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.

Film Review: Son of Kong (1933)

Release Date: December 22nd, 1933
Directed by: Ernest B. Schoedsack
Written by: Ruth Rose
Based on: King Kong by James Creelman, Ruth Rose, Merian C. Cooper, Edgar Wallace
Music by: Max Steiner
Cast: Robert Armstrong, Helen Mack, Frank Reicher, John Marston, Victor Wong, Edward Brady

RKO Radio Pictures, 69 Minutes

son_of_kongReview:

Son of Kong was a rushed sequel to the original King Kong after that film’s massive success. Shockingly, this came out the same year, just nine months after its superior predecessor.

That doesn’t mean that Son of Kong is a bad picture. In fact, I quite enjoy it as an early 1930s monster movie. But when compared to King Kong, it doesn’t even come close to that movie’s greatness.

The original Kong has achieved legendary status and rightfully so. Son of Kong plays more like the later sequels to the classic Universal Monsters film series. It is enjoyable enough, it expands on the mythos but it lacks the heart and imagination that made the first film a true classic.

One positive, is I like the development of Robert Armstrong’s Carl Denham. It follows his story and his return to the island to avoid prosecution for being deemed responsible for the original Kong’s rampage in New York City. Here, he meets a new Kong and is able to try and redeem himself and to overcome the guilt he feels for taking the first Kong away from his home.

It may be sacrilege to say but I enjoy Helen Mack in this film more than Fay Wray in the original. Unlike Wray, Mack is not a screaming and flailing helpless woman. She is strong, has a much more interesting story and is more integral to the plot by not being a generic damsel in distress.

I also feel like the effects, especially the stop motion, are slightly more refined in this picture. There seems to be less but that is probably due to this film being rushed out. The new Kong doesn’t even show up until there are only 25 minutes left in this 69 minute picture. But the younger Kong comes off as more fluid in motion than its father in the first movie.

Son of Kong is a nice companion piece to King Kong. It is also a continuation of Denham’s story and he was the most interesting character of the original. While it isn’t the classic epic that the original film is, it is still a fun old school giant monster movie.

Film Review: King Kong (1933)

Release Date: March 7th, 1933 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack
Written by: James Creelman, Ruth Rose, Edgar Wallace, Merian C. Cooper
Music by: Max Steiner
Cast: Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot

Radio Pictures, 104 Minutes (with overture)

king_kong_1933Review:

I’m pretty excited for the upcoming King Kong movie in March. So I wanted to revisit all the other King Kong films in preparation and to magnify my own self-manufactured hype. Granted, there are only a couple good King Kong movies out there. This, the original, is definitely the standard bearer.

For 1933, King Kong has absolutely stunning special effects. Sure, the style is outdated now, over 80 years later, but the stop-motion animation of Kong and the other creatures is a technique still used in Hollywood today. Hell, it became the primary method for creating giant monsters and other creature effects until men in rubber suits and animatronics became the norm. Even then, it still maintained a place in Hollywood. Nearly fifty years later, Ray Harryhausen was still using the practice in 1981’s spectacular Clash of the Titans.

The man behind the stop-motion effects of King Kong, Willis H. O’Brien, would later teach the style to the more famous Harryhausen. The two worked together on Mighty Joe Young.

But back to King Kong.

The film was absolutely groundbreaking in 1933. It opened the door for other monster movie makers and it allowed the creativity of others to flourish, once seeing what magic could actually be achieved on celluloid. Sure, there are magnificent films before King Kong but there was nothing quite like it in terms of scale, ingenuity and excitement.

King Kong isn’t just a special effects spectacle, however. It is a good movie, altogether.

Fay Wray did good as the female lead of the film, the apple of Kong’s eye. Bruce Cabot was solid as the hero and was a pretty believable manly bad ass, trying to wrestle Wray’s Ann Darrow away from Kong. My favorite person in the film was Robert Armstrong, who played the over-the-top showman, Carl Denham.

The island setting of King Kong was beautiful and lush. The cinematography was well done and it made the island locales have depth and character. The jungle itself was a sort of mysterious monster, all on its own. The other giant creatures were also a nice addition to the tale. The constant battles between the giant ape Kong and the other large animals were executed amazingly well, despite the difficulty in achieving these sorts of effects at the time the film was made.

King Kong is, and will always be, a classic. It deserves its recognition, as being considered one of the greatest films ever made. No other Kong film has ever truly recaptured the magic and the heart of the original. As time went on, these effects became common place and no other filmmaker really put in the effort that the people behind the original did.

Film Review: Universal Monsters, Part IV – The Invisible Man Series (1933-1944)

The next branch of the Universal Monsters tree that I have rewatched is the Invisible Man series of films.

This character and the other invisible characters in this series, were like the Mummy in that they never really got to crossover with the other monsters of their era. I would’ve loved to have seen how Claude Rains’ Dr. Jack Griffin a.k.a. the original Invisible Man would have fared against Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and the Wolf Man.

Like other characters in the Universal Monsters mythos, this one was milked to death. It also spawned a total of five films.

