What to Watch — Halloween: Village of the Damned

Watch out, George Sanders! There’s something not right with those blonde kids! TCM has planned during its expanse of horror movies on Halloween, Monday, a perfectly bizarre tale of alien offspring: Village of the Damned. A British town’s female inhabitants start bearing emotionless children nine months following a strange occurrence during which all inhabitants of the locale –human and animal– pass out. The incident is investigated by people from outside the town who discover that everyone who entered the village’s perimeter during this “time out” fall unconscious. 

Village of the Damned (1960)

The 12 children are born to all child-bearing women in the town around the same time and have similar features. They are also developing at a faster-than-normal rate. Their eerie eyes often upset normal people and they begin using their collective telepathic powers to not only read minds but control them in some cases.

Like many old horror movies, Village of the Damned is not scary in the same sense that we use the word for movies today. There are no monsters jumping out from around corners or bloody axe murders. Instead the film is just disturbing by the simple suggestion that such beings could exist. The children are also unsettling in their appearance, which is also a simple aberration from the norm. Sanders is enjoyable as ever as one of the brood’s “fathers” who ultimately will save the earth from their destruction.

Just think of a brick wall to protect your thoughts.

  • Village of the Damned is set for 8 p.m. ET Oct. 31 on TCM.
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The Saint Strikes Back

Gasser

The Saint Strikes
Back (1939)

     Moviegoers had no lack of detective/murder mystery movie plots to entertain them in the 1930s and 1940s and perhaps the story lines of The Saint movies offered nothing particularly unique, but George Sanders in embodying Simon Templar surely did. The Saint Strikes Back was the first of a handful of movies Sanders would do based on the novels of Leslie Charteris in which he just gets his feet wet as the sometimes-criminal, sometimes-sleuth Templar.

     A shady character is shot dead at a San Francisco night club during a New Year’s celebration just before he gets a chance to take out whomever he was aiming his gun at. Simon Templar happens to be present at that party and so naturally finds himself implicated in the crime. A New York detective, Inspector Fernack (Jonathan Hale), is called in to assist in the case because of his history with Templar, also known as The Saint (note his initials). We learn from Fernack that Templar used to work for the police department, but then also went off Robin Hooding by punishing criminals either by stealing and redistributing their wealth or perhaps by more grisly means. Templar skips  off to New York before Fernack can leave for the west coast, however, to make it seem as though he’d been in that city all along and couldn’t be involved in the murder of the mobster. He has already, however, made contact with a blonde who was part of the dead guy’s dinner party that night who is the daughter of a now-dead police officer kicked off the force for being involved with the mysterious criminal Mr. Waldeman. This dame, Val Travers (Wendy Barrie), now lives a seedy life trying to create trouble for the police as often as possible.

     Alternately eluding and collaborating with Fernack, Templar begins to investigate how this murder might be related to a possible framing of Val’s father. A wealthy philanthropist Martin Eastman (Gilbert Emery) seems to be linked to the mystery through some federal bank notes stored and stolen from his safe. Some characters will die, others live and Templar will kiss the pretty blonde. Such is the life of The Saint.

 
     The Saint movies to come would follow similar plot set ups. Always a murder, always a woman for the man to pursue, and always the on and off incrimination of Templar in the crime itself thus requiring him to both work with and escape from authorities throughout the story. I would say The Saint Strikes Back is not quite as thrilling and amusing as The Saint films to come, but it still is a great primer on possibly my favorite movie detective. Sanders brought such a coolness to his role; he was never unsettled by the possibility he could go to jail or by a gun pointed his way, and he always charmed the pants off all around him. Granted, one could say this for most Sanders characters, but I think that only highlights what an enjoyable man he was to watch on screen. He was a fine actor, always able to bring humor to the most serious roles, and his smooth voice could seduce any woman.

What to Watch Saturday: The Saint Strikes Back

The Saint Strikes Back (1939)

I was quite thrilled to find one of the Saint movies airing on TCM this weekend and was thrown back into memories of a couple years ago when I watched probably all of the films in the series. The Saint Strikes Back is the either the first or second in a series of five films (The Saint in London was released the same year) George Sanders did about Simon Templar, a rogue detective who goes by the nickname “the saint”.

