The ninth issue of Cinefantastique featured a career article devoted to Christopher Lee, way back in the fall of 1973. Peter Cushing wrote this heartfelt introduction for his good friend, although they were only to make three more films together. Luckily Ted Newsome brought them together one last time for his documentary on Hammer films, Flesh and Blood, shortly before Mr. Cushing died in 1994.
In May 1972 Christopher Lee and I made a psychological thriller entitled Nothing But the Night. It was our 18th film together, a partnership spanning some fifteen years. It was fitting that this “Coming of Age Anniversary” should be celebrated by the first film under his own banner—Charlemagne Productions, Ltd.
One of the greatest compliments any actor can be paid is to hear people say, “It all looks so easy.” It is not.
To reach this stage in his career and maintain his position and enormous popularity has cost him much in hard work, dogged determination, resolution and sheer drive, sometimes in the face of ruthless competition and misunderstandings, apart from facing and learning all the technical difficulties presented in the art of film acting—yet still making it look “all too easy.” The art which conceals art.
Of commanding stature (some 6 foot, 4 inches tall), he uses his physical presence to great advantage, moving with grace and authority. Some are awed when first meeting him in person, but they would do well to know that beneath this outward aloofness and dignity lies a very human being: sensitive, warm, and oft times suffering from nerves which he goes to great lengths to conceal.
Among his accomplishment—perhaps unknown to his public—he is a Greek scholar, he possesses a magnificent bass singing voice, a wonderful knack for impersonation, has command of at least six languages, is an expert swordsman and a superb amateur golfer. Couple all this with a delicious sense of humor and wit—plus a deep personal kindness—then you will be getting somewhat closer to the real personality of this truly remarkable man.
He holds strong views about the business in general and, in particular about the misuse of the word “horror” as applied to some of his films, rightly preferring the more subtle and correct term “fantasy,” for that, indeed, is what they are.
Unstintingly, Christopher gives his public one hundred percent of himself and his talent, but full use has not yet been made of his range. Knowing him as I do, it will not remain hidden under a bushel forever.
I am privileged to count him as a dear friend as well as a valued and respected professional colleague.
The ninth issue of Cinefantastique featured a career article devoted to Christopher Lee, way back in the fall of 1973. Peter Cushing wrote this heartfelt introduction for his good friend, although they were only to make three more films together. Luckily Ted Newsome brought them together one last time for his documentary on Hammer films, Flesh and Blood, shortly before Mr. Cushing died in 1994.
One of the interesting aspects of last month’s theatrical release of GODZILLA (2014) was the critical reaction, which turned out to be both gratifying and frustrating. How did it manage to be both? Well, let me explain…
On the one hand, it was gratifying to see GODZILLA taken seriously by the mainstream press. Yes, many of these critics disliked the film; however, their criticisms were, by and large, based on dramatic shortcomings, not on the mere fact of its being a monster movie. For good or bad, they assessed what was on the screen, and did not mock the filmmakers’ efforts to craft a somber, more realistic version of a character often (if unfairly) associated with camp.
On the other hand, it was frustrating to see GODZILLA summarily dismissed by critics who specialize in cinefantastique. Yes, some of these viewers liked the film; however, their criticism was sometimes based less on actual flaws than on the fact of seeing an unfamiliar adult rendition of a familiar, childhood icon. They were less interested in what the film actually achieved than in faulting it for not conforming to their mental template of what a new-millennium Godzilla film should have been.
That’s right: as counter-intuitive as it seems, the famous radioactive reptile got a fairer shake from mainstream critics than from genre specialists. Many viewers with a Sense of Wonder seem to have checked that sensibility at the door, replacing it with symptoms of Early Onset Grumpy Old Man Syndrome (also known as: All You Kids Get Off Of My Lawn Syndrome).
Of course I’m over-generalizing here, and I don’t want to pretend I’ve done a statistical analysis of every critical comment, fair or foul, lobbed at GODZILLA. Nevertheless, I am interested in the sensibilities underlying these reactions, which I see as another example of the Tribalism that permeates modern film-going, in which the actual quality of the film is frequently less important than how well the film acts as a Tribal Identifier that helps “Us” define ourselves as different from “Them.”
GODZILLA FILM COMMENTARY – THEN AND NOW
Before delving into those murky depths, it might be instructive to look at the reactions to the previous Americanized adaptation of Japan’s most famous monster: Sony Pictures’ GODZILLA (1998), from Dean Devlin and Rolland Emmerich (the team who brought you INDEPENDENCE DAY). Back then, we were still at the dawn of the Internet era, and Hollywood, with its lock on old media, thought it could sell audiences anything by keeping a lid on it so that viewers would purchase tickets before realizing they had been hoodwinked.
In this case, Sony kept the Godzilla design under wraps, lied about it when it was leaked online, and avoided press screenings. Nevertheless, within minutes after the premiere at Madison Square Gardens, word was out on message boards and forums, informing fandom that their hopes and dreams had been betrayed.
Mainstream critics were in agreement about GODZILLA’s low quality, though for different reasons. For instance, Owen Gleiberman, who gave the film a mixed but mildly positive review in Entertainment Weekly, dismissed the the subject matter as a “$120 million epic of reconstituted Atomic Age trash,” suggesting that the very concept of Godzilla, as much as the handling, was at fault.
This is what Hollywood has come to, the Disgruntled Critics seemed to say: Spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a movie about a giant monster destroying a city. Which rather overlooks the fact that to do a film like GODZILLA well, would require a substantially larger budget than that of SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE.
With this kind of attitude, it is understandable that fans might have looked elsewhere for insightful critical commentary, from people who actually knew and understood the subject matter as something more than Saturday matinee kiddie fare. I like to think we provided a little bit of that in Cinefantasitque magazine (thanks to a review written by Steve Ryfle, author of Japan’s Favorite Mon-Star), but there were other venues available, thanks to that new-fangled world wide web thingy, where you could find such site as Barry’s Temple of Godzilla and Monster Zero News (lamentably gone since web-master Aaron Smith passed away in 2006).
Sixteen years later, we are in a very different landscape. Critics at major print outlets no longer have a lock on the national conversation; insightful voices are everywhere on the Internet – on websites, on YouTube, and on social media such as Facebook. If you want to read a review of the new GODZILLA, written by a confirmed Godzilla Geek or at least a dedicated sci-fi fan, you have a multitude of choices.
Unfortunately, this advantage is somewhat mitigated by another shift in the cultural landscape: the rise of Film Tribalism. I date this phenomenon to the release of STAR WARS, EPISODE ONE: THE PHANTOM MENACE, a film that was obviously awful to everyone who saw it and yet earned billions of dollars anyway, because the faithful Lucasoids bought tickets again and again, to prove their fealty to their Tribal Leader, George Lucas.
Now, I know what you’re saying: This “Film Tribalism” thing is just another term for Fandom. But it’s not. Fans watch movies because those movies satisfy their love for and devotion to particular styles, genres, or artists. These movies may not be very good, but at least they deliver what is expected of them, whether it’s amazing special effects, exciting action, or beloved performances.
Film Tribalism does not demand such satisfaction. It’s all about proving one’s bona fides as a card carrying tribe member. In fact, there is a certain advantage to an unsatisfying film, because it helps weed out the fair-weather friends from the true believers. What better way is there to prove your Geek Cred than to dismiss someone who dislikes a film by insisting, condescendingly, “You just don’t get it”?
The flip side of Films Tribalism is that, whereas it absolves all flaws in a film that adheres to Tribal Orthodoxy, Tribalism reviles perceived iconoclasm and even minor doctrinal deviation. Being a “Good Film” is less important than being “Our Kind of Film,” the latter determination usually based on whether the filmmaker is considered “One of Us.” Thus, fair to middling works such as THE AVENGERS and PACIFIC RIM are embraced because directors Joss Whedon and Guillermo Del Toro, respectively, are deemed Fans Like Us (making Films For Us), whereas the superior STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS is dismissed because director J.J. Abrams is regarded as an Outsider Who Does Not Adhere to the True Meaning of Star Trek.
All of which, brings us, in a roundabout way, to the new GODZILLA from Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures, which has provoked a critical response somewhat the opposite of that which greeted the 1998 film.
MAINSTREAM GODZILLA REVIEWS
After months of anticipation, including an effective advertising campaign, fans were eager to find out whether they would be burned again, as they had been by the 1998 GODZILLA fiasco. Would the early reviews confirm their hopes or reinforce their fears? Would mainstream critics give the film a chance or dismiss it as a second attempt at something not worth doing the first time?
The “Bottom Line” assessment from Todd McCarthy’s review in Hollywood Reporter succinctly states: “On a second try, Hollywood does the behemoth justice. Almost.” The review itself sums up the film’s strength’s and weaknesses: great production values, good pacing, serious tone, on the one hand; and ho-hum characters and performances, on the other. McCarthy praises director Edwards for not over-exposing Godzilla but does suggest that the film could have used just a bit more of its star on screen. If you want the basics, McCarthy tells you what you need to know, and really, none of the negative reviews have much more to say on the subject, other than to emphasize flaws already noted by McCarthy.
Likewise, Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips is aware of GODZILLA’s shortcomings but manages to look past them, giving an even more positive assessment:
There are weaknesses, starting and ending with Taylor-Johnson, who’s dull in a crucial but dull role. I find the screenplay’s attempts to make us care about the humans rather touching, which isn’t the same as saying the characters’ crises are dramatically vital. But so much of “Godzilla” works on a sensory, atmospheric level, the workmanlike material can’t kill it.
Wow. Two mainstream critics, one for a trade publication and one for a consumer publication, think GODZILLA is a good movie, flawed but well-made and entertaining. Who would have believed it? These are not fan boy gushings but sober reviews by professionals. Considering how much ill will and disrespect fantasy and science fiction films have received over the years, this is rather impressive.
You would think we could all sit back, relax, and enjoy the radioactive glow of a good Godzilla movie. But not quite…
As a transition into the response from science fiction specialists, I next want to mention “Waiting for Godzilla,” by Christopher Orr of the Atlantic Monthly. Although writing for a mainstream publication, Orr claims (in a response in the comments section) to have loved the Toho Godzilla movies for forty years, and his article has been approvingly linked by Godzilla experts disappointed with the film, so presumably it expresses their opinions.
Essentially, Orr complains of Godzilla’s limited screen time, without giving the film credit for carefully building up to the the monster’s revelation or pacing the action to increase its impact (unlike Phillips, who noted that director Edward gave his creatures “room to breath and bide their time between clashes”).
In a follow-up article, Orr clarifies his first response, noting in the headline: “It’s not the Screen Time; It’s the Focus.” Here, Orr expresses sympathy for Edwards’ stated strategy of attempting a slow revelation of the monster, a la JAWS, ALIEN, or the original GODZILLA (1954), but faults the director for focusing too much attention on the MUTOS (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms), which drive the plot – a criticism endorsed by my esteemed colleagues Steve Ryfle and Tim Lucas (of Video Watchdog), who sarcastically called the film “The MUTO Movie” and “MUTO Love Song,” respectively.
Orr notes that JAWS is always about the shark, even before the audience sees the lethal creature, and the same goes for other films that sought to keep their monsters under wraps till late in the running time. This is true more or less, but when you think about it, even ALIEN isn’t about the Alien from start to finish. It’s initially a rescue operation, responding to what the crew of the Nostromo believes to be a distress call; and the early sequences are filled with sights of other creatures: the famous and mysterious Space Jockey; and the Face Hugger, which is not the alien per se but its progenitor. Which leads to my next question:
Haven’t Orr and others who share his outlook ever heard of an opening act? One that primes the audience for the headliner, who stays backstage as long as possible, building anticipation to the point where the audience erupts with joyful applause when he finally takes the stage? This is the strategy that Edwards uses, and it is not exactly new. In fact, Godzilla’s flying cousin gets similar treatment in RODAN (1956), which focused its first half on over-sized insects attacking miners, before eventually revealing the titular terror midway through.
Orr at least notes that the new GODZILLA is not so different structurally from the monster-battle sequels he enjoyed in the past, but he loves those films for their “campy grandeur,” suggesting that nostalgia has blurred his vision and that he is holding the new film to a different standard. He is not exactly a Grumpy Old Man complaining “they don’t make ’em like the used to,” but you do get the feeling that for him GODZILLA is failing to live up to some illusory yardstick that mis-measures the current film’s qualities while inflating the virtues of its antecedents.
I suppose this is all a matter of opinion, so I should cut Orr and his acolytes some slack, but Orr’s initial review displays a symptom plaguing other negative commentary: mis-statements of fact that make the film sound worse than it is. In this case, Orr claims:
Indeed, Godzilla is a film in which no deed or decision made by any human character seems to have the slightest impact on the inexorable mechanics of the plot.
Apparently, Orr missed the sequence in which Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) fries the MUTO’s egg sack, saving San Francisco from being overrun by monstrous insectoid off-spring. Not only that, the explosion distracts the female MUTO, who along with her mate has been double-teaming Godzilla. This distraction allows Godzilla, who has been on the ropes, to make a comeback, besting his male opponent with a well aimed tale-strike. And as if that were not enough…Ford gets the ticking nuclear bomb (a bungled strategy by the military to defeat the monsters) onto a boat headed out to sea, before it can detonate in downtown, where it would kill tens of thousands of people and irradiate countless more. I’d say Ford has more than a little impact on the mechanics of the plot.
My point here is not to diss Orr (who is actually quite complimentary to those who disagree with him in the comments section of his review). Rather, it is to express my surprise that genre experts, especially those with an appreciation for Godzilla, would point to his review as if it perfectly articulated flaws to which the rest of us were blinded by our overwhelming fan adoration.
As we will see, there is blindness involved, but it’s mostly on the other side of the aisle.
