Thursday, December 03, 2009

See Ken Russell's DANCE OF THE SEVEN VEILS!

In one of the most delightful cinematic surprises of the year, and in what must be one of the most surprising turns of event in internet history, Ken Russell's long-suppressed OMNIBUS film THE DANCE OF THE SEVEN VEILS (1970), a "comic strip" biography of "Also Sprach Zarathustra" composer Richard Strauss, has turned up on YouTube in six parts. (You may remember that it was withheld, at the last minute, from the KEN RUSSELL AT THE BBC box set issued a couple of years ago.) Here, before it disappears, is a link to Part 1 that should also provide you with links to the other five parts. The print is timecoded and has turned mostly pink, but mind you, it was shown in B&W during its only BBC broadcast. Don't let these minor annoyances deter you.

DANCE -- which stars Christopher Gable (THE MUSIC LOVERS, THE BOY FRIEND) as Strauss, the wonderful Judith Paris as his wife Pauline, Kenneth Coffey as Hitler and Vladek Sheybal as Goebbels -- is well worth seeing, serving as a 16mm rough draft of ideas that would later flourish in his masterpieces THE DEVILS (1971) and, most particularly, LISZTOMANIA (1975). Chronologically, it may well mark the point where Russell's unmistakable directorial style approached full boil.

Postscript to an Editorial

I'm a bit overwhelmed by the warm communications I've been receiving from friends, acquaintences and other readers about my very personal editorial in the current issue of VIDEO WATCHDOG. It's surprising to me because I haven't changed -- I feel I mourned my mother when she walked out of my life six years ago -- yet I am aware that people's perceptions of me have been changed by it. I want to assure everyone that all the things I wrote about exist in the distant past for me, truly, which is why I was able to write about them in such a calm and controlled manner.

For those who might be wondering, it has only been in the last few days that we learned exactly what happened to my mother Juanita and my aunt Rose. They were not in an accident together, as my editorial speculated from the fact that they died one day apart.

Last New Year's Eve, my aunt's husband Jack suffered a debilitating stroke. He was placed in a nursing home, but their insurance soon ran out. While caring for him, Rose was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given 3 to 6 months to live. After a week, her daughter (my cousin) Kim shared the news with my mother, who was Rose's closest friend and also reliant on her for things like grocery trips. Naturally, she took it badly and said that she didn't want to outlive her baby sister. My aunt's youngest daughter Susan asked her mother to bring her father with her for a visit to her home in Sacramento, in the hope of keeping them out there to care for them both. A couple of days before the trip west, aunt Rose went to dinner with my mother, along with Kim and her family; they all had a great evening together, my mother flaunting a new hairdo and the two of them acting like a couple of teenagers together, as they always did.

Kim received a call from her mother the next morning, complaining that my mother was ignoring her. When she fell out of her chair to the floor, they realized she had been silently stricken with some kind of stroke. She was rushed to the hospital and placed on life support while testing was performed. My mother had a living will and did not wish to have her life artificially sustained. A series of seizures ensued over the next 2 days. She was pronounced brain dead and life support was removed. She continued to breathe on her own for two days. Rose and Jack flew west to Sacramento on March 4. My mother died early on March 5, between 2 and 2:30am.

Upon arriving at her daughter's house, my weary aunt Rose had immediately stretched out on a sofa, exhausted. The news of my mother's death was communicated to her by phone the following morning around 9:00am Pacific time, and she never got off the couch -- passing away on March 6, the day after, around 1:30pm.

My cousins, sister and I all feel that their real causes of death was that each of the sisters was unwilling to live without the other.

