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Sunday, September 23, 2018

George Arliss is Dr. Syn in 1937 adventure film


By Doug Gibson

Recently, Scarlet: The Film Magazine, a twice-yearly publication that I highly recommend (its website is here) published a lengthy, fascinating piece from Frank Dello Stritto, a film scholar best known for his research on Bela Lugosi, on the Dr. Syn literature and movies. Dr. Syn has fallen into a memory hole, such as Svengali or the old play The Bat, but like those two literary offerings, it was extremely popular long ago and has had more than a couple of screen adaptations. (Dr. Syn, by the way, was a series of books by Russell Thorndike that dealt with a country parson in the southeast of England who in reality was a pirate, Captain Clegg, long thought dead.)

In the most popular book, "Dr. Syn: A Tale of Romney Marsh,' the good Dr. Syn is also leading a group of spirits smugglers. A squadron of British government soldiers are sent to investigate. Smuggling liquor, etc., is a serious business. It can lead to a death sentence. With the squadron is a creature called "the mulatto," who long ago had his tongue cut out, was tortured and left to die by Captain Clegg.

There's a lot more to the plot. Dr. Syn is trying to protect a young girl, Imogene, who loves a man above her station in life. He loves her too, so that helps. There's a brutish confederate of Syn's who wants Imogen for himself, and meanwhile, the soldiers, under Captain Collyer, are getting closer to discovering the spirits operation. It's quite an enjoyable cat-and-mouse game between Syn and Collyer.

In the Scarlet piece, Dello Strito reviews in detail three films that are derived from the Syn. novels. The first was made in 1937, "Dr. Syn." (here) It stars George Arliss, an elderly actor who apparently rivaled Lionel Barrymore in fame generations ago. Arliss is, indeed, a great actor. Although he's likely 20 years too old to play Syn/Clegg, he has tremendous screen presence and a voice that is both soothing and commanding. He has the ability to transform himself from a non-threatening, caring country parson to an angry, threatening force with the mere changing of his countenance, a quick movement, or a change in the timbre of his voice. It's quite impressive to witness.

And truthfully, Arliss is the only real reason to see "Dr. Syn." When he's not in it, it's mostly a creaky film with only adequate performances and little sustained drama. There is one great exception. The opening prologue scene, in which the mulatto is dragged to shore, his tongue cut off, and left to die lashed to a tree with a proclamation over his head. The scene is very strong and quite chilling for an era in Great Britain that frowned on horrific images in films.

You can see "Dr. Syn" on YouTube and it can be purchased easily. In fact, all of the Syn films, including the Hammer "Night Creatures," with Peter Cushing, and a Disney version with Patrick McGoohan, are available via YouTube. Watch the Arliss version above.


Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Tower of London -- Vincent Price chews the scenery



Review: Tower of London

By DOUG GIBSON

Wow, I absolutely love this low-budget 1962 gothic adaptation of Shakespeare (well, sort of) that stars Vincent Price as the mad wannabe king Richard who goes around slaughtering anyone who gets in his way, all the while dealing with those voices in his head and derisive laughter only he can hear.

It's directed by Roger Corman, who can stretch a budget as far as it can go without snapping. The black and white adds to the grim mood. There are some chilling scenes. A young maiden is tortured to death on a stretching rack. A man is murdered when a cage with a hungry rat is placed over his head. The scenes of a climatic battle that leads to Richard's death are from the 1939 Tower of London, a fine adaptation starring Boris Karloff.

I want to spend a little time on star Vincent Price's performance. A characteristic of Price's is he can be truly evil while keeping his tongue in his cheek. In Tower, he is clearly mad, and carries a confused, pained expression on his face. It's excellent acting. The audience almost wants to feel sorry for a suffering madman doomed to defeat, but he's simply too evil to care about. Although most critics deride the final battle scene where Price is superimposed over stock footage of battles, I like it. It adds to the hallucinatory atmosphere of Richard's madness.

A great film, easy to find on TV or buy. Also stars Michael Pate, Joan Freeman and Sandra Knight. It's fast-paced at 79 minutes. You can watch the trailer above.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Enemy From Space – A Great Entry In The Quatermass Series



Review by Steve D. Stones

Enemy From Space (1957), also known as Quatermass II, is the sequel to the 1955 science fiction film – The Creeping Unknown (aka The Quatermass Xperiment). Brian Donlevy stars as Professor Bernard Quatermass, a space rocket engineer. Quatermass heads a government funded space travel program near Winnerden Flats in the English countryside. His funding for a space colonization project is slowly being taken away by bureaucrats who want to put a stop to his costly project.

