Thursday, June 24, 2010

Vertigo (1958) at the Capitol Theatre

The Capitol Theatre is my local movie house. It is literally a few blocks away from my apartment building, yet I almost never go. It's proximity to my home makes me take it for granted because I know it's convenient and that's its always there for me. The last time I went to the Capitol was also the first time I went and that in October of 2008 when I saw the remake of The Women (1939) with Kevin.
A return visit has been long overdue.

Walking home one day, I saw this signage on the door of the Capitol. Hitchcock? On the big screen? Just a few blocks from my apartment? And I don't even have to worry about parking? Huzzah!

It's been years since I've seen Vertigo (1958) and while visually it's stunning, at that time I didn't much care for the story. I thought I'd give it another try. Initially, I had planned to go by myself but Carlos begged me to take him with me. He loves Hitchcock as much as I do, so date night was set. We had dinner then walked to the Capitol. We were a bit early so we stopped in on there ice cream shop and had a few pre-movie treats. While we were indulging in Maine Black Bear (raspberry ice cream with chocolate pieces) and Purple Cow (blackberry ice cream with white chocolate chips), Carlos asked me a question completely out of the blue...
What if Alfred Hitchcock directed Dr. Strangelove (1964)?

At first I brushed off the question but then I took a moment to think about it. Hitchcock would have never directed Dr. Strangelove because there are no no prominent female characters in it. Hitchcock REALLY loved his women. And he had a particular appetite for blondes.
In Hitchcock films, the camera is constantly making love to the female lead. Our eye is drawn to her instinctively. It's as though we are borrowing Hitchcocks POV for a few moments. However, it's always the female lead and never the other actresses. For example, in Rear Window (1954), the viewer is in a state of constant adoration for Grace Kelly but our eyes do not rest for very long on Thelma Ritter.

So when we watched Vertigo on the big screen, I kept an eye out for this detail (tee hee). And sure enough, Kim Novak is lovingly adored by Hitchcock's camera.

I must not have paid much attention the first couple of times I had watched the movie because there were a lot of great plot points I was missing. Watching it on the big screen, forced me to pay closer attention. Vertigo has everything. Great actors, stunning visuals, a plot that keeps you guessing, action, drama and romance. Plus a Jimmy Stewart with an excessive amount of make-up on.

I love how Hitchcock uses structures to represent different things. Brassieres and bridges hold things up and represent stability. Windows and door frame paint idyllic pictures but are often misleading. Ledges, rooftops and towers (heights) mean danger. The museum, cemetery, church and hotel are all purgatories for people in the present who are stuck in the past. There is enough meat in this film for an English major like me to feast on.

Watching Vertigo this once on the big screen is not enough. I need to own this film, watch it several times at home, take notes and break it apart. I need to watch it to analyze and watch it for fun.

Have you watched a Hitchcock film on the big screen? If so, which one? Did it change the way you watched the film or what you thought of it? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Charlie Chan's Chance

Bob over at the excellent blog Allure, sent me this advertisement for the lost Charlie Chan film Charlie Chan's Chance. It's one of the Fox/Warner Oland Chans. Bob tells me that the film is lost but the script and a few stills from the film still exist.

With just a quick Google search, I found an illustrated script for Charlie Chan's Chance (1932) (script and those few stills) online on The Charlie Chan Family website. They have the scripts of a few other lost Fox/Warner Oland Charlie Chans including Charlie Chan's Courage (1934)Charlie Chan's Greatest Case (1933) and Charlie Chan Carries On (1931).

Here are is a review of the film when it was first released: Variety January 1st, 1932

The story of Charlie Chan's Chance was based off Earl Derr Brigger's novel Behind That Curtain which also inspired Behind That Curtain (1929) with E.L. Park and Murder Over New York (1940) with Roland Winters. The novel was published serially in The Saturday Evening Post between March 31st to May 5, of 1928. It's still in print today thanks to the good folks at Academy Chicago Publishers.

