Free Movie Friday: The Last Man on Earth (1964)

If you’re going to watch the new dark sitcom with this very name starting on Fox on the first perhaps first you’d like to go back and see how AIP and Vincent Price handled a story with the same name. It’s sure to be a different take than what Lord and Miller have in mind, but it is well worth your while. Enjoy!

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Free Movie Friday: House on Haunted Hill (1959)

I wanted to start this series back in January. Basically, there are a lot of good movies out there that you can watch free and clear. Meaning you don’t have to pay for them and by streaming it free you’re not stealing it because they are in the public domain. Also, in some cases, these films are not all as ancient as copyright laws usually call for.

There are quite a few horror films in this boat, which is where I’ll start. This was a film I first saw in a horror/sci-fi class and was likely my introduction to Vincent Price. It may be a good a one as any.

BAM Awards: Neutron Star Award Winners

Here you will find a historical list of the honorees of this recently-created award. A neutron star is one that glows more brightly after it “death,” similarly these filmmakers and actors do. It’s a counterpart to the Lifetime Achievement Award which is intended for filmmakers and actors who are very much alive and kicking.

The Neutron Star Award

OK, so what is the Neutron Star Award? As I watched older selections through the year, I was frequently compelled to pick a film based on the fact that Vincent Price was in it. When I was younger I was very actor-oriented, more so than with directors. The fact that an actor had that kind of draw, and was one who is sadly no longer with us, made me think there had to be some kind of way I could honor them.

2015: Dickie Moore

dickie-moore-and-pete-the-pup-from-our-gang-ca1933jpg-1f9eded7279ba808

Here’s one I thought I wasn’t going to hand out this year.

However, even though I knew Dickie Moore from things like The Little Rascals, Oliver Twist, The Word Accuses, Three on a Match, and saw him in a few titles this year; I thought his star couldn’t grow to me – matching the definition of a neutron star – a star bigger after its death. However, after his passing I started to realize he would fit.

Blonde Venus (1932, Paramount)

In April I covered a movie he was in for the Pre-Code Blogathon, Blonde Venus.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (1984, Harper & Row)

For the Summer Reading Classic Film Challenge I covered his book Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, which is a bittersweet-at-best account of the early days of child stardom, which includes the perspective of many young stars (himself included) from the early days of sound when he caught up with them again in the 1980s.

The World Accuses (1934)

Then less than a month later he passed away at the age of 89. One of the better obits I read was this one.

Bogged down with other things I didn’t eulogize him at the time. I believe the one I did for Wes Craven was the only one this year.

There is precedent for the recipient dying in the year he was awarded.

Miss Annie Rooney (1942, RKO)

So, while there will not be Film Discoveries like there was for 2013 (Miss Annie Rooney and The World Accusses) for Moore this year, his TCM homage is taking up much of my DVR with many titles I was hoping to have seen for quite some time.

dickie-moore-435

So 2016 and beyond will likely feature more of his films. No one perfectly captures all of film’s past as they learn to love and fully embrace the art. For as much as you learn and know about technique and production there is a tendentiousness to things, and everyone develops personal favorites and preferences. Some films and people are inarguably greats, or talented if their films don’t happen to reach you on a visceral level.

732288_ori

Despite the fact that he may not have been a Shirley Temple, Mickey Rooney or a Freddie Bartholomew; Dickie Moore is one of my favorites. He was undoubtedly a star in his own right, he was just surrounded by many of them in a crowded system. I look forward to getting to know more of his films that remain with us though he may be gone from this world.

RIP

2014 Honoree

Mickey Rooney

Mickey Rooney and Deanna Durbin

So I thought literally about stars, and being a nerd I confirmed that a neutron star fits the definition of a star that has gone out but glows more brightly after its passing.

Mickey-Rooney-and-Judy-Garland-Andy-Hardy-Meets-Debutante-1940

This one was not easy to figure out. Much of the reason this award proved difficult to choose is that with my viewings being somewhat down across the board it was difficult to find a number of actors or filmmakers who jumped up in prominence this past year. Usually, they were known as well. However, with Mickey Rooney’s unfortunate passing I did have cause to post my first In Memoriam in some time and I did feature some of his shorts after the incident, and had seen some earlier titles he appeared in. I still have, and have been meaning to see, many of his Andy Hardy titles sitting around. Then in December he reprised his role in the Night at the Museum series. As always this kind of appearance was bittersweet (particularly as Robin Williams always features prominently in those films also). For Mickey some of the bittersweetness owed to the fact that the lingering effects on his speech of a stroke were apparent. The saving graces were that he did fine and the film very classily and prominently dedicated a title card to them both.

