The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1923)
Based upon the novel Notre-Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo. In 15th century Paris, the people gather before the cathedral of Notre Dame to celebrate their one yearly day of liberty and licence, the “Festival of Fools”. As part of the festivities, the ugliest man in Paris is crowned “King of Fools”—and by unanimous acclamation, the title is granted to Quasimodo (Lon Chaney), the deaf, half-blind, hideously deformed bell-ringer of the cathedral. Esmeralda (Patsy Ruth Miller), the adopted daughter of Clopin (Ernest Torrence), self-proclaimed “King of the Beggars”, is ordered by her foster-father to dance for the crowd. In doing so, she attracts the attention of two very different men: Pheobus de Chateaupers (Norman Kerry), the newly-appointed Captain of the King’s Guard; and Jehan (Brandon Hurst), the scheming brother of the cathedral’s saintly archdeacon, Dom Claudio (Nigel De Bruller). Jehan has influence over Quasimodo, and he uses it in an attempt to kidnap Esmeralda. As the girl struggles and screams in the hunchback’s arms, she is rescued by Pheobus, with whom she has long been infatuated; the two fall in love. Quasimodo, meanwhile, is arrested by Pheobus’ men, as Jehan slinks away into the shadows. As punishment for his crime, Quasimodo is chained to the stocks, whipped for an hour, and left to suffer. He pleads with the unfeeling, gawking crowd for water, but only Esmeralda responds… There has never been, to my knowledge, an accurate adaptation of Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel (disclaimer: I haven’t yet seen the Anthony Quinn / Gina Lollobrigida version), but in this respect, Universal’s 1923 silent version of The Hunchback Of Notre Dame may be the worst of the lot. We can understand why the social, political and historical complexities of the book were junked, save for a vastly simplified subplot that effectively transposes the early stages of the French Revolution; but even so, we can hardly forgive the impulse to turn the rest of the narrative into a turgid romantic melodrama starring unrecognisable and absurdly anachronistic versions of Pheobus and Esmeralda. The film’s overriding sin, however, is to take the role of villain away from Dom Claudio (reduced here to a very minor supporting character), and give it to his brother, Jehan – a rackety young student in the book, a middle-aged roué here – presumably because the studio didn’t want a villain-priest. This touch leaves an enormous amount unexplained, including Jehan’s initial power over Quasimodo. In any event, it is Jehan’s growing obsession with Esmeralda that drives the film’s action, such as it is. Ultimately his jealousy leads him to attempt the murder of Pheobus, under circumstances that see Esmeralda arrested for the crime, tortured into a false confession, and sentenced to death: her condemnation rousing Clopin and his army of beggars and thieves, and Quasimodo himself, to different forms of drastic action… For the most part, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame is not a good film, though it does have certain compensations—chiefly its sheer scale, its sets and its costumes, which are everything we would expect of Universal at the time. But of course, if we’re here at all, we’re probably here for Chaney, whose rendering of Quasimodo suggests a tension between actor and studio, with the latter’s box-office nerves battling the former’s attempt to make the hunchback as physically repulsive as he is in the book. Alas, Quasimodo is likewise only a supporting player here, shunted to the side by Pheobus’ ridiculous courtship of Esmeralda, and we do not see as much of him / Chaney as we would like until the film’s climax, which does grant him an extended set-piece as the hunchback single-handedly fights off Clopin’s army. This sequence notwithstanding, it is the scene that introduces Quasimodo at the outset, which finds him clambering all over the façade of Notre Dame, with Chaney in his element and very obviously enjoying himself, that lingers longest when the film is done.
Murder At Midnight (1931)
To entertain their guests, Esme (Aileen Pringle) and Jim Kennedy (Kenneth Thomson) stage charades with the help of the latter’s secretary, Duncan Channing (Robert Ellis). A fake tragedy becomes all too real when it is discovered that someone switched the blanks in Kennedy’s gun, leaving Channing dead. The horrified Kennedy retreats to his room to wait for the police, summoned by his lawyer, Colton (William Humphrey). While there, he finds himself confronted by the real killer: observing bitterly that he knew it, Kennedy announces defiantly that he has both changed his will and left an incriminating letter… When Inspector Taylor (Robert Elliott) arrives, it is to find Kennedy dead also in an apparent suicide. He is prepared to draw a line under the case, until it is discovered that the will and the letter have disappeared… Murder At Midnight is a fair little thriller, though one suffering from the usual faults of this kind of film: it throws too many characters at the viewer too quickly at the outset, and without sufficient introduction; no-one really reacts to the epidemic of murder as you’d expect; and the script is too busy thinking up red herrings to make much sense. The final attempted murder is particularly stupid in that, under the circumstances, it amounts to a full confession. Inspector Taylor is obnoxious even by the usual standards of fictional American policemen of this time, but fortunately his efforts are supplemented by those of criminologist Phillip Montrose (Hale Hamilton), a guest at the party, and Jim’s Aunt Julia (Clara Blandick), who turns amateur detective as much out of loathing of Taylor as to solve what is eventually accepted to be Kennedy’s murder. Meanwhile, everyone else behaves as suspiciously as possible, including Esme’s brother, Walter Grayson (Leslie Fenton), the butler, Lawrence (Brandon Hurst), and the maid, Millie Scripps (Alice White)—two of whom also end up dead… We should note that Murder At Midnight’s eyebrow-raising conclusion would not have been permitted a couple of years later, under the Production Code. This obscure little film found a new measure of fame some fifty years after its initial release when footage from it was used in The Mirror Crack’d.
(NB: If you might be interested in this, find it at the Internet Archive, not through a Google search: the Google description starts by TELLING YOU WHO THE KILLER IS!?)
Murder At Dawn (1932)
Doris (Josephine Dunn) and Danny (Jack Mulhall), in company with their friends, married couple Gertrude (Marjorie Beebe) and Freddie (Eddie Boland), set out for the isolated country house where Doris’s father, Professor Farrington (Frank Ball), is working on his secret invention: a machine that can convert the sun’s rays into unlimited free energy. Concerned about a criminal element that has gotten wind of the invention, Judge Folger (Phillips Smalley) calls upon Farrington—but he is not the only one to have made his way to the house… When the four friends arrive in the middle of a violent storm, they are alarmed to find the house swathed in darkness and that they are not expected. A horrible cry leads Doris to her father, and to the discovery of Judge Folger’s body. Dr Farrington seems to be in shock, and Doris rushes out to get help; but by the time she and the others return, Farrington has disappeared… This would be one of the all-too-many Poverty Row thrillers to suck me in by claiming to be about a “death ray”: an even bigger lie in the case of Murder At Dawn than it usually is, though of course the energy generator can be converted into a weapon, yada-yada. Even by the low standards of this sort of film, this is a direly poor effort that at 52 minutes feels endless. It consists almost entirely of scenes of people lurking around and spying on other people who are trying to find somebody else, and everyone wanders around in the dark appearing and disappearing until the clock runs down. (The screenplay finds no incongruity in offering a huge shadowy house lit by intermittent candles as the setting for a man who has just invented a perpetual energy machine.) It feels like fully half of this short film is given over to the excruciatingly unfunny Freddie, who shrieks and wails at everything at the outset…and then gets drunk. Eventually the “secret” villain reveals himself and, to extort from the captive Farrington his “formula”, threatens his life by turning the energy generator into a death trap, which will explode when the rays of the morning sun fall upon it in a particular way—thus sort-of justifying the film’s title, though the actual murder happens well before dawn. Farrington defies the villain, until he kidnaps Doris and places her in the same danger… Only Martha Mattox as the grim housekeeper and Mischa Auer as the caretaker make any impression here; while the real star of the film (though it only has a cameo) is Kenneth Strickfaden’s electrical apparatus in its first outing post-Frankenstein.
