The Night Of The Hunter- A Cautionary Tale

Written by Joe D on March 31st, 2008

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Have you ever seen The Night Of The Hunter? The film directed by Charles Laughton, starring Robert Mitchum and featuring Lilian Gish and Shelly Winters? It’s a great film, considered by many critics to be one of the top 50 films of all time. It is a beautiful, poetic, unique creation. There are sequences unlike any other in Cinema. For example when the children are traveling by rowboat, just floating down the river at night and there are all these shots of animals, frogs, owls, rabbits, spiders, in the foreground and the skiff with the children floating by in the background, accompanied by a beautiful voice singing a melancholy folk/ nursery rhyme motif.
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It’s a gorgeous, deep sequence that transports you to a magical place, sort of a glancing back at the mystery of childhood, the psychic spaces we inhabit as children when we are closer to the elemental , to nature, to animals, to magic. We accept the arcane without questioning.
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And the acting is great too. Mitchum said Laughton was his favorite director because he loved everything he did and he would tell him so.
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Robert Mitchum as the Murderous Preacher, Harry Powell, with LOVE and HATE tattooed on his fingers

Shelly Winters is great as well, it’s funny here she is playing a mother who is married by a man whose real target is her children, a role she would repeat in Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita.

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She studied Acting in Charles Laughton’s class

Lillian Gish is superb and it’s wonderful that she appears in this film. A lot of the imagery seems to come directly out of silent film, a kind of stark poetic imagery, powerful visuals that remind you of Murnau, or Lang or even Caligari. She spoke of the making of the film in a reverential manner. “I have to go back as far as DW Griffith,” wrote Gish, “to find a set so infused with purpose and harmony. There was not ever a moment’s doubt as to what we were doing or how we were doing it. To please Charles Laughton was our aim. We believed in and respected him. Totally.”

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The film was shot by the great Stanley Cortez, camerman for Orson Welles on his follow up to Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons ( Another Cautionary Tale in a future post). The thing is this, when Night Of The Hunter was released, it flopped, didn’t make money, although the critics were respectful, if somewhat baffled.

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This devastated Laughton. It’s obvious the man poured his heart and soul into this film and when no one liked it he was shattered. ” I’ll never direct another film.” he said and he never did. He died six years later without knowing his film would one day be called a masterpiece. So here’s to you Charles Laughton, up there in Film Heaven. Captain Bligh, Quasimodo, Dr. Moreau,Gracchus Galileo. We on planet Earth Salute You!
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Cheerio

Goodbye Tommy Udo! Heh Heh Heh ! Richard Widmark Exits at 93

Written by Joe D on March 26th, 2008

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Richard Widmark, the blonde, cool killer has died. He was the quintessential film noir protagonist, running down a dark street at night, chasing or being chased. His career really blasted into orbit with Kiss Of Death, a 1947 (that magical year!) noir directed by that talented curmudgeon Henry Hathaway. The story goes that Hathaway didn’t want Widmark for the role of Tommy Udo, sociopath killer with a snickering laugh, but Big Boss Darryl Zanuck overrode Hathaway’s objections and Widmark got the part. A pissed off Hathaway made it tough on Widmark and messed with him every chance he got. But so what, once Tommy Udo pushed a crippled old lady down a flight of apartment house stairs in her wheelchair, Widmark ascended to the stellar firmament atop a hugh geyser of pop culture appeal! Instant Stardom!
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Tommy Udo’s Push To Stardom

He later appeared in some more classic Noir’s like Sam Fuller’s Pickup On South Street, a no holds barred tale of a sleazy pickpocket, Commies after Atomic secrets, floozies, patriotism, Thelma Ritter, murder, and an apartment on a barge in the East River! Check this one out for yourself!
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Also one of my favorite’s Jules Dassin’s Night And The City, a down and dirty tale of a two-bit hustler turned wrestling promoter in London. (Dassin was fleeing the Commie Witch Hunt Trials and had to make films in Europe) This film features some of the best B+W noir Cinematography of all time! It is a pleasure to look at, you can get drunk, revelling in all that silver nitrate!
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They are showing this masterpiece at the American Cinematheque as part of their upcoming Noir City film festival. Be sure to make it if you can! This is an incredible film, it unspools April 24th at 7:30 pm. I will be there, drinking a glass of Nebbiolo, toasting that gone blonde genius of darkness, Richard Widmark. May you never be chased down a dark alley in Film Heaven.

