Monday, November 30, 2009

The Invisible Man (1933)

A frustrated scientist discovers a drug that will make him invisible. The side-effect is that it also makes him nuts. Oh, and he has no idea how to make himself visible again, which, at the very least, is a problem in his love life. So he rents a room at a quiet country inn and sets about in a make shift laboratory trying to figure out how to reverse the effects of his "condition." Claude Rains plays the mad scientist who after a few days of invisibility decides that it's all he needs to take over the world. He sets about on a campaign of murder and terror to prove his point.

The great irony of the Invisible Man is that the scientist feels invisible when he is actually visible and powerful when he is in invisible. To further add to the wacky, this is all in his head. He has a fiancee who adores him, a mentor who cares for him like a son and the jealous, grudging respect of colleagues.

Rains made a career out of playing insecure men. Think of his most famous roles as the jealous Nazi in Notorious and the corrupt French policeman who is called to take a moral stand in Casablanca. These men use their power in cowardly ways to cover up some kind of inadequacy and to get the women they ordinarily wouldn't be able to get. In the end, it's their undoing. If there's a lesson to be learned here, it's that dating outside one's league always leads to trouble. One minute you are having your honeymoon, the next she's being dragged from your house by her super hot spy boyfriend.

In The Invisible Man, this deeply ingrained feeling of inadequacy, normally a controllable if unpleasant neurosis, blossoms into full-on ca-razy complete with long periods where the dude does nothing but cackle insanely and make footprints in the mud. While this is a horror movie, I think the horror lies in the first few times we glimpse the emptiness beneath the bandages and the creepy feeling that you could be in a room with someone you can't see. A lot of the effects border on silly rather than scary--a policeman gets pantsed, a pipe smokes itself. Of course, the invisible man does really nasty things like murdering a cop and derailing a train, just to shake things up.

I watched this entire movie and I had completely forgotten that I hadn't actually seen Claude Rain's face until the last frame of the film. His voice so completely embodies the character that we forget that we can't see him. For those of who remember Rains primarily for his roles in the 1940s, it's a shock and surprise to see him here looking so young and handsome when at last he is finally visible.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Foreign Correspondent (1940)

The lesser known and loved of the two great films put out by Alfred Hitchcock in 1940 (the other being Rebecca), Foreign Correspondent is sometimes lost in the shuffle of Hitchcock's oeuvre. While I watched this movie in a film class at some point, I mainly remembered the famous umbrella sequence and that some of the plot devices are later rehashed in North by Northwest. Coming back to the movie with my obscure actor love goggles on, I can't believe how jam packed with awesomeness this movie is and I didn't even know it till a week ago.

I always feel that while commenting on Hitchcock movies that I have to really struggle to say something new. I tried doing a picspam commentary on Murder! which, based on the number of comments I received, was met with crickets chirping. This time I'm really going to shake things up with a macro using a fairly popular internet meme created by the ONTD livejournal communities.

So here goes, the first ever OCD Macro, printable at the 11x17 tabloid size, if you REALLY wanna show your love for Cinema OCD.

And while we are showing mad love for George Sanders, please enjoy this lovely, in-depth article about him. Watch him in one of best be-monicled scenes here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Eye Candy of the Day: Stuff found in my desk

As you all know, I'm a little OCD. Hence the name of this blog. One of my symptoms is an hoarding problem, especially when it comes to movie star memorabilia. Recently I had to move offices at work and the upside was that I cleaned a shitload of stuff out of my desk. I found this rather large cardboard portfolio of stills that I purchased on EBAY and never scanned. So in upcoming weeks you all will reap the benefits of my madness.

Speaking of madness, I purchased this still to go into my Boots and Shirtsleeves Screensaver folder, which is comprised of photos of actors in period dramas wearing white puffy shirts and/or riding boots. I also have a folder called Time for Tea with just pictures of my favorite actors drinking tea and another called Ungroomed which features pictures of my favorites unshaven and/or with messy hair. Sometimes, a photo will be a twofer, and feature someone with messy hair in shirtsleeves, or wearing riding boots drinking tea or unshaven and in shirtsleeves (as above). If I ever found a photo of one of my favorite actors drinking tea unshaven, with messy hair and in shirtsleeves and riding boots, I would probably have some kind of attack and have to be hospitalized.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Ghost West (1935) or Kilts a go-go

Murdoch Glaurie and his stylin' pimp bonnet break hearts across three centuries.

While it's a stretch to call The Ghost Goes West a horror movie, it was one of the first films in the horror comedy sub-genre and certainly one of the first of that ilk to be a huge hit. Believe it or not, this mostly forgotten little gem was the number one box-office draw in Britain in 1936 and arguably inspired Hal Roach studios to invest in Topper the next year.

