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The Wolf Man

Dullsville

The Wolf Man (1941)

     I realize now I had higher hopes for what I perceived as among the great classic horror stories than I should have. I think the downfall of The Wolf Man might lie in its script. Silly, contrived and dumb dialogue make for many a hokey moment in this tale of the beast within all men.

     Lon Chaney (Jr.) plays Larry Talbot who returns home to his father’s English estate after 18 years away. He buys from a pretty girl a silver topped cane whose handle is a wolf with a pentagram on its side. When on a date with this girl Gwen (Evelyn Ankers), the couple and their chaperone Jenny (Fay Helm) visit some gypsies to have their fortune told. Unfortunately, one of the gypsies –the one played by Bela Lugosi— is a werewolf and soon thereafter shifts into his beastly form and kills Jenny. During the scuffle, however, Larry comes to the rescue, beats the dog dead with his silver cane and is bitten on the chest.

     The next morning the wound has disappeared and the gypsy is found dead in the spot where Larry had killed the wolf. The man’s journey into the life of a werewolf is facilitated by an old gypsy woman (Maria Ouspenskaya) while his father, played by Claude Rains, a local doctor and others insist that lycanthropy is merely a condition of the mind through which a man imagines he is a wolf. We are entreated to some fancy effects in the morphing of Chaney from man to beast and back using both lapsed and continuous dissolves. The first two transformations are of the feet only but the film’s close shows the man’s face change.

     The concept of a werewolf has been at the root of many horror films, the later of which depict a much more gruesome creature than the one Chaney played here. His wolf man is merely hairy with feet and hands resembling more canine-like anatomy and some enhanced teeth to boot. It is hard for me to know given my upbringing in an increasingly gory entertainment society whether or not this facade was terrifying to the public of the time, although it was a highly popular endeavor for Universal Studios. As I said, however, the poorly written dialogue makes it difficult for even actors of talent, such as Ralph Bellamy as the constable, to give a genuine go of it. Rains’ was the only solid performance, which alongside all the others seems out of place.

  •  The Wolf Man is set for 8 p.m. ET Oct. 10 on TCM.

Cinematic Shorts: Here Comes Mr. Jordan

Wowza!

Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)

     I’m not sure how I stumbled upon watching Here Comes Mr. Jordan the first time, but it was a fortuitous incident. This flick is probably my favorite Robert Montgomery movie, which competes with Mr. and Mrs. Smith for that top spot (and you can understand my dilemma because the other has Carole Lombard in it). I would say no other film shows off Montgomery’s comedy capabilities in the way this feature does. He plays a character totally unlike the military and society dreamboat roles in which he was typically cast.

     As Joe Pendelton, a successful boxer, Montgomery plays a dimwitted man more concerned with keeping his body “in the pink” and defeating a boxing rival than anything else around him. Towards the film’s start, Joe crashes his self-piloted plane, and heavenly beings take him away. The trouble is, the heavenly worker assigned to his case, Messenger 7031 (Edward Everett Horton) takes him before the plane hits the ground, and as it turns out, Joe was destined to survive the crash. The damage is done, however, and Joe is delivered to Mr. Jordan, played by Claude Rains, who must find a suitable body for the man to live out the remainder of his scheduled life.

     Joe is given a temporary spot occupying the body of a man who is about to be murdered by his wife and her lover. He’s an older, wealthy bloke who also has some unkind dealings that involve a beautiful young woman, with whom Joe will fall in love. All sorts of absurdities happen as Joe, looking like the old man, tries to convince his boxing agent (James Gleason) of his real identity and get the old body “in the pink” to defeat his rival in the ring.

     If the story sounds familiar, that’s because it was based on a play called “Heaven Can Wait” that was later done into another movie by that name starring Warren Beatty. This original also inspired a sequel, but Rains was not interested and Montgomery was serving in the military, so the Mr. Jordan part was recast and Rita Hayworth was used as the mythical muse of the performing arts to interfere with goings on of a theatrical production. It was quite a let down.

     Going back to Here Comes Mr. Jordan, I can not say enough about Montgomery’s performance. His low-brow accent accompanies humorous dialogue to give the impression of a man who has been knocked out a few too many times. That is not to say his ignorance is not endearing. Montgomery’s facial expressions also add to this character’s hilarious persona as he stumbles through a whole host of accidental circumstances. I highly recommend this flick for anyone who enjoys comedies.

The messenger explains why Joe and his lucky sax aren't on earth where they should be.

Source: Robert Osborne

Hitchcock Blogathon #12: Notorious

Wowza!

Notorious (1946)

      Notorious was my favorite Hitchcock film for a long time (before I saw Rebecca). I was grabbed by the actors and the terrific story, so well executed. It offers spies, foreign locales, romance, sexual implications, and a woman whose life is endangered, all common Hitchcock elements.

     Ingrid Bergman plays Alicia Huberman, daughter of a Nazi traitor recently convicted. Cary Grant as a U.S. agent of some sort, T.R. Devlin, recruits the woman to infiltrate a Nazi operation in South America, to allow the gal to serve her country and make up for her father’s sins. Devlin uses Alicia’s connections through her father to reunite her with Claude Rains’ Alexander Sebastian, the head of the Nazi operation. Alicia begins dating the criminal while simultaneously falling in love with Devlin. Alicia gets stuck marrying Sebastian, causing tension in her relationship with Devlin, but she discovers that the villain is protective of a key to the wine cellar and that something peculiar persists with certain wine bottles. A large party at Sebastian’s home allows Devlin and Alicia to orchestrate the invading of that cellar where they discover bottles containing uranium ore. Discovering his wife is a spy, Sebastian and his wicked mother devise a plot to kill Alicia.

     The story and the actors do a great job of setting the viewer on edge as we panic that Sebastian will discover Devlin is a spy/the two were lovers. At the same time, the chemistry is so great between Grant and Bergman that we want nothing but for them to be together. A great scene between the too caught the negative attention of censors. When first arriving in Rio de Janiero, Alicia and Devlin have dinner in a hotel room. They spend a good deal of time kissing and talking, moving from the balcony inside. At the time, the Production Code allowed a kiss to persist only so long and this sequence defied that. Hitchcock was able to insist on the scene’s necessity, however, because dialogue was inserted between the nuzzling and developed the story. Another Hitchcock victory straight from the Hayes office. Hitchcock also managed to keep in the suggestion that Alicia was quite the experienced woman, in bed. She mentions adding Sebastian to her list of playmates before the two are married, hurting Devlin in the process.

     In 1979 when Hitchcock was recognized by the American Film Institute, Ingrid Bergman presented him with the prop key used in this movie, which she had kept as a souvenir.

The MacGuffin: What is in the wine bottles?

Where’s Hitch? The director sips champaign at the party at Claude Rains’ mansion.

Source: Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan

I will be posting reviews of Hitchcock movies every hour ending at 8 p.m. today, but other members of the Classic Movie Blog Association, which is hosting the blogathon, have plenty to offer also. Links to their articles is up at the CMBA site. Check them out!

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