Trouble In Paradise (1932)
Based upon the play A Becsületes Megtaláló (The Honest Finder) by László Aladár. In Venice, the Countess Lily (Miriam Hopkins) agrees to a secret meeting with the Baron Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall). However, the assignation does not go entirely to plan, as Gaston accuses Lily of being a fake—of being, in fact, a skilled pickpocket. He is not prepared for her to retaliate in kind, accusing him of being a jewel thief; nor for her display of her expertise. Delighted with one another, the two forge a relationship that is personal as well as professional… In Paris, Gaston succeeds in stealing the jewel-encrusted purse of Madame Mariette Colet (Kay Francis), the beautiful and wealthy young widow who owns the perfumery Colet & Co. When Mariette offers a reward, Gaston returns the purse, admitting to her that the money will be very welcome. Smitten, Mariette offers Gaston a position as her secretary. In his new role, he promptly takes on the board of her company, headed by Monsieur Giron (C. Aubrey Smith), who he suspects of financial chicanery; he also arranges a position in Mariette’s office for Lily. The two scheme for possession of Mariette’s money, and in particular her pearl necklace; but their plan begins to go awry when Gaston finds himself drawn to his would-be victim… Trouble In Paradise may be the quintessential pre-Code movie: a delightful, daring comedy that finds the dividing line between the permissible and the out-of-bounds and dances on it like a tightrope. All three stars are at the top of their game here: Miriam Hopkins got billing, but the film is dominated by the pairing of Herbert Marshall and Kay Francis, who exude charm, humour and sexiness in their scenes together; though Hopkins also has her moments, particularly the way in which she conveys that for Lily, robbing and being robbed is a sexual turn-on; and it is she who wins viewer sympathy, when she finds her dual relationship with Gaston under threat. As the central triangle works itself out, a superb supporting cast adds to the fun, with Edward Everett Horton and Charlie Ruggles appearing as the unfortunate Mariette’s warring suitors, and Robert Greig as her butler, the main witness to the manoeuvring between his employer and her secretary. Having already earned the enmity of Monsieur Giron, who he rightly suspects of embezzlement, Gaston further infuriates Monsieur Filiba and the Major, who find Mariette more than usually disinterested in them once Gaston enters her employ. Gaston is already doubtful about the plan to rob Mariette, much to Lily’s rage and jealousy, when danger threatens from an unexpected source: Monsieur Filiba, convinced from the first moment of their meeting that he has seen Gaston somewhere before, suddenly remembers when and where that was—and as the law closes in, Gaston must make a drastic decision… Considered the film that established the reputation of director Ernst Lubitsch, Trouble In Paradise won both critical and popular acclaim in 1932, and was named one of the Top Ten films of the year—none of which saved it, of course, when the Production Code finally was enforced. Denied a reissue licence in 1935, the film remained unscreened until 1968, when it was unearthed from the Paramount vaults—and thank goodness.
The Merry Widow (1934)
Based upon the operetta by Franz Lehár, Victor Léon and Leo Stein. In the small European nation of Marshovia, Captain Danilo (Maurice Chevalier) of the King’s Guard may have his pick of eager women, but finds himself becoming fixated upon the young widow, Madame Sonia (Jeanette MacDonald), who as custom requires rarely goes into public and wears a veil when she does. In desperation – and after making friends through bribery with the guard-dog – Danilo scales the high walls of the widow’s estate, catching her in her garden on a moonlit night. She is too quick with her veil for him, and turns a cold shoulder to his impassioned pleas—but the encounter awakens in Sonia a feeling of frustration and boredom. Her year of mourning having passed, she announces her intention of visiting Paris… Madame Sonia’s departure causes a crisis in Marshovia: she is the owner of more than half the small territory and its richest citizen. As rumours drift back of eligible bachelors and ineligible fortune-hunters, the prospect of Sonia bestowing herself and her fortune elsewhere looms large. King Achmet (George Barbier) decides that a Marshovian must be sent to court and marry Sonia, and bring her home; and when he catches Danilo in his own quarters, romancing his queen (Una Merkel), he knows just the man for the job… After 1932’s Love Me Tonight, Ernst Lubitsch re-teamed Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier in this adaptation of the popular operetta. The film follows its source closely, with a reluctant Danilo dispatched to Paris to woo and win Sonia: he is happy to romance her, of course, but deadly reluctant to marry; but then, orders are orders. Meanwhile, though unaware of the plot, Sonia does learn that Danilo is in Paris and spending an evening amongst the girls of Maxim’s. Knowing that he does not know her, she adopts the persona of a Maxim’s girl and brings herself to Danilo’s attention. Despite his assignment, Danilo is intrigued, and a sparring romance soon develops; but of course the masquerade cannot last forever… The Merry Widow is a fairly typical musical in many ways, certainly in that plot plays second fiddle to the songs, sets and – above all – costumes; but it is amusing and, in pre-Code terms, certainly has its moments—including a famous shot of Jeanette dressed only in her (1890s) underwear; and my favourite touch, the chaise-longue in the, ahem, “private dining-room” at Maxim’s to which Danilo escorts “Fifi”, which is roughly the size of the Titanic. Jeanette MacDonald is charming here – and so much more fun than in the later musicals for which she is now better known – and the film’s supporting cast is strong, with funny performances from Una Merkel as Queen Dolores and Edward Everett Horton as Ambassador Popoff; plus don’t-blink appearances by Billy Gilbert, Jason Robards Sr, Leonid Kinskey, Lya Lys, Luana Walters and Kathleen Burke. The film won an Oscar for its art direction, and is also memorable for the costume design by Adrian and the choreography of Albertina Rasch.