It's also interesting to note that this film is the only one in which the author and creator of Charlie Chan, Earl Derr Briggers, was involved. He edited some of the script.

Several Charlie Chans were considered lost at one time but were then discovered so there is still hope for this film. So if you have a moment, please check your attic or basement. Who knows, maybe you have the only surviving copy of Charlie Chan's Case!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Night of the Hunter - A Biography of a Film

The Night of the Hunter: A Biography of a Film
by Jeffrey Couchman
Northwestern University Press

Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter (1954), an adaptation of Davis Grubb's 1953 novel, is many things: a fractured fairy tale, an American gothic story, a twisted song, an homage to silent films, a 20th century re-envisioning of William Blake's Songs of Experience and Songs of Innocence and a pseudo-noir.

Couchman's book is not just a love letter to the film and its creators, nor is it a personal perspective on the film. However, if you think NOTH is a masterpiece, the book will only justify your thoughts by laying out the many reasons why it is so. Couchman's book is a soup-to-nuts look at all of the elements that went into creating this classic. He takes us through every phase of the process including the writing of the novel, Laughton's vision of the movie, Grubb's drawings and James Agee's screen adaptation.

Grubb's novel, the source of the story, is spoken about constantly throughout the text  but you don't have to be familiar with the novel to follow along. A general understanding of the film is all you really need.

I'm sure this book is better suited to the serious film student but what a treat it would be to a classic movie lover too? The rich information provided by the book makes the movie experience into a four-course meal instead of just a dessert. I would recommend this book to three different kinds of people. 1) A Film Student 2) Fan of The Night of the Hunter 3) Serious Classic Film Buff who wants to advance his or her knowledge of film.

Couchman delivers wonderful observations and this book is chockful of great information. Here are a few tidbits I'd like to share:

On the infamous scene of Willa (Shelley Winters or at least a wax dummy of her), floating underwater, with her throat slit. "The cinematic fakery resulted in images that no one who has seen the film is likely to froget. A slow pan along waving reeds picks up Willa, bound in the car, her hair flowing as though with a life of its own. In many ways, the scene defines The Night of the Hunter. It is at once realistic and surreal, grim and poetic. Everything about it is a contradiction. The car alone is a shocking, industrial intrusion in a natural realm. The greater intrustion, though, is Willa's body, a serene picture of violent death, a floating apparition weighted to the river bottom." pg 111
Novel versus Film: "[Grubb's novel] satisfies readers expectations. The film thwarts expectations at every turn." - pg 206
On the differing acting styles of Mitchum and Gish: "The choices Laughton made reveal how consciously he sought a stylized, exaggerated performance from Mitchum and a naturalistic unadorned performance from Gish. Each style of acting becomes a code in itself" Mitchum's affected manner signals Preacher's deceitful nature, and Gish's straightforward approach identifies Rachel as direct and honest" - pg 174

If you are a wimpy classic film fan who just likes to watch movies but not use your preicous brain cells to actually think about the films you've seen, then you are not tough enough to handle this book. For all other classic movie buffs, I throw down the gauntlet and challenge you to read this. What will separate the weak from the strong is the desire and ability amongst classic film fans to acquire knowledge, to analyze and think and to earnestly put this knowledge to good use. Are you up for it?
Thank you to Northwestern University Press for sending me this book to review! And so sorry it took me so long to get to it. :-)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Third, a Second and a First

A Third

June 15th, 2010 marked the Third Blogiversary for Out of the Past ~ A Classic Film Blog. I really wanted to do something big. A giveaway, a contest, a competition, blogathon, something, but life got in the way and so the blogiversary quietly passed me by. However, I want to take the opportunity to thank all of you for reading my blog, whether you just started or if you've been on board for the long haul. Thank you.

A Second

Yesterday, the winners for the Best Classic Film Blog LAMMY award were announced. She Blogs by Night (she also blogs for TCM's Movie Morlocks) won by a landslide. However, I didn't do to shabby and ended up getting 15 votes (plus some extra votes from newbies, sorry I forgot there were rules about that). Woohoo! Those 15 votes got me second place. I think this is probably the pinnacle of my LAMMY award career. I don't think I'll ever win, especially now that there are so many great classic film blogs on the LAMB. So I'll take 2nd place, happily!

Thank you so so so much to everyone who voted for me. You guys are wonderful.

A First

Cliff from Immortal Ephemera,, etc. just announced the launch of the First ever Classic Movie Search! You'll never want to use plain old Google ever again. This customized search engine weeds out the irrelevant sites and focuses on classic film related sites and blogs for keyword searches. Brilliant. Cliff is still developing it and if you have a blog or site that you think should be added to the growing list, make sure you reccommend it with the form available in the 'Featured Sites' section.

Press Release: Jane Russell at Hollywood Heritage Museum

If you live in the Hollywood area, you are a lucky SOB because you have an opportunity to see Jane Russell in person! Here is the press release:

Jane Russell To Appear June 23 at Hollywood Heritage Museum
Iconic Hollywood sex symbol Jane Russell, who starred in “The Outlaw,” “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and “The Revolt of Mamie Stover,” will make a rare personal appearance June 23 at the Hollywood Heritage Museum in the Lasky-DeMille Barn.
The “Evening with Jane Russell” program will begin at 7:30 p.m. with a 45-minute motion picture summary of Ms. Russell’s life and career and close with a conversation with the multi- talented performer/activist.
The deeply-religious entertainer, an adoptive mother of three, founded the World Adoption International Fund (WAIF) in 1952, which placed an estimated 51,000 orphaned children. The next year she championed passage of the Federal Orphan Adoption Amendment, which allowed children of American servicemen born overseas to be placed for adoption in the U.S. And in 1980 she was at the forefront of the lobbying effort for the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act, which provides reimbursement for eligible foster and adoptive parents, and financial assistance for the additional cost incurred with adopting handicapped children.
The Lasky-DeMille Barn (birthplace of Paramount Pictures) is located at 2100 N. Highland Avenue, across from the Hollywood Bowl. Parking is free (in Lot D). General admission is $10 ($5 for Hollywood Heritage members) and refreshments are available.
The museum auditorium has seating for only 110 guests, and ticket-seekers are advised to arrive early. For additional information visit:

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Charlie Chan teaches us about Classic Film distribution

Hasty conclusion like gunpowder. Easy to explode. - Charlie Chan

Do you ever wonder why TCM won't show a particular movie? Do you ever think to yourself,"How did they pick the movies for that boxed set"? Do you find that your head starts to spin whenever you try to keep all the movie studio names straight?

The world of contemporary classic film distribution is complicated. Before I start, let me just clarify that  when I say "classic film distribution", I mean the system in which current movie studios distribute classic films on DVD and license those same films to be shown on television channels such as TCM, AMC and Fox Movie Channel. Trying to figure out who owns what rights, who can show what, who can sell what and what studios have merged together is no easy task. Having tried to figure it out myself, I have come to the conclusion that it's pretty impossible to understand the whole system. However, a basic understanding of some key facts can help you understand the availability of certain films and the unavailability of others as well as how the system works.

It's like the saying goes, in order to eat an elephant you have to go at it one bite at a time. Let's start understanding the classic film distribution by understanding how one particular boxed set came together.

The Charlie Chan Collection is a boxed set I recently reviewed. Note the language on the box indicates that it's part of the TCM Spotlight collection and it's presented by Warner Home Video.

A few things to know...
  • Time Warner merged with Turner Broadcasting System.
  • Time Warner owns both TCM and Warner Bros.
  • The pre-1986 library of MGM films is controlled by Warner Bros.  MGM is currently owned and controlled by Sony Pictures.
  • Monogram films, post-1936, are controlled by Warner Bros (classified under the MGM library). Pre-1936 films are owned by Paramount which is controlled by Viacom.
  • Fox Entertainment Group owns all the various Fox studios (20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures, etc.) and has full control over the distribution of all of their films. They will sometimes allow channels like TCM to show films in their library.
  • Universal Studios is owned by NBC and they control the distribution of their library of films with some notable exceptions. They also own distribution rights to films by other studios, including 5 out of the 6 Hitchcock films that Paramount released.
  • Pathe Studios merged with RKO. The library of Pathe and RKO films is owned by Time Warner and thus distributed by Warner Bros.

