I was going to watch more of these, loaded a Borzage thing and a Lubitsch thing on the laptop, but for months I haven’t felt like continuing, so I’m pulling the trigger.

His Wedding Night (1917 Fatty Arbuckle)

Fatty is a soda jerk who also keeps an eye on the perfume counter and gas pump. Gags about Al St. John trying to steal his girl, Buster Keaton delivering a wedding dress, and Fatty putting chloroform in a perfume bottle to prevent customers from over-sampling the expensive stuff all come together magically in the end. Arbuckle’s a strong dude, picks up romantic rival Al and hurls him across a room. Arbuckle also sexually harasses a woman and a donkey, and pretty quickly learns to use his chloroform bottle for evil. Very nearly cinema’s first gay marriage before Keaton is unmasked.

Modeling:


The Rough House (1917, Fatty Arbuckle)

A psychotic chef (Fuzzy St. John), hapless grocery delivery boy (Keaton) and an idiot manchild (Arbuckle) destroy a house. Then the chef is fired and Arbuckle is the new chef. Friends are invited to dinner, one is a thief, cops arrive, many people fall down, and the house is pretty much destroyed again. Main value to be found in this pile of randomly-edited violence is Arbuckle’s dancing dinner rolls, apparently stolen (and perfected) by Chaplin for The Gold Rush.


Dreamy Dud. He Resolves Not to Smoke (1915, Wallace Carlson)

Finally I am watching the movie with the greatest title of all time, and it’s a bit of a let-down… pretty much a tame Rarebit Fiend episode with a pipe-smoking boy and his pervert dog, full of horrible slang.

Urban Dictionary is conflicted about what this might mean:

I’ve previously written up McCay’s Little Nemo (aka Winsor McCay, the Famous Cartoonist of the N.Y. Herald and His Moving Comics) and How a Mosquito Operates and The Sinking of the Lusitania, and Bill Plympton’s restoration of The Flying House. Well, I got my hands on the Master Edition DVD, so now I’m watching (in most cases rewatching) the rest.


Gertie The Dinosaur (1914)

Similar to Lusitania, the full movie is more than the animation – it opens with a documentary account of the cartoon’s inspiration, with intertitles explaining to audiences unfamiliar with animation how work-intensive the process was. Per the commentary, the shorter version of this film lacks the intro and titles and was played in a live show with McCay on stage interacting with his dinosaur, giving commands and having conversation. I like how the commentary says Emile Cohl and J. Stuart Blackton were McCay’s primary influences, but that McCay also publicly claimed to have invented the animated film.

Gertie attacks the camera/presenter:

Guess what’s about to happen to that stack of original Gertie drawings:


The Centaurs (fragment)

Because you can show topless women if they’re half horse. A weird, slow-moving little piece that Canemaker imagines may have been part of McCay’s vaudeville act a la Gertie.


Gertie On Tour (fragment)
Gertie torments a trolley then dances for a crowd of dinosaurs. Animation scholars today don’t know why.


Flip’s Circus (fragment)

Little Nemo character Flip performs a stage show with a mini-Gertie, which finally eats Flip then vomits him out. Serves him right, really, since Flip spends half the movie beating the thing with a club.


Bug Vaudeville (1921)

Sketches of insects doing circus-like stunt routines on a stage, each one lasting about twice as long as it could. All this is being dreamt by a hobo under a tree (his head appearing MST3K-style watching the insect action) who frustratingly ate some cheesecake, not rarebit.


The Pet (1921)

Cute little creature walks into a house where a woman feeds it. It grows visibly larger while eating. As as it grows, it eats increasingly large things, from food to dishes to household decorations, finally to buildings and airplanes, until the army blows it to bits. Favorite scene: the pet drinks from a hose, then slurps up and eats the hose like spaghetti. Of course this is all just a rarebit dream by the man of the house, who eats dinner at “the club” and resents his wife for wanting a pet. Plympton’s redo of The Flying House is great and all, but I think this was my favorite of the rarebit fiend shorts.

The included documentary, Remembering Winsor McCay (1976) by John Canemaker, is cool for providing first-hand accounts of McCay’s life and work by his younger assistant John Fitzsimmons. But since the films are silent, I’d already played them with Canemaker’s commentary, which reuses all of Fitz’s stories and comments.

