Wednesday, June 20, 2018

LES VAMPIRES (1915, FRANCE)

 
 Mazamette and Phillippe! The heroes of Les Vampires!

If I had watched the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die in order, I would have watched the 1915 seven hour French serial Les Vampires in 2009!

Well, better late than never I guess.

By the way, it isn't about vampires like the bloodsuckers we are use to, but a group of criminals chased by the intrepid reporter, Phillipe. Let's get on with it already.

Episode 1-The Severed Head
Phillipe is a reporter who is on the case of a group of criminal hooligans called vampires. He goes to investigate at a rich person's house and finds a strange clue in a painting .The vampires strike again! A decapitation (the bastards)! The vampire perpetrator crawls down the wall. He leaves a note warning not to try to find him! But they have to try because there are nine episodes to go!



The evil vampire crime organization in their black garb 

      Episode 2-The Ring That Kills
      Mazamatte from the first episode turns out to be one of the vampires…wait! He’s working undercover with Phillippe! We see Phillippe getting kidnapped after a wild vampire performance onstage that ended with the performer known as Irma Vep passing out. We see the vampire’s lair and hear of the Grand Inquisitor vampire! Phillipe is tied up, but thanks to Mazamette, it is The Grand Inquisitor who is tied up and killed accidentally by his own troops! The cops come back and the vampires are now on the run.

Episode 3-The Red Codebook 
Philippe gets the vampire’s red code book from the Grand Inquisitor. That’s good. But vampire master of disguise Irma Vep has become a maid in in Philippe’s own house but Irma and the vamps are unable to get it back. Phillipe’s mother gets kidnapped (There are a lot of kidnappings in Les Vampires) only to have her abductor killed by a poison pen and mom escapes.


Episode 4-The Spectre
A film fanatic and investor (I guess) named Metadier and his 30,000 Francs are killed by the vampires impersonating office workers. How many factions of vampires are there? The Moreno gang shows up and appear to be rivals to the vampires. Is there no escape this evil?


The vampires invade a party of the rich with a sneak 
gas attack...maybe they aren't all bad after all.



      Episode 5-Dead Man's Escape
      One of the vampires is caught! Kills himself with cyanide… alas. But he’s not dead! He takes a prison guard from behind and escapes! The Vampires capture Philippe with a giant pole while he’s hanging over a balcony! (Not the only time this happens) He is put in a basket…but quickly escapes… and is back on the vampire’s trail! Whew! We are at a party of aristocrats where they are gassed by the vampires! They steal the jewels, but double agent Moreno steals them from them. Mazamatte rolls his eyes and get some laughs.




Vampire rival Moreno and his hypnotic stare!
      
      Episode 6-Hypnotic Eyes
      Strange flashback with bullfight that… I didn’t get why there was a bullfight flashback. We learn that Moreno is a guy with hypnotic eyes.? Irma Vep is kidnapped by Moreno who falls for her and uses his hypnotism on her. She kills one of her colleagues while she is under his spell…The latest Grand Inquisitor vampire dies (They keep dying)!

      
      Episode 7-Satanas
      Moreno and Irma Vep make up with new Grand leader Satanas and plan an elaborate scam where a millionaire signs over 100,000 to other vampire accomplice. Luckily, the ever present Mazamatte witnesses the transaction and schemes to capture Irma Vep and Moreno which he does by the end of the episode.


The diabolically delightful Irma Vep

      
      Episode 8-The Thunder Master
      A lot happens here. Moreno is executed. Irma Vep is sent to live in a leper colony or something. There is a scene where Irma Vep’s ship to the colony blows up (a pretty cool scene) and she makes a miraculous escape! She is nursed back to health by good people. Satanas does his a five minute paralyzing thing (something he did to Moreno earlier) to Phillipe before he sets a device to blow Phillipe’s house up. Mazamatte gets wind of the plan (again) and tosses the hat where the bomb is hidden out the window. Mazamatte and his juvenile delinquent son (don’t ask) capture vampire head Satanas! Irma Vep returns to the vampires and now the chemist Venomous is in charge! Satanas poisons himself in his cell.  (Another inquisitor bites the dust!)

       
      Episode 9-The Poisoner
      Phillipe and his fiancĂ©e (Jane) have an engagement party which (of course) is infiltrated by the vampires who try to poison the champagne! But they are found out and fail for the most part..but concierge Leon Charlet is a casualty of the poison. Mazamette and Phillipe eventually catch the elusive Irma Vet (again) but she escapes (again). Mazamette has an altercation with police but eventually all is worked out…except there is only one episode left to capture the vampires once and for all!

The vampires celebrate...but not for long!
 
Episode 10-The Terrible Wedding
      Months later. Phillipe and Jane are married. A wicked madame hypnotizes the widow of concierge Leon Charlet (Augusta) with yet another plan to capture Phillipe. Mazamette falls for Augusta (too soon, Mazamette?) The vampires capture Phillipe’s wife with the old rope around the neck trick again. However, Phillipe and Mazamette are able to follow the vampires because their car leaks oil which leads them to their hideout. Not that they are hiding…They are having a crazy wedding party for Venomous and Irma Vep! The police come in and capture or kill most of the vampires. Irma Vep is the last casualty and  Phillipe is reunited with his wife. Augusta (who is also captured) agrees to marry Mazamette and the vampire case is closed.

