Don’t Bother

Lessons from The Snow Creature: How to Sabotage Scientific Discovery

Look out! It's the Snow Creature! Image: dkjf dj

This is a Yeti. Hint: he’s scary. Image: Monster Kid Classic Horror Forum

What do you consider to be the greatest scientific discovery of this generation? Would you say it’s a medical, technological or astronomical discovery? Perhaps the discovery of a previously unknown species trumps all.

Well, then, imagine our excitement when we discovered The Snow Creature (1954), a film about the discovery of a Himalayan creature known as a Yeti.

The Snow Creature is representative of 1950s sci-fi/horror films, many of which are labelled “so bad, they’re good”. The plot usually involves monsters and/or aliens that attack planet earth while a handsome young scientist feverishly works to destroy the beast.

Today’s film is likely the worst of this genre – it’s so bad, it’s bad. If that weren’t enough, director W. Lee Wilder and scriptwriter Myles Wilder are blood relatives* of legendary Hollywood director Billy Wilder. [Insert face palm.] Let’s just say, judging by this film, these two apples fell far from the Wilder family tree.

However, not all is lost with The Snow Creature. It was released the year after the first confirmed summit of Mount Everest by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary in 1953, and you can’t blame it for capitalizing on that historic event. It also has sets that appear to be authentic, e.g. real mountains, a real airport, and a real storm sewer.

The plot involves a snow creature that terrorizes Himalayan villagers and kidnaps women. It’s eventually captured by an American botanist (Paul Langton) and brought back to the U.S. for scientific study.

The great thing about these kinds of movies is Something Always Goes Wrong. The Snow Creature is no different. In fact, our movie provides valuable lessons in how to botch a major scientific discovery.

The Snow Creature in his natural environment. Image: kdjf ken fjdf

The Snow Creature in his mountain playground. Image & Review: Monsterminions

1. Have contempt for locals who carry your supplies and field equipment. They’re just waiting for an opportunity to be mean and drink your liquor. (Never mind that your team photographer drinks steadily; a Sherpa with a taste for liquor must not be tolerated.)

2. Don’t ask probing questions when you first discover the creature. Questions are stupid, anyway, such as: What does the Yeti eat? How many are there? Why does it kill people all the time? (The big question for us: How come it never sits down?)

3. A scientist is a scientist is a scientist. The man who captures the Yeti is a botanist. (You must overlook the fact there no plants – not even office plants – in this movie.) Who needs a biologist or anthropologist for this research? Any egghead with a PhD will do.

4. Do not study the creature in its native habitat. Field study is for suckers. It’s much better to order a custom-made refrigerated booth (similar to a telephone booth), and ship this remote Himalayan creature to a large coastal city like Los Angeles. Everyone knows creatures are best studied when they’re snatched from their natural environment.

5. Don’t worry about the creature having a “calculating brain” until you arrive at U.S. Customs. Officials will determine if the snow creature qualifies as livestock, or as an immigrant.

6. Leave the creature in the care of an inexperienced guard. The Yeti, annoyed that it hasn’t killed anyone lately, will break out of its telephone-booth prison. You can only imagine the murderous rampage that ensues.

The Snow Creature is a study in awful-ness (bad script, unlikable characters, sloppy monster costume). But if you know all these things going in, you might find it not so bad after all.

*W. Lee is Billy Wilder’s brother. Myles is Lee’s son.

The Snow Creature: Paul Langton, Leslie Denison, Teru Shimada. Directed by W. Lee Wilder. Written by Myles Wilder. United Artists Corp., 1954, B&W, 71 mins.

The Man Who Cheated Everybody

Lee J. Cobb (standing) grills a suspect for the murder he himself committed.

Crooked cop Lee J. Cobb (standing) grills a man for a murder he himself is involved in.

Do you ever wish you could make studios re-do certain movies? Well, we certainly do!

We just watched a film noir that left us feeling so dissatisfied, we’re placing a call to Warner Brothers.

In fact, we’re feeling so ripped off that – *SPOILER ALERT!* – we’re going to tell you how the movie ends to spare you the trouble of watching it. (You’re welcome.)

The movie is 1950’s The Man Who Cheated Himself, but it would be more appropriately titled, The Movie that Ripped You Off.

