Monday, July 12, 2010

The Locket (1946) John Brahm

The movie begins at a pre-wedding party for Laraine Day and Gene Raymond. Suddenly a stranger (Brian Aherne) appears, asking to speak privately to the future groom. Aherne’s story about the soon-to-be bride is fantastic and Raymond is incredulous. As Aherne continues, we are suddenly in his flashback, which leads to his earlier encounter with Robert Mitchum, who also had a surprising story about Day.  Yes, we are now in Mitchum’s flashback, and we’re not finished yet. From Mitchum’s flashback we move into Day’s, which takes us back to her childhood. Slowly the mist surrounding the conflicting stories begins to recede.

Murder and mayhem ensue throughout the flashbacks, and eventually we are brought back up through each successive flashback until we have circled back to where we started, at the party and moving on to the wedding. As you can surmise from the title, a small locket plays a significant role, being both cause and effect for the entire film.

The three men in Day’s life all do a fine job with their roles but Laraine Day is the star. Also notable is Katherine Emery as Mrs. Willis; she appears in a flashback and at the dramatic conclusion.

There are a few additional items to note about this movie, the first being the director. Brahm moved early on to television and is probably better known for directing original “Twilight Zone” episodes and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” Lillian Fontaine, mother of her two more famous daughters, Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine, has a very small role as Lady Wyndham. And the Willis house is the same set used for the home of Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains) in “Notorious.” Lastly, watch for Mitchum’s painting as his parting gift; you’ll only get a brief look and that picture says a thousand words.

“Do you approve of foolish marriages?”  “Certainly. They alienate relatives.”

“If you want some things badly enough, someday you'll have them.”

Thursday, July 8, 2010

13 Ghosts (1960) William Castle

“Tonight, death walks again in this evil house.” This is just quirky fun from William Castle. Child actor Charles Herbert makes a birthday wish that the financially-strapped family can own their own house with furniture that nobody could take away, and voila! The family finds out they have inherited a house from their pre-Ghostbusters Uncle, Plato Zorba.

Along with the house, the family inherits the housekeeper. Herbert tells their visiting attorney, “There’s a witch in the house; ring the bell, she’ll answer.” Shortly thereafter we meet Uncle Plato’s assistant, the infamous wicked witch, Margaret Hamilton. She is sinister and mysterious, and although she does not command flying monkeys, she does have power and information, particularly when leading a seance.

Ghosts abound with campy and entertaining special effects. Watch the ouija board move, and the floating planchette land on the lap of perhaps the next victim/future ghost. There’s a spider-webbed shuffling ghost (or is he?) and a ghost emerging from a painting, but it’s really all about the glasses. When the film was introduced in theaters, glasses were provided in order to view the ghosts. Look through the red to see them or the blue to have them fade away. This wasn’t 3-D but a film process called Illusion-O. What a great gimmick and treat for those who watched the original film in the theater. And glasses also feature prominently in the movie. Another part of the family’s inheritance is a box that contains a pair of ghost-viewing glasses. Very nice tie-in from Castle. There’s just one pair so only the brave family members put them on; others only see ghostly impacts.

A few noteworthy ghosts include the murderous Italian chef making a mess in the kitchen (“That’s Emilio. He killed his wife, his mother-in-law, and his sister-in-law with a meat cleaver. Whack! Whack! Whack!”, from the nonchalant Herbert). And Herbert wearing the ghost-glasses fearlessly watches a headless lion tamer and lion in the basement; the lion apparently deprived the tamer of his head and the tamer would like it back. This scene inexplicably carries on far too long but it emphasizes Herbert’s easy and comfortable connection with the ghosts.

The uncle caught 11 ghosts and apparently became the 12th, but why and how? The ghosts indicate that there will soon be a 13th. Who is this destined to be? Will the family stay in the house long enough to find out? Also in the plot is a stash of cash somewhere in the house, which the destitute family could certainly use but at what expense? And what’s behind attorney Martin Milner’s helpfulness (you may recognize him from later TV shows, “Route 66" and “Adam-12")? Other family members are made up by Rosemary DeCamp, Jo Morrow, and Donald Woods.

This is just enjoyable to watch, particularly if you’re a fan of early special effects and William Castle. “You really are a witch aren’t you?” “Ask me no questions, and I’ll tell you no lies”. The front door slowly closes on a swirling ghost mass...

Friday, July 2, 2010

Four Jacks and a Jill (1942) Jack Hively

This is not a great movie but it has its funny moments and several good musical numbers. The plot clips right along (try to keep up) and doesn’t always make much sense but it doesn’t matter.

The four musicians banter amongst themselves and if you are listening, you’ll be amused. Eddie Foy Jr, is one of the “Jacks” and has his share of comedic moments (dancing with Bolger in “Boogie Woogie Conga”) but Ray Bolger has the best scene in which he does a prize fighter dance routine - it’s worth watching the movie just for this segment. He also dances his way through “I’m in Good Shape” and you will appreciate his talent.

Jack Durant plays a caricature of a hoodlum, brow beaten only by June Havoc (yes, of “Gypsy” fame), in her first starring film role. Her musical number is “I Haven’t a Thing to Wear” and she performs it very well. She’s funny. Desi Arnez plays a dual role and is entertaining as well. Anne Shirley is her usual sweet self, ably dubbed by Martha Mears. In an interesting tie-in, both Havoc and Shirley were pushed into careers at a young age by their mothers. Shirley retired from film at age 26 (1944) and already had a 20-year film career. This role was Havoc’s first major film and she continued acting sporadically into the 1980s. Also watch for Henry Daniell and Fritz Feld as they display their comic abilities.

Soundtrack titles are by Harry Revel and Mort Greene with “The Boogie Woogie Conga” being a highlight. Musical numbers are fun, dialogue has some witty patter, the plot is weak, and the movie is short. Watch it for the highlights.

“She’s a vulture for culture.” “Pardon me while I cop a nod.”