Archive | Entertainment

the Last Performance (11/1/1929)

Last Performance (1929) Conrad Veidt as a man in formal wear who uses his eyes to mezmerize people. Interesting little melodrama three men all vying for the attention of the pretty girl. Veidt plays a sauve stage magician (watch for Universal’s Phantom of the Opera stage again) who is in love with his female assistant… Philbin plays his assistant who is in like with her boss, there is also one male stage assistant (who has male stage assistants in circus tights?) who is our Iago character who isn’t as much in love with the female stage assistant as he just wants to make everyone unhappy. Then there is another male stage assistant who is introduced as a noble Jean ValJean/beggarmanthief who breaks in to steal a meal..Veidt’s character is actually not a bad guy (nor bad looking) he invites the thief to take his meal sitting down and then takes him on as another assistant which he really doesn’t need. Philbin on the other hand seems to be playing the field, while she is engaged to the famous rich guy, she starts swooning around with the good looking newcomber… this will NOT end well for anyone. Long story short using a magic trick with a trunk and way way too many swords the trouble maker assistant winds up dead and the boyfriend winds up on trial. Not to spoil a 90 year old film but it’s all her fault.

Paul Fejos is a fascinating director I had never heard of, he does some great work in this and his other films Lonesome and Broadway, watch for a terrific camera zoom over a very long table with candelabras, brought to mind Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast especially with the face mask dressing room wall art. This is another one of those films which suffered from being released on the sound cusp. The silent version is happily watchable for the closeups of stage magic, and I really enjoyed the way he put the camera upstage center with the magicians sandwiched between it and the audience.

Though supposedly written for Lon Chaney, it is not horrific in anyway, just a bit of a love triangle murder mystery. If Chaney had done it, no doubt he would have been a much more a Svengali type who was manipulating the girl for his own ends and she was right to play around on him. But Veidts magician seems to be wounded by her bad manners and it’s ALL HER FAULT. I had wanted to find and see this Universal release before I moved into talkies outright, I thought it would have more of a suspenseful supernatural vibe to it. Veidts mesmerism skills never gets addressed properly in the script, if he was that good and apparently he IS, he could have been using it on her this whole time, and he didn’t…like I said. It’s all her fault.

The Bat Whispers (11/13/30) & the Bat (6/16/26)

The Bat Whispers (1930) & the Bat (1926) cliche ridden staple of 1920s Broadway is frozen in time for our viewing pleasure by Roland West. West may have come from the theatre but he must have seen what was coming out of German cinema, because his playful visual style is still a joy to behold. Except for the actual bat costume cause that’s just stupid, except if you are Bruce Wayne. Whatever you call Rineharts play, it is ‘old dark house’ full of silly people, at least one villain and somewhere is a missing treasure, which is apparently why the silly people STAY IN THE HOUSE with the villain! In the 10 or 15 times I have watched it, I still can’t keep the motives of all the people straight. But at least in the 1930s production there is an added twist to the twist, which I thought was a good decision. and seriously burglar’s rarely cap their marks, so that part is just completely unbelievable. What is also unbelievable is that this play ran 900 times and people still went to see it on film, TWICE. oh the days before television…..
 

It is not the least bit scary, nor even THAT funny, once you get past the hysterical maid, who I would just sock in the jaw. Roland West’s visual style is the reason to blow the dust off this disc now and then. The restoration of the 1930 was money well spent, instead of pointing at what the Germans were doing, we can point to what WE were doing in the cinema. This last time through I REALLY watched the overly theatrical blocking and scene work, I think he was actually trying to recreate the theater experience for the viewer…doubling down in the last scene of the picture when actual curtains close and the lead addresses the audience…reminds one of the opening of Frankenstein. I am sure it wasn’t the first fourth wall break in a movie, but I think considering the picture as if it were a live theater production actually improves it. Otherwise there is absodamntively no reason for a guy dressed in a cape and cowl to creep around in a room where he is totally alone….that’s just weird. I wish someone would do a restoration on the goofier 1926 version. West does some very interesting work with miniatures that should be appreciated. He does some great work in Alibi and Corsair too if you can find them.

The Last Warning (1/6/29)

Last Warning (1929) Paul Leni & Laura La Plante take their Cat and the Canary shtick to Stage 28’s Phantom of the Opera set, wackiness ensues. A solid ‘Old Dark House’ murder mystery-slash-comedy? but lacking in the snappy dialogue that will eventually become part of the playbook. Instead we get a lot of comic relief characters rolling their eyes to indicate fear, I blame the script writer. There’s a murder, time passes, they finally want to reopen the ‘haunted’ theather and solve the case, they recruit the original suspects – seriously dude you can’t let a theater that size sit closed for 5 years, that’s just not economical.