Sanders does a superb job as our charming and witty sleuth. In a similar vein as the Thin Man movies, the Saint is a somewhat reluctant detective. He is an amateur in the profession –though you wouldn’t know it from his attitude– but is often roped into participating in cases. Nevertheless he will end up working with and against the police in each of these films, usually getting himself incriminated in the murders along the way.

I guess Templar, who was created in the novels of Leslie Charteris, was called the Saint because his initials are ST. He also has a logo of sorts seen to the left that he draws and leaves behind in various places along his detecting. Although his origin is generally unknown, it seems he probably has a criminal past that allows him superior skills in solving cases.

Sanders also did a number of Gay Falcon movies playing Gay Lawrence, a detective known as, you guessed it, “the falcon”. These were similar to the Saint stories but of a lower quality. In both series, Sanders’ characters are either dating or engaged to a girl throughout but manage to entangle themselves with other women along their mystery-solving way.

The actor made a fine detective, especially one not restricted by lawful employment. He is highly believable as the smart, sexy sleuth and one can’t but wish he was poking around in her affairs today. The stories are also very funny and Sanders delivers the dialogue well.

Sanders was far from the only actor to play the Saint, however. Sixteen films were produced in the U.S., France and Australia, most recently with Val Kilmer in 1997’s The Saint. Needless to say, I’ll never be seeing THAT one, thank you.

Tragically, neither the Saint movies nor the Falcon ones are available on DVD. The novels too for the Saint are not readily available through a mainstream retailer, from what I can tell. So, the best we can do is watch The Saint Strikes Back and hope TCM comes through with some more.

  • The Saint Strikes Back is set for 6 a.m. Saturday July 16 on TCM.

Hitchcock Blogathon #10: Foreign Correspondent

Ring a Ding Ding

Foreign Correspondent (1940)

      All Hitchcock movies have an element of humor to them, even the straight horror ones such as Psycho, but none of his mysteries is funnier than Foreign Correspondent. I developed a certain fondeness for Joel McCrea after seeing this one. I would not say the man is a great actor but he is funny, if not dry. Paired with George Sanders, the movie is full of laughs.

     My favorite aspect is Sanders’ character’s name. It’s ffolliott, spelled with two Fs both lowercase because one his relatives was beheaded by Henry VIII and his wife lowercased the letters in the man’s memory. Only Hitchcock would design a joke like that.

     Set just before England goes to war with Germany, McCrea’s Johnny is assigned as a foreign correspondent in England and the start of the film pokes fun at the many English-American differences in manner and dress. Johnny’s first assignment involves him interviewing Dutch diplomat Van Meer, whom he happens to run into on his way the event where the foreigner is the guest of honor. He shares a cab with the man but after they arrive at the event it is announced Van Meer was detained and unable to join the guests. Johnny also meets love interest Carol Fisher (Laraine Day) at the event. Johnny goes to Amsterdam looking for Van Meer, and finds him although the diplomat does not remember the reporter. On the spot Van Meer is shot and Johnny chases after the murderer. He happens to jump into a car occupied by Carol and ffolliott who humor him with the chase that concludes at a windmill.

     The windmill set is quite impressive, full of winding staircases, windows and rotating cogs. Therein Johnny must sneak about past some Germans and into an upstairs room where he finds Van Meer, alive. It turns out the assassinated one was “a substitute” to make it look as though the diplomat is dead when in fact he is being held captive until he reveals the memorized content of a secret clause of a peace treaty. Upon returning to London, Johnny discovers that one of the men at the windmill, a German in a turtleneck, is pals with Carol’s father, the head of a peace organization, he tells the father of the woman he plans to marry about his suspicions. I’ll stop there to save the surprises.

     Foreign Correspondent tends to go unnoticed among Hitchcock’s work but I really consider it among my favorites. It is full of laughs and a story that unravels in typical Hitchcock fashion.

The MacGuffin: Treaty Clause 27.

Where’s Hitch? 12 minutes into the film when McCrea leaves his hotel, Hitchcock is outside in a hat and coat and reading a newspaper.

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!

Hitchcock Blogation #9: Rebecca

Wowza!