Les Joyeux Microbes (1909)

Similar to Transfigurations, but now it’s a scientist trying to get an overacting scarf fella to look at different microbes under a microscope, each of which displays a different transmogrifying animated scene, usually involving cranky old people. Towards the end, one of the drawings becomes 3D, a drunk character’s paper arms wrapping around a prop bottle. Another wonderful detail: the final second of the film was presumably supposed to have the scarf guy storm out of the room, but the set door (which was working in the opening shot) bends, doesn’t open, Scarfie mooshing up against it until the film quickly cuts.


Japon de fantaisie (1909)

I guess it’s stop-motion using Japanese props. An insect lays an egg, hatches into a mask, which spews forth rats. Doesn’t seem like a very positive view of Japan… or maybe it’s a prequel to the Mothra films.


Clair de lune espagnol (1909)

These are getting more difficult to summarize now that Cohl has discovered intertitles and I don’t know French, but it looks like a matador gets rebuffed by a fan lady, so he leaps out a window… but is saved by a space-bound vessel. The man angrily shoots the moon with a shotgun, is challenged to a duel by moon men, then thrown back to earth, where the fan lady is now impressed with him. I liked the prop star that shoots sparks.


Le Songe du garçon de café aka Hasher’s Delirium (1910)

Waiter falls asleep during his shift, has loony prop-and-cartoon-based dreams. From all the bottles that appear, we can assume he’s a drunk. His appalled-looking cartoon dream-body is subjected to the ludovico technique, watching names of alcoholic drinks alternate with demons and horrors. Then he’s made to kick his own ass. Then he’s awakened in the most predictable fashion, given that just before falling asleep he gave a table of identical hat-wearing men four seltzer bottles.


Le Mobilier fidèle aka Automatic Moving Company (1910)

Debt-ridden Mr. Dubois hugs all his furniture one last time before it’s all repossessed and auctioned on a street corner. Later, each piece of furniture torments its new owner and flees (serves ’em right for taking advantage of poor Mr. Dubois, who cries and wails all through the auction), returning to Chez Dubois where they belong.

Stroheim’s directorial debut, a very straightforward movie, with prominent mountain-climbing scenes (cuz you can take the filmmaker out of Austria, but you can’t take a love for mountain-climbing movies out of an Austrian filmmaker) along with tassels, feathers, pipes, silly hats and monocles.

The director’s grinning, monocled death’s head:

A single travelling shot at the end (at least I didn’t notice any camera movement before that). Some great edits (from 3 mountain climbers to 3 crosses), a great mirror shot, a few flashbacks. Divided into acts, which are announced by title cards that usually appear right in the middle of a conversation, weird.

Dr. Armstrong (Sam De Grasse, Prince John in the Fairbanks Robin Hood) and his pretty wife Francelia Billington are on a mountain vacation, and womanizer/fraud Stroheim tags along, plots to steal away Francelia for himself. To prove his villainy, Stroheim seduces the waitress at their inn along the way.

Hero and wife:

Silent Sepp:

Armstrong sets off with his mountain buddy Silent Sepp (Gibson Gowland, star of Greed) to rescue a couple of imperiled climbers, even though this is supposed to be Armstrong’s vacation, and Stroheim makes his move, is rebuffed. But that night F. ponders how her husband pays her no attention, and when Stroheim tries it again during their climactic climb to the peak, she reconsiders. Husband responds by hurling Stroheim off the cliff.

Not even detail-oriented Stroheim could control the birds: when Francelia tries to play with this white bird, to show her playful innocence, the bird clearly wants nothing to do with her:

Francelia “sees” a happy young married couple in her mirror, while her neglectful husband lies asleep:

Addictive series full of distinct characters getting into overblown soap-opera situations. It concerns changing social structure in the early 1900’s – specifically, bookended by the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912 and the start of WWI (for Britain) in August 1914 – then season two takes us to the end of the war. An extremely busy series with excellent writing and acting and no wasted time.

Upstairs:

The Earl Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville, star of Asylum) is in charge of the “abbey” (mansion? I see no monks).

His American wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern of Once Upon a Time in America and The House of Mirth) provided all the family’s monetary wealth, has scary eyes.

Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery, who played the murdered decoy-Cate Blanchett in Hanna) is the oldest daughter who should be married by now, but drives away all suitors except a Turkish diplomat, who dies in her bed provoking hushed scandal. She’s supposed to hook up with Matthew in order to keep the fortune in the family, but they drive each other away until the end of the post-s2 Christmas special.

Lady Sybil (Jessica Findlay) is the kinda nice middle daughter who turns political, gets excited about equal rights for women, and finally runs off to Scotland or someplace to marry the chauffeur.

Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) is the youngest daughter, defined mainly by her fights with Mary, which quickly escalate (Mary scares off her would-be-fiancee, Edith writes to the Turkish embassy explaining how their diplomat died). She also has a wartime fling with a neighboring farmer.

The Dowager Countess (the great Maggie Smith), Crawley’s mom, hangs around to provide the official old-world upper-class perspective on everything. She grudgingly agrees to some of the major changes and improprieties, thus staying a lovably wonderful character instead of an increasingly out-of-touch old sourpuss.

Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) is a distant cousin who becomes heir to Downton after a nearer cousin dies on the Titanic. He moves his law practice into town to familiarise himself with his future estate, is being set up to marry Mary, but instead gets engaged to Lavinia. He’s injured in WWI in the same blast that mortally wounds William, and will never walk again. But of course, he walks again.

Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton, Shaun of the Dead‘s mother, also in Match Point) is Matthew’s mom, a contentious nurse who takes over the house when it becomes a recovery home for wounded soldiers during the war.

Lavinia Swire (Zoe Boyle) is the beloved fiancee of Matthew, who is too perfect to ever leave him or do anything wrong, so instead she’s killed off by Spanish Influenza.

Downstairs:

Mr. Carson, head butler (Dennis Potter regular Jim Carter), is the servant equivalent of Maggie Smith – knows exactly his place, and everyone else’s.

Mrs. Hughes, head housekeeper (Phyllis Logan, star of Mike Leigh’s Secrets & Lies) is a benevolent leader and problem-solver, like a female Carson but friendlier.

Mr. Bates, Crawley’s valet (Brendan Coyle of an upcoming, annoying-looking Poe adaptation/bio-pic) and servant during the Boer War (1900-ish), is hired and allowed to stay despite his controversial leg injury. He and Anna fall in love, but Bates is secretly married, and after his wife takes all his money and still won’t agree to a divorce, Bates possibly kills her. But we’ll see in season 3.

Ms. O’Brien, head maid (Siobhan Finneran of the Andrew Garfield starmaker Boy A) is evil and resentful, always scheming with Thomas, causes Cora’s miscarriage.

Thomas, first footman (Rob James-Collier), is possibly even more evil, also a closeted homosexual. Coincidence? He gets out of the war by arranging a hand injury, A Very Long Engagement-style, loses his fortune in a black-market scam, then achieves his long-held goal of taking Bates’s job as valet.

William, second footman (Thomas Howes), is a hapless, bullied fellow, lovestruck for Daisy.

Anna, head maid (Joanne Froggatt of an upcoming movie with description “a teenage boy’s descent into the dangerous world of the Internet”), is Bates’s sweetheart.

Gwen, maid (Rose Leslie), is learning to type so she can leave service and hold a proper job, secretly assisted by Sybil.

Ethel (Amy Nuttall) is the s2 replacement for Gwen. Even more of a free-spirited, liberated woman than her predecessor, she gets knocked up by a hospital guest and leaves the house in shame. Good, I was sick of her.

Mrs. Patmore, cook (Lesley Nicol), is losing her sight until the family sends her off for cataract surgery – spends the next ten episodes berating Daisy.

Daisy, cook’s assistant (Sophie McShera) is cute, tiny, guilted into marrying William on his death bed from war injuries.

Molesley (Kevin Doyle) is assigned to be Matthew’s servant, keeps almost getting regular plot threads but he’s not quite interesting enough so they get pushed aside.

Branson (Allen Leech) is the commie chauffeur who manages to marry into the family – but never gets invited into the house.

Crew:

Writer/producer Julian Fellowes was an actor for years, appearing in a Bond movie and bunches of miniseries, also wrote Gosford Park, Vanity Fair, The Young Victoria and a new version of Titanic with Toby Jones.

While watching The Story of Film, I’ve been marking down the names of movies Mark Cousins discusses which I haven’t seen. And since I love lists, I thought I’d pick one title per Story episode and watch it, more or less chronologically. I call it The Story of Film Festival.

