Apocalypse Later Empire



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Also announcing the 2nd annual Apocalypse Later International Fantastic Film Festival!
Filmmakers, submissions for horror and sci-fi shorts are open through Film Freeway.

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Monday, 11 September 2017

The Ringer (1952)


Director: Guy Hamilton
Writer: Val Valentine, from the play by Edgar Wallace, with additional dialogue by Lesley Storm
Stars: Herbert Lom, Donald Wolfit, Mai Zetterling, Greta Gynt, William Hartnell, Norman Wolland, Denholm Elliott, Charles Victor, Walter Fitzgerald, Dora Bryan and Campbell Singer


Index: 2017 Centennials.

Today, it would be surprising to discover a film fan who doesn’t immediately associate the name of Herbert Lom with that of Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfus, so memorable was he in that role in a number of Pink Panther movies. However, he was a man of talents far beyond magnificent comedic timing and the rare ability to prevent Peter Sellers from stealing every scene he was in. Taking a look back through the phases of his career highlights those different talents well: Czech pictures in the thirties, villainous roles in British films of the forties, stage musicals in the fifties, a wide variety of roles in the sixties, European horror icon in the seventies and, of course, Dreyfus across the decades. He even found time to write two historical novels, one about Christopher Marlowe and the other about the French Revolution. I’ve enjoyed his work since I was a kid, so his versatility isn’t news to me, but I had no idea until now that he was the King of Siam in the original British stage run of The King and I, the role Yul Brynner played on Broadway.

While he was far more frequent a supporting actor than a lead, there are intriguing features almost leaping out of his filmography to be covered in a project like this. I’m a sucker for Ealing films but he wasn’t most prominent in The Ladykillers. I love the classics of horror, but he was disappointed with the Hammer version of The Phantom of the Opera, in which he played the lead. He appeared in other iconic roles too: Captain Nemo in Mysterious Island, Van Helsing in Jess Franco’s Count Dracula (supporting a dream pairing of Christopher Lee and Klaus Kinski as Dracula and Renfield) and Napoleon Bonaparte in two films: The Young Mr. Pitt in the UK and War and Peace in the US. He even appeared in two different versions of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. The movies that shouted the loudest, though, were his British film noirs of the forties and fifties, like Dual Alibi, in which he played twin acrobats, a Hammer noir called Whispering Smith Hits London and this Edgar Wallace thriller, The Ringer.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Pool of London (1951)


Director: Basil Dearden
Writers: Jack Whittingham and John Eldridge
Stars: Bonar Colleano, Susan Shaw, Renée Asherson, Earl Cameron and Moira Lister


Index: 2017 Centennials.

Last year, I celebrated the centennial of Willie Best with a review of The Ghost Breakers, in which I looked beyond the general lack of roles of substance for actors of colour in Hollywood to highlight how horrendous the roles given to coloured talents actually were. Best’s first six roles were credited to ‘Sleep ’n’ Eat’, a name to fit the image the studio was crafting for him of someone whose only needs were ‘three square meals a day and a warm place to sleep.’ Of course, institutional racism was hardly a problem restricted to the United States. I’m British and it’s not that long ago, historically speaking, that we exercised a habit of waltzing in to countries and taking them over because, well, clearly the savages couldn’t govern themselves. However, there were brighter moments that are worth highlighting and this film, a thriller from Ealing Studios in 1951 is a worthy example, as it features an actor of colour in a major role of substance, as a sailor of well defined character for whom a young white lady falls very hard indeed.

This actor is Earl Cameron and he’s celebrating his one hundredth birthday today. He was born Earlston Cameron in Bermuda and this could almost have been called typecasting for him. He had once been a merchant seaman, just like Johnny Lambert, whom he plays here, and he found himself stranded in London when he got involved with a girl and his ship sailed without him. Within the decade, he would marry a white British lady, Audrey Godowski, whom he met while touring with a play entitled Deep are the Roots; they were married from 1959 until her death in 1994. Theatre found him before film, letting him fill a vacated spot on the chorus line in a revival of Chu Chin Chow and he found that this life was surprisingly easy. ‘In theatre, there was no particular colour bar,’ he told The Guardian, perhaps partly because his graceful Caribbean accent allowed him to play believable Americans. It was here in 1951 that cinema tasked him and Susan Shaw to create the first mixed-race relationship on the UK’s big screen.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Blood on the Moon (1948)


Director: Robert Wise
Writers: Lillie Hayward, from the adaptation by Harold Shumate and Luke Short, in turn from the novel by Luke Short
Stars: Robert Mitchum, Barbara Bel Geddes and Robert Preston


Index: 2017 Centennials.

