#89 The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Watched: March 7 2017

Director: John Huston

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt

Year: 1948

Runtime: 2h 6min

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Fred C. Dobbs (Bogart) is down on his luck, roaming around Mexico without a penny to his name. After finally being paid by a scam artist he worked for (a beating proved necessary to get the money he was owed), he teams up with Bob Curtin (Holt) and old prospector Howard (Huston) to dig for gold in the Sierra Madre.

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If you came to this film looking for a 1940s Brokeback Mountain you’ll be sorely disappointed. Despite the tension, the clothes stay on at all times.

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They head up into the mountains and within a few minutes of run time (though several days for the characters) they strike it rich. Setting up their operation, Howard warns the newcomers about the effects of gold on a man, but Dobbs shrugs it off, stating that he will never be corrupted. He could not possibly be more wrong.

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This perpetual scowl on his face is not the look of a man indifferent to the prospect of wealth

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The three gold diggers stay in the mountains for the better part of a year, and the tension and distrust between them grow exponentially in that time. When a fourth man shows up intent on joining their operation, they unite for a short while in the face of a common enemy, but their comradery does not last once the threat is gone. With each of them, especially Dobbs, growing concerned with the intentions of the others, they are soon fighting for their lives against both the elements and each other.

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And bandidos. They also fight bandidos.

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The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (or, as our DVD cover says, El Tesoro de Sierra Madre – thank you, Amazon Marketplace) is the first Western on the list and we loved it. There are saloon fights, shoot outs, bandidos, treacherous nature and friends, Indians, and Federales, and it’s tense, dark and dirty. There’s a lot of foreshadowing going on, so from the start you can make fairly educated guesses as to what will happen, but that doesn’t take anything away from the viewing experience. It’s a great watch, and we do love it when Humphrey Bogart plays slightly more villainous characters.

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Let’s just think back on the time before it all went wrong, shall we…

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What we learned: Gold will poison a man’s mind and heart.

Next time: Caught (1949)

#88 The Red Shoes

Watched: March 6 2017

Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Starring: Moira Shearer, Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring

Year: 1948

Runtime: 2h 14min

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Victoria Page (Shearer) is a young, ambitious ballet dancer who, after a party, is invited by ballet impresario Boris Lermontov (Walbrook) to try out for his company. At the same time, young composer Julian Craster (Goring) gets a job with the same company coaching the orchestra. As Vicky rises to be the new prima ballerina (after the old one got married), Julian also rises through the ranks as a composer. The culmination of both their work is a new ballet, The Red Shoes, based on H. C. Andersen’s classic fairy tale. Julian composes while Vicky dances the lead.

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While the others work, Lermontov does his very best impression of a creepy old man

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The ballet is a great success, and its two rising stars fall in love, something Lermontov is none too happy about. He fires Julian, and Vicky, though torn, decides to go with her boyfriend. She marries him and he starts composing operas, also to great success. However, despite her meteoric rise to fame in Lermontov’s ballet, Vicky spends the following year out of work.

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We strongly suspect Julian didn’t like other men’s hands this close to his wife’s hoo-ha..

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Next season, Vicky goes back to Monte Carlo on holiday with her aristocratic aunt and runs into Lermontov again. He convinces her to dance The Red Shoes once more, but on the night of the performance, Julian comes and demands his wife choose between him and the ballet. Crazed (or possessed?) by this ultimatum, Vicky loses her mind and her control, just like the protagonist in Anderson’s fairy tale.

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Ah – innocence ruined by the lure of passion. It’s like the fairy tale reflects the fate of the innocent ballerina…

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It’s clear that Lermontov is supposed to be some sort of parallel to the shoe maker in the fairy tale, but honestly, he’s not the devil here. He encourages her ambition – an ambition that comes from her, not any outside force. Sure, his encouragement comes from mainly selfish reasons, and he may have some ulterior motive of his own, but at least he want her to follow her passion. Julian seems to think she should be content being the wife and muse of a talented composer, despite her own obvious talent which she is unable to develop once they leave the company. In our opinion, Julian is the bad guy here.

