Film Review: Doctor X (1932)

Release Date: August 3rd, 1932 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Michael Curtiz
Written by: Robert Tasker, Earl Baldwin
Based on: Terror, 1928 play by Howard W. Comstock, Allen C. Miller
Music by: Leo F. Forbstein, Bernard Kaun
Cast: Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Lee Tracy, Preston Foster

First National Pictures, 76 Minutes

Review:

“Were the murdered women… attacked?” – Dr. Haines, Academy of Surgical Research

I don’t know if this is the first horror/comedy ever made but it’s gotta be pretty close. However, it also blends together several genres in what’s a really unique experience for a motion picture from 1932.

This is directed by Michael Curtiz, who would go on to direct several film-noir pictures, as well as big budget swashbuckling blockbusters starring the legendary Errol Flynn. Curtiz was a pretty versatile and now celebrated director but this may be his most unusual film.

So the version of this that I watched was actually the one restored by George Lucas’ people, which was also in Technicolor, as opposed to the traditional black and white.

However, I really liked the Technicolor work in this film and it made it feel gritty and real and also somewhat haunting and majestic. The use of green accents enhanced it in a unique way and while I typically prefer to see films, as they were intended, this almost makes a good argument for the use of colorization just by how it was employed here.

I thought that the film was amusing, I liked the comedy and it still works for those few of us that still enjoy pictures from this era.

I also enjoyed the performances by Lionel Atwill, a guy that was featured in a slew of classic Universal Monsters films, as well as Fay Wray, who will always be remembered for her iconic part in the original King Kong.

While this is sort of your typical mad scientist tale, it’s genre bending narrative comes across as fresh and unique when compared to similar movies of the time.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Island of Lost Souls (1932)

Also known as: The Island of Dr. Moreau (working title), H.G. Wells’ Island of Lost Souls (poster title)
Release Date: December 26th, 1932 (Scranton, PA)
Directed by: Erle C. Kenton
Written by: Philip Wylie, Waldemar Young
Based on: The Island of Doctor Moreau by H. G. Wells
Music by: Arthur Johnston, Sigmund Krumgold
Cast: Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams, Bela Lugosi, Kathleen Burke

Paramount Pictures, 70 Minutes

Review:

“Have you forgotten the house of pain?” – Dr. Moreau, “You! You made us in the house of pain! You made us… things! Not men! Not beasts! Part man… part beast! Things!” – Sayer of the Law

For several years now, the name “Dr. Moreau” has been immediately associated with the 1996 film The Island of Dr. Moreau, which was plagued with incredible production issues that were so legendary that there’s a feature length documentary about it (I reviewed it here).

However, that 1996 movie wasn’t the first Dr. Moreau film and in fact, the first sound era adaptation was this film, which was released way back in 1932 and featured the talents of Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi, who had just come off of Dracula.

For the most part, this was a decent adaptation of the ideas, concepts and general story of the original 1896 novel by H. G. Wells. Sure, there are certainly some differences and the movie is also limited by what was possible in 1932.

However, in spite of those limitations, this movie makes the best with what it is able to do and honestly, this was a hell of an achievement for its era. The special effects, especially in regards to makeup and the creatures, was top notch stuff. Being that this was the first time that I had seen this film, I found most of it to be visually impressive and really cool.

Now the acting was a mixed bag but Laughton gave a solid performance as Dr. Moreau and Lugosi was as enjoyable, as always. Lugosi just makes a great monster and in this, he was much better than what any other actor probably could’ve done, except for maybe Boris Karloff.

Additionally, Kathleen Burke was really impressive as Lota, the Panther Woman. I liked her look, she was incredibly expressive like she was playing in a silent picture and she really made a hell of an impact alongside talents like Laughton and Lugosi.

I was also impressed by the sets from the compound, the lab and the island itself, which was haunting, lush and tropical.

I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect from this in the quality department, as I hadn’t seen it since I was a kid. I’m glad to say that I was really satisfied with it, overall, and wish it was as revered as some of the more famous horror pictures of its time.

Rating: 7.25/10

Film Review: White Zombie (1932)

Release Date: July 28th, 1932 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Victor Halperin
Written by: Garnett Weston
Based on: The Magic Island by William Seabrook
Music by: Guy Bevier Williams, Hugo Riesenfeld, Xavier Cugat, Nathaniel Dett, Gaston Borch, Leo Kempenski, Hen Herkan, H. Maurice Jacquet
Cast: Bela Lugosi, Madge Bellamy

Victor & Edward Halperin Productions, United Artists, 69 Minutes

Review:

“I thought that beauty alone would satisfy. But the soul is gone. I can’t bear those empty, staring eyes.” – Charles Beaumont

Bela Lugosi is mainly known for his role as Dracula in the 1931 classic film by Universal. He’s also known for his work with schlock director Ed Wood and for generally being an old school icon of horror. I feel like many people don’t know about this movie, which is, in my opinion, one of his best.

