blogopener copyThis month, TCM spotlights “Trailblazing Women–Actresses Who Made a Difference,” a series of movies featuring female stars who contributed to the industry, culture, and society. The series covers all eras of movie history, from Mary Pickford, who was an industry powerhouse in the silent days, to Jane Fonda and Cicely Tyson, who were activists off the screen in 1970s and 1980s. The program is the second part of a three-year effort in partnership with Women in Film (WIF) in which TCM devotes October to championing the achievements of women in Hollywood

TCM viewers who are enjoying “Trailblazing Women” should check out the new, third edition of From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies by film historian Molly Haskell. Haskell, who sometimes cohosts on TCM, covers the silent era to the late 20th century, the same time frame as “Trailblazing Women.” While there is some overlap between the series and the book, Haskell’s focus is on the image of women in the movies, the stars who embodied these images, and the relationship of these images to women in society.




The Creeping Flesh (Freddie Francis, 1973) screens on TCM later this week and it’s worth highlighting for several reasons. Oddly enough, for me anyway, the skeleton found in New Guinea by a Victorian scientist – one that can regenerate flesh and which is posited as some ancient embodiment of evil – is low on the priority list. [...MORE]

The Scary Thought of Being Movied Out

It’s not even half way through October and I have to say, I’m already Octobered out.  I know, I know, how could I be?  I haven’t even done a full-throated post on horror yet.  It’s not that I’m tired of horror, far from it.  It’s that October has now become inundated with lists of every kind (Top 100 Movie Killers, Top 10 Best Scary Movies, etc) and for the last several years, looking for a new angle at which to approach the month seems more and more difficult.  A part of it is blog fatigue to be sure.  I’ve been blogging for ten years now (at other places before here) and each and every October has been a celebration of a genre I dearly love which means that for ten years I’ve pulled the genre apart and analyzed it from one end of the horror spectrum to the other.  I don’t want to do it again.  I don’t want to write up a genre because the time of year tells me I have to.  Of course, it’s still October and this is still a movie blog so I’m going to talk about the movies today but no particular genre.  Instead, I’m going to talk about what scares me with the movies.  No, not scared as in horrified, more scared as in concerned, worried.  Here’s what scares me… or worries me:



The Amazing, Amazing Mr. X (1948)


As a lifelong classic film fan who has seen more movies than she cares to remember, it’s easy to become a little jaded. However, every year I manage to come across an old film that becomes a new favorite. This year that film is the amazing, Amazing Mr. X (1948), a low-budget supernatural thriller also known as The Spiritualist in Britain.


The Funny Old Dark House


“Don’t big, empty houses scare you?”
“Not me. I used to be in vaudeville.”

That wry exchange is one of the many little asides that typifies The Cat and the Canary (1939), airing in prime time this Friday on TCM. This Paramount production (now part of the Universal library) is the earliest surviving sound version of the original old dark house chiller that started life as a stage play by John Willard, and it’s a savory bit of counter-programming to Universal’s ongoing parade of beloved movie monsters (which were being toned down in the early throes of World War II). The idea of Hope starring in a horror movie (especially so early in his career — he’d only been starring in features since 1938!) sounds bizarre on paper, but it works beautifully in practice. Part of the charm here is the smart pairing of Hope (more subdued and urbane than usual here) with the gorgeous and charming Paulette Goddard, who was married to Charlie Chaplin at the time and was best known for Modern Times (1936). The chemistry between Hope and Goddard was so good they were teamed up for another horror comedy in 1940, The Ghost Breakers, and in between she made her most familiar film for many TCM viewers, The Women (1939). And as you can see in that promotional shot above for The Cat and the Canary, she also knows how to rock a Halloween costume like nobody’s business. [...MORE]

Georgia On My Mind: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997)



Clint Eastwood’s improbable late career run continues with Sully, an exquisite multi-perspective rendering of Sully Sullenberger’s “Miracle on the Hudson” emergency plane landing. Replaying the pivotal moment over and over, from the point-of-view of the plane crew, air traffic controllers, and Coast Guard, Eastwood displays how Sully’s heroism was the result of dozens of professionals working in concert. Eastwood took a similar approach to Midnight in the Garden Of Good and Evil, his box-office failure from 1997. Adapted from the phenomenally popular true crime novel by John Berendt (at the time it was the record holder for longest time spent on the New York Times bestseller list – 216 weeks), it is a portrait of the vices and virtues of a eccentric Savannah community – and how those interlocking society pieces led to the murder of an errand boy. Digressive and character driven, Eastwood’s film spends a leisurely 155 minutes to reach an ambiguous Rashomon-like conclusion. In the wake of Sully’s critical and box office success, it is worth revisiting Midnight, which was just released in a fine-looking Blu-ray by the Warner Archive.


