Summer Reading

Above: Actress Merle Oberon enjoying a book while lounging around the pool

I do a lot of reading all year long but during the summer months I tend to set aside some extra time to catch up with the books that have accumulated on my shelves. This is partially due to a habit I developed as a child. While other kids were outside playing and enjoying the bright sunshine I could often be found in my bedroom pouring over a good book. Even when my family would go on vacation I would always stick a book in my suitcase or duffel bag. For better or worse, many of my fondest childhood memories involve books that I read during the sweltering summer months while on camping trips and during long plane flights to visit grandparents. This summer I’ve started habitually reading some interesting non-fiction film related books so I thought I’d share some recent discoveries.

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The Great Ones, Part 2: More On & Off the Set Photographs

Johnny Weissmuller strikes a Vanity Fair-like pose in this second series of candid on-the-set snapshots, oddball publicity stills and off-the-set photographs.           [...MORE]

Re: Creeps

These are challenging times for the horror movie fan. The dominance of digital technology has larded the genre with tons o’titles no one in their right mind could ever get around to seeing; meanwhile, plenty of big studio and mid-sized horror continues to gush through the locks… and I find myself propelled ever more backwards, backwards, backwards. I’ve developed a fetish for early sound and silent horror… the primitive, the chalky, the chiaroscuro, the unforgettable. Awaiting delivery of Jonathan Rigby’s Studies in Terror: Landmarks in Horror Cinema  (Signum Books, 2012), I reread his earlier American Gothic: Sixty Years of Horror Cinema (Reynolds & Hearn, Ltd., 2007), which details the employment of grotesque, arabesque and evermore curioso themes in American films from the first nickelodeon flickerings through to the horror-science fiction hybrids that were all the rage before the United Kingdom’s Hammer Studios rebooted Gothic shocks with CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957). If ever a print book demanded hyperlinks, it would be American Gothic, particularly for its early chapters on silent horrors. While I read the book cover-to-cover the first time, this time I paused to research interesting titles on the Internet to see if any might be viewable in any form. Most weren’t but some were and it was very gratifying to augment my reading with parallel studies of my own. In so doing, I began to think about the use of creeps in old horror movies… shadow figures who haunt the periphery, either to frighten or kill off the normals or to be used for some occult purpose. Think The Bat in THE BAT (1926) or The Cat in THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1927) or even Cesare the Somnombulist in THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1919)… you know, skulking characters of questionable motive and infernal design. Those guys.  [...MORE]

Do You Want to See Something REALLY Scary?

During the month of October I’m often asked to recommend my favorite horror films. But recommending scary movies can be a tricky business. What frightens me might make you merely shrug your shoulders and laugh out loud. And if you’re a serious horror fan there’s a high probability that you’ve seen a lot of well-regarded classic films such as THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925), FRANKENSTEIN (1931), PSYCHO (1960) and Val Lewton’s various movies as well as Halloween standards like THE SHINING (1980), CARRIE (1976), NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) and HALLOWEEN (1978) so recommending movies can become rather redundant. Instead of simply suggesting some of my favorite horror films for you to watch I thought I’d share some of my favorite scary moments from films that have left a deep impression on me over the years. So pull up a chair and make yourself comfortable while I share something REALLY scary.

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Hey You, Horror Actor, Know Your Place!

When one thinks of Spencer Tracy, Ray Milland or Jennifer Jones, the horror/supernatural genre rarely springs to mind and yet, each one of them was in a celebrated film in just that genre.  Spencer Tracy in Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, Ray Milland in The Uninvited and Jennifer Jones in Portrait of Jennie.  Each one is a favorite of mine with The Uninvited being what I would consider the greatest ghost story ever put on film.

By contrast, when one thinks of Vincent Price, Peter Lorre or Hazel Court, the horror/supernatural genre instantly springs to mind even though all of them did plenty of non-horror work (well, Court not so much) before taking on the mantle of horror actors, especially Vincent Price.    Other actors, notably Jack Nicholson, did the reverse, starting out doing plenty of horror before graduating to bigger, higher profile, prestige movies in the seventies.

