John Gilbert

Watched Downstairs last night, from 1932, in which John Gilbert is incredibly convincing as a vile, thieving, conniving lowlife of a chauffeur with no redeeming virtues whatsoever. Weird choice of role for a leading man with a career on the rocks, weirder still that he’d written the story himself and wanted to do it so badly he sold it to MGM for a dollar. Gilbert is ridiculously good in it, his attention to detail verges on fanatical—the character picks his nose and wipes it on his clothes, ferchrissakes—and his voice is fine. He did not have a squeaky voice, despite the legend. He did have a fight with Louis B Mayer, tho’. Combine that with a thirst for drink worthy of John Barrymore—it killed him four years after this film—and you can see where his career went, and the squeaky voice rumors were just post mortem Hollywood viciousness. John Gilbert should have been one of the top leading men in the thirties and forties, as good as any of them, but he drank himself to death first. You really do have to wonder about the mindset of a movie star who goes to such incredible lengths to play an absolutely loathsome character. Oh, and this being the pre-code era, the chauffeur doesn’t even get his comeuppance. He wins.

Barbara Shelley

Watching Five Million Years to Earth (aka Quatermass and The Pit) once again. I watched it last night too and while googling up some info on the flick I was saddened to see that Barbara Shelley passed on a month ago. She was just a few weeks shy of her 89th birthday. Though she is best known for her roles in string of Hammer’s quintessential horror films, I love her most as an unflappable scientist in this Hammer science fiction classic, one of my favorite films ever, and probably my very favorite science fiction film. (The original BBC four episode story, with a different cast, is also excellent.) Who knows how many times I’ve seen this movie since it first blew my mind when I was a teen, and it has only gotten better with age. Barbara Shelley was never better—subtle, smart, unflinching and beautiful—than she is here. Rest In Peace.

Giant chicken movies

The Food of the Gods is the ne plus ultra of of giant chicken movies. Nuff said. Look lady, Marjoe Gortner says, I’ve already seen your chickens. Ida Lupino stares him down with a shotgun. He had seem them too, the rooster attacked him and he killed it with a pitchfork, blood and feathers everywhere. Admittedly it’s not the giant carnivorous chicken extravaganza that Night of the Lepus was a giant carnivorous rabbit extravaganza, but with a giant chicken oeuvre—I’ve waited my whole life to say giant chicken oeuvre—limited to Food of the Gods and Sleeper, I’ll take it, over easy.

OK, maybe I forgot other giant chicken movies. There could be hundreds of them. There could be entire giant chicken film festivals. There could be. I could Google “giant chicken movies” to find out, but the algorithmic possibilities terrify me.

Watching The Lion in Winter on Christmas Eve

I never thought of The Lion In Winter as a Christmas movie, but it is. Well, it’s certainly set at Christmas time. Henry II inviting estranged wife Eleanor of Aquitaine over to his vast Norman castle for gift exchange and feasting and fucking in High Medieval style. He even lets her out of jail for the holidays though sends her back come the New Year. There’s murder and mayhem and some gloriously wrought English (which almost none of them could speak, actually) and an enormous meal with apalling table manners. Still, it’s hardly a film that brings to mind tree trimming or Silver Bells or waiting for Santa to bring the presents from Amazon. But there it is on TCM, between Christmas in Connecticut and Holiday Affair. Perhaps there is Christmas in it. Katherine Hepburn’s Eleanor saying “he came down from the north with a mind like Aristotle and a form like mortal sin; we shattered the Commandments on the spot” could be an earthier I Saw Mommy saw kissing Santa Claus when you think about it, if you’re sleazy enough, and Peter O’Toole’s Henry bellowing “I hope we never die!” in the final scene could stand for the immortality of Santa Claus, who doesn’t, though Santa is more likely to bellow a “Merry Christmas to all”, which is what I’ll say too, in this tawdry plague year.

Bluebeard’s Ten Honeymoons

I don’t think I’ve ever seen George Sanders so unctuously vile as he is in Bluebeard’s Ten Honeymoons. Delightfully so, as he might say. Eek.

British, 1959. Noir fans will love it, though it’s actually one of those British pathological killer flicks, heartless and cunning, and George Sanders seems to revel in it. I’ll never forget those eyes, a woman says, so blue and cold.