I thank all of my correspondents for the kindness and enthusiasm they have expressed to me about the editorial. Frankly, I didn't intend to write it, but one was due, my back was to the wall, and because the news was fresh in my mind, it was the only thing I was able to think or write about. Because my mother had been a vital player in my early development as a moviegoer, and was such a lover of movies herself, it seemed permissible -- also because VIDEO WATCHDOG has always communicated with its readers about our relationships with movies as the most intimate shared experience. Suffice to say, I'm grateful for your kind indulgence and support.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

TARZAN AND THE SLAVE GIRL reviewed

TARZAN AND THE SLAVE GIRL
1950, Warner Archive Collection, $19.95, 73m 52s, DVD-PO
By Tim Lucas

In the second of Lex Barker's Tarzan films, the Lord of the Apes swings to the rescue as the onset of a crippling disease compels the last surviving males of Lionia (who wear leopard-patterned headgear and other wardrobe familiar from the later Bert I. Gordon film THE MAGIC SWORD) to abduct women to repopulate their race. Tarzan enlists the aid of a kindly doctor (Arthur Shields, downplaying his Irish accent for a change) who prepares a serum to cure the affliction, but the vial gets lost along the way when Tarzan learns that Jane (Vanessa Brown) and the doctor's sexpot nurse Lola (Denise Darcel) have joined the list of abductees.


When Lola responds to the rough manhandling of chief abductor Sengo (Tony Caruso, above left) by scarring his face, he puts his own vanity before the survival of his people and attempts to entomb her and Jane alive in the crypt of their recently deceased King. Thanks to Cheta and alcoholic adventurer Neil (Robert Alda, third-billed in a negligible part), the serum is recovered in time to save the young son of Lionia's Prince (THE PORTRAIT OF DORIAN GRAY's Hurd Hatfield, miscast as a devoted family man, albeit with no wife in sight) and the women are freed, with Lola only too happy to stay behind to wiggle her way into the tiara of Lionia's late princess.

Despite a weaker script, principally written by former Laurel & Hardy writer Arnold Belgard (BLOCK-HEADS), it is a considerable tribute to the abilities of director Lee Sholem that his second and last Tarzan picture takes notice of all the flaws and faults of its predecessor and ensures that none are repeated. Lex Barker is here considerably more at home in the role of Tarzan, losing his slippers, leaping dynamically over cameras like a born athlete, and tackling its many physical tasks with invigorating zest. This is also the first series entry to depict Tarzan as a skilled bowman, a trait that would become particularly essential to Gordon Scott's later portrayal. A magically regrown Cheta, now either male or sapphically mating with a female chimp named Coco (left behind in a tender farewell scene), is given only one comedic indulgence after draining a whiskey bottle, stumbling about in slow-motion for awhile but thereafter becoming a valuable aid to the hero in times of trouble. The simplistic story is given some interesting density in the middle with the introduction of a group of Nagasi tribesmen, who are able to merge with, and act lethally from, the jungle environment in the manner of African ninjas.


It is one of the curiosities, and weaknesses, of the Lex Barker Tarzan series that each of the five films presents him opposite a different Jane. In this entry, Jane is played by the Austrian-born Vanessa Brown, eleven years the junior of Brenda Joyce but with a wholesome, spirited quality that suggests a spunky, doe-eyed kid sister rather than a wife or lover. She might have had improved chemistry with Barker, but the plot separates them for most of the running time, and any opportunity she may have had to communicate her own nimble sex appeal is thwarted by scenes constantly throwing her up against French brickhouse fireball Denise Darcel, who loses a silly catfight with Tarzan's second-in-command but nevertheless steals the film as the sly yet uninhibited Lola.

Photographed by Russell Harlan (TARZAN'S DESERT MYSTERY) the year before he shot THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD for this film's editor Christian Nyby, TARZAN AND THE SLAVE GIRL sometimes has a wonderfully silvery nitrate look, though the shots incorporating
opticals and dissolves are sometimes comparatively coarse in appearance. The sequence of the ascent to Lionia makes use of some excellent trick matte shots, comparable to those in TARZAN'S MAGIC FOUNTAIN. The Warner Archive Collection presentation is framed in the original 1.33:1 ratio and, aside from some early scratching around the RKO logo, is even more spotless than their rendering of the previous film in this series.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

RIP Jacinto Molina / Paul Naschy 1934 - 2009

Praise is too often quick to go to actors who hide every trace of their craft. But once in awhile, an actor comes along who revels in the traditions of greasepaint and spirit gum and the idea of putting on a show. Such a man was Paul Naschy, who, under his birth name Jacinto Molina, wrote a series of unabashedly imitative scripts that made him, for the better part of 40 years, the cinema's torchbearer for classic horror and its second "man of a thousand faces."

