Friday, October 29, 2021

THE BERNARD HERRMANN BLOGATHON: Jason and the Argonauts, 1963

Ari, The Classic Movie Muse is hosting The Bernard Herrmann Blogathon. This not to be missed event runs from October 29th to 31st. Click HERE for the tributes to the legendary composer. BLOGATHON WRAP UP


SEE! The Adventure That Stunned the World ... And the Mighty Men Who Conquered It!

Apollonius of Rhodes wrote stories with legs. Legendary deeds of Hercules and in the epic poem Argonautica, the adventure of Jason and his crew of the ship Argos. Little could he have imagined the influence of his work would transcend centuries. The literate screenplay for the 1963 adventure film Jason and the Argonauts by Beverly Cross (Half a Sixpence) and Jan Read (First Men on the Moon) would take the familiar names and mythological characters from the 3rd century to the 20th century and beyond to a new sphere of storytelling. 

Ray Harryhausen, Charles Schneer

Producer Charles H. Schneer began his movie career at Columbia Studios and there collaborated and encouraged stop motion animator and wizard of special effects Ray Harryhausen in his envelope-pushing endeavours. Of their many collaborations which extended to Schneer's own production companies, the producer considered Jason and the Argonauts their finest. 

Jason: "The Gods want their entertainment."

A golden fleece awaits at the end of the world. A gift of the Gods to the far country of Colchis, the fleece has guaranteed its prosperity and peace. Jason hopes it will do the same as an inspiration to the people of Thessaly. The usurper Pelias has ruled Thessaly for twenty years after killing King Aristo, Jason's father. Now come of age, Jason desires to take back the throne and free the minds and hearts of his people.

The shipbuilder Argos builds a mighty ship for the voyage to the end of the world and a contest is held to select the crew. Among the crew is a spy and saboteur, Acastus, son of Pelias. Brave men and foolhardy men will join Jason and each has their part to play. 

The Goddess Hera is Jason's champion. Zeus has granted her the gift of five times in which she may assist our intrepid and righteous hero. Jason will need that help despite his independent streak that some on Mount Olympus see as blasphemy.

Ray Harryhausen and friend

The cast of Jason and the Argonauts is an interesting mix of British actors steeped in tradition and Shakespeare, the glamorous Nancy Kovak as Medea, Honor Blackman a year before Goldfinger, a beginner for the lead in Todd Armstrong, and Italian speaking extras. The older more mature I become, the more I appreciate those acting against special effects they have yet to see. If it were not for their commitment, the audience would be unable to get caught up in the action.

The Italian location shoot, the production, and set design, plus the clever screenplay that surrounds Harryhausen's eye-filling and memorable creatures are combined with the magnificent score of Bernard Herrmann, creating an indelible classic motion picture.


Bernard Herrmann and friend

Jason and the Argonauts was the final of four Schneer and Harryhausen films scored by Bernard Herrman following The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, 1958, The Three Worlds of Gulliver, 1960, and Mysterious Island, 1961. 

Stentorian and martial, tender and sweet, and rousing and frightening, Herrmann's score is inextricably linked to the movie's visuals creating an exciting and memorable movie experience. As is a musician's purview, Herrmann made liberal use of what they would have called on Broadway, trunk songs. The child in me was unaware of the snatches of Vertigo or North by Northwest and other scores now familiar to the adult film fan. Their recognition somehow makes the experience grander.

Click on the highlighted word or phrase to hear selections from Bernard Herrmann's score, such as Jason and the Argonauts TITLE MUSIC.


TALOS is peeved.


Phineas's plague of HARPIES



Phineas: "They speak for themselves, don't they?"


The Golden Fleece is protected by the HYDRA


The Argonauts BATTLE the Hydra's teeth.

King Aeetas: "Hecate, Queen of Darkness, revenge yourself against the Thessalians. Deliver to me the children of the hydra's teeth; the children of the night!"



Zeus: "Let them enjoy a calm sea, a fresh sea, and each other. The girl is pretty and I was always sentimental. But for Jason, there are other adventures. I have not yet finished with Jason. Let's continue the game another day."


Of interest: Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975) and Ray Harryhausen (1920-2013) were both born on June 29th. It is said of those born under the sign of Cancer that they are emotional, sensitive, and self-protective. Diligent and loyal once committed to their work these creatives are unstoppable.












Friday, October 22, 2021

THE THIRD HAMMER-AMICUS BLOGATHON: Taste of Fear aka Scream of Fear, 1961

Thank you to our hosts, Barry at Cinematic Catharsis and Gill at Realweegiemidget Reviews who present The Third Hammer-Amicus Blogathon running from October 22nd to October 24th. Day 1  Day 2  Day 3  Encore



Taste of Fear released in the States as Scream of Fear is an elegant thriller written and produced by Jimmy Sangster (The Brides of Dracula) and directed by Seth Holt (The Nanny).



