MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES: HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940)

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Ralph Bellamy, Cary Grant, and Rosalind Russell in HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940).

In the day and age where classic black and white movies are getting more and more difficult to view, and if you don’t believe me, check out your favorite streaming services and see how many classic movies made before 1960 they offer, it’s becoming more and more important to celebrate these gems of yesteryear.

With that in mind, on today’s MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES column, we look at the hilarious dialogue in Howard Hawks’ classic comedy HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940), starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. For my money, HIS GIRL FRIDAY has the funniest rapid-fire script this side of the Marx Brothers!

HIS GIRL FRIDAY is the remake of THE FRONT PAGE (1931), but in this Howard Hawks version the character of Hildy Johnson was changed from a male reporter to a female one, which changed the whole dynamic of the story for the better. THE FRONT PAGE was remade again in 1974 by Billy Wilder with Hildy once again cast as a man in a vehicle for Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. It’s been remade other times as well. HIS GIRL FRIDAY is my favorite version.

In HIS GIRL FRIDAY, which pokes fun at the ruthless newspaper business and the even more ruthless but completely incompetent political leaders of the day, newspaper reporter Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) is about to get married to the easy going and honest Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy), but her wise-cracking and impossibly dedicated editor and former husband Walter Burns (Cary Grant) will have none of it and will stop at nothing to keep Hildy at the paper while they work on the explosive happening-in-real-time story of a massive manhunt for a fugitive wanted for murder.

The script by Charles Lederer, based on the play by Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht is nonstop hilarious, with the key word being nonstop. The dialogue is fast and relentless, the actors speak at a rapid-fire pace and if you’re not ready, you’ll be caught off guard. But the pace is ripe for humor, and without further hesitation, let’s have a listen:

A lot of the humor comes from the banter between Cary Grant’s Walter Burns and Rosalind Russell’s Hildy Johnson.

For example:

WALTER: Look, Hildy, I only acted like any husband that didn’t want to see his home broken up.

HILDY: What home?

WALTER: “What home”? Don’t you remember the home I promised you?

And:

WALTER: What were you when you came here five years ago – a little college girl from a school of journalism. I took a doll-faced hick…

HILDY: Well, you wouldn’t take me if I hadn’t been doll-faced.

WALTER: Well, why should I? I thought it would be a novelty to have a face around here a man could look at without shuddering.

It’s also a very playful script with in-jokes and moments that break the fourth wall, like this one where Walter is trying to describe what Bruce, who’s played by Ralph Bellamy, looks like:

WALTER: He looks like that fellow in the movies – Ralph Bellamy.

There are parts which play on misunderstandings, like the exchange between Hildy and newspaper heavy Louis:

LOUIS: What’s the matter, Hildy?

HILDY: Don’t give me that innocent stuff! What did you pull on Mr. Baldwin this time?

LOUIS: Who, me?

HILDY: Yes, you and that albino of yours!

LOUIS: You talkin’ about Evangeline?

HILDY: None other!

LOUIS: She ain’t no albino.

HILDY: She’ll do till one comes along!

LOUIS; She was born right here in this country!

Then there are moments which highlight Walters’ ruthlessness to get the job done, like in this moment where he’s talking to his copy editor:

WALTER: Hey, Duffy, listen. Is there any way we can stop the 4:00 train to Albany from leaving town?

DUFFY: We might dynamite it.

WALTER: Could we?

The dialogue between Walter and Bruce, where Walter consistently leaves the slow-witted and well-meaning Bruce in the dust is energetic and funny:

WALTER: Well, Bruce, you see, I thought… You don’t mind if I call you Bruce, do you? After all, we’re practically related.

BRUCE: Oh, not at all.

WALTER; You see, my wife, that is, your wife, I mean, Hildy, oh Hildy, you led me to expect you were marrying a much older man.

BRUCE: Oh, really? What did I say that led you to expect that…

WALTER: Oh, don’t worry about it. I realize that you didn’t mean old in years.

The local politcians are corrupt and inept. In this scene, the mayor tries to convince a messenger, Joe Pettibone, that he didn’t deliver the message, but Pettibone is a wide-eyed innocent and quite clueless citizen who won’t hear of it:

MAYOR: Now, remember, you never delivered this.

JOE: Yes, I did.

MAYOR: No, you didn’t. You got caught in the traffic or something.

JOE: No, I came around the…

MAYOR: Well, pretend you did. Now, get out of here and don’t let anybody see you.

And we finish with one of my favorite lines of the movie, and it comes near the film’s climax, where Walter finds himself surrounded by the authorities, and the fugitive they’re all looking for who Walter desperately wants to interview, is hiding inside the oversized desk. As the authorities enter the office and Walter struggles to come up with a plan of escape, the sheriff announces that if Walter doesn’t cooperate, they’ll start impounding his belongings, and he starts pointing to some of them, like the desk.

A light bulb goes off inside Walter’s head:

WALTER: This desk? I dare you to move this desk out of here!

To which the sheriff responds, “Come on, boys!”

Hilarious moment in a hilarious movie.

Check out HIS GIRL FRIDAY. It’s directed by one of my favorite movie directors, Howard Hawks, and stars Cary Grant at the top of his game, and Rosalind Russell who is equally as good, with a screenplay that is one of classic comedy’s best.’

Hope you enjoyed today’s MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES column and that you will join me again next time when we’ll look at more quotes from other classic movies!

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

NIGHTMARE ALLEY (2021) – Visually Intriguing Remake Is Mostly for Guillermo del Toro Fans

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Well, I continue not to be a fan of director Guillermo del Toro.

And I say this with a great deal of respect, because visually, del Toro’s films are genuinely impressive. Trouble is, I just don’t like many of them, mostly because where he excels with the visual aspects of film, he struggles with the storytelling.

NIGHTMARE ALLEY (2021), del Toro’s latest, released in cinemas back in December and now available on HBO Max, falls into this same category. Visually, the movie is a real treat. The story which takes place in the late 1930s and early 1940s, with the first half set inside a travelling carnival, is beautifully shot, and the imagery is mesmerizing. The mix of vibrant and shadowy colors, the use of snow, blood, and carnival lights all add up to inspired cinematography. Del Toro’s imagery here is reminiscent of the works of Tim Burton.

But the story is far less inspired and ultimately fall short.

NIGHTMARE ALLEY is a remake of the classic NIGHTMARE ALLEY (1947) which starred Tyrone Power. It tells the story of Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper), who when the film opens is seen burning a corpse and an entire house with it, and he then leaves in silence and eventually finds work at a carnival. He befriends Zeena the Seer (Toni Collette) and Pete (David Strathairn) who once had a very successful mentalist act, during Pete’s younger days. Stanton learns the tricks of the trade and finds that he has a real talent for the mentalist act. He runs off with the young and lovely Molly Cahill (Rooney Mara) to start a life of their own, where they take their mentalist act on the road and begin to do exceedingly well.

Until they cross paths with Dr. Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett) who puts them in touch with some powerful clients who are looking for individual help as they try to contact their dead loved ones. This is a line Stanton has been taught not to cross, that once someone wants deep personal help, it’s best to let them know it’s all an act, so they don’t get hurt, but the money these people will pay him is too much for him to ignore, and so he embarks on the dangerous path of conning some very powerful people into believing that he is indeed communicating with their deceased relatives.

