Film Review: Bluebeard (1936)

Also known as: Barbe-Bleue (original French title)
Release Date: December 31st, 1936 (France)
Directed by: René Bertrand, Jean Painlevé
Written by: Charles Perrault
Music by: Jean Vincent-Bréchignac

13 Minutes

Review:

Barbe-Bleue or Bluebeard is an animated short film from France that uses claymation to tell its story.

It’s not an exciting story and it is told more like a musical than a regular dramatic film but it is at least pleasant to look at. The art is beautiful, the colors are very vibrant and vivid. I’m assuming though that the original version of the film was done in black and white and the colorized versions was made later.

The stop motion is well executed and everything looks as smooth as it can for being made in the 1930s.

This is subtitled, as it is French, but with just about all of the dialogue coming through in song form, it almost even isn’t necessary to need the translation. Plus, the emotions and actions that are referenced in the music are pretty apparent on screen.

This isn’t an easy to track down short. I luckily found it on FIlmStruck and gave it a watch there, as I was looking for something short to kill 15 minutes or so. This did the trick.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Other shorts by Jean Painlevé: Le VampireSea UrchinsLiquid Crystals and The Fourth Dimension.

*Sadly, no trailer or other videos I can post for this.

Film Review: The Public Enemy (1931)

Also known as: Beer and Blood (working title), Enemies of the Public (UK)
Release Date: April 23rd, 1931 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: William A. Wellman
Written by: Kubec Glasmon, John Bright
Based on: Beer and Blood by John Bright, Kubec Glasmon
Music by: David Mendoza, Vitaphone Orchestra
Cast: James Cagney, Jean Harlow, Edward Woods, Joan Blondell, Donald Cook

Warner Bros., 83 Minutes

Review:

“You are different, Tommy. Very different. And I’ve discovered it isn’t only a difference in manner and outward appearances. It’s a difference in basic character. The men I know – and I’ve known dozens of them – oh, they’re so nice, so polished, so considerate. Most women like that type. I guess they’re afraid of the other kind. I thought I was too, but you’re so strong. You don’t give, you take. Oh, Tommy, I could love you to death.” – Gwen Allen

As much as I love Edward G. Robinson, I still can’t deny that James Cagney was the king of the classic gangster movie. The Public Enemy is hands down, one of the most well-known gangster films of all-time and for very good reason.

What’s actually most interesting about this film, is it is based on an unpublished book by two former Chicago street thugs that actually personally witnessed some of Al Capone’s violent actions against rival gangs. For a 1930s film, it did have a real feeling of authenticity and a grittiness that set it apart from some of the other gangster films of the time.

James Cagney is exceptional in this and in several key scenes, you don’t even need dialogue, you just read his face and see where he is going and it usually isn’t anywhere good.

The cinematography of Devereaux Jennings was really good and it made this feel more refined than similar pictures. That scene towards the end of Cagney’s Tom Powers crawling through the rain is amazing and conveyed more emotion than the scene would have had otherwise.

I also like the ending a lot. It leaves you thinking that this guy has reformed and he may have but what seems like a happy ending comes with a twist, as Tom Powers is kidnapped from the hospital and then found murdered.

This ending almost defied the old school morality code but at the same time, this was a pre-code film. Anyway, Powers had to pay for his crimes in some form and he does, despite his apparent change of heart after reconciling with his family.

The Public Enemy really made James Cagney’s career and he would do a slew of similar films but if you’ve got a niche, exploit it and make money. That’s what Cagney did and it was off of the back of this film’s massive success.

Without this, the gangster genre might have died out more quickly and it also might not have lead to the film-noir of the 1940s. We also probably wouldn’t have gotten the classic crime picture White Heat or at the very least, that film would have been drastically different.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: White HeatLittle Caesar, the original Scarface and Smart Money.