Before we launch into our tirade, it’s only fair to give you a brief rundown of the plot and, as far as plots go, it’s pretty juicy.

A San Francisco police detective arrives at his married mistress’ house just as she shoots and kills her husband. Instead of arresting her, the detective loads the husband’s body into his car and dumps it.

But here’s the thing: the detective’s kid brother, who is also on the police force, is assigned, along with the detective, to investigate the murder. Get this: The kid brother so keen to solve the murder, he delays his honeymoon to focus on the case.

There is a fabulous cast attached to this film. Lee J. Cobb is the seasoned, crusty detective who expects the worst of people. His dialogue is sparse and packed with meaning; nothing is wasted. For example, after his mistress shoots her husband and asks if they should call a doctor, Cobb replies, “Two slugs in the chest.” The way he says it, you know the man is dead.

John Dall is Cobb’s idealistic younger brother who is a little too smart for Cobb’s comfort level. He idealizes Cobb, until the moment it dawns on him that Cobb might involved in the murder.

And then we have Jane Wyatt, Cobb’s mistress, who is a perfect noir dame – beautiful, selfish and manipulative. Her charm appears as suddenly as it vanishes.

So. How can this premise, paired with this cast, end up in such a mess?

Here’s how: the script.

Now, Dear Reader, we are not a screenwriter and it’s very easy for us to criticize something we know little about. So our opinion is based on our belief that the scriptwriting team was capable of doing better. But maybe the scriptwriters aren’t to blame; perhaps there was too much studio interference.

Here’s what we have: (A) A crooked cop tries to cover up his mistress’s crime; and (B) an adoring brother who is keen to solve this murder to please him. Instead of exploring this sibling relationship, the movie merely pays lip service to it. If you blinked, you would miss the scene where Dall realizes, with horror, that his brother is not who he claims to be. Whoa! That is one callous script.

No, let’s not put our energies into philosophic possibilities. Here’s a better idea for the script! Let’s waste the final 20 minutes of the film in an empty, windy San Francisco fortress with no dialogue and no tension and no point! Let’s give Cobb and Wyatt the bright idea to hide in a corner of this fortress. Then let’s bring Dall, in frantic pursuit, and make him run around the fortress like an idiot, searching for these two.

This – THIS! – is the climax of The Man Who Cheated Himself:

  • shot of Cobb and Wyatt huddled together, looking nervous
  • cut to Dall, running
  • cut to Cobb and Wyatt, still looking nervous
  • cut to Dall, still running
  • repeat for 20 minutes

It is so annoying.

However, the film’s last scene is a redemption of sorts. Cobb, under police guard at the courthouse, spots Wyatt and her defence attorney walking through the corridor. Wyatt is fervently promising her lawyer that she will do Anything if he keeps her out of prison. Cobb overhears this conversation but, being the cynic he is, isn’t surprised or troubled by it. On the contrary, he gives her a look that says, It was worth it.

We have to admit it’s a bit satisfying to see Cobb smug and unrepentant at the end – if only to make up for that dreary fortress scene.

There. Let us never speak of this movie again.

The Man Who Cheated Himself: Starring Lee J. Cobb, Jane Wyatt, John Dall. Directed by Felix E. Feist. Written by Seton I. Miller & Philip MacDonald. Warner Bros. Pictures, B&W, 1950, 81 mins.

Cyrano de Bergerac’s Guide to Relationships

cyrano de bergerac jose ferrer

Jose Ferrer as (Cyrano de Bergerac) woos Mala Powers (Roxanne), when he’s not too absorbed in his own speeches.

What do you think about people who love the sound of their own voice? Do you find them fascinating, or do you want to strangle them?

We were thinking about this during a recent screening of Cyrano de Bergerac, the famous story about the big-nosed Parisian who loves a young woman named Roxanne, but cannot find the courage to declare his feelings for her. His fear is out of character because, as we discover, Cyrano is a skilled duelist/swordsman (the best in Paris) and happily rushes into dueling matches anywhere, any time.

Cyrano doesn’t normally suffer self-esteem issues when it comes to his nose. As he says, “I glory in this nose of mine. For a great nose indicates a great man.”

