Friday, May 27, 2011

What a Story!

(Vincent Price was born 100 years ago today. I thought that this occasion deserved a special post)

Let me tell you a story. It is the outline of a film that I saw not too long ago. Based on a classic piece of literature, it was strange, dark, and intriguing. It left an impression on me. And here it goes:

Once upon a time, there was a girl in England

She appeared uninteresting, but she was full of determination

One day, she traveled not to far away from a forboding old house

Due to an accident with a horse, she met the owner of the house, a brooding and mysterious man.

She was intrigued by this man.

She did not know much of his past, but that did not prevent her from being attracted to him.

But something came between their relationship

A woman

But not just any woman: it was the man's wife.

This dark haired beauty haunted his house and his mind.

Eventually, it ended in flames.

The wife is destroyed in the flame, but at a great cost to the man.

Among other things, he loses his eyesight.

But the girl ends up Okay.

The End

And this is the basic outline of one of the most original and strange classic films that I have ever seen...

And it is called..

Jane Eyre

oh wait....don't get me wrong, I really like this film (the Orson Welles version, at least)

No, I am talking about a real classic:

The Tomb of Ligeia

Sure, it takes plot points from Jane Eyre, in addition to the flaming finale (complete with footage from House of Usher) from previous  Roger Corman-Vincent Price-Edgar Allan Poe adaptations.
 Though I do not consider it the best film that meshed these three men together (that would be a tie between Usher and The Pit and the Pendulum).

But I still love it.

Maybe it is the over elaborate dialogue.

One such tasty morsel occurs during Vernon's (our "hero", played wonderfully by Price) brief wooing of Lady Rowena (an equally great Elizabeth Shepard).

"Your makes a shamble of the light."

Maybe it is the lovely shots of the English countryside.

As well as the foreboding cobwebed interiors of Vernon's manor.

Perhaps it is the direction, the acting, the cinematography, the cliché's that occur in all of Corman's Poe films.....

Or maybe it is the story, which turns Jane Eyre

On its head

Inside out

and traps it in mists of Misery


and Dispair.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

West of Zanzibar (1927) vs. Kongo (1932)

Violence, Sex, Prostitution, Corruption, Drug Addition, Alcoholism, Torture, Sadism, Murder....

Welcome, my friends, to old Hollywood's vision of Black Africa: where the natives are superstitious, the white men stinkers, and the women are...., well, not the type you would take home to meet mother.

Ah, but it is the habitat of a certain fiend known as Deadlegs Flint, a tough paraplegic who, for the eighteen years that he has inhabited his hut in the middle of the jungle, has been focused on one thing, and one thing only: Revenge. Revenge on the man that cost him his legs, his wife, and his pride. In the meantime, he plots and plans. If he can't harm this man directly, Flint knows the next best thing that will devastate his enemy hardest: the ruin of his daughter.

And how! For all those who think that all old movies are quaint and tame, and oh so fluffy, the silent West of Zanzibar and the pre-code Kongo should prove to be an eyefull. These are a pair of strange and disturbing films, both different versions of the same tale. They are adaptions of a Broadway play called Kongo, and some of the actors from the original Broadway run return to reprise their roles in the film of the same name. Unfortunately, I am not able to say which version sticks closer to the one presented on the stage, for the script was never published, and I have yet to track down a manuscript of the original.

The men who play Flint on screen, Lon Chaney in the former and Walter Huston in the latter, are both great. They are imposing, cruel, and very memorable. I rather like how the silent presents Flint before his life was ruined, showing what a nice, good man his was before Lionel Barrymore entered his life (and yes, Barrymore did play S.O.Bs before It's a Wonderful Life (1946), and boy, is he detestable here). That makes the broken and cruel figure that he becomes all the more intriguing and horrifying.

But Walter Huston is just plain mean, if not more so. Heck, he threatens to twist his mistress's tongue with a piece of wire (and from his and everyone's reactions, you can tell that he has done this before). He is not just satisfied with letting his wife's daughter grow up in an African brothel, as Chaney did in the silent version. No, Huston has her raised in a convent, and then throws her into a brothel when she turns 18.
....and After.
Which one do I prefer? Actually, I think Kongo, on the whole, is superior. It felt less stagy than the silent, had, if not better, more memorable actors (Lupe Valez is a special treat), and frankly conjured up a better sense of depravity and perversity. But do not let that deter you from seeing Zanzibar; Chaney's performance alone is worth the price of admission, and he is in top form here, making a more persuasive paraplegic than Huston.

The bad news: Zanzibar is not available on video (though you can see its minuscule form on youtube). The good news: Kongo is, thanks to Warner Archives. Be sure to check them out, as they are unforgettable examples of how far Hollywood could go before a certain Code was enforced.