Now here is a time line for the Charlie Chan films...
  • 1926 - Pathe releases the first Charlie Chan film The House without a Key. The film is considered lost.
  • 1927- Universal Studios releases the second Charlie Chan film The Chinese Parrot. This film is also considered lost.
  • 1929 - Fox acquires the rights to the Charlie Chan character.
  • 1929-1937 - Fox releases 17 Charlie Chan films. 1 with E.L. Park, 1 in Spanish, Eran Trece, and 15 with Warner Oland.
  • 1938 - Warner Oland dies.
  • 1939 - Fox hires Sidney Toler to play Charlie Chan
  • 1939-1942 - Fox releases 11 Charlie Chan films with Sidney Toler but then decide to abandon the franchise.
  • 1942 - Sidney Toler buys the rights to the Charlie Chan character and starts making pictures with Monogram Studios.
  • 1942-1946 - Monogram releases 11 Charlie Chan films with Sidney Toler.
  • 1947 - Sidney Toler dies.
  • 1947 - Monogram hires Roland Winters to play Charlie Chan
  • 1947-1949 - Monogram releases 6 Charlie Chan films with Roland Winters
To put the Charlie Chan franchise in perspective:
  • TCM and Warner Bros. can distribute one lost Pathe film (if it's ever found) and all of the Monogram films (half Sidney Toler and all of Roland Winters).
  • Fox can distribute all of the Warner Oland Charlie Chans and the first 11 of the Sidney Toler Charlie Chans.
  • Universal Studios can only distribute The Chinese Parrot, if they ever find it.

Warner Bros. had already released some of their Charlie Chan films. They could not put any Warner Oland Charlie Chans in the set because those are owned by Fox. They put a "new to DVD" spin on the set which would exclude the following films:

The Secret Service (1944)
The Chinese Cat (1944)
Meeting at Midnight (1944)
The Jade Mask (1945)
The Scarlet Clue (1945)
The Shanghai Cobra (1945)

With only a few films left, TCM and Warner Bros. chose to create a boxed set with 3 Sidney Toler Charlie Chans and 1 Roland Winters Charlie Chan. And thus we get the TCM Spotlight: Charlie Chan Collection!

So next time you find yourself daydreaming about the perfect DVD boxed set and wondering why it isn't available, just know that putting a boxed set together is much more difficult than you think.


Quelle Note: I tried to be as accurate as possible in the post above. If you find any errors or want me to include additional information, please e-mail me at Quellelove at gmail dot com.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Metropolis (1927) is...

... many things.

I had the absolute pleasure seeing Kino's newly restored Metropolis (1927) with the 25 minutes of lost footage that was recovered from Buenos Aires, Argentina. What a delight! Carlos took me to the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline, MA and we got to see the most complete version of the film on the big screen. This is not the complete version just the most complete. There are still a few missing scenes. However, a lot of missing footage clipped from existing scenes and entire whole scenes were recovered and woven into the film. In hopes of getting this longer version of the movie out to audiences quicker, the lost scenes that were added were not digitally remastered so it's very easy to tell what was missing. One lost scene I was happy to see was with Georgy worker 11811, who switches outfits and lives with Freder, goes off galavanting in the world of the upper class. A pivotal scene which I'm sure for political reasons was removed from various versions. Having it back in the movie helps the plot line and demonstrates the great contrast between the lives of the workers and the lives of the wealthy in Metropolis.

Kino is showcasing this new version in select cities across the US this summer and it will soon be on DVD. If you get an opportunity, please watch it. I had seen this film many times (including once before on the big screen) but watching this new version was like experiencing the film for the very first time.