THE GENRE PRESS AND GODZILLA
Okay, we’re finally getting closer to my point, such as it is. But first, a brief recap: A major Hollywood blockbuster, based on a beloved genre icon not usually taken seriously by mainstream audiences and critics, marches into theatres to the tune of a $93-million opening weekend while simultaneously earning a 73% Fresh Rating on Rotten Tomatoes from critics (72% from audiences). It seems, for once, that viewers and reviewers are in accord, and everyone is happy if not ecstatic.
Everyone except for the Godzilla Experts, that is. Their reactions are a bit peculiar – unless you recognize Tribal Film Criticism when you see it.
I’ll start with “Why Godzilla Kicked Pacific Rim’s Ass at the Box Office,” by Annalee Newitz at io9, which despite the implication of the title is actually a Tribal Shout-Out to Guillermo Del Toro’s disappointing and inferior film from last year. Newitz’s essential point is that PACIFIC RIM is “arguably a more original and complex movie than GODZILLA,” the latter of which “succeeded because it treated its audience like kids.”
Yes, you read that right. According to Newitz, GODZILLA’s success is really a symptom of its inferiority; in this case, “inferiority” roughly translates as “accessibility to a mainstream audience.” The alleged superiority of PACIFIC RIM lies precisely in the fact that many viewers didn’t like it or didn’t get it – which suggests that those who did get it are smarter and more perceptive, able to appreciate a film that is “more interesting” and “complicated.”
To be fair, Newitz’s analysis of the difference between the two films is accurate and even insightful, and she does use the word “mistake” to refer to some of PACIFIC RIM’s elements, but it is clear from her description that these mistakes are actually not bugs but features that appeal to a more sophisticated science-fiction-savvy audience.
Yes, My Tribe is smarter than Your Tribe.1
Less overtly tribal, but still telling, is Evan Dickson’s “How Does Godzilla Stack Up Against Pacific Rim” at Bloody Disgusting. Having given GODZILLA a straight-down-the-middle review (2.5 out of 5 stars), Dickson returns to answer readers seeking a comparative evaluation of the two films. Evans notes a few ways in which GODZILLA is superior but winds up proclaiming “As it stands now, PACIFIC RIM beats it out for me as a movie” – without offering a tangible reason.
Ironically, the combined impact of the i09 and Bloody Disgusting articles is to convince me that GODZILLA is the superior film precisely because it does not provide fan-service at the expense of good filmmaking. Instead, it plays against expectations, synthesizing elements familiar to fans but using them as if for the first time – in other words, working them into the story so that they fit, instead of simply throwing them up on screen so that the Tribal Members can feel validated when they recognize their favorite tropes. That reluctance to offer nothing but dedicated fealty to Tribal Orthodoxy is what diminishes Godzilla in the eyes of True Believers.
PACIFIC RIM, on the other hand, gets a pass, precisely because it pays homage to the Tribe. Sure, the film has intriguing ideas, such as “The Drift,” but those ideas are drowned in a repetitive series of mindless monster battles, and ultimately Del Toro’s film hews closer to the Hollywood blockbuster formula, right down to giving the Idris Elba character a rather weak variation on President Whitmore’s rousing pre-battle speech from INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996). But you won’t see that acknowledged by either Newitz or Dickson.
GODZILLA, on the other hand, lets Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) say all that needs to be said in three simple words: “Let them fight.” Let’s award a few points for a level of understatment that avoids hokey melodrama. And while we’re at it, for all of GODZILLA’s dramatic faults, let’s note that PACIFIC RIM is not exactly loaded with credible characters. The two scientists (rendered in hammy performances) are less characters than on-screen avatars for geeks in the audience, and the male lead in is even more forgettable than the one in GODZILLA; in fact, he embodies one of the worst cliches in the history of cinema: the reluctant hero who drags his heels while we wait for the inevitable plot device that will finally motivate him to fight, which is what we know he’s going to do eventually if we just wait long enough. It’s a colossal and stupid waste of screen time – the kind of nonsense that GODZILLA wisely avoids.
In “Godzilla Whitewashed: A Special Report,” which posted at World Cinema Paradise a couple days after GODZILLA opened, Steve Ryfle takes the film to task for subverting the metaphor of the original GODZILLA, directed by Ishiro Honda, which presented its beast as a walking embodiment of the horrors of the nuclear age. Unlike the other negative reviewers I’ve mentioned, Ryfle has a point worth considering, and truth be told, I too would have preferred a new film hewing closer to the powerful and dramatic original, one that boldly confronted our legacy as the only country to use nuclear bombs in warfare (on a civilian population, no less).
However, Ryfle’s justifiable concern leads him to underestimate the extent to which the film does question the wisdom of America’s nuclear arsenal, which is portrayed as ineffective at best and counter-productive at worse (to put it mildly). The scenario tells us that nuclear testing in the Pacific in the 1950s was a covert attempt to destroy Godzilla – an attempt that failed. When the MUTOS and Godzilla converge on San Francisco, the military, in the form of General Stenz (David Strathairn), concoct a plan to eliminate all three radiation-hungry beasts by luring them out to sea with an atomic warhead, which will then be detonated. Dr. Serizawa points out that this tactic failed repeatedly in the past, and his colleague Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) storms out in frustration over the futility of the plan, leading to a key moment.
Serizawa then tries to spur Stenz’s conscience by displaying a watch that belonged to his father – a watch that stopped when his father died in the blast at Hiroshima, its hands frozen forever like a fateful reminder of that terrible day. Stenz understands the point but proceeds anyway, for lack of a better (or indead any other) military option. Even so, in a later scene, Serizawa begs him again not to go through with the use of a nuclear warhead.
Despite this, Ryfle conclueds that Serizawa and Stenz “share a hope that it never happens again, tacitly accepting the gospel of Hiroshima as necessary evil.” Having seen GODZILLA a second time, I can say with certainty that no such scene exists in the film, which in no way pushes that message that Ryfle attributes to it. In fact, the watch scene is a far more direct indictment of the Hiroshima bombing than anything in Honda’s GODZILLA, which was more focused on H-Bomb testing in the Pacific than on the A-Bomb attacks on Japanese soil.
Rather than necessary evil, GODZILLA portrays the use of nuclear weapons as unnecessary insanity – a point driven home when the military’s plan goes horrible wrong, with the male MUTO2 hijacking the warhead and giving it to his mate as an offering, which she then uses as a “food” source for her eggs. Clearly, nuclear power is adding fuel to the fire, making a horrible situation exponentially more catastrophic.
Though Ryfle insists that GODZILLA “is about nothing” and that the film does not meaningfully comment upon its scenes of destruction, I find the meaning perfectly clear: nuclear proliferation has come back to bite the U.S. on the ass; the weapons that exist allegedly to protect us actually attract more trouble than they repel, and by creating and using them we have set in motion events that we are powerless to stop – unless we get a little assistance, in the form of Godzilla, to reset the balance.
Underscoring this theme, our hero Ford Brody is not a conventional warrior; his specialty is defusing bombs. The human story of GODZILLA’S third act (as opposed to the over-sized monster battle) focuses on his attempts to stop the bomb from detonating or, failing that, to get it safely out to sea, where it can do no harm to the inhabitants of San Francisco. This is definitely a movie that advises us to start worrying and stop loving the bomb.
On another level, it is significant that only the combined efforts of Ford and Godzilla save San Francisco from nuclear annihilation.
Which brings us to…
JOE BRODY IS GODZILLA (SPOILERS)
One aspects of GODZILLA that seems to be universally disliked is the death of Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), who is killed when the dormant MUTO hatches; ironically, Joe’s death confirms the conspiratorial ramblings that have alienated him from his son Ford but severs any possibility of father-son reconciliation. Or does it?
Cranston gives the best performance in the film, emerging as the most (some say only) memorable character. So why kill him off? Before advancing my argument, first let’s hear director Edwards on the subject:
[…] we tried versions in the screenplay where he survived. And in every one we did that with, there was nothing else that character could do without being silly. If he sticks with Ford, it becomes Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, and the tone of the movie becomes fun, but not the tone we were trying to do. And if he sticks with the military guys, he’s like a fifth wheel. His job was done in the story line there.
“We did try to make it work. […] But as a story beat, he becomes redundant once he’s handed over the baton to the rest of the cast.
Edwards explanation is good as far as it goes, but he leaves deeper questions unexplored: Exactly why does Joe Brody become redundant, and to whom is he passing the baton?
As you may have guessed, I have a theory, and it goes like this:
Joe Brody is Godzilla.
Okay, I do not mean to be taken seriously – or at least not literally. Previously, the Toho production GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE (1989) depicted a monster infused with a human spirit (through gene splicing). That is not what is happening here. Rather, Joe Brody has to disappear from the narrative because his role is being assumed by Godzilla; it is to the mysterious sea beast, rather than to the human characters, that he is passing the baton.
Unfortunately, the film does not do as much as it could to support this reading. I would like to have seen Joe perish by disappearing into the ocean shortly before Godzilla emerged from beneath the waves; perhaps a few familiar character tics – gestures, expressions – could have been imbued into Godzilla to drive the point home.
Nevertheless, there are a few hints:
- Joe makes his exit before Godzilla enters the picture. Except for brief news reel image of dorsal spines in the Pacific during a nuclear blast decades ago, Godzilla is off-screen until after Joe dies. Only then do we learn that Godzilla is hunting the MUTOS, which is not, I think a coincidence, because…
- The MUTOS are responsible not only for the death of Joe’s wife but also for the death of Godzilla’s ancestor. In the traditional action scenario, it is the hero’s duty to exact vengeance for this kind of thing. Godzilla takes out the MUTOs, doing what Joe would have done if he could.
- At one point, referring to his late wife, Joe tells his son that she is “still out there,” suggesting a continued spiritual presence even after her death. This hints that, even after his own death, Joe is “still out there,” though now embodied in Godzilla. Not literally in the sense of taking possession, with his intelligence intact, but metaphorically, his goals fused with those of the prehistoric apex predator.
- Ford and Godzilla share a strangely intriguing moment of eye-contact, suggesting some kind of bonding. Interestingly, Godzilla’s looming face disappears as it is engulfed in billowing clouds, almost as if the creature were de-materializing – a guardian angel evaporating into the ether.
- Godzilla very pointedly saves Ford’s life at the end – again, something Joe would have done if he could. This later point is particularly significant, because the film starts with a nuclear catastrophe that Joe fails to prevent, loosing his wife in the process; the conclusion neatly bookends the opening, with another nuclear disaster, this time averted without loss of life.
In effect, Godzilla takes on the mantle of protective parent after Joe’s demise. Earlier in the film, Vivienne Graham refers to Godzilla as “a god, for all intents and purposes,” which dove-tails nicely with a quote from Sigmund Freud, which I am going to paraphrase slightly to suit the occasion:
“A personal God[zilla] is nothing more than an exalted father-figure.”
In GODZILLA, the King of the Monsters assumes the father-figure role, but that role has greater resonance when you see him as the embodiment of Joe Brody’s need to protect his family, to succeed where he failed previously. Again, this is to be taken figuratively, not literally.
Generally, I think reviewers have not given the film enough credit for a solid structure that makes sense of elements like this, regardless of whether the dialogue and characterizations are as compelling as we might like. Joe Brody is a nuclear safety expert; his son attempts to diffuse a nuclear bomb at the end; individually, they fail, but united (at least insofar as Godzilla represents Joe), they succeed.
Sure, the getting-back-to-my-family story line is banal, but it serves a function as a microcosm of the larger problem: nuclear radiation has not only upset the balance of nature on a large scale, but also split the nuclear family; the reuniting of Ford’s family is a small scale symbol of the restoration of balance.
One last point (I can hear you sighing, “Finally!”). Ryfle objects to the conclusion of GODZILLA, which sees the purloined warhead detonating harmlessly out to sea, with no threat of sickness from what should be massive fall-out. This is clearly in line with America’s myopia about nucleaweapons, which we prefer to regard as high-yield explosives while we ignore the insidious effects of radiation poisoning, which continues to kill long after the smoke has cleared (a pointed made with disturbing poignancy in Honda’s film).
However, I am going to give the new film the benefit of the doubt, because it has laid the groundwork for an explanation. Earlier in the film, we learn that Dr. Serizawa and company have been nurturing the dormant MUTO because it has been absorbing the radiation from nuclear plant it destroyed; the surrounding area, which should be toxic, is actually clean.
Godzilla, like the MUTOs, feeds off radiation. After defeating his opponents, Godzilla collapses, exhausted and spent, apparently dead (in a nice touch, his fall to earth after a heroic victory mirrors Ford’s slipping into unconsciousness, the actions synchronized to once again emphasize the connection between Ford and Godzilla). The next morning, with people swarming the beach around the fallen titan, and Dr. Serizawa gazing in wonder upon what is for him the equivalent of the Holy Grail, Godzilla’s starts to breath again, rising in triumph to head back to the ocean.
I think this is why there is no danger of radiation poisoning: as the MUTO did with the radiation from the reactor, Godzilla has absorbed the fall-out from the warhead; this is what brought him back to life. As he returns to the depths from which he came, the implication is that a sort of symbiotic relationship exists between humanity and Godzilla. Just as plants live on the carbon dioxide that we exhale, purifying the atmosphere for us, Godzilla is taking our nuclear poison with him and leaving a purified world behind.
It’s not all that far removed from the ending of GODZILLA VS HEDORAH (a.k.a. GODZILLA VS THE SMOG MONSTER), whose writer-director, Yoshimitsu Banno, serves as executive producer here. The difference is that Edwards’ GODZILLA takes a potentially silly idea and presents it with a straight face, free of camp or irony. We may chuckle to ourselves after the curtain has dropped and the theatre lights go up, but while the film is actually unspooling we can enjoy the delicious experience of taking Godzilla seriously.
