Big Horror or Little Horror

Today is Friday the 13th and that means absolutely nothing to me.  Seriously, nothing.  But for a lot of people, it means bad luck and for some other people, it means horror, principally because of a series of horror movies titled after this illustrious and ultimately meaningless combination of day and date that happens every so often in a calendar year.   When I think of those horror movies, the Friday the 13th ones, I mean, I think Little Horror.  When I think of Poltergeist, airing today on TCM, I think Big Horror.   Little Horror and Big Horror have absolutely nothing to do with quality and everything to do with budget and effects.  Sometimes, I like one, sometimes the other.  But no matter which I may like on any given Friday the 13th, I always pretty much believe little horror is the right way to go about it.  Let’s look at this a little more closely.



Oliver Reed at 77: A Conversation


Tune into TCM on Febuary 20th to catch Oliver Reed in OLIVER! directed by his uncle, Carol Reed.

Feb. 13th marks what would have been Oliver Reed’s 77th birthday if he was still with us. Reed died in 1999 but he has long been one of my favorite actors so to honor his memory I decided to contact filmmaker Kent Adamson who worked with Oliver Reed in the 1980s and is friendly with the actor’s son (Mark). What follows is a lengthy Q&A where Kent generously shares his own recollections and thoughts about the actor’s life and career. I hope you’ll enjoy reading our exchange as much as I enjoyed taking part in it.


O Pioneers… of African-American Cinema! Help Kino-Lorber tell the story of the first black filmmakers!

African-American Pioneers

The New York City-based Kino International has come a long way, baby, since its founding in 1977. Always pure-of-heart and forever steadfast in its dedication to releasing to the home theater marketplace films of artistic or historic significance, Kino had the reputation for many years of being worthwhile but stodgy. The films were important, yes (when nobody else had James Whale’s THE OLD DARK HOUSE, Kino had James Whale’s THE OLD DARK HOUSE), and we were grateful, but the presentation could be workmanlike, unexciting, the transfers offered in “as is” condition, with little to no supplemental shotgun. In the boom days of DVD, with so much bonus material handed out like Halloween treats by such niche market independents as Anchor Bay, Image Entertainment, Blue Underground, Synapse Films, NoShame Films, Severin Films, Dark Sky Films (to name but a few), Kino seemed still to be putting out the ribbon candy. One gratefully accepted soberly packaged copies of, say, A WINTER TAN (1987) or THE 1,000 EYES OF DR. MABUSE (1960) and said “Thank you you very much, Grandma” and then ran outside to play with HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981) or THE TOOL BOX MURDERS (1977) because hey had all the cool toys. While Kino will never have the deep pockets of other companies, they have tried to lift their game, and it is not at all uncommon these days for a Kino release to hit the street with a kickass audio commentary (coughTHE DEVIL BATcough, coughTHE DEATH KISS cough) to sweeten the deal. But something even newer and more exciting is brewing behind closed doors at Kino-Lorber, as the company is more properly known (it’s a merger thing, don’t sweat the details) and we can all be a part of making it happen.   [...MORE]

Luck of the Draw: Wild Card (2015)

Wild Card Movie (4)


I take comfort in Jason Statham. For more than a decade now he has been taking his shirt off in modestly budgeted action movies, ones that usually open in the first quarter of the year. These are the months of low expectations for studios, in which they release films they don’t deem worthy of expensive marketing campaigns, usually made up of genre films of low birth. These are the months, and the films, where Statham has found his niche as a leading man (he has been in blockbusters in supporting parts, as in The Expendables franchise and the forthcoming Furious 7 and Spy). They are directed by journeymen with titles as blunt as their plots: Homefront, Redemption, Parker, Safe, and The Mechanic. They are all about lone men with particular sets of fibula cracking skills, though Statham has made simpler, lower-budgeted projects since his work with the operatic Luc Besson on The Transporter series (2002 – 2008) and the ADD-aggro Crank films (2006 – 2009). Since filming The Mechanic (2011) in New Orleans, Statham and his producing partner Steve Chasman have followed the tax credits, forming their movies around which city gave them the best deal to shoot. This economic incentive has made for atmospheric, enclosed action films that allows for such absurdities as shooting Philadelphia-for-New York City in Safe. Statham is asserting more control over his work, and his latest feature, Wild Card, is the first made for his own production company, SJ Pictures. Released day-and-date in late January on VOD and very limited theatrical, it seems to have already disappeared without a trace. But it’s a low key charmer, an episodic tour through the dregs of Las Vegas society (partly filmed in, yes, New Orleans) that’s less action movie than a downbeat character piece with brief flashes of violence to keep the fans happy.


Searching for Old Hollywood–Postcards of Movie Star Homes

DSC03642In my imagination, I can see the Hollywood of long ago when film industry insiders referred to their mansion-lined streets as the Colony. I see glamorous movie stars dancing at the Cocoanut Grove, old-school studio execs drinking cocktails in the Hollywood Roosevelt’s Tropicana Bar, and hungry starlets sharing bungalow apartments in Spanish-style, u-shaped buildings. Whenever I visit Hollywood during the TCM Classic Film Festival, I search in vain for any remnants of this fleeting bygone era.