For years I’d been meaning to watch Birth of a Nation, then after reading Rosenbaum’s article about the AFI 100 list, I’ve been meaning to watch Intolerance instead. I’ve enjoyed some of Griffith’s shorts (A Corner in Wheat, The House with Closed Shutters) but never tackled any of his features, which seems a major oversight considering how important they were in film history (or in “the story of film”). While watching Intolerance, I dutifully noted Griffith’s pioneering editing style. I marvelled at the few extreme close-ups and dolly shots, a couple apparent crane shots, and heaping tons of cross-cutting, both between and within the four different time periods. But besides the academic interest, I found the movie boring and heavy-handed. It could’ve used a couple rewrites – the four stories of intolerance told simultaneously don’t work well together, and two of them (Paris and Judea) don’t work at all. Maybe this is because of deleted scenes, but I certainly don’t wish for the movie to be longer. Hopefully I’ll end up enjoying his shorter, more personal stories like Broken Blossoms and True Heart Susie more than this one, but now I’m in no hurry to watch those.

“Out of the cradle endlessly rocking.”

Lillian Gish (star of Broken Blossoms) rocks this cradle meaningfully beneath a sunbeam whenever Griffith lacked a good transition scene between time periods.

In the “present” of the 1910’s, wealthy Mary Jenkins, “unmarried sister of the autocratic industrial overlord” is ignored at a party and so “realizes the bitter fact that she is no longer a part of the younger world.” So she joins a stuffy ladies’ reform club dedicated to the “uplift of humanity” (read: censorship, prohibition, and making things generally boring).

Meanwhile, the father of The Dear One (ugh) works at the Jenkins factory. The mill orders a wage cut (to conserve funds for Mary’s reform group), a strike ensues, lots of cannon fire (reportedly modeled after a bloody strike at a Rockefeller factory). The Boy’s father dies (excuse me, “the Loom of Fate weaves death” for him). The surviving protagonists move to the city, where The Boy and “The Friendless One” get tangled up with gangsters (“musketeers”) and Dear One’s dad dies (sorry, “inability to meet new conditions brings untimely death” to him). Boy and Dear are to be married, but his boss doesn’t like quitters, plants stolen goods on the Boy which “intolerate him away for a term” in prison, because the titles love to use that word even when it doesn’t fit. While he’s in prison, his Dear wife has a baby, which is taken away by the Intolerant reformists and raised by careless nurses.

Friendless Miriam Cooper, actually married to Raoul Walsh:

In ancient Jerusalem, there’s some stuff about hypocrites among the pharisees, funniest part of the movie. Jesus turns water to wine, proving that he is on the side of fun, not like the stuffy ol’ reform club of the present-day scenes. Then this whole segment is forgotten.

A hypocritic pharisee, probably not played by Erich von Stroheim:

In 1570’s France, the catholic king’s mother hates the Hugenots (protestants), and despite some royal wedding that’s supposed to bring peace, she schemes to destroy them. Meanwhile, down in the peasantry, Brown Eyes is dating Prosper Latour (the great Eugene Pallette of The Lady Eve – weird to see him young and silent).

The King with mum Josephine Crowell, who’d play queens in The Man Who Laughs and The Merry Widow:

Protestant leader Admiral Coligny: Joseph Henabery, a prolific director who also played Lincoln in Birth of a Nation

At the Great Gate of Babylon in 539 B.C. (an intertitle brags about the movie’s life-size replica walls), the Rhapsode (Elmer Clifton, prolific director of westerns in the 40’s, also made the marijuana scare flick Assassin of Youth) is a warrior poet, agent of the High Priest of Bel, who falls for a Mountain Girl (Constance Talmadge, with the most modern look in the movie, despite wearing a hat that looks like a spinach salad with olives). Their leader is great and Tolerant, but the high priest is annoyed that some people worship a rival goddess, so he schemes to assist the Persians when they attack Babylon by having the impenetrable gates opened for them.

Mountain Girl joins in the battle:

So all the stories (not counting Judea) are about poor, pretty girls having their lives ruined because of greedy decisions made by rich, powerful people. The movie is incredibly obvious, so I got bored and spent much of the second half imagining the bloody murder of everyone involved. And then that’s pretty much what happened.

