If You’re Not Giving Cigarettes, Perhaps You’d Consider Booze?

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…The shirt is red, the toupee is believable…

Rummaging Through Life #5

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“Actor Boris Karloff pictured above birthday cake full of candles re the 150th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein.”

Date taken: 1968
Photographer: Dmitri Kessel

MIA On R1 DVD #9

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (Herbert Ross, 1976)

An ugly fullscreen version of this, no doubt recycled from the similarly ugly laserdisc transer, was released about a decade ago by Image. It fairly quickly went out of print and has remained there these many years since. Used copies routinely go for at or near $100 (I think I got $80-something for mine). The British market came to the rescue about a year ago with a proper 1.85×1 ratio, much-improved transfer. Yet another reason to be multi-standard. It’s available now at Amazon UK, or any number of other international-shipping UK-based reatailers, and can be had for something like ten bucks.

The film itself is lots of fun for even a passing Sherlock fan, and rather star-studded once you get past Nicol Williamson in the lead. Laurence Olivier is his typical hammy self in the smallish part of Moriarty, Vanessa Redgrave is the distressed damsel whose red hair turns even Holmes’ head, and Alan Arkin makes an estimable showing as Sigmund Freud. Robert Duvall’s Watson is the memory most folks seem to walk away with – his strange accent is both annoying and unforgettable, sounding like a 45 RPM recording of someone with a head cold played at 33 1/3. Williamson’s drug-addled Holmes is convincing enough, but his post-withdrawal characterization isn’t as alarmingly sedate as in Nicholas Meyer’s original novel.

It’s also unique as a big-budget Holmes film that mostly eschews London and indeed England – most of the action takes place in Vienna. It makes a nice change seen at three decades removed, but I can’t help but wonder if the studio (Universal) fretted over that at the time. Several nice set-pieces – I’m especially fond of Freud’s tennis duel with the nasty anti-Semitic Baron. Recommended, Meyer’s novel even moreso.

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The Bit I Like More Than Maybe I Should #5: Record, Meet Match

Strait-Jacket (William Castle, 1964)

The William Castle Collection has been recently released on DVD by Sony, reminding me of a bit in Strait-Jacket that I enjoy to an indefensible level.

Joan Crawford – our Joan, All-American Joan, self-debasing as a first instinct Joan – plays Lucy Harbin, a woman released from the nut house twenty years after chopping her philandering husband to death. The film chronicles Lucy’s perilous attempts to reintegrate with her family and reclaim a normal life, free of axe murders. She’s still at least a little nutters, chipper and zestful one moment, nervous and depressed the next.

Any resemblance between this film and Psycho 2 is completely predictable.

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Joan happily taps in time to a dance record.

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She sashays over for a cigarette, bopping to the beat.

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She manages to fumble out a cancer stick, but fails to get a match to light on the cup in front of her. No matter, she slides back over to the record player…

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…and strikes it on the spinning record, knocking the needle off and stopping the music. She scarcely notices.

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Sixty-something year old Joan flashes a lot of leg at her visitor.

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Why not some knitting? While holding the cigarette? What don’t I love about this?

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Records, matches, ciggies, knitting. Joan’s a national treasure, and I don’t want to hear any more about it.

Krimi Korral #4: The Indian Scarf

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Das Indische Tuch aka The Indian Scarf (Alfred Vohrer, 1963)

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I responded quite positively to this one, finding it possibly my favorite in the Rialto/Wallace series that I’ve seen thus far. I suspect I’m on a bit of an island in feeling that way. I like these “Ten Little Indians”-ish stories, with a finite number of suspects being inexorably reduced. It features more than the normal helping of humor, and more than a little of that humor being of the meta, fourth-wall breaking variety. Think mid-period Avengers and you’re about there.

