There are times when the received wisdom on a movie separates from the movie itself and starts to run down a track of its own. Consider “Play it again, Sam,” the Thing Everybody Knows about Casablanca even though that line is never spoken in the film. Thinking that’s a line in Casablanca is a trivial error with no real consequences—the sentiment is recognizable from the film, such that it can be true-ish if not strictly accurate.
But then there’s the strange case of Dr. Caligari. Somewhere along the line, the Thing Everybody Knows about this landmark classic of horror cinema took root in our culture like intellectual kudzu—quickly overtaking all available territory and choking to death all the alternative points of view. Thankfully, this remarkable film is making a mini-comeback thanks to some intrepid restorationists, affording an opportunity to rethink its legacy. (Plus it’s on TCM this Sunday, so now’s the time to read up and do our homework on it, right?)
Posted by Susan Doll on June 8, 2015
Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, and Dashiell Hammett are the triumvirate of noir writers hailed not only for their hard-boiled novels but also for their work as scriptwriters and script doctors during the Golden Age. No one can dispute their importance and influence, but those hallowed names tend to overshadow other writers who contributed to hard-boiled literature and the film noir genre.
I recently stumbled across an old interview conducted by film programmer Tom Flinn with writer Daniel Mainwaring. I knew little about Mainwaring save for his association with two of my favorite films from the 1950s—Out of the Past and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I didn’t even know his name was pronounced “Man-a-ring,” not “Main-wearing.” But after sifting through Flinn’s interview, I was inspired to poke around Mainwaring’s life and career. While his work was not exclusive to the noir genre, I believe it echoed the paranoia and disillusionment that simmered beneath the bright, shiny surface of the 1950s.
Like many Hollywood personnel who rose through the ranks during the Golden Age, Mainwaring experienced an interesting life, which fed into his writing. As a fresh-faced college grad in the Roaring ‘20s, he worked the crime beat for the L.A. Examiner. Around 1935, he made the transition to the film industry, starting at the bottom in the Warner Bros. publicity department. He always claimed that working in the publicity racket gave him an insider’s understanding of the Hollywood dream factory.
Posted by Pablo Kjolseth on May 31, 2015
A few weeks ago I had a conversation with Tim Kirk, producer of Room 237, The Nightmare, and other titles. We talked about commentary tracks because he is releasing something called Director’s Commentary: Terror of Frankenstein. The normal order of business would be to simply re-release Terror of Frankenstein (Calvin Floyd, 1977), and then add a commentary track as a bonus. Sadly, the only existing elements that remain for Terror of Frankenstein are sketchy at best and not worth revisiting in and of themselves. A serendipitous conversation, however, between Kirk and Terror of Frankenstein star Leon Vitali opened the door to a mysterious world behind Floyd’s surprisingly faithful adaption of Mary Shelley’s story. Given Vitali’s work with Stanley Kubrick, he is already the subject of a few conspiracy theories himself, but what Vitali reveals in his commentary track to Terror of Frankenstein suggests that method-acting can go too far. It might even lead to murder. [...MORE]
Posted by Susan Doll on September 16, 2013
Along with Battleship Potemkin and Citizen Kane, Dr. Caligari is a staple in many introductory film courses, including mine. I am not exaggerating when I say that I have seen this story of a madman who manipulates a sleepwalker into killing for him well over 100 times. I was sad to discover that it is slated for 2:15am EST, forcing those who want to catch it to set their DV-Rs or other time-shifting devices. Given its importance, it deserves to kick off the evening’s programming.
Posted by David Kalat on July 13, 2013
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.
Posted by Susan Doll on July 8, 2013
A blogathon by TCM’s Movie Morlocks has been long overdue, and no topic seemed more appropriate than the work of novelist and screenwriter Richard Matheson. Saddened by his passing on June 23, we wanted to express our admiration and appreciation by exploring his novels, films, and television shows. Matheson has been narrowly pegged as a genre writer because of his celebrated forays into horror and science fiction, but his lengthy career has actually yielded a diverse body of work. The range of that writing will be revealed as we examine his stories, novels, and films throughout the week.
