Wednesday, February 10, 2021

All the President’s Men (1976)

All the President's Men (Dir: Alan J Pakula, 1976).

Sometimes you forget how powerful a storytelling medium film can be until you watch a truly great movie. Such is the case with Alan J Pakula’s masterpiece All the President’s Men. Goodness knows why it has taken me 45 years to finally watch it.

Recent events in US politics, and indeed the years leading up to them, may have de-sensitised some to political corruption or at least ruined their appetite for movies about political corruption. Fret thee not as All the President’s Men is less a film about politics, rather the investigative journalists who uncovered the Watergate scandal which eventually led to the impeachment of 37th US president Richard Nixon. 

Based upon Washington Post journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward's non-fiction book of the same name, the movie cast Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein and Robert Redford as Woodward as they doggedly probe the murky details surrounding the 1972 break-in and burglary of the Democratic Nation Committee headquarters in the Washington DC's Watergate complex. Risking their careers and their lives to expose the perpetrators of the felony, tracing it all the way back to the main man himself, president Nixon.

There is surprisingly little action in All The President's Men, indeed much of the 'action' is made up of two guys on the telephone. Yet it is as taut and tense as any thriller you have seen, with Pakula’s steady direction a masterclass in pacing. As you would expect, the cast is flawless. Much of the movie is shot in closeup and the intensity of the performances is right up on the screen in the faces of Redford and Hoffman; the movie proving an acting showcase for two of Hollywood's most enduring and appealing leading men. Excellent support comes from Jack Warden, Martin Balsam and Jason Robards as the Post editors and a short but scene stealing appearance from Ned Beatty, similar in tone to his brief role in the same year's Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976). Special mention must be made to the late Hal Holbrook who is especially effective in the small but important role as the shady informant Deep Throat. 

What could have been a dry account of worthy journalistic endeavor is, instead an enthralling and exciting masterpiece. All the President's Men wholly lives up to it reputation as one the most important films of its era and arguably the greatest political film of all time. Highly recommended for even those with no interest in politics and journalism. 

Friday, January 29, 2021

Rock & Rule (1983)

 Rock & Rule (Dir: Clive A Smith, 1983). 

Rock & Rule is a futuristic, dystopian sci-fi rock musical from Canadian animation studio Nelvana.

On a post apocalypse planet Earth in which mutant rodents have displaced extinct humans as the dominant species, evil genius rock god Mok (voiced by Don Francks with singing by Lou Reed) plots to summon an inter-dimensional demon, presumably in pursuit of world dominance. In order to fulfill his maniacal plan he must engage the talents of Angel (Susan Roman with singing from Blondie's Deborah Harry), a young, ambitious singing mouse with the desired vocal frequency to open up a portal to the demon's domain. Kidnapping Angel and whisking her off to his lair in Nuke York, the pair are soon perused by Angel's fellow band members on a daring rescue mission. Yeah, I kinda lost the thread of the plot a couple of times, but what the hey? Hallucinogenics may help...  

In development since the late 1970s, Rock & Rule would fall foul of studio politics when a new regime at distribution company MGM/UA would lose faith in the movie, delaying its release and only granting it a limited theatrical run in 1983. Seemingly destined for obscurity, the feature would eventually gain cult status when made available on the burgeoning home video and cable TV markets. 

Back in the '80s, Nelvana were known for popular TV 'toons The Raccoons (1985-1992) and the Star Wars series Ewoks (1985-1986) and Droids (1985-1986). The studio's debut feature film, Rock & Rule shares a visual style with the period TV product, albeit a notch up in production values. The cast of humanoid creatures with animal faces recall the non-duck periphery characters of Carl Barks' Uncle Scrooge comic book universe. This influence is particularly apparent in a trio of Beagle Boys-esq henchmen. 

