Film Review: The Premature Burial (1962)

Release Date: March 7th, 1962 (Chicago premiere)
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Charles Beaumont, Ray Russell
Based on: The Premature Burial by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Ronald Stein
Cast: Ray Milland, Hazel Court, Richard Ney, Heather Angel, Alan Napier, Dick Miller

Santa Clara Productions, American International Pictures, 81 Minutes

Review:

“Can you possibly conceive it. The unendurable oppression of the lungs, the stifling fumes of the earth, the rigid embrace of the coffin, the blackness of absolute night and the silence, like an overwhelming sea.” – Guy Carrell

The Premature Burial is the only Edgar Allan Poe adaptation that Roger Corman directed that didn’t star Vincent Price. The reason being is that Corman started developing this picture outside of American International Pictures and because Price had an exclusive contract with AIP, at the time, Corman had to cast someone else. Oddly enough, AIP would eventually produce the film before it went into the shooting phase. However, by that point, Ray Milland, an Academy Award winning actor, had already signed on.

Sure, I would’ve liked to have seen what Price would’ve done with the lead role in this but I’m also not going to downplay Milland, how great he was in this and how great of an actor that he was in general. And even though Price is one of my all-time favorites, it’s hard to deny that Milland was probably the more accomplished actor, as far as mainstream, critical recognition goes.

So, yes… Ray Milland is pretty damn incredible in this low budget, Corman directed, Edgar Allan Poe story. I also really believed the connection he had with Hazel Court in this. She’s a horror icon of this film’s era and she was always great alongside the boys at Hammer, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, as well as Vincent Price. However, she had really strong chemistry with Milland, even if she turned out to be traitorous and the villain of the story.

This was just a really compelling tale and honestly, it’s one of Corman’s best movies and not just out of his Poe stuff. Milland brought a real seriousness to this and I think it made the rest of the cast really step up too. While Corman is known for rushing through his shoots because that’s his style, Milland’s presence and his ability to elevate his castmates probably made Corman’s job much easier.

I love how dark and brooding this picture is. While that fits with Corman’s other Poe movies, this one just has a thick, stifling atmosphere about it. It also features a trippy LSD-like dream sequence. I always loved that about these movies and this film boasts maybe the best one.

Overall, this isn’t my favorite of the Corman-Poe pictures and it does seem somewhat strange without it starring Vincent Price, but it’s still a damn fine classic horror picture and it is one of the best ones Roger Corman directed.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: Frogs (1972)

Release Date: March 10th, 1972
Directed by: George McCowan
Written by: Robert Hutchinson, Robert Blees
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Ray Milland, Sam Elliott, Joan Van Ark, Adam Roarke, Judy Pace, Lynn Borden, Mae Mercer, David Gilliam

Thomas/Edwards Productions, American International Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“I still believe man is master of the world.” – Jason Crockett, “Does that mean he can’t live in harmony with the rest of it?” – Pickett Smith

After revisiting this for the first time in a few decades, I was surprised to see how many different animals this film featured. Honestly, it shouldn’t have been titled Frogs. They should’ve called it Swamp Critters or Florida On A Tuesday, as it reminded me of a regular afternoon hike in my home state.

This movie is weirdly drab, even though it’s pretty eventful and features a lot of zany deaths. I wouldn’t say it’s boring but it does feel like the filmmakers barely took this seriously and tried their best. It certainly feels like a rushed production where they had x-amount of hours to film in a Florida State Park, so everything had to be done in a few takes: perfect shots, good effects and attention to detail be damned!

Now I did enjoy a very young Sam Elliott in this and I actually forgot he was the hero of the story. His environmentalist banter with the evil capitalist played by Ray Milland was enjoyable and it was cool seeing these two legends ham it up and try to turn this shoddy production into a film with a meaningful message. There are just so many other films that tell the “science run amok on nature” story much better, though.

This had the makings of something that could’ve been much better in an era where animal horror was really popular. However, for every Jaws you get ten Night of the Lepus.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other animal horror films of the ’70s.