Night And The City trailer

Saturday Night Bava at The American Cinematheque

Written by Joe D on March 23rd, 2008

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I went to last night’s installment of the Mario Bava Retrospective. The night began on a sour note. I left early so I could grab a hot dog at Skooby’s on Hollywood Blvd. unfortunately it was inexplicably closed!
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So I hit The Pig and Whistle for a draft Guiness, it’s right next door to the theater and a great way to start an evening of Cinematic fun.
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First off Chuck D got up to do the intro, I had a bad feeling because of the way the screen was masked, we weren’t going to be seeing a 35mm print! That’s exactly what Chuck revealed, spinning a tale of woe about the print of The Whip and The Body. According to Chuck the Cinematheque has an arrangement with a film director/collector who let’s them borrow films to screen. It seems this director (Chuck wouldn’t tell his name) allows a friend of his access to his collection that’s stored at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. This friend borrowed the print of The Whip and The Body and decided it was suffering from “vinegar syndrome”, a deterioration of acetate film that produces a vinegar like smell. Now this was an original print from the 60’s, possibly a dye transfer Technicolor print. Chuck said they had screened it in 2002 and it looked good. Anyway the friend decided to try and restore the print and in the process destroyed it! I really was hoping to see this film projected , ideally from an old dye transfer print! It makes such an incredible use of color and as Ernest Dickerson commented in his introductory spiel, great use of darkness! One of the earliest color films to use so much rich deep black! The (I think it was laser disk?) digital projection looked very good but seeing a film in it’s original form is like a trip through time! I went to a Technicolor Festival a few years back and saw some films projected from Technicolor nitrate prints, it was amazing! I encourage everyone to go see this series if they ever run it again! I watched The Phantom Of The Opera with Claude Raines and it was a major deja vu experience. (I had seen the film when I was about 10 in a re-release) So Dear Mr. Unknown Film director/Collector and your equally Unknown Friend, please have your films restored professionally at Triage Motion Picture Services, don’t destroy rare and priceless treasures with good intentions. Ask Martin Scorsese’s Fund to finance the restoration and get it done by people that know what they are doing. Our beautiful IB Technicolor prints are disappearing, it’s like someone going to a museum and erasing the paintings.
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The next film shown was Bava’s Kill Baby Kill and it was shown in 35mm from a print loaned by Alfred Leone and made around 2000 A.D. , unfortunately it looked like it was made from a bad dupe and a lot of detail and color was just not there. This is such a visually stunning film, with so much delicate shading of light, color,and atmosphere that any reduction in the quality of the image is a major detriment to the overall impact . I’ve seen the DVD of this film and it looks great. It needs to be restored. So there must be a good element somewhere. I appeal to Mr. Leone send the negative or whatever you have to Triage, ask for Tony or Paul, tell ‘em Joe sent you.
p.s. Here’s a piece about Kill Baby Kill.

R.I.P Ivan Dixon

Written by Joe D on March 20th, 2008

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Ivan Dixon and Abbey Lincoln in Nothing But A Man

Ivan Dixon, star of Nothing But A Man and director of The Spook Who Sat By The Door has checked out. Most people probably know him from his role on that idiotic show Hogan’s Heroes. He quit that gig after 5 years, I guess he couldn’t take it any more. than he got into directing. He acted in a ton of cool TV shows, Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, The Man Fron U.N.C.L.E., etc., etc.. He also directed a whole bunch of T.V shows, he was a ground breaking Black TV director, opening the door for a lot of people.Bill Cosby gave him his directing break, they had acted together in I Spy. But I think to Mr. Dixon, his biggest accomplishments were acting in Nothing But A Man, a film that told it like it was about being Black in America, and directing The Spook Who Sat By The Door, a hard to see film about a Black C.I.A. operative who uses his knowledge to train Black militants in a plot to overthrow the government.
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Luckily for me Jerry’s Video Reruns had a copy but now they’re out of business. Check it out if you can find it. Here’s the trailer

p.s. As an added bonus we get trailer narration by the legendary Adolph Caesar, check him out in A Soldier’s Story.

Bava Sunday

Written by Joe D on March 18th, 2008

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Hey there Pally! Here’s some previews of Coming Attractions for the triple feature Sunday, March 23 at the Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Blvd.(AKA The American Cinematheque). They’re ending the Mario Bava retrospective with La Ragazza Che Sapeva Troppo(USA,The Girl Who Knew Too Much, The Evil Eye), Il Rosso Segno Della Follial (Hatchet for The Honeymoon) and Caltiki, Il Monstro Immortale. Here’s a post about The Evil Eye.

