Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Great Rupert

The Great Rupert(1950)
Directed by
Irving Pichel
Written by Ted Allen (story), Laszlo Vadnay (screenplay), and James O'Hanlon and Harry Crane (additional dialog).
Starrring Jimmy Durante, Terry Moore, Tom Drake, Frank Orth, Queenie Smith, Jimmy Conlin.
IMDB Entry

I've mentioned before how some movie titles are misleading. Now, you might think, for instance, that The Great Rupert* was a movie about someone called "The Great Rupert," and, to some extent, it is.  But Rupert is more of a combination Mcguffin and scurius ex machina in the middle of a film that really focuses on the importance of helping others.

The movie was an early George Pal production.  I first heard of it when writing up my entry on Pal, and realized that it was among the films in a Mill Creek Entertainment** collection of Christmas movies and TV shows.  So this Christmas, I watched.

The movie starts showing Joe Mahoney (Jimmy Conlin), and old vaudevillian, who has trained a squirrel, the Great Rupert, to do the highland fling. His agent turns him down and he is evicted from his apartment.  After setting Rupert free, he runs into Louie Amendola (Jimmy Durante), another vaudeville act on hard time.  Louie decides to move his family into the empty apartment, and cons his way past the landlord's son Pete Dingle (Tom Drake), partly because Pete is enamored of Louie's daughter Rosalina (Terry Moore).

But Pete's father Frank (Frank Orth) insists the Amendolas actually pay rent on the apartment. Frank is a miser, who doesn't trust banks and, when he starts getting a windfall from some mining stock he owns, he puts it into a hole in the wall.

Meanwhile, Rupert has moved back to the apartment and, discovering the money, he showers the $1500 a week on the Amendolas every week.  It's money from heaven as far as they are concerned.  But there are consequences.

The film was supposed to be a straight romance between Tom Drake*** and Terry Moore, but it appears Durante was added to the cast at the last minute and the part beefed up.  He gets to perform a couple of musical numbers.

What's also interesting is the contrast between Amendola and Dingle.  Amendola takes the money and invests in the community, while Dingle was content to just squirrel it away. 

As for Rupert, he really does very little in the film other than redistribute the money.  He also helps everything to be resolved****.

The animation for Rupert doesn't hold up all that well, though it was a sensation in 1950 and the film did well enough for Pal to continue his career as producer.  It's quiet little charmer with plenty of heart.

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*Also titled The Christmas Wish as a Christmas film.  The title is actually a bit less misleading, but only a small portion of the film in the beginning is set at Christmas.

**Mill Creek packages older public domain films on DVD.  Their output is uneven, but you can often find a few gems.

***Judy Garland's romance in Meet Me in St. Louis.

****Sharp-eyed viewer may notice Frank Cady, from Green Acres and Petticoat Junction as an IRS agent who is curious about how the Amendolas got their money.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Comfort and Joy

Comfort and Joy (1984)
Written and Directed by
Bill Forsyth
Starring Bill Paterson, Clare Grogan, Alex Norton, Roberto Bernardi, Eleanor David
IMDB Entry

Bill Forsyth made his reputation in the early 80s as the king of quirky characters.  His movies Gregory's Girl and Local Hero were set in his home -- Scotland -- and were memorable for offbeat characters who never did what was expected.  The latter was a nice success and he followed up with the delightful Comfort and Joy.

It's a movie about Allan "Dicky" Bird (Bill Paterson), a Glasgow radio DJ  whose life is falling apart because his long-term girlfriend left him.  While driving around morosely, he spots Charlotte (Clare Grogan*) on the back of a "Mr. Bunny" ice cream truck and impulsively follow it, only to witness two mask thugs smash up the truck with lead pipes.  He finds himself in the middle of a battle between two rival gangs -- of ice cream vendors:  Trevor ("Mr. Bunny") and the Godfather-like Mr. McCool.  In order to impress Charlotte, he decides to mediate between the two factions.

