Film Review: The Bat (1959)

Release Date: August 9th, 1959
Directed by: Crane Wilbur
Written by: Crane Wilbur
Based on: The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart, The Bat by Mary Roberts Rinehart, Avery Hopwood
Music by: Louis Forbes
Cast: Vincent Price, Agnes Moorehead, Darla Hood

Liberty Pictures, 80 Minutes

Review:

“This is the Oaks, a house in the country which I’ve rented for the summer. As an author I write tales of mystery and murder, but the things that have happened in this house are far more fantastic than any book I’ve ever had published.” – Cornelia van Gorder

In a way, this movie almost plays like a proto-slasher film, even though it predates the genre’s peak by over twenty years. But it does feature a killer in the house, trying to get to two women holed up in the master bedroom.

Now there’s more to the story than just that but I kind of like how this hits those beats and does them fairly well, even though it’s hard to imagine that a person that wants to do these ladies harm would have much trouble getting to them, even with a bedroom door in the way. Also, the mysterious stranger has many opportunities that aren’t exploited.

The murderer in this film is actually really cool. It’s said to be a faceless man that murders women at night by using his steel claws to rip out their throats. The concept is gruesome for 1959 and it really sets a brooding tone. The visual look of the killer lives up to expectations, as he is shrouded completely in black, except for his claws.

Of course, the film wants you to suspect that the doctor character, played by horror icon Vincent Price, is The Bat. It’s a red herring, though, as the killer is revealed to be someone else.

I think that the best thing about this film is the acting. Agnes Moorehead proves she’s still got the chops and Price is as superb as always. Darla Hood is decent but she’s overshadowed by the mere presence of Moorehead. This would be Hood’s last movie and she was most known for playing Darla in the classic Our Gang short films.

All in all, this isn’t a great horror film but it boasted solid performances, a cool killer and it’s certainly entertaining.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Vincent Price horror films of the late ’50s.

Film Review: The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

Release Date: July 9th, 1942 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Orson Welles
Written by: Orson Welles
Based on: The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington
Cast: Joseph Cotton, Dolores Costello, Anne Baxter, Tim Holt, Agnes Moorehead, Ray Collins, Erskine Sanford, Richard Bennett, Don Dillaway, Orson Welles (narrator)

Mercury Productions, RKO Radio Pictures, 88 Minutes, 148 Minutes (original cut), 131 Minutes (preview version)

Review:

“Something had happened. A thing which, years ago, had been the eagerest hope of many, many good citizens of the town, and now it had come at last; George Amberson Minafer had got his comeuppance. He got it three times filled, and running over. But those who had so longed for it were not there to see it, and they never knew it. Those who were still living had forgotten all about it and all about him.” – Narrator

While this is considered to be one of Orson Welles’ all-time classic motion picture masterpieces, I was somewhat underwhelmed by it.

The main reason is because it felt like it needed more meat and potatoes. The story was a bit skeletal and I felt like I needed to know the characters on a deeper level to be more invested into the story and their lives.

However, this problem with the film isn’t really the fault of Welles, as his original cut was 148 minutes, not the 88 minutes that this ended up being. Had this film had that extra hour, I think it would’ve been a much richer, more intimate and more complete body of work that could’ve possibly lived up to the iconic status of Welles’ previous film, Citizen Kane.

Still, most professional film critics today seem to have a very positive view on this film and apart from the issue I already mentioned, it’s easy to see why.

The film is absolutely stunning and beautiful. This “magnificent” world looks authentic and lived in. The sets are perfect but even more than that, the lighting, cinematography, shot framing and general mise-en-scène are stupendous. But coming off of Citizen Kane, Welles’ had already proven himself as an absolute maestro of cinematic craftsmanship and artistry. This honestly just adds even more credibility to the man’s legendary, iconic status as a filmmaker and visionary.

Additionally, the picture is superbly acted with Welles’ regular star, Joseph Cotton, taking the lead but also having solid assists from Dolores Costello, Anne Baxter, Tim Holt, Agnes Moorehead, Ray Collins and others. Also, Welles’ narration adds an extra level of magic to the film.

All those solid positives aside, though, it still suffers from a lack of depth and context. The film is full of many characters, all of whom are interesting, but only a few really get explored at length. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t Welles’ intent but the finished film is somewhat diminished but this.

Ultimately, this is still a very good, almost great, motion picture. But it also makes me yearn for what could have been had Welles’ intended vision actually made it to the silver screen.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other early Orson Welles pictures.