Dark Streets Of Cairo (1940)
In Egypt, archaeologist Professor Wyndham (Wright Kramer), along with his assistants, Dennis Martin (Ralph Byrd) and Jerry Jones (Eddie Quillan), makes a remarkable discovery, bringing to light the famous Seven Jewels of the Seventh Pharaoh. A secret society of men calling themselves the Defenders look for a way to prevent the jewels being taken out of Egypt—not knowing that their leader, Abbadi (George Zucco), plans to sell them after the society steals them. Abbadi contacts Baron Stephens (Lloyd Corrigan), a Swiss collector of antiquities, intimating that Professor Wyndham is willing to sell the jewels. The Baron immediately sets out for Cairo in company with his niece, Ellen (Sigrid Gurie). The jewels are stolen as planned, with fake gems being substituted, but the reckless Hussein (Henry Brandon) murders Wyndham and draws attention to the switch. Meanwhile, Dennis encounters Ellen and is attracted to her—but her casual remark about Wyndham selling the jewels alerts him to the conspiracy… Dark Streets Of Cairo is a workable little B-movie, though certain touches in it might grate on the modern viewer. Clearly it never occurred to screenwriter Alex Gottlieb that the Defenders might have a point; though at least the film has the grace to position an out-and-out villain like Abbadi behind the secret society, with no question about his motives. Meanwhile, it is never clear how Abbadi’s wife, Shari (Katherine DeMille), came to be spying on her husband for the authorities; nor how a man with a mid-western accent and called Inspector Joachim (Rod La Rocque) ended up head of the Cairo police. Too much of Dark Streets Of Cairo is given over to the perfunctory romance of Dennis and Ellen, and to the unfunny antics of Jerry Jones; but the film’s climactic sequence, wherein Dennis finds himself being accidentally kidnapped while sealed in a mummy case, is amusing. There are a couple of other points of interest in this film, including the appearance of a truncated version of the recurring subplot I mentioned re: Midnight Warning, when the Baron and Ellen suddenly disappear. More importantly, however, this film was clearly shot on the same sets as The Mummy’s Hand (which was released three months earlier)—and features George Zucco wearing much the same wardrobe, too.
Men Against The Sky (1940)
Once an acclaimed, record-setting pilot, arrogance and alcohol have reduced Phil Mercedes (Richard Dix) to stunt-flying and barnstorming for a carnival—and even that is taken away from him when he crashes his plane. As he recovers from his injuries, Mercedes learns that he has been officially grounded for a year. The double blow sobers him, and he vows to rebuild his life. Mercedes is supported by his sister, Kay (Wendy Barrie), who gives up her training to get a job at the McLean Aeronautical Company—although she takes her brother’s advice and changes her surname first. McLean is in competition for a military contract, racing to design a new high-speed fighter plane, with Kay working under chief engineer, Martin Ames (Kent Taylor). Kay is attracted to Ames, but he takes little notice of her until she brings to him a series of sketches for a new wing design… In between an oddly low-key beginning (at least post-crash) and an unnecessarily melodramatic conclusion, Men Against The Sky is an interesting aviation drama that takes several unexpected turns. The redemption of Phil Mercedes (pronounced ‘Mer-ce-dees’) and the sort-of romance between Ames and Kay meander through the main plot, which is far more given to realistic aeronautical considerations than is customary in a film of this era, even one purporting to be about just that. The problems confronting Ames in the design of his plane, and the scenes of his model being tested in an early version of a wind-tunnel, are fascinating; while the screenplay (by Nathanael West) has the nerve to make its central characters wrong and an unpleasant fringe character right when it comes to the argument over the new design’s safety. The mounting desperation of those involved in the plane’s development pushes Martin Ames and Phil Mercedes to make several dangerous decisions, including Phil’s defiance of his grounding order; but when their new fighter passes all its tests under the guidance of pilot Dick Allerton (Donald Briggs), it seems to have been worth it. At the last moment, however, disaster threatens once again, when the landing-gear on the test plane refuses to deploy…
The Unfaithful (1947)
Chris Hunter (Ann Sheridan) is delighted when she learns that her husband, Bob (Zachary Scott), will be returning home early from his business trip: she promises to pick him up at the airport the following morning. Reluctantly, Chris attends a party given by Bob’s cousin, Paula (Eve Arden), who is celebrating her divorce: there is an ugly scene when her new ex-husband shows up, and Chris and Larry Hannaford (Lew Ayres), the Hunters’ friend and Paula’s lawyer, must intervene. Arriving home after midnight, Chris does not see a shadowy figure lurking near her front door. As she opens it, the man grabs her and forces her inside… The next morning, Bob is puzzled by Chris’s failure to pick him up. He phones home—to learn that there has been “an accident”. When he arrives, he finds the house surrounded by reporters and filled with police, and a dead man lying on the floor… Lt Reynolds (John Hoyt) tells Bob that Chris is upstairs, unhurt but in shock. He rushes up to her, finding her with Larry; after the two are reunited, Chris agrees to see Reynolds and explain what happened: she tells him that she does not know the man, who demanded her jewellery, and that she stabbed him with Bob’s war-souvenir knife when he attacked her. At first glance the matter seems like a clear case of self-defence—but as Reynolds looks further into things, Chris’s story begins to unravel… Based – very loosely – on Somerset Maugham’s short story, The Letter, The Unfaithful is a noir-ish drama with an uncomfortable misogynistic streak. It deals, so a sanctimonious voiceover informs us at the outset, with “a modern problem”, by which it means divorce—and it goes on to demonstrate for us exactly what is wrong with the post-war American woman, and how the rising divorce rate is all her fault. As in its source, though ultimately to very different purpose, The Unfaithful finds Chris’s story crumbling bit by bit until she must admit to Larry Hannaford that not only did she know her attacker, she had a brief and instantly regretted affair with him during Bob’s war absence—though she swears that the circumstances of the killing were exactly as she first told them. (The most readily recognisable touch for the modern viewer is Chris’s account of being stalked after she broke things off, by a man insisting that, “No woman ever left me.”) Though horrified, Larry continues to represent Chris, and for the time-being keeps the truth from Bob; but before long, the two find themselves dealing with a vengeful widow (Marta Mitrovich) and an art dealer with blackmail on his mind (Steven Geray), and struggling for possession of a sculpture that makes the relationship between Chris and the dead man only too evident… A curious thing happens in the home-stretch of The Unfaithful: we get a dramatic gear-shift—as if the film suddenly realised that, far from campaigning against divorce, it was presenting a situation where divorce is not only the natural outcome but the right thing to do, since it’s the man who wants it. Abruptly, and not very convincingly, the film starts making a case for Chris—not excusing her adultery, very much the contrary, but explaining the various pressures and difficulties that led to her lapse; with Paula, at first the face of the film’s “modern problem”, somehow allowed to assume the moral high ground and lecture Bob about his deficiencies, before Larry delivers a lengthy moral monologue about fighting for your marriage rather than ceding to divorce. This is not, of course, the only speech that Larry is destined to make: Chris is charged with the first-degree of the man who the prosecution contends was still her lover, and Larry is faced with the unenviable task of convincing an outraged jury that being guilty of adultery does not make you guilty of murder…
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (1962)