Yet, while the sub-Disney character design may appeal to the kids, some mild swearing, drug taking and sexually suggestive humour that wouldn't seem out of place in Ralph Bakshi's x-rated animations Fritz the Cat (R Bakshi, 1972) and Heavy Traffic (R Bakshi, 1973) means it is largely unsuitable for young'uns. Seemingly aimed at teens who feel they have outgrown Disney but are a little too young for Bakshi, it would be fair to assume it caused some headaches among the MGM/UA marketing department; at least partially sealing its fate with regards to release.

An impressive array of recording artists was assembled to soundtrack the movie, with contributions from Deborah Harry, Cheap Trick, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Earth, Wind and Fire. While the music is good, it is perhaps less memorable than such an exemplary line-up would suggest. None of the songs particularly lingering in the memory after the end credits roll, and I would image that, by the time of the movie's eventual release in '83, much of it seemed outdated to its intended audience.

Still, there is an engaging weirdness to Rock & Rule which means it is never less than entertaining. With a visual aesthetic which veers uneasily between impressive and rough around the edges, it is no animated classic. But with a decent post-punk soundtrack and frankly bizarre plot, it easily earns its cult status. For grown-up kids weened on 1980s Saturday morning cartoons it has an undeniable nostalgic appeal; a genuine oddity that deserves to be watched at least once. 

Monday, January 18, 2021

Attack on the Iron Coast (1968)

Attack on the Iron Coast (Dir: Paul Wendkos, 1968).

Following the success of The Great Escape (John Sturges, 1963), producer Walter Mirisch would attempt to repeat its success with other WWII themed movies including 633 Squadron (Walter E Gruman, 1963), Submarine X-1 (William Graham, 1968) and this cheap and cheerful effort. 

Inspired by the real life Operation Chariot, a raid on the German occupied French port St Nazire, Attack on the Iron Coast details an mission to destroy a Nazi stronghold, lead by hardheaded Canadian army Major Jamie Wilson (Lloyd Bridges) and dissonant British navy Captain Franklin (Andrew Keir).

Herman Hoffman's screenplay is a cliched affair, with narrative tropes familiar to anyone who has ever watched a WWII movie. Add to this the unimaginative direction of Paul Wendkos and some overwrought performances from its cast of B movie regulars and we have a well meaning but somewhat ham-fisted actioner. The use of stock footage in battle scenes and obvious model work in the effects sequences only accentuate the movie’s low budget. 

Top billed is Lloyd Bridges, an amiable leading man who always seemed more comfortable on the small screens than in movies. He gives a decent performance as commando leader Major Wilson, tormented by the thought of sending his squad on the deadly duty. More effective is co-star Andrew Keir as the stoic Captain Franklin, at loggerheads with Wilson after his own son was lost on one of the Major's previous missions.

Fascinatingly much of the movie was shot in London’s St Katherine Dock, after it functioned as a dock and before redevelopment saw it transformed into a leisure and tourist destination. To be honest, this and the presence of Mr Keir were my main reasons for watching this particular feature film. If this peeks your interest then it is well worth seeking out. If not there are many WWII movies far more competently made than this. 

Ultimately, Attack on the Iron Coast is the movie equivalent of a Commando comic book. While it is no cinematic masterpiece, it is a perfectly entertaining way to pass 90 minutes of your time; I imagine the movie was met with appreciation by many a young lad on the second half of a matinee double bill back in '68. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Escape in the Fog (1945)

Escape in the Fog (Dir: Oscar Boetticher Jr, 1945).

The evocatively titled Escape in the Fog is a B-movie thriller from Columbia Pictures; directed by Budd Boetticher, billed here, as on all his early movies, as Oscar Boetticher Jr. 

Wartime nurse Eileen Carr (Nina Foch) has a nightmare about the attempted murder of friendly neighbourhood G-Man Barry Malcolm (William Wright). The premonition proves prophetic and on this preposterous premise is hung a convoluted plot involving smuggled documents, kidnapping and Nazi bad guys.  

