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Monday Movie Meditation?

So there I was, sitting on the couch with my laptop and telling myself I could NOT again post the picture of Frankenstein’s monster saying, “No like Monday!”  I looked through my monster groups on Facebook for a new picture. Do you suppose I could find anything?  Then I saw this movie poster, which has nothing to do with Mondays and is actually a kind of a disappointing monster, but I downloaded it anyways, and here it is.

He is rather intimidating on the poster, I suppose.

I’ve seen Curse of the Demon a couple of times, DVR’d from TCM.  According to pre-movie commentary by Ben Mankiewicz, producer Val Lewton did not want to show the monster right away but was overruled by the studio.  I agree that it would have been much scarier to see the first victim looking utterly horrified by… what?  But these were pre-Jaws days.

For the uninitiated, in the first Jaws movie, we don’t see the shark until well into the movie.  This was actually making a virtue of necessity, because they had a lot of trouble with that mechanical shark, but it turned out to be SO effective.  Who knew?  Val Lewton, apparently, but nobody believed him.  Come to think of it, some post-Jaws movies could be a little more circumspect, too, but that’s a whole other blog post.

What a messy eater!

And here is the Jaws shark.  I feel he is a monster worth waiting for.  I’m afraid this was not a blog post worth waiting for, but what do you want from me on a Monday?

 

Sluggish Saturday

Me on a more ambitious Saturday.

I thought I would lead with a photo of me finishing the East Herkimer Fire Department 5K last Saturday.  Yes, I am boldly wearing a Superman t-shirt, regardless of how slowly I run.  Steven purchased it at a church thrift store some years go for fifty cents.  Sometimes I even let him wear it.

At first I had meant to have Saturday Running Commentary today.  I ran for the first time since 5K (don’t judge), and it went pretty well.  But I like to do Running Commentary posts soon after the run when it is fresh in my mind.  Unfortunately, I had one of my sinus headaches this morning and it got worse as the morning progressed.  Sorry to complain about it, but there it is.

I took some ibuprofen and a decongestant, the I laid down with this thing my Mom nicely got me.  It is a sleep mask filled with seeds or herbs or something.  You heat it in the microwave or freeze it.  I heated it.  It felt awesome!  I fell asleep.  Twice.  The headache went away.  Yay, Mom!  Alas, the decongestant had the usual effect these things do, and I am doped up, brain and body dead, and quite sluggish.  This is why I rarely take decongestants, and why I forget how bad the effects are between doses.  So I make another note to myself and for a while I will rely on the mask, hot tea and sinus irrigation.  The next time I take decongestants, you’ll probably read about it here, when I have another foolish post such as this.

After I got up from the second nap, I felt more rested than I can remember feeling.  The feeling of sluggishness soon returned, and coffee tasted good but did not help.  I recently heard a name for what ails me: Old Farthritis, but let’s not go on about my ills.  I thought I would watch a Halloween movie from the ones I’ve DVR’d recently (TCM is doing a lot this month, yay!).  I tried Daughter of Dracula (1936).

“Look in my eyes… What do you see?”

 

Imagine my surprise when I heard in Ben Mankeiwicz’s pre-movie commentary that the movie is highly thought of by many critics.  I enjoyed what I saw, but I realized  that it is not as much fun watching a monster movie without my husband, Steve.  I stopped the movie, posted that thought on Facebook, and decided to make my blog post.  For what it is worth.

I shall close with another picture of me taken on a more ambitious Saturday.  Here I am in costume and character for the Utica Landmarks Society fundraiser, Ritz and Ragtime.  I think of it because Steven recently discovered it, having not seen it immediately after the event, when all the pictures were first shared.  I know exactly where it is on our downloads.

And I don’t care what you see in the movies: that flask does NOT stay nicely tucked into your garter!

Happy Saturday, everyone, and I hope to see you all on Wrist to Forehead Sunday.

 

Cheesy Queen

I thought I might have found a cheesy movie when I saw the title Queen of Outer Space (1958) on the TCM schedule. When I saw that Zsa Zsa Gabor starred, I was even more hopeful. My hopes were confirmed with Ben Mankiewicz’s pre-movie commentary. A typical ’50s sci fi flick: low budget, cheesy special effects and a lot of fun. I will say: not the most fun movie I could think of, but considering the cheese shortage I have been experiencing lately, it’ll do.

Spoiler alert: I’m going to give a lot away. I don’t think I’m spoiling much, though, because it’s the sort of movie where you pretty much see everything coming.