When Senator Ransom Stoddart (James Stewart) and his wife, Hallie (Vera Miles), arrive in the town of Shinbone to attend a funeral, it is big news. The editor of the local paper, Maxwell Scott (Carleton Young), questions Stoddart over why he and his wife would have travelled so far to attend the funeral of a poor, obscure rancher. After some thought, Stoddart concludes that it is time the story was told… As a newly graduated lawyer, Ranse Stoddart travels west, looking for somewhere to establish himself. Suddenly, the stagecoach on which he is travelling is held up by the gang led by the outlaw, Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin). When Stoddart protests, he is savagely beaten and his law books mocked and torn. Stoddart is found unconscious by Tom Doniphan (John Wayne) and his ranch-hand, Pompey (Woody Strode): they carry him into Shinbone, where he is taken in by the Ericsons, a Swedish immigrant family who run a steakhouse. As he recovers, Stoddart earns his keep by washing dishes and waiting tables; he begins to make plans to open a law office. One night the steakhouse is invaded by Valance, who takes the opportunity to humiliate Stoddart, before Doniphan intervenes and warns Valance off. Stoddart is anything but grateful, insisting on being left to fight his own battles—to which Doniphan replies jeeringly that he’d better put aside his books and learn to use a gun… The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is in many ways an uncomfortable work, though I would argue that it is in those areas of discomfort that we find its value. Ultimately, this is a film that sits uneasily between the cinematic mythos of the west – a mythos largely established by John Ford himself, of course – and the revisionism that was beginning to engulf the genre; a film that, in its famous final scene, provides an answer both ironic and self-reflexive to the very questions it raises. Thus we find the townspeople paralysed, as it were, by a fictional code of conduct that prevents them from solving their problems by simply shooting Valance in the back one night; while the same code demands that the only correct solution is for a man to “be a man”: to step up and kill—or be killed. The law that Stoddart worships proves entirely impotent without the will of the people to enforce it; and finally, as Doniphan warned him at the outset, Stoddart must put aside his books – and his principles – pick up a weapon, and go gunning for Liberty Valance… There are certainly things about The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance that don’t work. The cast is uniformly too old, though you can justify that to yourself by the use of the extended flashback; and the contrast between the civilised Ransom Stoddart and the old school Tom Doniphan is lacking in much shade or subtlety. Furthermore, Stoddart’s naivety at the outset, his incredulity about the reality in which he finds himself, is hard to believe. (This is where Stewart’s age hurts the film.) However, watching John Ford interrogate his own oeuvre, as it were, is fascinating. In addition, the usual Ford virtues are here in spades, most notably the gorgeous black-and-white cinematography of William H. Clothier, and a supporting cast that also includes Edmond O’Brien, Andy Devine, Jeanette Nolan, Lee Van Cleef, Paul Birch—and John Carradine, of course.
Hercules, Samson And Ulysses (1963)
Original title: Ercole sfida Sansone (Hercules Challenges Samson). In Itheca, the people are threatened by a huge sea monster. Hercules (Kirk Morris) pleads with King Laertes (Andrea Fantasia) for a sturdy boat and a crew, so that he can hunt and kill the creature. He assures his wife, Iole (Diletta D’Andrea), that he will only be away for a day or so, but her past experience gives her grave fears. Ulysses (Enzo Cerusico), the son of Laertes, insists on going too, accepting a cage of carrier pigeons from his parents in case the mission takes longer than expected. The ship encounters a storm just as it locates the sea monster. Hercules succeeds in harpooning it but, caught between the creature and the storm, he and his men must cut the rope. The ship is battered and finally sinks, leaving only six men including Hercules and Ulysses alive on a makeshift raft. The raft finds land, and the six discover that they are in Judea. The townspeople of Danite advise them to seek King Seren (Aldo Giuffrè) of the Philistines, to beg a ship. The six do not realise that they are being watched by the fugitive Danite, Samson (Richard Lloyd aka Iloosh Khoshabe), who suspects them of being Philistine spies. On the way to Gaza, Hercules must kill a lion with his bare hands to protect the group: a feat of strength that convinces one of the guides that he is actually Samson… Written and directed by Pietro Francisci, Hercules, Samson And Ulysses functions as a sequel of sorts to Hercules and Hercules Unchained, though its set-up bears little resemblance to the circumstances of the previous film—except for Hercules abandoning Iole (and their small son) at the first opportunity, as per usual, and the callback of Ulysses and his pigeons. The main narrative offers a weird blending of biblical history and Greek myth, with the early Christian Judeans being persecuted by the Philistines and the unnaturally strong Samson functioning as a one-man revolutionary army, albeit with the lightning use of spears rather than the jawbone of an ass. The plot takes some time to get going, but it picks up when Hercules and the others call upon King Seren for help, and find themselves his prisoners—unable to prove that they are Greek, or that Hercules is not Samson. (No-one knows what Samson looks like, but he’s the only man the Philistines know capable of strangling a lion.) Seren is the usual paranoid and cowardly type, ruled by his smarter and tougher mistress, Delilah (Liana Orfei), who convinces him to give Hercules a chance: if he can capture Samson within three days, his friends will be released and they will be given a ship. Hercules agrees—not knowing that Samson, believing him a spy responsible for the slaughter and enslavement of the Danites, is tracking him… Hercules, Samson And Ulysses is a fair peplum, though perhaps one with a bit too much talking and riding across the desert; however, the film’s sets and costume design are excellent, and it is generally well-cast. I’m not sure why Ulysses got a name-check in the English-language title: he’s just a tag-along here as always, with the film working to bring about the confrontation – and then alliance – of its two strongmen. It’s probably best not to think too much about the screenplay’s bizarre mixture of history, religion and myth; though in that respect, the most amusing touch here might be its version of Delilah (refreshingly, a red-headed Bad Girl), who gets a thing for Hercules – Hercules first – mixes herself up in his battle with Samson, and finally tries to convince the two men that she has changed sides and wants to help—but can they trust her…?
The Million Eyes Of Sumuru (1967)
Based upon the novels of Sax Rohmer. In Hong Kong, during the funeral of an extremely wealthy patriarch, a female assassin triggers a bomb, killing the rest of his family. Her mission completed, the woman, Erno (Ursula Rank), makes her way to the private island which is the headquarters of the all-female army of Sumuru (Shirley Eaton). It is announced there that danger threatens: that one member of the army has chosen to betray her sisters, a situation serious enough for Sumuru to travel to Rome and deal with it herself… Also in Rome, holidaying CIA operative Nick West (George Nader) is approached by British government official Sir Anthony Baisbrook (Wilfrid Hyde-White) and given a mission on behalf of both governments: he is to investigate a plot to assassinate the president of Sinonesia (Klaus Kinski), a mission that brings him to the attention of Sumuru… One of the seemingly endless parade of would-be funny, sort-of-Bond-ripoff spy-thrillers that proliferated in the sixties, The Million Eyes Of Sumuru is an exasperatingly awful riff on the genre—with all of the predictable faults supplemented by the production’s attitude towards its own premise. The situation of a terrifyingly efficient secret organisation becoming hopelessly incompetent as soon as the good guys show up isn’t uncommon, of course, but here it is supplemented by painfully unfunny comedy, a leering attitude towards sex, and a general air of male smugness that manifests as a conviction that the all-female army, even Sumuru herself, must naturally capitulate to the raw sexual appeal of the film’s dual heroes. And who exactly does it offer up by way of irresistible masculinity? – George Nader and Frankie Avalon; and if that doesn’t scream contempt for the female sex, I’m not sure what does. The Million Eyes Of Sumuru was shot at the Shaw Brothers studio, so it has that going for it; it features Maria Rohm in her screen debut as one of Sumuru’s assassins, who turns traitor; and, for better of worse, it also offers a completely bizarre performance by Klaus Kinski – in brownface – as “President Boong”. Ultimately, the only person who seems to have gotten anything out of this film was Shirley Eaton, who clearly enjoyed playing the bad girl—enough to reprise her role three years later for Jess Franco, in The Girl From Rio.