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Watching this one-hundred-year old serial on a laptap one episode after the other is not the way this is meant to seen, but I'm guessing this was pretty exciting stuff for film goer seeing each segment and waiting with baited breath for the next episode to show at their local theater.

The two standout characters are Marcel Levesque as the resourceful but comical Mazamette and Musidora as the deadly femme fatale Irma Vep. Both of these actors return for director Louis Feuillade in Judex (1916). More about that one next time.

Bosley Crowther’s review of the film from the New York Times of a theatrical showing of Les Vampires in 1965 is pretty funny. Crowther calls it “A Spartan test endurance for even the most ardent movie buff…this French opposite number to The Perils of Pauline is the ultimate in cinema camp. It is a lurid,  slow moving, grotesque stretch out of fantastic adventures…How many viewers stuck to the end I cannot say.”
 

Friday, June 15, 2018

APARAJITO (1956, INDIA), THE WORLD OF APU (1959, INDIA)

Apu headed to boarding school in Aparjito

(Aparjito) develops a sort of hypnotism for the serene and tolerant viewer who is willing to sit still for an hour and forty-eight minutes and let some stunning black-and-white pictures pass before his eyes.
Bosley Crowther, New York Times, April 29, 1959.

(On The World of Apu) Mr. Ray pursues the story and constructs the film with an attention to the finer spiritual values that is extraordinarily sensitive and rare...Life is an everlasting poem in the canon observed by Mr. Ray. It is a slow flow of sensuous experience surrounded by aesthetic qualities.Bosley Crowther, New York Times, October 5, 1960

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I watched the first film in this trilogy (Pather Panchali) a couple of months ago for this blog. In retrospect, I probably should have watched all three of Satyajit Ray's Apu Triology (Pather Panchali, Aparjito, The World of Apu) during the same week and in order. 

Despite the fact that Ray didn't initially plan to make more Apu films after the first one, the three films that we have that constitute the trilogy flow together as naturally as any other film trilogy I can think of.

Apu's life in these films is full of hope and ambition, but harsh truths and tragedy always seem to be around the corner. Yet the films never seem maudlin to me...they just seem real. I felt I was in the village...school...marital house with Apu and with the other characters in these films.

I did go back and watch Pather Panchali again after I watched these the last two films and it was even better seeing it a second time.

All three films are highly recommended...but watch when you can be fully attentive to it. Repeat if necessary.


Apu with his new wife in The World of Apu

Sunday, June 10, 2018

THE BIG PARADE (1925)

Tom O'Brien, John Gilbert and Karl Dane lead The Big Parade

New York Times critic Mordaunt Hall called The Big Parade the Best Movie "without doubt" of 1925 in his end of the year review from that year. The story features three American men who go off to fight in the first World War. They are spoiled rich kid Jim (John Gilbert) and working stiffs Bull (Tom O'Brien) and Sam (Karl Dane). Despite the differences in class of the three men, they bond and we see them train together, fight together and (in some cases) die together. The movie was directed by Kind Vidor, who gives much of the credit for the film's success to screenwriter Laurence Stallings.

The film has been cited in some sources (501 Movie Directors) as the most financially successful film of the silent era. I heard another source say it was second to Birth of a Nation, but either way The Big Parade was extremely popular.

So it was a popular film and a critical hit. The one thing that stopped it from being seen more over the years was, of course, that it was a silent and once talkies came around...well more people raved about All
Quiet on the Western Front
just five years later...where you can here the bombs...

King Vidor did make his mark in talkies as well, directing prominent pictures for over thirty years after The Big Parade. Leading man John Gilbert wasn't so lucky when the sound era came around. His star waned and he died of a heart attack in 1936.

But the reputation of The Big Parade stands. Most critics hail it as a masterpiece...though curmudgeonly critic David Thompson says The Big Parade is''often slack and clumsy." You can't please everyone, I guess. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

DR. MABUSE, THE GAMBLER (1922, GERMANY)


Mabuse in disguise
in Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler

I feel lucky that when I was growing up there were many opportunities to see silent features and shorts on television. It was clearly the silent comedies I gravitated too because many of the great gags by the comedy masters were timeless and actually enhanced by having no dialogue to get in the way.

Silent dramas were a different matter. I thought (and sometimes still think, honestly) viewing a more serious film without the aid of the verbal cues we are use to isn't always easy to do. Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler is a good example. The plot is a lot to keep up with. We have Dr. Mabuse, the criminal mastermind and master of disguise and all his henchman and all the people he dupes and we have law enforcement trying to put the pieces of the puzzle of his many crimes together and it requires a lot of concentration (at least it did for me) to keep it all straight. The movie is also well over four hours long, depending on what version you happen to watch.

But I hung with it and the plot, even though I wasn't catching as much as I would have liked in the beginning, about an hour in to Mabuse the style and the visual language of the story eventually began to click with me and I enjoyed the second half of the film very much. I'd even go as far to say that I found the overall viewing experience of Mabuse quite rewarding, as director Fritz Lang was clearly a master of the medium even at that early stage of his career.

Mabuse returns: Lang brought back the Mabuse character in sound films in 1933 (The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) and The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960).

Rudolf Klein-Rogge: Klein-Rogge (Dr. Mabuse) played important parts in several Lang films, including: Metropolis, Spies, and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse. His first screen credit is in the classic Cabinet of Dr. Caligari as "Man with the Knife."

Favorite title card: "Eat cocaine, limp dick!"

Dr. Mabuse deals while surrounded by a couple of his henchmen
in Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler