Christmas double-feature in theaters with proper Turner Classic Movies intros (though it was only Ben Mankiewicz, not Robert Osborne) and hideous, blinding trivia cards in between movies.

A Christmas Carol (1938, Edwin L. Marin)

This one has got a real mean, crochety, convincingly horrible old Scrooge for the first half. He’s shitty to Jacob Marley, but starts to melt pretty quickly into the Christmas Past segment, and he’s a sentimental mess halfway through Christmas Present. Short movie with a streamlined story, cutting out bits like Scrooge’s love interest but still finding time to add some scenes, like an intro where Scrooge’s nephew meets Crachit’s kids. Best part: when Scrooge wakes up the next morning and throws cash to the boy on the street, the kid yells “whoosh” as he runs off.

Reginald Owen (Scrooge) was in Red Garters and Random Harvest, once played Sherlock Holmes and Watson in consecutive years. Gene Lockhart (blackmailer of Blackmail) is fine as Bob Crachit, appearing with his whole family of Lockharts. Jacob Marley became a Hitchcock regular. Produced by Ben Mank’s great uncle Joe.

Christmas in Connecticut (1945, Peter Godfrey)

Last time I wrote about Christmas In Connecticut I mentioned that Stanwyck is more sedate than usual but failed to mention how intensely cute she is. The movie starts out ridiculous then gets really good (let’s say more pleasantly ridiculous) the moment chef Cuddles Sakall shows up at the farmhouse and meets his Irish nemesis Una O’Connor. This time instead of focusing on the creepy/handsome soldier (I’d forgotten the intro scene where he’s adrift on a lifeboat, then dishonestly proposes to his nurse in order to get better food), Katy and I discussed Stanwyck’s 1940’s career ambitions. She’s not very good at her job (can’t keep her own invented details straight) and doesn’t care about keeping it (despite being the most famous female columnist in the country), just likes mink coats and strong men.

Shanks (1974)

“The town drunk with a shrew for a wife and a deaf mute for a brother-in-law”

The movie has silly, cartoonish music by Alex North which belongs in a goofy porno comedy, just a few years before North’s lowest low point in Wise Blood. He was oscar-nominated by the tin-eared academy, but fortunately they awarded the great Nino Rota the honors instead.

Shanks (Marcel Marceau) is a ridiculed mute puppeteer hired by rich Mr. Walker (also Marceau!) to control dead people using a three-button remote? I don’t remember why. Honestly, it was late at night and it was a very silly movie and I watched it while assembling Ikea furniture. But here are some notes I took:

The miracle of bringing dead animals to life is achieved cinematically by using live animals
Suddenly an underage love interest named Celia.
The drunk gets killed by a reanimated chicken in slow motion
Flowery intertitles

Wife is hit by a car – I’m not giving murderous Marceau credit for that one
TV laugh track during sinister scenes
He makes them do an awful lot with just three buttons

Mr & Mrs Barton is the couple, mute is Malcolm
Perverse to star a celebrated mime but have all the other actors play fun reanimated dead people [this was before I realized Marceau also played Mr. Walker, the first to be hilaiously reanimated]

Silly-ass music

“The outside world of evil,” says a title card which burns away revealing… youth on motorcycles. Still the greatest threat to society in 1972: mustache dudes on motorcycles.

Mata Hari is the bad girl
Good girl is killed and, let’s face it, probably raped. Typical 70’s.

Closing title card unsubtly tells us “Good versus Evil,” but I wouldn’t exactly call Marceau “good,” just maybe in comparison with the others in this movie. He’s also shown to be a better fighter than the leader of the bike gang. Needless to say, he reanimates the dead girl at the end and makes her dance with him, because he is a dangerous creep. Mata Hari never wakes up and calls the cops, like she should.
First rom-zom-com? Look out, Shaun of the Dead.

Mr. Sardonicus (1961)

“London, 1880”
Castle doesn’t really look like John Goodman, but he is just as cheesy.

What was this about? Robert goes to Sardonicus’ castle to surgically fix his death-grimace face, supernaturally obtained when Dr. S tried to rob a winning lotto ticket from his own father’s grave, but Robert’s science is unsuccessful. There is intrigue involving Dr. S’s wife, I believe. I’m pretty sure I liked it better than Shanks, or maybe I’d just been drinking more.

Sir Robert is a handsome physical therapist with right-hand man Wainwright
Much is made of the invention of the hypodermic needle
He has a photo-locket that speaks to him in flashback-voiceover
One-eyed hunchy Krull [Oskar Homolka of Ball of Fire and Sabotage]

A scene ripped off from Dracula when he arrives in eastern europe
Also no mirrors in the castle
Ana has leeches on her!

Nice to see a castle servant who’s intelligent and well-spoken
Maybe Sardonicus is meant to sound like sarcophagus, but it looks more like sardonic
Toulon! [Sardonicus is played by Guy Rolfe, Andre Toulon in Puppet Masters 3-7]

Henryk [Vladimir Sokoloff of Baron of Arizona] was his dad. I actually thought it was Oskar playing a different character. Elenka is his first wife
Comically over-explainy, like in MANT

Thanks to TCM for showing this rare cult film written, directed, produced and even distributed by goofball character actor Timothy Carey (of The Killing, Paths of Glory, One-Eyed Jacks and East of Eden – later of Head and two Cassavetes films).

Carey, with all the power he can muster, plays an insurance salesman who tires of the game, has an internal moral/religious/political crisis and decides that anyone can be God. He gets his name changed to God, affixes a fake goatee, hires his Mexican gardener as his number-two man, gets sponsored by a shadowy political figure, and runs for high office. He names his group the Eternal Man’s Party, says his followers can be “super-human-beings”, it sounds like a dangerous cross between naziism, self-help dianetics, and The Holy Mountain. Plenty of people follow God Hilliard’s clearly sacrilegious message until late in the campaign newsmen start asking if he’s maybe an atheist. Atheists don’t get elected, but people calling themselves God do? Clarence has sent his wife and kids away so he can have sex with 16-yr-old groupies and live the decadent life of the rich and powerful, but amongst the atheism allegations he starts defying God to show Himself, wanders into a church and steals those holy biscuits that Catholics are so nuts about, starts stabbing one with a needle. Ha, nothing, he leaves the room, comes back, a trail of blood, miracle, movie busts into crazy color.

Coming out around the time of X: The Man With X-Ray Eyes and Carnival of Souls, and only a year before Shock Corridor, it’s not like it was the only weirdo movie in Hollywood those days, but its weirdness is still pretty damned impressive. Roughly edited with a cheap look but a good eye, clearly a personal movie.

Assisted by Ray Dennis Steckler (Wild Guitar, The Incredibly Strange Creatures…). Music composed by a 21-year-old Frank Zappa, four years before Freak Out. The title song ended up on the Cucamonga comp. Wife is played by Betty Rowland, who has very few credits, but one is a doc called Striptease: The Greatest Exotic Dancers of All Time, so we can guess where Carey found her. His Mexican gardener/assistant Alonzo turned up twenty years later in Scarface. Paul Frees, the professional voiceover guy who did the snake/narrator, was writing/directing The Beatniks around the same time… crazy.

Joan’s sister Valerie is getting married, so Joan wonders how she might also get married. Marriage, you see, is a business, and emotion should not be involved, so Joan (Ann Harding of Holiday & Peter Ibbetson) makes a business decision to marry John (William Powell, the Thin Man and the Great Ziegfeld), with the scheming help of Valerie (Lucile Browne of Soup To Nuts) and the unwitting help of their father (strangely german-accented Henry Stephenson, who played the nice rich guy who adopts David Lean’s Oliver Twist).

John isn’t into the whole marriage thing and starts hanging out with his hottie ex Lilian Bond (apparently best known for Wyler’s 1940 The Westerner). Meanwhile Val has gone deep into debt buying fancy clothes and in her drunkenness she blows the secret of the scheming to John, who was gonna divorce Joan anyway, but he and Joan kinda love each other now so I think it’ll turn out alright.

George Meeker (ninety movies in the 1930’s! first one was preston sturges’ first big hit as a writer) is unexciting as the sister’s husband, but Reginald Owen (Stingaree, 1938 Christmas Carol, Diary of a Chambermaid, The Pirate, Red Garters and Mary Poppins) is delicious as John’s butler.

It’s a good movie, some funny and racy parts (sly references to all the sex everyone’s having offscreen), good direction, some long camera takes. Nice to see such an excellent new print of a film from 70+ years ago.

We were told by the Turner guys who introduced the film that a famous drag queen was hired as the couturier in the opening scene but upon seeing the rushes the studio flipped and made ’em reshoot it with a more low-key (but still semi-flaming) actor.