The Shark Hunter (1979)
Original title: Il cacciatore di squali. A man known only as Mike (Franco Nero) scratches a living on the beaches of Mexico, where he hunts sharks for fun and profit while dallying with a local woman, Juanita (Patricia Rivera). Secretly, Mike is attempting salvage something from a wrecked plane off the coast; but after some dynamiting goes wrong, injuring him and almost destroying the plane, he realises that he cannot do the work alone. At a local bar, Mike looks on in amusement as a young man called Acapulco (Jorge Luke) attracts more trouble than he can handle. He gamely does his best, however, prompting Mike to intervene and roughly end the fight. A friendship develops, which leads to Mike confiding to Acalpulco his secret: that the downed plane was carrying no less than one hundred million dollars, and that he has a plan for recovering the money. But Mike is not the only one who knows about the plane… Despite its title and its distressing opening sequence – and a later one so absurd you can almost forgive its outcome – this 1979 film by Enzo Castellari is an action movie having more in common with The Deep than with The Last Shark, and in which Mike’s reputation gets more of a workout than his occupation. Though it has its moments, The Shark Hunter is ultimately a disappointment, something that can perhaps be traced to the fact that, apparently, the screenplay was lost in transit before production began and had to be rewritten on the fly. We are left with a somewhat slapdash plot in which Mike’s past working for the shadowy “Organisation” catches up with him, in the shape of the evil Captain Gomez (Eduardo Fajardo), his henchman Ramon (Werner Pochath), and the possibly less dangerous though clearly untrustworthy Donovan (Michael Forest), all of whom want to get their hands on the missing money but know they need Mike’s help – given willingly or otherwise – to bring that about. As it stands, the film has too many longeurs to be really entertaining – too many scenes of men glowering at each other and/or following one another around, and way too much scuba-diving – though the soundtrack by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis does its frantic best to convince us that what we are watching is EXCITING!!!! This is a film at its best in its minutiae: the absurd blond wig from under which Franco Nero does his share of the glowering; the fight scenes that I like to think helped get him cast in Enter The Ninja; the recurring flashback to the tragedy that ruined Mike’s life (I’m a terrible person, I know: I laughed); an appearance by Enzo Castellari himself (under his real name of “Girolami”) as a hitman; the chase sequence that ends in the latter’s demise; and the bad guy’s observation that, despite Mike’s attempts to hide his identity, he was always going to be found out because who could possibly mistake those blue eyes?? In spite of everything, I also appreciated the fact that, towards the end, the sharks do get some revenge upon Homo sapiens, although not enough, and not on the right individual. Above all, though, I enjoyed this film’s tactic evocation of the sleeping sharks—and even more, its shrugging, “Ehh, leave ’em alone, they’ll leave you alone” attitude, in the wake of the hysterical overreaction of the previous year’s Cave Of The Sharks. (I told you guys Enzo saw that!)
First Strike (1996)
Also known as: Police Story 4: First Strike and Jackie Chan’s First Strike. I don’t know why, at the moment, the universe seems intent upon pushing me towards the Ukraine; but having recently read Henryk Sienkiewicz’s With Fire And Sword and, by way of compare-and-contrast, Nikolai Gogol’s Taras Bulba, I was more than a little bemused to find myself off to Eastern Europe once again in surely the most unlikely of contexts—although “bemused” hardly covered it, when I realised what the scenario of First Strike actually is. The opening of this film, in which we find Jackie Chan (returning as Officer Chan Ka-Kui of the Hong Kong police, usually known as “Kevin”, but simply called “Jackie” in international prints) dividing his services between the CIA and the Russian Secret Service, is hard enough to take; as for the ending, if you want to keep your sanity you have to keep reminding yourself that this was a glasnost film. And in between—well, I’m not quite sure how to describe what happens in between, except that at some point it is likely that the rational side of your brain will throw up its hands with a cry of, “That’s it, I’m outta here!” So— Jackie gets involved in a case of stolen nuclear weapons, and ends up following a woman called Natasha (Nonna Grishayeva) into the Ukraine, where she makes contact with Jackson Tsui (Jackson Lui), a Chinese-American nuclear scientist who once worked for the CIA, but is now suspected of being behind the arms theft. After much to-ing and fro-ing and chases and stunt-work in the icy countryside of the Ukraine, the film has enough of the cold and transports its cast (by submarine; how topical!) to the Sunshine Coast of Queensland…where things get weird… I was very tempted to give First Strike the same treatment as I did The Man From Hong Kong, which to my way of thinking it increasingly resembles, and not just because of its Australian settings—but rather in the way it blends hilariously obvious “tourist” stuff with grim crime drama and jaw-dropping stunt-sequences. In between, we have animatronic sharks, a real koala, goons wearing David Byrne’s suit, and tonal shifts that could give you whiplash. Furthermore, at least as far as I’m aware, this is the only film ever made with a full-on action sequence set in Brisbane—where on one hand we find the police and the terrorists fighting it out with guns and rocket-launchers, and on the other, Jackie on stilts doing comical ladder-fu. It’s enough to do your head in…
Disturbing Behaviour (1998)
After the suicide of their eldest son, Nathan (Terry David Mulligan) and Cynthia Clark (Susan Hogan) move with their younger children, Steve (James Marsden) and Lindsay (Katharine Isabelle), from Chicago to Cradle Bay, an island community in Puget Sound. At his new school, Steve discovers that the principal and others know his family history. The school psychologist, Dr Edgar Caldicott (Bruce Greenwood), tries to steer him towards a group of high-achieving students called “the Blue Ribbons”, but Steve remains wary and distant, rejecting the overtures of the clean-cut clique and befriending instead three outsiders: the unstable, possibly paranoid Gavin Strick (Nick Stahl); his stoner friend, “U. V.” (Chad Donella); and Goth girl Rachel Wagner (Katie Holmes). One night, Rachel is harassed by “Chug” Roman (A. J. Buckley), a Blue Ribbon jock. When she rejects him, Chug suddenly explodes into violence, savagely beating another teenager while Officer Cox (Steve Railsbeck), the local police chief, simply looks on. Gavin tries to convince Steve that the Blue Ribbons have been brainwashed and, when he rejects this idea, sneaks him into the school to eavesdrop on a PTA meeting, where the two witness Gavin’s parents signing him up for Dr Caldicott’s “program”… After negative testing, Disturbing Behaviour was taken away from its director, David Nutter, and re-cut by the studio to an extent that made the director try to have his name removed from it, though his petition was rejected. The re-cut version was no more successful upon release, and it is not hard to see why: the film never makes up its mind whether wants to be a straight horror movie