In slowly working my way through these films, there have been some surprises. I’m surprised by how amused I am by Eddi Arent. I’m surprised at how well the Pete Thomas scores consistently work. What I did not imagine I could be surprised by is finding any great tonal deviations between the films. The reputation of the Rialto Krimis is very much one of formula – a handful of basic plots reworked a handful of ways by a handful of directors working with a handful of core actors. A product. And yet I have been surprised by some varying tones within these strict bounds. The style of self-knowing comedy here is alien to the similarly-plotted The Strange Countess from just two years earlier. This is all to the good, and a reason to keep going back to the Krimi well.

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This gimmick is used twice. The setting, a rich old English mansion, is presented as a tapestry, which is then raised like a curtain to create a proscenium arch effect. The artificiality of film is frequently referenced, and suspension of disbelief is actively foiled. Director Vohrer insists we watch self-referentially.

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The same tapestry later on, as characters convene in the mansion. The lights go on!

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Edward, the strange scion of this wealthy family. This tableau sort of hits the visual nail on the head for what is to come – a fair number of statues/effigies with a wtf-juxtaposition. A stuffed horse? In one’s bedroom? Sure, everything’s hunky-dory around here!

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His father, Lord Lebanon. The first victim of the scarf strangler.

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The phone falls as he dies, from which we receive the standard opening catchphrase:

Halloo! Hier ist Edgar Wallace!

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Always happy to see Eddi Arent’s credit come up.

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Lord Lebanon’s survivors gather for the reading of his will. The lawyer administering, and hero for this entry is played by Heinz Drache. Joachim Fuchsberger gets to take a break.

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Events conspire to belay the reading of the will, allowing us to evaluate this band of potential heirs: the predictable collection of blowhards, kooks, connivers, secret long-lost relatives, inscrutible servants, and the sweet innocent young girl. The actress playing the girl is named, no kidding, Corny Collins. Nothing whatsoever to do with the emcee from Hairspray, I assure you.

Naturally, the power goes out and the phone lines are cut, because how’s a crazy killer s’posedta go on a locked-house murder spree without doing that?

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Tee-Hee!

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Black-gloved killer, reporting for duty!

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Comin’ at ya with scary fashion accessories!
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Drache goes investigating, discovering secret passages and tunnels connecting rooms. What would a Wallace Krimi be without secret underground passageways?

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This one emerges into a false shelf in an armoire. As luck would have it, it’s Corny Collins’ room, and she just happens to be undressing. Our hero pervs out.

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Let’s move on from the appetizers to the main event – Klaus Kinski!:

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Klaus shatters a glass in his bare hand, providing this lovely still. It looks like he’s got a fistful of fiberglass.

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Klaus plays an illegitmate son of the Lord, an angry artist, and consumer of injectible “medicine”.

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Ady Berber, the blind killer of Dead Eyes Of London, here plays an idiot servant whom Klaus is making a bust of.

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Love them disembodied black glove shots!

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A nice juxtaposition in back-to-back scenes. First Heinz confronts Klaus across his bust-in-progress, then young Lord Edward and a relative talk around this giant bust (Beethoven?) in the next scene.

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Klaus gives us the crazy eyes that made him famous.

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Every mansion needs a steam room.

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The killer goes for a twofer.

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Every time another person in the house is killed, Butler Arent wordlessly removes a place setting at the dining room table. In one of the meta-movie moments, he silently beckons a wheeled serving table to come to him of its own power. It does. He places dishes on it and motions it away. It zooms off.

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Going up to feed the pigeons, Eddi notices legs dangling in midair where the should not be

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The end of Ady Berber.

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Evidently the soup was not to his liking. I’d say they’re dropping like flies now, but flies are hardier than this.

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Heinz is trapped in the dungeon, leaving Klaus free to menace Corny Collins:

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Hairy tarantulas, weapon of choice for bound girl terrorizing.

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I have no, repeat NO use for a mansion that doesn’t feature inexplicable hanging skeletons and cobwebs in the basement.

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The end of Klaus Kinski.

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Actor Hans Clarin as Edward Lebanon, giving Klaus a run for his money in the crazy eyes department.

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In the wrapup, the will finally gets read, with no one left alive to hear it but Corny and the Butler.