Film Review: People On Sunday (1930)

Also known as: Menschen am Sonntag (Germany)
Release Date: February 4th, 1930 (Germany)
Directed by: Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer
Written by: Billy Wilder, Robert Siodmak, Curt Siodmak
Music by: Otto Stenzeel, Elena Kaets-Chernin (2000 version)
Cast:  Erwin Splettstößer, Brigitte Borchert, Wolfgang von Waltershausen, Christl Ehlers, Annie Schreyer

Filmstudio, Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek/Berlin, 73 Minutes

Review:

I was delving into the deep recesses of film-noir throughout the entire month of November, as I was celebrating Noirvember and dedicated to covering just the noir style for a month here at Cinespiria.

While delving deep, I came across this picture, which isn’t noir but was created by four people who would become prominent contributors to the film-noir movement after they left Germany in the 1930s.

Those four men are:

Robert Siodmak – the director of The KillersCriss CrossThe Phantom Lady and others.

Curt Siodmak – Robert’s brother and a screenwriter who worked in film-noir and often times with his brother.

Edgar G. Ulmer – the director of DetourThe Strange WomanMurder Is My Beat and others.

Billy Wilder – one of the most accomplished directors in history, who gave us the film-noirs Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard, as well as other classics such as, The ApartmentSome Like It HotSabrina and so many others.

The film is notable for its historical importance, as it displays everyday life for Berliners just before Adolf Hitler and the Nazis rose to power in Germany. Their rise to power is also why the men behind this film escaped to Hollywood.

People On Sunday starts by telling you that none of the people depicted in the film are professional actors and that they are indeed real people whose jobs in the film are their jobs in real life. The film also states that these people have already returned to their day jobs by the time of this film’s release. The movie was filmed on Sundays in Berlin, when the people in the film had time to do it around the hustle and bustle of their lives.

Critics that were around Berlin back in 1930, have said that the film feels like a true and authentic experience of what life was like at that time in Berlin. The film initially gives you hope that these people will always be able to enjoy their lazy carefree Sundays but in modern times, we know that there is no happy ending with the evil powers that will soon overtake much of Europe.

People On Sunday is a fairly short and sweet film but it is impossible to watch it and not think of what is on the horizon for the people in the movie, all of whom are real and not fictional characters. It has a similar effect on me as Fritz Lang’s M, a German film from 1931, that also showcases urban life just before Hitler changed the world forever.

Film Review: The Lady Vanishes (1938)

Release Date: October 7th, 1938
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Sidney Gilliat, Frank Launder, Alma Reville
Based on: The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White
Music by: Louis Levy, Charles Williams (both uncredited)
Cast: Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Paul Lukas, Dame May Whitty

Gainsborough Pictures, Gaumont British, United Artists, 97 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve no regrets. I’ve been everywhere and done everything. I’ve eaten caviar at Cannes, sausage rolls at the dogs. I’ve played baccarat at Biarritz and darts with the rural dean. What is there left for me but marriage?” – Iris Henderson

This was one of the last British pictures that Alfred Hitchcock did before coming to Hollywood to ply his trade for a larger audience. It is also considered to be in his upper echelon. While I enjoy it, to me, it isn’t on the same level as most of his stuff from the 1950s and early 1960s.

The story is a mystery but even for 1930s standards, the mystery element of the plot seems a bit far fetched.

A young woman meets a nice old woman. While on a train, the old woman goes missing. The young woman asks everyone on the train about the older woman’s whereabouts but everyone denies that such a woman was even on the train. Of course, the younger woman is not delusional. Everyone on the train that denies seeing the older woman is lying. The problem is that everyone lying has their own personal reasons for doing so. So there isn’t a big conspiracy, it’s just a big strange coincidence with a lot of extra layers.

The bulk of the picture deals with the mystery part of the story. Although, there is an entertaining twenty minutes or so before the characters even get on the train and then the film is capped off with a confrontation with soldiers. A spy element is introduced to the plot, as well.

