Boris Karloff

November 24, 2009

Like Frank Sinatra & Elvis, The Beatles & The Monkees, and Chaplin & Keaton, I think everyone has a favorite when it comes to Bela Lugosi & Boris Karloff. You can like them both, but usually just one has a really special place in your heart. I love both of their movies to no end, but if the Boris Karloff DVD collection and the Bela Lugosi DVD collection were both dangling off the edge of a cliff, I know which one I would rescue. Sorry Bela*.

While I love almost all horror movies from the 1930's and 1940's (Val Lewton movies especially) Boris Karloff's performances always stand out as my favorites. A dedicated thespian, Karloff acted for nearly 20 years before being cast as the monster in Frankenstein in 1931. I think that his association with monster movies belittles what a great actor he was (not that great acting didn't exist in monster movies, but you know what I mean.) He brings a softness and depth to even the most ruthless, one dimensional roles. A mummy played by anyone else would be a body wrapped in linen, but Karloff makes it a character.

My favorite Karloff performance is in The Body Snatcher. Karloff plays John Gray, a grave robber who supplies stolen corpses to a slimy doctor, played by Henry Daniell. It's also my favorite scary movie, one that gives me chills (and often nightmares!) every time I watch it.

In real life, Boris Karloff was nothing like the villains and monsters he played onscreen. From what I've read, he seems to have been the sweetest man in Hollywood -- donating his time to cheer up disabled children every Christmas in a Baltimore hospital and recording numerous children's records over the years. Probably his most famous effort for children was his narration of The Grinch in 1966. In a way, The Grinch is almost like a symbol of Karloff, a combination of the man and the character. The monster with a heart of gold.

*Luckily Bela Lugosi & Boris Karloff did star in quite a few films together, so there would be some overlap in my Karloff DVD collection :)

Hot Enough for June (1964)

November 20, 2009

As you might recall, a little over a month ago I received a gigantic order of Dirk Bogarde DVDs. Before they actually arrived in the mail, I was planning on having a Dirk Bogarde spree and watching them all at once. But when they came I chickened out. I realized that there are only so many DB movies available, and I really should ration them.

The one that I kept eyeing, putting in my dvd player and taking back out again-- trying to put off until the last minute because it looked SO good that I wanted to save it as long as I could-- was Hot Enough for June.

Hot Enough for June is a James Bond spoof from 1964. It begins with an agent turning in the shoes, passport and belongings of another agent who was killed in the line of duty. Right away we find out that the agent was James Bond.

Instead of recruiting a professional spy to take 007's place, the British government decides to pluck someone from the ranks of the unemployed. Enter unemployed (and unpublished) writer Nicholas Whistler, played by Dirk Bogarde.

Whistler enjoys the life of the unemployed writer, and does everything he can NOT to get the job offered to him at the unemployment office. He shows up for his appointment late, puts his feet up on the desk of his potential employer, jokes about getting out of army service and confesses that he had no real formal education. Despite all of his efforts, Whistler is hired. As far as he knows, he's some kind of executive at a glass manufacturing company. Little does he know that he's about to go on a top-secret Government assignment behind the iron curtain (or "the thing" as he hilariously refers to it in the film.)

While Hot Enough for June is a spoof of a James Bond film-- with the espionage, bikini-clad love interest and cold war theme, it also had elements of Hitchcock films like North by Northwest, with the innocent bloke getting mixed up in a huge conspiracy.

Typically, spoofs can be either really good or really, really bad. If the laughs are played up too much, it stops being a spoof and just becomes farcical nonsense. But Hot Enough for June struck the perfect balance between a real plot, with real suspense and real intrigue - and the comedic flourishes that made it such a fun film.

Dirk Bogarde was perfect playing Nicholas Whistler -- he was at once clever in getting himself out of all the sticky spy situations and yet rather bumbling and confused about what was going on around him. A few of the hilarious moments come when he is trying to find out who his contact is in Prague. His code phrase is "Hot enough for June", to which his contact should answer "but you should have been here last September." He approaches a few people before finally finding the right man, and his attempts at finding a way to work that phrase into the conversation are laugh-out-loud funny.

The plot also makes use of the suspense-film cliche where a man on the run has to keep changing his clothes to stay a step ahead of the police. Stealing a jacket, or changing hats with someone in a bar so that his appearance won't match the description on the Wanted signs. Dirk Bogarde goes through seven different outfits during his time on the lamb, a few of which are absolutely hilarious to see.

