Archive for category The 40’s

Rebecca [1940]


In 1940, Alfred Hitchcock came to Hollywood to direct what would become one of his greatest achievements. Yet it is somewhat surprising that despite his long career, only “Rebecca” earned him an Academy Award for Best Picture. Producer David O. Selznik, hot from the huge success of “Gone With The Wind” a year earlier, seized the opportunity to work with Hitchcock, pairing the director with Daphne Du Maurier’s gothic ghost story. I can recall a number of Hitch’s films, such as “The 39 Steps” and “North By Northwest”, in which the hero and the heroine end up falling in love, but are nevertheless essentially suspense films with an element of romance. “Rebecca” on the other hand, is strictly a romantic story with elements of suspense. A seaside estate (later the inspiration for Orson Welles’s Xanadu mansion) is the setting for the romance between Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier. They marry after a brief encounter, but as their relationship deepens, Fontaine is more and more haunted by the spirit of his dead wife, Rebecca. In a way, this is a ghost story, although not in the literal sense. The mansion may not be literally haunted, but it is permeated by Rebecca’s spirit. Innocent Fontaine is nearly driven to madness by the dark secrets of this huge mansion, but Hitchcock is more than happy with letting the tension build toward the unforgettable conclusion.

It doesn’t surprise me one bit that “Rebecca” won Best Picture and Best Cinematography at the Oscars that year. It was up against “The Letter”, “The Philadephia Story”, “Grapes Of Wrath”, and ironically, Hitchcock’s final british film “Foreign Correspondent” (all of which were excellent pictures). And despite the fact that it was David O. Selznick who took that Oscar home (Hitchcock never won an Academy Award for directing), Selznick will always be remembered for “Gone With The Wind”. Now “Rebecca”- that was Alfred Hitchcock’s work.

Rating: 4/4

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Abbott And Costello Meet The Killer, Boris Karloff [1949]


Like their earlier movie “Who Done It?”, Abbott and Costello find themselves once again investigating a murder. And despite the title being a bit misleading, this is among their finest work. No, Boris Karloff is not actually the killer here, as he is only a supporting character. I guess putting his name in the title was deceptive and made this appear to be a horror flick, while it’s actually a murder mystery (which is totally fine by me). Legend has it that the movie was originally titled “Abbott and Costello Meet The Killers”. The “s” was dropped to avoid confusion with the 1946 drama “The Killers”. The plot: While working at a secluded resort, goofy bellboy Freddie Philips (Costello) stumbles onto a stiff. Now suspected of commiting the murder, Freddie taps detective Casey Edwards (Abbott) to help prove his innocence. But first, they must deal  with the mysterious Swami Talpur (Karloff), a hypnotist who’s out to make Freddie the fall guy. You can see that poor Lou is going to have a hard time trying to prove his innocence, especially when dead bodies keep popping up wherever he goes (which made this comedy even more hilarious).

No great analysis is needed for a film like this; fans of the duo should be more than pleased with it. The movie has some nice set pieces in it, mostly handled brilliantly by Costello- such as a drag sequence where he attracts an admirer, and has to play cards with a corpse! But the movie works very well as a whodunit mystery aswell; a ream of characters, all acting oddly, come and go to keep the viewer guessing right through the closing credits. Another classic A&C comedy!

Rating: 3/4

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Citizen Kane [1941]


I wasn’t surprised one bit when I read that many consider “Citizen Kane” as the best film ever made. Afterall, The American Film institute called it the greatest movie of all time back in 1998. “Citizen Kane” is indeed one of those ageless movies that get better with repeated viewings, and through the years, it has become one of my personal favorites. The legend of this movie has been partly fueled by the fact that Orson Welles was only 24 when he made it, but also from the obvious comparisons between the main character Charles Foster Kane, and real life newspaper magnet William Randolph, who did everything possible to stop the picture from being released (when that failed, he tried to discredit it). “Citizen Kane” tells a fantastic story in reverse: Charles Kane (wonderfully played by Welles himself) is born poor, but was adopted by a rich man when he was only a child. As a young man, he begins to assemble a newspaper and radio empire, before marrying the niece of an American president. But as Kane becomes more and more alienated from his power, he becomes abusive to the women in his life, first his wife, then his mistress. When he dies, Kane had spent most of his final years in his unfinished castle, longing for the simplicity of his childhood. 

The most important reason to why this film was regarded the way it was, was due to its technical and stylistic innovations. It’s obvious that Welles was 20 years ahead of his time when he made this groundbreaking picture. Audiences and critics could not grasp many of its elements, and I don’t blame them. It was only after so many years that “Citizen Kane” became the film that we know and admire today, and it has served as a benchmark and source of inspiration to the film-makers of different era. There’s no denying that from the opening scene to the closing sequence, “Citizen Kane” is one unforgettable ride, and will always remain the movie that made me realise how much classic movies should be cherished and treasured.