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It doesn’t help our impression that he shows up for her performance  wearing something very close to a Nazi outfit and goes straight for the boobs

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This film is spectacular and definitely a new favourite of ours. It’s an intriguing story with great, often eccentric, characters (we particularly love the other members of the ballet company), gorgeous costumes and breathtaking dancing. The performance of The Red Shoes – a ballet within the film – is wonderful and somewhat reminiscent of the Berkeley musicals from the ’30s, beautifully incorporating cinematic effects with amazing dancing to tell the story.

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We’re quite certain that the audience cannot be replaced by an ocean in a real live performance.

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It seems to us that women’s ambition is a dangerous thing (in which case Lermontov is the devil), although we’re not sure for whom. Is it scary for the men who lose control over them, or for the (fragile) women who will crack under the pressure of trying to balance a traditional role (doting wife and house maker) with a professional career? Possibly both, but it seems like women tend to pay the price – especially in morality tales and fiction (let’s not even go into the sexual undertones of this film and, indeed, the fairy tale on which it’s based).

What we learned: A happy and full life should have room for love and ambition. To have to choose is unfair (especially when it’s one gender asking the other to choose while they themselves can have it all..). Also, things haven’t changed much for ballerinas in the last 7 decades, judging from the parallels between this film and Black Swan (2010).

Next time: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

#79 Black Narcissus

Watched: January 28 2017

Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Starring: Deborah Kerr, Kathleen Byron, David Farrar, Flora Robson, Judith Furse, Jenny Laird, Sabu, Jean Simmons

Year: 1947

Runtime: 1h 40min

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Sister Clodagh (Kerr) is tasked with starting a convent high up in the Himalayas. To aid in her quest, she is offered four companions; Briony the Strong (Furse), Philippa the Gardener (Robson), Blanche (aka Honey) the Sweet (Laird), and Ruth the Difficult (Byron). Together, they travel to the great unknown to start a school and a hospital for the locals.

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Luckily for them, nothing ever goes wrong when a group of people are stranded in a remote, albeit beautiful, location

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They quickly establish a school where they teach children about guns, and a hospital where they treat people who are sick, but not too sick. With the help of government agent Mr Dean (Farrar) and the local General (which is apparently a code name for royalty), who pays locals to visit the convent, the nuns flourish, at least for a while. They also take in a young local girl, Kanchi (Simmons), who has been hitting hard on Mr Dean with no luck.

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It’s hard to be the only eligible bachelor in the area. He needs help controlling the urges of the women crossing his path.

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When the Young General (Sabu – an actual Indian) comes to learn, the sisters are sceptical about admitting a man into their midst, but they eventually let him join their lessons, which Kanchi is thrilled about.

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She quite literally throws herself at his feet

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As the film progresses, all the nuns experience changes. Sister Philippa has a crisis of faith and ends up planting flowers instead of the vegetables she’s supposed to be growing for the convent. Sister Clodagh keeps having flashbacks to her life prior to life as a nun, reliving her past relationship back in Ireland with a man she thought she would marry. Sisters Blanche and Briony have to make some tough choices in regards to a sick infant, one which has consequences for all the nuns. However, sister Ruth’s break from reality is the most intense and sinister, which makes the last 20 minutes of the film play more like a horror film than the melodrama of the first hour.

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This is what happens when you question your choice of celibacy

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Ruth falls in love (or lust) with Mr Dean, and she becomes insanely jealous of Clodagh as she suspects (rightly or not) that the Sister Superior feels the same way. While the nuns blame the clear air and the water of their new home for their new emotions, it is quite possible that the convent itself might be partly to blame. We learn early on that the palace used to be a House of Women – a house for concubines and wives of the royals, and it seems the women go mad with lust and desire, in some form or another, in this building.

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Some go madder than others

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We enjoyed this film a lot. We have to admit that for the first 50 minutes we were not entirely sure what the point was – why was this film made? Beautiful as it was, it didn’t seem to be going clearly in any one direction. However, everything comes together in the last half. It is a strange and bizarre film, but we loved it nonetheless. Ruth’s transformation is wonderfully creepy and the endless drumming towards the end of the film are very reminiscent of I Walked with a Zombie, which adds to the feeling of horror of the last half hour. If you’re up for something weird and unusual, you should check out Black Narcissus. It’s quite the experience.