Molina wrote scripts to carve out a place in the cinema for himself as an actor, but it took awhile before he could successfully attach himself to them as director. The films he directed (INQUISITION, PANIC BEATS, THE CRAVING) are not his best, though the little-seen and unexported El huerto del franc├ęs (1978) and El caminante (1979) are particularly good. His most capable and stylish collaborators were Javier Aguirre (who helmed the notable COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE and THE HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE), whose success rate was doubled by Carlos Aured (HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB, HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN, THE MUMMY'S REVENGE, CURSE OF THE DEVIL). He played the doomed lycanthrope Waldemar Daninsky as many as 13 times, though, rather in the manner of Michael Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius, the character was prone to appear in different countries, timelines and circumstances. It should also not be forgotten that, as he forged his screen persona in a country then under the fascistic rule of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, it constituted a revolutionary act.

The real Naschy is always conspicuous in his work, and his filmography at times unreels like a psychosexual playground in which he indulges all of his fantasies about cinema, women, monsters and violence. One is always conscious that the topless love scenes so frequent in his work were there more for his own pleasure than for any relevance they had to the stories at hand, or even to his films' exploitability, and some of his films contain instances of truly wicked sadism -- the back-peeling in THE WEREWOLF AND THE YETI stands out in memory, as do some of the exploits of his incandescently evil Mr. Hyde in DOCTOR JEKYLL AND THE WEREWOLF. As his career matured, Naschy became more open about being the true focal point of his own Universal-derived mythos. In HOWL OF THE DEVIL (1987, which he directed himself) he played a sexually tormented actor, as well as the classic movie monsters populating his son's fantasy world. The 2004 film Rojo sangre (pictured above) cast him in a role perhaps closer to his true self and exploited, to a degree, Naschy's own bitterness over having his vast contribution to the popular Spanish cinema overlooked, and becomes the closest thing the Spanish cinema has produced to a self-reflexive horror film along the lines of Michael Powell's PEEPING TOM. Naschy's depression over his country's neglect of his accomplishments was a festering hurt that he was not shy about exploring in his autobiography MEMOIRS OF A WOLFMAN, but many later awards and recognitions for his life achievement came his way.

It is perhaps a kindness that Paul Naschy passed away before the release of Universal's remake of THE WOLF MAN -- in which Benicio del Toro and Rick Baker are sure to take the torch from Waldemar Daninsky's furry paw whether it be warm or cold -- and poetic justice that he sounded his last howl on the night of the full moon.

Monday, November 30, 2009

TARZAN'S MAGIC FOUNTAIN reviewed

TARZAN'S MAGIC FOUNTAIN
1949, Warner Archive Collection, $19.95, 72m 54s, DVD-PO
Reviewed by Tim Lucas

In TARZAN AND THE AMAZONS (1945), the first of Brenda Joyce's five films as Jane, Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) was portrayed as keeping certain secrets of the jungle from his mate, including the existence of Palmyria, a lost city in a high-walled valley inhabited only by Amazon women─a curious secret to keep from one's wife. In that film, Tarzan's honor was called into question when Boy (Johnny Sheffield) pursued him there and later led a company of gold-seeking explorers behind its fiercely protected veil of secrecy; in this film, which introduced Lex Barker in his first of five Tarzan performances and bade adieu to Joyce, Tarzan is not only knowledgeable of a secret civilization residing in the uncharted Blue Valley, but aware that the legendary, presumed dead aviatrix Gloria James (Evelyn Ankers) has been living there since surviving a crash that left her co-pilot dead 20 years earlier.

When Cheta (presented here as female) discovers Gloria's journal in the never-found plane wreckage, Jane requests that Tarzan take it to the airplane service in town and have it returned to England, but he initially refuses, knowing that it would only attract the curious. But when he learns that a man has been imprisoned in Nairobi for many years, on a charge of which Gloria could clear him, Tarzan gives the diary to the tradesman Trask (DR. CYCLOPS' Albert Dekker) and pilot Dodd (IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE's Charles Grant), who recall that rewards have been offered for any information leading to the wreckage and still more if Gloria is found alive. The value of this discovery is further upped when Tarzan brings Gloria to their office, looking as though she hasn't aged in 20 years─because the people of the Blue Valley have their own personal Fountain of Youth. After clearing and freeing Douglas Jessop (Alan Napier), Gloria marries him and they return to non-specific Africa, where she shocks Jane by now looking her real age, amplified in bad Hollywood makeup terms to make her 50 look closer to 70 or 80.


