Movies reviewed this week: Gaslight, Ladies in Retirement, King Creole, Spring, Black Sunday, The Tower, Syndicate Sadists, and The House That Dripped Blood.
9/11/2023: Gaslight (1944): ****
Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer are plenty of reason to see this. For a performance which had to be completely blatant to make the point, Boyer had a lot of subtlety in his acting. I loved the way he blocked out everyone else from coming close to Bergman. Joseph Cotten was a bit smarmy for my tastes, although I’ll forgive the fact that he got to come in and play savior given the times. Angela Lansbury stole most of her scenes.
9/14/2023: Ladies in Retirement (1941): ***1/2
Very dark gothic (no, Criterion, this is not a noir) with a sterling Ida Lupino performance at the heart of it. She’s stuck with obligations to her fairly unstable sisters, which lead her down some rather dark roads. Lupino was 23 at the time, and she had to convincingly play a 40 year old who’d lost her dreams. She nails it.
I was surprised at how much the film centered women, even given the slimeball presence of Louis Hayward. Nobody comes across as really bad, just flawed. Even Lupino is clearly doing the things she does because she’s exhausted and out of ideas.
There’s some prior art for the manic pixie dream girl here as well.
9/15/2023: King Creole (1958): ***
Elvis plays a completely ineffective juvenile delinquent who makes a few poor but noble life choices and winds up stuck between an honest businessman and a filthy crime lord. The latter is played by Walter Matthau. There’s also a good girl and a bad girl: Dolores Hart and Carolyn Jones respectively. It ends with redemption and forgiveness, of course.
I enjoyed it quite a bit despite it being fairly incoherent. Most of the plot lines fizzle out by the end of the movie. Matthau and Jones are in a different movie than anyone else, chewing scenery like nobody’s business, and that’s a lot of fun to watch.
I’d call this a noir, albeit one softened by the demands of being an Elvis movie. Elvis wasn’t bad at all, and of course he’s wildly charismatic as a performer. It’s better when, for once, you can completely understand why the bad girl and the good girl fall for him.
9/16/2023: Spring (2014): ***1/2
Let’s fucking go, Hooptober! We chose Spring as our initial movie because we thought it’d be a strong beginning; I haven’t watched any Moorhead & Benson movies but michele_blue has and recommended them, and I was excited by the promise of genre mingling. Promise fulfilled.
The mumblecore vibe works very well, in part because the bulk of the movie takes place on the absolutely gorgeous Italian coast. The occasional drone shots also play a part here. It makes the handheld camera work and the dropped out sound on some lines a clear deliberate aesthetic choice, wielded for effect. I can’t say the same for the color grading; what worked in the LA sequences did not work in Italy. Orangey-yellows, meh.
I nitpick. The color decisions don’t stop the movie from being quite good. Lou Taylor Pucci has to hit this delicate balance between being a messed up American kid and a sensitive soul, and I think he does pretty well. As Evan, he’s pushy too often but he listens when it’s crucial. Nadia Hilker maybe doesn’t quite get the depth I’d expect her to have as Louise; she makes up with it by bringing a ridiculous amount of spirit. It’s a lighthearted movie for a tragic horror romance, in a good way.
Moorhead & Benson are great at creating a world. They clearly think hard about details, and while it’s not a subtle movie, it’s also not heavy-handed. The side characters are well realized. It’s a pretty funny movie amid the impending doom that you know is coming.
We’ve got two more of their movies to go in this challenge and I’m really looking forward to them.
Prompt: see five films by Moorhead & Benson (et al)
9/17/2023: Black Sunday (1960): ****1/2
I’m not entirely clear on why anyone bothered to keep making gothic horror movies after this. Sorry, Hammer, but Bava got it right and despite being black and white, it’s as luxurious as anything y’all put on screen.
It’s simple and concise. That’s all it needs to be to serve as a vehicle for those lucious shots. Barbara Steele’s gaze is perfectly captured by the poster image. I can’t ask for anything more.
Prompt: a Mario Bava film
9/17/2023: The Tower (2012): **1/2
There’s a skyscraper, it’s not really built to code, there’s an accident, there’s a fire, you know how the story goes from there.
I don’t have anything bad to say here. I’m just not into disaster movies. This one is fine. The effects are really good for a nine million dollar budget. There’s a wide array of characters who are mostly tropes but the sympathetic ones are sympathetic enough. It’s reasonably tense.
The ending achieves some real poignancy. I kind of wonder where that was for the rest of the movie. It also hit some 9/11 beats, which was culturally interesting.
Prompt: a post apocalyptic or natural disaster related film
9/17/2023: Syndicate Sadists (1975): ***1/2
Much to my surprise, this wasn’t nihilistic. Sure, it’s a violent gritty revenge movie, but Tomas Milian has a legitimate heart of gold and finds time to take care of not one but two young boys. I really dug Milian’s seedy charisma: he plays the protagonist with an easy witty tough guy poise that wouldn’t be out of place today.
It’s a kick seeing Joseph Cotten as a Mafia don. He’s not doing anything special until his final scene, which epitomizes aging criminal cool.
9/17/2023: The House That Dripped Blood (1971): ***
Surprisingly enjoyable! I suppose when you take a Robert Bloch script and mix in an array of very competent British actors, you get something worth watching. Christopher Lee called director Peter Duffell Britain’s “most under-rated director,” and based on this movie, perhaps so.
The four stories have some good chills and lots of dark humour. Denholm Elliott stands out, if I had to pick one of the leads. Duffell has a nice sense of how to put something creepy in the background or the edge of the shot. It all settles in for a nice couple of hours of very British horror.
Prompt(s): an Amicus movie; a Peter Cushing movie