After I left the theater, I thought about what Metropolis (1927) is, because let's face it, it's more than a movie. So I came up with a list. If you have seen the newest version of Metropolis, please share your thoughts. And if you have anything you'd like to add to this list, feel free to let me know and I will add it here and credit you.

Metropolis (1927) is...

  • an allegory
  • steampunk 
  • retrofuturism
  • Art Deco p-rn
  • one Hitler's favorite film
  • epic
  • the film that almost sent UFA into bankruptcy
  • fractured
  • influential
  • referenced in many films years after it came out
  • Biblical
  • science fiction
  • Marxist
  • visually stunning
  • German Expressionism
  • a dystopian tale
  • ahead of its time
  • misunderstood
  • an original screenplay written by Fritz Lang and wife Thea von Harbou
  • socially conscious
  • in the public domain
  • just begging for literary analysis and therefore...
  • an English major's dream
  • unlike any other film ever made
  • Raygun Gothic
  • the original Gotham
  • iconic
  • historically important

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

One Girl's Confession (1953) and Joran van der Sloot

image from Film Noir Photos

I've been working my way through the various films in the Bad Girls of Noir collections (Vol. 1 and Vol 
2) when I came across this little gem: One Girl's Confession (1953).  This film is pretty unusual for a noir in one respect: the story focuses on a female protagonist. If you look at the history of major film noirs, Out of the Past (1947),  The Killing (1956),  Double Indemnity (1944), The Asphalt Jungle (1950), etc. they all have female characters who play significant roles in the story, but everything revolves around the male lead. So to watch a film noir about a woman was very refreshing.

One Girl's Confession is a story about Mary Adams (Cleo Moore), a hardworking girl who seems down on her luck even though her outrageously good looks seem to hypnotize men. She works at a restaurant owned by the same sleazy scumbag that ruined her own father financially years ago. When she sees the scumbag hoarding money, she decides to take revenge and steals the dough and hides it. Fully knowing the extent of what she's done, she happily confesses and is willing to serve out a jail sentence. The only hitch is that she won't reveal where the cash is stashed. It's waiting for her once she gets out of the clink. However, when Mary is put on probation and is released earlier than she thought, the life she was plotting out for herself doesn't quite work out the way she planned.

After I watched the film, I headed off to the gym to work off some tension and get some cardio. While on the elliptical, I caught a glimpse of the king of major sleazy scumbags, Joran van der Sloot on one of the gym's televisions. My ire towards that poor excuse for a human being helped me burn off some extra calories. Now you may be asking, so what does that have to do with One Girl's Confession?

Here is the asshole in question.

Joran van der Sloot has been tied to missing American teenager Natalie Holloway since she disappeared in Aruba on May 30th, 2005. On May 30th, 2010, exactly five years later, he's now tied to the murder of Stephany Flores Ramirez, who was found dead in Sloot's hotel room in Peru. This piece of s**t who is pretending to be a man was tried several times for the Holloway murder but couldn't be convicted. Even though undercover agent Patrick van der Eem got van der Sloot to reveal that he dumped Holloway's body into the ocean, Sloot still got away with his crime.  So off he went to the Netherlands to get high and traffic prostitutes. The story of Joran van der Scumbag is a long and complicated one that I won't go into here but at least you get the jist.

Now let's compare van der Sloot with Mary Adams:

Mary Adams - Committed a crime (theft), confessed and gave herself in, served her sentence, at several times was willing to give away the fruits of her crime ($$$) to help others, faced hardship but learned her lesson.

Joran van der Sloot - Committed a crime (murder), kept quiet about certain details and got help from his daddy, never served a sentence, tried to extort money, never learned his lesson and killed again.

I came away from One Girl's Confession with a good feeling inside. I came away from all the news coverage of Joran van der Sloot with incredible anger. Mary Adams is poor trying to make ends meet, van der Sloot comes from privilege. Mary tries to be kind while Sloot thinks other people are beneath him. 

I was so affected by these two stories that I just had to write this post. It's so interesting how both of these stories, of two polar opposite characters (one fictional and one unfortunately real), intersected. It just goes to show how easy it is to relate classic films to every day life.