In addition to its fabulous visuals, NIGHTMARE ALLEY is also blessed with an exceptional cast. Bradley Cooper is excellent as he always is, and he’s in nearly every frame of this movie. He takes Stanton Carlisle from mysterious stranger to eager carnival hand, to a successful mentalist at the top of his game to finally when he takes things too far, to a tragic figure, and he is convincing in all of these stages. While not as impressive as his work in A STAR IS BORN (2018) or AMERICAN SNIPER (2014) it’s still pretty good stuff and a solid reminder of how far Cooper has come from his days in THE HANGOVER movies, a comedy trilogy in which he was also excellent.

Rooney Mara is sincere as Molly Cahill, and is the one constant positive force in Stanton’s life, while Cate Blanchett makes Dr. Lilith Ritter a shady film noir femme fatale. Blanchett is fine here, but I enjoyed her more as the powerful TV host in DON’T LOOK UP (2021).

The stellar cast also includes Willem Dafoe as carnival head Clem Hoatley, Toni Collette, Ron Perlman, Richard Jenkins, Mary Steenburgen, David Strathairn, and Holt McCallany.

The screenplay by del Toro and Kim Morgan, based on the novel by Lindsay Gresham, works up to a point. I thoroughly enjoyed the set-up, the stranger with the mysterious background who joins the carnival to finally fit in somewhere, but as the plot progresses, and Stanton grows more confident and takes his act on the road to hit it big, the intrigue dies down, mostly because none of the characters are fleshed out enough to make their contributions to the story worthwhile. And Stanton becomes a one trick pony after a while. Plus, the film is very, very long, clocking in at two hours and thirty minutes, and it feels like it. Shave off thirty minutes, and the movie probably works better.

As I said, visually the film is outstanding, and so del Toro fares better as a director here. There are some brilliantly conceived almost mesmerizing scenes, featuring merry go rounds, ferris wheels, and buildings with cold, labrynth-like hallways. There’s also plenty of blood and violence. And with its talented cast it has the makings of a winner, but sometimes these elements are not enough, and that’s the case here with NIGHTMARE ALLEY. The story falls flat long before the end credits roll.

I feel the same way even about some of del Toro’s celebrated hits, films like the Oscar-winning THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017), CRIMSON PEAK (2015), and even PAN’S LABRYNTH (2006). All of these films have winning visual styles, and all labored to tell a decent story. My favorite of del Toro’s films remains his HELLBOY movies.

If you are a fan of Guillermo del Toro, you will no doubt enjoy NIGHTMARE ALLEY much more than I did. But the rest of us, while we may be wowed by its vibrant onscreen artistry, will find sitting through two hours and thirty minutes of labored storytelling an arduous task at best.

At the end of the day, NIGHTMARE ALLEY isn’t much of a nightmare. It’s not even much of a bad dream. It’s just an alley, a very long alley with lots of offshoots that ultimately lead to nowhere.

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LEADING LADIES: ADRIENNE BARBEAU

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Adrienne Barbeau in THE FOG (1980)

Welcome back to LEADING LADIES, that column where we look at lead actresses in the movies, especially horror movies.

Up today it’s Adrienne Barbeau, an actress whose long career continues through to this day as she is still actively making movies, but in her heyday, during the 1980s, she was on screen quite often in horror movies, especially those directed by John Carpenter. She and Carpenter were married from 1979 – 1984.

Here’s a partial look at her very impressive 152 screen credits:

MAUDE (1972- 1978) – Carol Trayner – The TV show on which Adrienne Barbeau became a household name, playing the adult daughter of main character Maude Findlay (Bea Arthur) in this Norman Lear spin-off from ALL IN THE FAMILY (1971-79). Maude is Edith Bunker’s cousin. Her liberal independent character was the complete opposite of bigot Archie Bunker. So, by the time Barbeau branched into movies, she was already well known to American audiences.

THE GREAT HOUDINI (1976) – Daisy White – Barbeau’s first movie screen credit was in this 1976 TV movie starring Paul Michael Glaser as Harry Houdini. I saw this one when it first aired, not just because I was a fan of STARSKY AND HUTCH (1975-79) the 70s cop show in which Glaser starred, but because in the cast I noticed was one Peter Cushing playing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle! It was Cushing’s first ever American TV movie, and he shot his scenes right after finishing work on STAR WARS (1977). THE GREAT HOUDINI is a really good movie, by the way, and features a very impressive cast. Besides Paul Michael Glaser, Adrienne Barbeau, and Peter Cushing, the film also starred Sally Struthers, Ruth Gordon, Vivian Vance, Bill Bixby, Nina Foch, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Geoffrey Lewis, Maureen O’Sullivan, and Clive Revill. Barbeau is excellent in a supporting role.

RED ALERT (1977) – Judy Wyche – TV movie thriller starring William Devane about a malfunction at a nuclear power plant. Pre-dates the more well-known THE CHINA SYNDROME (1979) by three years.

CRASH (1978) – Veronica Daniels – TV movie about the crash of Flight 401 into the Florida Everglades. Also starring William Shatner, Eddie Albert, Lorraine Gary, and Ron Glass, among others. Follows the formula of the AIRPORT movies, except this one is based on a true story.

SOMEONE’S WATCHING ME (1978) – Sophie – Another TV movie, this one written and directed by John Carpenter. In fact, it was on the set of this film that Carpenter and Barbeau first met. Long known as the “lost John Carpenter film,” as back in the day it never was released in the U.S. on VHS, and didn’t appear on DVD until 2007, this thriller centers on a woman played by Lauren Hutton being stalked and terrorized by an unknown male assailant. Barbeau plays the main character’s best friend.

THE DARKER SIDE OF TERROR (1979) – Margaret Corwin – Made for TV horror movie centering on clones. Also stars Robert Forster and Ray Milland.

THE FOG (1980) – Stevie Wayne – Barbeau’s first theatrical starring role is in this John Carpenter horror movie, which sadly, since it followed upon the heels of Carpenter’s breakthrough megahit HALLOWEEN (1978) was not well-received or treated kindly by critics at the time. I’ve always loved THE FOG, as it’s unique in that there aren’t too many other horror movies where fog and what arrives in it are the main menaces in the film. It’s an eerie ghost story, and the fog special effects are superior and when combined with Carpenter’s music, pretty much unforgettable. Curiously, one thing I’ve never liked about this movie, and it’s an unusual dislike for a John Carpenter film, is that in spite of a very impressive cast which includes Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, Tom Atkins, Hal Holbrook, Nancy Loomis, Charles Cyphers, and John Houseman, there’s not a single character I like in this one. None of the characters come to life for me, nor are any of the performances memorable, with the possible exception of Charles Cyphers’ Dan the weatherman character, who also gets one of the the best scenes in the movie when he answers the door to his weather station in the fog. But it’s a small role. This is unusual, since in most John Carpenter films, you do have memorable characters and performances, whether it’s Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasence in HALLOWEEN, or Kurt Russell in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) and THE THING (1982) to name just a couple.

Adrienne Barbeau and Harry Dean Stanton in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) – Maggie -This is one of my favorite Adrienne Barbeau performances, in another genre film by John Carpenter. This futuristic science fiction actioner starring Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken, a hardened criminal sent into Manhattan which is now a maximum security prison in the “future” year of 1997 (!!!) by tough guy warden Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) to rescue the President (Donald Pleasence) from terrorists. Another John Carpenter classic. There’s a lot to love about this one even if believability is low throughout… Donald Pleasence as a U.S. President?… Great action scenes, another fantastic music score by Carpenter, and unlike in THE FOG, there are lots of memorable characters and fine performances, including Adrienne Barbeau as Maggie, the tough as nails unflappable girlfriend of super intelligent and resourceful Brain (Harry Dean Stanton), who both help Pliskin rescue the President from the villainous The Duke (Isaac Hayes).

