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Rancid Popcorn » Darrell

Painting With Light: RIP, Jack Cardiff

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Jack Cardiff has died at 94.

I think Technicolor is one of the great aesthetic accomplishments of the twentieth century, and no one photographed more striking examples of it than Jack Cardiff. He served as cinematographer on all kinds of stuff, and plenty of it black and white. I am, however, obviously a Powell/Pressburger enthusiast, and so revere him most of all for the holy triumvirate of A Matter Of Life And Death/Black Narcisssus/Red Shoes. His most famous work was probably African Queen, and he makes a problematic film, Pandora And The Flying Dutchman, something of a must-see.

He directed some too. I know Sons And Lovers has plenty of admirers, but I’ve never seen it. I have seen Girl On A Motorcycle however, and let’s just say it’s less than great, and makes one appreciate Cardiff the cinematographer all the more.

I don’t know a lick about photography, but I know what I like. I know Cardiff’s contributions to those British Technicolor flights of fancy have more than a little to do with why I love movies, rather than just like them. I have tremendous respect for him, and his passing is a big deal in my personal headful of film.

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The Diabolical Dr. Z

The Diabolical Dr. Z, aka Miss Muerte (Jess Franco, 1966)

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Diabolical Dr. Z begins with a cat having something stuck/injected in the back of its neck, on a tabletop decorated with human skulls.

So there you go.

I’m going to confess I haven’t seen much of the Jess Franco oeuvre. Mind you, seeing “much” of it might be a practical difficulty, inasmuch as he has closer to 200 than 100 titles to his credit (Jess has been nothing if not industrious). What little I’ve seen has come just a bit later, late 60s, to early 70s stuff, which I think contains the characteristics he’s more stylistically associated with – dreamy imagery, zoom lens abuse, “stories” with plots that either meander or disappear altogether, and as much nudity as he can get on film. As the decades rolled on, he circled the exploitation drain ever-closer to flat out porn. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen nothing of his past maybe ’73. He seems to have any number of casual detractors (dismissers might be more accurate) and a handful of contrarian champions. It is often casually dropped that he worked with Welles, as if that provides some cover. Frequent collaborator Christopher Lee gives Jess benefit of the doubt, indicating that if he ever had the time or budget he’d do just fine.

Having seen their Fu Manchu collaboration (rightfully MST3K’d) I would be suspicious of Lee, but Diabolical Dr. Z makes me wonder if he’s right. It is a hugely enjoyable genre piece, and has virtually none of the characteristics I associate with Franco – plot matters (it’s not a brilliant plot, but it moves, it more or less coheres, it drives action. It’s conventional and I say that with relief), it doesn’t look dirt cheap or rushed, nobody gets naked, and if there was a camera zoom I missed it. On the other hand it does have some traditional Jess virtues – imaginative visuals, and the habit for making stage performance part of his stories is indulged. So I’m thinking Christopher Lee was at least sort of right – he can make good movies, or at least could in his earlier days.

Anyway, back to the cat. It is being experimented on by Dr. Zimmer, an old fella with some gogglish glasses and hair that looks like his finger found an electrical socket. He is wheelchair-bound, which means we prejudicially classify him as a “mad” scientist. He reads in the paper of a murderous convict who has escaped the local prison and is roaming the countryside:

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Naturally, this means the guy is going to end up half-conscious and hurt at Dr. Z’s front door. His female lab assistant and his daughter Irma drag the convict into the house. He’s hustled into the lab, and Dr. Z’s daughter convinces him that now is the time to move from cats to people – no one will miss this guy, experiment away!

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It’s a biggish, well-propped lab set. Already I’m wondering who had money to give Jess.

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The convict is grabbed and hoisted by Zimmer’s Dr. Octopus-like contraption.
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“Now you might feel a slight prick…”

The convict has been turned into a compliant, commandable assistant.