White Zombie came out on the heels of Dracula and was immediately effected by distribution issues. It initially went through multiple studios before United Artists acquired it and got it out to the public in a wider release.

Critics, at the time, took issue with the ridiculous, over-the-top scenarios and the acting style that was more akin to silent films than the new talkies. Looking at it now, I just find it interesting, as it shows Hollywood productions trying to find their footing at the beginning of the sound era when they had been making silent pictures for so long. Also, the silent shooting style was still visually effective and the use of that style in this picture, created some of its more iconic moments.

This is a short but viscerally effective movie. It’s also damn cool and I love that even though the film has sound, music and dialogue it still resembles a silent picture in how it’s shot and how the actors react to the horror before them.

Speaking of the music, I love this film’s score from the voodoo chanting during the opening credits to the classical tune that makes Lugosi’s hand magic tricks work with added intensity and mysteriousness.

The acting itself is pretty middle of the road when looking at the entire cast’s performance, as a whole. However, Lugosi takes that same onscreen magic that he employed in Dracula and makes it work just as well, here.

White Zombie is a better old school horror film than the critics of its era would want you to believe. Frankly, I think it’s one of Lugosi’s best performances and one of his better films, overall. 

Rating: 7.75/10

Film Review: Freaks (1932)

Also known as: The Monster Show (working title), Forbidden Love, Nature’s Mistakes (informal titles)
Release Date: February 12th, 1932 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Tod Browning
Written by: Willis Goldbeck, Leon Gordon
Based on: Spurs by Tod Robbins
Cast: Wallace Ford, Leila Hyams, Olga Baclanova, Roscoe Ates

Loew’s Inc., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 64 Minutes

Review:

“We accept you, one of us! Gooble Gobble!” – Freaks

Freaks was a pretty controversial film when it came out, even though by today’s standards, it’s incredibly tame. But the movie features a cast of actual carnival “freaks” and people with other handicaps and deformities. It was even outright banned in the UK for decades.

I like this movie quite a bit, though. It’s something that I watched with my granmum as a kid, as she was pretty into old school horror. I think this film also sort of developed my love of carnivals and “freak shows” when I was still a kid.

For being a movie with a lot of mostly inexperienced non-actors, this is surprisingly well acted for the era. The regular actors are all pretty decent but the “freaks” themselves really stepped up to the plate and gave genuine feeling performances too.

The story is about a gold digger, who tries to trick a rich dwarf into marriage so that she can kill him and take his money. Over the course of the film, the “freaks” decide to accept her and the situation, however, she loses her shit when they are celebrating their acceptance of her.

Ultimately, she’s got a big f’n mouth and the “freaks” become privy to her sinister plot, which ends very, very poorly for her. So poorly, in fact, that I’m not going to spoil the shock ending for those who haven’t seen this.

This is a really short film at just 64 minutes but it also tells a perfectly paced story that didn’t need more time and used the time it did have very effectively.

The director, Tod Browning, had worked in horror before and actually did multiple movies with silent horror master Lon Chaney, Sr. He transitioned well into a “talkie” picture and also made something that was as visually compelling as his previous gems.

Freaks is a much better movie than people might expect. I mean, it’s barely horror, compared to what we consider horror today, but it still has one really terrifying and disturbing moment that makes up for what some might consider a lack of horror.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

Release Date: May 12th, 1938 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Michael Curtiz, William Keighley
Written by: Norman Reilly Raine, Seton I. Miller, Rowland Leigh
Music by: Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Cast: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains, Una O’Connor, Patrick Knowles, Eugene Pallette, Alan Hale Sr., Melville Cooper

Warner Bros., 102 Minutes

Review:

“Why, you speak treason!” – Lady Marian Fitzswalter, “Fluently.” – Robin Hood

I’m actually kind of shocked that I haven’t reviewed this yet, which means it’s been far too long since I’ve seen it. This was one of my favorite “old” movies when I was a kid and I probably watched it dozens of times throughout the years, as my mum and granmum always had classic movie channels on.

This is also the movie that introduced me to Errol Flynn, one of my all-time favorite actors, and the swashbuckling subgenre of action and adventure films.