SWAMP THING (1982) – Alice Cable – another theatrical horror/science fiction release, but this time not directed by John Carpenter, but by another classic horror movie director, Wes Craven. Not terribly well-received at the time, but I’ve always found this one mildly entertaining.

Hal Holbrook and Adrienne Barbeau in CREEPSHOW (1982)

CREEPSHOW (1982) – Wilma Northrup “The Crate” – this is another of my favorite Adrienne Barbeau performances. In fact, this one just might be my favorite, pure and simple. In this superior horror anthology movie, directed by George Romero and written by Stephen King, Barbeau appears in one my favorite segments, “The Crate” which is about a hideous man-eating creature living inside a crate. She plays the relentlessly harsh and belittling wife to Hal Holbrook’s meek Henry Northrup, so when his visibly shaken friend Dexter (Fritz Weaver) shows up at his door one night with a horrifying tale of a man-eating monster back at the college campus where they teach, it gives Henry one wild idea to help solve a nagging problem before he decides to help Dexter take care of his monster dilemma.

THE THING (1982) – Computer voice (uncredited) – back with husband John Carpenter again, this time providing the voice of a computer. Arguably Carpenter’s best movie, this classic remake which was also initially panned by critics is today on so many horror movie fans’ lists as the best horror movie ever made. Period.

THE NEXT ONE (1984) – Andrea – Intriguing science fiction film about a stranger from the future played by Keir Dullea who meets the widowed wife of an astronaut played by Barbeau and her son.

TERROR AT LONDON BRIDGE (1985) – Lynn Chandler – TV movie starring David Hasselhoff about Jack the Ripper committing murders in 1985 by the newly restored London Bridge in Arizona. Written by William F. Nolan, who also wrote the screenplays for such genre films as THE NORLISS TAPES (1973) and BURNT OFFERINGS (1976). Nolan just passed away days ago, on July 15, 2021.

OPEN HOUSE (1987)- Lisa Grant – horror movie about a serial killer targeting real estate agents!

TWO EVIL EYES (1990) – Jessica Valdemar – Horror anthology movie based on Edgar Allan Poe tales directed by George A. Romero and Dario Argento.

DEMOLITION MAN (1993)- Computer voice, uncredited – Barbeau once again provides her voice for a computer in this science fiction actioner starring Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, and Sandra Bullock.

JUDGE DREDD (1995) – Central voice – another Sylvester Stallone science fiction action film, another opportunity for Barbeau to lend only her voice to a film.

BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES (1992-1995) – Catwoman/Selina Kyle/Martha Wayne – Barbeau provides voicework for this animated Batman TV show. Her voice work as Catwoman is arguably what she is most remembered for today.

THE NEW BATMAN ADVENTURES (1997-1998) – Catwoman/Selina Kyle- more voiceover work as Catwoman.

THE CONVENT (2000) – Adult Christine – Horror movie about demonic possession and a cursed convent.

GOTHAM GIRLS (2000-2002) – Catwoman/Selina Kyle – provides her voice yet again as the Catwoman in this animated TV series about female superheroes and female supervillains in Gotham City.

UNHOLY (2007) – Martha – Horror movie involving conspiracies, witches, Nazis, the occult, and secret government experiments. Should have been called UNBELIEVABLE.

WAR WOLVES (2009) – Gail Cash – Made for TV horror movie about werewolves, soldiers, and werewolf soldiers! Also starring John Saxon.

UNEARTH (2020) – Kathryn Dolan – Barbeau’s most recent theatrical film credit is in this horror movie about fracking.

Adrienne Barbeau in 2020.

While I jumped from 2009 to 2020, Barbeau was actively working during this decade, appearing in movies and on television nonstop during these years. And she has several projects in pre-production at present.

For me, Adrienne Barbeau will best be remembered as a leading lady from the 1980s in which she appeared in some of the decades biggest horror movies and contributed greatly to these films with her noteworthy performances. So there you have it. A brief partial look at the career of Adrienne Barbeau.

Hope you enjoyed the column and join me again next time when we look at the career of another leading lady.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

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PICTURE OF THE DAY: KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962)

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With the release of GODZILLA VS. KONG (2021) right around the corner, what better way to celebrate than to feast your eyes on an image from the original Kong vs. Godzilla rumble, KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962).

Any way you slice it, KING KONG VS. GODZILLA— at least the American dubbed version— is one silly movie. Yet, I loved it as a kid, and truth be told, I still love it as an adult! It has lots of comic relief— “my corns!”— , memorable characters— who can forget Tako?— and of course, the biggest title bout of the 1960s that didn’t involve Muhammad Ali!

If you love giant monsters, especially King Kong and Godzilla, you would be hard-pressed not to enjoy KING KONG VS. GODZILLA. Both monsters fare very well in this flick, and since this was still an early Godzilla movie, he hadn’t quite made the change to good guy superhero monster. He’s still the villain here, and the Godzilla scenes, especially early on, are quite good.

Kong doesn’t do as well, at least in the looks department. For my money, Kong in this movie is the worst looking King Kong ever in the movies! He is absolutely ridiculous looking! That being said, he does enjoy some fine scenes.

The best of course, and the best scenes in the movie, are the battles between Kong and Godzilla. And there are two of them. The first is brief, almost a teaser, but the second is well worth the wait. It’s one of the better giant monster skirmishes ever put on film, although it’s not my favorite Godzilla battle. There are some in the series which top this one.

And if you’ve seen the movie, one of the more indelible images is the pagoda, which Godzilla and Kong absolutely pummel towards the end of their bout. While nowhere near as memorable as the image of the Empire State Building in the original KING KONG (1933), it still makes its mark. I can’t think of KING KONG VS. GODZILLA without picturing that scene pictured above.

Another reason KING KONG VS. GODZILLA is a silly movie, which fans have known for years, is that the original Kong stood about 40 feet high, while Godzilla towered at 400 feet high. Kong grew a few inches for this movie. He also developed a re-charging tool courtesy of the Frankenstein Monster. See, in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA, Kong gets strength when he’s zapped by lightning! Imagine that! Lightning pretty much kills the rest of us, but for Kong, as they say in the movie, it’s like spinach for Popeye! And Kong needs the extra strength, because as we all know, Godzilla breathes radioactive fire, and so after he zaps Kong with this, nearly killing him, thankfully, mother nature intervenes and strikes Kong with some lightning, and the wrestling bout continues!

I love the power writers wield. Hmm. Kong will never survive Godzilla’s fire…. wait, lightning, that will do it. Lightning will make him stronger. Who knew?

And while I am fairly excited about the new GODZILLA VS. KONG, and I will definitely watch it, I have to admit, I just haven’t enjoyed any of the new Godzilla or Kong movies. They’ve all lacked soul and personality, and they simply haven’t been fun. Worst of all, they’ve all suffered from really bad scripts.

So, I fully expect GODZILLA VS. KONG to be pretty bad, or worse, mediocre. I always go in with an open mind, so I’m hoping I will be pleasantly surprised.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying looking back and thinking fondly on the original battle between these two behemoths, featured in the silly yet satisfying KING KONG VS. GODZILLA.

With that in mind, I eagerly await GODZILLA VS. KONG.

May the best monster win!

—END—

DOLITTLE (2020) Does Little

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When DOLITTLE (2020) opened back in January of last year to negative reviews, I stayed away.