Rooney’s credits are many and I will continue to seek them out, and who knows I may find more that I can share legally here. I hope that seeing his later works will encourage new fans to discover some of his earlier works. Many of them, from varied points in his career, have been with me for quite some time.

Ironically, the first I ever heard of Rooney was through an impersonation of him by Dana Carvey on SNL. Like a lot of impersonations there was some basis in fact for it, much as there was for Mickey to legitimately claim he was once the biggest star in the world. That point can be debated if you like but his impact and longevity may not be matched anytime soon. Therefore, any growth in the appreciation of his work is worthwhile.

“It’s never too late to see a movie.”
-Edgar Wright

2013 Honoree

Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Rainer Werner Fassbinder (RWFF)

The award was created last year to recognize an actor, but this year’s winning selection is a slight fudge. However, I don’t feel I’ll be likely to re-define or expand the award any time soon so I’m going to go with it.

Basically, the winner did act in films and did even play leading roles, however, to be completely honest, Rainer Werner Fassbinder is winning this award for his work as a writer and director. Now a bit like Jackie Searl I did have some familiarity with Fassbinder in the past. He made appearances on both my 2011 and 2012 Favorite Older Movies list.

However, 2013 was much more viewing many more appearances and was topped off by my getting both the Region 2 box sets of his films. Granted even those aren’t all his works.

When you see a few things by a director you are responding to individual titles, when you see quite a few you start responding to a voice and Fassbinder’s was a voice I sought to hear speaking repeatedly through 2013, and I’m sure that will continue into the new year. In tandem with this award you should look out for this year’s favorites list, which will include his titles; and I may create a subsequent series designed to reflect the year’s winner as I have with other body-of-work awards in the past.

Fassbinder had a knack, in standard feature-length dramas, making the first forty minutes impossibly gripping over and over, of also creating approachable density and magnetic melancholy, and it’s why I sought to come back to his works many times over last year and why he is the recipient of this award.

2012 Honoree

Vincent Price

Vincent Price
As tends to be the case when I’m breaking out a new honor (e.g. The Ingmar Bergman Lifetime Achievement Award or the Robert Downey, Jr. Award for Entertainer of the Year), my initial write-up about it will be fairly short.

OK, so what is the Neutron Star Award? As I watched older selections through the year, I was frequently compelled to pick a film based on the fact that Vincent Price was in it. When I was younger I was very actor-oriented, more so than with directors. The fact that an actor had that kind of draw, and was one who is sadly no longer with us, made me think there had to be some kind of way I could honor them.

So I thought literally about stars, and being a nerd I confirmed that a neutron star fits the definition of a star that has gone out but glows more brightly after its passing.

Which brings me back to Price. If you look at my older films list this year you’ll find Vincent Price all over it. He was not only a talent, and not only elevated works he took part in, but in a way elevated the entire horror genre; in large part because of the horror icons he arguably was the longest-lasting and most identified with it. Christopher Lee, for example, has for years been synonymous with other kinds of films, but once Price got his foothold it was nearly his sole dominion.

I fight Netflix indecisiveness so anyone that great that makes me say “Oh, he’s in it? Good enough for me.” Is certainly worthy of some honor.

I truly like this idea and I hope it acts as another incentive to discover and get to know other actors’ filmographies in the future.

61 Days of Halloween: Return of the Fly (1959)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, as well as a list of previously featured titles, please go here.

Return of the Fly (1959)

Where can one possibly hope to go in a sequel? It’s almost a rhetorical question (one I’ve asked quite a few times this year), but it’s a perpetually pertinent one in the horror genre because sequels are quite nearly expected and always possible whether they are implied or not. With the conclusion of the first film in the series the story was done, the tragedy set … or that’s how it seemed.

Another risky thing a series of films can do is jump ahead, or back, a number of years. It’s not a new idea, and it’s been done a few times with varying degrees of success. Here the story moves ahead 15 years. Vincent Price is retained, while Phillippe, the son of the ill-fated scientist who made the first experiments with the matter disintegrator is following in his father’s scientific footsteps.

While there is a bit of scientific zealotry, and borderline madness, what works especially well in this film is the inclusion of a most vile, very villainous character. It is he who ultimately brings the scares and chills into this installment, the seeking of revenge against him is but part of the suspense. Perhaps most importantly, his existence serves to buck this film from an identical narrative pattern to the first film.