Sometimes regarded as film noir, Escape in the Fog has noir-ish elements but is, instead, a fairly routine wartime espionage thriller. At least it would be routine, but for the incredulous plot. Set in San Francisco. but featuring little of the city’s famous landmarks, it was obviously shot on the studio backlot on a fairly meagre budget. That said, it makes decent use of its budgetary constraints; with fog cloaked exteriors both adding atmosphere and obscuring the lack of outdoor locales and elaborate sets. 

Otto Kruger receives top billing as uncover agent Paul Devon, but the real leads are William Wright and Nina Foch. A leading man who never made it out of B-pictures, Wright is a little too bland to fully convince as the hero. Better is Foch as the mystic medic; although sadly underused, she is nonetheless as watchable as ever and is probably the best reason to seek out this particular movie. Together the pair have little onscreen chemistry, thus making the romantic subplot feel a little forced. 

Boetticher was often dismissive of his early work, including Escape in the Fog. It is a little undistinguished but not without entertainment value. At just shy of 65 minutes it is short and moves at a fair pace but, ultimately, the movie is scuppered by a convoluted plot and the implausible narrative device of premonition  It is worth a watch, especially for fans of the era and of Foch, but the plot is just a bit too silly to really take seriously. 

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Major Barbara (1941)

 Major Barbara (Dir: Gabriel Pascal, 1941)

An impressive array of British acting talent headline Gabriel Pascal’s feature film adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s acclaimed 1905 satirical play. Receiving an Assistant in Direction credit, it is widely acknowledged that Major Barbara was almost solely directed by the great David Lean with some help from stage director Harold French. Producer Gabriel Pascal owned the film rights and took onscreen director credit. 

Wendy Hiller stars as the titular Salvation Army major and estranged daughter of weapons manufacturer Andrew Undershaft (Robert Morley). Rex Harrison is the Greek philosophy professor Adolphus, who sparks romantic interest from the major and business interest from her father as a possible heir to his ammunition enterprise. 

It is hard to recall a movie of its era with a more impressive cast than Major Barbara. Fresh from her performance in Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion (Anthony Asquith & Leslie Howard, 1938), Wendy Hiller gives an enormously characteristic performance as the headstrong idealist at odds with her father’s legacy. Rex Harrison, who incidentally would later star in Pygmalion musical adaptation My Fair Lady (George Cukor, 1964), is her equal, giving evidence of his stature as one of Britain’s top stars. Add to this some deliciously ripe hamming from Robert Morley and Robert Newton and early appearances from future stars Deborah Kerr and Stanley Holloway and you have a veritable who’s who of Brit actors.  

A hack amateur movie reviewer, such as myself, is in no position to criticise a great writer such as Mr Bernard Shaw. Indeed, there is little to criticise. Shaw’s satire is still sharp over a century after the play was first performed. The dialogue sparkles and Lean’s direction can’t be faulted; the movie is rightly regarded a classic. However, I feel the capitalism sympathetic climax sits somewhat uneasy with the rest of the feature. I appreciate it is satirising both sides of the capitalist coin, but the ending really did trip me up. For me it was the movie’s only real weakness; although I guess it is only a weakness depending on where you sit on the political spectrum. 

In all other respects Major Barbara is top tier entertainment from the golden age of British cinema and is highly recommended viewing. 

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972)

Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (Dir: R Winer & B Mahon, 1972). 

If you are looking for alternative Christmas viewing it doesn’t get much more alternative than this, frankly weird, no-budget effort from indie production company R & S Films, Inc. 

Santa (Jay Clark) touches down in sunny Florida and gets his sleigh stuck in the sand. Using his powers of telepathy(!), Ol’ Saint Nick summons the help of some local kids including, for reasons unexplained, Mark Twain’s literary Tom and Huck. The kids employe an assortment of animals, gorilla included, to shift the sleigh to no avail, until the appearance of the titular rabbit who, despite co-star billing, doesn’t appear until the final moments of the movie. When he does finally make an entrance he is inexplicably driving a fire truck, not an ice cream van as you might expect. Really this Santa and Bunny business is just a framing device as Santa settles down to tell the kids the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk, which takes up the bulk of the movie’s runtime. 