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What we learned: Europeans eat sausages wherever they go. Interpret that as you wish.

Next time: Brighton Rock (1947)

#65 Arsenic and Old Lace

Watched: December 14 2016

Director: Frank Capra

Starring: Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane, Peter Lorre, Raymond Massay, Josephine Hull, Jean Adair, John Alexander

Year: 1944

Runtime: 1h 58min

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Theatre critic Mortimer Brewster (Grant), against his convictions, is getting married to Elaine (Lane). While they get hitched, his sweet old murderous aunts (Hull & Adair) entertain his new father-in-law along with Teddy “Roosevelt” (Alexander), Mortimer’s insane brother. And the body of their latest victim.

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Murderous and adorable!

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On their way to their honeymoon, Mortimer and Elaine stop by Dark and Godless Brooklyn to greet their relatives, and Mortimer stumbles across the dead body in the window seat and panics. Naturally. He is then completely shocked to find that his lovable aunts committed the deed and not only this one! They have so far killed 12 men and had Teddy bury them in the cellar.

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“But… They looked so peaceful after we poisoned them. So relaxed. We can’t see that we’ve done anything wrong!”

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While Mortimer tries to sort out the mess and have Teddy institutionalized to take the blame (without serving prison time), another brother shows up to further complicate things. Jonathan (Massey) is also insane, but more in the I’ll-kill-you-and-everything-you’ve-ever-loved kind of way and not the bugle blowing, stair charging way of innocent Teddy. He also brings his own plastic surgeon, Dr Einstein (Lorre – who does not age!). Oh, and their very own body to be disposed of.

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Guess who was the inspiration for Einstein’s latest surgical miracle?

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Mortimer, as the only sane member of the family, desperately tries to make everything right while also protecting his more loveable relatives. And the results are very silly, very funny and also strangely suspenseful. Grant’s face is EVERYTHING in this film, and aunt Abby (Hull) is one of the most adorable murderers in history. Poor Lane doesn’t really get much to work with though, despite her being billed second on the poster (though, we realise, not the one we chose to go with for this blog..). She’s mainly there to serve as another complication for Grant and perhaps to represent sanity in this insane world.

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As if Cary Grant isn’t perfectly capable of representing sanity on his own!

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Arsenic and Old Lace is a silly and hilarious farce which we absolutely loved. The spinster sisters living together weren’t in any way a glimpse into our own futures at all! No sir. There’s no way we’ll ever be able to afford a house like that…

What we learned: Brooklyn is not part of U.S. proper. Also, inbreeding is never a good idea…

Next time: Double Indemnity (1944)

#39 Bride of Frankenstein

Watched: September 10 2016

Director: James Whale

Starring: Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Ernest Thesiger, Elsa Lanchester, Valerie Hobson, Una O’Connor

Year: 1935

Runtime: 1h 15min

Liquids consumed: inordinate amounts of wine…

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Dr. Frankenstein learned absolutely nothing from the events of the first film and is back to repeat his past mistakes.

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“I nearly died myself, therefore no one can criticize me!”

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Both the good(?) doctor and his creation survived the burning windmill at the end of Frankenstein and they are back. The creation (KARLOFF! KARLOFF! KARLOFF!) doesn’t exactly redeem himself in the beginning, by killing both parents of the girl he inadvertently drowned in the first film.

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In his defense, he was probably still slightly agitated from all the burning people had been doing to him lately

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Again, the creature is captured, but no chains can bind him! He escapes into the woods where he eventually meets up with a lonely old blind man who takes care of him and treats his injuries.

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Pictured: one of the most beautiful meetings in cinema history

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The old hermit treats him like a person and teaches him humanity and compassion, something his creator failed to do. Of course, eventually angry villagers destroy his peace and he must once again go into hiding.