While the first film kept the truth about the occurrences a closely-guarded secret amongst a few characters, here, years later, rumors have spread; a chase ensues and a few more now realize what this machine can do when ill-used. However, the knowledge doesn’t become widespread allowing the drama to play out with a fairly small number of characters.

In fact, it contributes to the drama by needing to keep the information about what’s really happening among only those who are in the know. As opposed to The Fly II, the follow-up to Cronenberg’s version, this is a highly successful sequel that keeps the spirit of the first while expanding the myth and throwing some twists into the story.

61Days of Halloween: The Fly (1958)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, as well as a list of previously featured films, please go here.

The Fly (1958)

If you’re like me (and in this regard, you just might be) you’re likely to have seen the 1986 version of The Fly first. With that being the case, it’s likely you think there’s nothing that compare with it. Superficially speaking you’d be right, however, both films have separate and equally valid aims with their versions of the story. Aside from a modernized filmmaking approach, Cronenberg’s The Fly is seeking a more realistic handling of the tale. The 1958 version is working in the highly-stylized 1950s horror/sci-fi milieu.

What’s more is that that version of the tale tells its story in a different way, backtracking and retracing the events that have come to pass and ultimately trying to prove the highly improbable tale. However, with all the affectation of 1950s horror/sci-fi the film is tremendously and not without its chill-inducing moments.

The use of Cinemascope and the vivid color photography is used to great effect in this film. Not to mention the sound design which takes the buzzing of a common housefly and turns it into something even more terrible than it normally is.

A fact I was unprepared for was the covert Canadian-set nature of this tale. While this achieved through the occasional use of French words, surnames, and not much in the way of accents (in a very Old Hollywood way) it does add an additional texture to the film.

Then, of course, there is the incomparable Vincent Price. While not the eponymous character in this film he plays, due in part to the structure, a central figure in the tale. As per usual, he is marvelous adding a seriously needed dose of gravitas to a tale with a preposterous concept.

And therein lies the genius of the film. For it does commit to its concept and delivers many spine-chilling moments, and though different in tenor, is a classic in its own right.

The First Annual Neutron Star Award

The Neutron Star Award

2012 Honoree

Vincent Price

As tends to be the case when I’m breaking out a new honor (e.g. The Ingmar Bergman Lifetime Achievement Award or the Robert Downey, Jr. Award for Entertainer of the Year), my initial write-up about it will be fairly short.

OK, so what is the Neutron Star Award? As I watched older selections through the year, I was frequently compelled to pick a film based on the fact that Vincent Price was in it. When I was younger I was very actor-oriented, more so than with directors. The fact that an actor had that kind of draw, and was one who is sadly no longer with us, made me think there had to be some kind of way I could honor them.

So I thought literally about stars, and being a nerd I confirmed that a neutron star fits the definition of a star that has gone out but glows more brightly after its passing.

Which brings me back to Price. If you look at my older films list this year you’ll find Vincent Price all over it. He was not only a talent, and not only elevated works he took part in, but in a way elevated the entire horror genre; in large part because of the horror icons he arguably was the longest-lasting and most identified with it. Christopher Lee, for example, has for years been synonymous with other kinds of films, but once Price got his foothold it was nearly his sole dominion.

I fight Netflix indecisiveness so anyone that great that makes me say “Oh, he’s in it? Good enough for me.” Is certainly worthy of some honor.

I truly like this idea and I hope it acts as another incentive to discover and get to know other actors’ filmographies in the future.

61 Days of Halloween: House of Long Shadows

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

House of Long Shadows

The House of Long Shadows does something that’s incredibly hard to do for a film in any genre, much less a horror film, and that is to feature four very prominent, iconic actors and give them each a substantial and worthy part to play. In a way, this is the antithesis of All-Star Cast Syndrome, as I like to call it. When you have a cast of thousands crammed with actors you like it’s very hard for the film to strike a necessary balance for it and one that pleases you, the fan, as well.

In this film you see the names of Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and John Carradine and you think “Wow, that’s amazing!” I know I did, and then dread set in because in combinations these actors worked together many times, some more successful than others. Here they are all together and I got worried that one appearance would be cursory or insignificant, but none of it was.

Now, none of these legendary gentleman is the lead. That honor goes to Des Arnaz, Jr. whose character is designed to be a bit of a twerp and a spectator but he gives a bit too much of the former. Regardless, it works wonderfully each of the characters adds weight and intrigue to the film and they are all on point.

