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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I Already Miss Them

Back in the seventies, eighties, and nineties, many of Hollywood’s classic stars began to pass on to that great gig in the sky.  Fred Astaire left us in 1987, Cary Grant a few months prior in 1986.  Earlier that year, Cagney left us, too. Bette Davis hung on until 1989, Barbara Stanwyck until 1990. Gene Kelly made it to 1996, Jimmy Stewart, 1997, and Katharine Hepburn didn’t go until 2003.  Luise Rainer showed amazing longevity by living to the age of 104, not passing until just last year, 2014.  The year before was Joan Fontaine, in 2013, and her sister, Olivia De Havilland is still with us, as of this writing, at 98.  And I loved all of them, to one degree or another, as they made up the bright lights in classic cinema’s firmament.  But when they left us, I felt a sadness detached from the personal sadness you feel when you’ve known someone your whole life, that is, when you grew up with them.  When I think of the actors I grew up with, the ones I saw regularly on the screen at all the first run movies I was seeing at the theater, and how, very soon, many of them will be passing on, too, it fills me with a different kind of feeling altogether.  I already miss them but I don’t want to mourn them, I want to celebrate them.

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March 14, 2015
David Kalat
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Walt Disney Down South

Walt Disney had a problem. Technically, he had several problems, but they were all knotted up with each other like a set of headphones that had been left too long in someone’s pocket (great metaphor, huh? That’s why they pay me the big bucks).

And his response to this problem was in many ways mean-spirited and venal, cheap and short-sighted. But listen, Walt Disney is one of my heroes. He didn’t have the luxury of seeing the future, of knowing how his decisions would pan out. He did what he could to keep his studio alive, and while I might wish he had made some different choices, I also get why he did what he did.

And thanks to his choices—good, bad, or indifferent they may have been—he seeded to the world a deliriously weird film called The Three Caballeros. This oddity will be on later this week. You have to rearrange your schedules to see it. Cancel your plans, turn your phones off.

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KEYWORDS: Donald Duck, The Reluctant Dragon, The Three Caballeros, Walt Disney
COMMENTS: 7
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I Know That Actor From This One Movie

Many times when I watch a movie, I’m more than familiar with all the actors involved.  Oh, not every single actor, mind you, not the dozen or so with a line or two, but every supporting player and lead.   Especially if it’s a big movie, with a big budget, most of the important roles are filled by actors familiar to the audience.  Now a smaller, low budget or independently produced movie, on the other hand, might be filled with actors I don’t know and never will.   And so throughout a movie-watching career, I’ve built up a number of actors that I know, primarily, for one movie.  They might not be one-hit wonders (or they may be) but as far as I’m concerned, that’s all they’ve ever done.  On the TCM schedule tonight is a prime example of that for me, a Best Picture winner no less, filled with actors that I know, pretty much, just from that one movie, Oliver!  And there are so many others.

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Bold! Noble! Daring! BATWOMAN (1968)

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After writing about the 1943 BATMAN serial last week that is currently airing on TCM Saturday mornings (7 AM PST/10 AM EST) I was motivated to revisit one of my favorite Batman spoofs, THE BATWOMAN aka LA MUJER MURCIELAGO (1968). This fun, inventive and outlandish interpretation of the Batman mythos directed by the prolific Mexploitation filmmaker René Cardona, replaces our heroic masked man with a heroic masked woman who solves crimes, rights wrongs and fights for justice in an unjust world.

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This Week on TCM Underground: THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (1976)

The Town that Dreaded Sundown

A hooded killer strikes terror into the heart of post-World War II Texarkana…

THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (1976). Cast: Ben Johnson (Captain J. D. Morales), Andrew Prine (Deputy Norman Ramsey), Dawn Wells (Helen Reed), Jimmy Clem (Sergeant Mel Griffin), Jim Citty (Police Chief  R. J. Sullivan), Charles B. Pierce (Patrolman A. C. Benson, called “Spark Plug”), Robert Aquino (Sheriff Otis Barker), Cindy Butler (Peggy Loomis), Mason Andres (Reverend Harden), Earl E. Smith (Dr. Kress), Vern Stierman (Narrator), Bud Davis (The Phantom Killer). Director: Charles B. Pierce. Producer: Charles B. Pierce. Executive Producer: Samuel Z. Arkoff. Screenplay: Earl E. Smith. Music: Jaime Mendoza Nava. Cinematography: James W. Roberson. Color — 90 min. Showtime: Saturday March 14 11:00pm PST/2:00am EST

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Border Incidents: Ride the Pink Horse (1947) and The Hanged Man (1964)

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“He hadn’t wanted to come here. He’d wanted it less and less as the bus traveled further across the wasteland; miles of nothing, just land, empty land. Land that didn’t get anywhere except into more land, and always against the sky the unmoving barrier of mountains. It was like moving into a trap, a trap you couldn’t get out of. Because no matter how you tried, no matter how far you traveled, you’d always be stopped by the rigid mountains. He didn’t like it at all when they moved into this town, his destination. Because this was the center of the trap; it was a long way back to civilization in any direction. The thing to do was get out quick.” – Ride the Pink Horse, by Dorothy B. Hughes