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Another sight gag. As Heinz begins reading, all the empty chairs around the table lean forward, as if occupied by the ghosts of all the now-dead family members, still caring about how they all came out in the will. Heinz, slightly irritated, tells them all to calm down. He comes to the punchline, telling them that Lord Lebanon has left the lot to “The greatest author of the 20th century…” (he addresses the camera)…Edgar Wallace!

MIA On R1 DVD #8 Looking For Mr. Goodbar

Looking For Mr. Goodbar (Richard Brooks, 1977)

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 It was both popular and controversial in its day, culturally significant even, but is perplexingly hard to see now. Why the disappearing act? Popular DVD-enthusiast rumor mongering says it’s because the soundtrack is a pain to relicense.

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Maybe, but haven’t a lot of these songs been licensed dozens of times for dozens of uses? Hasn’t the TimeLife Library worked over Boz Scaggs’ Lowdown or Bill Withers’ Use Me to the point where licensing ought to more or less come free with Happy Meals?

MIA On R1 DVD #7: Johnny Guitar

Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954)

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Johnny Guitar is ostensibly a western, starring Miss Joan Crawford as Vienna, owner of a remote bar/casino who is about to see patience pay off when the railroad comes through. The mean local businessmen want to run her off and control all the railroad windfalls for themselves. They run a succession of guns and plots against her.

A western sure, but one stood on it’s head. This is a fight to the death between the two toughest SOBs in town, who both happen to be women. Joan’s mortal enemy is Emma Small, played by Mercedes McCambridge, who for all her foam at the mouth hatred for Vienna also looks to be more than a little in love with her.

Contrast this with the menfolk – Sterling Hayden as a gunslinger who’d rather play guitar in saloons for money is Vienna’s best hope for some backup. Her second-best hope is an outlaw called The Dancing Kid. If the film were any less subtle, these boys would also be big needlepoint enthusiasts.

So, transgressive to be sure, frequently jaw-dropping, and lovingly crafted by Nicholas Ray. And Joan is…well, some sort of elemental being. You could go further down her resume – she ends up much more firmly in the grasp of Gorgonism and parody in things like Queen Bee and Strait Jacket – but I think this is far enough to take a step back and gape at her career. How did this creature…

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(predicting Madonna!)
…become this creature?
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I don’t know if Joan’s a great actress or not, but she’s a great something, and Johnny Guitar needs to be readily available on DVD. There’s at least a couple R2 european editions, but my British one is a little sucky, and I don’t think the others are much better. The ball’s in Lionsgate’s court, and they don’t seem remotely interested in hitting it back.
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MIA On R1 DVD #6: Batwoman

La Mujer Murcielago, aka Batwoman (Rene Cardona, 1968)

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Because I’d like to see it.

Rummaging Through Life #1

The Life Magazine site certainly qualifies as a visual treasure trove. I think I’ll start mining it a bit.

“Dr Who (Tom Baker) meets one of the monsters from his new series.”

Ivan The Terrible: Two Parts Stoli, One Part Kabuki, Stir And Pour

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I finally got around to watching Ivan The Terrible (both parts, natch) recently. I’m not sure why I put it off so long. I suppose I’d been just a bit disappointed with my previous Eisenstein experiences. Battleship Potemkin, despite all it’s qualities, never really reached me. Alexander Nevsky I liked – it has wonderful images, wonderful passages, but it seems a little too simple and the famous battle on ice was a damp squib. And neither of them take up three hours of your time, which is what you face with Ivan.

Ivan though – now this is the business! I invite you to check out the great writeup of it Matthew Dessem did at The Criterion Contraption. There’s no way I’ll match his insight and eloquence, and I think the film and Eisenstein in general strike us very much the same way. Naturally, this makes him a very smart man.

I’ll add only two observations – for someone who is famous first and foremost for his advances in film editing, I find by far the most stunning, special achievements are Eisenstein’s static images. Some of the greatest compositions ever.

Also, there’s this:

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