Grab Your Tux and Let’s Go Clubbing


Between Capitolfest and TCM’s focus on stars from the 1930s, I have discovered a newfound love for films from the Depression era. Among the many reasons for this recent interest is the imaginative, almost dream-like quality to some of the production design. I don’t know a lot about Golden Age production designers beyond recognizable names such as Cedric Gibbons and Hans Dreier, but I am beginning to understand the connection between their set designs and the overall tone or ambiance in films from this time frame.

Some of my favorite set designs are of nightclubs. Nightclubs and speakeasies boomed in America during the late 1920s, boosted by Prohibition and the liberation of women after securing the right to vote. Though clubs were regularly raided, many survived the end of Prohibition to become successful in the 1930s. Famous clubs like the Rainbow Room or the Park Avenue Club boasted elegant interiors by well-known designers, but the majority merely adopted gimmicky decorative styles to help them stand out from other clubs.


Six degrees of Wild Bunch separation


Tomorrow, TCM puts a spotlight on Warren Oates, and as tempted as I am to write about The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969) I see that fellow Morlock Greg Ferrara has covered that epic western in five different posts. So I’m taking a different tact and, instead, will take this opportunity to dust-off my copy of Alex Cox’s 10,000 Ways to Die: A Director’s Take on the Spaghetti Western. The idea here is to share with TCM readers excerpts from the six Spaghetti Westerns that Alex cross-referenced to The Wild Bunch. It’s also fitting to remind readers about Alex Cox in regards to westerns because, not only did he direct a few (ie: Straight to Hell and Walker), but he is about to launch a Kickstarter campaign for his next film: Tombstone Rashomon, which will present five radically different stories of the OK Corral Gunfight. [...MORE]

August 22, 2015
David Kalat
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The Return of Arsene Lupin Returns, Returns

This is a DVR alert for the upcoming screening of the 1938 mystery thriller Arsene Lupin Returns, starring Melvyn Douglas, Virginia Bruce and Warren Williams.  It’s a sequel to one of my all-time faves, Arsene Lupin.  I’ve raved about that gloriously brilliant 1932 Pre-Code classic several times in this blog before (and this counts as yet another rave, if you’re keeping count), generally in the context of being gobsmacked that it isn’t better known or loved.  There are so many lesser, markedly inferior films of the 1930s that garner audiences solely on the basis of technically being a “gothic horror.” The completest mindset of many horror film fans ensures that anyone who enjoys classics Dracula and Frankenstein will eventually find themselves sitting through something interminable and inexcusable like The Mask of Fu Manchu (which has the sin of being at once racist, sexist, and also boring!)  Meanwhile, Arsene Lupin rides to dizzying heights of entertainment but does so without Boris Karloff or fake cobwebs, so it gets forgotten.

(Grrr).  Anyway, stepping off my soapbox, I realize this week’s mission is a toughie.  If I find it hard to persuade people to watch the 1932 Arsene Lupin which is virtually flawless, what’s it going to take to convince them to watch its lower-budgeted 1938 Production Code-era sequel, in which none of the original cast or crew returned?


KEYWORDS: Arsene Lupin, Melvyn Douglas, Virginia Bruce, Warren William

The Matryoshka Doll Performance

In the recent Best Picture winner, Birdman, Michael Keaton plays an movie actor searching for legitimacy by mounting a Broadway adaptation of the works of Raymond Carver.  During a confrontation with another actor in the play, played by Edward Norton, Keaton’s character pretends to have had a much more troubled past than he really did.  He is doing so to fool Norton and then reveal the performance to prove that he is a far better actor than Norton thought.  That he succeeds shouldn’t be a great surprise since we already know that his character is a professional actor.  However,what about a character that isn’t and is required to fool another character?  There’s a layered effect, as we the audience may not even know where the real characters end and where the fake ones begin.  Now, to be sure, I’m not talking about an actor playing multiple roles (e.g. Alec Guinness in Kind Hearts and Coronets or Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove), I’m talking about the actual character in the movie attempting to portray someone else. Confused?  I thought so.  Here are three examples of what I’m talking about.  Let’s begin.



Mae Clarke: Frankenstein’s First Bride


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).


I’ve got a bad case of YouTuberia!


Movies are getting bigger and better these days, so they tell me, but man I just can’t get off the YouTube!  [...MORE]

Way Down East: House of Bamboo (1955)


For his last film under contract at Twentieth Century-Fox, Sam Fuller directed House of Bamboo (1955), a film noir relocated to Japan. Daryl Zanuck took Harry Kleiner’s screenplay for The Street With No Name (’48) and dropped it in Fuller’s lap, inviting him to remake it on location in Tokyo. Shot in CinemaScope and Deluxe color, it is Fuller’s most beautiful film, and the new Blu-ray from Twilight Time (available for purchase at Screen Archives) looks flawless. Clearly inspired by his surroundings, and backed by an A-picture budget, Fuller works variations on the slashing lines of slatted bamboo curtains, sliding doors, and the increasingly vertical Tokyo cityscape, ending in a justifiably famous rooftop amusement park ride, a deadly trip around Saturn’s rings.


Capitolfest: The Best Film Festival You’ve Never Heard Of


Every year in August, all roads lead to Rome—Rome, New York, that is. For three days, the historic Capitol Theatre in downtown Rome hosts an amazing film festival that is a showcase for rarely exhibited films of the silent and early sound eras. All of the 18 features and 9 shorts and cartoons shown at Capitolfest 13 last weekend were projected in 35mm by carbon-arc, variable-speed projectors. I had almost forgotten how deep and rich celluloid black can be, or the subtle differences in the gray scale, until I saw the first film, The Flying Ace, projected onto the Capitol’s big screen.


When a Villain’s Not a Villain

Tonight TCM airs the classic sci-fi social commentary, The Day the Earth Stood Still, in which an alien named Klaatu comes down to visit us earthlings with his robot Gort and lets us know we’re becoming a problem.  That is, the earth and its development of nuclear weapons is a problem because, I don’t know, somehow having atomic bombs means we might soon destroy the galaxy, I guess.  They didn’t really have a great understanding of how puny a nuclear weapon was in the face of a galaxy back then (heck, even when a massive nuclear fusion furnace like a star goes supernova, it still doesn’t wipe out a galaxy) but more to the point, who does this Klaatu think he is?  I mean, we’re the villains?  We’re building big bombs and if we don’t stop, Klaatu and his friends will destroy us, killing billions?!  And we’re the bad guys here?  I don’t think so.  Sometimes, the movies make out someone to be the bad guy while ignoring the real villain right under our nose.



August 15, 2015
David Kalat
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Smells Like Teen Spirit: the Grease Sing-a-Long

TCM is partnering this month with Fathom Events to present exclusive theatrical screenings of the Grease Sing-A-Long in select theaters August 16 and 19 only (buy tickets by clicking this link). For those of you who like me grew up in the 1970s and early 1980s this will be a fun walk down memory lane and a chance in indulge in some groovy nostalgia. For younger readers, this can be a chance at some cinematic archeology—an opportunity to explore a baffling oddity, a fragment of pop culture from some alternate universe that broke off from its parallel dimension and jabbed through a rift in time and space into our own unsuspecting world. Put simply, Grease is v. weird.


KEYWORDS: Fathom Events, Grease, John Travolta, Olivia Newton John
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