Yet, maybe he has reason to be fearful of Roxanne’s rejection. Cyrano’s nose is the least of his unattractive attributes. He also has an exhaustingly verbose personality.

Example: The movie opens with a stage play, but audience-member Cyrano despises the play’s main actor; he thinks the man completely lacks talent. He interrupts the entire play by stating: “[This actor] mouths his verse and moans his tragedies.” Then he launches into a grand speech about acting, drama, his nose, fashion, philosophy, hypocrisy, society in general, and who wants to step outside and settle this man to man!

José Ferrer, in an Oscar-winning performance, plays Cyrano – an inspired casting choice. Ferrer has the ability to memorize gobs of lines and rattle them off effortlessly, as if memorizing lengthy passages were no big deal. His lines sound like liquid velvet and, for a time, you marvel at his speech-making abilities.

Cyrano does not suffer fools. He is arrogant and a show-off, and would be completely unbearable if it weren’t for that schnoz. “My poor big devil of a nose,” he says, and this, coupled with his determination to help his friends, endears us to him for a while – until our ears wear out.

Cyrano de Bergerac is basically a filmed version of the 1897 “verse drama” by Edmond Rostand, which is based on the life of the real Hercule-Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac. The French released a version in 1950, the same year Hollywood released its drama with as many plumes and oversized collars as you can cram into a single movie. Oh yes, and the talking. Lots and lots of talking.

The movie begins to pick up speed – a little – when Roxanne (Mala Powers) confesses to Cyrano that she’s in love with a young soldier, Christian de Neuvillette (William Prince). She asks Cyrano to look after this boyfriend of hers when they go to battle. Heartbroken Cyrano, ever the gentleman, promises to ensure de Neuvillette’s safety.

Much to Cyrano’s chargrin, however, the young de Neuvillette is without imagination and lacks wit. The poor young slob realizes he is unable to woo Roxanne with his mediocre language skills, so he enlists the aid of Cyrano – he of excessive and flowery language. You likely know the famous plan they hatch, and you’ve probably also wondered why Roxanne, in the dark, cannot tell if Cyrano or her dim-witted boyfriend is speaking to her.

At this point we, the viewers, start to wonder if any of these people are prepared for an actual relationship. No matter! Roxanne loves to hear clever phrases and Cyrano loves to spout ’em, so perhaps they are well suited for each other after all.

As far as movies go, Cyrano de Bergerac is a bit of an endurance test. You’ll find your mind wandering at times, and you’ll start wondering if the size of Cyrano’s nostrils vary from scene to scene.

SPOILER!! Cyrano dies at the end of the film, in Roxanne’s arms, just as she realizes that all the wooing came from Cyrano and not that dullard, de Neuvillette. We feel relieved when Cyrano finally dies, because it means we don’t have to listen to insufferable speech-making anymore.

If you are a fan of José Ferrer, Cyrano de Bergerac is a film you must see, as it netted Ferrer his only Academy Award. It’s worth noting that Ferrer won over William Holden in Sunset Boulevard, James Stewart in Harvey and Spencer Tracy in Father of the Bride.

Cyrano de Bergerac: starring Jose Ferrer, Mala Powers, William Prince. Directed by Michael Gordon. Written by Carl Foreman. United Artists Corp., 1950, B&W, 115 mins.

Miriam Hopkins & the Cynic’s Guide to Life

This post is part of the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon, hosted by Once Upon a ScreenOutspoken & Freckled and Paula’s Cinema Club. It runs Feb. 1 – Mar. 3, in conjunction with Turner Classic Movies’ 31 Days of Oscar.

Miriam Hopkins enjoys the attention of several admirers.

Miriam Hopkins enjoys the attentions of her many suitors.

Sometimes the movies teach us distasteful life lessons.

You know the lessons we’re talking about: life isn’t fair; the rich live by a different code; the only way to get ahead is to cheat. Sound familiar?

All these joyous virtues are celebrated in the 1936 drama Becky Sharp. This movie, set during the Napoleonic Wars and loosely based on William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, is about a selfish, ambitious woman who climbs over everybody to advance in society.

“Life owes me many things and I intend to get them,” says Becky Sharp. “All it takes is the least touch of wit.”

(Did you notice another life lesson here? By stating that life owes you something, you have license to grab it. And you don’t even have to be that clever. Whee!)