- I would be a little less snarky here if some of Newitz’s points were not so specious. For instance, she praises PACIFIC RIM’s “bold decisions,” such as starting the film ten years after the first appearance of the kaiju. Actually, this not so much bold as safe: it gives the film an excuse to start with monster mayhem from the very first frame, to capture audience attention before boring them with the exposition and “drama” that follow. GODZILLA is bolder in strategy, daring to tease its audience along, resisting the urge to go full-on monster mayhem from beginning to end.
- By the way, Ryfle objects to acronym, referring to the “laughably named M.U.T.O” and expressing pity that “the fine actor David Strathairn had to utter those words without chuckling.” I just want to say that MUTO sounds quite like UFO (Unidentified Flying Object, pronounced “YOU-FO”), a term coined by the U.S. military and used for decades (in official documents such as Project Bluebook) without provoking laughter.
Academy gives honorary Oscars to Dick Smith and James Earl Jones; J. J. Abrahms sites "Cinefantastique Magazine" in his tribute to "The Godfather of Make-up Artists"
This weeks CFQ Ultra-Lounge podcast features a talk on Dick Smith getting his honorary Oscar for the groundbreaking work he did as one of the greatest make-up artists in the history of the cinema. Cinefantastique Magazine helped paved the way for this award, by devoting a retrospective cover story to Mr. Smith and his (then) 35-year old career in the industry in our Summer, 1981 issue, as written by David Bartholomew.
So naturally it came as a pleasant surprise to hear producer/director J. J. Abrahams acknowledging Cinefantastique from the stage of the Academy Governor’s Awards on Saturday night, by mentioning that Dick Smith gave him a “signed” copy of Cinefantastique Magazine when they first met back in 1981!
You can watch the video of J. J. Abrahms tribute to Dick Smith at the Academy video highlights page of the Governor’s Awards HERE, along with separate videos featuring Linda Blair’s comments about working with Dick Smith on The Exorcist, and Rick Baker awarding Dick Smith with his honorary Oscar, followed by Mr. Smith’s acceptance speech.
Excerpt from the text of the tribute to Dick Smith given by J. J. Abrahms:
J. J. ABRAHMS: …One night I was in New York visiting my grandparents and at the airport I spotted a man waiting for his bags. I had seen pictures of Dick Smith before, and holy shit that looked like Dick Smith! — but how could I be sure?
I remembered that Mr. Smith had only four fingers on his left hand. It was like a Ludham novel. I slowly walked around the carousel trying to get a glimpse of his left hand, and there I saw it. I was never happier to see a missing digit in my life! (Dick Smith holds up his left hand, to laughter from the audience.) I was in a room with my hero. He was The Beatles to me, and no one in the terminal had a clue. I approached him and introduced myself and he was (if this is possible) even kinder in person!
He gave me a pre-release issue of Cinefantastique Magazine; Dick Smith was on the cover, they were featuring his work on Altered States. He signed the magazine and encouraged me to stay creative and keep making movies and if I wanted, to continue writing to him. My correspondence with Dick Smith went on for years.
A typical letter from him reads:
Dear J. J.:
I have just returned from Czechoslovakia doing an old age make-up for Amadeus.
The Hunger comes out on April 29 (1983).
Yes, I like (Tom) Savini’s book and his work on Creepshow.
Yes, cable was attached to plunger in large syringe instead of lever. Bicycle cable.
Keep up the good work,
This year marks Pixar Animation Studios 25th Anniversary, although the core group that went on to form Pixar actually dates back before 1986. Cinefantastique was on the scene to celebrate Pixar’s first major success, TOY STORY in 1995, along with their early triumphs in computer graphics for effects work. As CARS 2 is about to race into theatres across the globe, we look back at the early history of one of the most successful studios in the history of the motion picture business.
PIXAR: A CHRONOLOGICAL HISTORY (PART ONE)
In 1979 George Lucas was flush with cash earned from the huge success of STAR WARS, released in May 1977 and he begin envisioning great leaps in the advancement of computer graphics for motion picture technology. To begin research and development in that area he hired Dr. Ed Catmull, the director of the computer graphics lab at the N.Y. Institute of Technology. “Our initial charter,” explained Catmull, “was to develop technology for digital audio, digital editing, and computer graphics. So I brought in somebody to work in each of those areas.”
By the early eighties, Catmull had proposed a computerized editing system, known as EditDroid; a digital audio signal processor, for sound mixing; and the Pixar image computer, for rendering high resolution images. “At the time computer graphics was viewed mainly as effects,” notes Catmull, “but it still wasn’t economical. We had to solve several problems to make it more practical. First, we had to have motion-blur, if we were going to be used in feature films. Secondly, we had to plan our thoughts and algorithms around the faster computers that we knew would become available in the future. Finally, we had to get to a point where artists could design the models and their appearances. It required a great deal of technical expertise to use the equipment, so we began to design systems that artists could use, not just the technical people.”
The Lucasfilm computer graphics division contributed sequences to a mere three feature films, working under the umbrella of Lucas’s ILM effects facility. And although George Lucas was funding the research, there was a degree of reluctance to trust CGI to actual production. At the time it was still a very new and unproven medium for effects and the few films that had used it extensively, such as TRON and THE LAST STARFIGHTER had not been successful.
In 1984, to gain production experience on the new techniques they had been developing, Catmull began work on a demonstration film, THE ADVENTURES OF ANDRE AND WALLY B. “At the time, we didn’t have another project to work on,” says technical director, Bill Reeves, “so we decided to invent a little short, to show what we could do in CGI.” “The only hitch was we weren’t supposed to be making films,” continues layout supervisor, Craig Good. “We were a research and development group, not a filmmaking department, so ANDRE AND WALLY was officially just a demo for Siggraph (the yearly computer graphics convention).”
To work on ANDRE AND WALLY Catmull invited Disney animator John Lasseter to Lucasfilm, after he was impressed with Lasseter’s short computer film THE WILD THINGS. “Ed called me and said they had a idea for a short film,” remembers Lasseter. “It was supposed to be about an android character in the woods. Well, it was being made at Lucasfilm, so I thought they wanted to do something with robots. Instead of that, I proposed we do something a little more cartoony. I was inspired by early Mickey Mouse cartoons and I did a bunch of drawings for the main character, Andre. When I showed it to them, I thought they were going to hate it, but instead they said, `this is really great, nobody’s ever done this before in CGI’.”
Since Dr. Catmull’s ultimate dream was to make a feature film in CGI, it soon became clear he was on a divergent course from his employer. “Lucasfilm wasn’t set-up where somebody else could come in and make animated films,” recalls Catmull. “So we approached George, and said, `we want to do things that are different, so maybe you should sell off the division’. We then went through a period of about a year, getting ready to divest ourselves from Lucasfilm.” Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple computers eventually purchased the division from Lucas for what today seems like an incredible bargain: only $10 million. When Disney brought Pixar from Steve Jobs twenty years later the asking price was just a little bit higher: $7.4 billion!
In fact, at the time, George Lucas was a bit worried about whether Steve Jobs would be able to come up with all the money, which delayed the sale for a period of time, but the deal finally went through and the new company was officially named Pixar as they moved across San Francisco Bay from San Rafael to their new headquarters in Point Richmond, Ca.
As an independent company, Pixar formed a small animation unit and began making short films. “We were doing three pieces for Siggraph in 1986,” recalls producer Ralph Guggenheim. “One was Bill Reeves doing a realistic simulation of ocean waves, another was a whimsical little story about a beach chair, that walks down to the ocean and dips it’s toe into the water and the third was John Lasseter’s idea to tell a story using his desk lamp. LUXO, JR. was born out of that and went on to be the first Pixar success, as it was nominated for an Academy Award.
Pixar went on to make a short film a year, spending about six months researching different ways of improving their software and equipment, while the other six months were spent in making the film which would implement the results of their research. “The short films laid the foundations for the core animation system we used on our first feature film TOY STORY,” explained Reeves. “Then, after we did KNICK KNACK, we realized if we kept making shorts, we wouldn’t have the production experience or staff needed to make a feature. To get more production experience, we decided to make television commercials, because we couldn’t justify enlarging our staff on the basis of the short films, since they didn’t produce any income.”
After TIN TOY won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short film in 1989, Disney and Steve Jobs signed an exclusive 3-picture contract in 1991, with an option for several more films. It was the beginning of a nearly perfect match, which only hit some rough spots when Disney Chairman Michael Eisner nearly lost Pixar when Steve Jobs threatened to bolt to another distributor after Eisner insisted Disney had the sequel rights for all Pixar films. Luckily, Mr. Eisner was “retired” and his successor quickly made a deal to buy Pixar outright in 2006. “Back when Steve Jobs first bought Pixar from Lucasfilm, he agreed to fund all our animation shorts,” says Catmull, “with the belief that at some point we would come through. Looking back, it could have gone either way. But after TOY STORY was a big hit, we lived up to our expectations.”
BEFORE PIXAR: THE LUCASFILM YEARS (1979 – 1986)
STAR TREK II: THE WRATH Of KHAN (1982)
Jim Veilleux, ILM’s special effects supervisor on STAR TREK II, proposed that CGI be used for what eventually became the Genesis planet sequence. “They didn’t really know what they wanted,” says Bill Reeves. “They just said, `try and come up with something interesting’. Originally, they had these storyboards, where a gray rock in a glass case, turned green. Then, Alvy Ray Smith said, ‘why don’t we have Kirk and Spock looking at a planet and we’ll simulate turning the dead planet into a life-like planet’. So we storyboarded out a whole sequence and designed it as one continuous shot. Then, after spending five months doing it, using particle systems and fractals, we were worried they’d cut away to the actors, right in the middle of the shot. Of course, that’s exactly what they did”
At least the characters were impressed with what they were watching. Spock turns to Kirk and says, “fascinating,” while Dr. McCoy becomes nearly hysterical at the implications of the “Genesis device.”
“We didn’t have much software for that, so a lot of what we did was just a home-brew of different stuff we cobbled together,” explains Reeves. “I did all the particle systems to create the fire, while Tom Duff did the cratered moon. Tom Porter put together the very beginnings of our compositing language and did the star fields as well. Loren Carpenter did all the fractals for the mountains that rise out of the burning planet. It was amazing, because we had all these separate programs that didn’t tie together. Shortly after that we developed a system where everything works together.”
RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983)
Bill Reeves and Tom Duff created the brief scenes of CGI used in RETURN OF THE JEDI. Admiral Ackbar gives a presentation to the rebel fleet, outlining how to penetrate and destroy the death star. He is aided by a holographic 3-D representation of the unfinished battle station, as it orbits around the forest moon of Endor. “We worked with Joe Johnston (visual effects art director) and Bruce Nicholson (optical supervisor) on RETURN OF THE JEDI,” says Reeves. “Joe had a lot of designs and we used on old Evans & Sutherland line drawing display. All it could do was draw lines–there were no pixels or color. We just put a camera in a room, got it pitch black and shot our elements right off the screen. Then we took it to Bruce Nicholson, who burnt it into the live-action plate. Bruce would have to do multiple passes in order to get the different colors (green for the Endor Moon, red for the death star).”
THE ADVENTURES OF ANDRE AND WALLY B. (1984)
After waking up one morning in a (very stylized) forest, Andre encounters a playful bee, who he attempts to elude (unsuccessfully). “I brought in John Lasseter from Disney,” says Catmull, “because he had a vision that wasn’t fitting in at Disney, but it fit in perfectly with what we wanted to do. At first it was on a temporary basis, but it soon became permanent.”
“One of the problems I had on ANDRE,” recalls Lasseter, “was that I had to use all geometric primitives (basic geometric shapes) to build the characters. I wanted Andre to have a sort of teardrop shape, and I thought it would be difficult to make his body that way. Ed Catmull looked at the drawings and said, `I think we can come up with something like that’. So we invented this teardrop shape that was really flexible and I got so inspired I started to animate it real loose, like a water balloon. Out of that came the inspiration for the bee, which had these giant feet, that were just floating below him. There were no legs connecting the feet to the body. Then, when the bee flies off, the feet would just drag way behind and catch-up, which gave us this neat overlapping action.”
“All the forest backgrounds were done using Particle Systems,” says Reeves, “and we used two Cray supercomputers in Minneapolis to render the characters. We were trying to see how fast a Cray computer would go, and it wasn’t very fast.”
YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES (1985)
For the effect of a Knight springing to life off of a stained glass window, effects maestro Dennis Muren wanted to attempt CGI, thinking it would be more effective than traditional stop-motion. “Dennis was interested in seeing what we could come up with,” recalls Reeves. “He came over and showed us the sequence and we all got very excited about doing it. There was a lot of stain glass windows out at Skywalker ranch, so we had the glass studio that had made those windows, build us a little stain glass Knight, which we could use for reference. If we hadn’t come through, Dennis would have probably used that model for stop-motion. He was really taking a chance on us, because at the time nobody really knew if we could do it or not.”
When the CGI sequences were completed, instead of being filmed off a video monitor, the images were transferred directly onto film, via one of the earliest uses of a laser scanner. David DeFrancesco, the head of Pixar’s film scanning dept., developed and built one of the first laser recorders while at Lucasfilm. “That was the first use of a laser recorder to put images on a feature film,” says DeFrancesco. “Now that recorder is at the George Eastman House Museum as part of their permanent collection.”
THE PIXAR PHENOMENON: THE STEVE JOB YEARS (1986 – 2006)
LUXO, JR. (1986)
“LUXO, JR. began as an opportunity for John Lasseter to model on the computer,” says producer Ralph Guggenheim. “John had done animation before, but had never done modeling.” “It was originally a 15 second test,” recalled Lasseter, “but it kept growing and growing, because I came up with the storyline after I got started on it. I like the idea of bringing inanimate objects to life, so I got the notion of having two desk lamps that were alive. ”
The film is quite remarkable, in that Lasseter is able to create a believable father and son characterization, through a pair of realistic looking desk lamps, in the space of only 90 seconds. LUXO. JR. also showcased a new technique in computer graphics, self-shadowing, which allowed the lamps to accurately cast shadows on themselves. Years ago we came up with a statement, `reality is just a convenient measure of complexity’,” says Lasseter. “At Pixar, we tend to shoot for realistic images, only to help us develop our tools. Then we take a step back and create things that can’t possibly exist, but look very real.
