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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Saturday, 23 September 2017

Santo vs. The Vampire Women (1962)


Director: Alfonso Corona Blake
Writer: Rafael García Travesi, based on a story by Antonio Orellana, Fernando Osés and Rafael García Travesi
Stars: Santo, Lorena Velázquez, Maria Duval, Jaime Fernandez, Augusto Benedico and Ofelia Montesco


Index: 2017 Centennials.

The great folk heroes of the ages are usually timeless. We don’t know when they were born and they generally don’t die; they just live on in our culture, forever young. However, we can put some dates on one of Mexico’s greatest folk heroes, El Santo, because it was the character of a man who lived and died and made a huge difference in between. His real name, not that it was well known during his career, was Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta and he would have been a hundred years old today. El Santo was a symbol of truth, justice and the Mexican way and he plied his trade as a luchador enmascarado or masked wrestler. He fought in the squared circle for almost half a century and, after a few decades, successfully took his character onto the big screen, starring in fifty feature films, fittingly taking on all comers, whether they be criminals, monsters or aliens. I re-watched two of these in celebration of his career and realised in the process how varied the quality of these films really was.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a Santo movie, the last one being 1973’s Santo vs. Black Magic, which was screened at a local cinema in Spanish with live Mystery Science Theater 3000 style commentary from a local improv troupe, following a set of wrestling matches. So, trusting Wikipedia, I initially went for The Mummies of Guanajuato, a colour picture from 1972 in which Santo lends his luchador colleagues Blue Demon and Mil Máscaras a hand to save a town from reincarnated luchador mummies seeking revenge. After all, some nameless editor suggests that it was the ‘most financially successful’ Santo movie of them all and the one which fans call the ‘greatest luchador film ever made.’ Well, as much as it sounds like a blast, with not one but three legendary masked wrestlers and a script spun out of the real mummies of Guanajuato, a collection of corpses buried during a nineteenth century cholera outbreak but naturally preserved and now displayed in a museum, it sadly isn’t. This is why ‘citation required’ is so important, folks.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

That Obscure Object of Desire (1977)


Director: Luis Buñuel
Writers: Luis Buñuel and Jean-Claude Carriere, inspired by the book, La femme et le pantin by Pierre Louÿs
Stars: Fernando Rey, Carole Bouquet, Angelia Molina, Julien Bertheau, Andre Weber and Milena Vukotic


Index: 2017 Centennials.

Fernando Rey was born in 1917, began his film career in 1935 and remained a busy man throughout it, but he wasn’t really noticed by the world until the sixties and didn’t find fame until the seventies. In the States, he’s probably best known for playing drug lord Alain Charnier in The French Connection and its sequel, though they were far from his English language debut. That came in 1963 in The Running Man, a British film shot in Spain, and was immediately followed by The Ceremony, an American movie shot in Morocco. By that point, he’d racked up a large filmography in Spanish and a number of films in French and when he started making English language movies, they were usually westerns shot in Spain, like Son of a Gunfighter or Guns of the Magnificent Seven, indistinguishable from spaghetti westerns, Italian but also shot in Spain and usually dubbed into English, films like Revenge of Trinity or A Town Called Hell. A rare exception was his role as Worcester in Chimes at Midnight, Orson Welles’s epic take on Falstaff.

In Europe, however, he’s probably best known for his collaborations with fellow Spaniard, Luis Buñuel, the grand master of movie surrealism. Buñuel moved around too. His first film was made in Spain in 1929, becoming what Roger Ebert described as ‘the most famous short film ever made’; that was a collaboration with Salvador Dalí, Un Chien Andalou, complete with an infamous eye-slicing scene. After the follow up, L’Age d’Or, caused a major scandal, he escaped to the US to learn from MGM; when that didn’t work out, he returned to Europe, working in the dubbing departments of Paramount in Paris and Warner Brothers in Madrid. When he shot films in Spain, they were mostly anonymous and, after the Spanish Civil War placed the fascists in charge, he moved to the States, eventually editing documentaries at MoMA until resigning after Dalí’s autobiography outed him as a communist and an atheist. By 1949, he had become a naturalised Mexican and contributed some incredible films to the Golden Age of Mexican cinema.

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.