The story opens in 18th century Scotland with the back story of our ghost, Murdoch Glaurie (Robert Donat) who was more interested in making time with the ladies than making war on English invaders. He's a lover not a fighter who is killed in a wacky friendly fire incident and condemned to haunt his family's castle until he can avenge his honor. Flash forward to 1930s Scotland and Donald Glaurie (also Donat) is what Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park would describe as a " poor honorable." Glaurie castle is falling down around him, creditors stalk him and his ambulatory ancestor has scared away most of his servants. So it's no surprise that when pretty Peggy Martin (Jean Parker), daughter of an American millionaire expresses interest in buying the old dump, her offer seems like manna from heaven. It's not till later that Donald learns that the new owner plans to move the castle to Florida and put a radio into one of his suits of armor. To add to the hijinx, the amorous ghost takes a liking to Peggy and manages to prove that 18th century moves are pretty darn effective with modern girls. Peggy assumes that the ghost is actually Donald in disguise (further confusion is added by the fact that at the end of the film Donald does disguise himself as the ghost) and goes for the role playing until the ghost proves to be too much of a playa for her.

The effects are all solid, if humdrum by today's standards and the action is ably managed by highly-respected French director Rene Clair, in his first English-language film. The comedy is further helped by Eugene Pallette who plays the crass millionaire with appropriate clueless brio, and Morton Selten who has a small but memorable role as Murdoch's crotchety dad, just known as The Glaurie. Jean Parker is an able comedian and actress who made a number of under-rated movies like this one that are well-regarded by those that have actually seen them (Lady for a Day, Operator 13, Gabriel over the White House).

Donat, as usual, is wonderful, managing a slight Scottish accent for the ghost and a generic public school one for Donald. He seems to really relish playing the lady-killing spector though he gives his lines a completely natural reading that makes them even funnier. As Donald he is a bit Mr. Chips-y adding a subtle layer of awkwardness and shyness to his character that is always appealing. One gets the feeling that this guy would never get to first base if the ghost wasn't unwittingly playing on his team. Audiences in Britain at the time ate up the sub-text that things were just plain better in the past and that being of noble heritage will not necessarily get you laid. Moat ownership, as those who've followed the news from the old country this past summer, is not what it used to be.

So not much remains to be said about this movie, except for me to drag out the eye candy, which predictably, is mostly kilt-related.

Eye Candy: Kilts a gogo

There are so many kilts in this movie. At one point an entire Afro-caribbean Jazz orchestra is outfitted in clan tartans.

I just love the look of complete disdain on Donat's face here. The not-so subtle anti-Yank sentiment in this movie is probably one of the reasons it wasn't a huge hit in America.

Best fake newspaper plot advancement headline ever! People just don't use the phrase "highhat" enough anymore.

The ghost says goodbye. I love Clair's shadowy cinematography. He manages just the right amount of romantic gloom for the Glaurie castle sets.

This is bordering on gratuitous, but I love me some kilts!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Island of Lost Souls (1932)

Ah, Charles Laughton. He could rock an insane character like no one else. Six months after playing a bonkers submarine commander in The Devil and Deep (1932), he tackled the mad scientist Dr. Moreau for this Paramount horror movie. Bela Lugosi was hired for his horror movie gravitas, though he's mostly wasted in a small part, "The Sayer of the Law." I confess, I couldn't pick him out of a beast man line-up to save my life. He does get to utter the most famous line of the film, "are we not men?" which was inspiration for Devo to ask the question decades later.

Richard Arlen rather woodenly portrays the protagonist Edward Parker who is stranded on the island. Parker is disturbed by Moreau's experiments-- the "unsuccessful" examples are used as slaves and the "House of Pain" that the islands inhabitants fear is a vivisection lab. He decides to keep quiet about things in order to get off the island more quickly. After meeting Moreau's creation, Lota the panther woman, (Kathleen Burke) he changes his mind about keeping quiet.

Moreau quickly moves from being a hospitable if eccentric host to being completely crazy, deciding that he's going to keep his new house guest to mate with Lota to prove once and for all that his creations are perfectly human. What's completely insane about Moreau and is never really addressed is the question of exactly what the doctor's experiments are supposed to do to help humanity? In Frankenstein, the ability to reanimate the dead could seemingly have profoundly positive benefits, but why go around making a race of mutants, if the only point is to prove that animals can be turned human? Aren't there plenty of regular humans walking around who were made the old-fashioned way? South Park pretty much nailed this flaw in the story in their parody, in which the mad scientist makes turkeys with multiple asses. Really, what's the point, dude?