My attachment to Old Hollywood is behind my new passion for postcards of movie star homes. I stumbled across my first cards in an antique shop in southern Ohio, and I have been hooked ever since. Produced in series, these colorful linen postcards picturing the stars and their homes were issued from the 1930s through the 1950s. Many series were issued by the Western Publishing and Novelty Co., whose premier design included a portrait of the star in the corner of the card. One series produced cards slightly smaller than typical postcard size probably because they were sold in packets. The M. Kashower Co. was one of the older companies that produced postcards, many during the 1920s. If you find cards from Kashower, they are likely older and worth more. Other companies included the Tichnor Art Co., the Reed Robinson Co., and the Longshaw Card Co., which also used the star portrait design. Longshaw also produced postcards of the movie studios. Just like the stars of the Golden Age were larger than life, so their homes are rich in lore and legend.



The Birds

TCM viewers can watch Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) this upcoming Friday the 13th. I’d also urge anyone that might be reading this who lives near Boulder, Colorado, to come see it on 35mm (March 12th) when it screens as part of the International Film Series. For the latter screening I’ve recruited one of my poker buddies, Paul Gordon, to do a special introduction and Q&A for the film. Gordon teaches a popular “Hitchcock and Freud” class at C.U. Boulder, and is the author of the recent Dial ‘M’ for Mother book. Paul was kind enough to take some time to field some questions that might be of interest to Hitchcock fans. [...MORE]

February 7, 2015
David Kalat
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Masters of Screwball Part 1: Sturges before Sturges

Jean Arthur is a writer for the Boy’s Constant Companion.

No, Jean Arthur is an actress, and in the movie Easy Living she plays a writer for the Boy’s Constant Companion, but let’s not get bogged down in such hairsplitting. In any event, she barely holds that job and is fired early in the film. It wasn’t much of a job anyway–the harridan spinsters who policed that magazine must have been insufferable coworkers.

But it paid the rent. Well, no it didn’t–she’s behind in her $7 a week rent when we first meet her, and has only a single dime for her bus fare, so it’s not like the job was some fabulous boondoggle. But things are tough all over–haven’t you heard there’s a Depression on? Of course, if times are so tough, how to explain the fur coat that just dropped out of the sky onto her head?


KEYWORDS: Easy Living, Jean Arthur, Mitchell Leisen, Preston Sturges

Going Outside the Association

Tonight on TCM (late tonight) a classic from James Whale airs and it’s one of my favorites.  No, it’s  not Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, The Bride of Frankenstein or even Old Dark House.  It’s The Man in the Iron Mask and it’s an excellent adaptation of the famous story by Alexandre Dumas though it’s rarely thought of when one thinks of Whale’s career as a director.  That’s because even though Whale did more non-horror movies than he did horror, he is associated with horror far more than any other genre.  Other non-horror classics he directed are Waterloo Bridge in 1931 and Showboat in 1936, both excellent versions of those stories.  Still, it’s the horror movies that stick.   But if I had to rank the best non-horror Whale movie, it would be The Man in the Iron Mask, which may or may not have to do with the fact that I love pretty much any version of Dumas’ work brought to the screen.   But it also has to do with Whale’s skill behind the camera and and, sometimes, picking a director’s greatest movie outside that director’s associated genre can be an interesting exercise in understanding the director’s talents.



Laugh Riot: I’LL GIVE A MILLION (1938)

mill0Tonight TCM is devoting its 31 Days of Oscar programming to the year 1938. Films on the schedule include Best Picture nominees THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938), YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU (1938), FOUR DAUGHTERS (1938) and BOY’S TOWN (1938). Today also happens to be actor John Carradine’s birthday.

Carradine doesn’t appear in any of the films airing on TCM tonight he did make nine movies in 1938 including I’LL GIVE A MILLION, which I recently watched for the first time. I’LL GIVE A MILLION might not be Oscar material or worthy of the tagline “The Laugh Riot of the Century!” that accompanied trade ads for the film but it does feature two Oscar winning actors (Warner Baxter and Jean Hersholt) and includes two amusing comical performances from Peter Lorre and birthday boy John Carradine. So in keeping with TCM’s 1938 theme and in honor of the late great John Carradine I thought I’d shine a little light on this depression-era comedy directed by Walter Lang.


This week on TCM Underground: NOTHING

TCM Underground Wish List

We all know what February brings at Turner Classic Movies: “31 Days of Oscar Malarkey.” (Quoted from memory – that may not be the actual phrase.) Yep, nothing but award winners for four solid weeks. Don’t get me wrong — awarding-winning films are great and some of my favorites took home a statuette or two in their day. I watch CITIZEN KANE (1941) and CASABLANCA (1942) with the regularity of guilty pleasures and I’m just as apt to get jiggy with BABETTE’S FEAST (1987) as BLOOD FEAST (1963)… but in clearing space for all of these classics, TCM has asked TCM Underground to make itself scarce for a while. Tune in at midnight this Saturday night and you’ll be looking at MRS. MINIVER (1942) and THE GREAT DICTATOR (1940) where ROLLER BOOGIE (1977) and PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959) might normally hang. And, okay, fine — that gives us all the opportunity to head on over to Svengoolie’s place without feeling as though we’re cheating on TCM but, man, it’s tough not having access to our regular clubhouse. So as we bide our time, and because I now have nothing to blog about for four weeks, I present to you my Totally Kickass TCM Underground Wish List. [...MORE] is the official blog for TCM. No topic is too obscure or niche to be excluded from our film discussions. And we welcome your comments on our blogs and bloggers.
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