Susan Strasberg as Penny

Our film opens with the body of a young woman recovered from a lake while another young woman returns home after a long absence. Penny, played by Susan Strasberg (Picnic) has a complicated history. After the divorce of her parents, she moved to Italy with her mother and has not seen her father for a decade. Her closest friend was her nurse Maggie, who was hired to assist the wheelchair-bound Penny following a riding accident.



Ann Todd as Jane

Arriving at her father's villa in France, Penny is told that her father is away on business and has not set a return date. She is also told that her father has been ill and under a doctor's care. Penny is meeting her stepmother Jane played by Ann Todd (The Passionate Friends) for the first time. The relationship between the two is a strained one. Is Jane over solicitous? Is she hiding something? Perhaps Penny is paranoid about her strange situation. She is reputed to have always been an over-imaginative and skittish girl.



Ronald Lewis as Bob

Penny is putting what trust she has in her father's chauffeur Robert played by Ronald Lewis (Mr. Sardonicus). Robert is kind and romantic, and a plus in Penny's eyes, he doesn't like his employer's wife. When Penny is frightened by the sight of her father's corpse, it is Robert who believes her while Jane calls in the local doctor Pierre Gerrard played by Christopher Lee (The Gorgon). Dr. Gerrard seems fixated on her mental state and keeps pushing sedatives.



Christopher Lee as Dr. Gerrard

It is a case of who and what to trust for both Penny, and for the audience. Is her vulnerability making Penny susceptible to nefarious persuasion or is that fragility the root of hallucinations and paranoia? Penny leans into the comfort offered by "Bob" and backs away from Jane's attempts to be a friend. Will proof be found to establish the truth of these people and the mysterious events at the villa? 

It is not a contradiction to say that the four leads in Taste of Fear play their duplicitous roles with straightforward honesty bringing the intriguing and twisting script to life. The tasteful and shadowy cinematography by Douglas Slocombe (Julia) and the stylishly classic score by Clifton Parker (The Blue Lagoon) subtly support the story.

Taste of Fear was an international success for Hammer from a box office standpoint, from a critical standpoint, and for the audiences who have discovered it in the 60 years since its initial release. It is the very definition of a horror classic.








Tuesday, October 19, 2021

CMBA 2021 FALL BLOGATHON, LAUGHTER IS THE BEST MEDICINE: Disney's Pluto


The Classic Movie Blog Association (CMBA) presents its Fall 2021 blogathon, Laughter is the Best Medicine. The contributions from members can be accessed HERE. Don't crack your funnybone!


Look at the adorable face of Pluto. It is a face full of personality and mischief; the face of all lovable and wacky mutts everywhere.



Plucked from the anonymity of a "bit" in The Chain Gang, 1930 by creator Norm Ferguson, Pluto has found his way into the hearts of audiences for 91 years and counting.


Norm Ferguson
September 2, 1902 - November 4, 1957

Norm did not come from a traditional art background to the Disney animation department, but rather from the job of cameraman. Blessed with his own "outside the box" ideas, a mobile face, and a strong sense of humour, Norm leaped over traditional stepping stones and brought a vivid and fascinating thought process to his work and his characters. Audiences do not simply observe gags; they actually live in the moment with Norm's characters. Those characters include Snow White and the Seven Dwarf's Wicked Witch, the all-purpose antagonist Peg Leg Pete, and the beloved Pluto.


Norm Ferguson earned the praise and admiration of his fellow animators, and in 1987 received a posthumous Winsor McCay Award, a presentation of the International Animated Film Society for career achievement in animation, and the designation of a Disney Legend in 1999.


PLUTO: Personal Favourites and Highlights



Mickey's Good Deed, 1932 shows Mickey Mouse and Pluto singing for their supper on Christmas Eve during the Great Depression. Mickey, naturally, refuses to sell his beloved Pluto to a spoiled rich kid who demands his father buy him the dog. When Mickey comes across a poor family of cats, he relents to the sale to provide Christmas for the kittens. 


Mickey has saved Christmas for the poor family but is alone with only a snow sculpture of his beloved Pluto until the rich kid goes too far and gets a well-deserved spanking from his dad who throws Pluto out. The mutt finds his way to Mickey, bringing with him a roasted turkey from the mansion. It is a cold but happy Christmas for the pair.



Pluto struggles with intractable flypaper in Playful Pluto, 1934.


Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels, 1941 tells the epic journey of Hollywood director John L. Sullivan's (Joel McCrea) search for "real life" and the way to present a truly serious story on the screen. Time on a chain gang taught him one lesson he will carry forward when the downtrodden prisoners are offered the reprieve of a church screening of Playful Pluto

"There's a lot to be said for making people laugh. Did you know that that's all some people have? It isn't much, but it's better than nothing in this cockeyed caravan."