Rebecca (1940)

     Just as Citizen Kane is usually considered Orson Welles‘ best work, Rebecca, in my opinion, is Hitchcock’s greatest masterpiece. The reasoning is the same. They were first films and ones that the directors had the most control over. For Hitchcock, it was his first in the U.S. and he had considerable control because Producer David O. Selznick was too preoccupied with Gone with the Wind to be hands on with Rebecca.

     When Maxim de Winter, played by Laurence Olivier, is on vacation in at some Europian hotspot he courts a young woman played by Joan Fontaine whom he marries. So for the first part of the film the story looks like a pleasant romance, but when the couple returns to the DeWinter estate, Manderlay, life is anything but pleasant for the new Mrs. de Winter. Maxim had been married before to Rebecca, whom we never see and are unsure of how she died. Traces of the first Mrs. de Winter remain throughout the estate and especially in the attitude of the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, played wonderfully by Judith Anderson. Mrs. de Winter feels as though Maxim is so overcome with his love for Rebecca and remorse over her death that he cannot properly love her. The mystery, however, lies in what did happen to Rebecca.

     Anderson is fabulous as Mrs. Danvers. The woman worships Rebecca and goes to lengths to undermine the new mistress of the house. For an annual costume ball, she convinces the young woman to dress as one of the portraits on the wall of the mansion, which results in humiliation because Rebecca had worn the same dress to the same event in the past. Anderson gives off the appropriate lesbian vibe as well. When Mrs. de Winter finally sneaks into Rebecca’s room, Mrs. Danvers finds her and shows her, so sensually the dead woman’s silk lingerie and fine bed linens.

     George Sanders also arrives as Rebecca’s cousin/lover, who is rather unwelcome at the estate yet buddy-buddy with Mrs. Danvers. He suspects Maxim killed Rebecca and sets out to prove it. In the end, Maxim and Mrs. de Winter are happy, but Mrs. Danvers loses it.

     Fontaine’s character does not have a first name, just Mrs. de Winter as the servants and guests call her. Maxim sticks to pet names. Fontaine puts on a great performance as the subordinated lady of the house. She is perpetually nervous, frightened and unhappy. She is babied by Mrs. Danvers, and the doorknobs in the house, which are positioned at shoulder height, deliberately make the woman look like a child. Fontaine’s fantastic performance was in part because of Hitchcock’s off-screen meddling. Vivien Leigh, who was soon to marry Olivier, was considered for her part, so when the Gone with the Wind star did not get it, Olivier treated Fontaine accordingly. To add to Fontaine’s discomfort on the set, Hitchcock also treated her poorly and rudely. It is likely Fontaine’s performance would have been disappointing without that “encouragement”.

The MacGuffin: The first Mrs. de Winter and how she died.

Where’s Hitch? Walking past a phone booth just after George Sanders makes a call.

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!

Hitchcock Blogathon #5: The Lodger

Ring a Ding Ding

The Lodger (1926)

     Hitchcock got his career in films started as soon as the medium existed in England, it seems. He started as an intertitle designer, did some assisting on pictures and then moved on to directing. The Lodger is if not his best silent film at least the director’s favorite. It is often false noted as his first movie, but is in fact the first film on which he had choice of stories. Hitchcock always aimed to remake the film when he was in Hollywood but was never able to bring the dream to fruition. Ultimately, it was The Man Who Knew Too Much that was re-adapted and made as an American movie. Somewhat tragically, The Lodger was remade in 1944 but by another director. That version would have a grimmer ending from the original, but featured George Sanders as the detective, an actor Hitchcock himself might have selected for the role had he been behind the remake.

     It tells the story of a serial murderer in London (in the vogue of Jack the Ripper) who kills young, blonde women Tuesday nights. After the 17th murder, a mysterious stranger arrives at the home of young, blonde model Daisy and her family, who are renting a room. When the stranger goes out late on a Tuesday night, the mother begins to suspect he is “The Avenger”, as the killer calls himself. The audience, too, has no doubt from his first appearance that the lodger is indeed the killer. We also see the man plotting out the locations of the murders. Daisy, who is dating a detective, starts to fall for the lodger and to the horror of her parents goes on a date with him on a Tuesday night. Upon their return to the house, and while making out in the boarder’s room, the detective arrives with a warrant to search the place. He finds a valise containing a gun and the map of murders. They put the man “in bracelets” but he escapes and Daisy meets him later to hear his side of things. He is not actually the murderer and has a plausible explanation for his actions, but the public has condemned him and hunt him down. The most famous scene from The Lodger is when the wrongly accused man hangs by the handcuffs from a fence while a mob beats him nearly to death. He is rescued by the police who know of his innocence  because the killer was caught red handed just prior.