Portions of a movie’s musical score being played on kazoo is generally a good indicator that it was made on a low budget. Actually there are many indicators that Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny was made on a low budget: amateurish performances and camerawork, shoddy sets and witless songs are just a few. 

With a disjointed and often nonsensical narrative the movie has a hazy, dreamlike quality that may leave you wondering if you actually watched it or imagined it. Yet, for all that, it does have a certain slapdash charm. 

I seriously doubt if Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny ever appealed to kids, even back in ‘72. It is difficult to see it appealing to young’uns today, unless they have a particular penchant for kitsch movies. 

In the public domain and easy to access via streaming, by all means give it a watch, as there is little else like it around. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it as much as endured it. But it was weirdly watchable and cheaper than drugs. 

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Christmas Carol The Movie (2001)

Christmas Carol The Movie (Dir: Jimmy T Murakami, 2001). 

A UK production from Jimmy T Murakami, the talented supervising director of The Snowman (Dianne Jackson, 1982) and director of When the Wind Blows (J T Murakami, 1986); an all star cast and a story seemingly ideally suited to feature length animation treatment. What could possibly go wrong? Plenty. 

The clunky title Christmas Carol The Movie should be some indication that the feature film to follow is not the Christmas Carol with which you are familiar. In fact this take on Charles Dickens’ literary classic is so wildly irreverent it makes you wonder why the filmmakers bothered making a movie based on such a reverential text. The basics are here as miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by various spirits on his road to Christmas redemption. Yet changes to the tale, such as a reconciliation with lost love Belle, are certainly not an improvement, while the decision to show the story through the eyes of a pair of friendly rodents is frankly weird. 

I would be slightly more forgiving of Christmas Carol The Movie if the accompanying animation was anything other than flat and lifeless, lacking style and of Saturday morning cartoon quality. Yet, while the film can only be regarded as a disappointment, it is not entirely without merit. The Ghost of Christmas Present sequence, in which the oversized spectre distributes Christmas spirit via cornucopia, is rather lovely and adopts a unique visual style far more appealing than the rest of the movie. 

Then there is the stellar cast. In live action bookends Simon Callow impresses as Charles Dickens, narrating the action and giving a marvellous vocal performance as Scrooge. Kate Winslet contributes a particularly tender reading as Belle and makes a lovely job of singing end title song ‘What If’. A surprising satisfying casting choice is Nicholas Cage as an understated Marley’s Ghost. 

Yet none of the considerable talent manages to save a movie whose real problems stem from the unnecessary changes it makes to the source material. 

Suitable for younger viewers, but not an ideal introduction to Dickens, this is a sadly missed opportunity to create a definitive animated Scrooge; it is difficult to recommend  Christmas Carol The Movie when there are so many superior versions of the story out there. Check out Murakami and Dianne Jackson’s  masterful adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman for some genuine Christmas cheer. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

A Christmas Carol (1999)

A Christmas Carol (Dir: David Jones, 1999). 

So numerous are the adaptations of Charles Dickens’ evergreen A Christmas Carol that it is difficult for any new retelling to bring anything original to the tale. This Hallmark produced made for TV movie features decent production values, some neat visual effects and a somewhat more sombre tone than expected but doesn’t really stand out from the Christmas Carol crowd. 

It does feature a commendable performance from Patrick Stewart in the lead. Stewart had previously played Ebenezer on Broadway and on London’s West End. He isn’t the most imposing of screen Scrooges, but he does bring a subtleness to the role which is often lacking in other interpretations. 

While the star cast assembled here is pretty impressive, not everyone is especially suited to their roles. Richard E Grant, for example, is not ideally cast as the downtrodden Bob Cratchit, while Dominic West makes for an unusually rugged Nephew Fred. Better served is legendary Joel Grey as an eerie Ghost of Christmas Past. Adding a real touch of class are the excellent Liz Smith and Elizabeth Spriggs; both superb in their small yet significant roles as, respectively, Mrs Dilber and Mrs Riggs.