My first disappointment was that Zsa Zsa was not the queen. I learned that during the pre-movie commentary. My next disappointment was that the movie takes forever to get started.

The plot concerns that staple of cheesy movies, a civilization of all women. This one is on, what a surprise, Venus. But of course we can’t start out actually on Venus tussling with the ladies. We must start out on Earth, learning the mission of the three astronauts and their important passenger blah blah blah. Important takeaway: these guys are tops in astronauting but the mission is supposed to be a milk run.

I did not notice what year the movie is supposed to take place in — the future of 1958 anyways — but space travel has certainly advanced. The astronauts are taking Important Guy to a space station, which one astronaut refers to as a bus depot.

A word about the three astronauts. They are a captain and two lieutenants. I think they were supposed to have distinct personalities. The stalwart leader, the ladies man and the wise cracker. However, they seemed pretty much interchangeable to me.

Take off is slightly delayed when Ladies Man (I think) pauses on the tarmac to kiss a beautiful blond good-bye.

“Space ships are dangerous,” she squeaks in the approved airhead voice. “What if you get lost?”

As things turn out she should be more worried about his wandering eye than any wandering the ship might do, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Then again, this blond is not seen, mentioned nor thought of again, so I guess the whole movie is hard luck on her.

Stalwart Leader looks out the window (!) at them, then gets on the loudspeaker (!) and tells Ladies Man to get on board. After a few more smooches, he does.

The movie is further delayed when they feel the need to let us hear the whole countdown. Couldn’t they at least have started on five? In your better movies, during the countdown a character is trying frantically to get something done or a villain perpetrates some nefarious act. This movie just flashes on the spaceship, the blond looking worried, and the guys strapping themselves into beds. Apparently space travel has become very relaxing in whatever year this is supposed to be.

It’s gotten pretty hands-off as well. After the space station is blown to smithereens before their eyes and they are under attack themselves, Stalwart Leader puts it on autopilot and they strap themselves back into the beds.

“Who’s flying the ship?” I asked.

Flash to some of those cheesy special effects: either a model or a cardboard cut-out of the ship moves shakily across the screen while fake-looking flames squiggle below.

As is often the case in science fiction, the gravity and atmosphere on another planet are nothing to worry about. As a nod to reality, one of the astronauts says to Important Guy that he thought the atmosphere on Venus was too heavy from… something.

“I used to subscribe to that theory,” Important Guy says importantly.

“But my subscription ran out and I didn’t renew it,” I interjected and thought I was pretty clever for making Steven laugh.

The men disembark from their disabled but not totaled spacecraft and are soon captured by women with some pretty tough firearms. They speak English because, as one explains scornfully, they have been intercepting Earth’s radio transmissions.

I must say I was pretty glad to see the women show up. Who knew single gender movies could be so dull? Naturally the women wear low-cut, form fitting mini- dresses. I expected something like that. I have to ask myself: is it feminist or anti-feminist that with no men around to impress or entice, movie women just naturally pick the sexiest way to dress?

Another thing I wonder about thee all-female societies is the age distribution. It seems the entire population is in the 18 to 29-year-old range (Zsa Zsa might be a little older, but we’ll let that slide). Where are the little girls and the old ladies? Some mention is made about how the men are sequestered somewhere in a “breeding colony.” I wondered if they had figured out a way to make the men be pregnant, because I didn’t see any baby bumps either.

You know I don’t pay too much attention to these things, especially the boring parts like explanations. As near as I could figure out, the women, led by the one who is now queen, kicked out all the men, because the women were tired of war. They promptly built the super-duper weapon that destroyed the space station and now plan to destroy the Earth as well, for reasons unspecified. It is either a profound statement on absolute power corrupting absolutely, some kind of feminist or anti-feminist propaganda, or a typical B movie “Waaaait a minute” plot development.

However, one lets these considerations slide when enjoying a cheesy sci-fi flick. I’m afraid it was not an hour and a half on unalloyed enjoyment, but for an evening’s entertainment and the subject of a blog post, it was OK.

What? No Peter Cushing?

Spoiler Alert! I’m actually not going to give a lot away, especially not the ending, because I had stopped paying much attention by that time. In my defense, it was Saturday night and way past my usual bed time.

I DVR’d Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964) with high hopes, thinking it must be the sequel to The Mummy, which I enjoyed recently. As I learned from Ben Mankiewicz’s pre-movie commentary, it is the second of four Mummy movies made by Hammer Studios (I referred to them as Hammer Films in my post on The Mummy, but I specifically noticed Mankiewicz said Hammer Films this time) (in the interests of accuracy). The movie was directed by the son of the guy that owned Hammer at the time. I suppose that would explain it.

