Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Brides of Dracula

Brides of Dracula(1960)
Directed by
Terence Fisher
Written by Jimmy Sangster & Peter Bryan & Edward Percy
Starring Peter Cushing, Yvonne Moniaur, David Peel, Martita Hunt
IMDB Entry

I love vampire stories. I’ve written a few and tend to like variations on the basic mythology. One small but entertaining example of the genre is The Brides of Dracula.

It’s the story of Marianne Danielle (Yvonne Moniaur), who we first see in a carriage speeding to get to a village by nightfall. Of course, the villagers act very strangely toward her, leaving the inn. And then the Baroness Meinster (Martita Hunt), arrives and, since there’s no room at the inn, invited her to stay at her castle – much to the consternation of the innkeeper and his wife.

The Baroness is welcoming but Marianne notices a second setting at the table. And when she is preparing, she sees a man on a terrace just outside her balcony. When she asks the Baroness, she explains he’s just her insane son (David Peel).

Marianne and the BaronBut Marianne has to see for herself.* She finds her way to the son’s room.  He is sweet and charming and quickly wins her over.  The only problem is that his mother keeps him chained in his room.  He asks her to get the key.

You can probably guess what happens next.  The Baron is a vampire and turns his mother, then escapes to terrorize the countryside. Dr.Van Helsing (Cushing) has been called and he works to find the Baron and kill him.

The movie’s strong point, of course, is Peter Cushing’s performance. His Van Helsing is ruthless toward vampires and kindly toward everyone else.

David Peel also makes an excellent vampire. I’m not sure if this is the first time, but it’s clearly a landmark in the portrayal of a seductive vampire. Peel is charming when he needs to be and you can understand Marianne’s attraction.

Martita Hunt is also notable. She had a strong Miss Haversham air to her – not surprising since the played the role years before.

The movie certainly isn’t perfect. The bat version of the Baron is as bad an example of the effect as you’d ever seen.** And the opening sequence of the ride is the woods is good, but has nothing to do with the story, other than to give us a chance to see Peter Cushing lurking menacingly.

But the final sequence – set in a old mill*** is nicely designed and staged, with a clever way of killing the vampire.

This was David Peel’s last credited film. Primarily a TV actor, he retired from acting soon after.

*In many ways, Marianne is not particularly smart.

**Reports are that they put a lot of effort into a realistic looking bat, but it somehow got lost before shooting, so they had to improvise.

***Frankenstein’s monster doesn’t show up, alas.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Stop the World, I Want to Get Off (musical)

Stop the world(1962)
Music, Book, and Lyrics by
Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley
Starrting Anthony Newley and Anna Quayle
Wikipedia Page

I’m a big fan of Broadway musicals and one of the best things about them is that they’re constantly reimagined and restaged, both in New York and on the road, so new audiences can find them. At the same time, small theater company and school dramatic groups will put on the classics. It’s rare that a major musical seems to disappear, but that’s what happed to one musical with one of the best scores of all time, Stop the World, I Want to Get Off!

The play is the brainchild of Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse, who wore most of the hats when creating it. It’s the story of Littlechap (Newley), who, as his name suggests, is an everyman character.  He marries Evie (Anna Quayle) after she becomes pregnant and is soon disillusioned, having affairs with a Russian woman Anya (Quayle), Ilse (Quayle) from Germany, and the All American Ginnie (Quayle). It wasn’t until the end that he begins to realize just how much he wasted his life.

The strength of the play is the music, with one of the best scores of all time. “Once in a Lifetime,” “Gonna Build a Mountain,” and especially “What Kind of Fool Am I?” are standards, but the rest of the score is excellent.  One song – “Typically English/Glorious Russian/Typische Deuche/All American” – is sung, with different lyrics by all four of the women.  “Family Fugue/Nag! Nag! Nag!” is a hilarious narrative of a deteriorating marriage.  “Mumbo Jumbo” makes fun of politicians, while “Lumbered” shows Littlechap’s second thoughts about his marriage.

The  play was a hit in the UK, and moved to the US, partly because its small cast – four main characters and a chorus, all performed on a single set – made it cheap to produce.  It was nominated for four Tonys, and won one, for Anna Quayle.

But the play seems to have faded away. Much of the plot to too topical about the Cold War and politics of the time. But certainly it has nothing to do with the score. There were two revivals, one with Sammy Davis, Jr. (who love the score) in 1978, and another starring Newley in London in 1989, which did poorly.

Newley and Bricusse continued to work together. Their next attempt, The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd, did adequately and produced a couple of standards, but their best known work was writing the songs for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. 

Newley died in 1999.

Sunday, October 1, 2017


Written and Directed by
Ingmar Bergman
Starring Liv Ullmann, Max von Sydow, Gunner Bjornstrand
IMDB Entry

Ingmar Bergman is considered the master of gloom. While he did do some comedies, most of his work was not even close to being cheerful.

I had a major immersion on Bergman in college, taking a film course that concentrated on his works – 19 films in ten weeks.* It fascinating to see him develop over the years.  Shame was one film that really stuck with me.

Jan (Max von Sydow) and Eva (Liv Ullman) are living on the remote farmhouse when it becomes caught up in a war. Troops “liberate” them, though they don’t feel very liberated and Col. Jacobi (Gunner Bjornstrand), the former mayor, comes by, seeming to help, but he has plans for Eva, offering to help them out – for a terrible price.

Liv UllmanLiv Ullman was one of the 20th century’s greatest film actresses and Max von Sydow is nearly as well regarded, though better known in the US. They make Jan and Eva real and we share their pain.

Gunner Bjornstrand is lesser known, but he was a consistent member of Bergman’s stock company, making nearly 20 films with him. He never gained international acclaim, but I began to look forward to his presence as I watched the Bergman film.

An interesting aside is that the movie was set in the near future, making it science fiction.  It’s one of the best evocations of how war can brutalize bystanders.

*Union College had (and still has) a trimester system: three ten-week terms where you take three courses.  It makes transferring credits challenging.