Film Review: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

Also known as: Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (complete title), Walt Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (poster title)
Release Date: December 23rd, 1954 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Earl Felton
Based on: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
Music by: Paul Smith, Joseph S. Dubin
Cast: Kirk Douglas, James Mason, Paul Lukas, Peter Lorre

Walt Disney Productions, Buena Vista Distribution, 127 Minutes

Review:

“I am not what is called a civilized man, Professor. I am done with society for reasons that seem good to me. Therefore, I do not obey its laws.” – Captain Nemo

Even though I own most of the stuff I want to see on Disney+, I love the streaming service because I’m exceptionally lazy and it allows me to stay sitting on my ass because I don’t have to walk across the room and get the physical disc.

I’ve wanted to revisit and review this for awhile but it’s one of the films I was waiting to re-watch once Disney+ debuted. Plus, the HD quality of the streaming version is better than my two decades old DVD.

Anyway, this was one of my favorite adventure movies as a kid and still, to this day, this is my favorite Jules Verne film adaptation.

This motion picture is close to perfection from top to bottom. It is the best big budget live action film of its decade and it captures the spirit of the book, the magic of Disney and the incredible fun of high adventure done right!

Richard Fleischer has done several films that I’m a fan of but I have to say that this is truly his best work. Although, I’m not sure how much control he had over the production and how much Walt Disney himself was involved. Whatever the case may be, this was a perfect storm behind the scenes that gave the world one of the greatest adventure movies ever put to celluloid.

As old as this movie is now, it doesn’t feel dated other than how it looks. It still flows nicely, has a great pace and there isn’t a dull moment in its 127 minutes. Everything that happens on the screen is necessary and enriches the story. It’s not bogged down by filler, unnecessary side plots or characters and it doesn’t dilly dally.

The film is also greatly accented by its four leads: Kirk Douglas, James Mason, Peter Lorre and Paul Lukas. Each man played their part to perfection, each had unique voices and points of view and it was their chemistry and camaraderie that was the glue of the picture.

The special effects were also the best of the era. I’ve really tried to think of anything that can compare to it and there really isn’t anything, at least not in the decade that this came out in. It was ahead of its time and the effects were done so superbly that even now, 65 years later, it’s hard to tell what shots are actual effects. Everything looks good and seamless. Even the big rubber tentacles of the giant squid hold up. Plus, that sequence is still captivating and hasn’t become cheesy in the way that giant rubber monsters of yesteryear have become.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is an incredible picture and it also launched its own genre for awhile, as a slew of Jules Verne adaptations and ripoffs started to flood theaters for twenty years following this. Frankly, I think they only died off due to the disaster movie trend that really took off in the ’70s.

It’s probably hard to quantify just how much of an impact this movie had on the film industry and American culture but I don’t think that the modern blockbuster would exist in the same way without this film’s existence.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: other Jules Verne adaptations of the era.

Film Review: Beat the Devil (1953)

Release Date: November 24th, 1953 (London premiere)
Directed by: John Huston
Written by: John Huston, Truman Capote
Based on: Beat the Devil by James Helvick
Music by: Franco Mannino
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Peter Lorre, Robert Morley, Bernard Lee, Peter Sellers (voice, uncredited)

Romulus Films, Dear Film, Santana Pictures Corporation, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Time. Time. What is time? Swiss manufacture it. French hoard it. Italians squander it. Americans say it is money. Hindus say it does not exist. Do you know what I say? I say time is a crook.” – O’Hara

I decided to check out Beat the Devil because a description I read for it referred to it as John Huston’s parody of his own movie The Maltese Falcon. Since this also starred Humphrey Bogart, I was intrigued to see what exactly that description meant.

Well, that description was terrible, as this isn’t a parody of one specific film, it is actually a crime comedy with adventure and romance thrown in. And while that description was bullshit, the movie is not. It was mostly amusing and fun.

Overall, it didn’t quite hit the mark for me but it wasn’t dull and it was cool seeing Bogart ham it up a bit with Robert Morley and Peter Lorre, along with Jennifer Jones and Gina Lollobrigida.

The story is actually about an ensemble of people stranded in Italy while trying to get to Africa. All of them are shifty types that are trying to lay claim to a property that is believed to be rich in uranium. So it’s definitely not a straight parody of The Maltese Falcon, other than it has the same director, two of the same stars and has some criminal scheming and twists.

In the end, I was disappointed by this being very different than how it was sold to me. It was still refreshing and kind of unique. I liked the camerawork, the on location shooting and how this felt like you were in a genuine space with these actors, whom are usually surrounded by lavish, indoor sets on big budget sound stages.

Beat the Devil wasn’t a waste of time and it’s kind of charming.