Recommended.

Fantastic Spanish poster, the English and American don’t capture it.

Fantastic Spanish poster, the English and American don’t capture it.

The Lives of Others in a hundred words.

You know, The Lives of Others would be Die Leben der Anderer, die being the nominative plural. Das Leben der Anderer is literally The Life of Others, das being the nominative neuter singular, and I’ve been mystified by the idiomatic use of the singular since I first saw the movie, but it is the kind of question that would be answered with an eye roll and tone of annoyance, which would be all that much scarier in a German accent. So I say nothing and wonder in silence, which the Germans no doubt have a word for.

Great movie.

The Cyclops

OK, The Cyclops from 1956 isn’t quite up there with Forbidden Planet or Invasion Of the Bodysnatchers or War Of the Worlds in 1950’s science fiction. It’s more down there with The Amazing Colossal Man, The Killer Shrews and From Hell It Came. I watched it anyway, every single frame. And I sometimes backed it up to watch the stupid parts over again. The over the top score in places helped. And that Gloria Talbot was cute as a bug, of which there were no giant versions in the movie. Giant lizards, a giant rodent, a giant snake and a giant hawk though. Plus the giant cyclops. Anyway, Lon Chaney Jr gets to be an idiot, and I didn’t recognize anyone else. Gloria Talbot, incidentally, was the great great great granddaughter of the guy who founded Glendale, tho’ I didn’t even know it had been losted.

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

“Look! I don’t like to get pushed around! I don’t like people I like to be pushed around! I don’t like anybody to get pushed around!”

That was Sam Masterson, played by Van Heflin at his peak, in the noir classic The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946).

It’s a startling, electrifying line for a film noir, it rings out amid the corruption and murder and adultery and beatings and strong armed cops like something out of the Grapes of Wrath. You can hear Henry Fonda’s Tom Joad saying it, explaining why he has to brain the goons. You can’t here Bogie’s Rick saying it in Casablanca, not at all, not even after he shoots the Nazi. But then Heflin’s character is no hard boiled anti-hero, he’s the real thing, and he exposes the rotten heart of capitalism in Iverstown and brings it crashing down, if only because he doesn’t like anybody to get pushed around.

Marriage Italian Style

[Belched up on Facebook from 2018 tho’ I don’t remember writing it all.]

Exhausted after watching Marriage Italian Style. I’d seen it once before and loved it but my eyes were so brutalized by the hurricane of subtitles I went blind for several weeks. For one thing, the actors never stop talking even when they’re not talking. When they do talk, they talk really fast, subtitles flying past like cars on a super highway. When they’re arguing, which is 90% of the time, the subtitles are a blur and you just stare in shock, involuntarily ducking the frantic gesturing that provides an untranslatable Italian visual subtext to us gesturally illiterate Americans. The 10% of the time spent not fighting is spent fucking, which we can’t see—this was 1964–but leads to the next argument. Finally, Sophia Loren marries Marcello Mastroianni and with nothing else to argue about the movie ends. Wonderful film, Sophia is radiant, Marcello manly, the acting terrific, cinematography gorgeous and it’s a helluva love story. One of my favorites, though I don’t think my eyeballs could take it again.

Hillbillies in a Haunted House

Hillbillies in a Haunted House (which would be one word in German) seems dumber than a rock, but Ferlin Husky just picked up a guitar and sang a beautiful ballad so I’ll keep watching. Sonny James just sang another. It was shot in 1967 without a hippie in sight and set in a haunted house on the road to Nashville. John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr and Basil Rathbone (in one of his very last roles) provide the spooky parts, but they’re not really ghosts but Russian spies, back when being a Russian spy was a bad thing. Imagine that. If you would betray your country you would betray us, Basil says to a treasonous FBI agent in a rare plot complication, and shoots him.

Anyway, waiting here for Merle Haggard and figure Ferlin’s got more sanging to do. Joi Lansing is in a shirt a size too small except when she moves and it’s three sizes too small. They really knew how to fasten buttons on in those days. She’s supposed to be a country singer. But this tacky torch tune she’s singing is about as country as chicken fried steak in Santa Monica.

Oops, Merle’s on, cooler than fuck. Someone told his story, he’s singing, in a song.