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Fully 8 minutes in, the credits finally show up. I was surprised – by then I had forgotten there hadn’t been any. This is like 10% into the movie. So what do you think of that “J. Franco” credit? I’m trying to decide if it’s ostentatious auteur posing or absolutely egoless, industrial film style professionalism.

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The Doctors Zimmer, father and daughter (that’s not them above, don’t get confused), go to a professional conference where he can brief his peers on his breakthrough. This sort of thing never goes well. The guy on the right is probably supposed to be the Austrian, but I’d like to think it’s the American – I like the idea that we’d send some badass eyepatch dude to the big neurological conference.

Zimmer is sneered, jeered, and generally laughed at by the room.

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You can mock people while walking around with those teeth?
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Big room, big gang of extras. Again, this is a Jess Franco movie?
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Dr. Zimmer collapses and dies on the conference floor under the weight of professional insults. His daughter inherits his cause – it is Irma who is the Diabolical Dr. Z, not her father.
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Drinking to dull the pain. A colleague, Phillippe, begins putting the moves on Irma.

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He takes her out to a nice, normal club with a simple floor show. What, don’t most clubs feature interpretive dances by someone calling themselves Miss Death? Why it’s as humdrum and everyday as meat helmets or luge lessons.
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So this her act: Writhe around on a floor painted to look like a spider web, across from a dummy in a chair. Wriggle over to him, crawl up his legs, straddle him…

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…Then rake her hyper-long razorlike nails across his dummy neck, as if slicing his jugular. Set the dummy on the ground, loom over it…

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…And hold a skull mask over her face.

That’s it. Applause, everyone!

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Phillippe takes Irma back to her hotel and goes in for the clinch. What he hasn’t quite noticed is – she’s bonkers.
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On the way home from the conference, Irma picks up a hitchhiker. Noticing a superficial resemblance, she decides to put her bonkers to work – by getting her out to the middle of nowhere, getting the girl out of the car and running her over!

(If either of the Maciste Brothers read this – yes, there’s a dummy used in the crash, but it’s distant and momentary)

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Irma is going to fake her own death so she can secretly carry on for her father, first by exacting revenge on the leading scientists who shamed him to death! Why, that plan is fiendish – one might almost say…diabolical?
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Unfortunately, while lighting the car on fire, she gets herself a faceful.

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A mercedes, on fire, tossed in the water. Who is giving you the money for this Jess, and why did they stop?

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Bad burns. Or messy peanut butter eating.
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Upon her return home, she finds her father’s assistant rather recalcitrant. She gets the needle treatment to get her back in line.
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Just to prove she belongs in the Mad Scientist big leagues, Irma goes where few have gone, performing plastic surgery…on herself!

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Meanwhile, Phillippe mourns Irma’s “death” by making a play for Miss Death. Dig those nails!
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Irma has better uses for Miss Death. Posing as a Hollywood agent, she tells Miss Death that her brilliant, brilliant act is just what Hollywood has been looking for. Miss Death, if you couldn’t already tell, is a dope. Believing Irma, she is easily trapped. Irma’s surgery mostly came out okay, but she has a shiny/sparkly residue on her muzzle that won’t go away.

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Needle time!

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Miss Death comes out of the treatment not quite as naturally compliant – rather more feral. Irma can handle that.
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Tamed, Miss Death is treated like an animal – chained up, whipped, dungeoned when not needed.

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The revenge list.
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Inspector Jess Franco is personally on Irma’s trail.
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Miss Death placidly goes about her assignments, luring the men one by one and attacking with her jugular-ripping claws. Truthfully this sizable revenge chunk of the film is a bit more predictable and less compelling. One of the victims is Howard Vernon however, and that’s always nice.

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Phillippe, living out a kind of everyman nightmare – what if your two girlfriends met and just happened to possess torture equipment? That would probably suck.

I’m going to be on the lookout for Jess Franco’s earlier efforts in the future, because The Diabolical Dr. Z is good clean Mad Scientist fun.

 

Mouse On Cat Violence #5

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse (1947)

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Mr. Puzzle #2

Guess Who?