I really had no interest in seeing it anyway, other than having really enjoyed the work of Robert Downey Jr. over the previous decade, mostly with his recurring role as Tony Stark/Ironman in the various Marvel superhero movies, but also in other films like the rebooted SHERLOCK HOLMES movies. So, I was curious to see Downey as Dr. Dolittle, but not curious enough to run out and see this one.

However, this past weekend, I was in the mood for something light and upbeat, and so finally I decided to check this one out, nearly a year after its initial release.

I could have waited two years.

Yup, DOLITTLE was as bad as folks said.

Now, I realize this is a kids movie aimed mostly at younger kids, and it’s supposed to be a family friendly comical adventure. The problem is, while it may be family friendly, in terms of being appropriate for the younger kiddos, it kinda forgot about the older folks in the room, the adults. There’s not much here that is all that relevant or fun for anyone over the age of 10.

Let’s start with the script by director Stephen Gaghan, Dan Gregor, and Doug Mand, based on the character created by Hugh Lofting. And that character is Dr. John Dolittle, a man who possesses the magical ability to talk to the animals. Yep, he understands what they say, and they undertand what he says. Dolittle has been portrayed by Rex Harrison in the musical DOCTOR DOLITTLE (1967) and by Eddie Murphy in a pair of DR. DOLITTLE comedies in the late 90s early 2000s.

Here, Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.) is grieving over the death of his wife, an adventurer who was lost at sea, and so he has withdrawn from society and has become a hermit, interacting only with his animals on his enormous estate. But when young Queen Victoria falls deathly ill, she calls on Dolittle to help her. And with the assistance of a boy named Tommy (Harry Collett) Dolittle and his animals take to the high seas to find both his wife’s lost journal and a healing tree to save the Queen, all while being pursued by the sniveling and villainous Dr. Blair Mudfly (Michael Sheen).

Yawn.

Now, this didn’t have to be a yawnfest, but it is. The jokes just aren’t very funny, but worse, the characters are pretty much all caricatures and don’t come off as real people at all. But this is a kids’ movie, you say, a fantasy. But it is just so far removed from reality it is nearly impossible to watch. Plus, the dialogue, rather than being snappy and lively, is dreadfully dull.

The actors don’t help.

As I said, I have thoroughly enjoyed the work of Robert Downey Jr., especially over the past decade, but his performance here as Dolittle is a head-scratcher. He comes off as a muttering grumpy grandpa who you half expect to shout, “Get off my lawn!” at any moment. Any kind of magic is missing from the character here. A big part of it is the story. I mean, he’s grieving the death of his wife, so it makes sense that he’s dark and dreary. It’s just a weird characterization that simply doesn’t work.

Michael Sheen plays things way over the top as the villain, Dr. Mudfly. It’s embarrassingly in-your-face. Antonio Banderas does the same as Dolittle’s embittered father-in-law King Rassouli. Jim Broadbent plays things with a bit more realism as another villain, Lord Thomas Badgley, but he alone is not able to make much of an impact here.

There are a bunch of notable actors doing voicework here for the animals, folks like Emma Thompson, John Cena, Rami Malek, Kumail Nanjiani, Octavia Spencer, Tom Holland, Craig Robinson, Ralph Fiennes, and Selena Gomez. But I can’t say that any one of them stood out for me.

As I said, Stephen Gaghan directed, and the one thing going for DOLITTLE is it looks good. The photography is bright, lively, and colorful. If only the same could be said for the rest of the movie.

The CGI effects are okay. They’re passable. They are what you would expect to find in a film geared mostly for kids.

Overall, I thought DOLITTLE was a snooze. It only runs for one hour and forty one minutes. I was ready for it to be over after the first fifteen.

There simply isn’t much to like about this one.

Yup, DOLITTLE does little.

—END—

Horror Movies: 2020

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Okay, here we go. Here’s my list of the horror movies I saw in 2020, from worst to first.

Enjoy!

THE BABYSITTER: KILLER QUEEN

14 THE BABYSITTER: KILLER QUEEN (2020) was by far the worst horror movie I saw this year. A pointless sequel to the superior original THE BABYSITER (2017). In spite of this being a horror comedy, this one is a snooze from start to finish.

13. THE TURNING

Turn this one off. Another clunker, this horror movie based on the Henry James’ novella “The Turn of the Screw,” and starring Mackenzie Davies and Finn Wolfhard, couldn’t turn a stomach, let alone a screw.

12. YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT

Haunted house thriller starring Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried is just standard. Offers no surprises.

11. HIS HOUSE

Netflix thriller about a refugee couple in a haunted house has its moments, but not enough of them to really make this worth your while.

THE DARK AND THE WICKED

10. THE DARK AND THE WICKED

Dark thriller about an adult sister and brother on a farm caring for their dying father who happens to be possessed is solidly made but suffers from the “you are all victims syndrome” in that none of the folks in this movie ever stand a chance. The dark wins. Easily.

9. RELIC

Intriguing tale of a mother and daughter caring for the daughter’s ailing grandmother who also seems to be possessed. Clever allegory about dementia doesn’t entirely work but it has its moments.

8. THE WRETCHED

Story of a witch living in the woods works because the main character, a teenage boy scarred by his parents’ divorce, feels empathy for his neighbors and decides to help them fend off the witch, but he has a troubled past, which gets in the way of his heroic efforts. Well-written horror flick.

7. WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS

Lively horror movie about three girlfriends who meet up with three guys at a rock concert as a serial killer is on the loose. Major plot twist takes this over-the top horror flick in an entirely different direction midway through. Takes place in the 1980s.

6. THE RENTAL

Alison Brie and Dan Stevens star in this effective thriller about two couples away for the weekend at a vacation home, very suspicious of the creepy sketchy owner. I liked this one.

5 #ALIVE

Stylish zombie thriller from South Korea is very entertaining even as it doesn’t really offer anything that is new to the zombie genre.

4. UNDERWATER

Fun underwater adventure starring Kristen Stewart . Far from perfect, but fun and suspenseful all the same.

3. ANTEBELLUM

I really liked this ambitious horror movie starring Janelle Monae about slaves on a Civil War era plantation run by sadistic Confederate soldiers. Jumps back and forth between the 1860s and modern times, and contains a VERY controversial plot twist that most fans hated. I didn’t like the twist, but I did like the movie. Powerful music score as well.

2. THE INVISIBLE MAN

Clever re-imagining of THE INVISIBLE MAN concept, stars Elizabeth Moss as a woman tormented by her supposedly deceased abusive husband. She thinks he’s invisible, her friends think she’s crazy. Works best as a psychologicial thriller. Plays its hand a bit too early, but still an above average horror movie.

SPUTNIK

  1. SPUTNIK

My favorite horror movie of 2020 is the tale of a Russian cosmonaut who returns to Earth harboring an alien creature inside his body. Oksana Akinshina steals the show as the psychologist brought in to study him. Superior horror film. Worthwhile viewing from start to finish.

And there you have it. The horror films I watched in 2020, from worst to first.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

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REBECCA (2020) – Latest Version of Daphne Du Maurier’s Novel Better Suited for Lifetime Than Netflix

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REBECCA (2020), the new Netflix movie based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier, is an elegant production billed as a mystery/romance. The emphasis here is clearly on the romance, and as such, it comes off more as a Lifetime movie than a Netflix one.

Du Maurier’s novel was filmed before in 1940, and was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starred Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. That version of REBECCA received ten Academy Award nominations and won two of them, including Best Picture. Hitchcock, of course, didn’t win for Best Director, as strangely, he never won an Oscar.

This new version of REBECCA I expect will not be receiving these kinds of nominations.