Beyond that, this also introduced me to Basil Rathbone and Claude Rains, two actors that were mostly known for being horror icons. However, in this picture, Rathbone proves that he’s much more skilled than that and especially while wielding a sword.

With that, this isn’t the first time that Rathbone and Flynn are both wielding swords against one another. They had an epic and memorable duel in Captain Blood, which was also directed by this film’s director, Michael Curtiz. Flynn and Rathbone just make perfect rivals and their sword work is pretty exceptional in a time where the actors had to get out there and do it on the screen without quick edits, special effects and the level of fight choreography and stunt people Hollywood has at its disposal now.

The final duel between the two legends may even be better in this movie, as they have their final showdown in a castle and use that environment pretty well, where in Captain Blood, their duel was on a beach.

I’ve also got to mention Olivia de Havilland, who is stunning and wonderful in this, as Marian. Still to this day, she’s my favorite Marian and a lot of that has to do with her style and grace, which is why she was also one of the most sought after actresses of her time.

Claude Rains is pretty much perfect too. He’s such a devious little shit and really delivers the best performance he could’ve given. Being that he’s immensely talented and owns every role he’s ever had, he made a great villain as King John (not Prince John, mind you).

The story is good, quick paced and just moves from great moment to great moment. The animated Disney film probably borrowed most from this version of the Robin Hood legend. So if you’re familiar with that movie, this will all feel very similar.

In the end, this is still one of the best swashbuckling adventure movies ever made.

Rating: 9.25/10

Film Review: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)

Release Date: December 9th, 1934 (London premiere)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Charles Bennett, D. B. Wyndham-Lewis, Edwin Greenwood, A.R. Rawlinson
Music by: Arthur Benjamin
Cast: Leslie Banks, Edna Best, Peter Lorre, Nova Pilbeam, Frank Vosper

Gaumont British Picture Corporation, 75 Minutes

Review:

“Tell her they may soon be leaving us. Leaving us for a long, long journey. How is it that Shakespeare says? “From which no traveler returns.” Great poet.” – Abbott

Alfred Hitchock made a film in the 1950s that shared this same title. However, that one is not a remake of this one and both are very different stories. However, the title applies well to both.

This was made while Hitchcock was still primarily working in the United Kingdom before he blew up and moved his life to the glamorous, magical land of Hollywood.

The story does have similar beats to the other one, as it features a family man learning some secrets he shouldn’t have and to keep him quiet, the bad guys kidnap his kid. Apart from that, though, this is a unique tale.

The main baddie in this is played by Peter Lorre just a few years after his legendary performance in Fritz Lang’s M and before he, like Hitchcock, made his way to America to ply his trade and reach iconic status.

I like Lorre in this, a lot. It’s not too dissimilar from his other villainous characters but there’s just something extra weasel-y about him here. As should be expected, he knocks his performance out of the park.

I think that Lorre steals the show but the two leads, Leslie Banks and Edna Best are both on their A-game, as well. However, the entire cast is really good and I think it shows how well Hitchcock was able to direct his cast, even in his earliest movies.

My only real complaint about the film is that the sound editing was poor and choppy. However, that has more to do with this being made in 1934 and having to deal with those limitations than it does the craftsmanship of Hitchcock or his crew.

1934’s The Man Who Knew Too Much isn’t on the same level as its later namesake. However, it’s still a good Hitchcock suspense movie with good performances and a nice pace.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Alfred Hitchcock film’s from his earlier days while he was still working primarily in the UK.

Film Review: Gone with the Wind (1939)

Release Date: December 15th, 1939 (Atlanta premiere)
Directed by: Victor Fleming
Written by: Sidney Howard
Based on: Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Music by: Max Steiner
Cast: Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland, George Reeves, Hattie McDaniel, Oscar Polk, Butterfly McQueen

Selznick International Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 238 Minutes, 223 Minutes (1969 re-release), 234 (1985 re-release), 233 Minutes (1989 re-release), 224 Minutes (1994 re-release), 226 Minutes (copyright length)

Review:

“No, I don’t think I will kiss you, although you need kissing, badly. That’s what’s wrong with you. You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how.” – Rhett Butler

Gone With the Wind is considered one of the all-time greatest motion pictures ever made. However, everyone should already know that.

It also came under fire last year when it was announced that it would be featured on HBO Max. Why did it come under fire? Well, because people these days are offended by the art people made generations ago. In regards to this film, it had to due with racial stereotypes and how the black characters were used. I wrote about this retro-censorship crap back in July, though. That article can be found here, so I won’t harp on it too much again while reviewing this classic.

When it comes to this film, it is as good as people have made it out to be for over 80 years. In fact, it may be even better.