Leni shows off a lot of artsy lighting and set design while we watch wacky characters wander around backstage waiting to get spooked by the ghost they ALL believe exists. But things really don’t get exciting, both visually and plotwise until the last reel; where after a very theatrical denoument and reveal the villain, in a cape and mask no less, leads the police on a mad chase through the opera house, reminiscent of both Phantom of the Opera and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. (Leni puts the camera on a trapeze this time)

If I were catching it in 1929, it would be definitely worth seeing for nickle or about .75 in todays money I think. But unless you really have the hots for LaPlante or are hunting down all Paul Leni films, you may want to FFWD through this one, but don’t miss the last reel. Apparently there is a recent restoration but as yet it is not on disc: it does look pretty spiffy. The best copy I can find is on Archive.org, it made me throw out my old very bad dvdR. [BTW the New York Police Department’s Women Bureau was created in 1924, you’re gonna need that piece of information for the last shot in the film. ]

 

The Man Who Laughs (4/27/28)

The Man Who Laughs (1928) the last of the great silent era genre pictures. My boy Leni adds the horror elements to this historical melodrama by portraying the barbarity of the age in which it is set. It starts with guy getting perforated to death, a child given a Glasgow smile so he can beg for money, and a woman with a suckling baby being frozen to death and that’s reel one. Veidt’s scarred but noble hero is haunted by his self-loathing, secretly of noble birth, doesn’t actually WANT to be a carny, and yet the woman enjoying his title and lands is a Libertine who goes carnival slumming in disguise to let drunk peasants feel her up….as one does. (creepiest nipple slip ever)
 

Leni’s raucous carnival scenes combine all the epic crowd work of Hunchback with all the voyuerism of Browning’s Freaks. He uses real sword swallowers and fire eaters, elephants and dwarves but you never really DO get to see the 5 legged cow, whose marquee is on screen quite a bit….maybe it’s a joke for the audience I don’t get. Watch quick where Leni mounts a camera on a ferris wheel to put you in the scene. Pierce’s makeup for Veidt has become iconic, by not adding actual scars to the face, it emphasizes the unhappy clown aspect, especially in scenes where he is surrounded by actual clowns in greasepaint. I think Philbin’s saintly blind girl is the least interesting character, but then I suspect she’s more of a plot device. You can have Love with Girl A who can’t see your scars, or you can have sex with girl B who is using you to keep from ACTUALLY becoming the peasant she pretends to be….when the audience just wants to be titilated by Choice B. 
 
I don’t watch this film much anymore, the plot kinda bores me, Hugo was trying to say something about the blurry line between the classes and telling truth to power… and that’s when I got bored. I do like the carnival chaos, and angry crowds with torches but I don’t care about the people individually. There are more satisfying Veidt performances out there, and I like other Leni films better. The dog gives a great performance, so does the wig maker. There is a 2012 French version out there I would like to see just for giggles, pardon the pun.

Cat and the Canary (9/9/27)

Cat and the Canary (1927) Paul Leni’s grandaddy of all horror comedies. Well to my eyes, it’s a suspense thriller with a little horror and a little comedy and I think the further we get away from that era, the much less of either it contains. Your pretty yet naive, soon-to-be-heiress, soon-to-be-stereotype, is locked into an ‘old dark house’ with naught but suspicious individuals and a some comic relief, wackiness ensues. [Seriously, can you LEGALLY delay a will reading for 20 years?] The twisty plot point and the sit-com familiarity of the comedy is what kept this play and and its copycats, running in the theaters for years. Paul Leni’s awesome adaptation of German production design for American sensibilities is what keeps this version watchable after 90 years. With apologies to Bob Hope, this is the superior incarnation. Leni’s death was tragic on many levels, he influenced a lot of people with just a few films.

Rewatching Cat and the Canary #1, it seems filled to the rafters with every trope and stereotype, perhaps the FIRST cinematic combination of these useful short cuts. If I were in the audience in 1927 I would have been awestruck at the visuals. The 1st time I saw a crappy copy, I immediately found the best copy I could find so I could appreciate everything Leni was putting on the screen. Usually visual effects to punctuate the story and heighten tension ‘way back then’ in my mind helped me SEE silent film in an entirely new light.

What doesn’t work for me, in this film or any of the thousand to come, is the heroine being patronized and dismissed for being a ‘silly girl’ when she reports spooky doings and threats up on her life. What is UP with that? How was THAT funny? To ME the biggest threat upon her person is her ‘advisors’ trying to convince her she is imagining everything, that was worse than any super-villain with a creepy makeup effect. But that must have had some mass appeal, it never gets old…I think Hollywood still trots that out from time to time.

On the whole this is a fun film to revisit from time to time, I ALWAYS see something new that I had not seen before. But it’s not really scary, except if I were Laura Laplante. I’d be scared they would make me stay in that house with all those idiots for TWO nights, instead of one.