Here’s the trailer for Hatchet for The Honeymoon.

And here’s the opening for Caltiki, The Immortal Monster!

See a Giant Glob of Tripe eat a man! Revenge of the cow stomachs!

Saturday Night At The American Cinematheque with Mario Bava

Written by Joe D on March 17th, 2008

Here’s a couple of trailers for the Saturday March 22nd 7:30 pm screenings at the American Cinematheque. C’mon down!

Kill Baby Kill!

The Whip And The Body It’s in Italian with No Subtitles.

2nd Night Of Bava

Written by Joe D on March 17th, 2008

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Here they are in the Car!

I just got back from The American Cinematheque where I watched Mario Bava’s Kidnapped and Shock. Kidnapped is a clever script about a heist that goes bad. The criminals, after killing a few people (including a female hostage) commandeer a car being driven by a man with an unconcious young boy wrapped in a blanket on the seat next to him. “I’ve got to take my son to the hospital!” the anguished man yells but the cruel bandits force him to drive them to their destination. The majority of the movie takes place in this car yet it is never boring! And it looks like it was done in the car on locations around Rome, not in a studio. It’s different from all other Bava films, the maestro did it again.
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Il Maestro, Mario Bava!

The story about this film is interesting. Right after filming, the producer died in an auto wreck. Due to the exegenicies of Italian law the film languished in a vault for about 20 years. Bava was unable to edit the film and finish it. He left detailed instructions for the editing but before the film was liberated from legal limbo, he died. A few years ago a version was produced and released on DVD called Rabid Dogs. There are a few differences that I noticed the biggest one being the score for the film. Stelvio Cipriani did both versions but I vastly prefer the Rabid Dogs score. It sounds like synths but it worked so well, maybe it was only meant as a temp score, who knows. Also Kidnapped ends with a song over the end titles that is so wrong for the film. There are some other differences but my overall impression is that I thought Rabid Dogs much more impressive. It could be that I saw that version first and was taken along for the ride, not knowing what was coming next but I think it’s just more tense, more claustrophobic, more insane than Kidnapped. I really believe the music has a lot to do with it as well. I think Anchor Bay has released a DVD with both versions so you can check them out for yourself and make your own decision. Let me know what you think!
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Shock or Beyond The Door is billed as Bava’s last film, sometimes as co-directed by Lamberto Bava, Mario’s son. I guess Bava wanted to give his son a start at directing, kind of the way Riccardo Freda did with him on Caltiki, The Immortal Monster. It’s an interesting film, not on a level with Bava’s early horror, but for me a great example of creating horror with minimal special effects, with imagination and creative use of the camera. Also the Bava archtypal haunted child. And a rat that steals the show.
The Bava Fest continues, I’m going on Saturday to see The Whip And The Body and Kill Baby Kill!. See You all there!

Rabid Dogs Trailer featuring the Cool Music!

One Night With You Gets Nod From The ReelHeART Internationl Film Festival

Written by Joe D on March 12th, 2008

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I’m very happy to announce that my film One Night With You was accepted to the prestigious ReelHeART International Film Festival in Toronto! This will be our Canadian Premier as well as our International Premier! The Festival takes place June 16 - 21 in the beautiful city of Toronto and I’m very excited to be going there. Toronto is a film loving city and I can’t wait to screen for all the Cinemaphiles up there. I’ll announce the dates of our screenings as soon as I get them but I wanted to give everybody a heads up in case you can make it to this great festival.

Mario Bava Retrospective at The American Cinamatheque

Written by Joe D on March 11th, 2008

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They’re showing a lot of Mario Bava films at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, starting Thursday, March 13th at 7:30 pm with La Maschera Del Demonio (USA Black Sunday) and Tre Volti Della Paura (USA Black Sabbath). La Maschera Del Demonio is probably my favorite Bava film.

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Barbara Steele, So Sexy, So Evil!

It is a pure example of a film made by someone rapturously in love with filmmaking, the textures, the details, the techniques Bava uses are so beautifully executed, he’s the closest thing to an Old Master in Cinema. Because like Michaelangelo or Rembrandt he created the images with his own hands, he was the cameraman, the special effects artist and the director. This is a tremendously influential film and a hell of a lot of fun to watch, especially in a theater in glorious 35mm Black & White! Be there CinemaFiends, you won’t regret it!