     The Lodger not only illustrates Hitchcock’s mettle with suspense but also offers a glimpse into his artistic future. Shots such as one using a mirror to show the subject are commonplace now, but that early on is somewhat inventive. He also uses shadows to his advantage that are even noticeable in this faded restoration.

     The Lodger would mark the start of several Hitchcock techniques to recur in his future work. It contains a wrong-man approach, a fixation on blondes and casting-against-type in the lead role. Ivor Novello was a musical sensation at the time who had made only a couple prior films. He was a heart-throb, so to cast him as a killer was appealing to Hitchcock. Novello’s popularity with women, however, had officials in the front office calling for his character to be cleared by film’s end. The original novel on which the story is based had the lodger as the killer who evades police and disappears into the night. Hitchcock was forced to come up with an alternate ending, as studio execs would often do throughout his career.

The MacGuffin: This was too early in his career to expect a MacGuffin.

Where’s Hitch: Three minutes into the movie he sits at a desk in the newsroom. Near the end he is among the crowd of people watching the arrest but is difficult to spot.

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!

Samson and Delilah

Gasser

Samson and Delilah (1950)

     Biblical tales typically fail to grab my interest, probably primarily because the time period does not interest me. And frankly, I should probably stop using George Sanders as a guidepost for which movies I pursue. Samson and Delilah was alright, and Hedy Lamarr thoroughly sexy, but it was kind of a middle-of-the-road movie for me.

     I really knew nothing of the story beyond Samson’s hair being the source of his overwhelming strength. Turns out Samson, a Danite (the people who worship the traditional Lord and are considered second-class citizens), is in love with a Philistine woman, briefly played by possibly the most lovely Angela Lansbury I’ve seen to date. Samson, played by Victor Mature, selects her as his bride after killing a lion with his bare hands and impressing the Philistine leader, The Saran, personified by George Sanders. The bride-to-be’s sister, Delilah, has already made her affections for Samson known and is bitter over her rejection, but it is the other Philistine men who cannot handle the Danite’s entrance into their society. When Lansbury’s character betrays her husband to the other Philistines on their wedding day, a battle ensues that involves her death by her own people. Samson flees and Delilah begins plotting her revenge.

     After the Danite people have been thoroughly “taxed” and tortured for not giving up the strongman and Samson continues to kill Philistines, he is finally located by Delilah when he stumbles upon her secluded caravan. Delilah has by now taken up with the Saran and has been promised incredible wealth if she can find the source of Samson’s strength and take it from him. Some thorough seduction ensues and once the two are genuinely in love, the Danite reveals that like the mane of a lion, his hair is the symbol of his strength. A bit of jealousy over another woman makes Delilah shake her affection for the man, and she drugs him and shears his hair. She requires he not be killed nor his blood drawn, but the Philistines blind his eyes with heat before tethering him to the millstone where he grinds the city’s grain.

     Delilah has a change of heart when she sees her love in this state. She conspires to set him free only after a certain amount of time passes and his hair has grown long again. He rediscovers his strength and manages to take out the entire Philistine population in one strong push.

     As you can tell from what might be my longest synopsis of a movie, Samson and Delilah is the sort of epic and extravagant tale for which Director Cecil B. DeMille was well known. Paramount Pictures had cut back on lavish dramas of this sort during WWII, but it was 1950 and time for DeMille to bring back his popular style of filmmaking. This was Lamarr’s first color picture and the last big success she would have. The Austrian actress is absolutely stunning in the colorful picture and a great pick for this role. I have not seen many of her films and had not given much thought to her acting ability before now, but she really does a great job as Delilah — a woman torn between love and jealousy. It’s not a picture I would see again, but it is an interesting tale.

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