Great (or at least, favourite) scenes and shots.
For some of us, the high-point of this absurd Oriental fantasy is a sequence in which the Rajah of Eschnapur (Conrad Veidt) either embodies or impersonates (it isn’t clear which) “the God of Penance”, in order to have his wicked way with visiting Englishwoman, Irene Amundsen (Mia May).
Check out this wardrobe! – I think I’ve finally found a religion I can really dedicate myself to. I don’t know what Irene’s problem is…
One of the less recognised aspects of increasing film censorship from the late 1920s onwards was an insistence upon a greater separation of white and non-white characters—except in an explicit relationship of employer and servant. It’s one of those things you don’t necessarily notice until you see something made earlier, or someone bucks the trend.
For example—the late stages of this peculiar silent adaptation of Moby Dick finds John Barrymore on familiar and friendly terms with African-American actor Sam Barker and Japanese actor Kamiyama Sōjin (as, respectively, Ahab, Queequeg and Fedallah). Whether Barrymore was responsible, or whether it is another example of Warners thumbing their noses at Authority, we do not know; but the very fact that this moment takes us by surprise speaks for itself:
French critics hated Abel Gance’s first sound film, La Fin du Monde: like Metropolis before it, it was accused of being both self-indulgent and politically naive. But here, there was a more significant burr in the critics’ saddle-blanket:
This is how Abel Gance appears during the first scene of the film:
—and yeah, okay: the camera does – eventually – pull back to reveal that this is Abel Gance playing Jean Novalic playing Christ in a passion play:
—so perhaps – perhaps – Gance might have gotten away with it if he’d been content to leave it at this. But no: his character is a self-pitying poet (always turning his eyes sadly heavenward, as the camera indulges him with glowing close-ups), who turns out to be a prophet, and perhaps something more.
Not content with this thudding bit of symbolism—
—one of the other characters has a sudden vision of Jean Novalic like this:
We can hardly blame contemporary critics for lining up to (ahem) nail Gance to a cross…
In this aviation drama, Sheila Mason (Myrna Loy) is a barnstormer and stunt-flyer, while Ken Gordon (Cary Grant) is a respected pilot who also has his own research company, where he is trying to develop an auto-pilot system and other instrumentation to facilitate flying and landing “blind”.
Which would make him, I guess, an aeronautical engineer; though clearly this is no reason why, amongst all the electronic clutter and model planes in his laboratory, we should not also find—a conical flask filled with a mysterious coloured fluid…
I don’t want to make a habit of this—
—some things truly do need to be seen to be believed, like—
—THE COBRA DANCE!!
Christmas In Connecticut (1945):
Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) is a successful magazine writer whose columns on cooking, house-keeping and interior decoration have made her – and her ideal home, complete with husband and baby, in Connecticut – famous country-wide. There’s just one catch: Elizabeth is a great big fake, with no home, no husband, no baby, and no interest in home-making; while her cooking skills are such, she could burn boiling water.
She is, in other words, not merely my namesake, but my role-model.
When Elizabeth’s overbearing boss, Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet), invites himself to her house for Christmas, she goes to desperate lengths to keep up the pretence, with John Sloan (Reginald Gardiner), who wants to marry her, only too happy to pose as her husband, and friend and restaurateur, Felix Bassinek (S. Z. Sakall), doing the cooking behind the scenes. Elizabeth even manages to borrow a baby; although her failure to inquire its gender results in a few awkward moments. All goes swimmingly for her, in fact, until Mr Yardley insists upon, not just eating her famous pancakes, but watching her make them—complete with her trademark mid-air flip:
What can a girl do but close her eyes and pray?—
That smile kills me every time…
San Antonio (1945):
In this Warners western, the town is under the control of a criminal organisation headed by Legare (Victor Francen) and Roy Stuart (Paul Kelly). Cattleman Clay Hardin (Errol Flynn), who opposed the gang, has been framed for murder and taken refuge in Mexico. Hardin has found the evidence that will clear him, but that doesn’t mean his life is safe; not when he still means to take down Legare and Stuart by whatever means necessary. Tensions escalate, and outbreaks of violence are frequent.
—for no reason at all—
“Get that drunken cat off the bar!” demands Stuart coldly. “Yeah, he is a little drunk, isn’t he?” responds the bartender (Fred Kelsey) as he obediently removes the dipsomaniacal feline…which continues to gaze longingly at the glass of whiskey as it is hauled away…
We then return to our regularly scheduled murder, cattle-rustling and shoot-outs.
The Bad And The Beautiful (1952):
Vincente Minnelli’s 1952 drama is one of the great “Hollywood eats itself” films, telling in flashback the story of the rise and fall of ruthless producer Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas), who steps on people, uses them and tosses them aside, and ruins lives on his way to the top—and creates great art in the process.
While The Bad And The Beautiful is stuffed full of references to real people and incidents, the highlight of the film may well be its affectionate and funny tribute to the genius of Val Lewton.