The Phantom of the Opera (11/25/25)

The Phantom of the Opera (1925) It’s the gay ’90s and once again we have a pretty girl as the catalyst for mad obsession that leaves a body count in it’s wake. I never can GET why she lets a mysterious stalker give her vocal lessons through the wall, perhaps vocal coaches were expensive back then. Laemmle doubling down on the spectacle this time, it is a much more lavish production than anything that went before…I think you really have to go to 1939 to see more money on the screen. I can see 1925 audiences sitting through it repeatedly just to see the added wow factors, the production value, the 2 stip techicolor section sequence and the musical score. Chaney’s makeup effects pushing it over the top once again. Without him it’s still a good movie, with him, it’s iconic.
 
If you have never seen it or have only seen bad transfers, it is worth sitting through a clean copy. (The 2 strip technicolor: see Mystery at the Wax Museum, Doctor X, Black Pirate –  can be a lot of fun to look at when it is color stablized, if it’s a bad copy that fades in and out, it’s better to watch in black and white)
 

This time through I noticed the similarities between the Phantom of the Opera and JAWS…both have half the film to cause mayhem and terror before you get a good look at them…and when you do, they are still pretty frightening. I had always assumed that the Phantom’s MASKed visage was somehow to tie into post WWII facial scarring and facial prosthetics (see Man Who Laughs 1928) , once again judging a monster based on their looks not their actions, but this fella was apparently born twisted face and soul and stayed that way, and is now focuses his stalking on a willing target – sorry, i have no respect for her, she should have called the cops..spoiler alert: yeah the sneaky guy in the fez hanging out in the cellar….. why didn’t he just tell everyone about the crazy guy in the cellar? I suppoed it was a REALLY big cellar. FWIW how did the horse get down in the cellar you asked? they used horse drawn pulley systems to change the backdrops, like pit ponys. And I don’t want to IMAGINE what the BLACK LAKE smelled like. 
 
Personally I think you see too much of the “Phantom” to call it a horror movie, it’s a thriller, with a nasty overly dramatic kidnapper and some very slow rescuers who need to be rescued themselves. And instead of a slow death from broken heart at the keyboard as in the book, one of the screen writers came up with the angry mob with torches throw him into the Seine, which I didn’t think would only get him wet. In my opinion they should have dumped him down into his own torture chamber with all the mirrored walls, but that’s not as dramatic as mobs with torches. BTW should I wonder who built that torture chamber? didn’t they tell someone..hey some guy had us build a torture chamber under the opera house…just saying….
 
This is a silent film which must be seen, it has influenced so much that came afterwards.

Lost World (6/22/25)

Lost World (1925)  I can’t by pass 1925 without checking in with OBie and Marcel Delgado’s creature feature. I’m a sucker for actual Monsters in my monster movies. Apparently Marcel produced 50 dino creatures for this picture and with each subsequent restoration more and more get to been seen on film. Face it, we all FFWD past Professor Challenger and get right to the dinosaurs, now that I am old I can’t even watch monkeys and apes or even bear cubs on film and not feel bad for them. Clay stop motion animals I can’t get enough of them. Watching it you can see Obie’s technique evolve from scene to scene from singular creatures to matte paintings and combining the live action and the stop motion in one shot.

First National had been merely a successful distributor of films until they decided to get into the act. I just don’t see any other fantasy or genre films in their filmography which is too bad. I haven’t seen any of their others films, but if this and Sea Hawk (1924) are any indicator, they put a lot of effort into their production values. (Sea Hawk’s sea battles were so good, they reused the footage in the Errol Flynn version.) Basically if you own King Kong, this should sit on the shelf next to it…or you can also shelve it next to your Ray Harryhausen’s Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.

Hunchback of Notre Dame (9/2/1923)

Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) It’s 1482 and everyone wants to get with the prettiest girl, wackiness ensues. Lucky for us all that Laemmle’s gamble, financing this super jewel paid off. Tons of spectacle, cruelty, lust, torture, sin and damnation and all straight out of the source material, so that made it all ok to enjoy. After all it’s great literature, right?
 
My personal opinion is that Chaney’s four and a half hour painful transformation was overkill: the 70lb hump, the rubber suit and the animal fur trim pushed his grotesque into caricature, I think much uglier than what is described in the book. In the end he resembled one of the gargoyles than a malformed man. But that was probably his intention, the film wasn’t made for me. People in the 20s where used to a LOT of ugliness in their day to day that we are now. I’m a wimp, I’d rather avoid looking at Chaney and watch everything else. I suppose if the costume were on a stage it would have to be over the top for the people in the balcony to get the full effect. By making him as ugly as he possibly could it reinforces that monster with a good heart point of the storyline, cause all the pretty people are pretty awful. Secretly I have always thought that Esmerelda was to blame for nearly everything, that’s probably Hugo’s idea as well. She’s too pretty and naive and look what happens? It’s the woman’s fault all the men behave badly.
 