Thoughts on Brando, Teahouse, and the Big Screen

Teahouse_of_august_moon_(1956)Last week, I interviewed Mark Caro who created a film series in Chicago called “Is It Still Funny?” This weekend, I introduced The Teahouse of the August Moon as part of a film series at the Ringling Museum of Art on the image of Asians in Hollywood movies. It seems the opportunity to watch older films on a big screen with an audience has a powerful appeal for movie-lovers in all parts of the country. Teahouse drew a good crowd who enjoyed the film and stayed for a lively discussion afterwards

The Teahouse of the August Moon has an impressive pedigree. In 1951, Vern Sneider published the novel. John Patrick turned it into a very popular Broadway play in 1953; three years later, Patrick adapted it to the big screen for MGM. The studio had high hopes for a critical and box-office hit. Teahouse stars Marlon Brando as Japanese interpreter Sakini, who is also the movie’s onscreen narrator, speaking directly to the audience at the opening and closing of the film. He serves as interpreter for an American colonel in charge of Occupation forces in Okinawa. The Colonel orders Captain Fisby, played by an affable, slightly bumbling Glenn Ford, to oversee a small Okinawan village. The goal is to Americanize the village by indoctrinating them into the ways of modern capitalism. Sakini, who has his own agenda, accompanies Fisby to serve as interpreter–in more ways than one.


Franchise Horror: Which Monsters Work, Which Don’t

Today on TCM, the movie that slammed two franchise characters together and created a new sub-genre, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.  Produced in 1943, it began a tradition of taking popular characters and combining them to maximize ticket sales.   The two characters had built in audiences and for years to come, both appeared time and time again in their own stand alone works as well as more combinations (the most entertaining probably being Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein).  There’s no question as to the popularity of this month’s Star of the Month, or in this case, Monster of the Month, Frankenstein’s monster, but why has he been so successful while others have failed?  When it comes to franchise horror, which monsters work and which don’t?


Music and Horror: A Delicate Balance

A few years ago,  my wife and I had an unexpected experience with a classic silent film, one we both loved and looked forward to seeing on the big screen.  The movie was Nosferatu from 1922, playing tonight on TCM, and what was unexpected was just how much we didn’t enjoy it.  At all.   We saw it at the AFI and the problems came from multiple sides.  One was the audience.  It wasn’t the audience that we were used to.  As regular patrons of the theater, we had come to appreciate just how many fellow classic and foreign movie lovers there were who showed up for matinees of the not so well known titles, like we did.  Those audiences were attentive and enthusiastic about the movie on the screen.  At Nosferatu, whose showing is a well-known and extremely popular local event, the audience was unrecognizable to us.  Younger by decades and clearly there because they heard about the cool experience where this “creaky old movie” gets a much needed updating with a modern score.  They laughed and snickered at the movie and one got the feeling that most everyone in there had a smug sense of superiority over the work.  Then there was the emcee who, dressed as Dracula, introduced the movie by running through some anecdotes he snatched from Wikipedia.  But mainly, the problem was the music.  I can’t remember which ultra-hip “orchestra” did the music but I can tell you this:  They weren’t concerned with the movie at all.  Their one concern was making sure their music was clever and memorable and if it didn’t match the action on the screen, well, who cares?



Paranormal Police Procedural: Nothing But the Night (1972)


Christopher Lee and co-star Diana Dors sharing a laugh behind-the-scenes of
Nothing But the Night (1972)

To celebrate the season of scaring TCM has made Christopher Lee their Star of the Month. Viewers who tune in will be able to enjoy the tall, dark and handsome ‘Master of Menace’ in over 40 different films airing each Monday throughout October. Next week I encourage you to seek Lee out in the unsung British thriller Nothing But the Night (1972), which is sandwiched between one of five Fu Manchu films Lee appeared in (The Vengeance of Fu Manchu; 1968) and an interesting Amicus thriller (Scream and Scream Again; 1970). Nothing But the Night is one of the most unusual and provocative pictures in Lee’s extensive filmography and deserves a better reputation than it’s been saddled with for the last 44 years.

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