In REBECCA, a young woman (Lily James) meets the dashing Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer). A romance follows, and de Winter asks her to marry him, and she does. They return to his massive estate, Manderley, on the English coast, and there, she discovers that he is not quite over the mysterious death of his previous wife, Rebecca, as her spirit seems to pervade over the entire household, including the head housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas) who also seems obsessed with the late Rebecca.

Caught in a situation in which she feels woefully unprepared to deal with, the new Mrs. de Winter attempts to save her marriage by learning the truth about Rebecca’s mysterious death, and her husband’s involvement in it.

Again, this new version of REBECCA plays up the romance, and the mystery of what happened to Rebecca, while it sounds intriguing in a review, hardly has much of an impact in the movie. In short, while I enjoyed the two main performances by Lily James and Armie Hammer, and appreciated the handsome photography, I found this one at the end of the day to be terribly boring. And for a film that runs for a full two hours, that’s a long time to be bored.

Director Ben Wheatley struggles mightily with the pacing here, and the film never becomes an exercise in the unraveling of a mystery like it should. Even the elegant photography is just so-so. While the film looks good, it doesn’t look special, and that’s one of my biggest knocks against this new version of REBECCA. It’s not cinematic. It plays like a TV movie, and I couldn’t imagine seeing this on the big screen. It’s just sort of there.

Jane Goldman, Joe Shrapnel, and Ana Waterhouse wrote the screenplay, based on Du Maurier’s novel, and it does a nice job establishing the character of Mrs. de Winter, who as in the novel, is not given a name, to emphasize the influence and power of Rebecca, who is referred to by name repeatedly. And there are some attempts to tie her plight into modern day women’s issues, but not enough to make this story speak directly to 2020 audiences. And the rest of the story is pretty blah.

Jane Goldman has some pretty impressive writing credits, as she worked on the screenplays for such films as KICK-ASS (2010), X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011), and THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012), all very good movies. The screenplay here for REBECCA is far inferior to those other films.

Lily James gives the best performance in the movie in the lead role as Mrs. de Winter. She successfully captures the audience’s sympathy, and you want to go along with her as she tries to learn what happened to Rebecca. James was equally as good in DARKEST HOUR (2017), in which she shared lots of screen time with Gary Oldman’s Winston Churchill. She was also memorable in a smaller role in BABY DRIVER (2017).

Armie Hammer acquits himself well as Maxim de Winter, but at the end of the day, his main job in this movie seems to be to look good. We don’t really get much insight into his tortured soul or how he truly feels about Rebecca. While Hammer has enjoyed some high profile roles, like the Lone Ranger in the flawed THE LONE RANGER (2013), and as Illya in THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (2015), I enjoyed him more in HOTEL MUMBAI (2018) and in a supporting role as Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s husband Martin in ON THE BASIS OF SEX (2018).

Kristin Scott Thomas plays the cold Mrs. Danvers to the hilt, and she’s sufficiently icy throughout. Like Lily James, she also co-starred in DARKEST HOUR, as she played Churchill’s wife Clemmie.

I had higher expectations for this new version of REBECCA. For starters, I’d hoped it would speak to modern day audiences the way Greta Gerwig’s LITTLE WOMEN (2019) did. It did not.

I also hoped it would be an intriguing mystery. It wasn’t.

Instead, it was pretty much a basic romance with a secret lurking in the shadows which never comes to light enough to truly impact the story.

As a result, REBECCA remains substandard fare. If you love romances, you’ll enjoy it. For the rest of us, you’d be better off seeking out the 1940 Hitchcock version. That one, after all, was the Best Picture of the year.

—END—

 

MONSTER MOVIES: THE FRANKENSTEIN MONSTER – The Universal & Hammer Frankenstein Series

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I’ve loved horror movies all my life.

But long before I called them horror movies, I referred to them as Monster Movies. As a kid, it was rare that I would say “I’m going to watch a horror movie.” Instead, it was “time to watch a monster movie!”

Part of this may have been the influence of reading the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, and enjoying all of Forry Ackerman’s affectionate coverage of movie monsters. But the other part certainly was most of the time I was watching movies that had monsters in them!

And so today, I’d like to celebrate some of these monsters, specifically the Frankenstein Monster. Here’s a look at the Frankenstein Monster in the two most important Frankenstein film series, the Universal and Hammer Frankenstein movies, and I rank each Monster performance with the Monster Meter, with four brains being the best and zero brains being the worst. Okay, here we go.

The Universal series:

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The Monster (Boris Karloff) in FRANKENSTEIN (1931)

FRANKENSTEIN (1931) – The Monster – ?- Sure, he was listed in the credits this way, but we all know by now that it was Boris Karloff playing the monster in this original shocker by Universal studios. It was the role that made Karloff a household name, and rightly so. It still remains my all-time favorite Frankenstein Monster performance. Karloff captures the perfect balance between an innocent being recently born with the insane violence of an unstoppable monster. There are several sequences in this movie where Karloff’s Monster is so violent and brutally powerful it still is frightening to watch.

Monster Meter: Four brains.

 

THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) – The Monster – Karloff. This time he was so famous that his name was listed in the credits as only Karloff, but again, it was Boris Karloff playing the role of the Monster in a movie that many critics hail as the best of the Universal Frankenstein movies. It’s certainly more ambitious than FRANKENSTEIN. And Karloff does more with the role, as the Monster even learns how to speak. I still slightly prefer FRANKENSTEIN, but I will say that Karloff’s performances in these two movies are probably the most powerful performances of the Monster ever put on film.

Monster Meter: Four brains.

 

SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) – The Monster – Boris Karloff. The third and last time Karloff played the Monster was the least effective. While the film is elaborate and features big budget sets and a stellar cast that also includes Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi, and Lionel Atwill, this film begins the sad trend in the Universal Frankestein movies where the Monster simply didn’t do as much as he did in the first two movies. Here, he’s a patient on a slab for most of the film, and once he becomes active, he’s a far cry from the Monster we saw in the first two movies. He doesn’t even speak anymore.

Monster Meter: Three brains.

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The Monster (Lon Chaney Jr. ) in THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942)

 

THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942) – The Monster – Lon Chaney Jr. As much as I like Lon Chaney Jr., I don’t really like his interpretation of the Monster here. He takes over the role from Boris Karloff, and although he means well, he just doesn’t possess Karloff’s instincts. The attempt is made to make the Monster more active again, but Chaney simply lacks Karloff’s unpredictable ferocity and sympathetic understanding. I will say that this is the one time where Chaney disappoints as a monster, as he of course owned Larry Talbot/The Wolfman, made an effective Dracula in SON OF DRACULA (1943), and I thought played a very frightening Kharis the Mummy in his three MUMMY movies.

Monster Meter: Two brains.

 

FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943) – The Monster- Bela Lugosi. Lugosi turned down the role in 1931 because the Monster had no dialogue, a decision that haunted the rest of his career, as the film instead launched the career of Boris Karloff who went on to largely overshadow Lugosi as the king of horror over the next two decades. This should have been an awesome role for Lugosi. It made perfect sense story wise, for at the end of the previous film, THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, the brain of the manipulative Ygor (Lugosi) was placed inside the Monster. In FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN, the Monster was supposed to speak with Ygor’s voice, and be blind, but all his dialogue was cut as were references to the Monster’s blindness. The story goes that because of World War II, Universal balked at having a Frankenstein Monster talking about taking over the world. The sad result was the film makes Lugosi’s performance look silly, as he goes about with his arms outstretched in front of him, walking tentatively. He was doing this of course because he was blind! But the film cut all references to this, and the audience had no idea at the time what the heck was up with Lugosi’s Monster.