The movie abounds in Forsyth's small comic moments.  The attack on the truck, for instance, has the driver defend himself by squirting raspberry sauce in the attackers eyes.  Then, just before leaving, one of the thugs recognizes Bird and requests he play a song on his next show.  I especially loved the revelation of how they recorded the "Hello, folks!" music that was Mr. Bunny's theme (at about 1:10).

The movie is set around Christmas, which gives Bird a way to resolve the feud.

The movie got decent reviews when it came out, but did only so-so in the box office, and far less than Forsyth's previous Local Hero.  Forsyth made the mistake of moving to Hollywood; his next film, Housekeeping, didn't make much of a splash** and his other US films were disappointing.  He tried a sequel to Gregory's Girl in 1999, but could not recapture the magic.

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*Grogan later played another object of a man's romantic obsession as the original Kristine Kochansky in Red Dwarf.

**I haven't seen the film, but I have read the book.  A real downer, especially compared to the humor that caused Forsyth to be noticed.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dead of Night

(1945)
Directed by
Alberto Calvacanti, Charles Chrichton, Basil Deardon, and Robert Hamer
Written by H.G. Wells, E.F. Benson, John Baines, and Angus MacPhail (original stories and screenplay); T.E.B. Clarke (additional dialogue)
Starring Mervyn Johns, Michael Redgrave, Roland Culver, Frederick Valk, Sally Ann Howes, Googie Withers, Basil Radford, Naughton Wayne.
IMDB Entry

I like my horror subtle.  Blood and gore are far less unnerving than something that engages your mind and scares you by what it implies. This is a characteristic of one of the best horror films to come out of Britain:  Dead of Night.

The movie is an omnibus film, which tells several different stories instead and one narrative.*  There was a handful of this type of film the late 30s and early 40s, and Ealing Studios -- who now are better known for their comedies -- tried it with this film.  Five directors directed five different stories by many writers, with a frame tale that tied the all together, and the frame tale is the scariest of them all.

Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns) is invited to a British country house party.  When he gets there, he reveals a strange sense of deja vu:  even though he has never been there nor met anyone there before, he knows them all from a recurring dream he keeps having, a dream he always forgets upon waking, but which is slowly unveiling itself to him here.  Dr. Van Staten (Frederick Valk) scoffs at the idea of deja vu, but the others begin to tell stories of their own encounters with the supernatural. They show

  • A race driver who has a mysterious and deadly premonition.
  • A mysterious young child who may be a ghost.
  • A mirror that shows a scene from the past that catches the viewer in its spell
  • A golf bet that goes wrong.
  • A ventriloquist's dummy that takes on a life of its own.

Some of these, of course, are familiar stories.  But they are all dramatized with them hitting all the right notes.  The ventriloquist's dummy story is probably the best of that subgenre, as Michael Redgrave makes it seem fresh and more terrifying that most.  The golf episode is pure comic relief** (and is considered the weakest of the five), but the others have the tension of a good Twilight Zone episode.

The movie returns to the main narrative in between all these, and at the end, where Craig remembers the source of his unease about the dream.  And just as it happens -- he wakes up.  That's usually the lamest ending in fiction, but in this case, there's a twist.

Spoiler (to read it drag your cursor over the text).

After he wakes up, Craig gets a phone call and is invited to a garden party.  It seems a bit like the nearly as lame "Oh, no, not again!" ending.  But, for the first time, there is a shot that shows something that is not Craig's point of view.  The implication is that this is no longer a dream, and the horrifying events he dreamed of is about to come true.

The film is performed by a first-class cast. It was successful in the UK, but two of the segments were cut out of the American release, which probably didn't help.

Still the movie has its adherents and fans even today. It even had an influence on the world of science: astronomer Fred Hoyle developed his steady state theory of the universe*** after seeing the film's circular structure.

The film is still a landmark of horror.

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*Nowadays, you usually tell multiple stories intertwined (e.g., Crash or Love, Actually).

**The director, Charles Chrichton, is best known to modern audiences for the classic A Fish Called Wanda.  It features Basil Radford and Naughton Wayne, who made a name for themselves in Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes as a couple of English sports fanatics -- a type of part they continued to play for years.

***Now discredited, but a legitimate idea for some time.