Finally, some actors, like Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, had only a handful of movies not associated with the genre (The Lost Patrol or The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, for example, for Karloff and Ninotchka for Lugosi) and seemed to inhabit horror to such a degree that their very names alone signify the horror genre to generations.

So after breaking down all of that, the question remains:  Is there a such thing as a horror actor?

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DVD Tuesday: Rope of Sand (1949)

Olive Films continues to raid the Paramount vaults, this time with William Dieterle’s 1949 Casablanca clone Rope of Sand. Released on April 5th, along with Edward Dmytryk’s The Mountain (1956), it’s another strong DVD presentation from the company. The spotless print is presented in a progressive transfer that showcases the inky blacks of cinematographer Charles Lang. Producer Hal B. Wallis left Warner Brothers in 1944 to form his own production company, Wallis-Hazen, and was eager to recreate his biggest hit for his new distributor Paramount. He bought Walter Doniger’s Casablanca-esque script and wrangled three of that film’s actors: Paul Lorre, Paul Henreid and Claude Rains. The leads were given to Burt Lancaster, who was under contract to Wallis, and Corinne Calvet, a French siren the producer hoped to mold into the next Ingrid Bergman. The result is a prickly bit of entertainment, a threadbare and more nihilistic version of its model.

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For the Love of Film Noir Blogathon: THE STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR

FOR THE LOVE OF FILM NOIR’S BLOGATHON: a weeklong multi-platform tribute to film noir, as a way of generating awareness of the Film Noir Foundations’s laudable efforts to restore Cy Endfield’s THE SOUND OF FURYClick this link to make your donation to that worthy cause—and keep reading here for a look back at the Very First Film Noir.

Lobby card

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Have Yourself A Merry Lorre Christmas


Peter Lorre’s Christmas Card from 1937

“To my small boy’s mind, no other event could compare in grandeur and enchantment with the thrill of Christmas. For nights my dreams were filled with wonderful thoughts of a bag of beautiful toys and luscious candies dropped down our chimney by the ever-thoughtful Kris Kringle. But always I was doomed to disappointment. My family was thrifty and exceedingly practical. My father and mother realized how much wiser it was, if not so pleasing, to supply their son with a pair of extra warm boots, or a new pair of pantaloons, than to give him something which would fill his heart with joy but not further material welfare.”
- Peter Lorre from The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre

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Giving Thanks

When did “Thank You” become so hard to say? I’m constantly amazed by the surprised looks and unexpected smiles I get from strangers every time I utter those words. It often seems as if I’m speaking another language. A language that is both hopeful and confusing to anyone who doesn’t hear that simple phrase very often. Shop girls and delivery boys are often taken completely off guard when I thank them for their work. The mailman seems utterly shocked when I utter a quick, “Thanks!” for his service. Even people that I’m friendly with occasionally act surprised when I thank them for recommending a movie or lending me a DVD. I was raised to say “Thank you” for whatever good fortune I received and I’m grateful to my parents for bringing me up that way. I’m also thankful that I’m able to put my misfortunes aside and enjoy some of the simple pleasures in life like getting my mail delivered in a rainstorm or getting a good cup of coffee served by a weary waitress whose face lights up after I thank her. I’m also thankful for the movies I’ve grown up with and the people that made them. Movies aren’t just mild entertainment in my home. They’re art, story and sound. They’re wonderous things that have gently helped shape who I am and how I see the world. On this Thanksgiving holiday I can’t resist giving thanks to a few of the moviemakers that I’m especially grateful for lately.

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Bogart & Lorre: A Match Made In Movie Heaven

The cast of PASSAGE TO MARSEILLES (1943)

PASSAGE TO MARSEILLES isn’t the type of film that normally sparks my interest. I have an aversion to propaganda films and I’m not particularly fond of prison break movies but I love Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre so I’ll watch them in anything. I’ve seen all the films that the two actors made together but for one reason or another I’ve managed to overlook PASSAGE TO MARSEILLES until now. Maybe it was all the lackluster reviews I read? I finally caught up with the movie last weekend and I’m happy to report that PASSAGE TO MARSEILLES surpassed my low expectations. It wasn’t the overlooked masterpiece I wanted it to be but I think it’s well worth recommending.

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