Side note: Bogart got into a car accident during production and lost some teeth; so he had a hard time speaking. Therefore, up and coming actor, Peter Sellers, was brought in to record dubbed dialogue for Bogart while he was having trouble adjusting to his lack of canines.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Humphrey Bogart films of the time, most notably his film-noir work.

Film Review: Black Angel (1946)

Release Date: August 2nd, 1946
Directed by: Roy William Neill
Written by: Roy Chanslor
Based on: The Black Angel by Cornell Woolrich
Music by: Frank Skinner
Cast: Dan Duryea, June Vincent, Peter Lorre, Broderick Crawford, Constance Dowling

Universal Pictures, 81 Minutes

Review:

“Now may I have the box and the letter? Remember Catherine… you promised me to be a good girl.” – Marko

This is a pretty highly regarded classic noir picture. I had never watched it until now and despite the fanfare for it, I still wasn’t prepared for how good this movie is.

It stars a pair with great, great chemistry: Dan Duryea and June Vincent. They were perfect together in this and it was nice seeing Duryea not play an evil asshole.

The film also stars Peter Lorre in one of his best performances. In fact, this may be my favorite role he’s played after M.

Now the plot is complicated to explain but it all flows really well in the movie itself.

In a nutshell, Dan Duryea’s wife is murdered but the man wrongly arrested for it is June Vincent’s husband. Initially, Vincent suspects Duryea and confronts him in an effort to clear her husband. She discovers that he couldn’t have done it and the two pair up in an effort to find the real killer and to free Vincent’s husband before execution. The man they suspect is Peter Lorre, who owns a swanky nightclub where the pair get a gig as the house musicians.

What’s neat about the film is that it is one hundred percent noir but it has a lot of music in it and the performances by Vincent and Duryea’s characters are fantastic.

From the first frame to the last, the film looks perfect. The cinematography is top notch but the real life within the picture comes from the set design. The world feels real and genuine in a way that wasn’t typical with big studio films of the ’40s.

The shot framing is also really good. One moment that especially comes to mind is the scene where Lorre is opening his safe with Vincent just over his shoulder, watching him dial in his combination.

The opening sequence is also pretty well done in how it uses miniatures and shot transitions. While it’s not perfect, I don’t know how you could do it any better in the era when this film was made.

As good noir films go, this has a big twist and reveal at the end of the film. You don’t really see it coming and it is three parts heart-wrenching and two parts a punch to the gut. Basically, it was effective… damn effective.

I love this film and it’s a classic noir that I’m sure I will revisit again, much sooner than later.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other classic noir pictures like Fallen Angel, The Dark Corner, Phantom Lady, The Blue Dahlia, etc.

Film Review: The Raven (1963)

Release Date: January 25th, 1963
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Hazel Court, Olive Sturgess, Jack Nicholson

American International Pictures, 86 Minutes

Review:

“You’ll need something to protect you from the cold. [Dr. Bedlo reaches for a glass of wine] No, I meant clothes!” – Dr. Craven

Following the success of a couple Edgar Allan Poe adaptations between producer/director Roger Corman and his star Vincent Price, the men re-teamed again but this time, they made a comedy.

They also added more star power to this film with legends Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff. Add in future legend Jack Nicholson and Hammer Horror scream queen Hazel Court and you’ve got one hell of a cast.

I’m not sure what audiences in the ’60s felt about this film going into it, as the other Poe films by this team were very dark and brooding. This one certainly has the same sort of visual tone but the lighthearted camp of the material definitely tones down the dread.

To be frank, I love this movie but I love all of these Poe films made by Corman and Price. But this one is in the upper echelon for me.

The Raven hits the right notes and the chemistry between Price and Lorre was absolute perfection. They would also bring their solid camaraderie to the film The Comedy of Terrors, a year later. But this also wasn’t their first outing together, as they stared in “The Black Cat” segment of Tales of Terror. That short tale in the larger anthology was also pretty funny.

The film also benefits from having great chemistry between Lorre and Nicholson, who played his son. Karloff also meshed well with the cast.

The highlight of this film is the wizard battle at the end. It is over the top and hokey but it’s the sort of fun cheese that I love. Limited by a scant budget and the special effects of the era, the battle between the two powerful magicians has a sort of charm to it. It’s hard not to smile and enjoy the proceedings. Vincent Price also looked like he was enjoying himself immensely in this scene.

Unlike other Poe films by Corman, this one ends on a happy note and surprisingly, none of the key players die.

This is a really unique film that works for both the horror and comedy genres of its time. It looks good when seen alongside the other Poe films and it also pairs greatly with The Comedy of Terrors, which shares a lot of the same actors and adds in Basil Rathbone.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Roger Corman directed Edgar Allan Poe adaptations for American International Pictures, as well as The Comedy of Terrors for its tone and cast.