or a satire (which was likely the initial bone of contention between director and studio); and while it could have worked as either, as it stands it zig-zags between the two attitudes in a way that undermines both. Certain aspects of Disturbing Behaviour only make sense if we’re not supposed to take it entirely seriously, like the appearance of the Blue Ribbons, who could have stepped whole and breathing out of Happy Days, or (one of the film’s numerous nods at The Stepford Wives) the overnight transformation of slacker Gavin into preppy Gavin, once he is successfully “recruited”. There are also certain touches that are completely out of place, like the facetious use of the song “Flagpole Sitta” while Steve and Rachel are running for their lives. What’s frustrating about all this is that the film never mines its real potential, or even seems to recognise it. There is both horror and tragedy in the parents of Cradle Bay turning their teenagers over to Caldicott in order to be “fixed”, but the screenplay never investigates this as it should—so that we are left uncertain about how much the parents really know about what is being done to their children. The critical point here is the revelation that Caldicott’s programming has the side-effect of turning sexual impulses into violent impulses—but is it a side-effect, or was that the choice? – violence rather than sex? And note how this touch plays out differently between the sexes, with the male Blue Ribbons’ arousal manifesting as violence against others, while a female Blue Ribbon turns her violence upon herself (“Wrong! Bad!”). This aspect of the film is crucial in light of Disturbing Behaviour’s position as part of the mid-90s slasher-movie revival (complete with a white-people-staring-into-the-camera poster), but it never becomes a major focus as it should. Instead the screenplay shifts away from this serious material to focus upon Steve’s alliance with eccentric school janitor, Dorian Newberry (William Sadler), who has developed protective colouring against the Blue Ribbons by playing dumb, but who also discovers a way in which they can be stopped…
Blackwood Evil (2000)
Preparatory to filming a story, TV reporter Jane Fox (Joan Kudrle aka Joanie Bannister) is collected by her cameraman, Eddie Johnson (Richard Catt): he assures her that their assistant, Kevin (Kenneth Marshall), is already at the scene, setting up the stationary equipment and a generator to run it. Jane in turn tells Eddie that she has arranged for a psychic, Margret Fellows (Peggy Catt), to meet them there also; she also warns him that there may be trouble with the property’s owner, Travis Taylor Jr (Michael Paul), who has given them permission to film but evinced a strange attitude on the phone. When the two arrive in the so-called “Black Lands” of Texas, they begin to film some background pieces for their story: Jane explains on camera that the area has a reputation for evil dating back to pre-historic times and, more recently, has been associated with violent death, mysterious disappearances and tales of the supernatural… Turnabout is fair play; and if, as I suggested, The St. Francisville Experiment exists chiefly to make us appreciate The Blair Witch Project, then it is only fair to suggest that the main purpose of Blackwoods Evil is to make The St. Francisville Experiment look good, or at any rate, better. Pretty much everything that a found-footage horror movie can do wrong is on display here, from the typos and grammatical errors that undermine its solemn title cards, to stumbling, repetitive ad-libbed dialogue, to too much of the film being filled up by annoying characters sniping at one another, to a rushed climax that hardly compensates for the gruelling boredom of what has come before. Above all, the film founders on the central non-performance of Joanie Bannister, whose Jane Fox is supposed to be a professional TV personality but who can hardly speak a coherent sentence, and whose habit of punctuating her dialogue with a meaningless giggle becomes intolerable. The film’s best performance comes from Kenneth Marshall as Kevin the dog’s-body, mostly because he is convincingly pissed off at all the others throughout; while the small cast is rounded out by Michael Paul as asshole du jour Travis, and the husband-and-wife team of Richard and Peggy Catt as Eddie and Margret, the former of whom wrote and directed this (if you can call it that). After long stretches of name-calling, ramblings from Margret and shrieking arguments over what people may or may not have seen or heard, there are a couple of bloody deaths, Jane / Joanie gets a Heather Donahue moment, and we all go and take something for our headache.
Dear Mr Gacy (2010)
Based upon the book, The Final Victim, by Jason Moss and Jeffrey Kottler. In 1980, John Wayne Gacy (William Forsythe) is convicted on 33 counts of murder and sentenced to death; thirteen years later, his final appeal is denied. College student Jason Moss (Jesse Moss), seeking a subject for a critical term paper, and despite being discouraged by Professor Harris (Andrew Airlie) from the “overdone” subject of serial killers, decides on what he believes is a new approach: he will try to establish a correspondence with Gacy by adopting a persona likely to appeal to him, that of a lonely, sexually confused young man from an abusive family. The ploy works: Gacy writes back; and then the two begin a series of regular telephone conversations. It is Jason’s hope that, by these means, he will access knowledge of Gacy’s murders, and of Gacy himself, previously denied to law enforcement; but as the relationship develops, Jason finds his own behaviour becoming influenced by their interaction and Gacy’s increasing demands upon him… This is an uncomfortable film to deal with in all respects – some of the reasons being acknowledged in its end credits – and one that is hard to treat fairly, without falling into the trap of criticising the wrong people. In any event, it seems clear that Dear Mr Gacy is not a particularly good adaptation of its source. In reality, Jason Moss attempted to contact half-a-dozen different convicted serial killers, including Richard Ramirez and Jeffrey Dahmer, via his ploy of adopting an appealing persona; the film ignores the wider scope of the project and narrows it down to Gacy alone—who did respond most enthusiastically to Moss’s contact, with the two establishing regular communication. Likewise, insane as it seems, Moss did visit Gacy one-on-one shortly before his execution. Within this framework, however, and whatever may actually have happened, this film fails to give us anything new on the subject of Gacy, presented as in denial about his murders and his sexuality right to the end, and concentrates instead on his pernicious influence over Moss, who goes from acting out scenarios suggested by Gacy so that he can “report back”, to getting closer and closer to crossing the line of his own volition. The results of this are frustrating, in that the film’s focus is never where we feel it should be. William Forsythe’s performance here suggests that, with a better screenplay to work from, he might have given us a terrific Gacy—which, come to think of it, is pretty much what I said about Lou Diamond Phillips in The Night Stalker. This in itself indicates where the problem lies: the makers of these films know well enough there’s an audience for this sort of material, but don’t have the guts to really go there; and until that changes, maybe they should just leave the genre alone.