As for the narrative, there are many twists in the tale each seemingly more surprising than the last that totally make the slow burn of the film payoff. I will give you no details except to tall you that the set up is that a cocky young writer makes a substantial bet with his publisher that he can turn out an old style Gothic novel in 24 hours given the right atmosphere and solitude. He gets his locale and what unfolds is wild in its implications and it a really enjoyable film that is highly recommended.

If you’ve seen and enjoy this film, Warner Archive has just released a three-film Seven Keys to Baldpate set, which are films that pre-date this one based upon the same novel.

Summer Olympic Movie Picks- Part One

I did a post like this for the Vancouver games a little more than two years ago and I shall unearth it again at some point at least on Letterboxd because that was certainly a lot more fun and in many cases weirder. However, the variety that is provided by the over-stuffed nature of the summer games is nothing to sneeze at. I think that these films that feature the sports of the warmer Olympiad will likely introduce you to something you want to check out. I know I found a few. These picks will be posted in three parts.

Archery

The very first sport alphabetically is one that will illustrate to you rather quickly that there are two ways you can see a sport portrayed in a film: direct (e.g. sports movies) or indirect (wherein the sport is a component of the film but not the focus). Archery is an ancient practical discipline, which is rather visually appealing. Thus, it makes cameos in myriad ways: whether the super-human precision of Hawkeye in The Avengers or the cold brutality of Kevin, as in the one who needs talking about.

Films about the sport itself are harder to come by but with all the Robin Hoods there should be something that tickles your fancy.

My official pick will by Walt Disney’s Robin Hood, though of course Disney/Pixar’s Brave also features a prominent competition, and Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games is quite skilled too.

Athletics

Another permutation of the sports movie you get is that of the biopic. This seems to be a particular purview of Athletics, specifically track and field events. Clearly, Chariots of Fire is the first title that comes to mind. Then there are the lesser known but still worth looking out for like Prefontaine and Saint Ralph.

Badminton

Here is the first of the challenging sports on this list. In looking into it I was reminded that badminton, like so many other things, has been included on The Simpsons. In film terms, I learned of two features that involve it, one I’d be interested in seeing and one not so much. The first is National Lampoon’s Golddigger, a newer and prior to this unknown to me installment of the series, and then an Indonesian biopic about Liem Swei King simply called King, which is clearly more appealing for the purist.

Basketball

Basketball is one of the sports that has most frequently made for popular or entertaining films. Now, the two that jump immediately to mind are Hoosiers and Blue Chips. Having said that, since there are so many basketball titles, such that you can specifically cite the Olympics in some; I’d choose HBO’s documentary :03 from Gold about the ’72 Gold Medal Game between the US and USSR.

Beach Volleyball

It was incredibly difficult to parse beach volleyball films from traditional volleyball ones. Beach ones are clearly more popular, but rather than being crass and to respect the differences between the two disciplines, they will each get their own films. The beach volleyball choice is Side Out, which I do believe I’ve actually seen Side Out (so help me God).

Boxing

Boxing is the sport where I’m sure you’ll find the most movies to choose from. Of course, a movie about Olympic boxing is disqualified since the scoring system instantly introduces plot holes and confusion, but you can pick among the classics here Rocky, Raging Bull or whatever your preference may be you’re spoiled for choice with this sport.

Canoeing


Any of the paddle sports will be rarely found on screen and usually as a background element. In the Social Network the Winklevoss twins were part of a crew legacy, which could qualify that as a rowing movie.

With regards to the canoeing/kayaking end of the spectrum that’s where you get to fudging it a little. The first thing that came to mind was White Water Summer, that was immediately followed by more Kevin Bacon in The River Wild, which is a rafting film but less all around odd and not at all ’80s. You could also turn to A River Runs Through It.

With regards to paddle sports it all depends on how ensconced you want to be. If you want just a hint of it you can certainly fudge a movie in in easily.

Cycling

With many of these films I’m discovering them and wanting to find them at some point, with some they are oddities that I have seen and want to recommend. When it came to cycling I’ve seen two of the bigger cycling movies Breaking Away and American Flyers thanks to a family member who is obsessed with the sport.

They have their moments but have also bred some inside jokes based on the fact that it’s a “shown movie,” as in a “You should see this” kind of thing. However, in fairness, they seem to be the go to choices for enthusiasts.

One of those sports that pops up at the Olympics that grabs my interest are the track cycling events, which are more intriguing to me that the other disciplines. The Flying Scotsman seems to be a popular choice for that particular modality.

Diving

Diving, whether it be platform or springboard, is usually an affectation wherein we witness the externalization of a protagonist’s fear and his overcoming it, and rarely the focus of a film.