My first disappointment was that neither Peter Cushing nor Christopher Lee were in the movie. I like Lee better as Dracula than as the Mummy anyways, but I felt Cushing was a real loss. Still, I thought I would try to enjoy it. A Hammer Studios monster movie must be worth a watch, right?

The movie opens with some guy tied by his hands to two stakes in the desert, guarded by an Arab-looking guy (1960s Hollywood version) (but I didn’t need to tell you that). A group of nomad-looking guys ride up on horses. Without a word, one of them kills the guy and chops his hand off. This gives everyone a good laugh (except, of course, the dead guy), and they ride off with the severed hand.

Cut to a luxurious tent, apparently the living quarters of the archaeologists excavating the tomb. A guy is pouring a French lady another drink. She flirtatiously asks is he trying to get her drunk. He says he will try to do so when they return to London (another spoiler: he doesn’t), and she coquettes that she will let him. It must be pretty dry out there, even for a desert, because I didn’t think he was such a much.

It turns out the dead guy of the previous scene is her father. She flees in tears.

“Let her go,” somebody says wisely to the boyfriend. People are always saying that in movies. I don’t know if they do in real life, because I am usually the one fleeing in tears, or at least I was in my dramatic adolescent past (although in my case, I sadly suspect it was more of a collective, “Thank God she’s gone!”) (but I digress). I think in the case of this movie, the movie makers wanted French Lady to be alone when she discovers in her bed (I did include a spoiler alert, didn’t I?) the severed hand (oh, you probably saw that coming; I did).

Another dramatic shock happens when they discover a dead body amongst the artifacts they are taking back to England. I got a good laugh over that, because, well, the body looked a little comical. Meaning no disrespect to the fictional dead.

Speaking of good laughs, Steven and I both cracked up when… I can’t remember who said what, but suddenly everyone froze in a dramatic pause and looked at… the sarcophagus. Which looked a little like Tutankhamen with a pig nose.

Soon they’re on a boat headed back to England. A couple more dramatic things happen, including the introduction of a mysterious, handsome stranger. He beats up a would-be assassin and tosses him overboard. That seemed a little careless to me. Wouldn’t you, for example, like to ask the guy who he works for?

Things get a good deal less exciting in London. French Lady starts playing Old Boyfriend against Handsome Stranger, but that isn’t very compelling, because Old Boyfriend doesn’t get very jealous. We find out, via dialogue, not demonstration, that French Lady is a rather brilliant Egyptologist, having studied hard to earn her father’s love (remember him? She doesn’t seem to). It seems Old Boyfriend wants her for her brain. What an insult! It is so refreshing that Handsome Stranger understands she wants a home and to stay in it. Well, this is before the feminist ’70s (no, I am not going to entertain a discussion on family vs. career; this is not that kind of a blog).

Where was I? Ah yes, losing track of the movie. It’s not what you call fast-paced and action-packed. And I don’t remember the ending. Something happens in a sewer after we find out a BIG secret about Handsome Stranger. So if this movie pops up again on TCM, I may try to watch it till the end. I may even write another blog post about it.

Not a Scooby Doo Plot

Spoiler Alert! I don’t really give much away this time, but it’s become a habit to include an alert.

I admit I DVR’d The Mummy on TCM thinking it was the black and white version. You know how I love old horror movies. When I found out it was the Hammer Films production from 1959, I figured it would still be worth a watch.

I already knew that Hammer had revitalized the horror genre in the late ’50s and early ’60s. What I learned from Ben Mankiewicz’s pre-movie commentary was that for the first few movies they made — Dracula and Frankenstein flicks — they had to be careful not to infringe on the copyrighted portions of movies previously released by Universal. After the success of the earlier films, Hammer was able to negotiate with Universal for re-make rights. The Mummy is the first of those re-makes.

That was very interesting to me. Now I want to see the older version more than ever, to see what they changed. And I may like to write a blog post contrasting the earlier, non-infringing movies with the re-makes.

The movie stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, veterans of previous Hammer films. Lee gets to be the monster this time, and he was not nuts about the extensive make-up, according to Mankiewicz. I can see where an actor might find it limiting, although Lon Chaney reportedly found it liberating. I wonder if George Clooney would like to try it. But I digress.

Cushing plays one of the archaeologists responsible for desecrating the tomb of… oh dear, I don’t recall the lady’s name. I may have written it in the TV Journal as I watched, but even if I did I am not at all confident in my spelling. It was some high priestess or other. There is a rather elaborate backstory about how the Mummy became her guardian. Someday I’ll have to look up some actual Egyptian legends to see how much Hollywood was really pulling our leg.

