Film Review – FRANKENSTEIN (1931)

Image result for FRANKENSTEIN 1931FRANKENSTEIN (USA, 1931) ****½
     Distributor: Universal Pictures (USA), General Film Distributors (GFD) (UK); Production Company: Universal Pictures ; Release Date: 21 November 1931 (USA); Filming Dates: 24 August 1931 – 3 October 1931; Running Time: 70m; Colour: B&W; Sound Mix: Mono (Western Electric Sound System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.20:1; BBFC Cert: PG – mild horror and violence.
     Director: James Whale; Writer: Garrett Fort, Francis Edward Faragoh (Based on the novel “Frankenstein or, the Modern Prometheus” by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and the composition of John L. Balderston from the play “Frankenstein” by Peggy Webling); Executive Producer: Carl Laemmle; Producer: Carl Laemmle Jr.; Associate Producer: E. M. Asher; Director of Photography: Arthur Edeson; Music Composer: Bernhard Kaun (uncredited); Film Editor: Maurice Pivar, Clarence Kolster; Art Director: Charles D. Hall; Costumes: ; Make-up: Jack P. Pierce; Sound: C. Roy Hunter; Special Effects: John P. Fulton (uncredited).
     Cast: Colin Clive (Henry Frankenstein), Mae Clarke (Elizabeth), John Boles (Victor Moritz), Boris Karloff (The Monster), Edward Van Sloan (Doctor Waldman), Frederick Kerr (Baron Frankenstein), Dwight Frye (Fritz), Lionel Belmore (The Burgomaster), Marilyn Harris (Little Maria). Uncredited: Ted Billings (Villager), Mae Bruce (Screaming Maid), Jack Curtis (Villager), Arletta Duncan (Bridesmaid), William Dyer (Gravedigger), Francis Ford (Hans), Mary Gordon (Mourner), Soledad Jiménez (Mourner), Carmencita Johnson (Little Girl), Seessel Anne Johnson (Little Girl), Margaret Mann (Mourner), Michael Mark (Ludwig), Robert Milasch (Villager), Pauline Moore (Bridesmaid), Inez Palange (Villager), Paul Panzer (Mourner at Gravesite), Cecilia Parker (Maid), Rose Plumer (Villager), Cecil Reynolds (Waldman’s Secretary), Ellinor Vanderveer (Medical Student).
     Synopsis: Horror classic in which an obsessed scientist assembles a living being from parts of exhumed corpses.
     Comment: Following the success of Dracula, released in February 1931, Universal quickly put this adaptation of Mary Shelley’s literary horror classic into production. The result was an even stronger film that brought a greater cinematic presence to the stage play adaptation. This is notable in the production design, with its angular sets echoing those seen in the silent expressionist films from Germany. The set design and atmosphere are heightened by Edeson’s use of contrast in his cinematography. Like Dracula, this production did not feature a musical score and potentially loses some tension as a result. This is more than made up for by Karloff’s performance as the Monster, in which he manages to which evoke sympathy from the audience despite his horrific appearance. Frye, who produced the best performance in Dracula, returns here as the hunchback assistant to Colin Clive’s Frankenstein. Clive’s own performance may be melodramatic but convincingly conveys the character’s descent into madness. Van Sloan (another carry-over from Dracula) is effective as Clive’s mentor. Mae Clarke plays the love interest and provides the screams. The result is a monster classic that set the bar for all Universal horror productions, including a host of sequels commencing with BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), to follow.
     Notes: Van Sloan (Dr Waldman) also makes an uncredited appearance as himself in the film’s prologue, in order to warn audiences of what follows. In 1991, the Library of Congress selected Frankenstein for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Film Review – COOGAN’S BLUFF (1968)