LUXO, JR. is also notable for it’s highly imaginative stereo soundtrack, designed by Gary Rydstrom, who came to the film after Ben Burtt (STAR WARS), was unable to fit it into his schedule. Rydstrom went on to design the sound for all of Pixar’s early short films and most of their features, and eventually left Lucasfilm to join Pixar as a member of their senior creative team. Rydstrom’s sound design for his many feature films, including TERMINATOR 2 and JURASSIC PARK has won him seven Academy Awards.
R ED’S DREAM (1987)
Perhaps the least known of Pixar’s short films is RED’S DREAM. A melancholy tale about a forgotten unicycle, who on a rainy night dreams of his former glories performing under the big top. The evocative mood and atmosphere captured by the film is quite impressive, as if an Edward Hopper painting were merged with a clown episode from a movie by Federico Fellini. “We actually had two ideas that were happening at the same time,” recalls Ralph Guggenheim. “John Lasseter had a desire to do a story about a unicycle that’s alive and Bill Reeves was doing some realistic rendering of rainfall on city streets.”
“I saw the great imagery Bill was working with,” says Lasseter, “and I thought it fit into this circus story I had, which was causing me some story problems. It was originally going to be about this inept clown, and you find out that the person behind his act is really his unicycle, which is actually alive. So we took the images that Bill had and combined them with my story to make it more of a dream sequence for this poor unicycle. At the time nobody had really done those kind of dark, moody images in computer graphics.”
TIN TOY (1988)
Pixar’s first magnum opus introduced Tinny, the tin toy of the title. Much like the toys in TOY STORY, Tinny attempts to please his owner, a toddler who’s energetic enthusiasm, causes most of his toys to flee in terror under a nearby sofa. “We wanted to push into human characters for the first time,” notes Guggenheim, “so we designed a very carefully worked out story. It was a very complex show for us, 55 shots in 5 1/2 minutes, done by only 6 people.”
“TIN TOY was really an exhausting event for us,” says Lasseter, “because it had all these firsts. It was the first use of our current animation system, our first use of a human character and was twice as long as any film we had done before. We used every different piece of software we had and the baby’s face had 40 different muscles we could use for animating him.”
Most of Pixar’s short were made to show at Siggraph, and took about six months to finish. TIN TOY, due to it’s `epic’ length, wasn’t quite finished for the Siggraph film show. Consequently, when the film premiered, it was only two thirds complete. “We ended on a cliffhanger,” recalls Darwyn Peachey. “Tinny is running away from the baby, and he gets caught in the box, looking up through the cellophane as the baby is looming overhead. It ended right there, with a title, `to be continued’. The whole audience just went, `oh no’!” When finally completed, TIN TOY went on to become the first computer animated cartoon to receive an Academy Award.
KNICK KNACK (1989)
“After exhausting ourselves making TIN TOY, we wanted to do something that was easier,” reveals Lasseter. “During the making of TIN TOY, ROGER RABBIT had come out, and that was really an animators movie. It had just wild animation and after getting excited about it, I went back and looked at what I was doing. It seemed like everybody was standing still. So I was inspired to do something more cartoony for KNICK KNACK.”
“Since we wanted to do something simpler,” says Guggeheim, “John thought, `why don’t we do something like a Chuck Jones cartoon’. So we came up with the idea of a snowman, trying to get out of his glass snowglobe.” “KNICK KNACK has much more of a cartoon sense of reality,” notes Lasseter. “The snowman walks off, and comes back with a blow torch or something else, and is continually frustrated trying to get out of his globe. We just played off those cartoon type of situations.”
KNICK KNACK was done as a polarized 3-D film and each frame had to be rendered twice, to realize the 3-D effect. “The nice thing about doing 3-D in computer graphics,” says Guggenheim, “is after you have your main camera view, all you have to do is set-up another virtual camera, about 5 degrees off center axis to get your second view.”
“We tried not to push the 3-D effects too much,” says Bill Reeves. “We just used it to get the depth. It’s pronounced in a couple of shots, like when he’s falling off the table, but we didn’t want to do the typical thing, and give everyone watching it a headache. Very few people ever got to see it in 3-D, but when we showed it at Siggraph that year, it was a big hit.”
SURPRISE and LIGHT AND HEAVY (1991)
“At Pixar, the characters almost become like employees, you get to know them so strongly,” says John Lasseter. So when Pixar was asked to do some educational pieces for Sesame Street, they thought of using Luxo junior and senior, to visually illustrate the meaning of the words, light and heavy.
“We jumped at the chance to do it,” says Lasseter, “because we all loved Sesame Street. Luxo is really a very simple character, and we’ve used him as a training tool, so people can learn simple hierarchy. The way models are structured on the computer, they’re built on simple hierarchies, and with Luxo it’s quite simple, because you just move his base, and that moves him. Previously, I had used Luxo to illustrate a course at Siggraph. It demonstrated that how fast you move an object, can determine how heavy the object will feel. So we did a little vignette, where Luxo comes hopping in and starts moving around the exact same size sphere. First he does it very fast, which makes it seem like a beach ball, then he comes back and does it slowly, putting a lot of effort into moving it, so it feels very heavy. I showed that to the Sesame Street people, and they liked it, so that’s what we used.”
The producers at Sesame Street told Lasseter that normally they like to repeat things within a piece, to emphasize it for young children. “Luxo, Jr. comes in and hits the light ball to Dad,” explains Lasseter. “Then, Dad hits it back, and the narrator says, `light’. We repeat that, and then junior comes back and pushes the heavy ball, which doesn’t move at all, and the narrator says, `heavy’. Then he comes back and pushes and pushes, until he gets it rolling.”
SURPRISE was a very short 30-second piece, where Luxo Sr. finds a wrapped box and out of it pops Luxo, Jr., surprising his Dad.
TOY STORY (1995)
Back in the summer of 1995, before TOY STORY had opened to great acclaim, Pixar President Ed Catmull told me what he saw for the future of the company he founded: “In a way, when Disney agreed to make TOY STORY, it was an experiment, since no studio had ever made a full-length CGI feature. They said, `let’s try it, and if it doesn’t work, we may lose a little money’
“Well, TOY STORY is turning out very successfully, and when the film comes out, I think there’s going to be a great rush to do computer animation. Now that we’ve done this one, we’re already cheaper than traditional animation. We have a crew of 110 people, vs. the 500 or more on a 2-D feature. This is our first film and I think it looks beautiful, but because all the technology is brand new and improving all the time, TOY STORY will be the worst looking film that we’ll ever make!”
“We are now the only company to have done a CGI feature film and we know what to do to take the next step forward. Other companies will be doing CGI productions, so at some point they may catch up, but right now we’re way ahead of everyone else. If we’re lucky, maybe we can keep the lead forever.”
Dr. Catmull’s predictions have of course, gone on to become reality, and after TOY STORY’s huge success, Pixar has gone on to make one smash film after another. Today they remain the supreme leaders in the field of Computer Animation.
THE PIXAR FEATURE FILMS
A BUG’S LIFE (1998)
TOY STORY 2 (1999)
MONSTERS, INC. (2001)
FINDING NEMO (2003)
THE INCREDIBLES (2004)
TOY STORY 3 (2010)
CARS 2 (2011)
To celebrate the lasting legacy of Vincent Price in his centennial year, here is a collection of fond memories and a few letters from a selection of his many friends and co-workers.
HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS was my last film with Vincent. It was the first time Vincent, Peter Cushing, John Carradine and myself were all together in one film. I would have liked to done more with pictures with Vincent, but alas, it was not to be. In all, we only did three pictures together. The first was THE OBLONG BOX, followed by SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN. Peter was in that one as well, but we didn’t have any scenes together. I was very fond of Vincent, and had great respect for him as an actor. We always had a lot of fun and joshing on the set. At the end of Scream and Scream Again I pushed Vincent into a vat of acid, to pay him off for the mistakes he has made with his experiments. Well, the yellow tinge of the acid made it look like Vincent had suffered some terrible natural mishap on a grand scale, so the first take we did was completely ruined by our both laughing as we fought to the death.
Vincent did so many wonderful pictures. THE RAVEN was a charming picture. I would have loved to be in that. THE COMEDY OF TERRORS was very funny. I remember laughing until my sides ached. Vincent and Peter Lorre as two drunken undertakers and Boris as the old man without any teeth. I have a wonderful picture at home, which Vincent sent to me. Peter Lorre is playing the piano, and Vincent, Boris and Basil Rathbone are standing behind it singing. Vincent wrote on it, “To Christopher, from three great gentlemen and Vincent Price.” I reproduced that in my autobiography and underneath it I wrote, “Correction: four great gentlemen!”
What a marvelous man he was. I shall miss him dearly.
This is a letter Peter Cushing wrote to Vincent Price in 1973, thanking him for his birthday card:
26 May 1973
Thank you so much for your card today. And the sweet message your wrote.
I much appreciate it.
I also want to thank you for my birthday treat.
I just returned from seeing THEATRE OF BLOOD. How excellent your are in this film, dear fellow. I particularly liked your reactions to the way the syringe was handed to you, and the basin, – in the decapitation sequence. So did the whole audience.
Christopher sent me a cable from Spain and asked me to give you his love and respect for the 27th as he doesn’t have your address.
My card to you should have reached you through Dennison Thornton’s office — and I do hope you spent an enjoyable day in Manchester.
I look forward to the rest of our filming enormously. I’ll be finished with “The Zoo Gang” by Tuesday next – except for post- synching.
May God’s blessing be with you always.
In all sincerity,
SIR LAURENCE OLIVIER
Lord Laurence Olivier wrote this letter to Vincent Price during the tryout run of Jean Anouilh’s Ardele in Brighton, before the play opened at the Queens Theatre in London. Sir Laurence apologizes for not being able to make it to one of Vincent’s performances in Brighton due to illness and wishes Vincent and Coral Browne well in their run of the play when it opens in London.
4 Royal Crescent
Tele 0273 61015
Sun June 15, 1975
Oh my dear, dear Vince,
How dreadfully you must think I neglected you. Do please forgive me. I fully intended to come to the show here in Brighton and get Coral and you back here for supper. The fatted calf has been looking at me reproachfully for months, saying, “I know, I’m being saved for that Vince.”
I was really quite ill with a viral flu and wasn’t allowed out of the house and I continue to feel a great sense of deprivation not to have given you a great hug of welcome to take your place in “the tightly woven tapestry of our island historie” more welcome still upon our banks and still in our midst.
I hope you have the happiest success and I wish you and Coral most lovingly, and I shall come round the Queens as soon as I possibly can, but I am not now up to going out evenings in London yet, but we must have some supper all together as soon as possible – maybe.
All great thoughts, strong wishes and held thumbs for last night,
Ever, as ever,
Cathie Merchant appeared with Vincent Price in Roger Corman’s THE HAUNTED PALACE, playing his assistant and lover, Hester Tillinghast.
I had a crush on Vincent Price from the time I was a very young girl. I thought him the epitome of sophistication, because he was so very handsome and debonair. Indeed, when I met him in person playing Hester Tillinghast in THE HAUNTED PALACE, he was all those things and so much more!
Vincent had a wonderful sense of humor and sometimes it was quite naughty. He made many funny remarks about the monster in the pit that was going to mate with Debra Paget and most of them are unprintable! However, what I recall most of all, is how very kind and thoughtful he was to me as a newcomer. He was always helpful and concerned for other people. I think one reason he was so convincing in his roles is that he immersed himself in the character and he really believed what was happening in the moment. That really made him very effective in the last frames of THE HAUNTED PALACE. Interestingly enough, we did shoot a scene for The Haunted Palace that wasn’t used. Roger’s brother, Gene directed it. It showed Lon Chaney, Milton Parsons and myself, pulling the portrait of Joseph Curwen out of the big fireplace before it burned up. I think Roger cut that sequence, as it made Vincent’s final scene in the film far less ambiguous.
Vincent was quite unique and has given us many, many moments of pleasure and will continue to do so for many generations to come through his wonderful film performances.
If there was a image that helped me though my early life, it was Vincent Price. For some reason I was always likening the Edgar Allan Poe movies to my own life. Vincent was like my psychologist. He helped me get through the abstractions of those early years. The characters he played (Roderick Usher, Nicholas Medina, Verden Fell) would always go through some grand, dark, catharsis. Vincent was usually plagued by some sort of abstract demons, was overly sensitive and often on the verge of insanity. Strangely enough, I found I could relate to that in a very meaningful way. Those kinds of stories were my form of therapy. His characters really spoke to me. In the same way that when you read fairy tales, you get a real visceral response, well that happens with the Poe films. You get a real emotional response. That’s what I really loved. That extreme imagery that was really symbolic for something else.
Later on, I did some drawings for a children’s book which eventually became VINCENT, my first short film. Vincent Price was the first person I really met from Hollywood and he turned out to be such a wonderful guy. Just incredible! He was interested in all sorts of things and he gave me a great deal of hope when I was starting out. He was a tremendous inspiration to me. Vincent really shaped my early life. Then, when he played the inventor in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS it gave the part an emotional weight that made it very strong for me. It was very thrilling for me to be working with him again. If you look at all the movies he’s done, you see he has such fun with them. He so obviously enjoys what he’s doing, that it can’t help but be a little contagious to the audience.