Sure, it’s a long, slow, very drawn out story but it covers a lot of ground and it certainly has a lot to say.

Women, historically, have loved the film because of its romantic side and how it doesn’t follow the beats of a stereotypical “happily ever after” story, which was definitely rare for its time.

Men seem to love it because of the war related parts of the film. Mainly, this picture focuses on a few key characters but it really showcases what life was like for those on the losing side of the American Civil War. Regardless of what the war was or was about, the message here is eternal, as it really gives the viewer a true understanding of the actual devastation of war, specifically after the fighting is over.

Beyond the great story, the movie has stunning and legendary performances throughout and it may be the best acted film up to its release. Clark Gable is an absolute man’s man and Vivien Leigh was absolutely incredible. The range of these two just in this film is fantastic and impressive.

The film is also superbly directed by Victor Fleming, who pulled these performances out of his cast while also displaying his phenomenal level of cinematic craftsmanship. Some of the shots in this are breathtaking and still hold up marvelously, all these years later. A lot of credit also has to go to the cinematographer, Ernest Haller.

Going back to Fleming, though, it’s hard to believe that he released both The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind in the same year! That has to be the greatest single year of work by any director. Sadly, though, he only made five more films after this and died ten years later.

It’s hard to really put into words how majestic and epic this film is. It really should be seen by all lovers of film. I can get why it might not appeal to many in the 2020s and because it’s so damn long but it’s hard to really experience the best that the art of motion pictures has to offer if you haven’t seen this.

It deserves its status and from a visual and storytelling standpoint, it still has a lot to teach future filmmakers and lovers of the artistic medium.

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Release Date: December 21st, 1937 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: David Hand (supervising), William Cottrell, Wilfred Jackson, Larry Morey, Perce Pearce, Ben Sharpsteen
Written by: Ted Sears, Richard Creedon, Otto Englander, Dick Rickard, Earl Hurd, Merrill De Maris, Dorothy Ann Blank, Webb Smith
Based on: Snow White by The Brothers Grimm
Music by: Frank Churchill, Paul Smith, Leigh Harline
Cast: Adriana Caselotti, Lucille La Verne, Harry Stockwell, Roy Atwell, Pinto Colvig, Otis Harlan, Scotty Mattraw, Billy Gilbert, Eddie Collins, Moroni Olsen, Stuart Buchanan

Walt Disney Animation Studios, RKO Radio Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“I’m awfully sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you. But you don’t know what I’ve been through. And all because I was afraid. I’m so ashamed of the fuss I made.” – Snow White

I’ve owned all of the original Disney animated films on DVD for years. I’ve always been a big fan of the classic hand-drawn 2D animation style and I’ve never really gotten into the Pixar CGI stuff. In fact, one of the first things I wanted to be, as a kid, was a Disney animator.

I also figured that reviewing all of these films is long overdue, as I’ve already written nearly 2000 film reviews on this site since its launch in late November of 2016. So why not start at the beginning with Walt Disney’s first full-length animated feature film?

That being said, I’ll probably do one of these per week until I get through the thirty or so that existed before CGI took over and killed the style that made Disney a massive company.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs wasn’t just Disney’s first animated motion picture, it was also the first one that I saw in the theater. I saw this on the big screen around 1983 or so, when I was four years-old. That experience always stuck with me and it helped fashion a lifelong love of Disney’s classic animation style.

This isn’t my favorite of these movies but it’ll always be special because it was my introduction to them.

I feel like everyone on Earth has seen this film but, as I’m learning as time goes on, the younger generation doesn’t have the attention span to indulge in anything old. To them, classic Disney is Toy Story 2 and films like these are relics that are probably seen as racist or offensive because everything is racist and offensive now.

For Disney’s first big feature, this is really well done. It has some issues with smoothness and how the characters move and flow but it is better than what was the norm in 1937. Also, Disney’s skill would improve with each movie until they really hit their stride around 1950.

I’ve always liked this story, even if it’s overly simplistic and plays more like a series of musical sequences tied together with a paper thin plot but honestly, that’s most musicals. And while I’m not particularly a fan of the musical genre, it has always worked for me in Disney’s animated films. Here, it’s no different and it was cool revisiting this simply because I forgot some of these songs.

This is a fairy-tale and you have to suspend disbelief but on that same token, this isn’t a film that really asks too much from its audience. It’s clear that the film was made in an effort to let its audience kick back and enjoy the feature without having to use a lot of processing power. In that regard, it works.