Now, there are few people who could portray Becky as thoroughly unlikable and unsympathetic as Thackeray originally intended. Really – only one person could pull it off, and that would be Miriam Hopkins.

Don’t get us wrong. We love movies about ambitious women because Hollywood usually portrays them in an amusingly bad way. We also love how the supporting cast is usually filled with morally-outraged citizens who decry the heroine’s behaviour. But Hopkins succeeds in making Becky Sharp so odious, by the end of the movie you’re weary of the character, and weary of Hopkins too.

The rest of the cast is fantastic. Look at this list of talent: Francis Dee, Cedric Harwicke, Nigel Bruce, Alan Mowbray, and the criminally underutilized Billy Burke. The minor characters here are quite interesting, and it makes one wonder what the movie would be like if the story were told from their point of view.

The male characters in this movie are used, then discarded, by Hopkins in her pursuit of the more rich and more powerful. They all seem mesmerized by Hopkins, which we fail to see, but that is the plot so we must accept it.

(Oops – nearly missed another life lesson here: Other people are to be used up and punted aside so we can get what we want. Life is a cabaret, old chum!)

Hopkins received an Academy Award nomination for this film, which is another puzzling thing. Her acting seems to be from the Look-At-Me School of Dramatics. In each scene, we are acutely aware of Hopkins’ acting: Look at me! I’m fake-crying! Look at me! I’m twirling!

In the end, what we are left with is another disappointing life lesson: If you display ambition and an annoying personality, you can get anything you want – including an Academy Award nomination.

Academy Award Nominations (1936):

  • Best Actress in a Leading Role

Becky Sharp – starring Miriam Hopkins, Frances Dee, Cedric Hardwicke. Directed by Rouben Mamoulian. Written by Francis Edwards Faragoh. Pioneer Pictures/RKO Radio Pictures, 1935, B&W*, 85 mins.

*Becky Sharp was billed as Hollywood’s first feature-length colour film, but the version we screened was black & white.

A mega blogathon celebrating film honoured by the Academy.

The Boris Karloff Drinking Game

No one escapes Boris Karloff's menacing eye.

Boris Karloff knows all and sees all. Let’s drink to that!

Gentle Reader, we do not normally advocate drinking games while watching classic movies. Today, however, we are making an exception.

If you’re someone who doesn’t imbibe spirits, do not fear! You may still join us with the soft drink of your choice. At the conclusion of the movie, the effect will be the same.

To which movie are we drinking? It’s the 1940 war thriller British Intelligence, starring Boris Karloff and Margaret Lindsay.

This is a film about British and German agents who spy on the opposing government, and on each other. These are very busy spies; they do not eat, shop, play, read, visit or do anything regular people do. They spy. Period.

This film is supposed to take place during World War I, but the costumes are unmistakably 1940-ish. Maybe this doesn’t bother you, but it bothers us no end. It’s almost as if the filmmakers wanted beat us about the head with a metaphor of another big war. (Now, which one could that be?)

Before we get into the rules of the Drinking Game, here is the basic plot of the film: A female German spy (Lindsay) is sent to England to spy on a family that has Information Useful To The German Government. This family employs a limping French valet (Karloff) who says his wounds are the result of the Germans – blast them!

It’s not long before Karloff and Lindsay discover they are both spies, but for whom are they really spying?

The film has a great cast. Karloff, best known for his portrayal of Frankenstein, is credible as a man you’re never quite sure of. Plus, he has a really creepy way of looking at you sideways, so that you fear what’s going to happen next.

Lindsay, who bears a passing resemblance to Barbara Stanwyck in this film, is such a good sport. She marches through the awful script with the determination to make this a better movie than it has a right to be.

But it’s still a dreadful movie. Which is why it’s necessary to employ the Boris Karloff Drinking Game. Are you ready?

A drink must be taken for…

  • Each time an agent changes his/her story about which government he or she is spying for.
  • Each time a new spy is revealed.
  • Every how-very-convenient plot device.
  • Each time a member of the English family suddenly appears on screen, only to be written out again.
  • Every dire prediction of a “strong man” rising to power in Germany at some point in the future.
  • Every time you suspect a piece in Lindsay’s wardrobe was stolen from another movie set.