I was lucky to film a little conversation with Vincent, which we did in his art gallery at East L.A. College. He donated this incredible art collection for the students to look at and I found that to be one of the most admirable things you could do. You know, most people who do something like that splash it all over the place, but Vincent didn’t make any big hoopla about it. He just did it and I found that pretty special. Everybody has someone they admire. For me it was an actor named Vincent Price.
Valli Kemp appeared with Vincent Price in DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN, playing his beautiful and ever resourceful assistant, Vulnavia.
Vincent was my mentor and friend from day one when we met on the set of DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN. He was really like a father to me and he would even send me food by cab to make sure I was eating properly. He was so very thoughtful. Vincent was always making me laugh, as I recall in the scene where I was playing the violin after we discovered the tomb in Egypt. He took a grape from the fruit bowl and put it in my mouth, and then he took another grape and put it in my mouth and I couldn’t swallow them, because if I did, I knew I would burst out laughing and ruin the shot. Then Vincent picked up a pineapple and motioned as if he was going to try and put that in my mouth as well, but he shook his head when he realized it was too big. That was all in the film and it was hysterically funny, because I had no idea that Vincent was going to do it! Vincent improvised it all while we were shooting.
Vincent had a serious side, as well. He cared about other people and one day after he heard I was also a painter, he asked me to show him some of my paintings. He loved them and arranged for an exhibition of my work where I sold 30 paintings in only two hours! Vincent was so kind, I miss him dearly, especially when I used to paint him and I could feel his presence.
I have a number of pleasant memories about Vincent Price, who, I have said in all interviews, was truly the nicest man I ever met in my days in Hollywood, a perfect gentleman and a most genial friend.
I recall one specific incident that occurred on the set of HOUSE OF USHER. As a preliminary to the anecdote, I would like to speak of the number of times I saw Vincent talking with visitors on the set. Invariably, he was pleasant and generous with his time and, equally invariably, he always had a little quip to make before leaving his visitors to return to work on the film. One time, Vincent and I were talking about the paintings of the Usher family done by Burt Schoenberg. They were as grim a collection of characters that ever hung on a wall. Vincent shrugged before leaving me and said, “Oh well, they’re just plain folks.”
Another incident that took place during HOUSE OF USHER was when Mark Damon came charging into Roderick Usher’s room with an ax (fortunately, not a real one) in his hand and after threatening to hit Roderick with it, gave up in disgust and slung the ax aside before charging out to look for Madeleine. Mark, I gathered was an advocate of “the Method,” as he used to run in place before a scene, huffing and puffing to work himself up, while Vincent merely chatted with someone and then went right into the scene and would be far superior in every way. When doing the scene, Mark did not think about where he was slinging the ax and it bounced off Vincent’s shin with some force. I heard, at that time, the only epithet I ever heard Vincent utter and he immediately left the set and walked around its entire perimeter, in pain and shaking his leg. By the time he returned to the scene, he had totally regained his composure and was, once more, the same genial, kind, charming man he always was. To my knowledge, he never berated Mark for what he had done, but simply accepted it as an accident of the game.
Not long before he passed on, I had the foresight to write Vincent a thank you note, in which I told him how much I had enjoyed working with him and how I appreciated the quality of his work in the scripts I’d written for him. I also send him a copy of my book The Path and told him how much I admired him as a human being. Needless to say, even ill and weak, he wrote back a lovely note thanking me and expressing his pleasure at working with my scripts.
What a wonderful man. I hope he enjoyed every pleasure that life has to offer and very much suspect that he did.
Mark Damon co-starred with Vincent Price in HOUSE OF USHER and wrote this letter to Price on February 9, 1960 before the film had opened.
This is an “actor-to-actor” note before the picture has been released. My comments are therefore not on your performance, which I don’t have to see on the screen to appreciate, but on your off-screen behavior, which has taught me much.
You remember, I asked you if you had learned anything working on this picture, and you told me that you had. I didn’t tell you what I had learned. I learned just how gracious, cordial, and warmly human a star of your caliber could be. You set an example I hope I may follow through the rest of my acting career. Thank you for that.
Thank you, also, for your advice, your help, your unselfishness, and for all the wisdom you imparted to me. I have benefited greatly by working with you, and I am very grateful to you.
I hope I will have the pleasure of seeing you again very soon.
Your good friend,
I cast him in our first film together, THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, because the character of Roderick Usher was very close to his own persona: handsome, educated, cultured and sensitive. In the Edgar Allan Poe story, Roderick Usher is a gentle, aristocratic man who progressively descends into madness. My feeling was that the audience should be frightened of this character but not in conscious reaction to his sinister features or brute strength. Instead, I envisioned a refined, attractive man, who’s intelligent but tormented mind operates in realms far beyond the minds of others, and who therefore inspires a deeper fear. In Vincent I found exactly the man I was looking for.
Only once do I remember Vincent being puzzled by my film making requirements. In THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, he was asked to speak the line, “The house lives. The house breathes.” He came to me and asked in great bewilderment, “What does that mean?” It seemed that the good folks at American International Pictures, the company providing our financing, were worried that this was a horror film about a monster. To win them over, I had promised that the house itself would be our monster. Now I had to make good on my promise. Once this was explained to him, Vincent said, “I understand totally.” He went on to deliver the line with a subtle intensity that became for me one of the high points of the entire film.
Aside from his powers as a dramatic actor, Vincent was surprisingly adept at humor. His abilities along these lines were put to the test in THE RAVEN, a film intended to combine horror with comedy. Vincent’s contribution of jokes & comic bits to the shooting script added greatly to the picture’s overall humorous effect. On the set of THE RAVEN, Vincent had to adjust to the presence of two veteran co-stars, Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff, as well as a new young actor, Jack Nicholson. He showed extraordinary flexibility in working harmoniously with Jack (trained in the Method), Boris (schooled in the English classical style) and Peter, who did anything that came into his mind at any given moment!
Peter Lorre’s great talent was for improvising, which he did with great wit and panache. This on-the-set spontaneity did not sit well with Boris Karloff who was nearing the end of a long and distinguished career, and expected to do his scenes precisely as written. Inevitably, there was some friction between these two strong personalities. Fortunately for me, Vincent was able to strike a balance in his own acting style, adapting to Peter’s looseness but also playing scenes with Boris that were models of the classical approach. His personal graciousness in bending to the demands of two conflicting egos was a great help to me in what could have been difficult circumstances.
Vincent had a well-deserved reputation as a host and a gourmet chef and I was privileged to attend several dinner parties at his home. The food, the wine, the décor, everything was planned in the most exquisite detail. And he had the gift of eliciting sparkling conversation from his guests, so that it was a joy to sit at his table. I suspect that by inviting me to dine, Vincent was trying to improve my eating habits, which tended toward the Spartan back then. In fact, in our film making days he used to joke about sending me CARE packages to keep me from starvation.
There is no question that Vincent Price was a remarkable actor and a remarkable man. His friendship enriched my life, and for that I will always be grateful.
In 1960 when Roger Corman cast Vincent Price in The House of Usher he never had any thoughts about making a whole series of Poe films, but box-office success quickly changed his mind. As a result, between 1960 and 1965, Corman and Vincent Price went on to make eight films together, which most people agree are the highlights of both men’s careers.
To celebrate Vincent Price’s 100th birthday (on May 27, 2011) Roger Corman flew to St. Louis to pay homage to Vincent Price at the Vincentennial celebration, speaking before sellout crowds on May 21 and 22 about working with Mr. Price after screenings of their last two (and best) Poe films, The Masque of the Red Death and Tomb of Ligeia.
I spoke with Mr. Corman about working with Vincent Price earlier this month when he was in San Francisco, on May 6, 2011, to receive an honorary degree from The Academy of Art University. In 2006, Joe Dante and I also had a long conversation with Roger Corman, along with Daniel Haller, which Joe felt was quite good, so I’m glad he has endorsed my more recent talk with Roger at his new Trailers From Hell blogsite Here.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: I see you will be in St. Louis to help celebrate Vincent Price’s 100th birthday.
ROGER CORMAN: Yes, they asked me to come and speak and I have always had a great admiration for Vincent. We did a number of Poe pictures together, although at the time we did the first one, The Fall of the House of Usher, neither Vincent nor I knew we would end up doing a whole series of Poe films. We both thought we were just doing one film, but after House of Usher became so successful, we ended up making seven more pictures together. Vincent was a very dedicated actor and we both enjoyed working together, so I was delighted to be asked to go to St. Louis and help celebrate his centennial.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Looking back, Vincent Price was ideal casting for the role of Roderick Usher. Do you remember if you considered any other actors for that part?
ROGER CORMAN: No, I don’t. I think Jim (Nicholson), Sam (Arkoff) and I all jointly agreed that Vincent was the best choice for the role. What we would normally do is discuss various cast members in-depth, come up with three or four leading men and then jointly decide on the man we wanted. I don’t recall now if we considered anyone else, because Vincent was our first choice, right from the beginning when we were working on the initial idea until we had the final script. When the script was finished, I contacted Vincent through his agent and sent him the script with an offer. After Vincent read the script, he liked it and suggested we meet to talk about it. We then met for lunch to discuss it and we got along very well. We talked about the picture and the character of Roderick Usher and he agreed to make it.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Sam Arkoff said he made the deal to sign Vincent Price for House of Usher who went on to become AIP’s biggest star.
ROGER CORMAN: Yes, that’s correct. After we all agreed on using Vincent, it was actually Sam who made the deal to sign him.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: In your book, you quote Vincent as saying whenever he came over to your house for a story conference he would be mystified to find only a few cans of Metrecal in your refrigerator when he went for a snack.
ROGER CORMAN: Yes, that’s why we’d often have good dinners at Vincent’s house, when he and his wife were cooking, but never at my house!
LAWRENCE FRENCH: In House of Usher, Roderick Usher is both a painter and a musician, which somewhat mirrors Vincent Price’s own real life cultural attributes.
ROGER CORMAN: Yes, that was one of the main reasons I wanted Vincent for the part. Roderick is educated, sensitive, and quite cultured, so the role is very close to Vincent’s own persona. I felt Vincent was perfect in getting those qualities into the role. We were dealing with a cultured and refined man, whose mind becomes unhinged and slowly starts to unravel. So he descends into madness by degrees.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: It’s interesting that Roderick Usher is actually quite reasonable and gentle throughout the film. He never resorts to overt violence. Even when Madeline is roaming through the house, he simply plays his lute. It’s actually Philip who becomes overtly violent and threatens Roderick with physical harm.
ROGER CORMAN: That’s a perfect example of where the one who actually has the least power, is the most physically violent. The person, who has the greatest power, does not have to use physical violence. Concomitant to that, was the fact that I didn’t want to have a traditional bad guy. I felt the audience shouldn’t be afraid of Roderick Usher based on any sinister features or brute strength. I wanted the audience to have a more unconscious reaction to him. So if you were afraid of him, it would be on the basis of his superior mental qualities. I felt that would be a deeper and subtler fear than any physical violence, per se.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Vincent Price told me that you’d come to him and discuss your Freudian theories, which he said helped to stimulate his performance, but that he also took it with a grain of salt. Were those Freudian theories something you really believed in, or were you just trying to stimulate the actor’s performance?
ROGER CORMAN: No, I believed then, and do believe now in the essentials of the Freudian psychoanalytical approach. I think it’s possible to say Freud was not correct in all of his theories, and I never did believe that it should be taken as total gospel, but the basic concept of Freud’s teaching, which is the concept of the unconscious mind, is something I definitely believed in, and still do believe in. I would use that for myself, and work with the actors along those lines. And if Vincent wanted to take it with a grain of salt, that was all right with me, as long as he utilized it in his performance.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Vincent Price was very pleased that you allowed him such a free hand for his interpretation of Roderick Usher’s character.
ROGER CORMAN: Well, Vincent was a very experienced actor and at the time I was a young director, so I didn’t feel I should try to give him a lot of intense direction. Also, I’ve never believed in giving line readings to actors. I think that’s very bad. I prefer to talk about what is going on in the character’s mind and what the actor is feeling so you get a more organic performance. I had training in the method with Jeff Corey, while Vincent was more of a classically trained actor, so what I did was talk about the character of Roderick with Vincent beforehand—what his childhood was like, how he grew up, where he stood at this point in his life—delving more into the thoughts and motivations of the character. Then, on the set, we would discuss the scenes just a little bit, in the morning or just before shooting for the key scenes. That worked out very well for both of us.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: What did you think of Vincent’s performance in The Pit and The Pendulum? Some critics felt he went a little bit over the top.
ROGER CORMAN: No, I think Vincent was brilliant in the part. He was able to convey the intensity and the madness of the character, bringing it to its fullest extent, without really going over the top.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Vincent Price told me the performance really demanded a “larger than life” approach otherwise it wouldn’t come alive.
ROGER CORMAN: Yes, and we were very careful about that. We tried to make it a full emotional performance, knowing that for a motion picture, an actor has to hold back a little bit, especially a stage trained actor, as Vincent was. That was especially true for close-ups.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: It must have been marvelous working with Vincent Price, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre on The Raven.
ROGER CORMAN: Oh, absolutely! It was a real pleasure. All three of them were superb actors. With some actors you have to keep working on them, imploring them to give a performance, but with Vincent, Peter and Boris as well, they would give you all you could ask for and more. It was really very fascinating to be working with them.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Vincent Price told me he really enjoyed the shooting of The Raven and I imagine you probably tried to maintain a jovial atmosphere on the set.
ROGER CORMAN: Yes, particularly since we were playing The Raven for humor. I haven’t done that much comedy, but when I have, I’ve tried to keep that feeling going both on and off the set. You can’t very well be working intensely serious in the preparation, and then come in and tell somebody to be funny for three minutes in front of the camera, and then go back. I think you have to try and maintain that spirit all day long, as much as possible. And because it was a comedy, I took a different approach not only towards the acting, but also with the sets and the photography. It was not nearly as somber as I had used in the earlier films. Overall, I would say that we had as good a spirit on the set of The Raven as any film I’ve ever worked on, except for a couple of moments with Boris. There was a slight edge to it, because Boris came in with a carefully worked out preparation, so when Peter Lorre started improvising new lines it really threw Boris off from his preparation.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Vincent Price felt that Tomb of Ligeia was the best of his Poe films.