Film Review: Pollyanna (1960)

Release Date: May 19th, 1960
Directed by: David Swift
Written by: David Swift
Based on: Pollyanna by Eleanor Porter
Music by: Paul Smith
Cast: Hayley Mills, Jane Wyman, Karl Malden, Richard Egan, Adolphe Menjou, Agnes Moorehead

Walt Disney Productions, 134 Minutes

Review:

“We looked for the good in them, and we found it, didn’t we?” – Reverend Paul Ford

There are few motion pictures as sweet and heartwarming as this one.

It’s been at least three decades since I’ve seen this film but just about everything that Disney put out with Hayley Mills as the star was a classic in my book. Well, except maybe those ’80s Parent Trap sequels but I guess I’ll revisit those in the future to see how they measure up.

But this is a pretty good film that showcases Mills’ natural talent and displays just how charismatic she was and how infectious her charm could be.

I didn’t really love this movie as a kid. I enjoyed it but it wasn’t something I wanted to watch more than a few times because I would’ve rather spent my time watching action, adventure, monsters and spaceships.

As an adult, I was really impressed with this film and I kind of felt like I bonded with it in a way that I never had before. Sure, it’s more of a girls’ movie if you take it at face value but it has a message for all humans and it’s a great message: always look for the positives even in the worst situations.

While that may sound cliche and cheesy, this film presents it in a really lighthearted, digestible and pleasant way. And I don’t think that the film’s message and impact would have been nearly as strong without Pollyanna being played by someone as capable as Mills.

The film is actually an ensemble piece that Mills is the center of. She comes to town to live with her rich aunt after the death of her missionary parents. Pollyanna then touches everyone in town in a pretty profound way that brings people together and helps to unite a community that really needs it.

But there are so many colorful and unique characters that every interaction that Pollyanna has with someone is pretty entertaining and serves a real purpose in progressing the plot towards its emotional conclusion.

Pollyanna might feel dated and slow in parts but it’s a movie with a good message that is timeless. It’s also a well made and beautiful film with equal parts drama, comedy and charm.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Hayley Mills Disney movies.

 

Film Review: Dark Passage (1947)

Release Date: September 5th, 1947 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Delmer Daves
Written by: Delmer Daves, David Goodis
Music by: Franz Waxman
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Bruce Bennett, Agnes Moorehead

Warner Bros., 106 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve cried myself to sleep at night because of you. She’s got you now. She wants you very badly doesn’t she? She’s willing to run away with you and keep on running and ruin everything for herself. But she wouldn’t care because she’d be with you and that’s what she wants. Well she doesn’t have you now. She’ll never have you. Nobody will ever have you! And that’s the way I want it! You’re nothing but an escaped convict. Nobody knows what you wrote down. They’ll believe me! They’ll believe me!” – Madge Rapf

All of the films that star both Bogart and Bacall are damn good but this may be the best of the four. In my opinion, and I really love Key Largo, this is the cream of the crop.

Dark Passage is a spectacular film and one of the greatest film-noir pictures I have ever seen. I had seen it before but it’s been quite awhile and when I did, I didn’t have the broader understanding of the cinematic style that I have now. Looking at it within the context of the other top noir films, this movie is pretty close to the top of the heap and I should probably adjust my Top 100 Film-Noir list after revisiting this.

What’s surprising about this film is that the first act is played from a first person point-of-view, as we never get to see Bogart’s face. We get his voice and follow him as he escapes prison and tries to get to San Francisco and we see his first meeting with Bacall through his eyes. Then in the second act of the film, we lose the first person perspective and see Bogart with his head wrapped up, as his character has gotten a surgery to change his physical appearance. This almost has an Invisible Man vibe to it. It isn’t until we get to the second half of the film, leading into the third act, that we get to see Bogart’s actual face. It was incredibly rare for a major studio to allow a top star like Bogart to have their visage obscured for such a big chunk of a movie.

Bogart plays Vincent Parry, a man who was convicted of murdering his wife. He escapes prison in an effort to prove his innocence and meets Bacall’s Irene Jansen, who wants to help him set the record straight.

As I point out in almost every review of every classic noir I cover, this thing has a lot of twists and turns. It’s typical of the style but this is hardly anything derivative, even if the premise sounds recycled. You’re never really sure why Irene sought out Vincent and why she wants to help him. There are some revelations, as the film rolls on, but this is a real rollercoaster.

Not to spoil anything, but there is a really brutal scene where a woman gets tossed out a window. It isn’t very violent, as this is a film from 1947, but it had a surprising harshness to it that is shocking for a film from this era. It totally catches you off guard and the camera actually gives you a good bird’s-eye-view shot of her body plummeting towards the sidewalk below.

