As we approach the anniversary of 9/11, I do at least have some good news to report. No, international terrorism is still a thing. Violence still reigns across Iraq, Afghanistan, the Gaza strip, and Ukraine. Injustice and racism still festers here at home, and the income gap widens. But… on this September 11, TCM is gonna run the 1938 Arense Lupin Returns, and if you’re too impatient to wait until then, you can go to Warner Archive and get a DVD double feature of that delightful treat and its even more fabulous predecessor, the Pre-Code gem Arsene Lupin. So, there are silver linings, if you know where to look.
Now that the announcement has been made official I can go ahead and ‘fess up: I recently recorded an audio commentary for the newly restored Cabinet of Dr. Caligari for the UK Blu-Ray release by Masters of Cinema. It was a huge thrill for me—I’d been wanting to do a Caligari commentary for years and no one had asked me yet. But not only was it a chance to finally yammer my way through Robert Wiene’s masterwork, but this new restoration is simply stunning—it’s from the original 35mm negative. Looks like it was shot yesterday.
And seeing this film fresh makes all the difference in the world, because there are so many myths and misconceptions about Caligari that need clearing up. Like, that this film is some kind of avant garde work of art. Because (ahem) it’s not.
Séance on a Wet Afternoon, the chilling 1964 British classic by Bryan Forbes, will be on TCM in the middle of the night tonight. It’s a must-see. It is not, however, my favorite screen adaptation of Mark McShane’s novel. That honor goes to Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s version, which effortlessly turned this mid-century British ghost story into a work of 21st century J-Horror, largely because Kurosawa hadn’t seen Forbes’ must-see version.
There are some directors who make their breakout hits early in their careers. Their landmark films announce the arrival of an important new talent by showcasing distinctive visual or thematic ideas—but these marks of distinction can also serve to limit that filmmaker’s future growth. Their subsequent films can’t help but be compared to their early classics, and after a while they risk being accused of simply repeating familiar motifs, cobbling together pastiches and Greatest Hits collections.
Not Alfred Hitchcock. Not only did his later works like Marnie or Topaz veer wildly away from anything in that career that preceded them, it’s in his early films that we find what might be called pastiches—only these are pastiches not of past glories, but patchworks of the masterpieces yet unmade.
Consider Secret Agent. It’s a 1936 wartime spy thriller (bet you couldn’t guess that from the title, huh?) based on some stories by Somerset Maugham, and made for Michael Balcon and Ivor Montagu during Hitch’s British period.
It is by no means one of Hitchcock’s greats—even in 1936, it was only voted the fifth best British movie. But it’s a template for almost everything great Hitchcock did after it.
There is a secret conspiracy that rules the world.
This hidden power can make or break a fortune at a moment’s whim. It decrees the rise and fall of nations. It chooses who lives, and who dies.
There are some—like the heroic British spy with a number for a name, or the alluring Mata Hari-like international woman of mystery he keeps running into—who think they can use the tools of surveillance, cryptography, and overall spookcraft to expose this obscure force and save the world.
Wanna know a secret? This secret power—he’s a banker. You can Occupy Wall Street all you want: the Great Banker is the spider at the heart of this massive web, and he will outlast you all.
So, yeah, for a silent movie made in Germany in 1928, there’s a lot going on here. You can play along at home if you want when TCM runs this later tonight.
Mike Nichols was a veteran comedy director of stage and screen, not to mention a comedy performer of no small renown. He would go on to become of the few people to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and a Tony (the fabled EGOT)—all but the Emmy being won for his comedy work.
Buck Henry was a prolific comedy writer whose career had taken him from the writing staff of The Steve Allen Show to co-creating Get Smart with Mel Brooks to updating Howard Hawks’ screwball classic Bringing Up Baby for a new generation under the title What’s Up Doc? In the years to come he would become a recurring host of Saturday Night Live, a contributor to The Daily Show and a guest star on 30 Rock.
Together they had collaborated on The Graduate, and Catch 22. They had a contractual obligation to producer Joseph E. Levine for a third film—and so in 1973 Mike Nichols and Buck Henry made a paranoid conspiracy thriller about a plot to use talking dolphins to assassinate the President. This is a not a joke.
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on December 26, 2013
The holidays can be a very difficult time for some. I know from firsthand experience that when you don’t have any family to rely on or any kind of financial security to speak of Christmas can feel like a national nightmare inhabited by drunken revelers, crazed shoppers and merciless merchants. This is only compounded by what author Anthony Trollope once called “the perils of winter.” More folks tend to die during the winter months than any other time of the year so when you’re coping with the death of a loved one or a life threatening illness the pressure to remain “merry and bright” can become wearisome and demoralizing. I mention all of this because one of my favorite telefilms seems to perfectly capture the darker aspects of the holidays that are so often swept under the rug. Throughout 2013 I’ve spotlighted a few of my favorite made-for-TV movies so it seems appropriate to conclude this unofficial series with a look at HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS (1972), a surprisingly grim and suspenseful Christmas themed thriller that also happens to star Eleanor Parker who recently passed away at the age of 91.
Posted by David Kalat on September 14, 2013
A while back, when I was preparing the audio commentary for To Be Or Not To Be, I found myself making repeated allusions and references to Foreign Correspondent. The more I made them, the more I found them not just useful but essential–and before long I had started to discover an entire network of deep structure connecting the two films. Not all of that was relevant to a discussion of To Be Or Not To Be, and the commentary track was already overstuffed so I had to jettison some material. This month’s celebration of Hitchcock seems a perfect opportunity to explore Foreign Correspondent‘s secret twinship with To Be Or Not To Be. (Sorry I couldn’t align this with last week’s cablecast of Foreign Correspondent–I wanted to get the Edwin S. Porter post in as close to the start of The Story of Film cycle as possible)
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on July 25, 2013
He promised he’d buy me a fairing should please me,
British director Terence Fisher is best known for his work with Hammer Films but before he started making movies for the studio that dripped blood, Fisher edited and co-directed a number of films for Gainsborough Pictures. One of his most accomplished early directorial efforts is SO LONG AT THE FAIR (1950) starring a very young Jean Simmons and Dirk Bogarde. This absorbing thriller isn’t available on DVD in the US but SO LONG AT THE FAIR will air this coming Sunday (July 28th) on TCM at 7:15 PM PST and 10:15 PM EST. Fans of well-acted period dramas and good gothic mysteries should consider tuning in but the film will be of particular interest to anyone curious about the origins of modern British horror cinema.
Posted by David Kalat on December 8, 2012
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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