Meanwhile, Henry Frankenstein (Clive) is nursed back to health by Elizabeth (Hobson). When he recovers, he swears off playing God for the foreseeable future. That is, until his old mentor Dr. Pretorius (Thesiger) comes calling and lures him back in.

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“Behold: the fruit of my loins; the tiny results of my seed!” “Wow! How did you do this?” “Ehm… Let’s not get into the details, shall we…”

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Pretorius befriends the creature and promises him a spouse. They convince (read: force) Frankenstein to assist them, and together the two scientists create a cultural icon (Lanchester).

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The inspiration for many a Halloween costume and gothic wet dream

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If you haven’t seen this one, we have no idea what you are waiting for. The cast is brilliant; the effects are very impressive (such as the tiny seed-people), the sets are wonderfully stylistic and the film is beautifully lit. Like the first installation in the Frankenstein series, the story is loosely based on Mary Shelley’s novel, but a lot of liberties are taken with the story and the characters. They try to pay tribute to the author though, by introducing Shelley with her trophy husband Percy Bysshe and their mutual friend Lord Byron in the beginning of the film, but here Mary sort of comes off as a silly little girl which doesn’t do her justice. Still, it’s a nice nod to the creator of it all (although it gave Sister the Oldest flashbacks to certain scenes in Gothic [1986]).

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“I still love her… But we belong dead…”

What we learned: Dr. Pretorius must have won some sort of masturbation championship to create so much life from his seeds.

Next time: Top Hat (1935)

#36 The Scarlet Empress

Watched: September 9 2016

Director: Josef von Sternberg

Starring: Marlene Dietrich, John Lodge, Sam Jaffe, Louise Dresser

Year: 1934

Runtime: 1h 44min

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Innocent princess Sophia of Germany (Dietrich) has been chosen to marry Russia’s Grand Duke Peter (Jaffe) and is fetched from her German palace by the illegitimate offspring of Vlad Tepes and Titi Suru the Rock’n’Roll Wolf, Count Alexei (Lodge).

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“When in wolf form, father Vlad had certain…appetites… And once he found himself wandering into a Russian ballet musical. The rest is history.”

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Inexperienced and sheltered as she is, she naturally falls for the animalistic wolf-man before arriving in Russia, and falls for him doubly once she meets the “imbecilic royal halfwit” she is to marry. However, she is a woman of her word and keeps her promise to bring new blood into the Russian royal family (and about time too, judging by her husband).

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“She is so lucky to be marrying me!”

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Exposed to the harsh realities of life in the household of the Russian Empress (Dresser), the coldness of her arranged marriage, and Vlad Suru’s reputation as a Lothario (kind of like his fathers, we guess) the once innocent child becomes Catherine the Great, a seductive and intelligent ruler who will no longer be a pawn in other people’s power games. Instead, she’ll play her own.

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And she’ll play them in style

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This movie is epic in scope, violent and stunning, beautifully scored with themes from Wagner and Tchaikovsky among others (they’re the ones we could recognize anyway), and really well acted. The costumes, tableaux and sets are amazing (we love the grotesques everywhere in the castle), and there are so many huge, impressive scenes that you tend to wonder how much money was put into this production. We’re guessing a lot. But that is a conservative estimate – it may have been much more. The Scarlet Empress is an epic ride from start to finish, and we loved it!

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“How do you do, I’m Titi Suru, friendliest wolf you’ve met.”

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What we learned: rebound sex is an old, time honoured tradition.

Next time: Twentieth Century (1934)

#33 The Invisible Man

Watched: September 9 2016

Director: James Whale

Starring: Claude Rains, Gloria Stuart, William Harrigan, Una O’Connor

Year: 1933

Runtime: 1h 11min

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A man (Rains) is walking through a snow storm. He has 1/2 mile left to go to civilization. Cut to the Lion’s Head pub, a local pub for local people – there’s nothing for our man there! Nevertheless, the stranger enters and demands a room and privacy. Inn keeper Jenny Hall (O’Connor) is so done with his shit even before he is installed in his new rooms.