Monday, June 7, 2010

TCM Spotlight: Charlie Chan Collection DVD Set

Charlie Chan = Awesome

I simply adore Charlie Chan movies. They are easy mysteries that are fun to watch. So when Warner Bros. contacted me about reviewing the new TCM Spotlight Charlie Chan Collection, I was very excited because it was a good opportunity for me to watch more films in the series, especially ones I haven't seen. This set includes 4 new-to-DVD Charlie Chans. Three Sidney Toler Chan's Dark Alibi (1946), Dangerous Money (1946) and The Trap (1946). The fourth film, The Chinese Ring (1947), features Roland Winters as Charlie Chan.

From what I can tell from the folks I spoke to on Facebook, many classic film fans love Charlie Chan and are well-versed in all things related to this series. Nevertheless here is a little background on the films. 

The Charlie Chan mysteries were a series of 6 novels written by Earl Derr Briggers. The character in the novels works for the Honolulu police but in the movie franchise, Charlie Chan, the witty and clever Chinese detective, travels all over the world solving crimes as he goes. At first the films were done with a Chinese actor in the part of Charlie Chan but those proved unpopular. Later, popular Swedish actor Warner Oland (from Old San Francisco fame) took on the role of Chan. You may be asking yourself, what's a Swedish dude doing playing the part of a Chinaman? Although Oland was born in Sweden, he had Mongolian ancestry which made him look exotic. So for the movie studio Fox, he was Asian enough. Oland did the series and it became wildly popular. He died suddenly in 1938 and to keep the series going, they hired Scottish actor Sidney Toler to replace Oland. Toler made about 22 Chan films (some for Fox who then abandoned them and Toler bought the rights and made the rest with Monogram Pictures) until he passed away in 1947. To milk the last out of the money teat that was the Chan franchise, they hired American actor Roland Winters to film the last 6 pictures.

In my honest opinion, Oland was the best Chan, Toler was good but not great and Winters was a disaster. Who is your favorite Chan?

If you are brand new to the Charlie Chan series, you may want to start out with one of the feature-length Oland films first such as Charlie Chan in Shangai (1935). If you love the series and want some more, than this set would be a nice addition to your film collection. Here are some of my thoughts on the set:

DVD Set: It's DVD not DVD-R which is excellent and the packaging is superb. Don't expect any extras though!

Dark Alibi: Ex-cons gone straight are being framed for various bank robberies. Charlie Chan, his son Jimmy Chan and assistant Birmingham Brown are on the case. This is an enjoyable mystery with a lot of humorous moments. Great watching for a rainy day.

Dangerous Money: A murder on a cruise ship? Charlie Chan is on the case! Along with Jimmy Chan and Chattanooga Brown. This is the best film out of the set. Really enjoyable, great plot, lots of kooky characters and you'll keep changing your mind about who-dun-it.

The Trap: A girl's been murdered on Malibu Beach, another one is missing and a whole bunch of others are in danger. Jimmy Chan is called onto the case but Charlie Chan takes over and is followed by Birmingham Brown. This is by far the worst film out of the set. The gaggle of gals are simply annoying and it's difficult to care about the characters or the story.

The Chinese Ring: The princess of China has been murdered and someone is stealing money from her bank account. Charlie Chan (Roland Winters), Jimmy Chan and Birmingham Brown are on the case. Winters is simply awful as Chan but the story is good and it makes up for his shortfall [minor spoiler alert] This one is pretty dark especially since a child is murdered in the story.

This boxed set goes on sale tomorrow, June 8th. This would make a great gift for a die-hard classic film buff or someone who likes short, easy mysteries. It's not for everyone though.

Oh and something about it being on Blu-Ray too. ::smirk::

Here are a couple of videos from YouTube that Warner Bros. sent me. They'll give you a good sense of the three main characters (Charlie Chan, Jimmy Chan and the exchangeable Browns) and of the style of these movies. Enjoy!

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