Monster Meter: Two and a half brains.

 

HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) – The Monster – Glenn Strange – Strange takes over the Monster duties here, in Universal’s first monster fest, also featuring Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man, and John Carradine as Dracula. Boris Karloff returns to the series here as the evil Dr. Niemann. Strange is an okay Monster, but he doesn’t have a whole lot to do.

Monster Meter: Two brains.

 

HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945) – The Monster – Glenn Strange – Strange returns as the Monster in Universal’s second Monster romp.

Monster Meter: Two brains.

 

ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948) – The Monster – Glenn Strange – The third time is the charm for Glenn Strange as he gives his best performance as the Monster in this Abbott and Costello comedy which in addition to being hilariously funny is also one of Universal’s best Monster movies! The Monster even talks again! Notable for Bela Lugosi’s return as Dracula, and also once more features Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man. Look fast for Chaney as the Frankenstein Monster in the sequence where he tosses the nurse out the window, as he was filling in for an injured Glenn Strange at the time!

Monster Meter: Three brains.

 

The Hammer series:

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The Creature (Christopher Lee) in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957)

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) – The Creature – Christopher Lee. The Hammer Frankenstein series, unlike the Universal series, focused on Victor Frankenstein, played by Peter Cushing, rather than on the Monster. Each Hammer Frankenstein flick featured a different Monster. Poor Christopher Lee received no love back in the day, and his performance as the Creature was widely panned by critics. But you know what? Other than Karloff’s performance in the first two Universal films, Lee delivers the second best performance as a Frankenstein creation! Lee’s Creature is an insane killer, and darting in and out of the shadows, he actually has more of a Michael Meyers vibe going on in this film than a Boris Karloff feel. With horrifying make-up by Philip Leakey, it’s a shame that this Creature only appeared in this one movie. On the other hand, it kinda makes Lee’s performance all the more special. It’s one not to miss!

Monster Meter: Three and a half brains.

 

THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958) – The Monster/Karl – Michael Gwynn. This sequel to THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is one of the most intelligent Frankenstein moves ever made. It has a thought-provoking script and phenomenal performances, led by Peter Cushing, reprising his role as Baron Victor Frankenstein. The only trouble is this one forgot to be scary. Plus, the Monster, played here by Michael Gwynn, pales in comparison to Lee’s Creature in the previous film.

Monster Meter: Two brains.

 

THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN (1964) – The Creature – Kiwi Kingston – The Hammer Frankenstein movie most influenced by the Universal series, with the make-up on Australian wrestler Kiwi Kingston reminiscent of the make-up on the Universal Monster. Not a bad entry in the series, but not a very good one either. This one has more action and chills than REVENGE, but its plot is silly and no where near as thought-provoking or as adult as the plots of the first two films in the series.

Monster Meter: Two brains.

 

FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN  (1967) – Christina – Susan Denberg – The Creature in this one is as the title says, a woman, played here by Playboy model Susan Denberg. A good looking— no pun intended— Hammer production that is largely done-in by a weak script that doesn’t make much sense when you really think about it. The best part of this one is the dynamic between Peter Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein and Thorley Walter’s Doctor Hertz, who capture a sort of Sherlock Holmes/Dr. Watson vibe in this one.

Monster Meter: Two brains.

frankenstein must be destroyed freddie jones

His brain is in someone else’s body. Dr. Brandt/Professor Richter (Freddie Jones) seeks revenge against Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) in FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969).

FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED  (1969) – Professor Richter- Freddie Jones – By far, the darkest and most violent of the Hammer Frankenstein movies, and certainly Peter Cushing’s most villainous turn as Baron Frankenstein. For a lot of fans, this is the best of the Hammer Frankenstein series. It also features a neat script involving brain transplants, and Freddie Jones delivers an exceptional performance as a man whose brain has been transplanted into another man’s body. The scene where he returns home to try to convince his wife, who believes her husband is dead after seeing his mangled body, that he is in fact her husband, that his brain is inside another man’s body, is one of the more emotional scenes ever put in a Frankenstein movie. This one didn’t perform well at the box office and is said to have been director Terence Fisher’s biggest disappointment, as he believed this was a superior film and would be a big hit. The years have proven him right, but at the time, it was not considered a successful Hammer Film. Christopher Lee once said in an interview that he believed this film flopped because it didn’t really have a monster in it, and that’s what fans really wanted. I believe Lee’s observation to be correct.

Monster Meter: Three brains.

 

THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (1970) – The Monster – David Prowse – Hammer decided to remake THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN with Ralph Bates playing Victor Frankenstein and David Prowse playing the Monster. Unfortunately, this is the worst of the Hammer Frankensteins by a wide margin. David Prowse would go on of course to play Darth Vader in the STAR WARS movies.

Monster Meter: One brain.

 

FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL (1974) – The Monster – David Prowse. Peter Cushing returns as Baron Frankenstein for the last time in what is essentially a poor man’s remake of THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Prowse plays a different Monster than the one he played in THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN, and by doing so, he becomes the only actor to play a monster more than once in a Hammer Frankenstein Film. This one is all rather mediocre, and since it’s the final film in the series, it’s somewhat of a disappointment as it’s a weak way to finish a superior horror franchise.

Monster Meter: Two brains.

 

And there you have it. A look at the Frankenstein Monster in the Universal and Hammer series.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

Books by Michael Arruda:

DARK CORNERS, Michael Arruda’s second short story collection, contains ten tales of horror, six reprints and four stories original to this collection.

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Waiting for you in Dark Corners are tales of vampires, monsters, werewolves, demonic circus animals, and eternal darkness. Be prepared to be both frightened and entertained. You never know what you will find lurking in dark corners.

Ebook: $3.99. Available at http://www.crossroadspress.com and at Amazon.com.  Print on demand version available at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1949914437.

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

How far would you go to save your family? Would you change the course of time? That’s the decision facing Adam Cabral in this mind-bending science fiction adventure by Michael Arruda.

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00. Includes postage! Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

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Michael Arruda reviews horror movies throughout history, from the silent classics of the 1920s, Universal horror from the 1930s-40s, Hammer Films of the 1950s-70s, all the way through the instant classics of today. If you like to read about horror movies, this is the book for you!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, first short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

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Print cover
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Ebook cover

Michael Arruda’s first short story collection, featuring a wraparound story which links all the tales together, asks the question: can you have a relationship when your partner is surrounded by the supernatural? If you thought normal relationships were difficult, wait to you read about what the folks in these stories have to deal with. For the love of horror!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

THE HORROR JAR: Peter Cushing As Van Helsing

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Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) goes to work in HORROR OF DRACULA (1958)

Welcome back to THE HORROR JAR, the column where we look at lists pertaining to horror movies.

Up today a look at the number of times Peter Cushing played Van Helsing in the movies. While Cushing played Baron Frankenstein more— he wreaked havoc as Victor Frankenstein six times in the movies— his portrayal of Dracula’s arch nemesis is right behind, as he wielded crucifixes and wooden stakes five times.

Here’s a look:

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Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) taking on Dracula in the famous finale of HORROR OF DRACULA (1958)

HORROR OF DRACULA (1958)

Director: Terence Fisher. Screenplay: Jimmy Sangster

Known outside the United States simply as DRACULA, this is arguably Hammer Films’ greatest horror movie. It followed immediately upon the heels of Hammer’s first international hit, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957), which starred Peter Cushing as Baron Victor Frankenstein and Christopher Lee as the Creature.