Thanks to my son Gavin and the 1935 Mickey Mouse Technicolor short On Ice, the laughs I had enjoyed through the years at Pluto finally came to a true appreciation. Gavin still enjoys watching his favourite 'toons on a loop and you have to reach the appreciation point to deal with the saturation point.
 


In On Ice, Mickey and the gang are enjoying a winter's day skating on a frozen river. Donald, with his own insane sense of humour, decides to prank the innocent Pluto by placing ice skates on the sleeping pooch. Pluto awakens to the sudden reality of trying to stay on his feet and the scene made me realize that here was a comic mime on a par with the greats. Names like Laurel and Hardy, Chaplin, Lloyd, and Keaton must make way for their cartoon canine compatriot!




Pluto's Judgement Day, 1935 takes us inside the nightmare of a guilty conscience. Pluto must face the judgement of all the cats in the world - at least, all of the cats he has chased and menaced or wishes he had chased and menaced. A courtroom made up entirely of cats finds Pluto guilty and he must be punished. Scary stuff, and very funny.




Society Dog Show, 1939 places the mutt among the swell set. Proud owner Mickey believes his Pluto to be the equal of any of the purebred hounds and enters Pluto in the high-toned dog show. Pluto's finer points are not recognized until a fire breaks out and he shows himself to be a true hero, winning the heart of his lady fair.




Mr. Mouse Takes a Trip, 1940 solidifies the bond between the mouse and the pup as the two battle conductor Pete, a strict enforcer of the no dog policy of the railway. Are there no lengths to which the mean old conductor won't go to get rid of the pooch? Are there no lengths to which the owner and pet won't go to make their destination together?




Lend a Paw won the 1942 Oscar for Best Short Subject, Cartoons. 


Pluto has rescued a kitten from a watery grave. Pluto probably wouldn't have rescued the kitten if he had known it was a kitten. Pluto develops an instant and strong jealousy of the cute and cuddly little pussy cat. Pluto does his best to discredit the kitten in Mickey's eyes, and to get rid of it once and for all! It is a battle between Pluto's inner demon and inner angel. Who will win?




Springtime for Pluto, 1944 finds Pluto following the siren call of Pan and reveling in the warm weather and promise of spring. He also runs into bugs, hayfever, and sudden torrential rainstorms. Everything has its good and bad points. Don't blame the flute-playing god. 




Pluto's Blue Note, 1947 casts the mutt as a frustrated musician. He discovers the miracle of lipsynching and finds himself the Sinatra-like idol of the lady dogs of the neighbourhood. Pluto's attempts to find his place in the musical milieu and his ultimate success make this a very satisfying and amusing entry. Pluto's Blue Note was nominated for Best Short Subject, Cartoons in 1948. The Oscar went to the Merrie Melody short Tweetie Pie, the first teaming of Tweety and Sylvester.



Plutopia, 1951 finds Pluto and Mickey at a campground with harsh restrictions on where and what dogs may do. Pluto finds respite in dreamland where he is the ruler of all he surveys and a cat, a most deferential cat, supplying every wish to his dog master. Why, this compliant cat even goes so far as to beg for punishment at the very thought of disappointing the mighty Pluto! Plutopia indeed.



Mickey:  "Pluto, we have chipmunks in our tree!"

Pluto's Christmas Tree, 1952 takes Pluto through his paces. First, the excitement of going for a walk with Mickey to pick out the tree. Next, the joy of decorating. After that, it is the horrifying discovery that Chip and Dale have invaded the celebration followed by the battle of the century and the frustration of not getting Mickey to understand the enormity of the situation.



Through the years we have seen Pluto deal with Donald trying to give him a bath, Minnie knitting him a sweater, real and imagined cats, those smart-alec chipmunks, gophers, armadillos, coyotes, parrots, puppies, seals, the weather, and romantic rivals. Does Pluto handle these aggravations with grace and fortitude? He does not! And why should he? Pluto barks and rails against the indignities heaped upon him in this world of woe. He is loyal, perhaps a little foolhardy, and always funny. 




Mickey: "Aw, you're just a mutt!"
Canine Caddy, 1941













  

Monday, October 11, 2021

HALLOWE'EN ON REMAKE AVENUE: Murders in the Rue Morgue, 1932 and Phantom of the Rue Morgue, 1954

 

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) changed the literary landscape and the reading habits of generations forever with his creation of the logically-minded amateur detective Auguste Dupin in The Murders in the Rue Morgue, 1841, The Mystery of Marie Roget, 1842, and The Purloined Letter, 1844.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue present us with a dispassionate investigator, his companion/narrator, and an improbable murder in a story that echoes through the years.