But first – two doves pull a chariot carrying a rose:

In the present: “When women cease to attract men they often turn to Reform as a second choice” – cue montage of the ugly women of the reform movement. But the reformists’ actions have simply moved the drinking and partying underground, where it’s more dangerous for being unregulated. The Boy returns home, the Musketeer gets involved in their lives again, then the jealous Friendless One kills him. Boy is blamed and sentenced to hang, but T.F.O. confesses at the last minute, so a car carrying her races to beat the governor’s train and stop the execution in time.

Robert “Boy” Harron (star of Griffith’s True Heart Susie, who killed himself in 1920) with Dear Mae Marsh (appeared in small roles in John Ford movies through the mid-60’s):

Babylon is attacked by Persian “Cyrus, world-conqueror” with his sword “forged in the flames of intolerance,” assisted by the jealous high priest. Hilarious moment in the fight when a warrior knocks another’s head clean off – then it happens again, in case you missed it.

In France: The Massacre of St. Bartholemew: a morning army assault on the unsuspecting protestants.

Unsuspecting Prosper (Eugene Pallette!) and Brown Eyes (Margery Wilson, later author of The Pocket Book of Etiquette and The Complete Book of Charm):

After hours and hours of long setup, the movie picks up the pace, cross-cutting between two battles and the final hours before the Boy’s hanging.

Brown Eyes is speared to death while Prosper runs through the city to reach her, then when he curses out the soldiers for killing his beloved, they blow him away with rifles.

Brown Eyes meets spear head:

Every character we’ve met in Babylon is killed, the Mountain Girl shot full of arrows.

But the Boy is spared and reunited with his Dear One, though their missing baby is never mentioned. IMDB says all sorts of alternate versions and deleted scenes exist, one of which shows the baby coming home with them. The site also says that after filming, Babylon was declared a fire hazard, and that Jesus Christ was deported for having sex with 14-year-olds. I need to watch Buster Keaton’s parody (only an hour long) The Three Ages again sometime.

Crazy ending:

People supposedly involved in this movie who appeared in minor roles whom I failed to spot: Tod Browning, Frank Borzage, Douglas Fairbanks and W.S. Van Dyke. Behind the scenes: Erich von Stroheim, Victor Fleming, Billy Bitzer, Jack Conway, Allan Dwan, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes co-author Anita Loos and Howard Hawks head writer Charles Lederer.

“What a charming evening we might have had if you hadn’t been a spy, and I a traitor.”
“Then we might never have met.”

Another Sternberg/Dietrich movie, and this one just kills The Blue Angel, which I thought was overbaked and had too little Dietrich. Here not only is she perfectly lit and doing a better acting job throughout, but the story is a wartime (1915 Austria) spy vs. spy drama, all romance and excitement, more alive and relevant than the period self-punishment of Emil Jannings. Sternberg seems fully comfortable in his sound world now, maybe not pulling as beautiful images as in the silents, when it was all image, but making a movie that fully works. Some good expressive lighting (backlit against windows when she lets Victor escape) and long-held cross-fades.

Marlene with Austrian secret service man Gustav von Seyffertitz (Hymn Book Harry, who performs the wedding in Docks of New York):

The opening titles prepare us for tragedy and sexism, telling us that codename X-27 “might have become the greatest spy in history… if X-27 had not been a woman.” This is referring to the ending, when she lets the enemy spy she loves escape before his execution, which leads to her own. But of course the reason she’s a great spy in the first place is that she’s a woman, able to seduce and sleep with (whoa, pre-code) enemy officers in order to steal information, the Black Book of its time.

At the start, war widow Marlene is out streetwalking to pay the rent (whoa, pre-code!) when she picks up a gentleman with a droopy ‘stache who tests her patriotism, pretending to try recruiting her for anti-Austrian work, and when she has him arrested he reveals that he’s the head of Austrian secret service and actually wants to hire her for pro-Austrian work, argh.

Warner “Charlie Chan” Oland as the spy who shoots himself:

Some veils, feathers and masks later, she’s at a party with more confetti and streamers than I’ve ever seen in one place. She acts interested in Russian Mustache Spy and retires back to his place, where she discovers his secret spy stash, all the while acting super-fucking-cool while he creeps away and kills himself.