The supporting cast was no less fantastic-- Robert Morley plays the employer, a slightly inept, amusing, and easily amused man who connives DB into accepting the job. Sylvia Koscina is a really charming actress, and I'm sure makes the film a delight for male fans to watch. (Sorry you guys but 99% of my screen shots were of DB. I did include three of Sylvia for you, though!)

After finishing the film last night at 5am (!!) I put it on again to listen to as I dozed off to sleep. When I woke up in the morning, I started it over again and laid in bed watching the whole film before eating my breakfast. I could easily watch it again tonight, but I won't... I'm going to give the Dirk Bogarde films a rest for a few days.

Rationing time again.

In the end, I'm glad that I waited to watch the film. I had very high hopes for it, and it thouroughly exceeded all expectations -- it's definitely my #2 favorite DB film (The #1 spot will, I'm sure, always belong to The Mind Benders)

I took over 30 screen shots from the film.
You can view them in my flickr set here.

ps. I re-did the sidebar again-- what do you think?

Private Lives (1931) - Movie Chain Review #2

November 16, 2009

Wendy from Movie Viewing Girl has started a movie review chain-- First she kicked things off by reviewing The Women, and I chose Norma Shearer as my link to the next review. Here are the rules if you'd like to participate!

1. Call dibs on doing the next review in the comments. First one to speak up gets it, others will have to wait to join up to the next link in the chain! (Chains usually only link one at a time, after all. It's not a movie review tree.)

2. Write your own review of another movie (it should be one not yet used in the chain) and post it on your blog. Make sure the link to the previous review is made clear and that you link back to the original post where the chain began (so we can keep track of how the chain grows). The link can be an actor or actress, director, or something more creative (like a theme).

3. Include the rules of how to continue the chain, and let someone else continue it!

Noel Coward's classic play has been filmed and produced countless times, but I think that the story found it's perfect cast in the 1931 MGM version. Private Lives stars Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery as an ex-husband and wife who bump into each other when each is on a honeymoon with a new spouse. (The premise alone is fantastic!) Despite their incessant bickering and arguing, they realize that the flame is still burning wild and decide to hightail it out of their honeymoon hotel to renew the love they long thought had died.

Once they are away together, the script provides a constant barrage of one-liners, insults and violence thrown together with some sticky gooey lovey dovey scenes. It's a marvelous combination, especially when the two people saying the lines and acting gooey are Robert Montgomery and Norma Shearer. Their skill with the witty repertoire makes what could feel like a filmed stage play seem fresh, alive and vigorous. And their characters' love-hate relationship is so volatile and hilarious that you wish you could see their entire married life on film, instead of this tiny 84 minute segment.

The new spouses are played by Una Merkel and Reginald Denny- and when the four of them meet up the tension and hilarity is quadrupled! I think Reginald Denny and Una Merkel are both sorely underrated - fantastic character actors who had the good looks to be stars. All in all I think this is a 100% perfect movie, and definitely holds a place in my top 20 films of all time.

Private Lives is available to purchase here and to view here.

Happy Birthday Jacques Tourneur

November 12, 2009

I wasn't actually planning a post today but when I remembered that it's Grace Kelly's 80th birthday I thought that director Jacques Tourneur's 105th might get lost in the shuffle so I just wanted to give him a quick shout out...

Happy Birthday Jacques Tourneur!!

Accident (1967)

November 07, 2009

Last night I watched Accident -- it's described in the movie poster as a love triangle between four people (not sure how that's possible) but it's even more complicated than that. It's actually a love "triangle" between six people.


Stephen (Dirk Bogarde) - a middle aged philosophy tutor at Oxford, married with two kids and one on the way. Hopelessly in love with the foreign exchange student Anna.

Charley (Stanley Baker) - Stephen's best friend - a middle aged professor, married with three kids, sleeping with the foreign exchange student Anna.

William (Michael York) - an aristocratic student, one of Stephen's pupils. In love with Anna.

Rosalind (Vivien Merchant) - Stephen's wife.

Laura (Ann Firbank) - Charley's wife.

Anna (Jaqueline Sassard) - The foreign exchange student at the center of the love polygon.