Film Review: The Big Clock (1948)

Release Date: March 18th, 1948 (Detroit premiere)
Directed by: John Farrow
Written by: Jonathan Latimer
Based on: The Big Clock by Kenneth Fearing
Music by: Victor Young
Cast: Ray Milland, Charles Laughton, Maureen O’Sullivan, George Macready, Rita Johnson, Elsa Lanchester

Paramount Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“White clocks, yellow clocks, brown clocks, blue clocks. Oh, Miss York, where are the green clocks of yesteryear?” – George Stroud

This is one of those noir films that many consider to be one of the top. I hadn’t seen it until now but I’m using the month of Noirvember to work through a lot of the films I’ve missed in the noir style.

Being that this stars Ray Milland also made me bump this one up on my list.

For the most part, this was pretty standard fare as far as noir pictures go. Milland gave it a little extra flourish, as did Elsa Lanchester in the few bits she was in.

I also thought that the setting was unique, especially how they used the big clock within the film itself. But this also used clocks as a motif throughout the entire picture. Which makes sense, as it was a race against time and it featured big business where time is money.

The story was decent but there wasn’t much in it that I found surprising. In fact, there really isn’t a mystery to solve or any shocking plot twists. The audience knows what’s happening and it is really just a journey about a man trying to clear his name and finger the true villain.

I thought that most of the film was just okay. The minutes before the big finale is where it actually kind of picks up. The story’s villain does end up dying a pretty terrible but fitting death and I did find that satisfying.

The Big Clock was solid and quite competent on nearly every level. It just didn’t tap into that dark, noir part of my brain as much as I would’ve liked.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other classic noir pictures like Nocturne, This Gun for Hire, Thieves’ Highway, Criss Cross, Trapped and Clash by Night.

Film Review: The Lost Weekend (1945)

Release Date: October 5th, 1945 (London premiere)
Directed by: Billy Wilder
Written by: Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder
Based on: The Lost Weekend by Charles R. Jackson
Music by: Miklos Rozsa
Cast: Ray Milland, Jane Wyman, Phillip Terry, Howard Da Silva, Doris Dowling

Paramount Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“It shrinks my liver, doesn’t it, Nat? It pickles my kidneys, yeah. But what it does it do to the mind? It tosses the sandbags overboard so the balloon can soar. Suddenly I’m above the ordinary. I’m competent. Extremely competent! I’m walking a tightrope over Niagara Falls. I’m one of the great ones. I’m Michaelangelo, molding the beard of Moses. I’m Van Gogh painting pure sunlight. I’m Horowitz, playing the Emperor Concerto. I’m John Barrymore before the movies got him by the throat. I’m Jesse James and his two brothers, all three of them. I’m W. Shakespeare. And out there it’s not Third Avenue any longer, it’s the Nile, Nat. The Nile and down into the barge of Cleopatra.” – Don Birnam

I watched The Lost Weekend, as it has been highly praised by a lot of the books I’ve read on film-noir. It also won four Academy Awards including Best Picture. I think the thing that really sold it to me, though, was that it is a noir directed by Billy Wilder, the man behind Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard. It also stars the great Ray Milland, who won an Academy Award for this role.

Now this isn’t a standard noir. It doesn’t feature criminals, innocent guys in over their head or a femme fatale. What it does feature is a remarkable actor playing a drunk writer, fighting his personal demons, trying to salvage his relationship with the love of his life and trying to get back to work without the demon bottle’s stranglehold over his very being.

The main reason why this film works so well is Milland’s performance. But I also have to give credit to some of the other players like Howard Da Silva and Phillip Terry. But it is Jane Wyman that really delights and who actually makes the romantic scenes flourish. She plays exceptionally well off of Milland and truly feels like his equal in the film.

I obviously can’t discount Billy Wilder’s direction. The man was a maestro behind the camera and he gave us a pretty fine tuned and fabulous looking motion picture.

While this is far from my favorite film-noir and it is only third on my list of Billy Wilder’s noir outings, it is still a solid movie that’s entertaining and a bit heartbreaking to watch at times, as Milland wears self-destruction so well.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other film-noir pictures by Billy Wilder or starring Ray Milland.