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Fifteen years before "The War of the Worlds" was released, on Oct 30, 1938, Orson Welles scared the pants off of people with his now-infamous radio broadcast of H.G. Wells 1898 novel of the same name. How many of you knew that this book was actually written in the 19th century? I did not, and that makes me want to read it even more. The movie is available on Amazon Prime, as well as several other sources. Filmed in Technicolor, the film starred Gene Barry (Bat Masterson) and Ann Robinson (the film "Dragnet") as Dr. Clayton Forrester and Sylvia van Buren. The film was narrated by Sir Cedric Hardwicke whom we just saw in "The Lodger." Cecil B. DeMille's first choice to produce this film was Alfred Hitchcock, who declined, so he recruited George Pal ("The Time Machine") as Producer, who chose Byron Haskin ("Treasure Island") as Director, much to DeMille's approval. Hardwicke's opening commentary makes me want to do two things: it makes me want to re-memorize the ordering of our planets (it's ridiculous not to have this mentally available as instant recall (Remember: Outside of Mars, you have - in order of distance from the Sun - Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, the #1, 2, 3, and 4 planets in diameter, and the only 4 planets bigger than Earth - if you remember that, everything else will fall into place), and it makes me appreciate how lucky we are to exist on planet Earth, with its optimal conditions for human beings. The fact that we're fucking everything up is a side issue which we can discuss in another thread. See this? One day, it isn't going to mean squat. Fifteen minutes into the movie, at the point where the "meteor" crashed, and its lid began unscrewing, revealing a cobra-shaped probe, the special effects of The War of the Worlds are believable and well-done - very impressive for a 1953 work. I guess we're going to see a lot more of them in the near future, so we'll see how that goes. *** SPOILERS FOLLOW *** Well, so much for the three Earthlings' initial overtures of friendship. Mars draws first blood. And I *love* the juxtaposition of 1950's America with Martian technology when a local looked at the deadly Martian heat ray and exclaimed, "What *is* that gizmo?!" Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! At 29:20, the town of Saint Julien is wiped out! No more Super Seconds! Léoville-Las Cases - gone! Ducru-Beaucaillou - gone! Gruaud Larose - gone! And I've invested so much time and money figuring out that Léoville-Poyferré is better than all of them. Oh, God! No Léoville-Barton, no Talbot, no Beychevelle, no Branaire-Ducru, no, no, no. Oh, God, I finally understand how Dustin Hoffman felt. No Saint Julien! Oh, Jesus God, NO! This is also how I feel after waiting for two hours at Lucky Strike, when one of the parties hogging the alleys finally leaves: A lane! A lane! 37 minutes into this 85-minute film, I remain impressed, almost dazzled with its 63-year-old special effects - I just now found out that, out of its $2 million budget, $1.4 million was spent on special effects - and it shows, too: They are outstanding. (I reiterate this is a *** SPOILERS *** section.) Boy, how many movies do you see, especially just eight years after it actually happened, when the U.S. President orders the use of the A-Bomb? And I had absolutely no idea there was even a concept of a "flying wing" in 1953, but the Northrup YB-35 began to be developed during World War II. <--- This is a picture from the movie. And the A-Bomb sequence is very, very well done. I'll tell you what: "Five" may have been the first-ever post-apocalyptic movie ever made, but considering that "The War of the Worlds" came only *two years* after that? Well, let's just say the progress made was remarkable: I'm no expert, but I cannot name an earlier film that I've ever seen that has better special effects than this. Today, special effects are generally to a film's detriment, but 63 years ago? They were SPECIAL effects, and these are magnificently done - I cannot think of a single film before "2001: A Space Odyssey" that has *better* special effects - and that came fifteen years later. Wow, what a surprise ending. I will only say that this *excellent* film was very much ahead of its time, and also very much a *product* of its time. Watch it - you'll not be disappointed unless you're an *extreme* cynic, in which case you *might* be disappointed at the ending, but only if you are, well, an extreme cynic.