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“A ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ never hurt anyone, mister! Coming in here with your demands and your bandages and your snow and you didn’t even shut the front door. Men!”

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Meanwhile, the stranger’s girlfriend Flora (Stuart) is worried about him being missing and confides in his colleague Dr Kemp (Harrigan), who promptly hits on her. Classy.

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“Out of sight, out of mind, eh? Eh?”

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The stranger, who we learn is scientist Jack Griffin, has managed to turn himself invisible and is working on a cure whilst also spiralling into madness brought on by one of the drugs in the invisibility cocktail. When the Halls finally move to evict their disruptive tenant, he throws a fit and shows off just how much of a bastard he is, assaulting the landlady and going on a bit of a spree.

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I mean, look at that adorable face! Who would possibly hurt her?

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After wreaking havoc on the small village, Griffin goes to see Kemp to enlist his help in creating an antidote and taking over the world. Not necessarily in that order. From that moment on things take a turn for the worse, and murder and mayhem ensue.

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“We’ll begin with a reign of terror” – actual line from the movie

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Despite being a horror film, this is as funny as it is scary. There’s some very entertaining slapstick (how could there not be, with a naked, invisible man with no boundries running around?), and some amazing secondary characters. Griffin himself is a megalomaniac, but it seems he has become that way after turning invisible, possibly because he is no longer confronted with himself in the mirror, or because he can now get away with pretty much anything. Or because of the “monocane” he’s injected himself with. No matter the reason, he’s kind of hilarious when he’s not running around killing people.

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“If I don’t even have a head, how can I be responsible for my actions?”

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This film has amazing performances, great humour and very impressive special effects and we recommend it to anyone who hasn’t yet seen it.

What we learned: Don’t meddle with things man is not supposed to know. Don’t do drugs of which you don’t know the full effects. Una O’Connor is amazing.

Next time: Dames (1934)

#26 The Old Dark House

Watched: August 27 2016

Director: James Whale

Starring: Boris Karloff, Charles Laughton, Melvyn Douglas, Lilian Bond, Ernest Thesiger

Year: 1932

Runtime: 1h 12min

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Sometimes titles are just a perfect summary of the plot. A bickering couple in a car are caught in a storm and soon the road is undrivable. Luckily(?) for them and their hoot-and-a-half passenger (Douglas, who’s amazingly sarcastic and funny) they spot an old (dark) house and make their way there to take shelter from the storm. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

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Seems a perfectly charming and not at all sinister place to spend the night.

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Upon knocking on the door, they are greeted by The Karloff who mumbles something incoherent to which Douglas comments “Even Welsh ought not sound like that!” Karloff turns out to be the dumb servant to house owners Rebecca and Horace Femm (Thesiger, who looks strangely like Lon Chaney in Phantom of the Opera), an old creepy sister and brother duo who are less than thrilled about their unexpected visitors. It’s almost as if they’re hiding something in the house they do not want outsiders to see… Still, they reluctantly invite the guests to stay the night and offer them dinner.

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Not even a creepy manservant and a flimsy dress can relieve the tension

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Soon, another couple join them as they too are caught in the storm. This does very little to raise the spirit of Ms. Rebecca Femm (no one can have beds!) but romance blossoms and drinks are had.

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The hosts are thrilled about the whole affair!

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This film was awesome! It’s one of the ones we’ve heard of several times but have never actually seen before. While we expected suspense and horror, we were not at all prepared for how hilarious this film truly is. The dialogue, the gags and the characters, not to mention the use of wonky mirrors and shadows to create the eerie atmosphere, all make this another new favourite to play at parties (which might explain why no one comes to our parties). We’ll definitely watch it again at some point.

What we learned: This is a local house for local people – there’s nothing for us here!

Next time: 42nd Street (1933)

#24 Scarface

Watched: August 23 2016

Director: Howard Hawks

Starring: Paul Muni, Ann Dvorak, Karen Morley, Boris Karloff

Year: 1932

Runtime: 1h 30min

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“This picture is an indictment of gang rule in America and of the callous indifference of the government to this constantly increasing menace to our safety and our liberty. Every incident in this picture is the reproduction of an actual occurrence, and the purpose of this picture is to demand of the government: “What are you going to do about it?”. The government is your government. What are YOU going to do about it?” So opens the most violent PSA of the ’30s, Scarface.