In an English coastal town, homicide detectives Joe Fairburn (Paul Bettany) and his brother, Chrissie (Stephen Graham), must work in the shadow of their father, Lanny (Brian Cox), a legendary figure in local policing whose stories about the brutal “old days” become more exaggerated as he slides into dementia. When a local girl is stabbed to death and her body dumped at a skate-park, the natural pressure of the case is increased by Joe’s consciousness of his failure to close an earlier, similar case in which the suspect he couldn’t hold struck again after being released. Joe and Chrissie zero in on Jason Buleigh (Ben Compton), in whose rooms they discover an album full of pictures of young girls and a bangle that the victim may have wearing on the day of her death; though her mother is uncertain on that point. With no physical evidence tying Buleigh to the crime, he is released: his mocking attitude infuriates Joe. Family and friends gather for drinks to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Joe and his wife, Lily (Natasha Little), but the night goes wrong when, between his sense of failure and his father’s criticisms, Joe lays violent hands on the boyfriend of his daughter, Miriam (Naomi Battrick). When the party breaks up, Joe and Chrissie set out to drive a sleepy Lanny home but, drunk and angry, Joe decides to try his father’s old tactics on Buleigh. Grabbing their suspect, Joe and Chrissie drive him to a dark and lonely coastal area where Joe tries to force a confession—and suddenly explodes into violence… Blood began life as Conviction, a six-part series written by Bill Gallagher who, confronted with the need to severely truncate his layered, thoughtful TV drama into a film running just over ninety minutes, could only produce a rather shallow and artificial copy of his own model. There’s no room here for the ironies and echoes of the slower-paced series: instead we have a rather obvious drama that never surprises the viewer, and which seems uncertain whether it is meant to be upholding or deconstructing some of the more pernicious platitudes that revolve around “family”. Though both give committed performances, Paul Brittany and Stephen Gallagher hardly convince as brothers (to keep this disconcerting casting, it might have been wiser to rewrite them as cousins); while the relative brevity of the screenplay does not allow for proper development of the mixture of damage and devotion that marks the Fairburn family. Mark Strong is effective as the Fairburns’ superior and a graduate of the Lanny Fairburn era, who observes the brothers’ behaviour and puts two and two together, but his character is underdeveloped. The real star of the show in Blood is its setting, with its most impressive scenes taking place on and around the Wirral Peninsula in the north-west of England, which functions in the narrative both naturally and symbolically. Though Joe tries to distance himself from the matter of Jason Buleigh’s disappearance, Chrissie is increasingly drawn into the situation of Jason’s fearful and grieving mother, Sandra (Sandra Voe). A sense of justification allows the two to hold themselves together until a new suspect emerges in the murder of the girl, when the realisation that Jason might have been innocent – of that, at least – sees everything begin to unravel…
A Killer Among Us (2012)
As she leaves her car to begin her work day, Helen Carleton is shot and killed… Teenager Alex Carleton (Tess Atkins) is called out of her class at school by Officer Drake (William deVry), who is also the father of her best friend, Marissa (MacKenzie Porter). At first Alex is told only that her mother has had an accident, but as they approach the crime scene, she learns the terrible truth… Alex and her younger siblings, Sean (Alex Ferris) and Ellie (Michelle Creber), are initially taken in by the Drakes. Meanwhile, Nick Carleton (Tom Cavanaugh), after identifying his wife’s body, is questioned by Detective Joe Moran (Boris Kodjoe); he tells the detective that he was at work at the time of the murder. At the gathering after Helen’s funeral, there is an uncomfortable scene between Nick and a man named Bruce Wilkins (Gavin Cooke), who is overheard by Alex insisting he has a right to be there. As the Carletons pick up the pieces, Alex finds herself taking on more and more responsibility at home; while her father neglects his children and moves swiftly to dispose of Helen’s things; though he justifies this as “moving on”. Increasingly disturbed, Alex is ready to listen when Detective Moran tells her that despite his seeming alibi, his suspicions lie firmly on Nick… Like so many Lifetime crime movies, A Killer Among Us is supposedly based on a true story—though given how its plot works out, one would hope not. The “truth” probably just lies in a man disposing of his wife for personal and financial game, rather than in the outrageous scenario that finds underage Alex working as a police spy against her father and ultimately endangering her own life by doing so. If you can swallow this, A Killer Among Us isn’t a bad little film, chiefly because of its focus on the personal toll taken on Alex by the situation, which finds her losing pretty much everything including her best friend and her boyfriend, who hook up behind her back after she blows them off one too many times while trying to care for her siblings and run the house on top of dealing with high school—and that’s before Moran recruits her to bring down her own father. The psychology of the situation is fairly sound, though: it is as much Alex’s unacknowledged resentment at being left to bear the weight of the family responsibility that motivates her to accept Moran’s proposal as any belief in her father’s guilt; though that changes when she discovers, not evidence of murder, but that he has long been having an affair. As Moran continues to push, Alex takes more and more risks—until she both learns a devastating personal secret, and gives herself away to Nick… Tess Atkins is effective here as Alex, and A Killer Among Us gets good mileage out of Tom Cavanaugh’s natural good-guy demeanour; but Boris Kodjoe seems more intent upon posing for the camera than giving an actual performance. That said, there is a welcome note of reality (or anyway, acknowledgement of its plot’s absurdity) at the end of this film, when Detective Moran’s chickens come home to roost.
West Bengal, 1953. Soumitra Roy Chaudhary (Barun Chanda) is a wealthy zaminder, living a life of luxury and elegance on his extensive estate; his only concern in life is the illness which periodically attacks his beautiful and spoilt young daughter, Pahki (Sonakshi Sinha). Things begin to change in the face of the government’s plan to abolish the zaminderi system, which will mean the end of Chaudary’s authority, the break-up of the estate, and the reclamation by the government of many priceless artefacts. Closing his eyes to the threat, Chaudary welcomes a call from young archaeologist Varun Shrivastav (Ranveer Singh), who wants to excavate an area on the estate where he believes there may be evidence of an ancient settlement. Unbeknownst to Chaudary, Varun and Pahki have already met, when the latter, an inexperienced and reckless driver, ran his motorcycle off the road. Pahki, who was not supposed to have the car, is alarmed; but although he teases her, Varun keeps her secret from her father. Chaudary gives permission for Varun and his colleague, Devdas Mukherjee (Vikrant Massey), to excavate; he also invites them to stay in the house during the work. He does not see that Pahki and Varun are falling in love. Devdas does see—and must remind Varun of why the two of them are really there… Vikramaditya Motwane’s Lootera is a beautifully mounted and meticulously staged period drama, but one that is very much a film of two halves. The film’s romance develops in parallel with the frankly more interesting subplot involving the end of the zaminderi system—and while I am not sufficiently informed of either this era’s history nor Vikramaditya Motwane’s own viewpoint, I would infer that we are expected to draw a parallel between the gang of professional looters to which Varun and Devdas belong, and the activities at this time of the government, which claimed for itself many ancient and valuable family heirlooms as “property of the state”. As the deadline looms, Chaudary finds himself between Scylla and Charybdis, his efforts to salvage what he can from the break-up of his estate throwing him into the arms of the criminals who are plundering him. Meanwhile, Varun’s desperate attempt to escape from his upbringing and his destiny finally fails—so that when disaster strikes the Chaudarys, it does so in every respect… The second half of Lootera finds Pahki isolated and ill, supporting herself by her writing as she faces an extremely uncertain future. The police, still hunting the gang, try to set a trap—and, not knowing her history, Inspector Singh (Adil Hussain) takes Pahki into his confidence. Pahki herself is torn between her anger and humiliation, and her lingering feelings for Varun; and when the two are reunited she has an impossible choice to make… The success or failure of Lootera depends upon how deeply the viewer buys into the unlikely romance of Pahki and Varun: the film requires that sufficient sympathy be generated at the outset to carry through its extended and problematic second act. Quite frankly, all things considered, I found the attempt to position Varun as a tragic romantic hero infuriating and rather insulting. There is tragedy here all right, but it is all Pahki’s.