My favorite part of the movie is Lota. You gotta love Lota. And indeed, until he finds out her secret origin, Parker is completely prepared to ditch his fiancee back on the mainland to have a shot with her. Paramount, desparate to hype the film, had held a nation-wide contest to cast the part and Burke won. Though she never really hit the big time, she proved more than capable in the movie and went on to play more exotic temptresses in Paramount classics such as The Lives of The Bengal Lancers and The Last Outpost.

Bonus Eye candy:
A whole lotta Lota!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Doctor X and Mystery of the Wax Museum

Doctor X (1932) and The Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) were Warner Bros. answer to Universal's horror power house. Both films star Lionel Atwil and Fay Wray, both were directed by Michael Curtiz and both used the two-strip technicolor process. There is even a remarkable similarity in plot--an intrepid reporter investigating a series of murders, stumbles upon a bizarre series of suspects, solves the murder and winds up living happily ever after.Both films bolster the fairly weak horror plots with lots of humor and Warner's stable of snappy actors make these movies quite enjoyable. The desaturated technicolor provides an unusually moody atmosphere for horror, making morgues, foggy waterfronts and old dark houses that much creepier.

Doctor X stars Lee Tracy as the reporter. As always Tracy is really fun , zipping in snide one-liners and even doing a little slapstick now and again. Tracy is investigating a series of full moon murders where the victims were strangled and their bodies cannabalized. He is lead to Doctor Xavier's research institute, aka the Spooky Old House of Incredibly Suspicious Mad Scientist Murder Suspects. He also meets the Xavier's daughter, Joan (Fay Wray), who doesn't seem at all disturbed by the half dozen potential maniac cannibals roaming her house, but is totally spooked by her father staying up late in his library. Horror truly is a subjective thing I guess.

Doctor X has a fun twist on the whodunnit denoument in which all the suspects are gathered together. Xavier chains them all to their chairs and hooks them into a crazy 1930s "science" movie set. The killer is of course the one person not chained up, and he dons his artificial flesh made out of melted down corpse bits and sets to work attacking Joan who has been set up as bait for the killer. Good thinking doctor! This is actually a tense and horrifying scene, but Tracy saves the day and gets the girl in the end.

The Mystery of the Wax Museum begins with a sculptor Igor (Lionel Atwill) who is hard at work on his wax creations, which are for some reason confined only to this movie, considered high art. His business partner, fed up with loosing money on the museum, decides to burn the place down. He doesn't bother to wait till Igor's gone home to make with the matches and Igor barely survives the fire, trying desparately to save his creations. The melting of the wax statues is actually awesomely creepy and is one of the best things about this movie. Igor becomes obsessed with recreating them, but his hands are so badly damaged in the fire that he can no longer sculpt.

Meanwhile in New York City, we are introduced to Florence (Glenda Farrell), an intrepid reporter investigates the death of a fashion model. Like Lee Tracy, Farrell is an actor who livens up every scene and it's a joy to watch her in a lead rather than side-kick position. Florence finds out that the police suspect the model's boyfriend, George Winton and she interviews the fellow in jail. Florence flirts with him and later decides to date the millionaire playboy.

Her roommate Charlotte (Fay Wray) takes her to the opening of a wax museum and Florence becomes convinced that a statue of Joan of Arc is actually the dead fashion model whose body had recently disappeared from the morgue. Igor is struck by Charlotte's beauty and her resemblance to his masterpiece, Marie Antoinette. He traps her in the wax museum and tries to kill her. In the tense climactic scene Charlotte attacks his face and it crumbles away revealing his hideously burned visage beneath a wax mask. Florence arrives in the nick of time but discovers that her new boyfriend, the millionaire playboy is involved with bootlegging and is associated with Igor's match-happy former business parner. Luckily out of left field, her editor proposes to her and in annoying twist, Florence gives up her career as a reporter.

I think Doctor X is probablya tighter and more entertaining picture. At times Mystery of the Wax Museum looses focus, sending us down dark alleyways looking into bootlegging operations and the life of Igor's drug-addled assistant Mr. Darcy. As a Jane Austen fan I had a hard time with that character name, actually. Assistants are supposed to be called Igor, but I suppose since that was already taken by the main villain they needed to have some kind of name for his deranged helper.

The pre-code in both these films comes out in the treatment of Fay Wray as cheesecake. In Doctor X there is a completely out of place beach scene were Wray and Tracy lounge in skimpy costumes and in Mystery of the Wax Museum there is a gratuitous dressing before the camera. Apart from these surface ornaments, the movies feel much more like films that would be made later in the decade. With the emphasis on fast-talking humor, marrying off the working woman and other conventions of the late 30s, I half expected to see Howard Hawks' name above the title.