Euro Stairs Of Horror! #4

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Zimmer 13 (Reinl, 1964)

Posters We Don’t Own #11

The Boss (Byron Haskin, 1956)

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When Basil Met Nigel #7

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 I deduce it’s time for some cheesy merchandise!

So Long At The Fair

So Long At The Fair (Co-Directed by Terence Fisher and Antony Darnborough, 1950)

I see this is airing on TCM April 17th at 10:00 EST. Consider this post a TIVO warning. This is worth seeing, and I don’t think it gets aired much of anywhere and the only DVD I’ve found is an R2 Spanish one:

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Contrary to my usual methods, I’m not going to overspoil this one too much with screencaps.

The story is a missing person search. A British brother and sister (David Tomlinson, some years away from stuffy dad-dome in Mary Poppins, and Jean Simmons) have been making the grand processional around Europe. They’re more or less heading home, but are going to put in along with a few hundred thousand close friends at Paris for the 1889 Paris Exhibition. They arrive, check in to their hotel and adjourn for the night to their separate rooms, ready to go a-fairing the next day. However, when Jean comes to collect her brother, not only can’t she find him, she can’t even find his room – in fact the spot where it was is now a blank wall!

So I expect you can at least partly see where this is headed – struggles to find anyone who can even confirm she had a brother to lose (the hotel staff all deny seeing such a person), visits to the police, the British consulate, etc… Some perhaps inadvertent social commentary as well, as being the girl means she doesn’t have access to money and suffers a more condescending version of assistance than her brother would likely get if the situation would be reversed.

Dirk Bogarde is the handsome young Brit artist who believes her and embarks on helping her out. If you’re catching a whiff of The Lady Vanishes in this, well sure. While that one was as much comedy as thriller, this one plays it quite straight.

This sort of story seems like a double-edged sword. It’s the kind of mystery that makes audience engagement rather easy, but payoff is risky – you risk offering up something that makes the whole thing seem like a shaggy dog story. In this film, we see enough of Tomlinson up front, interacting with enough people that the possibility that Simmons’ character is a nutter chasing a ghost is not too feasible. This pleases me, because the “ah it was all in her head the whole time” sort of resolution gets my blood up. Tangible resolution is indeed offered, but whether it’s worth all the fuss is entirely up to you. I thought it passed, but only just. The journey is more the pleasure with So Long at the Fair, and its an interesting collection of people to journey with – Jean Simmons, closing in on Hollywood, Dirk Bogarde just beginning to break out into stardom, between this and The Blue Lamp. Terence Fisher getting his directing wings, some years from chaining himself to the Hammer Horror desk. Honor Blackman has a featured role as well, an awfully long ways away from The Avengers or Pussy Galore.

Bogarde is probably the most startling, as appealing as I’ve ever seen him. Usually he strikes me as a bit constipated, a bit too laconic. Here he’s not just the charmer as required but engaged and energetic as well. For you Brits/geeks out there, he reminds me of David Tennant, which is meant as a compliment.

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An Easter Greeting From The Crimson Executioner

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Easter was always the holiest of holidays in the Crimson Executioner’s household.  Growing up in the 16th century, we didn’t have chocolate bunnies or colored eggs, and we certainly didn’t have Peeps.  What we did have was the Eucharist.  Man, Holy Communion never tasted so good as on Easter Sunday!  Perhaps that’s where I got my taste for blood.

At any rate, celebrate the day however you might, be it with Easter Bunnies, church services, or just a secular day of rest.  I wish you all a day of peace.  Personally, I plan on relaxing with some Al Jarreau records while I perform some routine maintenance on the ol’ iron maiden.  Come monday morning, I expect to hit the ground running, flaying flesh and bathing in blood.  Vengeance will be mine once more!  Happy Easter!

Iron Chef Television #3

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           CORPORAL LEBEAU               Versus                         MR. FRENCH

In Battle: Fois Gras!!

LouiseBrooks theme byThemocracy