While not top of my Christmas watch list, this A Christmas Carol is by no means a bad movie, just one with a subject that has been better told elsewhere. However, the atmosphere is refreshingly downbeat, never losing sight of the important message its story conveys. This may put off younger family members but is a welcome tonic to the sticky sentiment present in most Hallmark outings. 

Ultimately, the movie gets more right than wrong and while by no means essential, it is worth a look for the talented cast, especially so for fans of Stewart and Grey.

Monday, December 7, 2020

A Christmas Carol (1984)

A Christmas Carol (Dir: Clive Donner, 1984).

Be they traditional retellings or radical reworkings, new adaptations of Charles Dickens’ ever popular 1843 novella are as common as a cock’er’ny street urchin. Less numerous, but still pretty plentiful, were they back in December 1984 when this prestigious US/UK coproduction premiered on CBS prime time, while simultaneously released to cinemas internationally. 

George C Scott here stars as the original grinch, who is persuaded to change his ways after overindulging in Christmas spirits. 

With its story familiar to virtually every living soul, it can be difficult for any new telling to distinguish itself from the all the others. Let’s be honest, no other version can top the masterpiece Scrooge (Brian Desmond Hurst, 1951) with its magnificent central performance from Alastair Sim as, arguably, the definitive Ebenezer. Yet George C Scott makes the character his own, at least for the duration of the movie. 

An interpretation of Scrooge that is

somewhat softened; Scott’s portrayal is more disillusioned businessman than the gleeful miser of other adaptations. While this does mean Scott is not one of the screens more powerful Scrooges, it does add a little more shade to a character who can easily become one dimensional in the hands of a lesser actor. 

In a supporting cast peppered with faces familiar from 80s television, the standout, for me, is Edward Woodward. Soon to be seen in popular TV drama The Equaliser (1985- 89), Woodward is cast against type as the Ghost of Christmas Present. With the requisite mix of jollity and foreboding, his success in the part makes you wish he had stepped out of his action comfort zone a little more often. 

A nice moody atmosphere permeates A Christmas Carol. Its impressive production values offer few indications of the movie’s made for TV origins. While it may not rank among the very best versions of the story, it is still a decent movie, well worth including in any annual Scrooge-athon. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

A Christmas Carol (1938)

A Christmas Carol (Dir: Edwin L Marin, 1938).

Produced by MGM at the height of Hollywood’s golden age, A Christmas Carol is a lively, albeit scrubbed up, adaptation of Charles Dickens ever popular 1843 novella. The familiar story is more or less faithful to Dickens' text, as miserly old Ebenezer Scrooge accepts a ghostly hand in relocating his Christmas spirit, much to the relief of his put-upon employee Bob Cratchit, as well as the half of London who are indebted to him.  

Encouraged by the success of David Copperfield (George Cukor, 1935) MGM embarked on this Dickens adaptation, originally intended as a vehicle for character star Lionel Barrymore. Due to sickness, Barrymore had to pull out and was replaced by Reginald Owen, a lesser known but accomplished performer, now best remembered for his role as Admiral Boom in Mary Poppins (Robert Stevenson, 1964). It does seem a bit of a missed opportunity for Barrymore, who would have made an excellent Scrooge. He would later play Christmas curmudgeon Potter in his most famous movie It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946), giving a glimpse of what he may have brought to the role. But don't be too disappointed, as Owen makes for a wonderfully charismatic Scrooge, in what is arguably one of the standout readings of the character. 

An impressive supporting cast were assembled to bring the characters off of the page and into the movie theatre. Notably the great character actor Leo G Carroll as an eerie Marley's Ghost and an appealingly goofy turn from Barry Mackay as Nephew Fred. Gene Lockhart looks a little too well fed but brings an immense likability to his role as Bob Cratchit while Terry Kilburn is a suitably winsome Tiny Tim. A standout for all the wrong reasons is John O'Day as elder Cratchit son Peter whose broad American accent is jarring to say the least! 