Richard Matheson began writing during the early 1950s, penning his first major success in 1956 with The Shrinking Man. When Universal wanted to adapt the novel for the big screen, he agreed on the condition that he write the screenplay for what became The Incredible Shrinking Man. Next Saturday, Morlock David Kalat will re-visit the updated version of the story, The Incredible Shrinking Woman, starring Lily Tomlin. In 1959, Matheson, who had always wanted to write for the movies, began collaborating with Roger Corman on a series of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, including The Pit and Pendulum, which Shannon Clute discusses next Sunday. Dovetailing nicely with Matheson’s collaborations with Corman on the big screen was his work on the iconic television anthology series The Twilight Zone. He became the third most prolific scriptwriter for the show, after Rod Serling and head scribe Charles Beaumont. R. Emmett Sweeney examines Matheson’s TZ career tomorrow, focusing on the episode “Steel” from Season 5. In the 1970s, Matheson mastered the telefilm when the format was at its peak of popularity and creativity. He wrote The Night Strangler, Trilogy of Terror, and my favorite, The Night Stalker, among others. Greg Ferrara discusses what is arguably Matheson’s best telefilm, Duel—and young Steven Spielberg’s first feature-length effort. Kimberly Limbergs reveals that Matheson’s work was not exclusive to Hollywood by examining Les seins de grace, a French thriller about a female killer based on his novel Someone Is Bleeding. Most know Matheson as a writer of horror and science fiction; on Friday, R. H. Smith reveals why the author deserves his stellar reputation in those genres in his article on Hell House and The Legend of Hell House.
Posted by David Kalat on September 1, 2012
Alone among the great silent comics, Harold Lloyd stood at the exact intersection of slapstick and screwball, at the intersection of physical comedy and dialogue. Harold Lloyd, you see, made a film with Preston Sturges. It was neither man’s greatest hour, but the mere fact of its existence is breathtaking. It’s like finding Ernst Lubitsch directing Charlie Chaplin, or Blake Edwards directing Laurel and Hardy.
Let’s take stock of this for a minute: we have one of the greatest physical comedians of the entire silent era—a man whose work bequeathed to posterity one of the most enduring icons of what silent comedy was all about—yet who is also preternaturally comfortable with the world of talkies. He is paired with a visionary of the new dialogue school of comedy—yet one who has an enduring appreciation of the values of silent comedy. They are going to collaborate as equals on a film that will be made without studio interference. If there is ever going to be a moment when the old guard of silent comedians are going to function uncompromised in this new world of screwball, then there could be no better opportunity than this.
Posted by Susan Doll on July 16, 2012
Before the deaths of Andy Griffith and Ernest Borgnine dealt a double blow to Baby Boomers who have fond memories of both actors, Nora Ephron passed away from leukemia. Boomers grew up on the television series of Griffith and Borgnine, and the latter costarred in a number of landmark films of the 1950s and 1960s, which accounts for the outpouring of genuine sentiment at their passing. As a screenwriter and director, Ephron was not in a position to inspire that level of collective grief. But, her career deserves an evaluation or assessment, because she was one of the few women directors in Hollywood.
Prior to poking around a bit for this article, I did not know a lot about Ephron. I have never used one of her films in any of my classes, and, truth be told, I did not find her to be a dynamic director. Her scripts may be rich in humorous observations and witty exchanges between characters, but her directorial efforts were uneven to say the least. The best of them were adequately directed and enhanced by star turns (Sleepless in Seattle; Julie & Julia); the worst (Mixed Nuts; Bewitched) suffered from static blocking, sluggish pacing, and poor staging of the physical comedy. However, as I looked into Ephron’s career, I realized that I was wrong to short-change her. After all, her scripts and characters represent a style of film humor that is far more sophisticated and universal than today’s clunky, crude comedies targeted to males or the flat, offensive chick flicks aimed at girls. Ephron’s perspective as a mature, contemporary woman represents a voice or point of view that adult women can recognize and relate to; yet, it does not alienate other factions of the audience. Ephron did not make chick flicks—instead, she wrote and directed comedies with female protagonists that had something to say. Her films offer universal observations, perspectives, and themes about relationships that are relevant to both genders and most age groups—much like the intended audience for movies during previous eras of Hollywood.
Posted by David Kalat on July 14, 2012
When you’re wrong, you’re wrong. And I was wrong.
I figured the breakout thriller to see in 1995 was going to be Copycat. I know, I know, but hear me out—I wasn’t alone. A lot of industry press at the time leaned the same way. The previews for Copycat made it look like Silence of the Lambs meets Thelma and Louise, and it has Sigourney Weaver in it. Actually, that’s about all I can say—I never did see Copycat, which puts me squarely in the majority.
Instead, when my wife Julie and I decided to go to the theater, she insisted on Seven instead (or Se7en, if I’m going to follow the conventions of Video Watchdog, which I might as well). She advocated loudly, strongly, and effectively for Se7en, and god bless her for it.
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