Robert Mitchum was an unlikely movie star. He freely admitted that he didn’t have much respect for the art of acting, infamously interrupting critic Barry Norman with a comment, ‘Look, I have two kinds of acting. One on a horse and one off a horse. That’s it.’ He didn’t take interviews seriously and tended to refuse to speak to biographers. He looked down with disdain at method actors, suggesting that the ‘Rin Tin Tin method is good enough for me. That dog never worried about motivation or concepts and all that junk.’ Katherine Hepburn once told him that he’d never have been cast in a picture if he hadn’t been good looking. Critics had the same sort of response, panning his work for decades as monotonous, dispassionate or lethargic. Yet his stardom rose, because he fit a growing need, a talent for playing characters who could be good, bad or somewhere enticingly in between fuelled by a tough background; as one of the ‘wild boys of the road’ during the Depression, he spent time on a chain gang for vagrancy at fourteen.

He got into the business by accident, having left a job as a machine operator at Lockheed after a nervous breakdown that left him temporarily blind. He had previously spent time as a stagehand, a bit player and playwright in productions of the Players Guild of Long Beach, where his sister Julie performed, so he looked for work as an extra in movies, quickly being hired as a villain in seven Hopalong Cassidy westerns. The studios must have liked him, because he made twenty films in his debut year, 1943, most of them uncredited. RKO certainly liked his performance in Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, as they signed him to a seven year contract, with the goal of making him a star in Zane Grey movies. That didn’t happen, of course. Instead, he was Oscar nominated for The Story of G.I. Joe, a war film made on loan to United Artists, and he returned from eight months of wartime service just in time for the film noir era which was tailor made for him. His films Undercurrent, Crossfire and Out of the Past are all outstanding examples of the genre.

Friday, 28 July 2017

C.C. & Company (1970)


Director: Seymour Robbie
Writer: Roger Smith
Stars: Joe Namath and Ann-Margret


Index: Dry Heat Obscurities.

I’m exploring genre movies that were shot in Arizona because I live here, but I wasn’t born here like my better half. I’m English, so my cultural background is very different to hers and I find that especially fascinating when watching movies that exist for cultural reasons. This one exists mostly to grant Joe Namath a leading role in a motion picture. To me, Joe Namath is someone who used to play American football and, given that I can only name half a dozen players, mostly those who became blaxploitation legends, that must make him important. To my wife, though, he’s ‘Broadway’ Joe, the player who changed the sport by opening it up to a female audience. He did that because he was hot, he was charismatic and he was confident enough in his masculinity to put on pantyhose for a TV commercial. This was my first experience of ‘Broadway’ Joe and he’s clearly an easy-going character, the sort of man who always does his own thing, regardless what anyone else might think, and makes it cool in the process.

Reading up on his achievements, he was hardly the greatest player who ever put on pads, his statistics notably weaker than those of Jim Brown, who I read up on for Riot, an earlier Dry Heat Obscurity. In fact, Namath lost more games than he won, but some of the winning games were really important ones, like Superbowl III. He was the quarterback for the underdog New York Jets, who took on ‘the greatest football team in history’, the Baltimore Colts, in January 1969. This was right before the two leagues merged for the 1970 season and critics were relatively agreed that the AFL teams would struggle to cope with their NFL competition. The Jets were the face of the AFL in Superbowl III and everyone expected them to get creamed but, only three days before the game, Namath ‘guaranteed’ a heckler that they would win. They did, 16 to 7, and Namath was the MVP. Following up by saying that the toughest defence he’d ever faced was that of the AFL’s worst team, the Buffalo Bills, he gave the AFL instant legitimacy.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

O, My Darling Clementine (1943)


Director: Frank McDonald
Writers: Dorrell & Stuart E. McGowan
Stars: Roy Acuff and His Smoky Mountain Boys & Girls, The Radio Rogues, Isabel Randolph, Harry ‘Pappy’ Cheshire and The Tennessee Ramblers


Index: 2017 Centennials

No, not My Darling Clementine, John Ford’s version of the gunfight at the O.K. corral, with Henry Fonda playing Wyatt Earp; that was made three years later in 1946. This is O, My Darling Clementine, a country musical released on the very last day of 1943 by Republic, perhaps to capitalise on the resurgence of the old folk tune, which Bing Crosby had brought into the Top 20 a couple of years prior. It’s a cheap and cheerful picture, corny as all get out, but a whole bundle of fun nonetheless, and it features a host of names we’ve either forgotten or never known, many of whom were most famous for their work on radio. In fact, the film actors were relegated to the second card in the opening credits; the first was reserved for ‘Radio’s Popular Entertainers’, people as forgotten today as the Radio Rogues and the Tennessee Ramblers or Isabel Randolph and Harry ‘Pappy’ Cheshire. Even the film’s star is less remembered today than he used to be. That’s Roy Acuff, still singing and fiddling with his Smoky Mountain Boys and Girls.