This is a good picture, despite my complaints with the narrative. Everyone else really seems to love the movie but I just can’t put it up there with Hitchcock’s better work.

Although, I did enjoy that the main girl in this Hitchcock picture was actually a brunette for a change.

Plus, the miniature work in the opening shot was really well executed.

Film Review: M (1931)

Also known as: M – Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder, lit. M – A city looks for a murderer (Germany)
Release Date: May 11th, 1931 (Germany)
Directed by: Fritz Lang
Written by: Fritz Lang, Thea von Harbou, Paul Falkenberg, Adolf Jansen, Karl Vash
Based on: a newspaper article by Egon Jacobson
Music by: Edvard Grieg
Cast: Peter Lorre, Otto Wernicke, Gustaf Gründgens

Nero-Film A.G., Vereinigte Star-Film GmbH, Paramount Pictures, 111 Minutes

Review:

“Just you wait, it won’t be long, The man in black will soon be here, With his cleaver’s blade so true, He’ll make mincemeat out of you!” – nursery rhyme in the film (translated from German)

I had heard great things about Fritz Lang’s M for years. In fact, the director even stated that this was his best film. I thought Metropolis would be incredibly hard to top but Lang is right, M is his magnum opus.

As a person that has seen thousands of movies, it is very rare that I see something that is so chilling that it has a pretty profound effect on my senses. M is one of those very rare experiences.

I understood what M was, going into it, but it went into unforeseen territory and really peeks into urban Germany society, just a few years before the Nazis rose to power. Some of the things in this film unknowingly foreshadowed a looming darkness that was bigger than this picture. It is something that is hard to explain but the last ten minutes or so, show a German society on the brink of extreme anxiety, unrest and anarchy. While I don’t think that was Lang’s intention, as it would be hard to predict what would happen after 1931, he was a man in that country, affected by the societal issues and political narratives around him.

M is a German movie that came out a whole decade before film-noir became a cinematic style in the United States. However, M is very much noir in style and in its narrative.

Noir borrowed its lighting techniques and general cinematography style from German Expressionist films, an artistic movement that Fritz Lang was a key part of. Lang would also be a prominent director in the noir style after leaving Germany for Hollywood, in an effort to escape the Nazis. M is a perfect bridge between the two cinematic styles and is comparable to the missing link in human evolution.

The plot of the film is about a serial killer of children and the manhunt to catch him. Not only are the police trying to find the killer but the criminal underworld and the citizens of Berlin are looking for him too.

Peter Lorre plays the killer. I have been a massive Lorre fan since first seeing him alongside Vincent Price in several of those 1960s Edgar Allan Poe adaptations by Roger Corman. Lorre is a great actor, has a great range and has always delivered. However, never have I seen Lorre put in a better performance than what I saw here, in M. While this is a German film and has German dialogue, Lorre’s performance is not lost in translation or effected by the reading of subtitles. As horrible and as evil as his character is, he is still able to generate some form of empathy. His display of despair and panic is intense and transcends the picture. When you get to the powerful ending of the film, he shines like a supernova.

Fritz Lang was a true auteur with a skill set that was mostly unmatched in 1931. This was his first picture with sound and he made the transition as perfect as humanly possible. This is a film that was as good as Alfred Hitchcock’s thrillers in his prime, a few decades later. In fact, Lang was sort of the prototype to styles that would become synonymous with Hitchcock and film-noir in general. It is damn near impossible to question the director’s greatness after seeing M.

And while many might not consider it specifically film-noir, it is a grandfather to what was to come in motion pictures. It was a film ahead of its time and it is a lot darker than what American audiences were used to. Of course, World War II would change all of that.

M is a true time capsule that displays Germany’s societal paranoia just before Hitler was elected to power.

