Poverty Row April: The Ghost Walks (1934)

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old Poverty Row April post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically depending on the theme. Enjoy!

The Ghost Walks (1934)

Well, one more and you can call it a streak. As I watched this in the wee hours, it made me wish I watched a few more during the day, like I did early on when my luck wasn’t nearly as good.

Perhaps the first thing that struck me as a side note is that this is the first of the selections I chose that struck me as being very Pre-Code, though its December 1st, 1934 release date made it after promised Code re-enforcement. Most of that impression has to do with the theatrical producer and his the male secretary, the secretary both in affectation and through dialogue directed at him, is being portrayed as gay – perhaps the biggest code taboo. This all leads me to my second point, which is had the acting not been of such quality, the lines not as well-timed or funny, this film would’ve been ridiculous. Instead it’s one of the funnier films I’ve seen in a while. Granted the horror/thriller portions are intended too and the first act pantomimes a straight horror film excellently, but the comedy is very much by design and laugh out loud funny.

The only patch this film, wherein a staged murder mystery in a creepy house comes true, stumbles is toward the end when the villain monologue plays out it’s not tremendously successful at being either a villainous horror plot or comedic. However, that’s a small bit of this film that runs a little over an hour and is highly entertaining throughout.

9/10

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Tarzan Thursday – Tarzan and His Mate (1934)

Introduction

Last year the character of Tarzan celebrated his 100th year in print. A serialized version of the story first appeared in 1912. A hardcover collection of Tarzan of the Apes first appeared in 1914. Being in the middle of the Tarzan centennial period it’s an opportune time to (re)visit many of the screen renditions of the character. Previous posts in this and other series can be found here.

Tarzan and His Mate (1934)

Here is another case wherein I honestly am quite glad to be revisiting the series chronologically. In earlier viewings I not only skipped this film but saw later ones out of order. It’s hard for me to argue that this installment is better than its predecessor, but it is rather impressive.

It does take its time easing you in. Once again it makes its title character’s presence scarce in the first 20 minutes or so. Instead, what we are introduced to is an outside party’s trip into the jungle seeking a return to the elephant graveyard and a bounty of ivory. These two white men carry a torch for Jane and it’s her first contact with them in some time. This allows her to be rather conflicted between comforts of her old life and the happy simplicity she now enjoys.

It’s also great to find this film in this set, if not in its intended form, then closer to it than previously screened. The infamously altered skinny dip of O’Sullivan is in this cut, but overall there’s a very Pre-Code take to this tale that seems a step beyond “figuraitve literalness” to being very overt as both men make their plays for her affections quite openly.

So far as Tarzan’s character goes, while he is still written fairly monosyllabically there is an arcing toward a more vocal character and the words chosen for him are chosen well; “Always is gone” and the response at the end have a great significance and are wonderful touches.

There is the introduction of music to Tarzan’s character, but on the more visceral side the fights are better staged and the blend of actual trained animals, dummies and rear projection looks to be about as seamless as the era could produce.

The villainy sets itself up early and rears its head when it matters most and thankfully on the animal side of the equation, whereas later on Cheetah serves more as a prop, comic relief and/or distraction here his presence is vital, which is another nice touch. Most second installments to series are disappointments but the second MGM Tarzan is an exception.

Book Review – Pre–code Hollywood – Sex, Immorality, & Insurrection In American Cinema 1930–1934

One parallel I’ve recently noticed that exists between non-fiction writing and filmmaking is that the question of scope is very much relevant to both. If you want to truly convey your message and your narrative, you had better not lose the reins and have control of where you are taking your audience/reader.

What’s most impressive about Pre-Code Hollywood is that while it covers a vast array of topics it’s always tying back to cinema. If one is to attempt to be comprehensive in covering the how and why advertising and film had perhaps their wildest, most defiant short span in America then many things need to be accounted for: what the films were (including a vast array of subgenres); why they were which touches on many sociopolitical upheavals worldwide during this volatile time and what industry politics and machinations were that allowed producers and studios to so openly scoff at the Production Code in its early years.

In short, there is a lot to discuss and there is virtually nothing this book leaves uncovered. There were a number of subgenres that truly mark this period like Prechment Yarns, Gangster Films, Prison films, those are fairly well-known, but then there’s also the Dictator Craze, the subversive traits running through many films, the Depression-tinged tales, whether in large or small doses, that touched on obvious or at times more timely side effects of the economic hardships facing the nation and the world.

While those kinds of effects may all seem obvious it was also a time that was revolutionary in film. Sound was new and the one-liner and fast-talking dame were coming into vogue. It was a time where there was a craving for the morality play of the Three Little Pigs from Walt Disney and also for the inappropriate innuendo of Mae West; in short, pretty much anything goes.