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It’s playing with Tre Volti Della Paura (USA Black Sabbath), and according to the Cinematheque’s website, this is where Ozzy got the name for his heavy metal band! Another great film shown in the Italian language version, 3 stories of terror, the standout being The Wurdulak starring Boris Karloff, Bava’s favorite film. See it in glorious Technicolor!

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I don’t know if the Italian version of this film has the same coda as the American but I hope so, it shows Boris Karloff riding a galloping horse at night, the camera pulls back and we see how Bava pulled off this illusion, it’s a magnificient bit of cinematic sleight of hand and thank God the maestro allowed us to see what was up his sleeve on this occasion. I will write about more of this retrospective in days to come but here is the link so you can see for yourselves what’s playing. Mario Bava At The Egyptian.
p.s. I will Be There! I hope you all will be too!

Akira Kurosawa, The Hidden Fortress

Written by Joe D on March 9th, 2008

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What a great movie! I just saw it on TCM for the first time in many moons. Last time I saw The Hidden Fortress was at the Film Forum in NYC. This film works on many levels, Toshiro Mifune is as always, great, a super star of the silver screen! One of the greatest film actors of all time.
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Toshiro In Trouble

Kurosawa is at the top of his game, emotion comes pouring off the screen in powerful and subtle ways. This film is an amazing amalgam of formal and spontaneous aesthetics, Japanese formal composition, the Princess in her court, and then the action of hiding out with the two peasants, it inspires deep feelings of loyalty, patriotism, friendship. Do these feelings exist, are they in our lives, I mean really, are they concrete parts of our existence or merely vaporous thoughts that disappear between your fingers like disapating smoke when you try to grasp them. When was the last time you had to defend your Princess against an army of killers?
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Spunky Princess
Yet we all have instilled in us from birth, ideals that stongly influence us, our morality, our decision making, our life. Films like this one exercise our moral self and that is what gives them their power. Sacraficing one’s self to a higher cause, it’s not something we’re called upon to do often or ever. But would you? This is a basic question of human existence, of civilization, and it is beautifully expressed in The Hidden Fortress. Also the two peasants that exhibit all the human failings and foilbles, they’re greedy, lustful, envious, you name it, and they’re funny. By coincidence I happened to see Robert Altman’s Gossford Park recently. A great film that deals with the juxtaposition of the serving class and the ruling class at a mansion in the countrty. There is a whole tradition of servant/ master drama and comedy that both of these films are a part of. But Hidden Fortress also works purely as an Adventure story and a Spectacle. It’s a magnificent film, maybe my favorite Kurosawa film. As everyone by now probably knows Star Wars bears a striking resemblence to this film, the peasants are replaced by bickering robots, there’s a feisty Princess and some Heroes to save her.
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Ultra Cool Bad Guy!
Star Wars is populated with a lot of characters that you can sell as action figures and toys but the basic plot is the same. I think Lucas has acknowledged this, he did an introduction to the Criterion DVD release but I haven’t seen it. Sergio Leone remarked in the press that he saw Yojimbo and was inspired to make A Fistfull Of Dollars. Kurosawa sued and won the rights to that film for Japan. Leone pointed out that that plot device was used by Dashiell Hammett in The Glass Key but to no avail, he had to pay up. I guess Lucas was smart enough to keep his mouth shut, at least while Kurosawa was still alive. But I think The Hidden Fortressis a vastly superior film to Star Wars. I wonder if Kurosawa ever read any Joseph Campbell?
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Lucas, you owe me big time!

Lake County Film Festival, SuperDawg, I Am The Walrus

Written by Joe D on March 4th, 2008

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We had a great time at the Lake County Film Festival, saw some cool movies, met some great people, and went to SuperDawg!food-cu.jpg

The Super Dawg comes in it’s own little box!
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This is what you get when the magic box is opened
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It’s one heck of a Good Time

Then after the saturday screening of my film, One Night With You, I was pleasantly surprised by a group of young, cool people. It was the elusive Film Walrus (Brian), along with Kathy and Derek. Film Walrus and Katie drove from St. Louis to see the film and I am forever in their debt for making that trek. The Gods Of Film will Bless Them! We had dinner and talked for about 4 hours, it was great!
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Katie, Derek, Me and The Film Walrus! He is The Walrus, not Paul McCartney!

There were some great people at our screenings and they seemed to really enjoy the film. We got some excellent reviews posted online, and a good time was had by all.