Quatermass' facility of operation detects a barrage of what appears to be meteor fragments falling in the nearby community. As part of his investigation into this matter, Quatermass and a research scientist named Marsh travel to a nearby top secret space facility that is heavily guarded by military personnel. On a hillside above the space installation, Quatermass and Marsh see a series of large domes inside the fenced installation that look very similar to a small scale model found at Quatermass' laboratory. Marsh picks up a strange fragment on the ground. His cheek begins to melt after touching his face. Military trucks filled with armed men arrive and arrest Marsh, but leave Quatermass behind after knocking him out with a rifle.

Quatermass rushes to a local pub in the nearby town to get the help of police. There he is greeted by local citizens who refuse to help him and won't allow him to use the telephone. On the wall of the pub is a sign that states: Remember: Secrets Mean Sealed Lips. This is a clear sign that the locals are trying to hide something. Quatermass is determined to find out what the locals are hiding.

Joining a tour group, Quatermass gains entrance into the heavily guarded space installation to find out what happened to his friend Marsh and to discover the secrets of the installation. He leaves the tour group to do some investigating of his own and runs into a screaming man walking down the stairs outside one of the giant domes. The man is covered in a steaming dark sludge that is burning his flesh. The man had fallen into a large vat of the hot sludge. Apparently this sludge is part of the mixture for a synthetic food of some kind.



The best suspense is saved for last when Quatermass and some locals open fire on one of the large domes, causing it to explode and unleash giant sludge monsters. Like the ending of the first film – The Creeping Unknown, the giant monster is not shown until the end of the film, which helps to build suspense in anticipation of seeing the monster.

Like so many films of the 1950s, Enemy From Space plays on the fears of government secrecy and the conflict of science versus the military. Scientists and military personnel conflict with each other throughout the entire film. The film also addresses the issue of losing ones identity and transforming into a different being, much like Invasion of The Body Snatchers (1957), I Married A Monster From Outer Space (1958) and Roger Corman's – It Conquered The World (1956). When characters in the film touch a meteor fragment, their minds and identities change immediately.

Fans of the Quatermass series will disagree with me, but I find Enemy From Space to be an even better, more suspenseful and intelligent film than its predecessor – The Creeping Unknown. The music score by James Bernard has to be one of the creepiest and most intense music scores found in any 1950s science-fiction film.
For other entries in the Quatermass series, don't miss Five Million Years To Earth (aka Quatermass & The Pit) from 1967, The Quatermass Conclusion, a four hour TV series from 1980 and of course the 1958-59 TV show of Quatermass and The Pit. Happy viewing!

Monday, September 3, 2018

Book reviews Andy Clyde Columbia comedy shorts


Review by Doug Gibson

Vintage comedy star Andy Clyde enjoyed a long career. He gained prominence in the silent era and was still making audiences laugh in the 1960s as a character on TV series (including The Real McCoys) and a memorable guest spot as an impoverished maker-of-berries-for women's-hats in The Andy Griffith Show.

It's interesting that his longest running gig, 22 years, is either forgotten by most or woefully under-represented for those interested. That's his 1934 to 1956 tenure making comedy shorts with Columbia studios. Clyde made almost 80 shorts, nearly all of which still exist, as prints or negatives stored at The Library of Congress. His iconic persona and talents, old man with spectacles, a walrus mustache, along with an alarmed comedy double-take that few peers can match, were honed to perfection during his Columbia years.

As James L. Neibaur, author of The Andy Clyde Columbia Comedies, McFarland (2018) (800-253-2187), notes, for a while in the 1930s the Andy Clyde comedy shorts were more popular than The Three Stooges shorts for Columbia. Even after The Stooges grabbed the top comedy shorts spot as money-makers for the studio, Clyde's shorts never relinquished its strong second place.

The Scotland-born Clyde (1892-1967) who migrated to the U.S. in 1912, showed enough talent to grab the attention of Mack Sennett, who liked his versatility and slapstick skills. Late in his silents career, Clyde used makeup, including facial stubble, to make him appear and old man, although he was still in his 30s. As talkies took over, he used this persona for Educational Pictures shorts, initially with Sennett.