 

Ride the Pink Horse is a grim procedural of hate. Published in 1946, it was Dorothy B. Hughes’ ninth novel, and second to be adapted into a film, following The Fallen Sparrow (1943). A cynical gunman named Sailor travels to a remote New Mexico town during their yearly “Fiesta”, a Southwestern Mardi Gras. He is tracking down his former mentor “The Sen”, a corrupt ex-Senator, for shakedown money. Sailor is a single-minded racist brute, circling the small town in ritualistic repetitions, until the map of the main square is in ingrained in your head (one of the early Dell paperback editions included a map on the back anyway). Sailor is an outsider, and no matter how often he treads the city’s streets, it continues to constrict slowly around him. Robert Montgomery’s 1947 movie adaptation for Universal-International alters many of the plot details, but captures the doomed fatalism of Hughes’ work. Typecast as a light romantic comedy lead, Montgomery took on greater risks as a director, starting with the POV experiments of Lady in the Lake (1947) and continuing through the elaborate crane shots orchestrated by DP Russell Metty in Ride the Pink Horse. It has been a certified cult film ever since Jean Cocteau programmed it at the Festival du Film Maudit in Biarritz in 1949, but it has been hard to see until next week, March 17th, when the Criterion Collection releases it on DVD and Blu-ray.

But this was not the only adaptation of Ride the Pink Horse. In 1964 Don Siegel directed the telefilm The Hanged Man for NBC, after his adaptation of Hemingway’s The Killers was pulled from broadcast, deemed too “spicy, expensive and violent for TV screens.” This time he got his project on the air — the second made-for-TV movie ever shown. The setting is relocated to New Orleans during Mardi Gras, emphasizing the choked streets and vibrant colors that Robert Culp and Edmond O’Brien wander through with clenched determination.

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Tracy & Hepburn, Bogart & Bacall, Powell & Loy, and . . . . Sothern & Raymond?

blogwalkingI am enjoying the films associated with TCM’s Star of the Month for March, Ann Sothern. Every Wednesday night, TCM will air a number of Sothern movies, totaling 35 in all. Though primarily b-movies or series, these titles are delightful precisely because they are b-movies. Often, the b’s are completely dependent on the charms of the stars to overcome the simplistic storylines, mediocre songs, and limited sets. Sothern enlivened many a film because of her sassy persona and stylish look, particularly romantic comedies.

Among the films selected are five that Sothern made during the Depression with forgotten leading man Gene Raymond. In the 1930s, the use of romantic teams became a casting strategy for studios, a practice they continued throughout the Golden Age. A successful pairing generated twice the box office because fans of the individual actors as well as devotees of the romantic team came to see the films. Today’s classic-movie lovers are familiar with the most famous movie couples—Astaire and Rogers, Tracy and Hepburn, Bogart and Bacall, Powell and Loy—while dozens of other romantic teams have long since been forgotten.

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Requested Snapshots from the Archive

Bowery Boys Meet the Monster

Two weeks ago I sniffed around the Entertainment Industry Magazine Archive. Although the trial access period expired last Friday, I did snag a handful of screen-grabs for films that will be playing on TCM, and that were suggested to me by readers. The films are: Crooner, The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters, The Hoodlum, The Bat Whispers, Convention City, and a request for an original review for London After Midnight. As my access to the EIMA archive expired on Friday, I was unable to act upon anything after that. But here’s what I did find: [...MORE]

Harold Lloyd
March 7, 2015
David Kalat
Posted by:

Harold Lloyd 101

On a recent business trip, I took my team out to dinner and had some fun telling them some of the absurdly implausible anecdotes from my peripatetic life (I was bit by a giraffe! Picasso’s lover bought my daughter a toy! I accidentally imprinted myself on a pair of doves and they followed me around for months! I was almost arrested by Homeland Security! I hung up on Hollywood mega-producer Roy Lee because I thought he was a telemarketer!) Eventually I got around to one of my favorite anecdotes:

After completing work on American Slapstick Volume 2, I wanted to donate the Harold Lloyd materials to the Harold Lloyd Trust. I called them up, explained what I had, and offered to give them the film elements and the digital transfers. The Trust representative thanked me, and said that someone would be by later that afternoon to pick them up.

Come again? I live in the Chicago suburbs—the Harold Lloyd Trust is based in Los Angeles. How were they gonna have someone swing by in a few hours of the same day I called them? Did Lloyd’s heirs operate some freaky black ops helicopters, ready to deploy anywhere at anytime? Actually, it turned out that one of Lloyd’s heirs happened to live nearby, and it was just a convenient coincidence.

My colleagues listened to this story and then hit me with a punchline I hadn’t been expecting: “Who’s Harold Lloyd?”

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KEYWORDS: Harold Lloyd
COMMENTS: 11
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