Film Review: Stranger On the Third Floor (1940)

Release Date: August 16th, 1940
Directed by: Boris Ingster
Written by: Frank Partos, Nathanael West (uncredited)
Music by: Roy Webb
Cast: Peter Lorre, John McGuire, Margaret Tallichet, Charles Waldron, Elisha Cook Jr.

RKO Radio Pictures, 62 Minutes, 67 Minutes (longer cut)

Review:

“I want a couple of hamburgers… and I’d like them raw.” – The Stranger

Stranger On the Third Floor is a film-noir released a year before the experts say that the genre/style began. The Maltese Falcon is widely considered the first, even though it isn’t. But like that film, this one also features the remarkable Peter Lorre.

Maybe Stranger On the Third Floor isn’t considered “the first” noir because it came and went without making much of a bang. It was a low budget, short, crime drama that didn’t boast any big stars. Lorre certainly wasn’t the legend he would become and even though it did have Elisha Cook Jr., who also appeared a year later in The Maltese Falcon, he was never more than a character actor that popped up in mostly limited roles.

Stranger On the Third Floor has come to garner some respect and admiration over the years, however. Once film-noir was sort of defined and the date of its genesis was given to 1941, many film aficionados wanted to go back and look for the films that influenced the style. Sort of proto-noir pictures, if you want to call them that. Funny that Lorre was at the forefront of two of these proto-noirs: this film and 1931’s German masterpiece M. I guess his film with Hitchcock, 1934’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, also shares some similarities to the style.

There are two really strong things about this picture.

The first is Peter Lorre’s performance. Sure, it’s similar to his other early roles and almost the same as his character from M, well not the child killer part, but the killer part, along with the mannerisms, the predatory movements and his icy glare. Lorre isn’t an actor that needs to say much of anything, he conveys things through his eyes and his body language that is as expressive as the greatest silent film era stars. That moment where Lorre opens the apartment door and slithers out like a reptile is chilling to the bone, even 78 years later.

The second is the cinematography. The lighting and the camera work are both exceptional. The film uses a lot of shadow in the same vein as the look of darker German Expressionist films. Although, the rest of the visuals aren’t all that surreal. But the high contrast chiaroscuro look gives the picture a haunting quality and it seems to most come alive in the scenes surrounding Lorre’s character, as the rest of the film looks pretty standard where he isn’t present. Well, except for that execution dream sequence that is a combination of surrealism, Expressionism and minimalist set design: all used to great effect.

The finale of the film plays more like a horror picture in how Lorre carries himself, how the film builds tension and dread, as well as those final moments before the killer meets his demise and that last line he delivers. In a way, the film shows a sort of link between Expressionism, horror and noir.

Stranger On the Third Floor is a unique motion picture that was more trendsetting than its lack of initial success would have you believe. Even if it didn’t inspire most noir directors of the era, it featured a lot of people, behind the scenes, that would go on to create the worlds of more notable film-noirs.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Other film-noir-esque movies with Peter Lorre: MThe Maltese FalconThe Man Who Knew Too MuchThree StrangersBlack Angel and Quicksand.

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.

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: Tales of Terror (1962)

Release Date: July 4th, 1962
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: MorellaThe Black CatThe Facts In the Case of M. Valdemar by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, Debra Paget, Joyce Jameson

American International Pictures, 89 Minutes 

Review:

“Haven’t I convinced you of my sincerity yet? I’m genuinely dedicated to your destruction.” – Montresor Herringbone

Director Roger Corman and actor Vincent Price collaborated on several motion pictures for American International in the 1960s. Most of their movies were adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s literary work. They also dabbled in the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Nathaniel Hawthorne but it was the poems and stories of Poe that drove most of their collaborations.

This film, is a rare one, as it is an anthology piece that covers three Poe inspired tales. Traditionally, Corman picked a Poe title and turned it into one solid feature. Tales of Terror was a bit more experimental and was able to showcase famous Poe stories that wouldn’t have worked as a 90 minute feature, The Cask of Amontillado for instance, which was mixed into this film’s second story, The Black Cat.

Vincent Price is the only actor to star in all three stories. However, Peter Lorre really steals the show as Montresor Herringbone. He is only in The Black Cat, the middle and longest of the three stories, but it is one of the greatest comedic performances in Lorre’s career. Then again, every time Lorre played the comic relief opposite of Price, the results were always fantastic.

Price also works with Basil Rathbone, another horror legend. We also get to see Debra Paget and Joyce Jameson, two women who would work with Price and Corman again.

Tales of Terror is a solid outing by Corman and Price and it has the same tone and vibe as their other Poe adaptations. The anthology format makes it the most unique and different of these pictures. Plus, it has two really good stories, out of the three. The first one, my least favorite, is still entertaining though, and it is also the shortest.

This is definitely a picture worth checking out if you like Price, Corman or Poe. It is one of the best in their series of these pictures.