Both actors were reunited in HORROR OF DRACULA, with Lee portraying Dracula, and Cushing playing Van Helsing. Yet the film was tailored more for Cushing than for Lee, which made sense, since Cushing had been Britain’s number one TV star for nearly a decade, while Lee was a relative newcomer.  Cushing had the most screen time and was as awesome as ever, yet it was Lee with his ability to do more with less who arguably stole the show with one of the most chilling portrayals of Dracula ever.

Still, for Peter Cushing fans, his first turn as Van Helsing is pretty special. He played the character unlike the way Bram Stoker had written him in the novel DRACULA.  Gone was the wise elderly professor and in his place was a young dashing action hero, expertly played by Cushing. And with Christopher Lee shocking the heck out of the audience throughout the movie, a believable credible Van Helsing was needed. You had to believe that someone could stop Dracula, and Peter Cushing made this happen. It’s no surprise then, that the film’s conclusion, when these two heavyweights meet for the first time in Dracula’s castle, is the most exciting Dracula ending ever filmed.

HORROR OF DRACULA was also the birth of James Bernard’s iconic Dracula music score.

 

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Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) hot on the trail of vampires in THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960).

THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960)

Director: Terence Fisher   Screenplay: Jimmy Sangster, Peter Bryan, Edward Percy

Peter Cushing was right back at it again two year later when he reprised the role in THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960). Unfortunately, Christopher Lee did not share his co-star’s enthusiasm and refused to return to play Dracula, in fear of being typecast. Lee would change his mind several years later.

Anyway,  as a result, THE BRIDES OF DRACULA does not feature Dracula. Instead, it’s a brand new story with a brand new vampire, Baron Meinster (David Peel). While Dracula’s omission may have harmed this one at the box office, that’s one of the few negatives one can find about this classic vampire movie.

Terence Fisher, Hammer’s best director, was at the top of his game here, and for most Hammer fans, this is the best looking and most atmospheric Dracula movie of them all. In fact, for many Hammer Films fans, BRIDES is their all time favorite Hammer Film!

Peter Cushing returns as Van Helsing, and once more his performance is spot-on, without equal. Again, he plays Van Helsing as an energetic, tireless hero, this time sparring with Baron Meinster. Their battles in an old windmill, while not as memorable as the conclusion of HORROR OF DRACULA, are still pretty intense and make for quite the notable ending.

There’s also the added bonus of Van Helsing’s relationship with the beautiful Marianne (Yvonne Monlaur). In a neat piece of drama, while Marianne is engaged to be married to vampire Baron Meinster, at the end of the movie, she ends up in Van Helsing’s arms, not the vampire’s.  The future Mrs. Van Helsing, perhaps?

 

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Once again, it’s Dracula (Christopher Lee) vs. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) in DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972)

DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972)

Director: Alan Gibson   Screenplay: Don Houghton

It would be a long time coming before Peter Cushing would play Van Helsing again, twelve years to be exact, and he wouldn’t even be playing the original character but a descendant of the original Van Helsing living in London in 1972, in Hammer Films’ Dracula update DRACULA A.D. 1972 which brought Dracula into the here and now.

The story goes that after the immense success of the TV movie THE NIGHT STALKER (1971) which told the story of a superhuman vampire terrorizing present-day Las Vegas, Hammer decided to get in on the action and bring Dracula into the 1970s as well.

A lot had happened since Christopher Lee had declined to play Dracula again back in 1960. He finally reprised the role in DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966), Hammer’s direct sequel to HORROR OF DRACULA, a superior thriller that sadly did not feature Peter Cushing in the cast. And then Lee played the character again in DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968) which smashed box office records for Hammer and became their biggest money maker ever. Dracula had become Hammer’s bread and butter. Lee reprised the role in TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1969) and again in THE SCARS OF DRACULA (1970).

With DRACULA A.D. 1972, Hammer finally decided it was time to bring Peter Cushing back into the Dracula series. Unfortunately, the “bringing Dracula into the 1970s” bit did not work out well at all, and the film was a monumental flop at the box office.

The good news is DRACULA A.D. 1972 has only gotten better with age. In 1972, what was considered bad dialogue and sloppy 1970s direction, today is viewed with fond nostalgia, and rather than being met with groans, the campy dialogue is greeted nowadays with loud approving laughter.

And you certainly can’t fault Lee or Cushing for the initial failure of DRACULA A.D. 1972. As expected, both actors deliver topnotch performances, especially Cushing as the original Van Helsing’s descendant, Professor Lorrimer Van Helsing. In 1972, Cushing was closer in age to the way Stoker had originally written the role, but nonetheless he still played the Professor as an action-oriented hero. His scenes where he works with Scotland Yard Inspector Murray (Michael Coles) are some of the best in the movie.

Cushing also gets a lot of memorable lines in this one. In fact, you could make the argument, though no one does, that his best ever Van Helsing performance is right here in DRACULA A.D. 1972. The only part that doesn’t work as well is the climactic confrontation between Van Helsing and Dracula, as it does not contain anywhere near the same energy level as the conclusion to HORROR OF DRACULA.

 

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Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) armed with a crucifix and a silver bullet in THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973).

THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973)

Director: Alan Gibson   Screenplay: Don Houghton

Hammer wasted no time and dove right into production with their next Dracula movie, THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973), which reunited the same creative team from DRACULA A.D. 1972, with Alan Gibson once again directing, Don Houghton writing the screenplay, and with Christopher Lee again playing Dracula, and Peter Cushing once more playing Professor Lorrimer Van Helsing. Even Michael Coles reprised his role as Scotland Yard Inspector Murray.

THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA is pretty much a direct sequel to DRACULA A.D. 1972, as the events once again take place in present day London. At the time, THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA was considered the superior movie of the two, but the trouble was, back in 1973 so few people saw it, because DRACULA A.D. 1972 had performed so poorly at the box office Hammer was unable to release SATANIC RITES in the United States.

It would take five years for the movie to make it to the U.S., as it was finally released in 1978 with the awful title COUNT DRACULA AND HIS VAMPIRE BRIDES. Ugh!

THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA took a page out of James Bond, and had Dracula acting as a sort of James Bond villain hell bent on taking over the world, complete with motorcycle driving henchmen! It was up to Inspector Murray and Professor Van Helsing to stop him!

Strangely, today, DRACULA A.D.1972 is considered the superior movie, as its campiness has aged well, while the convoluted James Bond style plot of SATANIC RITES has not.

Peter Cushing also has fewer memorable scenes as Van Helsing in this one. One of the more memorable sequences does involve Van Helsing confronting Dracula in his high rise office, a scene in which Lee payed Bela Lugosi homage by using a Hungarian accent, but even this scene is somewhat jarring, seeing Dracula seated behind a desk a la Ernest Stavro Blofeld. The only thing missing is his holding a cat, or in this case, perhaps a bat!

The ending to SATANIC RITES is actually very, very good, and in a neat touch, as if to symbolize that the series had finally ended, after Dracula disintegrates into dust, once more the only thing remaining of him is his ring, a homage to the ending to HORROR OF DRACULA. In that movie, Van Helsing left the ring on the floor, and the piece of jewelry proved instrumental in reviving Dracula in DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS. At the end of SATANIC RITES, Cushing’s Van Helsing picks up the ring. Most likely for safe keeping.

The series had ended.

Only, it hadn’t.

 

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Peter Cushing plays Van Helsing for the last time in THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974).

THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974)

Director: Roy Ward Baker   Screenplay: Don Houghton

While Christopher Lee had finally had enough and called it quits after playing Dracula seven times for Hammer, the studio decided it still had one more Dracula picture left.