FWIW You never actually SEE Quasi getting whipped, you never see blood or wounds, like the shower scene, it’s all in your head. The shot cuts away to the crowds getting off on the torture, which is pretty horrifying in itself. (Is that supposed to be US in a way?) You don’t see her get tortured either, and I don’t think she even looks very tortured. The real violence comes with the Cathedral siege where he’s crushing people with granite stones and pouring molten ‘lead’ – there’s your real body count. Gotta love crowds with torches who then get attacked by soldiers on warhorses.
 
Spoiler Alert: It’s at this point the film ending is way different from the book. The film has a happy ending for Esmerelda and the pretty guy who was really just trying to seduce her. In the book she is hanged and her body thrown on a pile where Quasi finds it and lies down next to it and dies of starvation. The film has him dying from wounds sustained saving her life from her stalker would be rapist. In the end I recommend the FFWD button through any scenes where people are just talking, cause it’s all just justification for their bad behavior.
Real Life Quasimoto Uncovered in Tate Archives

old dark house

It’s that time of year…time to get shut up in an ‘old dark house’ during a torrential storm, along with a house full of loonies. Old Dark House..one of the more obscure James Whale productions is well worth watching..over and over. I wish i had more like minded friends…i’d throw a theme party a la Rocky Horror Picture Show…. the film has marvelous dialogue just ripe for quoting out of context….”No beds! they can’t have any beds!” and there’s a scene around a meal which fit in perfectly with the concept…”Have a potato!” “thank you i should love potato!” …we have constant wind and rain, a few merry musical rhymes, and a pyromaniac, ….”we make our own electric light here…and we’re not very good at it, don’t be alarmed if they go out all together.” so we have flickering electric lights, and candles.. we could use spray bottles to spray people in the face when they get a line wrong. Hey… i have a sick sense of fun.

MY DVD player died…i did a necropsy and there was no saving it. …i went without one for a week…still don’t have the money to replace it, but some generous soul gave me a very decent one…i am trying to make up for lost time with my Halloween viewing. It doesn’t seem to have an all region unlock, so i will end up buying another one eventually. can’t have all my UK DVDs go to waste. Funny how i want to watch some of these MORE now that I can’t, than before when I could.

Another thing I’d buy if i had more money was a copy of the original book. The film is one my 10 favorite films and I generally buy the books that go with such things. The internet does make things hard to come by sometimes.

Halloween’s coming..so it a tropical storm named Sandy…the CERT team has yet to be activated to the appropriate preparations needed for setting up shelters and such…i tried kickstarting it with the Mayor’s office but now that the police chief has CERT under his boot, he’s not interested in what anyone thinks. which at first bothered me a lot..but last night I let it go, i will just drop out. I have plenty to keep me busy. And in this particular storm…who knows i may be busy keeping myself afloat anyway.

I’m going to batten down my own hatches and keep the homefires burning..figuratively. no pyromaniacs here.

water sports


i spent too long on the water yesterday…i burned my shoulders…i did have sunblock in my ditty bag..but i didn’t think of it…i am usually only out about an hour or two and get back before the sun is high.. however after a little trail work i went out to pick trash ..and take photos…and the rowing was easy and next thing i know five hours passed by…i had brought the new battery and motor too..but i forgot that i needed to install the little brass terminal widgets… so it was rowing…i have still got new oars on my wish list at amazon….rowing backwards is a pain in the ass in the sanctuary as the river has really sharp curves…i look funny rowing forward in that section…kayak would be a better option.

anyway while i was out i grabbed some photos of people USING the trail and the river…this is the first time i have seen folks using the river for anything other than fishing. I wish the images of the kayakers were better but for some reason the telephone and macro come out well but the straight up shots look crappy…it really has never been the same since we both took that river spill. the camera didn’t go in but the bag got a little soggy bottom.

of course now i lost the well paying job, i need to have a camera serviced..actually now i will have two fuji’s that need servicing. the other one is still in the box that came back from the Fuji repair center..at the time i didn’t have the money..now i regret it because i could be using one and sending in the other. oh

i started a running list of things i will buy once i get money flowing again…cameras are always at the top of the list. I did make it a point of buying a new trolling motor and battery charger when i had extra money…i skipped the batter because i did figure it was something i would eventually find used or be given one..and i was. ..i regret not paying off more bills but having the boat and motor ready to go without borrowing something ahead of time – really helps me stay sane.

i’m going to try to go out and row more… another thing on my list is a kayak..once the water drops in the summer it will be harder for me to get the jon boat..the trash collecting vehicle …into the sanctuary…but alas that’s another thing for my list.

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