He was surely the most famous name at the time and he’s top billed, even though he’s hardly playing the lead. Acuff was one of the pioneers of country music, at a time when that was niche regional music. When he made this film, he’d just co-founded Acuff-Rose Music, the first major country music publishing company in Nashville, and the industry was already changing because of his style and charisma. His importance is perhaps best summed up in a quote from Hank Williams, who said in 1952: ‘He's the biggest singer this music ever knew. You booked him and you didn't worry about crowds. For drawing power in the South, it was Roy Acuff, then God.’ A decade later, in 1962, he became the first living artist to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Ironically, that’s the point at which he was no longer the most famous name in this picture, having been surpassed by Irene Ryan, newly famous as Granny in The Beverly Hillbillies. This is less than two decades earlier but she’s almost unrecognisable.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Did You Hear the One About the Traveling Saleslady? (1968)


Director: Don Weis
Writer: John Fenton Murray, from a story by James Fritzell and Everett Greenbaum
Stars: Phyllis Diller, Bob Denver, Joe Flynn, Eileen Wesson, Jeanette Nolan, Paul Reed, Bob Hastings and David Hartman


Index: 2017 Centennials.

One hundred years ago today, Phyllis Ada Driver was born in Lima, OH. Under her married name of Phyllis Diller, this unique and groundbreaking talent would change the business of stand-up comedy which, before her, was a male only domain. Virtually every American female comedian since has cited her as an influence, including Joan Rivers who wrote for her before she found her own fame. Surprisingly, for someone with such a long career, it began late: she was already in her late thirties, married with five kids but a two week booking at the Purple Onion in San Francisco was extended to a year and a half and, just like that, she had a career. Of course, she eventually found her way to television and onto film but, like so many other comedians, she is still confined by her nationality. Humour is a fickle creature; it doesn’t travel the way that action, horror or romance do. As an Englishman, I never saw Diller on TV or in films and would have had difficulty understanding what made her so popular because of the cultural disconnect.

Even today, I believe I’ve only seen her once, in a highly unusual performance as a contestant on Groucho Marx’s game show, You Bet Your Life, in 1958. It was her television debut and she hadn’t yet adopted the outrageous persona that would make her famous. I found her funny, if a little nervous, and it was obvious that Groucho was impressed. So this was a real discovery for me and I’m not sure that I’ve fully recovered yet; what works on the stage of a comedy club doesn’t always translate into a narrative story and it’s not unfair to state that Diller’s schtick is hard to take as the lead character in a feature film. And I chose this one precisely because she was the lead, for the first time in a straight comedy feature, and I wanted to see how that worked. It was her seventh picture, following a tiny role in Splendor in the Grass; the lead in a musical, The Fat Spy; a voice acting slot in Mad Monster Party?; and a trio of supporting roles in Bob Hope movies: Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number!, Eight on the Lam and The Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Angel Unchained (1970)


Director: Lee Madden
Writer: Jeffrey Alladin Fiskin, based on a story by Leo Madden and Jeffrey Alladin Fiskin
Stars: Don Stroud, Luke Askew, Larry Bishop, Tyne Daly and Aldo Ray


Index: Dry Heat Obscurities.

Angel Unchained is a real product of its time. It’s the standard story, dating back at least as far as Seven Samurai, of a battle with three sides: one defending a second against the third. Here, however, the sides aren’t samurai, peasants and bandits; they’re all grabbed from the counterculture revolution of the American late sixties. Taking the place of the samurai are the Exiles Motorcycle Club, an odd good guy role for bikers at the time. Then again, these are a bit more restrained than the usual bikers you’d expect to be in an American International picture, though they never entirely shed their bad boy image; they’re just on better behaviour. Instead of peasants, they’re called in to fight on behalf of a hippie commune, of all things, which is clearly unable to defend itself because all its members are pacifists. More appropriately for the end of the counterculture, the bikers are tasked with defending the hippies against the normal people, here represented by fist fighting cowboys in dune buggies. Yeah, it’s that sort of movie!

Actually, they may have conjured up the cowboys because the town these townsfolk want to keep the filthy hippies out of is Lehi, Arizona, carved out of the desert because Brigham Young wanted a Mormon settlement in the Salt River Valley and tasked Daniel W. Jones to found one. Fist fighting Mormons in dune buggies is even more far fetched than cowboys, but such intolerance would have a little more historical accuracy; when Jones invited Native Americans to live with them in Lehi, half the colony promptly left to found their own Indian-free settlement instead: St. David in Cochise County. Lehi is now north Mesa and it’s in Lehi, outside the Lehi Market, that these sides first meet. The Angel of the title, which is a role as much as a name, stops to fill up his bike at the gas station/barber shop. Before he leaves, a truck shows up to do likewise and the cowboys tell the hippies that the pump is suddenly closed. Angel picks his side and, next thing we know, he’s on his way to the commune with Merilee the hippie seated behind him.