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“I’m gonna f**k some s**t up, is what I’m gonna do!”

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The man f’ing things up is Tony Camonte (Muni), ambitious strong-arm for the mafia and part-time overprotective brother. After being interrogated for the murder of his old boss, he teams up with new boss Johnny Lovo (Osgood Perkins) to run the Chicago underworld. Tony is simultaneously very smart and very stupid, and his ruthlessness, charm and excellent beer ordering system help him climb to the top, gradually taking over the territory as well as the boss’ girl.

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To be fair, she comes with the territory

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Gang war ensues and Tony spirals and grows gradually more insane, more ambitious and more ruthless. Despite everything though, he is very charismatic and strangely likeable at times, up until the point he completely ruins his sister’s life which effectively ends his operation.

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“How dare you fall for men similar to the only male influence in your life!”

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Despite the violence, there’s a lot of comedy in Scarface as well, especially in the form of Tony’s “seckertary” Angelo. There’s great use of shadows and we loved the “shooting the days away”-bit. We also liked the women in this; Poppy and Cesca were great, and Tony’s mother was no fool, unlike some of the other mafia mums we’ve seen.

Another one we’ll recommend if you like action, great clothes, cool characters and the absence of father figures (seriously – none of these gangster types in any of these movies have (good) fathers). The ending made us sad, though not so much for Tony as the ones around him. We’re now looking forward to rewatching the 1983 film of the same name!

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“I’m shooting in the rain, just shooting in the rain!”

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What we learned: Killers sure liked to whistle back in the day. Also, never get attached to the comic relief.

Next time: The Mummy (1932)

#22 The Island of Lost Souls

Watched: August 21 2016

Director: Erle C. Kenton

Starring: Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Bela Lugosi, Kathleen Burke

Year: 1932

Runtime: 1h 10min

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Based on H. G. Wells’ The Island of Dr Moreau (1896), The Island of Lost Souls opens with shipwrecked Edward Parker (Arlen) being rescued by a floating zoo. After an altercation with the captain he is unceremoniously tossed off the ship to a remote island owned and operated by mad scientist Dr. Moreau (Laughton) where Parker runs into several scary humanoid creatures. This being the 1930s though, everyone is very polite about the whole thing and he is invited to stay the night in Moreau’s house.

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“Oh, they’re harmless. There’s absolutely no reason whatsoever that I have this huge fence outside my house.”

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The creatures in the jungle are the experiments of the good doctor, who we learn was driven from London when one of his experiments escaped. They are mutated and surgically altered animals kept at bay through “religious” doctrine, enforced by “The Sayer of the Law” (Lugosi). Moreau then decides to introduce his only female creation, the Panther Woman Lota (Burke – credited only as “the Panther Woman”), to Parker and see if she’ll seduce him. Because that what fathers do with their daughters.

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“Sure, I may be engaged, but if she’s not really human, am I really cheating?”

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Like Frankenstein, Moreau has a pesky little God complex which will (of course) be his undoing, and like his German counterpart, he will learn that if you create life and mistreat your creation, you gonna get fucked. Meanwhile, the audience are treated to such simple philosophical questions as “what makes a soul?” and “what makes humanity?”

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Again we put it to you to guess who the real monster is

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This film is awesome – easily the best adaptation we have seen of Wells’ novel (which we haven’t read, but we’ve seen three film versions, so we like to pretend we have). It’s beautifully shot and has some great performances. The only thing missing is a song- and dance-number but, fortunately for us, The Mighty Boosh took care of that. Enjoy!

What we learned: Oh so much! Ships make people slaphappy; Bela Lugosi is awesome even in small roles; don’t play God and mess with nature unless you want to be killed horribly; watching Freaks and The Island of Lost Souls back to back before bedtime will give you weird dreams.

Next time: Love Me Tonight (1932)