Image result for coogan's bluffCoogan’s Bluff (1968; USA; Technicolor; 93m) ***½  d. Don Siegel; w. Herman Miller, Dean Riesner, Howard Rodman; ph. Bud Thackery; m. Lalo Schifrin.  Cast: Clint Eastwood, Lee J. Cobb, Susan Clark, Don Stroud, Tisha Sterling, Betty Field, Tom Tully, David Doyle, James Edwards, Louis Zorich, Melodie Johnson, Rudy Diaz, Meg Myles, Seymour Cassel, Marjorie Bennett. An Arizona deputy goes to New York City to escort a fugitive back into custody. First collaboration between Eastwood and Siegel is a pointer to things to come with Eastwood’s economic and laconic approach perfectly complemented by Siegel’s efficient direction. Cobb is excellent as world-weary NYC lieutenant and the script is both punchy and witty. Schifrin’s jazzy score perfectly underpins the action. Inspiration for the TV series McCloud starring Dennis Weaver. [15]

Film Review – HANG ‘EM HIGH (1968)

Image result for hang em high 1968Hang ‘Em High (1968; USA; DeLuxe; 114m) ***  d. Ted Post; w. Leonard Freeman, Mel Goldberg; ph. Richard H. Kline, Leonard J. South; m. Dominic Frontiere.  Cast: Clint Eastwood, Inger Stevens, Ed Begley, Pat Hingle, James MacArthur, Arlene Golonka, Bruce Dern, Dennis Hopper, Ruth White, Ben Johnson, Charles McGraw, Alan Hale Jr., James Westerfield, L.Q. Jones, Joseph Sirola. When an innocent man barely survives a lynching, he returns as a lawman determined to bring the vigilantes to justice. Well-meaning morality tale doesn’t always hit the right notes after an engrossing opening. The tale meanders to a conclusion that isn’t. Issues are left unresolved, which may have been the intended message but leaves the viewer feeling unfulfilled. Eastwood looks comfortable in the lead and Hingle adequately conveys the pressures of the hanging judge. Stevens completes a trio of characters scarred either mentally or physically. Frontiere’s overly melodramatic score is often at odds with the complexity of the material. A flawed but worthy effort. The first film produced by Eastwood’s Malpaso Company. [18]

Film Review – DRACULA (1931)

Dracula (1931; USA; B&W; 75m) ****  d. Tod Browning; w. Louis Bromfield, Tod Browning, Max Cohen, Dudley Murphy, Louis Stevens; ph. Karl Freund; m. Philip Glass (1999 release).  Cast: Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan, David Manners, Herbert Bunston, Michael Visaroff, Frances Dade, Joan Standing, Charles K. Gerrard, Dorothy Tree, Tod Browning. The ancient vampire Count Dracula arrives in England and begins to prey upon the virtuous young Mina. The original Universal horror shows many signs of its age – from its static stage play background, lack of musical score to build the tension and hammy acting – particularly from Lugosi in the lead. However, these faults have to be taken in the context of the history it helped create. Despite his sometimes overwrought delivery, Lugosi does create a hypnotic spell over his victims and the audience. Frye gives the film’s best performance as Dracula’s fly-eating servant, his descent into which is set up in the opening sequence. The production design is truly gothic and helps create an atmosphere of unease. Much better was to follow, but this is still a historic moment in cinema history. Universal released a newly restored version of the film in 1999 that included a musical score by Glass. The original “Swan Lake” music during the opening credits was removed. Based on the play by Hamilton Deane, John L. Balderston and Garrett Fort adapted from the novel by Bram Stoker. Followed by DRACULA’S DAUGHTER (1936). [PG]

Film Review – THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966)

Image result for the good the bad and the uglyGood, the Bad and the Ugly, The (1966; Italy/Spain/West Germany; Technicolor; 161m) *****  d. Sergio Leone; w. Agenore Incrocci, Furio Scarpelli, Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Leone; ph. Tonino Delli Colli; m. Ennio Morricone.  Cast: Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef, Aldo Giuffre, Chelo Alonso, Mario Brega, Luigi Pistilli, Aldo Sambrell, Rada Rassimov, Enzo Petito, Claudio Scarchilli, John Bartha, Livio Lorenzon, Antonio Casale, Sandro Scarchilli. A bounty hunting scam joins two men in an uneasy alliance against a third in a race to find a fortune in gold buried in a remote cemetery. The third film in Sergio Leone’s “Dollar” trilogy is a masterpiece of filmmaking. Its simple plot of three gunmen on the trail of gold during the American Civil War has so much more depth. Yes, one can say it stretches its running time, but there is always something that keeps the viewer involved. Comments on the futility of war are set to some truly stunning images and against a score, by Ennio Morricone, that set a new level for the medium. Eastwood, Van Cleef and especially Wallach are memorable as the three protagonists, but it’s the small moments in this truly epic Western that set it apart. The full Italian version runs about 175m. Original title: IL BUONO, IL BRUTTO, IL CATTIVO. [18]

