Watching Laura for the zillionth time and Waldo Lydecker just had his seizure. I hope, says a recovered Clifton Webb to a radiantly overbit Gene Tierney, you’ll forgive my wee touch of epilepsy, my dear. Clifton Webb could sure say a my dear. He drops to a near whisper. It’s an old family custom he apologizes, but not really. There’s a touch of a boast to it. I grin. It’s my favorite line. Well, second favorite. You can’t top his I shall never forget the weekend Laura died. An opener, no less. And there’s a naked skinny epileptic Waldo typing in the bathtub. An epileptic in a bathtub. If he’d had his seizure then there’d have been no movie.
Been a decade or so since I saw John Ford’s The Informer and though I remembered it was riveting and powerful, unrelentingly so, I’d forgotten what a kick to the solar plexus that ending is. Jesus. Audiences in 1935 must have sat in stunned silence afterward for several long seconds. Talkies were only a few years old and I doubt they’d ever experienced anything like that before. Nearly a century later it’s still so intense it’s uncomfortable to watch and as the credits roll you’re left staring at the screen for a few long seconds, not feeling good about yourself at all.
Watching Wizard of Oz. This was a big national event when I was a kid, the one time all year you could see the Wizard of Oz and families would crowd around the TV to watch. CBS reaped incredibly high Neilsen ratings. It became one of my childhood memories. The Wizard of Oz was one of those rare things that stayed the same as we moved back and forth across the country, over and over. I’ve only seen it a couple times since then. The technicolor startles me everytime. When I watched it as a kid it was in black and white. We didn’t have a color set for years. My dad could keep any old TV running forever, so we had a black and white set long into the color era. Dorothy would open the door of the house and if she and Toto weren’t in Kansas anymore the hues gave no clue. My dad filled us in. The road was bright yellow he said. But I had no idea it was as bright as it looks now. Crazy yellow. Psychedelic yellow. And all those crazy midgets.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 was losted.