Earlier this year, I watched the 1927 silent film "The Lodger," which is widely considered the first "real" Alffed Hitchcock film (after he found his mojo), as well as the first filming of The Lodger, which was remade, in various guises, no less than four times, this being the third of five that I know of. Although this is a remake, Hitchcock had nothing to do with this: It was produced by Robert Bassler and directed by John Brahm, For those who don't know, Jack the Ripper was active in London during 1888 in Whitechapel, a district in the East End of London, in the borough of Tower Hamlets (there are (as of 1965) 33 "local authority districts" in London: 32 are boroughs, and, the 33rd is the "City of London" itself). A "district" is an unofficial, loose term for "neighborhood" - "borough" is an official term, and the district of Whitechapel is inside the borough of Tower Hamlets. If you read the Wikipedia entry for Jack the Ripper (above), it's really quite a grisly tale - the most troublesome fact? The Ripper was never caught. Since this takes place in 1888, I did some financial conversion for you to put the figures in 2016 dollars: Mr. Slade (played by Laird Cregar, an American actor) offers 5 pounds a week for room and board, which equates to 595 pounds today, or $731.85 - a considerable weekly sum for the rooms he was renting, and the meals he would be served. Mr. Robert Bonting (played by Sir Cedric Hardwicke) originally started his tea-broker business (in 1868) with 100 pounds, or $12,423 in 2016 dollars. Kitty Langley gave Annie Rowley one Sovereign: a gold coin worth about one Pound Sterling, i.e., one Pound. Since 1957, they've been minted again, but are used as gold bullion (they're certainly worth a lot more than one pound in 2016 - they're gold, and weigh slightly over one-quarter ounce (as of this writing, gold is trading for about $1,130 an ounce, so today's Sovereigns are worth $250-300)). Interestingly, and tragically, Laird Cregar went on a crash diet (which included prescribed amphetamines) to obtain the part in this film, and that caused a strain on his system that would eventually kill him this very same year, in December of 1944. Vincent Price delivered his eulogy, and Cregar currently has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Cregar died at age 31, and could have conceivably become much more well-known than he currently is - I suspect most of you reading this haven't heard of him. *** SPOILERS FOLLOW *** This may, or may not, be a major spoiler, so I advise you to skip this paragraph entirely until you've finished the film, even if you read the rest of the Spoilers Section: it is a known quantity, in advance, that "The Lodger" in Hitchcock's 1927 film turned out to be innocent in the end. However, the reason for that was because the big-name star of that film, Arthur Chesney, did not want his reputation sullied by being associated with Jack the Ripper (whom a certain percentage of viewers still remembered). I say this only because, if I remember correctly, there was some controversy about what Hitchcock really wanted (or am I thinking of "Suspicion?"), and given that there are so many remakes of the 1927 version, it seems highly unlikely that "the lodger" will end up being innocent in every single version. We're about to see ... How coincidental that the lodger's name is Mr. Slade. Robert Bonting, the landlady's husband, was a tea-broker on Mincing Lane, which was, in the late 19th century, the world's leading center for spice and tea trading. There are almost exact similarities between Mr. Slade turning the pictures of the old actresses (in his bedroom) around so he couldn't see them, and with what Arthur Chesney did in Hitchcock's 1927 film. For a moment, I thought the part with the two shrews in the tavern (playing the concertina) could be an upcoming sign of dullness, but it only lasted for a minute or two, and it had a dramatic reason for existing. I'm over halfway through this film, and am really enjoying it, even more than the Hitchcock version (which was, of course, silent). Speaking of which, the techniques Hitchcock used in his silent film were so vastly different, that they make for a fascinating study. For example, to create tension when The Lodger was descending the stairs, he couldn't use footsteps (there was no sound), so he had to show a close-up of a hand, sliding down the railing. Hitchcock, himself, admitted that footsteps would have made for a more-effective buildup of tension, and he would have used them had the technology been available. It's too bad he wasn't around for more color films, which have a very different strategy than filming in black-and-white. Look at this cinematography - what an imposing shot this is: *** END SPOILERS *** Listen to what I say here: Even if you don't think you like silent films, watch Hitchcock's 1927 version of "The Lodger" first, *then* watch this version. They make wonderful companion pieces, even though this is a remake - this is a splendid picture that stands on its own; it's better still when watched after the original: You'll love them both, and watching both makes both of them better: Even though these two films were made independently of each other, they are best viewed as a diptych, making sure to go in chronological order. Whaam!
Since I recently watched "The Maltese Falcon," I decided to have a go at "Suspicion," both films being from 1941. The glass of milk scene was my favorite part of the film - it was Hitchcock at his best. *** MINOR SPOILER FOLLOWS *** I didn't realize until after the movie that Cary Grant's menace is developed by Hitchcock by never having him walking into a scene; he merely "appears" - I'm not sure if that hold true for the entire film, but apparently, it happens quite a bit. Grant's performance was terrific - both childish and increasingly creepy as the film progressed. Will he or won't he?
"Rope," Hitchcock's first Technicolor film, was an experiment of sorts for the director. The action takes place in real time, edited to appear as a single, continuous shot through the use of long takes. This movie is based on a play of the same name, and this filming technique makes the viewer feel as if they are watching a play rather than a film. *** SPOILER ALERT! *** "Rope" is the tale of two young roomnates who strangle a former classmate minutes before they host a dinner party. The corpse is stuffed into a large chest, on which they decide to serve their meal to their guests. The men had no issues with the deceased; they merely wanted to murder for murder's sake. Among the guests at the dinner party are the dead boy's father and fiancee. James Stewart plays the young men's prep school housemaster, who eventually unravels the mystery. John Dall is outstanding as the arrogant Brandon Shaw, who thinks commiting the perfect murder makes him superior to other men. Constance Collier gives a delightful performance as the dead man's aunt. James Stewart seems miscast in his role, and Farley Granger overacts on occasion as the nervous pianist. There is, however, a wonderful scene with Granger playing the piano while Stewart's character questions him. The metronome ticks faster and faster while the music becomes increasingly dissonant, creating a palpable sense of terror and suspense.