The colonel is Victor McLaglen, Lon’s strongman sidekick in The Unholy Three who’d win best actor for The Informer a few years later:

With a distinctive smile like Victor’s, what use is a mask?

Off to unveil the secret identity of the dead spy’s undercover colonel friend from the costume party, which is simple since he has the most excellently recognizable sinister smile. And a cute little mustache – every man has a mustache.

The colonel is onto her spying ways – she’s got him, then lets him escape. She goes to Russia and acts as a timid housekeeper at enemy headquarters, then back home where she sees the grinning colonel again and lets him escapes. Sentenced to death, she asks only for a piano and “any dress I wore when I served my countrymen instead of my country,” so gets killed by rifle squad in her feathers and veil.

Pre-execution, at her piano:

I’ve enjoyed Jacques Tourneur’s SHOCKtober-worthy Cat People and I Walked With a Zombie, so I planned on watching Night of the Demon and The Leopard Man this year. But wait – just discovered that his father Maurice was also a filmmaker, also made horror movies, and their careers overlapped. So I watched movies by father and son from 1943, along with an early silent short.


The Devil’s Hand (1943, Maurice Tourneur)

“An avalanche, a madman, and prunes! The evening is completely spoiled.”

High-quality studio picture that plays like an expensive Twilight Zone episode until it gets bonkers towards the end. Very nice light and shadows, some Cocteauian fast-motion and reverse photography providing subtly supernatural effects.

Failed painter Roland (Pierre Fresnay of Le Corbeau and Grand Illusion) buys the titular hand from a great chef (who immediately loses his own right hand and his kitchen skills – this doesn’t seem to faze Roland) despite warnings from the chef’s assistant Ange (heh) and then sees his painterly fortunes soar. But he begins to be stalked by a short, cheerful man in a bowler hat claiming to be the devil and taunting Roland – offering to take back the hand in exchange for tons of cash.

The fatal purchase:

Jolly old devil:

His girl Irene (Josseline Gael of Raymond Bernard’s Les Miserables, whose career ended the following year, imprisoned for sleeping with the Gestapo) was the impetus for Roland’s devil-hand purchase, dumping him at dinner in front of the chef, calling his artworks trash. After his success, they’re married and the devil tries to trade her soul for Roland’s, calling her “a beautiful sinner.” Later she phones Roland from the hotel where she used to live offering him enough money to unload the hand, but when he arrives she has been murdered. I’m missing something – why her old hotel? How’d she get the money? By doing something immoral, no doubt, but she made more money in two days than the most celebrated painter in town could dig up?

Irene with Orpheus lighting, worn out from making all that money:

Anyway, after losing everything at a casino, Roland stumbles into the best part of the movie, a dining hall full of ghosts of the men who formerly possessed the hand, telling their stories via shadow-plays, culminating in the appearance of Maximus Leo, whose hand they’ve all been fooling with. So Roland goes off to the mountains trying to locate Leo’s grave so he can return the hand and break the curse.

Framing device: he’s been narrating all this to the patrons of a snowed-in lodge (who provide most of the film’s sense of humor), despondent because the devil just staged a power outage and nabbed the hand. The devil seems alternately powerful and feeble, serious and pranksterish in this movie. Suddenly Roland runs outside, chases down the devil and wrestles free the hand before falling to his death – upon Leo’s grave. So the curse is broken, I guess. Anyway, the movie is very enjoyable despite my story confusions. Based on an 1832 short story, no relation to The Hands of Orlac or The Monkey’s Paw.

F. Lafond:

Even if some sequences make use of expressionistic lighting, Tourneur manages to instill a sense of fear by emphasising the concrete consequences of the Faustian pact rather than the supernatural powers of the Devil … Above all, the pact functions as a commercial transaction … As with other films made during World War II, there are no direct references to the military and political context of the time. But Roland’s wild-eyed looks upon entering the inn at the outset of the film express a feeling of pervading paranoia that one can fully comprehend only by taking into account the extra-diegetic reality. The horror elements of Tourneur’s La Main du diable may well express an anxiety experienced by every Frenchman opposed to the German invasion, in their souls if not through action.