ROGER CORMAN: Yes, and I agreed with Vincent—Ligeia is one of the best Poe pictures and Vincent’s performance in the film was very good.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: That was one of the nice things about Ligeia. All of the acting was quite good. Both Vincent Price and Elizabeth Shepherd gave marvelous performances.
ROGER CORMAN: Yes, I felt both Vincent and Elizabeth were excellent in Ligeia. What happened there was when Bob Towne and I started to go in the direction of a love story with Ligeia, we decided to make Rowena a much stronger character than she was in Poe’s original story. In the previous pictures the love element was either non-existent or very slight. So beforehand, I discussed with Vincent the new approach we would be taking with Ligeia. In the previous pictures, although Vincent had always been the star, he had never been what you would call a romantic leading man. So we deliberately tried to go for a more restrained approach with Ligeia and we both agreed he would be playing more of a leading man type of role.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Vincent Price told me he always regretted you stopped directing the Poe films. Did he ever talk to you about doing a non-horror film?
ROGER CORMAN: No, not really, but I did have the feeling Vincent may have resented being typecast because he had started out as a star, in some cases playing a romantic leading man, in other films as a character leading man and I think he lost some of that momentum along the way. He was older when the Poe pictures came along, but he enjoyed making them and I think they brought him back to a certain degree. At the end of his career, I don’t think he was that happy with the reputation he had as a horror star, although he accepted it, but that was really only one aspect of his career.
While Universal’s planned version of AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS was being put on hold, I began looking as some of the dates when Lovecraft came up with his classic terror stories. I was rather startled to see that Lovecraft’s work was mostly done in close harmony with the classic era of Hollywood horror in the twenties and thirties.
Lovecraft died in 1937, but he had started writing as a child, around the turn of the century. Yet his work was so unique and advanced, it was never “recognized” during his lifetime, although he wrote most of his best known stories in the same years Hollywood was going through it’s golden age of horror film making.
For example, during the years 1925 – 1926 Lovecraft was writing these classic terror tales: The Horror at Red Hook, In the Vault, Cool Air, Pickman’s Model, and The Call of Cthulhu.
In those same years, Hollywood and the German studio UFA released such horror classics as: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, THE MONSTER, THE UNHOLY THREE, THE BELLS, THE MAGICIAN, LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT, THE STUDENT OF PRAGUE, and THE CAT AND THE CANARY.
In the classic Hollywood horror years of 1931 and 1932, Lovecraft wrote these stories: At the Mountains of Madness, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, The Trap (with Henry S. Whitehead), The Dreams in the Witch House, The Man of Stone (with Hazel Heald), The Horror in the Museum (with Hazel Heald) and Through the Gates of the Silver Key (with E. Hoffmann Price).
Of course, Lovecraft’s own bizarre stories woudn’t reach the silver screen until almost 30 years after he died, when Roger Corman and Charles Beaumont opened the gates to his “old stories” by adapting The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward for AIP in 1963, which ended up being labeled as “Edgar Allan Poe’s” THE HAUNTED PALACE, even though the film (by Corman’s own admission) had nothing to do with Edgar Poe or his stories.
So it’s seems a bit strange that Universal was recently close to giving the green light to a $150 million version of AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS. In a way, I’m glad it’s been but on the back burner, as I don’t think anyone would be happy with the film if Tom Cruise turned up as the leading man – least of all, Mr. Lovecraft!
A SHORT INTERVIEW WITH H. P. LOVECRAFT:
Q: I understand you lost your maternal grandmother?
LOVECRAFT: Her death plunged the household into a gloom from which it never fully recovered. I began to have nightmares of the most hideous description, peopled with things, which I called “night-gaunts.” In dreams they were wont to whirl me through space at a sickening rate of speed fretting and impelling me with their detestable tridents.
Q: Where do you suppose you got the idea for these creatures?
LOVECRAFT: Perhaps from an deluxe edition of Paradise Lost with illustrations by Dore, which I discovered one day in the east parlor.
Q: You depict this night-gaunt image vividly in one of your Fungi From Yuggoth sonnets. Did the mad sorcerer referred to in your stories, “Abdul Alhazred” have a childhood source as well? And what of your fictional book of spells, the “Necronomicon”?
LOVECRAFT: The name “Abdul Alhazred” is one, which some adult devised for me when I was five years old and eager to be an Arab after reading the Arabian Nights. Years later I thought it would be fun to use it as the name of a forbidden book author. The name “Necronomicon” occurred to me in the course of a dream.
THE FUNGI FROM YUGGOTH
by H. P. Lovecraft
The place was dark and dusty and half-lost
In tangles of old alleys near the quays,
Reeking of strange thing brought in from the seas,
And with queer curls of fog that west winds tossed,
Small lozenge panes obscured by smoke and frost,
Just showed the books, in piles like twisted trees,
Rotting from floor to roof-congeries
Of crumbling elder lore at little cost.
I entered, charmed, and from a cobwebbed heap
Took up the nearest tome and thumbed it through,
Trembling at curious words that seemed to keep
Some secret, monstrous if only one knew
Then, looking for some seller old in craft,
I could find nothing but a voice that laughed.
I held the book beneath my coat, at pains
To hide the thing from sight ins uch a place;
Hurrying through the ancient harbour lanes
With often-turning head and nervous oace.
Dull, furtive windows in old tottering brick
Peered at me oddly as I hastened by,
And thinking what they sheltered, I grew sick
For a redeeming glimpse of clear blue sky.
No one had seen me take the thing-but still
A blank laugh echoes in my whirling head,
And I could guess what nighted worlds of ill
Lurked in that volume I had coveted.
The way grew strange-the walls alike and madding-
And ar behind me, unseen feet were padding.
III. The Key
I do not know what windings in the waste
Of thos strange sea-lanes brought me home once more
But on my porch I trembled, white with haste
To get inside and bolt the heavy door
I had the book that old the hidden way
Across the void and through the space-hung screens
That hold the undimensional worlds at bay
And keep lost aeons to their own demesnes.
At last the key was mine to those vague visions
Of sunset spires and twilight woods that boord
Dim in the gulfs beyond this earth’s precisions
Lurking as memories of infinitude
The key was mine, but as I sat there mumbling
The attic window shook with a faint fumbling.
The day had come again, when as a child
I saw-just once- that hollow of old oaks,
Grey with a ground-mist that enfolds and chokes
The slinking shapes which madness has defiled
In that the same-an herbage rank and wild
Clings round an altar whose carved signs involve
That Nameless One to whom a thousand smokes
Rose, aeons gone, from unclean towers up-piled.
I saw the body spread on that dank stone,
And knew those things which feasted were not men;
I knew this strange, grey world was not my own,
But Yuggoth, past the starry voids-and then
The body shrieked at me with a dead cry,
And all too late I knew that it was I!
The daemon said that he would take me home
To the pale, shadowy land I half-recalled
As a high place of stair and terrace, walled
With marble balustrades that sky-winds comb,
While miles below a maze of dome on dome
And tower on tower beside a sea lies sprawled.
Once more, he told me, I would stand enthralled
On those old heights, and hear the far-off foam.
All this he promised, and through sunset’s gate
He swept me, past the lapping lakes of Flame,
And red-gold thrones of gods without a name
Who shriek in fear at some impending fate
Then a black gulf with sea-sounds in the night”
“Here was your home,” he mocked, “when you had sight”
VI. The Lamp
We found the lamp inside those hollow cliffs
Whose chiselled sign no priest in Thebes could read,
And from whose caverns frightened hieroglyphs
Warned every living creature of earth’s breed.
No more was there-just that one brazen bowl
With traces of a curious oil within;
Fretted wtih some obscurely patterned scroll
And symbols hinting vaguely of strange sin.
Little the fears of forty centuris meant
To us as we bore off our slender spoil
And when we scanned it in our darkened tent
We struck a match to test the ancient oil
It blazed-Great God!. . . But the vast shapes we saw
In that mad flash have seared our lives with awe.
VII. Zaman’s Hill
The great hill hung close over the old town
A precipice against the main street’s end
Green, tall, and wooded, looking darkly down
Upon the steeple at the highway bend
Two hundred years the whispers had been heard
About what happened on the man-shunned slope
Thales of an oddly mangled dear or bird
Or of lost boys whose kin had ceased to hope
One day the mail-man found no village there
Nor were its folks or house seen again
People came out of Aylesbury to state
Yet they all told the mail-man it was plain
That he was mad for saying he had spied
The great hill’s gluttonous eyes, and jaws stretched wide
VIII. The Port
Ten miles from Arkham I had struck the trail
That rides the cliff-edge over Boynton Beach,
And hoped that just at asunset I could reach
The crest tht looks on Innsmouth in the vale.
Far out at sea was a retreating sail
White as hard years of ancient winds could bleach
But evil with some portent byeond speech
So that I did not wave my hand or hail.
Sails out of Innsmouth! Echoing old renown
Of long-dead times, but now a too-swift night
Is closing in, and I have reached the height
Whence I so often scan the distant town
The spires and roofs are there-but look! The gloom
Sinks on dark lanes, as lightless as the tomb!
IX. The Courtyard
It was the city I had known before;
The ancient, leprous town where mongrel throngs
Chant to strange gods, and beat unhallowed gongs
In crypts beneath foul alleys near the shor.
The rotting, fish-eyed houses leered at me
From where they leaned, drunk and half-animate,
As edging through the filth I passed the gate
To the black courtyard where the man would be….
The dark walls closed me in, and loud I cursed
That ever I had come to such a den,
When suddenly a score of windows burst
Into wild light, and swarmed with dancing men:
Mad, soundless revels of the dragging dead-
And not a corpse had either hands or head!
X. The Pigeon-Flyers
They took me slumming, where gaunt walls of brick
Bulge outward with s viscous stored-up evil
And twisted faces, thronging foul and thick
Wink messages to alien god and devil
A million fires were blazing in the streets
And from flat roofs a furtive few would fly
Bedraggled birds into the yawning sky
While hidden drums droned on with measured beats.
I knew those fires where brewing monstrous things,
And that those birds of space has been Outside-
I guessed to what dark planet’s crypts they plied
and wht they brought from Thog beneath their wings
The others laughed-till struck too mute to speak
By what they glimpsed in one bird’s evil beak.
XI. The Well
Farmer Seth Atwood was past eight when
He tried to sink that deep well by his door
With only Eb to help him bore and bore
We laughed, and hoped he’d soon be sane again
And yet, instead, young Eb went crazy, too,
So that they shipped him to the county farm
Seth bricked up the well-mouth up as tight as glue-
Then hacked an artery in his gnarled left arm.
After the funeral we felt bound to get
Out to that well and rip the bricks away
But all we saw were iron handholds set
Down a black hole deeper than we could say
And yet we put the bricks back-for we found
The hole too deep for any line to sound.
XII. The Howler
They told me not to take the Briggs’ Hill path
That used to be the highroad through to Zoar,
For Goody Watkins, hanged in seventeen-four,
Had left a certain monstrous aftermath.
Yet when I disobeyed, and had in view
The vine-hung cottage by the great rock slope,
I could not think of elms or hempen rope,
But wondered why the house still seemed so new.
Stopping a while to watch the fading day,
I heard faint howls, as from a room upstairs,
When through the ivied panes one sunset ray
Struck in, and caught the howler unawares.
I glimpsed – and ran in frenzy from the place,
And from a four-pawed thing with human face.
In the history of Cinefantastique Magazine, Sir Cristopher Lee has appeared on our cover three times, surpassed only by Ray Harryhausen. Interestingly enough, all three of the CFQ covers on Lee (Dracula, The Man With The Golden Gun and The Wicker Man), were also the movies that were given the most play in the film clips shown in the nine-minute tribute to Sir Chris at the BAFTA awards in London on Sunday night.
The BAFTA Fellowship award is quite important, as it puts Mr. Lee in the august company of those talented people who have preceded him: Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, Sean Connery, Elizabeth Taylor, Julie Christie, John Barry, Stanley Kubrick, Anthony Hopkins, Terry Gilliam, Dame Judi Dench and last year’s recipient, Vanessa Redgrave.
The award is even more noteworthy because it is the first time an actor in the genre of dread has ever been given such an honor. It is something that eluded past genre superstars, like Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff and Vincent Price. Of course, directors in the genre, like Spielberg, Lucas and Cameron, our now loaded down with such honors, but sadly horror actors have not been so fortunate.
Since Mr. Lee will turn 89 this coming May, I’m sure everyone reading this will agree, “it’s about time!”
Here is the text of Tim Burton’s BAFTA induction of Mr. Lee, followed by Christopher Lee’s acceptance speech:
The recipient of this years award is an electrifying screen presence, whose work I’ve loved since I was a child. I’ve since had the privilege of working with him several times, starting with Sleepy Hollow, which was itself drawn from the inspiration of his great screen heritage. At six foot-five, he physically towers over those around him, in the same way his screen persona puts all of us in the shade.
The range of his screen performances is truly amazing: From Sherlock Holmes to Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man, from Rasputin, to Rochefort in The Three and Four Musketeers, to the real life founder of Pakistan in Jinnah, one of the best performances of his career.
In the ’50s and ’60s, he was definitive Count Dracula, as well as The Mummy and Frankenstein’s monster, giving his own unique take on the classic screen monsters. In the seventies he was Francisco Scaramanga, James Bond’s triple-nipple adversary in The Man With the Golden Gun. More recently he appeared as the villain Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequels, and appeared as Saruman in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I won’t mention every movie he’s ever made, because we’d be here all night, but he has developed the reputation as one of the most dedicated and determined actors of multiple generations.