Tarzan─chastised by the leopard-earmuff-wearing Siko (THE LAND UNKNOWN's Henry Brandon) for betraying his people after Trask's stooge Vredak (VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA's Henry Kulky) dies leading an exploratory team into their hidden realm─refuses to compromise himself further by guiding Gloria and Douglas back. Jane, however, suddenly recalls seeing this Blue Valley once before and, being sensitive to Gloria's vanity issues, agrees to lead the newlyweds, and protectors Trask and Dodd, to its point of entry ─ unaware of the looming dangers ahead and at her back.

Directed by Lee "Roll 'Em" Sholem ─ who helmed the follow-up TARZAN AND THE SLAVE GIRL (1950) before directing most of THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN's first season and two of Weissmuller's Jungle Jim adventures ─ TARZAN'S MAGIC FOUNTAIN is an entertaining, if predictably schismatic and occasionally sloppy, passing-of-the-torch adventure. Barker makes a physically graceful Tarzan but the dialogue given him by screenwriters Curt Siodmak (THE WOLF MAN) and Harry Chandlee (OUR TOWN) is too educated to be spoken so brokenly, and Barker hasn't yet assumed the role sufficiently to sell it with the necessary authority. After a dozen Weissmuller films, it's also a bit dispiriting to see the tenderfooted Barker wearing slippers, even in the comfort of his own treehouse, except in those shots wherein he (or his stunt man) vine-swings through the jungle, and his only swimming scene with Jane seems curtailed, beginning with both of them already wet. Brenda Joyce, two years older than her apeman, looks a tad careworn and uncomfortably paired, and the film tries too earnestly to distract its audience from their lack of chemistry by emphasizing Cheta's monkeyshines, which begin with her getting into a box of bubble gum. (In a later scene where the chimp over-peppers a piece of meat and blazes a trail to the nearest cool drink, the sound effects people actually insert someone mumbling "gimme water" into her manic jabbering.)


This level of cartoonishness is supported by the Alex Laszlo score, which focuses on the spritely chimp even as she investigates a crashed plane replete with snake-infested skeleton, and weaves "Brahm's Lullaby" and "Rockabye Baby" into scenes of bedding down at a campsite. For all the narrative drive invested in returning Gloria to the youth she sacrificed for her husband's sake, we are not given the satisfaction of seeing it restored, that privilege being reserved for Cheta, who not only turns into a baby at the final fade, but into a different species.

Only twice does the movie tease us with reminders of the thrill or tension levels attained by earlier films in the series: Vredak's death as a flaming arrow slams into his chest and prompts dark (probably chocolate) blood to spill from his lips, and the moment when Trask dares to halt Jane's escape by firing his pistol near Cheta. Otherwise, the film is conspicuously low on thrills, with the new Tarzan never working up much of a sweat, even climbing aboard a miraculously quiet elephant to secretly trail Jane's Blue Valley expedition. Elmo Lincoln, the first screen Tarzan from 1914's TARZAN OF THE APES, is reportedly here somewhere in a cameo as a fisherman, but he's easily overlooked.

Copyrighted 1948, the film's name is given onscreen as EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS' TARZAN'S MAGIC FOUNTAIN, though Burroughs wrote nothing by this title. Such possessory credit is standard with all the Sol Lesser productions. This Warner Archive Collection release is presented in the film's original 1.33:1 ratio and, though not given any digital restoration, the presentation is only fleetingly blemished and never disruptively so. This "DVD Download" is not available in stores and sold (along with the other four Lex Barker Tarzan titles) only through Warners' online Archive Collection store. The fine print on the back of the box reports "This disc is expected to play in DVD Video "Play Only" devices, and may not play back in other DVD devices, including recorders and PC drives." We experienced no problems in playing the disc in our recorders and PC drives.