The Leopard Man (1943, Jacques Tourneur)

Another in the Val Lewton series that also produced I Walked With a Zombie, The Seventh Victim and The Ghost Ship – all in the same year! This one seemed more slight than the others I’ve seen (Curse of the Cat People excepted). A leopard gets loose in New Mexico after a publicity stunt goes wrong, kills a bunch of young women, and the singer and publicity man responsible for its escape try to help out (though they’re low-key about it, because it’s not cool to act responsible for terrorizing a town).

Kiki (serial player Jean Brooks, with a nice Myrna Loy-like voice) is the singer and Manning (Dennis O’Keefe, in Hangmen Also Die the same year, also star of the original Brewster’s Millions and Anthony Mann’s Raw Deal and T-Men) the publicity man – and the guy who lent them his leopard is named Charlie How-Come, a good-natured guy, but he’d like his leopard back, please, or the $225 it’ll cost to get a new one. I don’t remember if Charlie ever gets paid.

Young Teresa is the first and saddest victim, having to cross town at night to buy cornmeal, then pounding at her door to be let in as the leopard approached. Next up is Consuelo (a Finnish actress playing Mexican – hey, any foreigner will do), accidentally locked into a cemetery while awaiting her boyfriend. And finally Clo-Clo the maraca girl (“Margo” of Lost Horizon – too bad they couldn’t get The Panther Woman from Island of Lost Souls) who kinda had it coming, since she purposely frightened the leopard at the beginning, leading to its escape.

One victim – Teresa, I think – and her finches:

Turns out a local professor (James Bell, who also played the doctor in I Walked with a Zombie) found the dead leopard (or did he kill it?) and has used the leopard-on-the-loose headline as license to kill girls himself, leaving leopard-like evidence at the scenes. What a weirdo. I like how first he tries to convince Charlie How-Come (the “leopard man”) that Charlie is becoming a leopard while drunk, so that Charlie asks to be locked up, werewolf-style.


The Man With Wax Faces (1914, Maurice Tourneur)

A silent trifle with a good ending. The classic plot, which may not have been so classic at the time, of a man who bets he can spend the night in a spooky place (wax museum) in order to prove his bravery. But he’s not brave at all – the wind and shadows scare the hell out of him, and when his prankster friend sneaks in, he gets stabbed to death by his crazed buddy.

Adding to the sense of strangeness is some wicked, Decasia-worthy film damage, coincidentally appearing right after the title “Deeper into the night, the wax figures become more terrifying.” If you saw your world melting and tearing apart like this, you’d go mad, too.

Battle of the Tourneurs – advantage: Maurice

Remarkably well-restored, exciting little hour-long comedy, with a distinctive look and memorable performances – much, much better than anything I expected with such a boring name. I don’t know what I thought, maybe a Little Mermaid type thing, but the girl comes from a family who made their wealth in oysters, and agrees to marry down-and-out royalty to get herself a title, hence “oyster princess.”

The hyper-rich Oyster King, Mr. Quaker (Victor Janson, whom I liked so much in this role, I’ll try to forget that he appeared in “the key film in Nazi popular culture” in 1942) is disturbed from smoking a cigar the size of his head by a report that his daughter (Ossi Oswalda, “the German Mary Pickford”) has torn up her room upon hearing that the Shoe-Cream King’s daughter has married a prince, so Quaker hires the local matchmaker to procure a prince.

Handsome Prince Nucki (Harry Liedtke, title star of The Grand Duke’s Finances) lives in a ramshackle apartment with his roommate/assistant, bald jokester Josef (Julius Falkenstein of Dr. Mabuse The Gambler, The Haunted Castle). The matchmaker pays a call, and the prince sends Josef to check out the girl. But she’s in a hurry, marries Josef immediately, and holds a wedding banquet (Quaker: “Excuse me for introducing you to my son-in-law”). A split-screen “foxtrot epidemic” ensues (above) and Josef gets giddily drunk, while Nucki goes out drinking with his friends. This ends with my favorite shot in the movie, the group staggering down the road, depositing a man on each bench along the path.

Nucki stumbles blindly into “the multi-millionaires’ daughters’ association against dipsomania” (alcoholism) where he’s beaten up by Ossi, who falls for him and takes him home. It’s a setup for heartbreak, since Ossi is in love with a man who isn’t her husband, but then Josef says he got married in the prince’s name so the other two rush off to bed together.

Something like Lubitsch’s 30th movie (they were prolific back then), released a decade earlier than anything else I’ve seen by him.