Film Serial Review: Undersea Kingdom (1936)

Release Date: May 30th, 1936 (first chapter)
Directed by: B. Reeves Eason, Joseph Kane
Written by: Tracy Knight, John Rathmell, Maurice Geraghty, Oliver Drake
Music by: Harry Grey
Cast: Ray “Crash” Corrigan, Lois Wilde, Monte Blue, William Farnum

Republic Pictures, 226 Minutes total (12 episodes), 100 Minutes (TV)

Review:

Undersea Kingdom, on its surface, should be pretty cool. However, it is an underwhelming dud. It was featured sparingly on Mystery Science Theater 3000 when they needed some shorts. But that program never played the serial in its entirety.

This was made in response to Universal’s hit serial Flash Gordon, but it pales in comparison and certainly isn’t as remembered. Honestly, other than popping up a few times on MST3K, this serial is forgettable.

In this epic, there is a suspicious earthquake. A professor leads an expedition in a super submarine to what is believed to be the location of Atlantis. The heroes arrive at the mystical continent and find themselves in a civil war between Sharad, who leads the White Robes, and Unga Khan, who leads the Black Robes. It is obvious who the bad guys are because this was the 1930s and shit was simpler back then. Unga Khan has a superweapon, the Disintegrator, which he plans to use to destroy the world with earthquakes unless he is made the ruler of Earth.

“Crash” was added to Ray Corrigan’s name in an effort to sound close to “Flash”. Frankly, this attempt at a ripoff was pretty damn blatant about it. He would continue to use this name in other serials he filmed after this one.

The only cool thing about this serial is Unga Khan’s Volkites. They were metallic warriors that looked like very primitive versions of the classic Cybermen from Doctor Who. Granted, they look more like Cybermen trying to wear Dalek armor over their heads and torsos.

Undersea Kingdom is kind of fun but that fun runs out quickly, as the serial is bogged down with retreading familiar territory and for utilizing tropes that were probably already played out in 1936.

I like stories about Atlantis and I love classic serials like this. Unfortunately, the two weren’t a perfect marriage or even a good one.

So does this deserve to be run through the trusty Cinespiria Shitometer? It certainly does! The results read, “Type 2 Stool: Sausage-shaped but lumpy.”

Film Review: The Black Cat (1934)

Also known as: The Vanishing Body
Release Date: May 7th, 1934
Directed by: Edgar G. Ulmer
Written by: Peter Ruric, Edgar G. Ulmer
Based on: The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Heinz Eric Roemheld
Cast: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, John Carradine (uncredited)

Universal Pictures, 65 Minutes

Review:

“You must be indulgent of Dr. Verdegast’s weakness. He is the unfortunate victim of one of the commoner phobias, but in an extreme form. He has an intense and all-consuming horror of cats.” – Hjalmar Poelzig

The Black Cat is a film that fits under the Universal Monsters banner, even if it was a one-off and not apart of their bigger series like Dracula and Frankenstein. But it does feature the stars of both those franchises: Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.

The film was also directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, a guy who wouldn’t reach superstardom in Hollywood but would direct some pretty notable pictures and make a few worthwhile film-noirs.

The best part about this film is it puts Lugosi and Karloff together and not as creatures or men in heavy makeup or prosthetics. They actually get to play off of each other as humans, Karloff being the mad man and Lugosi being a heroic doctor that still exudes his Count Dracula vibe.

The name of the film comes from an Edgar Allan Poe short story. Within the film, it is a reference to Lugosi’s character and his abnormal fear of cats.

Karloff plays Hjalmar Poelzig, a difficult name to pronounce. He is an Austrian architect. Once our heroes, a newlywed couple and Lugosi’s Dr. Werdegast meet on a train, they are stuck together for the rest of the film, most of which takes place at Poelzig’s lavish and futuristic looking home. In fact, the interiors resemble a film-noir set from the late 1940s. The cinematography is also similar and maybe this is what led to Ulmer directing film-noir a decade later.

The Black Cat isn’t a great film but it is a better than decent 1930s horror flick that stars the two biggest horror icons of the time. It is a pretty significant picture for films of the genre and the era.