This creative bedlam, of course, could not last. The brushback, and how that all came to a close, is also included. It’s truly rare that in the history of anything that a four-year-period can be so crucial, yet here is one. I had, of course, learned of the inception of the Production Code and of this period, but for years had only the vaguest notion of what this era was truly like and why, even having seen many of these films. With this book you’ll walk away with a much deeper and richer understanding of it. For not only was it a wondrous, yet brief stint, but it also set the stage for the true Hollywood Classical style to emerge.

Favorite Older Films First Seen in 2012, Part 2

This is an idea I first saw on @bobfreelander‘s blog. The idea is to list your favorite films from the past year that you saw for the first time, but exclude new releases. This allows much more variety and creates a lot of great suggestions if you read many of them.

Since I tracked these films much more closely this year my list grew long. I will occasionally combine selections by theme, but there is enough for five posts. These choices are in no particular order.

Enjoy!

Wait Until Dark (1967)

Wait Until Dark (1967, Warner Bros.)

Part of what I really like about 31 Days of Oscar is that despite how high up the you-shoulda-seen-this-by-now ladder a film is the slate typically makes it quite easy to catch up on many of those titles. I always figured that the closing half of this film must be great, but what good is that without an effective build-up? Not much, but this film has both.

Wild Boys of the Road (1933)

Wild Boys of the Road (1933, Warner Bros.)

Yes, I learned it an always vaguely knew what Pre-Code was, but this year was the first time I really studied up on it and started to watch it more. This film, in part, was the catalyst. What really strikes you is how this film epitomizes the working class, stoic tackling of Depression themes head on that was a Warner signature of the era.

The Window (1949)

The Window (1949, RKO)

If I wanted to try and completely drive myself insane and place these films in order, this would likely come out atop the fray. This is a film based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich, the same man who gave us Rear Window, and is essentially that tale crossed with “The Boy who Cried Wolf.” It’s short and as suspenseful as you could possibly stand, with real danger and a tremendous performance by Bobby Driscoll that earned him the Juvenile Award from the Academy.

Mrs. Parkington (1944)

Mrs. Parkington (1944, MGM)

This is a another 31 Days of Oscar selection that allowed me to redeem missing one of Greer Garson’s nominations as Best Actress. A few years back TCM aired each of her five successive nominations in order and I should’ve seen the whole block. This is a duplicitous family portrait that spans lifetimes and does so very entertainingly.

The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

The Masque Red Death (1964, AIP)

In my previous post I discussed the dichotomy between Roger Corman and Charles Band. Where Corman sets himself apart is in the careers he helped kickstart, but also with his Poe adaptations. I saw a lot of these films in the past year and this was likely the most artistically daring and complete of the lot.

Faces of Children (1925)

Visages d'Enfants (1925, Pathé)

I have a lot of silents and older films sitting on my DVR that I must get to. This is a case of my catching a piece of this film on TCM late one night then being determined to watch it whole again one day. This film stuck with me not just because I discovered the work of Jacques Feyder through it, but also due to the wonderful tinting work involved in it.

Spectre (2006)

Spectre (2006, LionsGate)

I embrace any and all horror series like Six Films to Keep You Awake that round up genre directors from certain countries to tell quick effective tales. It’s not dissimilar to Door into Darkness or Masters of Horror, this edition highlights the uniquely opaque, intricate and dramatic flair that Spain has for the genre. There will be another tale from the series on this list. This is the one that separates the die hards from the casual admirers.

A Child Called Jesus (1987)

A Child Called Jesus (1987, Silvio Burlusconi Communications)

Any film willing to fill in some Biblical gaps, or at the very least cover ground rarely trod, will get my attention. Similarly any film that can hold my attention in spite of terrible dubbing is also worth noting.

The Christmas Tale (2005)

A Christmas Tale (2006, Lionsgate)

As mentioned above in Spectre, this is a Six Films to Keep You Awake tale, but this is the more accessible of the two I chose. It deals with a group of kids who find a woman trapped in a hole, as they learn about what got her there each faces moral dilemmas about how to deal with the situation. It not only sets up good horror but great character study.


Death and Cremation (2010)

Death and Cremation (2010, Green Apple Entertainment)

Prior to Jeremy Sumpter being the not-so-obscure object of desire in Excision he starred in this film which features a very overt and twisted mentor-protegé relationship. Bringing horror icons into the fold of a new project can be a double-edged sword but Brad Dourif is very effective in this role. Conversely, Sumpter utilizes his seeming vulnerability to channel a disconnected attitude and anger. The undertaker/death obsession mixed with suburban malaise can be seen as an obvious connection, but it’s not an overwrought one and works well with the performances.