The default movie version of the tale until surpassed by British production Scrooge (Brian Desmond Hurst, 1951), this particular Christmas Carol omits all the darker aspects of the story in favour of family friendly festive frivolity. Boasting lavish production values, the characters here seem to have experienced little of the poverty described in the original text in an altogether rather jolly affair which is decidedly more Hollywood than Dickens. While it may seem odd to scrub the story of its more sombre moments, it is worth remembering the state of events when the movie was released; with the US only just beginning to pull itself out of The Great Depression and the prospect of World War II imminent, audiences were looking to the movies for escapism, and A Christmas Carol offers this abundance.

A slightly antiseptic take on the story it may be, but it is warmhearted, festive and highly entertaining. If you watch one Christmas Carol this year, make it the masterful 1951 adaptation Scrooge, with Alastair Sim's definitive take on the character. But if, like me, you head into four or five plus territory, then this good-natured version is well worth seeking out. 

Sunday, November 22, 2020

All the Money in the World (2017)

All the Money in the World (Dir: Ridley Scott, 2017). 

Based on events which shocked the world back in 1973, All the Money in the World relates the story of Pablo Getty (Charlie Plummer), 16 year old grandson of billionaire oil baron J Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) who was kidnapped and ransomed for $17,000,000. Pablo’s mother and estranged daughter-in-law of Getty, Gail (Michelle Williams) cannot pay the fee and appeals to Getty Snr. Though a pittance to a man of his standing, Getty refuses to put up the money; instead hiring ex-Fed Fletcher Chance (Mark Wahlberg) to investigate the abduction. 

Best known for big budget sci fi and widescreen epics such as Blade Runner (R Scott, 1982) and Gladiator (R Scott, 2000), Ridley Scott may seem an odd choice to direct the true story of a kidnapping. But Scott proves his versatility in an impressively mounted, sometimes morbidly gripping thriller. Eliciting strong performances from a talented cast, particularly that of Christopher Plummer as Getty Snr. 

As was widely reported at the time, disgraced star Kevin Spacey was originally cast in the role of J Paul Getty. Dropped from the movie less than a month before its scheduled premiere, the part was recast with Plummer and all scenes involving the character were hastily reshot. A performer who I feel improves with age, Plummer is excellent in the role. As the hardened business man he exhibits a callous coolness while remaining sympathetic in his portrayal. He was deservedly lauded for the performance and, in all honesty, it is hard to imagine Spacey would have been any better. It is credit to Plummer, Scott and all involved that the newer scenes integrate seamlessly with the old. Indeed, if you didn’t know you would never notice. The rest of the cast also prove highly capable in their roles; Whalberg gives one of his most charismatic performances as Chance, while Michelle Williams gives a sensitive portrayal of a distraught and exasperated mother.  Also noteworthy are Charlie Plummer as the captive and Romain Duris as a sympathetic gaoler, in movie replete with powerful performances. 

All the Money in the World tells a grim story but a worthy and engrossing one. Unflinching in depiction of the tortures Pablo endured, it is not always an easy watch but it is a very rewarding one. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The Giant Behemoth aka Behemoth the Sea Monster (1959)

The Giant Behemoth aka Behemoth the Sea Monster (Dir: Eugène Lourié, 1959)

Taking inspiration from The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (Eugène Lourié, 1953) and Godzilla (Ishiro Honda, 1954), The Giant Behemoth (released in edited form in the UK as Behemoth the Sea Monster) is 1950s monster movie mayhem on a minuscule budget.  

In a classic 'when atomic testing turns bad' scenario, a pre-historic Palaeosaurus comes ashore on the Cornish coast, threatening the lives of marine life and crusty old fishermen. Not content with terrorising townsfolk in the West Country, the rampaging radioactive reptile heads to London. What is a bored behemoth to do in the big city but riot? If only the meddling military don't stand in his way... 

It would be easy to dismiss this, admittedly schlocky, sci-fi as just another second feature monster flick with second rate special effects, but to do so would be doing The Giant Behemoth something of a disservice.