The gimmick this time was it would be their first martial arts Dracula movie. Yep, Dracula’s spirit enters a Chinese warlord, and he returns to China to lead their infamous seven golden vampires.

Hot on Dracula’s trail it’s, you got it! Van Helsing! And Peter Cushing agreed to play the role again, and since this story takes place in 1904, Cushing once again plays the original Van Helsing, a role he hadn’t played since THE BRIDES OF DRACULA in 1960.

As Dracula movies go, THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES is— well, interesting. It did not perform well at the box office, and unlike DRACULA A.D. 1972 hasn’t really developed a cult following, mostly because it’s just so— different. Kung fu fights in a Dracula movie?

I actually like this movie a lot, and I think most of it works well. It’s actually quite the handsome production, well-directed by Roy Ward Baker. It also features one of James Bernard’s best renditions of his famous Dracula score.

And of course you have Peter Cushing playing Van Helsing, sadly for the very last time. Also sad is that he’s missing from most of the action scenes here. While Cushing always played Van Helsing as a physical hero, he wasn’t quite up for the martial arts scenes. That being said, I’ll give you three guesses as to who finally destroys Dracula in this movie, and the first two don’t count

THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES is actually a lot of fun, and today it provides a nice showcase for Peter Cushing’s final movie portrayal of one of his most iconic roles, Dr. Van Helsing.

Okay, there you have it. A look at Peter Cushing’s five movie portrayals of Van Helsing. Now go have some fun and watch some of these!

Hope you enjoyed today’s column and that you’ll join me again next time for another HORROR JAR column where we’ll look at more horror movie lists.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michaell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Netflix’ DRACULA (2020) – New Mini-Series’ Take On Stoker’s Novel Difficult to Digest

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Dracula - episode 2

DRACULA (2020), a three-part miniseries available now on Netflix, is brought to us by the same folks who brought us SHERLOCK (2010-2017), which starred Benedict Cumberbatch.

Their take on Bram Stokers’ iconic novel, one of the most revered horror novels in the English language, and one of my personal favorites, is one that pushes the envelope at every turn, so much so that for Dracula purists like myself, the end result is not easy to digest.

That’s not to say that I didn’t like DRACULA. I did. Or, at least parts of it.

But there were more parts that I didn’t like, aspects that made it clear that the series’ makers were sacrificing story and truth for ingenuity and chaos. In short, the goal here seems to have been to make as many dramatic and in-your-face changes as possible to make this a fresh and original take on the tale. The trouble is, at the end of the day, there’s not a whole heck of a lot left that resembles Stoker’s original novel.

This in itself I don’t have a problem with. I’m open to re-imaginings. The problem with this reboot is the bold changes get in the way of the story, and that’s never a good thing. It’s like being aware that an actor is acting. Here, it clearly seemed that changes were being made just for the sake of being different. In short, I think the filmmakers were simply trying too hard.

DRACULA opens with a very ill Jonathan Harker (John Heffernan) at a convent being interviewed by Sister Agatha (Dolly Wells), who wants to know as much as possible about his experience at Castle Dracula. Now, in Stoker’s novel, Harker does convalesce in a convent after he escapes from his horrifying ordeal at Castle Dracula, so I thought this was a neat way to open the mini-series.

The events at Castle Dracula then unfold as Harker recounts his story, and it’s in this telling that we first meet Count Dracula (Claes Bang). This is all well and good until it’s revealed that Sister Agatha’s last name is Van Helsing, meaning that in this interpretation, Van Helsing is a nun.

Okay. Stop right here.

Van Helsing is a nun.

Let that sink in for a moment.

My first thought was, okay, a bit dramatic, but I can live with this. I’m on board. I’m ready for this interpretation. But it doesn’t stop there. Van Helsing in this DRACULA is hardly the Van Helsing we’ve seen before. Sure, she’s Dracula’s adversary, but barely, and like other aspects of this version, as the interpretation goes along, it becomes unrelatable, and that simply gets in the way of good storytelling.

So, Part I is mostly the tale of Jonathan Harker’s ordeal at Castle Dracula. Part 2 covers Dracula’s voyage on the ship the Demeter on his way to London, and then Part 3 gets wild and crazy. Without giving too much away, if you’re familiar with Hammer’s DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972) you know which direction the third episode takes.

There’s no doubt that Claes Bang’s interpretation of Dracula was meant to be fresh and original, and it is definitely unlike previous takes on the character. Bang’s Dracula has a wise-cracking quip about everything, and he seems to have walked off the set of a Marvel superhero movie. He’d be right at home exchanging barbs with Iron Man and Doctor Strange as he battled them for supremacy of the world. In short, I didn’t like this interpretation. For me, Dracula works best when he is flat-out evil, which is why I’ve always enjoyed every Christopher Lee performance. His Dracula is always evil.

That’s not to say that Bang plays Dracula as a nice guy. His Dracula is definitely a villain, but he’s just a little too colorful for my tastes. That being said, Bang does deliver a powerful performance which grew on me with each episode. So, for me, it’s a case where I thought the actor did a tremendous job but the writing tweaked the character too much for my liking.

Likewise, Dolly Wells does a nice job as Sister Agatha Van Helsing, but again, the writing took this character and did things with her that diminished her impact. For starters, Van Helsing simply isn’t as powerful a presence here as Dracula. That in itself is problematic.

I can’t say then that I was a fan of the teleplay by Mark Gatis and Steven Moffat, where changes seem to have been made solely for the purpose of being different without taking into consideration how it would affect the story. Still, it’s an incredibly ambitious screenplay. There is just so much thrown into this mini-series. That in itself is impressive. But sadly most of it didn’t work for me.

The rest of the cast is okay. The only other cast member who stood out for me was Lydia West as Lucy, who shows up in Part 3. When Dracula finally meets Lucy in Part 3, it makes for some of the most compelling moments in the entire miniseries. I loved this part, mostly because of West’s performance here, as she and Bang share some sensual chemistry, but sadly, this sequence doesn’t last all that long, so as good as it is, it’s far too brief.

Then there’s Mina, here played by Morfydd Clark. Mina is a central character in the novel, and she’s always been one of my favorite characters in the novel. Few movie versions have ever done her justice. In the novel, she’s probably the strongest character, but in the movies, she’s generally reduced to being a victim who needs to be saved by Van Helsing. In this version, she’s barely a blip on the proceedings, which is too bad.

I did like the way this one looked. A lot. Especially the look of Castle Dracula in Part 1. Evidently it’s the same castle exterior that was used in the original NOSFERATU (1922). How cool is that?

I also enjoyed the homages to other classic Draculas, especially to the Hammer Draculas. Early on in Part 1, Dracula is depicted as an old man, as he is in the novel, and the look here resembles Gary Oldman in BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992). Later Dracula’s guise resembles Christopher Lee, and then in Part 2, while he’s on the Demeter, his costume mirrors that of Bela Lugosi. I appreciated these touches.

And for Hammer Film fans, there’s an Easter Egg for DRACULA A.D. 1972, and for HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), specifically that film’s classic finale. So I give credit to directors Johnny Campbell, Paul McGuigan, and Damon Thomas for these moments.

But overall, DRACULA struggled to hold my attention. I found its dramatic revisions distracting and far less captivating than the story told in Stoker’s novel.

And while I can comfortably say it was not the version for me, I have a feeling that somewhere down the line I’ll watch it again.

Some day.

 

When I’m ready to once more entertain the notion that Van Helsing is a nun and Dracula a comic book villain.

—END—