Early on in their careers, as they slave away in B-pictures and try to build their professional reputations, producer Shields and director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan) are assigned a low-low-budget horror film:
They are somewhat less than impressed with the resources that the studio has placed at their disposal:
The two men retreat to commiserate with each other and try to figure out some way of not undoing all the professional progress they’ve made together. Then Jonathan Shields has a brainwave: what is that the human race most fears? – has always most feared?
Their little horror movie, full of shadows and suggestions, showing nothing explicitly, is a smash hit. Justifiably pleased with themselves, a confident Shields and Amiel await their next studio assignment…forgetting for the moment that, well, this is Hollywood…
The Big Circus (1959):
Tales Of Terror…The Raven…A Comedy Of Terrors, sure—but what about this team-up of Vincent Price and Peter Lorre?
Vinnie is the ring-master and Pete a smart-mouthed clown at the circus run by Victor Mature, which finds itself suffering an outbreak of “accidents”. It is Vic’s opinion that his former partner is trying to run him out of business, and has planted a saboteur amongst the circus staff:
Henry Jasper Whirling (Victor Mature): “It wouldn’t surprise me if he had one of his killers travelling with us right now.”
Zach Colino (Gilbert Roland): “Who do you think it could be?”
Henry Jasper Whirling: “You know as well as I do, Zach—it could be anyone…”
At which dramatic moment, the camera gives us this:
Our Vinnie? A dastardly saboteur?? Could it be!?
Or could he be just a big, fat red herring instead?
Well—I’m not going to tell you. Instead, I’ll leave you with the news brought by a police detective, after fingerprints are found at the scene of a deadly act of sabotage:
Detective: “It seems this killer spent six years in an institution for the criminally insane, just before joining your circus…”
Background checks, people! – I cannot stress that enough…
Hawaii 5-0: Once Upon A Time (1969):
Before The Machine That Goes ‘Bing’, there was Dr C. L. Fremont’s Miraculous Diagnosis Software.
Though it gives way to one of the series’ grimmest episodes, it is impossible not to grin delightedly during the opening sequence of this two-parter about a quack doctor. A desperate mother, Mary Ann Whalen (Nancy Malone), turns for help to Dr Fremont (Joanna Linville). Dr Fremont assures Mary Ann that she offers the most cutting-edge diagnostic equipment, which can return a detailed health assessment in a matter of minutes, from a single drop of blood. You see, it’s all done by—computer!
Slotting a piece of paper carrying that one drop of blood into her equipment, Dr Fremont flicks a switch. The lights turn on—and flash and blink and beep—the screen comes to life—its blue lines jump and flicker—and then—
—the theremin kicks in.
Unfortunately for Dr Fremont, however, this time she’s picked the wrong person to blind with science—namely, Steve McGarrett’s sister…
Yes, yes: I’m piling on again.
Only I’m not, because I can say without hyperbole that this is one of my favourite frames in the history of cinema:
The Incredible Hulk: 747 (1978):
His ongoing quest to reverse his, ahem, “condition” sees David Banner on a flight from San Francisco to Chicago. Unbeknownst to the general public, the same plane is carrying priceless gold artefacts, part of the “King Tut Exhibition”. It is also carrying a co-pilot (Edward Power) and a flight attendant (Sondra Currie) with plans to steal said artefacts and parachute to freedom. However, their scheme goes awry when some of the drugged coffee meant for the flight crew is taken by a caffeine-fiend passenger.
David’s efforts to help end with him trapped in the emergency equipment locker in the cargo hold. When the co-pilot decides he’s heard too much and starts pushing the locker towards an open hatch, well, let’s just say it makes David very angry indeed…
With the rest of the crew incapacitated and no other pilot on board, David ends up trying to land the plane, with help from a 747 expert on the ground, and the second flight attendant (Denise Galik) and a nerdy plane-mad teen (Brandon Cruz) in the cockpit. All is going well until the plane is the middle of its approach, when the damaged hydraulics make it impossible for David to change the angle of descent.
Fortunately—that too makes him very angry indeed…
And if anything else were needed to make me go into ecstasies over this episode—and honestly, IT WASN’T—the external shots of the plane are stock footage swiped from Airport ’75…
The Awakening (1980):
This filming of Bram Stoker’s The Jewel Of The Seven Stars is ponderous and rather dull, but around here, there is one aspect of it that never fails to bring the house down.
Charlton Heston and Susannah York play archaeologists who have located the intact tomb of a previously unknown Egyptian queen, whose wicked deeds led people to try and expunge her from the record. The very few outside references to her call her only “The Nameless One” (along with various warnings not to disturb her, but of course no-one listens to that). Inside the tomb, the archaeologists finally discover the queen’s true name, as York’s character translates some hieroglyphics:
“Daughter of the Sun…”
“…beloved of Osiris…”
“…Queen of Egypt…”
“I always knew I was special!”—Kara K.