Mae Clarke: Frankenstein’s First Bride

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FRANKENSTEIN (1931) airs tonight on TCM at 9:30PM EST/6:30PM PST

The name Mae Clarke might not immediately ring any bells but the fair-haired, spirited and sad-eyed beauty was a promising leading lady in pre-code Hollywood before personal disappointments, mental health issues and a disfiguring car accident took their toll. When Clarke died in 1992 at age 81 most classic film fans remembered her as the woman who gets a grapefruit smashed in her face by James Cagney during THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931) or they might have recalled her daring leap from a window to protect the man she loves in THE FRONT PAGE (1931). Thankfully, many of Clarke’s earlier films have been restored and made available since then. We’re now able to get a much broader understanding of why a 1932 issue of Picture Play magazine prophesied a “brilliant career for her” and Modern Screen claimed, “Mae Clark deserves a place among the big names of filmdom and will get there before long–watch her!”

Today TCM is featuring Mae Clarke in their Summer Under the Stars programming and you can catch her in a number of films including James Whale’s WATERLOO BRIDGE (1930), where she plays the doomed Myra. Many consider it her best film and Clarke often referred to it as her favorite role but today I’d like to focus on her often-overlooked performance in Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN (1931), where she plays the sympathetic fiancé of Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive).

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This week on TCM Underground: The Hunger (1983)

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Vampires smoke cigarettes in New York City.

Cast: Catherine Deneuve (Miriam Blaylock), David Bowie (John Blaylock), Susan Sarandon (Dr. Sarah Roberts), Cliff DeYoung (Tom Haver), Beth Ehlers (Alice Cavender), Dan Hedaya (Lt. Allegrezza), Suzanne Bertish (Phyllis), James Aubrey (Ron), Rufus Collins (Charlie Humphries), Ann Magnuson (Club Girl), John Stephen Hill (Club Boy), Shane Rimmer (Arthur Jelinek), Bessie Love (Lillybelle), John Pankow (First Youth at Phone Booth), Willem Dafoe (Second Youth at Phone Booth), Sophie Ward (Girl in London House). Director: Tony Scott. Producer: Richard Shepherd. Screenplay: Ivan Davis, Michael Thomas. Cinematography: Stephen Goldblatt. Music: Denyy Yaeger, Michel Rubini. Make-up Illusions: Dick Smith.

Color – 97 min.

Showtime: Saturday April 4th 11:15pm PST/2:15pm EST  [...MORE]

The Movies That Never Stood a Chance

TCM wraps up 31 Days of Oscar tomorrow night, one day after the Oscars themselves run tonight.  Soon the newest Best Picture Oscar will be handed out and already there are plenty of critics and bloggers making lists ranking the best and worst Best Pictures in history.  But this year’s crop of nominees got me to thinking about something else.  With a science fiction movie among the front runners for Best Picture (Gravity), something that rarely happens, I began thinking of all the science fiction, action-adventure, fantasy, horror movies that I love that could have taken Best Picture except for the pesky little fact that almost none were ever nominated in the first place.  I shall restrict myself, as I often do on these lists, to movies from the thirties (starting with 1931), the decade when, had the Academy nominated or awarded these movies, a quite different precedent would have been set allowing for richer competition in the years to come.  But they didn’t.  From the start, they made it clear that Best Picture pretty much meant “Genre Pictures Need Not Apply.”

Frankenstein

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When The Exotic Became Commonplace

Late tonight on TCM, in the early morning hours of tomorrow, three movies back to back to back, Trader Horn, Malaya and Macao, feature what were once exotic, unknown locales.   Trader Horn is the most famous of the three but still has no official release on DVD, possibly due to the story elements of the time that make for some seriously uncomfortable viewing today.  That is to say, the African tribes are portrayed as primitive savages and the white girl they kidnapped as a child is now worshiped as a white goddess.   But wait, it gets better (by which I mean, worse).  Animals like lions were mistreated, starved to make them attack hyenas and members of the cast and crew got sick and two of them even died.  So, yeah, the whole thing feels kind of dirty at this point but it’s a record of those attitudes and methods and, frankly, I always recommend watching things like that because it’s an undeniably important artifact for the very reason it’s also rather distasteful.   But here’s what you don’t need to see it for: The exotic locations.  Why?  They’re not exotic anymore.

Poster - Trader Horn

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Telefilm Time Machine – Frankenstein: The True Story (1973)

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Film buffs tend to have obsessions. We fuss and fawn over particular actors and directors while attempting to see everything they ever appeared in or produced. One of my own personal obsessions isn’t an actor or a director but it’s a tale I enjoy seeing reimagined over and over again in different languages and in various settings. That tale is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus and I’ve seen it retold in many movies of varying quality but I never get tired of it.

One of my favorite adaptations of Frankenstein happens to be the 1973 telefilm FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY. This lush production runs more than 3 hours long and features a stellar cast of talented players including Michael Sarrazin, Leonard Whiting, James Mason, David McCallum, Jane Seymour, Nicola Pagett, Agnes Moorehead, Ralph Richardson, John Gielguld, and Margret Leighton. It was directed by Jack Smight (HARPER, KALEIDOSCOPE, THE ILLUSTRATED MAN, DAMNATION ALLEY, etc.) and based on a script written by the acclaimed British author Christopher Isherwood along with his partner Don Bachardy. Isherwood and Bachardy took creative liberties with the source material but their teleplay still managed to retain many of the timeless elements that have made Shelley’s story capable of capturing the imagination of readers like myself for nearly 200 years.