TV Review – LUTHER: SERIES 5 (2019)

Image result for luther series 5Luther: Series 5 (TV) (2019; UK; Colour; 4 x 60m) **½  pr. Derek Ritchie; d. Jamie Payne; w. Neil Cross; ph. John Pardue; ed. Jamie Trevill.  Cast: Idris Elba, Ruth Wilson, Dermot Crowley, Enzo Cilenti, Hermione Norris, Patrick Malahide, Michael Smiley, Wunmi Mosaku, Lewis Young, Sonita Henry, Luke Westlake, Lex Daniel, Michael Obiora, Katie Brayben, Paul McGann, Roberta Taylor, Anthony Howell, Nicholas Asbury.  When a series of seemingly indiscriminate killings become ever more audacious Luther and new recruit DS Catherine Halliday are confounded by a tangle of leads and misdirection that appears designed to protect an untouchable corruption. Relentlessly grim and often strangely compelling, but ultimately too implausible to be fulfilling. When almost every major character, including the detective hunting them, seems to have psychological issues resulting in disturbingly violent actions there is little empathy to be invested in the characters and we are left with a feeling of being a voyeur to the sick and gruesome acts of murder. The detective work is also clumsily written with us having to accept Luther’s brilliant deductions as inexplicable foresight, rather than clever analysis. This is no police procedural. In all the key chase and heavy drama scenes, the rest of the populace of London also seem to strangely disappear, giving the whole thing a feeling of being acted out on some different plane as if we are observing an alternative reality. This may have been deliberate to intensify the drama, but adds to the false sense of environment. That’s perhaps as well as any police force that operated in the way this one does would be dragged across the coals. There are moments to enjoy amidst the horror – notably some moments of black humour and the performances of Cilente and Malahide in contrasting roles; the former as a psychotic killer and the latter an old-school gangster. The re-appearance of Wilson’s character (another psychotic killer), whilst resolving issues that hung over from previous stories, is actually a distraction from the more interesting elements of this story. Elba’s Luther is at the centre of everything and, for the most part, keeps you just about on his side, despite his increasingly bizarre behaviour, until the two plot strands come to a head. Ultimately though this is sensationalism TV that draws the viewer to it like a seedy newspaper headline. As such its widespread appeal, which perhaps it does not deserve, is guaranteed.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: RESOLUTION (2019)

Image result for doctor who resolutionDoctor Who: Resolution (TV) (2019; UK; Colour; 60m) ****  pr. Nikki Wilson; d. Wayne Che Yip; w. Chris Chibnall; ph. Sam Heasman; m.Segun Akinola.  Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Charlotte Ritchie, Nikesh Patel, Daniel Adegboyega, Darryl Clark, Nicholas Briggs (voice). As the New Year begins, a terrifying evil is stirring, from across the centuries of Earth’s history. As the Doctor, Ryan, Graham and Yaz return home, will they be able to overcome the threat to planet Earth? Finally, a story that offers a real alien threat and feels like proper “Doctor Who”. That’s not to say the episode was perfect. There are still too many companions and the sub-plot with Ryan’s father felt like it had been bolted on. The Dalek threat though offered a new twist and was well realised. Imagery has been borrowed from earlier adventures but used in a creative and frightening way here. There were moments when the dialogue felt forced and the moments of humour over-worked, but overall this is far more impressive than anything seen during the season’s full run. This was also Whittaker’s best performance to date. Whether the production team will build from this we’ll have to wait a year or more to find out.