Perhaps the most notable examples are Greg Louganis: Breaking the Surface, and now with the games in London, Tom Daley four years on from a debut at the age of 14, wherein he finished 7th and 8th in his two events; has a BBC documentary about him to his credit along with being a serious medal threat.

Equestrian

I’m not going to say I’m a horse whisperer or even any kind of an expert, but what invariably ends up bugging me in some horse movies is the whole nature of them participating in a sport. A notable example being The Black Stallion. The beginning, say the first 40 minutes is a gem, a perfect replica of a silent film. Then the horse becomes a racehorse and it’s kind of trite from there. I think that’s one of the greatest things about the handling of Secretariat, it makes it seem like the horse is more willful than his jockey.

When it comes to equestrian disciplines that’s less of a concern because I believe that typically it’s the rider facing more danger and if the horse doesn’t want to jump, he won’t jump; or whatever maneuver is intended. That and watching these maneuvers is rather hypnotic at times.

A recent film I saw that dealt well with equestrian if nothing else was Harley’s Hill. In reading a similar list I was enlightened towards International Velvet. If you can’t drop your reservations about equine sports, and are a member of the Disney Movie Club, you can look up The Littlest Outlaw wherein a boy frees a showhorse.

Fencing

Fencing is another sport wherein you can shoehorn many a film into your viewing to suit your taste. Any Zorro, Three Musketeers, Peter Pan will feature fencing-like swashbuckling. You can take your pick from those oft told tales or you can be a little more literal with something like By the Sword, a 1991 film featuring Mia Sara, Eric Roberts and F. Murray Abraham. Or perhaps The Fencing Master, there was one in 1915 and 1992, I suspect the latter would be easier to find.

However, if you want to get creative I suggest Theatre of Blood. Not only does Vincent Price play a crazed, thought-to-be-dead Shakespearean actor seeking vengeance on a critics circle but he recites the Bard as he kills and once such scene is a fencing duel!

That’s all for now. Suggestions are more than welcome, and tomorrow’s films start with those about or involving football (aka soccer).

It’s An Honor Just To Be Nominated

Elizabeth Taylor and Roddy McDowall in Cleopatra (20th Century Fox)

“It’s a an honor just to be nominated” is a phrase that’s such a truism that it rings empty and hollow. In fact, you hardly hear it anymore, however, I do believe actors when they do say it. The fact is there are only so many Oscar nominations to go around such that many very, very talented people never even get so much as nominated. While some have one standout performance that grabs everyone’s attention. Below you will find a list that could be longer of some notable actors who never even were nominated for supporting or leading actor/actress prizes.

Pictured above is one of the more unfortunate cases: critics at the time and film historians agree that Roddy McDowall was a virtual lock for Best Supporting Actor in Cleopatra. However, a clerical error submitted him as a lead. Fox tried to rectify the mistake but the Academy wouldn’t allow it thus McDowall was not even nominated. An ad taken out by Fox apologizing for the oversight and commending McDowall’s performance was a poor consolation prize at best.

Best Non-Oscar Nominees

1. Christopher Lee
2. Bela Lugosi
3. Boris Karloff
4. Vincent Price
5. Edward G. Robinson
6. Mae West
7. Michael Keaton
8. Peter Lorre
9. Mel Gibson
10. Sonia Braga
11. Alan Rickman
12. Fernanda Torres
13. Roddy McDowall
14. John Barrymore
15. Joseph Cotten
16. Errol Flynn
17. Bob Hope
18. Lloyd Bridges
19. W.C. Fields
20. Lon Chaney, Jr.
21. Victor Mature
22. Conrad Veidt
23. Peter Cushing
24. Donald Sutherland
25. Eli Wallach
26. Robert Blake
27. Malcolm McDowell
28. Kurt Russell
29. Martin Sheen
30. Christopher Lloyd
31. Jeff Goldblum
32. Steve Buscemi
33. Kevin Bacon
34. Vincent D’Onofrio
35. Marilyn Monroe
36. Jean Harlow
37. Rita Hayworth
38. Myrna Loy
39. Hedy Lamarr
40. Tallulah Bankhead
41. Maureen O’ Sullivan
42. Betty Grable
43. Jane Russell
44. Jeanne Moreau
45. Barbara Steele
46. Mia Farrow
47. Margot Kidder
48. Jamie Lee Curtis
49. Meg Ryan
50. Ellen Barkin
51. Isabelle Huppert
52. Shelley Duvall
53. Madeline Stowe