Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Devil-Doll

The Devil-Doll (1936)
Directed by
Tod Browning
Written by Garret Fort & Guy Endor (screenplay), Erich von Stroheim (screenplay), Tod Browning (story), based on a novel by A. Merrit
Starring Lionel Barrymore, Maureen O’Sullivan, Henry B. Walthall, Rafela Ottiano,Frank Lawton
IMDB Entry

Lionel Barrymore was part of the most distinguished acting family of the 1930s, so it’s a bit surprising to see he would be appearing in a horror film. But given that it was being directed by horror genius Tod Browning, maybe it’s not so surprising. The result, The Devil-Doll, is a nice excursion into the horror genre.

Paul Lavond (Barrymore) is a bank executive who has been sent to Devil’s Island after being wrongly convicted of robbing his bank and killing a guard. He is aided by Marcel (Henry B. Walthall), a brilliant scientist. The two make it to Marcel’s secret lab, where his wife Malita (Rafelela Ottiano) has kept things up. Marcel has developed a method to shrink people and animals, who stay inert until they are willed to move. Marcel dies, and Lavond, joined by Malita, plots revenge.

He returns to Paris and, disguised as the toymaker Madame Madelip, uses the dolls to get his revenge.

The movie is pretty standard horror revenge. The effects – a combination of double exposure and giant props – are quite good for the time as we watch Lavond put his scheme to catch the real criminals into action.

What helps set it apart is a subplot between Lavond’s daughter Lorraine (Maureen O’Sullivan) and the her taxi driver boyfriend Toto (Frank Laughton). She hates her father for ruining the family name. Much of the impetus for Lavond’s revenge is to show her that her father was not a criminal.

Barrymore is a fine actor and actually is fairly believable as Madam Madelip. This was one of the last films where he was able to walk,* so he’s able to get around. It also gives him a chance to be more than just a madman out for revenge: his reason isn’t so much to clear his own name as much as it is to show his daughter the truth.

Tod Browning was the master of horror in the early thirties, with films like Dracula and Freaks, along with several of Lon Chaney, Sr.’s silent films. This was one of his last films. He had already had trouble getting assignments after the controversy over Freaks and it seems that he was blacklisted.

The movie seems to have flopped, but it did get some critical notice, especially for its special effects.

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*Barrymore acted out of a wheelchair for the last year of his life, the result of arthritis or a broken hip (sources disagree as to which was the main cause, but Barrymore said it was the hip).

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Of Human Bondage

Of Human Bondage

(1934)
Directed by
John Cromwell
Written by Lester Cohen from a novel by M. Somerset Maugham
Starring  Leslie Howard, Bette Davis, Frances Dee, Kay Johnson, Alan Hale, Reginald Denny
IMDB Entry

Bette Davis was one of the great actresses under the studio system. And part of that was that she knew quality and worked to get roles where she could show her talents. She worked very hard to get a role in Of Human Bondage and the result was worth it.

Philip Carey (Leslie Howard) was a sensitive artist who, when he showed no talent decided to become a doctor. His studies were interrupted when one night he went to a bar and fell deeply for the lower class waitress Mildred (Bette Davis), who has only contempt for him. Slowly he wins her over a bit, taking her to dinner and the theater and becomes more and more enamored of her. But she doesn’t care and the moment she has a chance to marry Emil Miller (Alan Hale*). Philip is devastated and goes back to his studies, only to find Mildred showing up on his doorstep, pregnant and abandoned by Miller. Philip does everything to help her, even ditching his current girlfriend Norah, a romance writer. When the baby is born, Mildred gives her up to nurses and doesn’t want to see him, and hooks up with Philip’s best friend, Harry (Reginald Denny). But Philip just can’t quit Mildred.

Davis’s role was a revelation. Mildred is selfish, manipulative, and only in it for herself.  It was very unusual to see a character like her on the screen.  It certainly deserved Oscar consideration, but – in an early case of outrage over being snubbed – She was not nominated for an Oscar.  People were so angry that the Academy allowed her as a write-in, but she didn’t win.**

Howard does a good job with the role of Peter. The script has him as a weakling whose so infatuated with Mildred that he ignores everyone else, and all the obvious evidence that she is only using him. Still, Howard managed to make him as sympathetic as possible as a man unable to control his passion.

The movie was a big step in Davis’s career. Instead of being just another Warner Brothers starlet, it showed that she was more and could handle dramatic roles with aplomb. Her work – and gamble – paid off handsomely.

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*The Skipper’s father.

** One thing marring it is her accent. She supposedly hired a cockney housekeeper to listen to the accent, but the veers from cockney, to upper class British, to hints of Brooklyn.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Kim’s Convenience (TV)

Kim's Convenience
(2016 – )
Developed by
Ins Choi and Kevin White, from the novel Kim’s Convenience by Choi
Starring, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Jean Yoon, Andrea Bang, Simu  Liu, Andrew Phung, Nicole Power
IMDB Entry
Available on Netflix

Canadians are, of course, familiar with US TV shows, since they are often broadcast directly to them (and American TV is popular all over the world). But Americans are less familiar with Canadian shows. Netflix and other streaming services, hungry for content, are now brining them to America, so people can enjoy the delights of shows like Kim’s Convenience.

The title refers to a convenience store run by the Korean-Canadian family in Toronto. Sang-il “Appa” Kim (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) is the head of the family and runs the store the way he sees fit. He’s very traditional in his outlook and not afraid to speak his mind. His wife Yong-mi “Umma” (Jean Yoon) is kindly and something of a peacemaker, but is not above jumping in to help (or inadvertently hinder) the rest of the family, especially their daughter Janet (Andrea Bang) who is in her 20s and struggling to make a life of her own. Their son, Jung (Simu Liu) is estranged from the family after getting caught doing minor crimes as a teenager, but had turned his life around, still speaking with Janet. He works at a car rental company, with his feckless best friend Arnold “Kimchee” Han (Andrew Phung) and his boss Shannon (Nicole Power), who had an awkward crush on him.

The show depends are the characterizations for the humor, especially the portrayal of Appa, who runs the store the way he sees fit, and who is not willing to indulge a difficult customer (from his own definition of difficult). He tries to lay down the law to Appa and Janet, but he ultimately becomes a grumpy old softy.

The actors are all fine, able to show their quirks and flaws but rarely being too ridiculous or obviously milking the laughs. 

Kim’s Convenience has run for four seasons so far and is an utter delight from start to finish.