Bogart and Bacall were both at the top of their game in this movie. Their chemistry was definitely apparent and unparalleled when compared to their work with any other actors. Not to say that Bogey and Bacall weren’t always on their A game, they were. There is just something extra magical about them being together on the screen though.

I absolutely love this movie. Dark Passage should be one of those silver screen classics that gets a nice theatrical re-release. Get on it Flashback Cinema or Fathom Events!

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: The other films that pair Bogart and Bacall: To Have and to Have NotThe Big Sleep and Key Largo. Also, The Maltese Falcon.

Film Review: Caged (1950)

Also known as: Femmes en cage (France), Locked In (working title)
Release Date: May 19th, 1950 (New York premiere)
Directed by: John Cromwell
Written by: Bernard C. Schoenfeld, Virginia Kellogg
Based on:  Women Without Men by Kellogg and Schoenfeld
Music by: Max Steiner
Cast: Eleanor Parker, Agnes Moorehead, Ellen Corby, Hope Emerson

Warner Bros., 96 Minutes

Review:

“Come on you tramps – line up for Christmas.” – Evelyn Harper

I discovered this film when it was featured on TCM’s Noir Alley. While I guess it fits the loose rules of what a noir can be, it is more of a “women in prison” movie but twenty years before those sort of pictures were made primarily for sexploitation.

I didn’t know what to expect but this was very dramatic and a better film than what I was anticipating.

The main character, Marie Allen, is sent to prison for a crime she was a part of because she was in love with a shady guy. That guy was killed and Marie was punished for the crime, being institutionalized while being pregnant. The film sees the timid and shy Marie have to adjust to a hard prison life. She plays things by the book and hopes to be paroled early. However, she is denied parole, her mother also rejects the responsibility of having to raise Marie’s baby until she gets out and everything in Marie’s life falls apart because she is trapped behind bars, completely and utterly powerless.

It is the way that the story unfolds, though, that makes everything work so well. You really feel for Marie and your heart breaks in certain scenes but like Marie, you develop a harder demeanor and are right along with her when you want to see her push back against a corrupt system that is failing at its job of rehabilitating those it locks away.

Caged is a fine film with a lot of layers. It’s superbly written and Eleanor Parker really put this film on her back and carried it.

It has nothing special in the realm of cinematography but it is clean and the camerawork is still very good. It doesn’t employ a strong chiaroscuro vibe like other film-noirs.

I was pleasantly surprised by Caged and I was certainly glad to discover it.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: A male prison noir Brute Force, as well as other noir films The Narrow Margin and Side Street.

Film Review: Citizen Kane (1941)

Release Date: May 1st, 1941 (Palace Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Orson Welles
Written by: Herman J. Mankiewicz, Orson Welles
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, Everett Sloane, Ray Collins, George Coulouris, Agnes Moorehead, Paul Stewart, Ruth Warrick, Erskine Sanford, William Alland

RKO Radio Pictures, 119 Minutes

citizenkaneReview:

Citizen Kane is considered, by many, to be the greatest film ever made. I wouldn’t consider it the best but it is certainly an amazing motion picture, nonetheless.

I guess the most incredible thing is that Orson Welles directed, co-wrote and starred in the picture at the age of twenty-five. It is uncanny that someone so young would have such a grasp on what life would be like for a man who becomes fantastically rich and unbelievably powerful and how that would drain on his soul over a lifetime.

One can’t deny that Citizen Kane is a fantastic picture, especially for its day. The story is compelling and well orchestrated. The cinematography is breathtaking to the point that some shots are still mesmerizing, even in modern times where CGI can try and wow an audience in any way imaginable. Watching the film, it is easy to see what techniques, employed by Welles and his crew, became regular approaches to filmmaking.

It is impossible to even begin to list the countless pictures that were influenced by Citizen Kane. Stylistically, it is superb. Compared to other films of the era, it isn’t hard to understand why and how this captivated audiences and critics and how it still has a grasp on the minds of young filmmakers today.

While Kane is a fictional character, the movie plays like a really well done biopic of a true historical figure. There are several famous people in politics and media that you can associate with the character to the point that the film even feels a bit prophetic. Ultimately, it is a stern warning about the human soul and how it can become corrupted by money, power and fame.

Citizen Kane is a tragedy in the best sense. It feels Shakespearean, even in its late 1800s to early 1900s setting. It could possibly be the best tragedy not written by Shakespeare. While there have certainly been pictures and stories like it, since 1941, there is only one Citizen Kane.

Welles deserves the legendary status that this film brought to him. Again, he was twenty-five years old and made a beautiful and nearly flawless work of cinematic art that people still hold in the highest regard almost 80 years later.

Rating: 10/10