Rating: 4/4

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Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein [1948]


Considered by many as one of the boys’s best movies, “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” is a wonderful blend of comedy and horror. The movie opens with a full moon rising in foggy London, where Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) is placing a panicked phone call to the States. He is the only one who knows that a great danger is on its way to America. It seems that Count Dracula (a deliciously creepy Bela Lugosi) and the Frankenstein Monster have been shipped to the wax museum, and when the sun sets, Dracula will rise again and control his superhuman servant. Talbot knows that he should warn anyone, but unfortunately for him, its Lou Costello who answers the phone. Soon enough, the boys find themselves running for their lives from the two monsters, a mad scientist, and even the Wolf Man himself!

I think the title of the movie is a bit misleading, since it’s really “Abbott and Costello Meet Dracula”. Fortunately for us, the Frankenstein Monster is not the main attraction here, but rather Bela Lugosi who reprises the role that made him famous in the early 30’s one last time. He does it with just as much passion as the first time, and he even manages to handle the comical dialogue aswell, with his terrific accent. The film also features  plenty of nice, gothic sets filled with full moons, bats, cobwebs and Lab equipment. I honestly can’t think of anything that I disliked in this hilarious spoof. The movie was a huge hit at the time of its release, and it inspired the studio to produce several more of the same, with the boys meeting up with the invisible man, Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde, and even The Mummy! And remember: Any movie that places Abbott and Costello with the Frankenstein Monster, Dracula and the Wolf Man (and a surprise cameo by Vincent Price), is worth any price of admission.

Rating: 3/4

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Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman [1943]


From the opening scene in the graveyard to the final battle between two of universal’s most famous monsters, “Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman” is considered a treat for horror fans. We follow the story of Larry Talbot (again played by Lon Chaney Jr.), the man who still wants nothing more than to be cured of his irrepressible lycantropy. This time around though, he’s on a quest to find inner peace, even if he has to die in order to obtain it. The gypsy woman Maleva agrees to take him to Vasaria, in order to find Dr. Frankenstein, who might be able to help him. Once there, he finds the scientist dead, but the monster isn’t. Slick, atmospheric horror movie borrows a lot of elements from earlier univeral films, which is not surprising given this is a sequel to both “The Wolf Man” and “Ghost Of Frankenstein”. It has great gothic sets, a noirish atmosphere, and an incredible final battle scene. Lon Chaney Jr. reprises his role in style, but I wish Bela Lugosi gave more life to his monster character. He’s such a great actor, but I strongly believe that he was totally miscast in this one. Either way, the movie still has its moments, enough to satisfy fans of old “horror flicks”. It may not be as good as “The Wolf Man” or even “Frankenstein”, but it’s still good for what it is.

Rating: 2.5/4

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The Thief Of Bagdad [1940]


To begin with a story: I remember watching “The Thief Of Bagdad” when I was very young with my grandfather (who taught me everything there is to know about films). It was probably the first movie I had ever seen, and I was fascinated by it. A couple of years ago, I learned that Criterion was releasing it on DVD. For those who may not know, the Criterion collection is dedicated to gathering the greatest films from around the world and publishing them in editions of the highest quality. Indeed, this 1940 movie is one the greats. It lifts up the heart. It has adventure, romance, costumes and wonderful music that one critic said is “a symphony accompanied by a movie.” And when I finally got the chance to watch it again, it was still as wonderful as it was some 20 years ago. Of course I had no idea that it was made in 1940 back then, but either way, I didn’t care. I simply loved it. The story I always had in my mind moved from one spectacular scene to another: the flying carpet, the sultan’s mechanical toy, the goddess with six arms, the giant spider, and of course the genie being released from a bottle. Watching all those wonderful scenes after all these years drew a smile on my face. We can certainly read the politics of empire and power from it aswell, but the film insists that we keep a childlike vision and try to identify with our young hero Abu, who in the last scenes, escapes from a boring court life, politics, adulthood, and marriage, in search of more adventure. Another critic wrote: “It’s a film that happily refuses to grow up”. Amen to that brother.

Rating: 4/4

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The Stranger [1946]


Orson Welles’s least known film as a director also turned out to be one of his most fascinating. “The Stranger” was an immediate postwar thriller about tracking down Nazi war criminals (Hitchcock did the same with “Notorious”). Edward G. Robinson plays a government investigator tracking down charismatic Nazi Franz Kindler (Orson Welles) , the man who invented the extermination camp, to a small town in Connecticut. Kindler is undercover as a history professor and is about to marry the daughter of a supreme court justice. Sounds like the perfect plan, until the body of a foreign man is found in the woods. Welles makes a terrific Franz Kindler; he’s always been convincing when it came to playing villains (“The Third Man” and “Touch Of Evil” comes to mind), and “The Stranger” is no exception, eventhough he gives himself away much too quickly in a conversation by stating that “Marx wasn’t a German, he was a Jew”. I guess Welles deserves credit for this very underrated film noir; of course I can’t rank it on the same level as “Citizen Kane” or even “Touch Of Evil”, but it’s still a fascinating piece, with a one of a kind atmosphere, and a thrilling finale (one that reminds me of Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”).

Rating: 3/4

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