Granted, if you’re an overactive thinker like myself, there are a lot of questions you might have. Especially, now that you’ve reached adulthood and have a hard time taking things at face value.

For instance, the ending is kind of odd if you want to nitpick it apart. Actually, it’s slightly disturbing.

To give a brief rundown: the girl gets poisoned to death. Then the Dwarfs won’t bury her, so they just keep her corpse around the house as they build an opulent, intricate, gold and glass coffin to display her dead body in like a jewelry counter at Piercing Pagoda. Then a prince hears about this and sets off on a journey to kiss this corpse and bring it back to life like a zombie. I’m assuming all that didn’t happen within an afternoon and would also have to assume that Snow White got pretty rank.

See, there I go overthinking it like an overthinking adult.

The ending actually is fine but it’s pretty dark for a kids’ movie. But that’s also kind of cool, as it’s obvious that people in 1930s America didn’t coddle their damn kids into being complete weaklings. I’m glad that things were still that way when I was a kid in the ’80s: going to the movies at five to watch Gremlins.

Anyway, despite my weird tangent about the ending, this film just tells its story, throws in some tunes and gets it all over with in just 83 minutes. I wish more movies were only 83 minutes.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Disney’s other early animated feature films.

Film Review: Night Nurse (1931)

Release Date: July 16th, 1931 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: William A. Wellman
Written by: Oliver H.P. Garrett, Charles Kenyon
Based on: Night Nurse by Dora Macy
Music by: Leo F. Forbstein
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Ben Lyon, Joan Blondell, Clark Gable

Warner Bros., 72 Minutes

Review:

“The successful nurse is one who keeps her mouth shut.” – Dr. Milton A. Ranger

I wanted to watch and review Night Nurse during Noirvember. Not because it is really film-noir but because it is one of many films that laid the groundwork for the cinematic style. Plus, it stars a very young Barbara Stanwyck, who would go on to become one of noir’s greatest femme fatales, thirteen years later in Double Indemnity.

This is a pre-Code film, which means that it didn’t have its hands tied by the political forces that would come to censor Hollywood for decades. Because of that, this feels grittier and more genuine than the glossed over, wholesome, pristine looking, classic Hollywood feel that would come to stifle the art of filmmaking for a very long time.

I wouldn’t quite call this film exploitation but just from the fact that it features scenes with Stanwyck in her lingerie and in bed, automatically gives it an edginess that you don’t normally find in old movies.

The story is about a young nurse who starts taking care of some kids at a private residence, only to discover that someone is trying to slowly kill them. The plot makes me wonder if M. Night Shyamalan borrowed the idea for the Mischa Barton character in The Sixth Sense.

The film has mystery, twists and turns and it really is a crime story at its core. Basically, it has a lot of the elements that would go on to define the film-noir genre a decade later.

This is also a comedy, however, but not an outright comedy. It’s just a good mixture of humor and drama to give a pretty balanced picture that doesn’t get lost in its dark subject matter. It gives it a strange tone to a degree but this came out in a time where sound in film had only existed for a handful of years and filmmakers were still experimenting with the medium in a fairly primitive way, especially in regards to narrative style and pacing.

Now that does not make this a bad picture, in fact, it’s entertaining, moves pretty swiftly for a film of its time and it is certainly better than the norm in 1931.

Stanwyck’s performance is superb and it is also cool seeing Clark Gable in the movie, just before he became a Hollywood megastar.

There are other pre-Code films that Barbara Stanwyck was in. Based off of this one, I’ll probably check out some of the others in the near future.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other early Barbara Stanwyck films, as well as other pre-Code dramas.

Film Review: The Peanut Vendor (1933)

Release Date: April 28th, 1933
Directed by: Dave Fleischer
Music by: various, Armida
Cast: Armida

Fleischer Studios, 2 Minutes

Review:

Experimental films from early film history are always interesting to watch, at least for me.

The Peanut Vendor is a two minute animation test, mixed and synced up to music.

I think that its synced pretty well for the time and the animation of the monkey man’s lips are done rather well.

The monkey peanut vendor sings and dances to a song about peanuts. The movement is good but the character is fairly creepy, as he has really long arms and a detachable tail that he uses to dry his butt like a bathroom towel.

I was lured into checking this out due to seeing GIFs of it in various places recently. Without context, those GIFs are the things of nightmares. Hell, with context, it’s still creepy.

However, it’s intended to be a strange but lighthearted number and I think it succeeds at that.

Granted, even in 1933, I bet there were some people that ended up getting terrifying Slenderman dreams and maybe this is where that iconic boogeyman came from.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other experimental short films of the era and earlier.