The Invisible Man (1933):

Release Date: November 13th, 1933
Directed by: James Whale
Written by: R.C. Sherriff
Based on: The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
Music by: Heinz Roemheld
Cast: Claude Rains, Gloria Stuart

Universal Pictures, 71 Minutes 

the-invisible-manReview:

Directed by James Whale, who gave us Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, this film is another classic gem in the catalog of his stellar work. Whale, once again, gave us some amazing cinematography even though this was an insanely difficult film to shoot for its time. The tone, the humor, the dread, all of it worked to a tee and came together like a perfectly woven tapestry.

Claude Rains is one of those actors that I cannot praise enough. He was a genius and between this film and his Phantom of the Opera adaptation, he proved that he was not just a master of horror but a master thespian able to perform at a level far exceeding many of the well-known dramatic actors of his era. There are few things in life that I prefer watching to Rains playing Dr. Jack Griffin in this film. His voice work, his body work, all of it was perfection.

This is the best film in the series and a solid, if not still the best, interpretation of H.G. Wells’ classic novel, The Invisible Man. This is a great example of James Whale’s supremacy as a director, especially in the horror genre, as well as one of the very best films put out by Universal – not just in their classic monster series and not just in that time period but of all-time.

The Invisible Man Returns (1940):

Release Date: January 12th, 1940
Directed by: Joe May
Written by: Joe May, Kurt Siodmak, Lester Cole
Based on: The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
Music by: Hans J. Salter, Frank Skinner
Cast: Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Vincent Price, Nan Grey, Alan Napier

Universal Pictures, 81 Minutes 

the_invisible_man_returnsReview:

The title is somewhat misleading, as this is a different character entirely. Although Dr. Jack Griffin’s brother Frank is a new character in this film and weirdly, Jack is referred to as “John” in this movie.

The film stars Vincent Price, a legendary horror icon in his first ever horror role. Price would gain more fame and legendary status several years later after starring in House of Wax. Regardless of that, Price played a likable and not so horrific character as this film’s incarnation of the Invisible Man. His character, Sir Geoffrey Radcliffe is sentenced to death for a murder he didn’t commit. Knowing that he is innocent, the brother of the original Invisible Man injects himself with the invisible serum so that he can escape and clear his name.

One thing leads to another and we get the happy ending.

Alan Napier who played Alfred in the 1960s Batman TV series has a big role in this film. Vincent Price would later go on to star as the villain Egghead in that same series.

This was a solid sequel and I really enjoyed it. It wasn’t a rehash of the original film, it was a pretty original idea and it was executed greatly.

The Invisible Woman (1940):

Release Date: December 27th, 1940
Directed by: A. Edward Sutherland
Written by: Kurt Siodmak, Joe May
Based on: The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
Music by: Frank Skinner
Cast: Virginia Bruce, John Barrymore, John Howard, Charlie Ruggles, Oscar Homolka

Universal Pictures, 72 Minutes 

inviswomanReview:

With Universal pumping out an insane amount of sequels to their horror franchises, they wasted no time in releasing The Invisible Woman the same year they released The Invisible Man Returns. Sequel-mania was running rampant at Universal!

This was the first film in the series to really take a plunge. There was nothing really “horror” about it and in fact, it was a comedy.

The plot sees a recently fired department store model get revenge on her boss after she is made invisible by a loony scientist. It was basically like the plot from 9-to-5 starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton. Except it was about one woman and she was invisible.

This is a pretty forgettable film and had it not been wedged into this series – ending up in box sets like the one I own, it would’ve been lost in the sands of time.

The Invisible Agent(1942):

Release Date: July 31st, 1942
Directed by: Edwin L. Marin
Written by: Curtis Siodmak
Based on: The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
Music by: Hans J. Salter
Cast: Ilona Massey, Jon Hall, Peter Lorre

Universal Pictures, 81 Minutes 

invisibleagentReview:

This film takes The Invisible Man formula and gives us something pretty awesome: an invisible agent fighting the Nazis and a Japanese associate during World War II. Additionally, Peter Lorre is in this as the Japanese villain, which is intriguing, bizarre and just totally awesome! Sir Cedric Hardwicke plays the villainous Nazi, making his second appearance in this series, as he also played the villain in The Invisible Man Returns.

This is my favorite sequel in the series, as the plot is awesome and it was well-executed.

Coming out at the height of World War II, this must have been an exciting film to watch. The special effects are once again top notch and the acting was good from all parties involved.

The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944):

Release Date: June 9th, 1944
Directed by: Ford Beebe
Written by: Bertram Millhauser
Based on: The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
Music by: Hans J. Salter
Cast: Jon Hall, John Carradine, Evelyn Ankers

Universal Pictures, 78 Minutes 

invisiblemansrevengeReview:

The final film in the series gives us John Carradine as a scientist who is another new character with the power of invisibility.

New character wants to harness the power, new character gets the power, new character seeks revenge against those who wronged him. Sound familiar?

Well, at this point the traditional formula of this series has run its course and unfortunately, we didn’t get something as original and new as the previous film in the series.

This film isn’t a complete waste and it is okay but you’ll watch it swearing that you’ve seen it already. Plus, I really love John Carradine.

More Universal Monsters reviews are coming as soon as I rewatch them. Next up will be the Wolf Man series.