Last year he worked with Martin Scorsese on Hugo Cabret and is currently slated to reprise his role as Saruman in the forthcoming fantasy, The Hobbit. In between all of this, he manages to squeeze in time to do work with UNICEF and record Operas and heavy metal albums. I don’t know if any of you have those, but they are good!
In 2009 he was knighted for his many achievements and at the age of 88, he’s still keeps doing amazing things!
Film clips from Lee’s career included HORROR OF DRACULA, THE WICKER MAN, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE, Saruman in the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, Count Dooku in the STAR WARS prequels, and several of Burton’s own movies, most notably CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACOTRY and THE CORPSE BRIDE. Only two of Lee’s many non-genre films were highlighted: that of his own favorite performance, Jinnah, where he plays the leader of Pakistan, (and which received almost no distribution whatsoever in America) and his new film Triage, with Colin Farrell (which will also have no American theatrical release).
I do feel a little bit like the man who said, I can’t wait to hear what I’ve got to say, but I’ll do my best.
Wise and generous members of the committee, my fellow thespians, many of whom are involved in this (points to the BAFTA award)… I thank you all. This is a truly a great honor. A great, great honor. Two things really make it so. The fact that this was voted to me by my peers, and secondly, that I received it from one of the great directors of our age. (Tim Burton hugs Christopher).
I think there was a newspaper this morning that said I was probably going to cry, something I don’t very often do, in films at any rate. But it is a very emotional moment for me. I’m thankful that I don’t follow in the steps of the great Stanley Kubrick, whose award was posthumous. And I would like to say (looks at award)… my God… this is without a doubt the finest image I’ve ever had.
The Devil and the related phenomenon of demonic possession, have been the source of several horror films for the years. Previous decades offered THE EXORCIST (1973), with its Roman Catholic perspective, and the various films that made up Protestant responses to it in THE OMEN (1976) and its sequels. Moving forward into more recent cinematic history, we have seen THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE (2005), and a dual release of diabolical films in 2010: DEVIL and THE LAST EXORCISM. Our fascination with the ultimate supernatural villain continues in 2011 with the recent release of THE RITE, which returns the horror treatment of Satan and demonic possession to the Catholic roots of THE EXORCIST. As a result of our present social and cultural circumstances, which echo much of the turbulence of the 1970s, we may be calling on Satan to help us deal with our current angst. As we will see, paradoxically, he may also provide some with faith in God.
THE RITE tells the story of a young American, Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue), who has decided to leave the family business of running a mortuary with his father (Rutger Hauer) in favor of entering Roman Catholic seminary. As he explains his decision to a friend, the Kovaks do only two things, undertaking or the priesthood; with his increasing dissatisfaction with the former, it is time for Michael to explore the possibilities of the latter. Kovak completes his program of study, but just before taking his ordination vows, he submits his resignation because he lacks the faith that underlies the work of the priesthood and the church. One of his professors, Father Matthew (Toby Jones), sees potential in Kovak and, instead of accepting Michael’s resignation, sends him to a school in Rome that trains priests in the Roman Catholic rite of exorcism. It is here, Father Matthew argues, that Kovak may find the faith that he needs to become a priest.
After beginning exorcism studies, Kovak is assigned to work with Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins), a priest whose many years of experience include thousands of exorcisms. Father Trevant is aware of Kovak’s struggle with faith, a struggle that Trevant himself has experienced from time to time in the past. Trevant immediately enlists Kovak’s help in assisting with exorcisms; the first involves the alleged possession of a pregnant teenage girl. After watching Trevant interact with the teenager, Kovak’s skepticism remains. He believes that her strange behavior can be accounted for by deep psychological problems, and that what she really needs is a psychiatrist. But after his experiences with Father Trevant, the allegedly possessed girl, and another case of possession, Kovak’s skepticism becomes more difficult to maintain. Eventually, he experiences strange phenomena, has deeply troubling and surreal dreams, and begins to wonder whether there may be some truth to the possibility of possession. As the film reaches its climax, Father Trevant and Kovak both have their faith tested, on the one hand, and given an opportunity for confirmation on the other, thanks to the presumed presence of evil supernatural entities.
Before addressing what I believe is the major thrust of THE RITE, I would like to make a few minor observations. At one point in the film, as Kovak begins his exorcism studies in Rome, he has a spirited exchange with the priest teaching the course, and Kovak notes that while the church accepts the veracity of demonic possession without hesitation, if someone reports a UFO sighting and alien abduction, the claim is immediately suspect. For Kovak, both claims are just as unlikely, so why should a strange claim in a mainstream religious tradition be privileged over a paranormal claim in what is often considered part of the cultural and religious fringe. Here THE RITE stumbles upon not only a question that can be found in any number of skeptical publications, but also an often unacknowledged issue in popular expressions and the academic study of religion. Phenomena like demonic possession or Marian apparitions are more likely to be take seriously, at least by believers, than other experiences by other segments of society outside the religious mainstream.
The second observation involves two of the actors in THE RITE. This film represents Anthony Hopkins’s return to horror, his prior effort being THE WOLFMAN (2010). Interestingly, in both films Hopkins plays a man who must wrestle with an internal evil. In THE WOLFMAN he battles the effects of a werewolf curse and releases his inner monster to roam and attack at will because, he says, “The beast must have its day.” In THE RITE his character likewise wrestles with an inner evil, but in this instance the evil is resisted, and deliverance is desired rather than unbridled relishing in that evil.
Another actor in this film completes the final part of my second observation, and that is Alice Braga. In THE RITE Braga plays a journalist, Angeline, struggling to know whether her deceased brother (who struggled for years with mental difficulties and claimed to hear voices) was really suffering from mental disease or demonic influences. Like Kovak, Angeline wrestles with the issues of faith and skepticism. It is worth noting that this is not the first time Braga has taken a role that depicts a character addressing faith in the face of evil. In I AM LEGEND (2007), Braga played Anna, a woman who believed that even in the face of a worldwide plague that turned most of the human population into contagious, monstrous creatures, God’s voice could still be heard if humanity was willing to listen.
It is here that the latter half of my second observation above leads to what I view as the major focus of this film: developing religious commitments in the midst of a skeptical age. But THE RITE presents this idea in a curious fashion, almost by “backing into” faith as understood in the Judeo-Christian tradition. According to this film’s reasoning, although life’s experiences, coupled with the reigning cultural narrative of the sciences as the arbiter of truth, make it very difficult to maintain traditional religious commitments in terms of belief in God, the presence of supernatural evil through demonic possession proves the existence of the Devil; by extension, this then proves the existence of God. If Satan exists, then God must exist as well.
Although this reasoning is problematic, it is not difficult to understand in light of Kovak’s experiences that are displayed in flashbacks and dreams over the course of the film. Kovak’s father runs a mortuary out of the family home, and thus young Michael was exposed to the unsanitized reality of death from a very young age. In addition, his mother died when he was a child; it was her death, coupled with his father’s enlisting Michael to assist with his mother’s embalming, that led to Michael’s functional atheism symbolized by the young Michael bending and twisting a crucifix behind his back as his mother’s casket is lowered into the ground. Many irreligious as well as religious convictions often begin at the experiential level, and then develop rational justification and support over time. Kovak’s lack of faith is understandable in light of the close proximity of death since his youth, and the loss of his mother, a woman of religious convictions.
Kovak’s experiences are mirrored by countless individuals in our late modern period. As just one example, a recent story in THE NEW YORKER on Guillermo del Toro included a telling paragraph which echoed similar sentiments in a National Public Radio interview of the past in which the gifted film director described his atheism as a result of his experiences with the corpses of young children in his native Mexico. In his view, no human beings can have souls, and no God can exist if even these innocents are tossed out like garbage. In other interviews with del Toro, we learn that other experiences played a part in his lack of faith, such as an overbearing religious grandmother, but the point is that the experiences of one of the greatest contemporary horror and dark fantasy film makers echoes the struggle of faith of Kovak in THE RITE. It is indeed difficult to believe in God, or in anything.
Yet here an unlikely source provides for positive religious inspiration. It is through his battles with evil personal entities – which he comes to believe are supernatural – that Kovak comes to accept the existence of the Devil. And as mentioned previously, if the Devil exists, it is argued, then in light of the Judeo-Christian tradition, then God must exist as well. Of course, there are other possible explanations, even if possession is granted as a legitimate phenomenon. After all, anthropologists have described possession across a variety of cultures and religious traditions. But it is interesting that in our skeptical age, the Devil is construed as a proof of God’s existence.
It remains to be seen how much longer Satan will be given a starring role at the box office. We have been fascinated with him for years in literature and cinema, as well as in religion and culture. Perhaps the moral ambiguity of our times – ever increasing since THE EXORCIST burst on the screen at a previous time of social upheaval and sent viewers vomiting from the theaters – demands the ultimate villain. By pointing beyond ourselves to an external and supernatural source of evil we can exorcise not only our individual but also our societal demons as well, and come to embrace faith, in something.
That criminal mastermind of a film programmer, Eddie Muller is presenting 24 films a second… or rather 24 films in ten days, for the ninth annual edition of NOIR CITY taking place at San Francisco’s historic movie palace, the Castro Theatre, from Friday, January 21 through Sunday, January 30. This year’s festival features several Noir titles that overlap with the horror genre, as it’s focus is on madmen, psychopaths and all around demented individuals.
Horror highlights include Peter Lorre in STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR, Albert Dekker as twins in AMONG THE LIVING, George Cukor’s GASLIGHT, taken from the hit Patrick Hamilton play, ANGEL STREET which helped to launch Vincent Price’s career in Hollywood, Robert Siodmak’s THE DARK MIRROR, Fritz Lang’s SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR with Joan Bennett, and Ray Milland in SO EVIL MY LOVE.
The complete schedule follows:
Friday, January 21
STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR | Director: Boris Ingster (1940 – RKO) 64 min.
Nine years after appearing in Fritz Lang’s M, Peter Lorre plays another murderer on the loose, but in a Hitchcockian twist, Lorre’s crimes are pinned on “the wrong men.” Featuring a prolonged dream sequence that was the initial injection of noir expressionism into Hollywood’s bloodstream. Archival print from the Library of Congress.
HIGH WALL | Director: Curtis Bernhardt (1947 – MGM) 99 min.
Brain-damaged vet Robert Taylor confesses to murdering his unfaithful wife and is sentenced to a sanitarium. His doctor (sexy Audrey Totter) gradually realizes he might not be guilty. Taylor gives his best performance ever in this neglected gem, which glistens with feverish rain-soaked noir-scapes, shot by Paul C. Vogel (THE TIME MACHINE).
Saturday, January 22 | Matinee
GASLIGHT | Director: George Cukor (1944 – MGM) 114 min.
MGM’s glossy film version of the hit Broadway play ANGEL STREET, which starred Vincent Price as the megalomaniac Mr. Manningham, who was replaced in the film by Charles Boyer. George Cukor directed Ingrid Bergman to the first of her three Academy Awards, as the distressed woman whose husband drives her to the brink of insanity. Joseph Cotten and Angela Lansbury co-star.
Q: Did you consider Vincent Price for GASLIGHT?
GEORGE CUKOR: There had been some talk about it because I had met Vincent Price when he was playing Prince Albert in VICTORIA REGINA on Broadway, and David Selznick had wanted to put him under contract. But Metro wanted a bigger name and in the end we cast Charles Boyer in the part, which worked out quite well. Boyer kept up air of coldness throughout the entire movie.
Q: John L. Balderston who wrote DRACULA and THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN worked on the script.
GEORGE CUKOR: Yes, along with John Van Druten and Walter Reisch. Balderston worked on it before I came on the film, though. Van Druten was a very good playwright, although I didn’t like his play OLD ACQUAINTANCE. I thought that was shit! It was too heavily done, but he was generally a very good writer of dialogue. Together he and Reisch worked out the suspense elements and were able to move the action out of the boundaries of the stage. It’s very difficult, because you have to have a certain fidelity to the original, but also give it movement beyond the confines of the stage, without tearing the script apart. Van Druten actually suggested Angela Lansbury for the part of the Cockney maid. She was here as a refugee from wartime England and working at Bullock’s department store on Wilshire Blvd., so I made a test with her even though she had no experience. Well, she did what I felt was a very good test and even though she was a bit nervous, as soon as she stepped on the stage, it was just as if she had been a professional actress all her life!
STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT | Director: Anthony Mann (1944 – Republic) 56 min.
A WWII veteran comes to a California town to meet the woman who was his cherished wartime pen-pal. The girl’s peculiar mother claims she’s away-perhaps far, far away. This highly atmospheric, slightly daft “B” was the sixth low-budget wonder on the growing résumé of esteemed noir director Anthony Mann (T-MEN, RAW DEAL), featuring a jaw-dropping performance by Austrian actress Helen Thimig. A brand new 35mm print restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive! Preservation funded by Paramount Pictures.
Saturday, January 22 | Evening
THEY WON’T BELIEVE ME | Director: Irving Pichel (1947 – RKO) 95 min.
Robert Young is brilliantly cast against type as a married man whose sex addiction leads to murder. Director Irving Pichel (DRACULA’S DAUGHTER) elicits superb, nuanced performances from Susan Hayward, Jane Greer and Rita Johnson as the seduced and deceived women, all full-blooded characters in Jonathan Latimer’s sharp-edged screenplay. Produced by Hitchcock protégé Joan Harrison, it’s one of the most unjustly obscure films of the 1940’s.
DON’T BOTHER TO KNOCK | Director: Roy Ward Baker (1952 – 20th Century-Fox) 76 min.