A serial killer stalks the backstreets of a South Korean city… So-jung (Kim Hye-yoon) prepares for an evening out on a blind date, but first she must face off with her stern older brother, Jong-tae (Park Hoon), who lays down strict rules about how she may dress, where she may go and what time she must be home. Later that night, walking back towards their apartment, So-jung receives a phone-call from Jong-tae. She tells him impatiently that she is nearly home—but she never arrives… Meanwhile, Kyung-mi (Jin Ki-joo), a young deaf woman, puts aside the unpleasantnesses of her job to focus upon a planned holiday with her mother (Gil Hae-yeon), who is also deaf. Having collected her mother after work, Kyung-mi leaves her on the street while parking her car in an underground lot. While walking back, Kyung-mi is startled when someone throws a woman’s shoe from a dark alley. She hesitates—not knowing that the killer, Do-sik (Wi Ha-joon), is watching her; and has already decided that her fate will depend on what she does next. Finally, Kyung-mi ventures into the alley, where to her horror she finds a young woman still alive but bleeding from savage stab wounds… Midnight was the first film of director Kwon Oh-Seung, who also wrote the screenplay, and as such it’s an impressive effort—though I think this accounts for some of its flaws, too. This is an ambitious movie, and one that finally bites off a bit more than it can chew: it tries to be a horror movie, a chase thriller and a socially critical drama all at the same time, and the disparate threads don’t always blend. Furthermore, the latter poses difficulties for non-Korean audiences, as it is hard to know how accurate its depiction of society is, and how justified its criticisms. In the world of Midnight, we see widespread indifference to the welfare of others, many forms of exclusion or prejudice, and – most critically in context – law enforcement officers both incompetent and class- and sex-biased: they will listen to a man in a nice suit first, and a woman with a disability not at all. It is within this framework that the battle between Do-sik and Kyung-mi is fought—and though all the advantage would seem to be with the former, it is soon clear that he, like society at large, has greatly underestimated his intended victim… Though not a Final Girl as such, Kyung-mi has many of the expected qualities: courage and determination, quick-thinking, the ability to turn a disadvantage into an advantage, and a powerful will to live. In addition to this – and here we revert to Midnight as a social drama – Kyung-mi’s personal code of behaviour is her most vital quality, something that sets her apart from her society as much as her deafness does, and which she won’t abandon even when her life is in danger. However—it also places a weapon in the hands of Do-sik, who realises he can manipulate her by threatening others. Finally, angered by the defiance he has been shown, in their various ways, by So-jung, by Kyung-mi, and even by her mother, Do-sik makes up his mind that, before the night is over, one of these women will die… Though I have talked about Midnight mainly in respect of its social qualities, rest assured that there are also bloody kills, suspenseful stalking scenes and desperate chases through the dark and unpopulated city backstreets. (Seriously, this film could have been called “The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner”.) In its horror movie persona, the film not infrequently goes over the top; but the central performance of Jin Ki-joo helps to keep it anchored.
“with the early Christian Judeans being persecuted by the Philistines ” Christians? during the time of Samson? Was this your mistake or the films?
Mostly mine: they’re not called that but the depiction tends that way. (I probably should have said “monotheists”.) Mind you, the film is so jumbled historically that it wouldn’t be a surprise if they were. 🙂
One of those bizarre coincidences; a couple of days ago, I was in a supermarket, and they were playing the song “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence”- not a song I’ve ever heard in a supermarket before. In fact, I’m pretty sure that was only the second time I’ve ever heard the song, and the first would have been years ago.
I am quite sure that at one point my family owned it as a 45rpm. And yes, I had the song stuck in my head for a week after my viewing (and another week after this writing).
I’ve been re-reading the Hugo novel, and I’ll say this for the 1923 version…Esmerelda is such a twit in the book, the film version can’t help but be an improvement! And as Kim Newman mentions in the recent blu-ray commentary, the goat probably appears more in the novel than Quasimodo does!
I read the book a long time ago, but I remember on the last page, the author assures us that the goat lived.
Isn’t she intolerable?? The Esmeralda / Phoebus stuff was always hard to take but so much more so now I’ve refreshed my memory about their original characters.
Yes…a strikingly early instance of, “But the animal was okay.” 🙂
“Ultimately, the only person who seems to have gotten anything out of this film was Shirley Eaton, who clearly enjoyed playing the bad girl—enough to reprise her role three years later for Jess Franco, in The Girl From Rio.”
She was not happy when Franco shot a scene of her for that film, which was then used for The Blood of Fu Manchu, with her name on the poster, but her not getting paid for the seperate movie!
Oh I did not know THAT. (I do not seem to have a copy of The Blood Of Fu Manchu; something else to look out for.)
OT, but do you do requests…how about a review of King Kong for its 90th anniversary!
if Lyz did requests, she’d never have time for anything else. we all have requests for her.
For instance, Lyz, when are you going to review Frogs? I love in the greenhouse death scene, the lizard knocking everything over has a HUGE grin on its face. I think of you every time I see that.
Lyz’s own request for Lyz is to do ANYTHING. 😥
(As I’ve said before, I love Frogs so much the thought of actually tackling it is paralysing.)
(And I’ve just realised that comment amounts to dissing King Kong by comparison. 😳 )
(Murder at Midnight) my goodness, the number of murder plots which would be foiled if people, when handed a firearm, actually checked it rather than taking someone’s word. (I’m not a gun enthusiast and even I know that much.)
(Murder at Dawn) No connection to Murder at Midnight from the previous year? Just a coincidence, I guess.
(Trouble in Paradise) ooh, this sounds like fun.
(Hercules, Samson And Ulysses) no, no, you don’t get on a boat with Ulysses! I mean, maybe he’s not quite as much of a Jonah as Sinbad, but really…
(The Million Eyes Of Sumuru) if I weren’t already a fan of yours I would be for this.
(First Strike) The HK and Chinese films I’ve seen tend to have much wider tonal ranges and faster shifts than the Hollywood standard. Serious emotional drama, action, comedy, huge battle scene, more drama…
I’m working my way towards Murder At Tea-Time (or in my own case, Murder Between The First And Second Coffees Of The Day).
Trouble In Paradise is one of my favourites. 🙂
The Million Eyes Of Sumuru is not. 😡
Oh, sure, I’m used to that; but it’s particularly jolting in what is clearly a Hong Kong film intended for an international audience.