Poe's stories, particularly Dupin's debut in The Murders in the Rue Morgue have been filmed multiple times dating back to 1908. Our trip to Remake Avenue looks at Universal's 1932 film and Warner Brother's 3D entry Phantom of the Rue Morgue in 1954.




Pierre Dupin played by Leon Waycoff (later Ames) is a medical student in Paris in 1845. He is an obsessive fellow whose romantic inclination is focused on pretty Camille L'Espanaye (Sidney Fox). Pierre's scientific focus is currently narrowed in on the mysterious and gruesome murders of two women in the Rue Morgue. Our earnest hero and too-sweet heroine are about to find their romance in a tangled and dangerous situation.

Leon Ames, Sidney Fox, Bert Roach

The carnival is in town and Pierre and his roommate Paul (Bert Roach) escort their ladies, Camille and Mignette (Edna Marion), for an evening's entertainment. Among the sideshow offerings is Dr. Mirakle (Bela Lugosi) and Erik. Erik is a gorilla to whom Mirakle purports to speak. Mirakle makes grand claims about evolution which incite the religious element among the crowd. Mirakle declares that he is not just another sideshow barker, but a scientist whose true legacy will be in his work of combining Erik's blood with that of humans. Shades of Island of Lost Souls!

Arlene Francis, Bela Lugosi

Dr. Mirakle and Erik are both intrigued by the pretty Camille. Mirakle senses she will be the woman for whom he is searching in order to achieve success in his grand experiment. The blood of a Woman of the Street (Arlene Francis) proved to be "rotten." Pierre, a frequent visitor to the morgue will find one more murder victim to add to the mystery which occupies his mind.

Lugosi's creepy make-up courtesy of Jack Pierce and the actor's performance leave no doubt that his all-consuming fervor for his theories and experiments has taken him to madness.

The authorities are blind to the coincidences Pierre discovers and slow to listen to his well-thought-out theories on the crimes. Action must be taken quickly to save Camille and quick action is sorely lacking from the gendarme. 


Robert Florey, who was connected with the project in an on-again, off-again capacity adapted the story and directed Murders in the Rue Morgue. The screenplay by Tom Reed and Dale Van Every leaves us with Poe's setting and murderer while giving us a different human villain and a lead role for Bela Lugosi. The film benefits greatly from the moody and atmospheric cinematography by Karl Freund (The Seventh Cross).

Despite an original run time of 80 minutes, the film offered to us runs just over an hour. Those 61 minutes are filled with shadows and fog, and ghastly scenes of death and horror. One can only imagine what the censors forced the studio to leave behind. 



Roy Del Ruth (Employees' Entrance) directed the 1954 3D/Technicolor version of Poe's story from the screenplay by Harold Medford (The Damned Don't Cry) and James. R. Webb (Cape Fear).

Merv Griffin, Steve Forrest, Patricia Medina

Professor Paul Dupin (Steve Forrest) is intelligent enough to solve the murders that occur in the Rue Morgue and Police Inspector Bonnard (Claude Dauphin), in an amusing portrayal, is clever enough to go to the experts in the medical field to assist in discovering the culprit or at least to be suspicious of the strange theories put forth by these experts. However, the police narrow their culprit to that same Paul Dupin. Quelle dommage!

Karl Malden, Patricia Medina

Following the template of the 1932 Florey adaption, the motive behind the murders is given a uniquely personal twist on Poe's story. Professor Dupin's sweetheart Jeanette (Patricia Medina) is the object of obsession of the mad head of the institute, Dr. Marais (Karl Malden). Jeanette, like Marais' late wife, is another dark-haired beauty but that is only part of his obsession.

The world at large sees Dr. Marais as a successful professional. Malden's mad man appears only "eccentric" while dealing with the public. It is among the creatures at his personal zoo, his association with Jacques the One-eyed (Anthony Caruso), and the trained gorilla that his madness is revealed.


Enlivening the proceedings is extended use of characters from the circus including knife throwers and acrobats which widens our plot, investigation, and suspect pool. The ghastly murders are shot imaginatively and make fine use of garish Warnercolor. The solution and the race to save our damsel-in-distress is nothing less than what is expected.

Phantom of the Rue Morgue provides its own brand of enjoyment as a Hallowe'en feature involving Poe's unique villain and the mad doctor that producers seemed to think audiences required to swallow the story.


Of note:

Charles Gemora (1903-1961)

Charles Gemora aka "King of the Gorilla Men" due to the number of gorillas and apes he created and portrayed on-screen vs. the number of aliens, played the gorilla in Murders in the Rue Morgue, 1932, and the gorilla in close-ups for Phantom of the Rue Morgue, 1954.










CAFTAN WOMAN'S CHOICE: ONE FOR DECEMBER ON TCM

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