Hammer Horror director Roy Ward Baker got his start directing Marilyn Monroe as a mentally unbalanced babysitter (in a sheer negligee!) who is hired by a couple visiting Manhattan. All hell breaks loose when she entices randy airline pilot Richard Widmark in for a layover. A claustrophobic, unsettling drama scripted by Daniel Taradash, from the novel “Mischief” by Charlotte Armstrong. Featuring Anne Bancroft and Elisha Cook, Jr.
Sunday, January 23
A DOUBLE LIFE | Director: George Cukor (1947 – Universal) 104 min.
George Cukor directs Ronald Colman in his only Oscar-winning performance as Anthony John, an actor who confuses his role onstage as Othello with his life off the stage, resulting in the Moor of Venice’s jealousy becoming all too real. Miklos Rozsa provides another vivid score, but minus the thermin he introduced to such great effect for mental aberration in Hitchcock’s SPELLBOUND. With Signe Hasso, Shelly Winters and Whit Bissell. Presented in an archival print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Preservation funded by the Film Foundation.
AMONG THE LIVING | Director: Stuart Heisler (1941 – Paramount) 67 min.
DR. CYCLOPS’s Albert Dekker stars as identical twins, one a brain-damaged psychopath who stirs up a Gothic whirlwind of insanity, family skeletons and murder in a small town paralyzed by fear. Stuart Heisler directs Lester Cole’s (THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS) baroque script with fabulously lurid intensity. Costarring a lushly nubile Susan Hayward, venerable Harry Carey, and pre-tragedy Frances Farmer. This rarely screened horror-noir hybrid is one of the most requested films in NOIR CITY history, finally presented in a glorious 35mm print!
Monday, January 24
SORRY, WRONG NUMBER | Director: Anatole Litvak (1948 – Paramount) 89 min.
Barbara Stanwyck gives a tour de force performance (and won her fourth Oscar nomination) as a neurotic invalid who overhears a murder plot over the telephone. Based on the famous radio play by Lucille Fletcher, that starred Agnes Moorehead. The movie plot is expanded with flashbacks to Stanwyck’s romance with a young Burt Lancaster before things go sour in their relationship. Maestro Franz Waxman delivers a suitably thrilling score.
THE LADY GAMBLES | Director: Michael Gordon (1949 -Universal) 99 min.
Barbara Stanwyck delivers another great performance as a woman whose appetite for gambling destroys her marriage and threatens her life. The on-location scenes of early Las Vegas are great fun, but things turn harrowing as Stanwyck spirals into addiction. Writer Roy Huggins and director Michael Gordon are surprisingly frank and brutal for the time, especially when Stanwyck is caught cheating at back alley craps. With Robert Preson, John Hoyt and Stephan McNally.
Tuesday, January 25
THE DARK MIRROR | Director: Robert Siodmak (1948 – Universal) 85 min.
Witnesses place Ruth Collins (Olivia de Havilland) at the scene of a grisly murder. When it’s discovered she has a twin, Dr. Elliot (Lew Ayres) is brought in to psychologically evaluate them both. When the doc falls for one of them, the other becomes murderously jealous. Noir master Robert Siodmak deftly directs this Oscar-nominated original story, guiding de Havilland through two sensational performances, as the sisters both sweet and sinister. Preservation funded by the Film Foundation.
CRACK-UP | Director: Irving Reis (1947 – RKO) 93 min.
A museum curator (Pat O’Brien) survives a massive train wreck, but wakes up an amnesiac in a living nightmare; it seems the accident never happened, and now everyone is convinced he’s losing his mind. Fredric Brown’s ingenious short story “Madman’s Holiday,” is inventively realized by director Irving Reis and enacted by a top-flight cast, including suave, sinister Herbert Marshall, sartorially splendid Claire Trevor and Mercury Theatre veteran, Ray Collins.
Wednesday, January 26
THE WOMAN ON THE BEACH | Director: Jean Renoir (1947 – RKO) 71 min.
Despite this noir-stained psychodrama being drastically cut prior to release, it remains a mesmerizing tale of dementia, desperation, and lust. Legendary French director Jean Renoir elicits compelling performances from the triangle of Robert Ryan, Joan Bennett, and Charles Bickford, the latter as a famous painter blinded by his beautiful wife. A rare chance to see this maimed masterpiece-that-might-have-been on the big screen!
JEAN RENOIR talking with Francois Truffaut and Jacques Rivette in SIGHT AND SOUND (Summer – 1954):
Q: Is it true that you encountered some difficulties with your film, WOMAN ON THE BEACH?
JEAN RENOIR: That was quite an adventure. Joan Bennett, who is a friend of mine, asked me to make it. She said: “I’ve been invited to make a film at RKO. Come make it with me.” RKO seconded the offer, and I was pleased to go back to them—I’d been very happy there before. Originally, Val Lewton was going to produce the film. He was a most interesting person, and it was very tragic that he died some years ago. If not the first, he was certainly one of the first to make fairly ambitious films cheaply; that is on “B” picture budgets, although with good scripts and stories out of the ordinary run. Don’t think I despise “B” pictures; in principle, I prefer them to the big, pretentious psychological films—they are more amusing. When I happen to go to the cinema in America, I go to see ” B ” pictures. In the first place, they are a great technical achievement. To make a Western in a week as Monogram does, beginning on Monday and ending on Saturday, takes a good deal of skill, believe me. The crime stories are made at the same speed. Secondly, I consider that they are often better than the important pictures, because the director has complete freedom—working at that rate, no one has time to supervise him. Val Lewton kindly helped me to begin WOMAN ON THE BEACH, and then went back to his other projects, which no doubt interested him more, and left me to myself. I was more or less my own producer, in association with a man named Jack J. Gross, who kept strictly to the business side. In fact, I was wholly responsible, and I’ve never shot a film with less script and more improvisation. I took the opportunity of attempting something I had long wanted to do; a film based on what, today, is called sex—perhaps it was called sex then, but people didn’t talk so much about it—seen from a purely physical point of view. I tried to tell a story of physical attraction into which sentiment did not enter. I made it and was pleased with it; the film was perhaps a little slow, but the scenes were well balanced and excellently played by Robert Ryan—this was his first important part—and by Joan Bennett.
The studio, the actors and I were all pleased with this film, but we had some doubts about the public reaction, so we agreed to have several previews. I remember one in particular, at Santa Barbara before an audience of college kids. They didn’t like the film, they weren’t interested, and I had an impression that my method of showing emotional scenes devoid of emotion shocked them—or perhaps it wasn’t what they were used to. In any case, it was a poor reception and we returned to the studio very disheartened.
You know, a preview is an unbearable ordeal. You sit down and feel as though your body was being pierced by blows from a knife. I was so discouraged that I was the first to suggest cuts and alterations. The film had been expensive to make, as to arrive at the style I wanted I had to work slowly; and Joan Bennett had succeeded in completely altering her personality for the part—I even asked her to lower her voice, which was rather sharp. All of that took time. This time, it was I who feared a financial catastrophe, for which I would have felt responsible. The studio authorities were most considerate, and said: “All right, we shall have to make changes, but you must do it.”
I felt then that I had no right to take complete responsibility for launching the film on the public, and I believe that moment of doubt did no good to the picture. I carefully re-shot numerous scenes, altogether about a third of the film, including mostly the scenes between Robert Ryan and Joan Bennett; and I produced a film which was, I think, neither one thing nor the other, and which had certainly lost its raison d’etre. I had allowed myself to be too greatly influenced by the Santa Barbara preview, and, at the thought of losing contact with the public, I had flinched. All the same, people who criticize this film should not consider the things that influenced me. I was myself responsible for the alterations. Actually, I believe that I was attempting something which would have been successful now; today, in America, audiences are more ready to accept the ideas of WOMAN ON THE BEACH, and I am afraid that my film was premature, and anticipated the present state of mind.
BEWARE MY LOVELY | Director: Harry Horner (1952 – RKO) 77 min.
The great Ida Lupino plays a lonely war widow who employs a drifter (Robert Ryan) as a household handyman, only to learn–too late–precisely why he has no references on his résumé. Lupino and Ryan, a pair of noir heavyweights, battle through a “day without end” to an unexpected climax. Mel Dinelli’s suspenseful script is adapted from his hit stage play “The Man.” Released the same year Lupino and Ryan teamed-up on Nicholas Ray’s ON DANGEROUS GROUND.
Thursday, January 27
THE TWO MRS. CARROLLS | Director: Peter Godfrey (1947 – Warner Bros.) 99 min.
Humphrey Bogart as a psychopathic artist who paints his wives as “The Angel of Death,” and then disposes of them with a glass of poison milk (shades of SUSPICION). Naturally Barbara Stanwyck catches on to her husband’s psychosis, so Bogart must eliminate Stanwyck in a more violent way. Especially memorable for the melodramatic scene where a crazed Bogart bursts into Stanwyck’s room, his face a mask of terror that foreshadows Christopher Lee’s dramatic library entrance in HORROR OF DRACULA, ten year later.
MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS | Director: Joseph H. Lewis (1945 – Columbia) 65 min.
Unemployed Julia (Nina Foch) gets a dream job working for a wealthy widower, only to awaken in a nightmare-living with a schizoid husband and a scheming mother-in-law (George Macready and Dame May Whitty), neither of whom she’s ever seen before! Director Joseph H. Lewis (GUN CRAZY) made his mark in Hollywood with this incredibly tense and well-acted mystery thriller, one of the best B-films of the era.
Friday, January 28
CRASHOUT | Director: Lewis Foster (1955 – Republic) 89 min.
Killers on a Furlough from Hell! The rarest of jailbreak films, and one of the best. William Bendix, Arthur Kennedy, Luther Adler, Gene Evans, Marshall Thompson and William Talman (as a knife-chucking religious fanatic) crash out of the pen to unearth a stashed robbery payroll. Director Lewis Foster’s frantic film is full of wild flourishes and stunningly brutal action. Featuring leggy Beverly Michaels, wholesome Gloria Talbott, and mousy Percy Helton!
LOOPHOLE | Harold D. Schuter (1954 – Allied Artists) 80 min.
One of the rarest films of the original noir era, a tidy tale of unjust persecution that plays like a B-film LES MISERABLES. An innocent bank clerk (Barry Sullivan), made the fall guy in an embezzlement scheme, is pursued to the brink of insanity by a scarily righteous lawman (merciless Charles McGraw, in an signature performance). Presented in a brand new 35mm print funded by the Film Noir Foundation, courtesy of Warner Bros. and the UCLA Film & Television Archive.
Saturday, January 29 | Matinee
BLIND ALLEY | Director: Charles Vidor (1939 – Columbia) 69 min.
An escaped convict (Chester Morris) and his moll (Ann Dvorak) hold a dinner party hostage while waiting for their boat to freedom. During the long night, a psychiatrist (Ralph Bellamy) persistently probes for the root of the crook’s psychopathy-with shattering results. Remade several times, the first version remains the freshest, thanks to Charles Vidor’s (GILDA) canny direction, including startling dream sequences using camera techniques unique for the era.
SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR | Director: Fritz Lang (1948 – Universal) 99 min.
Director Fritz Lang jumped (with abandon) onto the 1940’s Freudian bandwagon with this wildly symbolic cinematic fright-ride. On a pre-wedding holiday Joan Bennett meets the real man of her dreams (Michael Redgrave), who sweeps her off her feet and into a nightmarish honeymoon that’s a cross between Rebecca and Bluebeard. Stanley Cortez (THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS) shot this visually stunning film that has been lovingly restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Preservation funded by the Film Foundation.
Saturday, January 29 | Evening show
THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF UNCLE HARRY | Director: Robert Siodmak (1945 – Universal) 80 min.
Small-town designer Harry Quincey (George Sanders) finally meets the right woman (Ella Raines), but his possessive and possibly insane sister Lettie (Geraldine Fitzgerald) has no intention of letting him go. How will Harry get free of her incestuous clutches? A dark and mordant psycho-sexual drama (with lots of spicy wit) in which director Robert Siodmak creatively undermines the Hollywood Production Code. Fitzgerald is at her stark, raving, and sexy best.
SO EVIL MY LOVE | Director: Lewis Allen (1948 – Paramount) 112 min.
Inspired by a true-life, never-solved murder, this is one of the great undiscovered gothic-noir dramas of the 1940’s, made a few years after Milland and director Lewis Allen teamed up for the scary ghost story THE UNINVITED. A devout missionary (Ann Todd) falls under the spell of a charming rogue (Ray Milland) and can’t resist aiding him in the commission of his crimes. Milland is at his caddish best, but the real standouts are Todd and co-star Geraldine Fitzgerald. Featuring Martita Hunt (BRIDES OF DRACULA) and Leo G. Carroll. Based on the novel by Marjorie Bowen, who wrote under the pseudonym Joseph Shearing.
Sunday, January 30
ANGEL FACE | Director: Otto Preminger (1952 – RKO) 91 min.
Jean Simmons is simultaneously sexy and creepy as a Los Angeles heiress who will do anything to get the man she wants. In this case, it’s ultimate noir hero-chump Robert Mitchum, who blithely believes he can handle his unhinged paramour’s Electra-fying passion. Otto Preminger directs this doomed romance with an almost suffocating precision, creating what Jean-Luc Godard hailed as “one of the ten best films ever made in Hollywood.” With Herbert Marshall and Leon Ames.
THE HUNTED | Director: Jack Bernhard (1948 – Allied Artists) 88 min.
More buried treasure unearthed! Steve Fisher’s original screenplay for this bargain-basement B-film offers a clever twist on the typical femme fatale. Laura Mead (Belita) has served her time for robbery and still claims her innocence. She returns to the city where her former cop lover (Preston Foster) sent her up. Was she guilty-or was he just jealous? Is she back for a fresh start-or revenge? A strange, hypnotic noir from Poverty Row director Jack (Decoy) Bernhard, resurrected in a new 35mm print by the Film Noir Foundation, courtesy of Warner Bros. and the UCLA Film & Television Archive.