Granted, its plot is a bit of a potboiler, already over familiar by the late 1950s. Regardless of which, a great deal of pseudo science is employed to explain the onscreen events, resulting in a rather talky first half. Surprisingly, it doesn’t have too much of a detrimental effect on the pacing. Padding it may be, the 'science part' doesn't detract too much from the tension building and the movie is actually rather well paced, in spite of obvious exposition; although I am sure most audience members are just eager to see the monster create chaos in the capital.

Already a noted art director, Eugène Lourié  made his directorial debut with the influential sci-fi classic The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, often regarded as the movie which started the monster fad of the 50s. The Giant Behemoth sees him in similar creature feature territory. While the former was a low budget affair, its superior stop motion animation by effects genius Ray Harryhausen would lend the film a polish that belies its budgetary restraints.  ...Behemoth, too, utilises stop motion animation, but with less satisfying results. Harryhausen's mentor Willis O’Brien was the uncredited special effects designer and creator, although his work here is a considerable step down from his contribution to the staggering effects in King Kong (Merian C Cooper & Ernest B Schoedsack). In actuality the stop motion animation is decent here, especially when seen in wider shots. However, this is greatly undermined by some wretched close-ups of a clearly static puppet. We see the same cars trashed and the same extras attacked time and again, diminishing the otherwise sterling model work. 

For what it's worth Lourié makes the best of the meagre ingredients and delivers a well paced, enjoyable B picture. He would direct four features in total, all in a similar pulp sci-fi vein. While each movie has its merits, all but The Beast... are hampered by tiny budgets. The Giant Behemoth is no monster masterpiece but it is a worthy edition to the creature feature genre. Rough and ready, certainly,  but with an undeniable cut price charm.  

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Scrooge (1935)

Scrooge (Dir: Henry Edwards, 1935).

This early British 'talkie' stars Sir Seymour Hicks stars as Ebenezer Scrooge, the yuletide loathing rotter who finds redemption when visiting spirits show him the error of his ways, much to the gratification of his overworked, under payed employee Bob Cratchit (Donald Calthrop). 

Distinguished as the first feature length sound version of Charles Dickens' oft filmed novella, time has not been particularly kind to this adaptation of A Christmas Carol. Granted, it is 85 years old, but considering it is merely two years older then Walt Disney's perennial Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (David Hand, 1937), and two years younger than the innovative King Kong (Merian C Cooper & Ernest B Schoedsack, 1933), this movie seems like a product of a completely different age. 

Print deterioration undoubtedly accentuates the antiquated feel. Long in the public domain and evidently edited over the years, the version I viewed also appears to be missing a reel; the expected sequence in which the Ghost of Christmas Past escorts Scrooge back in time to his youth is completely absent. Rather the scene begins, abruptly, with the breakdown of Scrooge's engagement to Belle and is over with in minutes.  Good luck finding a more complete copy, as my attempts to find one have proved futile. 

Having played Scrooge both on stage and in the silent film Old Scrooge (Leedham Bantock, 1913), Seymour Hicks is suitably curmudgeonly as the old miser. Other performers fare less well in a movie which, perhaps due to missing footage, seems a little light on character development. Scenes showing the disparate differences between rich and poor, while commendable, feel a little like filler in such a short movie. The undoubted highlight are the scenes featuring the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. The shadowy sequence displays influences of German Expressionist film and features some genuinely inventive visuals. 

Over familiarity is always an issue when watching any movie adaptation of such a well known story, but all considered, this Scrooge is an entertaining and worthy addition to ever increasing Christmas Carol canon. The movie was eventually overshadowed by MGM's more lavish A Christmas Carol (Edwin L Marin, 1938); a movie which was itself surpassed by the British production Scrooge (Brian Desmond Hurst, 1951).With an excellent central performance form Alastair Sim, that particular adaptation is rightly considered the definitive version by many. 

Its copyright status means Scrooge is easy to source on many streaming platforms, in original black and white as well as dodgy digital colour. It will probably be of interest most to Christmas Carol completists, but is recommended viewing to anyone seeking alternative festive entertainment.