Clyde was a natural fit for Jules White, who oversaw Columbia's still-new comedy shorts department. With directors such as White, Charley Chase, and Del Lord, Clyde made his best shorts in the years before World War II, when, as Neibaur notes, budgets were higher for the Columbia shorts. Some of the best include Love Comes to Mooneyville, 1936, and Stuck in the Sticks, 1937, in which Clyde and actor Robert McKenzie have slapstick competitions to win the hand of Esther Howard, who had strong chemistry with Clyde.

Clyde's old-man looked allowed him to be able to play a wide range of characters, from a backwoods man to a professional man, such as a doctor in the very funny Old Sawbones, 1935, in which he competes with a veterinarian to become county physician. Comedy shorts regulars of the period that co-starred with Clyde include Vivien Oakland, Shemp Howard, Vernon Dent, Barbara Pepper, Bud Jamison, Betty Blythe, Minerva Urecal, Charley Rogers, Christine McIntyre ... and more.

Jules White was an effective director for Clyde notes Neibaur. White possessed the ability to create so much slapstick, even violent, in such a short time that the audience ended up enjoying the film even if the humor was scarce. Clyde's acting skills lent polish to White's craft due to Clyde's skills at slapstick. Clyde also worked well with directors Charley Chase and Edward Bernds, both of whom favored humor a little more subtle than White.

One of my favorite lower-budget shorts from the 1940s is Andy Plays Hookey, (1946), a remake of W.C. Fields' movie "Man on the Flying Trapeze," where Andy is a henpecked man who after a day of trying to see the fights eventually asserts himself and achieves respect in his home and work. Watch it below.



As Neibaur mentions, Andy Plays Hookey, which was directed by Bernds, was also a remake of a Sennett-directed short, Too Many Highballs, starring Lloyd Hamilton in a role Fields was supposed to have starred in. So, there are three films on the subject, the first being the Hamilton-starred one.Andy Played Hookey, Neibaur writes, manages to compact much of "... Flying Trapeze" in a two-reel film, while ... Highballs was much more streamlined, he adds.

Here's two parts of another, 1937 Clyde Columbia short, Lodge Night, via YouTube.





Clyde was well-liked at Columbia and known as a team player who would work with anyone, including Harry Edwards, a one-time feature director whose skills had eroded. Neibaur notes that a few of Clyde's Edwards shorts are damaged by poor directing, such as lingering far too long on a scene.

Clyde was married to the former Elsie Tarron, and had a son named John. He loved being a father and it was a crushing blow when John died in 1944 at age nine of meningitis. Clyde learned what parents who lose children know -- that life goes on. After a short break, he resumed the Columbia shorts as well as outside work, including roles in western films, such as The Hopalong Cassidy series.

By the 1950s, Columbia's comedies were a shell of what they had once been. Budgets were at a minimum, and most of the films were remakes of earlier films using stock footage of the previous films. Neibaur notes that Clyde usually only worked for a day on these shorts, a few scenes to set up any new actors in the remake. In fact, one of Clyde's final films is 90 percent old material.

Even in the 1930s, a Columbia short was finished in five days. By the mid '50s, with one-day shoots for a couple of recycled shorts a year, Clyde made the decision to leave Columbia after 22 years. The popularity of television offered him lucrative roles that time with the shorts was likely cutting into.

He remained a successful working actor until his death, with a large TV resume. He died of a heart attack in his sleep.

When the Columbia shorts were syndicated in the 1950s, a healthy number of those chosen were Clyde's, and they played often. Of course, with the exception of the Three Stooges, none of Columbia shorts are aired commercially today. Thanks to streaming sites such as YouTube, you can find several to watch. Greg Hilbrich, with his The Columbia Shorts Department website (an invaluable tool), has posted Clyde and other Columbia stars on his site's YouTube pages.

Still's, there's not enough of the shorts available for viewing to whet this fan's appetite after reading Neibaur's comprehensive assessments of all the shorts. Let's hope that Andy Clyde's Columbia output one day receives a quality DVD release, maybe 24 shorts, with cleaned up commentary, perhaps from Neibaur, Hilbrich, or Ted Okuda and Ed Watz, who wrote the indispensable The Columbia Comedy Shorts.