The movie opens with the sound of an awful car crash happening in the distance, while the camera focuses on Dirk Bogarde's house. He runs out to see what happened and finds William and Anna in the car. William is obviously dead, and Anna has minor injuries. The rest of the film is a flashback of how they all met and what led up to the accident.

I was incredibly excited to watch this film since I loved The Servant so much -- this was made with the same writer-director-actor team of Harold Pinter, Joseph Losey and Dirk Bogarde.

I really loved everything about this movie, especially Dirk Bogarde (obviously) but I have to say that the star of the film was Harold Pinter's script. The dialogue (and deliberate lack thereof- many, many awkward pauses) was absolutely superb. One of my favorite exchanges from the script:

Charley: [reading from learned journal] A statistical analysis of sexual intercourse at Kolenzo University, Milwaukee showed... that 70% did it in the evening, 29.9% between 2 and 4 in the afternoon and 0.1% during a lecture on Aristotle.

Aged Professor: I'm surprised to hear that Aristotle is on the syllabus in the State of Wisconsin. [imdb]
I just thought that was hilarious. The dialogue, even when oozing with sharp wit, was delightfully frank and real. Often the camera comes in when characters are already in mid-conversation, and leaves before the conversation has finished. The audience is left to deduce what was going on. To me, it was like the bits of conversations you hear when you're out -- maybe in a restaurant you hear two women whispering about their husbands, or a man walking down the sidewalk arguing about business matters on his cell phone. Both in real life, and in Accident, you don't know the full context and history of the people whose lives you're intruding on- you just get a small glimpse.

Every line of dialogue in Accident is fantastic, but often it's the scenes without any dialogue that pack the most punch. In one particular scene, Dirk Bogarde comes home drunk from a meeting in London to find Anna and Charley using his house for a rendezvous. He stares at them for a while, they exchange about two sentences, and then he walks into the kitchen to make scrambled eggs. The entire scene lasts about ten minutes but there couldn't have been more than ten sentences. Instead of giving us words to indicate what's going on, we're instead presented with the tense visual of Dirk Bogarde scrambling eggs in the foreground- obviously perturbed by the reality that his best friend is sleeping with the student that he is lusting after - while the lovers wait in the background. Words just aren't necessary.

One of the complaints that I read about this film before watching it was that there wasn't a single sympathetic character in the lot, but I actually found Dirk Bogarde's character to be very sympathetic. He can't be blamed for having feelings for his student - in one scene he looks like he's positively writhing in pain from the guilt. And his character was sweetly pathetic in many ways. While Anna flirts & succumbs to the advances of William & Charley, she never lets Dirk Bogarde lay a hand on her - the embarrassment he feels is almost palpable. He has a slight clumsiness throughout the film that should resonate with anyone who isn't a natural social butterfly.

When asked to join William and Anna on a little boat trip, he hesitantly agrees but is obviously uncomfortable the entire time, especially when he's aware that his arm is dangerously close to Anna's legs. He carefully raises his arms and tucks them under his armpits to avoid any accidental touching. The awkwardness of the situation is really enough to make you blush, as if it were happening to you.

I really thought this was a marvelous movie, but it is very 1960's and it's an acquired taste if you prefer the rapid-fire dialogue, clean innocence and shiny perfection of films from the 30's and 40's. You can watch the full film on YouTube here.

Also, Robert Leeming wrote an excellent review of Joseph Losey's work in England that includes some great insight into Accident - I highly recommend reading it before you watch the film.


I'm always anxious to read what other people have to say about a movie, but only AFTER I've written a post, since I don't want any of the other information seeping into what I want to write. I just finished reading some of the reviews on imdb and I just loved this one quote from a review, and had to share it:
"As Pinter said in a 1966 interview: "So in this film everything is buried, it is implicit. There is really very little dialogue, and that is mostly trivial, meaningless. The drama goes on inside the characters." In the published screenplay his directions for one scene indicate that "the words are fragments of realistic conversation. They are not thoughts..." and what comes across is the brilliant contrast between the nondescript, mundane, day-to-day attempts at communication between the characters combined with a hard look at the underlying reality of the characters' situations. Nothing is like it seems to be." - From commenter John Webber

Happy Birthday Joel McCrea

November 05, 2009

One of my favorite actors ever --
and my, was he handsome!

Happy Birthday Joel McCrea!