hound of the Baskervilles shouldn’t be a surprise.  And, just like when we looked at Warren Beatty as an ersatz James Bond back in the discussion of Kaleidoscope, the only way we get to such unlikely casting is by examining an unauthorized project from the margins.

As it happens, it is that aspect of Zero Effect—its status as an authorized adaptation—that is the focal point of our story this week.  So—click to open the fold and let’s take a journey through the tangled jungle of Sherlock Holmes’ complicated rights issues.

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Hammer does Hitchcock

For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been looking at secret Hitchcock remakes—movies that may or may not have taken direct inspiration from Hitchcock’s classics, but at least pretended they didn’t.  Those films attempt to stand on their own merits, independent of any comparisons to Hitchcock that their content might invite.

But we haven’t yet addressed the thorny mess of overt Hitchcock remakes—the ones that openly identify themselves as updates of movies made by the Master of Suspense.  Somehow that makes a significant difference—and the direct comparisons are never flattering.

So when we come to something like Hammer’s 1979 version of The Lady Vanishes, not only do we have the worrisome aspect of a direct Hitchcock remake, we also have the exceedingly problematic audience expectations generated by the phrase “Hammer does Hitchcock.”

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Remaking the Three Stooge

Spread out!

Having been on a remake kick now for several weeks, I can’t pass up the opportunity to comment on the current big-screen “remake” of The Three Stooges.  The only problem is, I haven’t yet seen it (I write these blogs a week or more before they go up), so I’m not in a position to (yet) comment specifically on this particular rendition.  But remaking the Three Stooges is nothing new—the Three Stooges were always an act of continual reinvention.

The Three Stooges were a show-business anomaly, and an act comprised of paradoxes.  They hit their greatest and most enduring popularity not only long after their most creative period, but even after they had reached a de facto retirement.  They are remembered as a movie comedy troupe, created in the crucible of vaudeville, and preserved on television.  Far beyond the Cury-vs-Shemp debate, the “three” stooges, depending on how you count, number as many as 12.

Spread out!

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Remaking Metropolis

Complete but not definitive

Last year I had the privilege of participating in the Blu-Ray restoration of the restored version of Metropolis (the UK Blu-Ray edition at least, from Masters of Cinema), recording an audio commentary alongside Jonathan Rosenbaum.  It was a tremendous thrill to see this once-lost footage brought back into circulation—it makes you think that maybe anything is possible.  But for all that was positive about the experience, there was one point of frustration, centered on how the restored edition was marketed.  And to explain my contrarian position, we need to back up over eight decades and tell the convoluted story of multiple Metropoli.

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Remaking Ichikawa

Agatha Christie aficionados and detective fiction fans take note: Behind the deceptively bland title The Inugami Family lies a superb pulp mystery of the highest order–a cinematic classic that won awards, influenced a generation, and remains as thrilling today as when it was made.  Those of you who are inspired by this blog to rush out and track down an import DVD of this gem for yourself will discover that in fact, two movies with the exact same title, the same cast and makers, and pretty much the same running time and content exist.  Which makes telling the two apart a rather challenging task, to the newbie.  As with Detour recently, we are here to discuss a slavishly literal remake, only this time it’s a remake, thirty years to the day later, from the same director.  And therein lies our tale…

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Revisiting The Sting (1973) and other spoiled or “once is enough” movies

Newman and Redford

I watched this Academy Award winning Best Picture again for the first time in decades the other day and, while it’s an entertaining film that features the second & last classic pairing of acting heavyweights Paul Newman and Robert Redford, it was somewhat difficult to watch knowing the ending. There are a lot of movies that lose their “sting” after you know the outcome.

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