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Out, out, brief candle: Jon Finch 1942-2012

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Jon Finch in Roman Polanski’s MACBETH (1971)

“… Out, out, brief candle.
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more …” – Macbeth,
William Shakespeare

Writing obituaries is never easy but when I decided I wanted to memorialize the British actor Jon Finch, who recently passed away at age 70, I found myself seriously struggling to find the right words. His death, which occurred when he was alone over the holidays and apparently suffering from dementia as well as health problems associated with diabetes, seemed particularly cruel. It didn’t get reported to the public until Jan. 11th although his body was found on Dec. 28th but as far as I know there’s been no official date of death released. There’s also been very little news coverage by the numerous entertainment focused outlets and blogs that usually offer up career summations whenever a person of note dies. I don’t like to dwell on the negative when someone I deeply admire leaves this earth because it‘s much more respectful and productive to focus on their accomplishments and Jon Finch left behind an impressive body of work. But while I scanned his filmography in my effort to concisely capture what had made him such a memorable screen presence I was struck again and again by the missed opportunities, which seemed to color his entire career. Over and over again I found myself wondering about what might have been instead of focusing on what was, which seemed pointless. And yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this business of making movies had somehow failed him even though I suspect that Finch himself would wholeheartedly disagree with me.

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The HorrorDads 2012 Halloween Triple Dip Shockapalooza!

Halloween is fast approaching … where did October go? Well, no time for rhetorical questions, it’s time to get our spook on. With that in mind, I have scrambled the HorrorDads and tasked each to provide us with his idea of an ultimate Halloween triple bill. To impose a sense of order on what might have turned into a maelstrom of free association, I further asked that the three features follow these stipulations:

  1. Choose a “matinee” geared toward the kids.
  2. Follow this with something seasonably appropriate, something classic.
  3. End your evening of chills with something pitched at the horror lifers, the true believers. No punches pulled, no quarter given, fangs bared. [...MORE]

The Sinister Charm of Simon Ward

One of the strangest aspects of today’s Internet film culture is being bombarded by death notices week after week. No one’s life is unworthy of celebration and onetime television TV actors with a single role under the belt often compete with Oscar winning movie stars for attention after they’ve shuffled off this mortal coil.

In the flood of online wakes that seem to accumulate around every actor’s death it has become nearly impossible to overlook anyone’s passing so you can imagine my surprise when I recently discovered that one of my favorite British actors, the talented Simon Ward, had passed away in July following a long illness and I had managed to overlook it. Even more depressing were some of the obituaries I read that glossed over much of his career and seemed to suggest that Ward hadn’t lived up to his potential while completely ignoring his outstanding contributions to horror cinema.

Naturally I felt the urge to rectify this since I had grown up admiring the actor in a bundle of praiseworthy thrillers so October seemed like the perfect month to spotlight Simon Ward’s contribution to a genre that continues to divide critics and audiences.

Simon Ward was born on October 16, 1941. At age 13 he joined London’s National Youth Theater and continued to study at RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts,). He started acting in British television productions in the mid-1960s and after taking an unaccredited role in Lindsay Anderson’s IF…. (1967), Ward was offered his first major film role in David Greene’s exceptional British thriller, I START COUNTING (1969). Ward’s boyish good looks and edgy screen presence allowed him to effortlessly transform himself into seductive villains as well as romantic heroes but his chameleon-like abilities may have confused producers who couldn’t easily pigeonhole him and didn’t seem to know how to harness his talent.

The actor went on to appear in many popular and critically acclaimed films including YOUNG CHURCHILL (1972), THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973), THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (1974) and ZULU DAWN (1979) but throughout his career Ward returned again and again to the horror genre. Here’s a brief rundown of some of the best horror films and thrillers he appeared in.

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Natural or Supernatural? Name Your Poison

Movie genres are notoriously malleable things.  We all know what a western is until someone mentions that Star Wars is a horse opera in space or Outland is a remake of High Noon in a futuristic setting, and suddenly it doesn’t seem as clear anymore.  Genres also cross streams constantly.  A crime film can be a noir (Out of the Past), an epic drama (Once Upon a Time in America), a gangster film (Public Enemy), a comedy (Some Like it Hot, which also manages to work in rom-com while it’s at it) or any other number of multiple genre mash-ups with “crime” as the umbrella covering all the different subsets.  In the end, horror is no different but no matter how many subgenres of horror there are (and there are plenty), horror can be efficiently broken down into two categories: Natural and Supernatural.  Which side are you on?

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Horror’s Powers of Ten

I have always had a fascination with how much can change in such a short span of time in one era, yet remained unchanged for years in another.  In 1973, American Graffiti presented a nostalgic past that no longer existed, a world from another time and place.  It took place a mere 11 years prior to its release.  11 years.  A movie taking place in 2001 or 02 wouldn’t look or feel that much different to what’s around us now.   Watching a sitcom from early in the 2000s, like Arrested Development, doesn’t look or feel a whole lot different than watching one from right now, like Parks and Recreation.  But watching Leave it to Beaver, from the early sixties, alongside All in the Family, from the early seventies, feels like two different universes.   How much has horror changed from one decade to the next?  Let’s examine horror’s powers of ten.*

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