Speaking of leg, Cushing’s is broken, and his uncle has this nutty idea Cushing should return to civilization and get it properly set by a doctor. Of course he does no such thing. For one reason, he would avoid the Mummy’s curse and how would that have helped the movie? Later on he gets to walk around with a romantic limp that, quite frankly, I thought was going to figure into the plot more prominently.

Speaking of romantic, Cushing has a beautiful wife who, in one of those typical movie coincidences, happens to look JUST LIKE the lady in the tomb. Oh well, I suppose you could make up some rationalization about how Cushing is such a dedicated Egyptologist that he subconsciously fell in love with a girl who looked just like an Egyptian. Or something of that nature. I guess I don’t really have a problem with this sort of thing. It figures into the plot and makes the flashbacks easier to cast.

All the usual elements are here: warned against desecrating the tomb, desecrating the tomb anyways, leaving the Mummy’s first victim alone so that nobody quite knows what happened. At one point I said, “Oh, that would be a good plot: the guy that warned them does the killing himself and makes it look like the Mummy’s doing it.” Then I remembered that is the plot of almost every Scooby Doo mystery (although they didn’t usually deal in murder). I only steal from the best.

Cushing indulges in some typical stupid movie male activity. I know I usually rail against stupid movie females. In fact when movie males do it, it is brash or daring or refusing to play by the rules. As usual I must admit, if people in movies had any brains they would sit quietly at home and we would have boring movies (although I bet these days there is some yahoo with a webcam showing exactly that on YouTube). Cushing’s wife doesn’t do anything too stupid. Alas, she does not do much of anything else, either, the sad fate of many a movie female.

The movie does have what was for me a major “Waaaait a minute” moment, but to tell you that would entail quite a long plot summary and a major spoiler (alert notwithstanding). I enjoyed the movie. I think I am becoming a Peter Cushing fan.

Taking Liberties with Miss Marple

When I DVR’d Murder Ahoy starring Margaret Rutherford from TCM, I was hoping for a star-studded Agatha Christie extravaganza, maybe in a “Love Boat” type of setting. It was not that, but it was an enjoyable movie and not without certain points to ponder (you know how I hate to do just a straight review).

My first point of contention came during pre-movie commentary when Ben Mankiewicz kept referring to the main character as “Mrs. Marple.” It’s MISS!!! She is an old maiden lady, gossipy and harmless. It is perhaps a small point, but I think it is telling. Mankiewicz certainly never read a Miss Marple book and I question how many Miss Marple movies he has actually seen.

In fact, I know he’s never read a Miss Marple book, because he said “Mrs. Marple” was featured in 20 short stories by Agatha Christie. In fact, she was also in a number of novels (I didn’t look up how many, but you needn’t shake your finger at me; I’ve probably read them all).

Oh, I know, I’m carping. I don’t expect Ben Mankiewicz to have watched every movie TCM possibly shows, much less researched them all himself. I know he has a staff for such things. But I still think it is perfectly legitimate for me to point out: It’s Miss Marple, not Mrs., and she was featured in novels as well as short stories. OK, I’m done. For now.

Murder Ahoy, Mankiewicz tells us, was not adapted from a Christie story but is an original mystery based on the character. Well, I don’t mind that. Sometimes a novel doesn’t translate so well onto the screen. An original screenplay is at least written for its medium.

In the novels, Miss Marple solves mysteries mainly through her extensive knowledge of human nature (idea being that a maiden lady has more leisure to observe these things than, for example, a married lady with half a dozen kids to look after). Somebody would remind her of somebody she used to know and that would give her the key.

I believe this sort of thing works better on the page than on the screen. No matter, because this Miss Marple doesn’t seem to work that way. For heavens’ sake, she has laboratory equipment so she can detect the poison in… well, you know I don’t like to give everything away.

The written Miss Marple also stuck close to her little village of St. Mary Mead, with a few exceptions. Purists feel she was at her best at home, but I have no prejudice either way. This Miss Marple, as you probably expected, goes on board a ship to solve the mystery.

I have to say that the liberties taken with the character of Miss Marple did not bother me one bit. Dame Christie herself was the first to point out that screen (or stage, for which many works were originally adapted) is a different medium with different requirements. In fact, I’m not even going to share all the things the movie makers added, because at least one was for me a quite delightful surprise.

I thought the movie Murder Ahoy was quite entertaining. I look forward to other Miss Marple movies starring Margaret Rutherford.