This constitutes a lot of drinking during the 62 minutes it takes to get through the film. You’d better make sure you’re sitting down – even if you’re just consuming soft drinks.

Do we recommend viewing this movie without the aid of alcohol or caffeine? We do not.

If you’ve already seen British Intelligence and have more recommendations for the Boris Karloff Drinking Game, please let us know. This movie provides a vast wealth of liquid opportunity.

British Ingelligence: Starring Boris Karloff, Margaret Lindsay, Bruce Lester. Directed by Terry Morse. Written by Lee Katz. Warner Bros. Pictures Inc., B&W, 1940, 62 mins.

George Arliss: Ladies’ Man and War Hero

Ladies, please - there's enough of me for all
George Arliss battles Napoleon and swooning ladies.

Frankly, we feel some movies are best left in obscurity.

Ever heard of The Iron Duke from 1934? No? There is a reason for that.

We hadn’t heard of this movie either, until last week. We thought we would benefit from an unknown British historical drama about the Duke of Wellington and how he took down Napoleon after the former French leader escaped from captivity.

Oh boy. How wrong we were!

This we understand: In 1934, the world had an uncertain outlook. Britain, like many other nations, was feeling the effects of the Great Depression; a suspiciously-busy Hitler was the new leader of Germany; and motion pictures were needed to buttress a nation’s spirits.

This we do not understand: Why is The Iron Duke so awful?

It could be the screenplay; it doesn’t seem to know what it’s supposed to do. Is the main goal Napoleon’s capture or downfall? Or is it about Wellington himself? Or his enemies? Or the scores of women who are madly in love with him? Or is it about World War I?

The film opens at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, a big meeting with all the “crowned heads” of Europe to discuss Napoleon’s capture and exile on the island of Elba. This meeting, along with another conference later in the film, seem like a combined 1919 Paris Peace Congress. In the movie meetings, European leaders discuss the unconditional surrender of Napoleon (Germany), reparation (Germany), and making sure Napoleon (Germany) can never be that powerful again.

Then! Napoleon escapes! Shock and horror ensue. Will he gather an army? Will he try to re-take the French throne?

The King of France is understandably fretful about this situation. Fortunately, his niece dispatches someone to re-capture Napoleon. But can this person beat the bossy Duke of Wellington (George Arliss) to it? Because the Duke is on Napoleon’s trail, too, when he’s not fending off women.

Here’s another thing about the script – it portrays Wellington as quite the philanderer. Arliss is an actor with distinct facial features (see photo), and his makeup seems weirdly overdone in some scenes. (What is WITH the lipstick!) As a result, it’s a bit tricky for us in our day to imagine the women of Europe fawning over him. Not only that, Arliss spouts some lines without a trace of irony: “It’s a mystery to me why the Creator wastes his time turning out ugly women.”

From here the script gets increasingly bad. In one scene, a jealous husband, freshly home from battle, shows up at the Duke’s house demanding to know why his wife wasn’t home to greet him. The wife suddenly appears from another room (where did she come from?) and describes, to her husband, her love for Arliss: “Call it reverence, if you will.” In the next breath, she tells her husband she loves him the most, and the poor slob actually believes her. This is the same girl who fainted when she met the Duke for the first time. Good gravy!

At this point we (as in, yours truly) wandered into the kitchen to make brownies.

However, the film is not without its merits. There is an impressively-staged battle with lots of extras and horses and artillery, much of it filmed out of doors. And, after the battle’s end, Arliss gives a touching portrayal of a sad and lonely commander who has lost too many of his men. He begins to weep as a soldier reads the roll call of the dead. It’s too bad such genuine moments are tainted with Arliss’ cringing melodramatics, where he looks slightly upwards and declares, “Except for defeat, there is nothing more tragic than a great victory.”

We realize we were not very kind about this movie. But we only have your best interests at heart, Dear Reader. We would not want you to sully your movie-watching schedule with this fare. If you still insist upon watching The Iron Duke, well, don’t say you weren’t warned.

The Iron Duke: starring George Arliss, Gladys Cooper, Ellaline Terriss. Directed by Victor Saville. Written by H.M. Harwood and Bess Meredyth. Gaumont-British Picture Corporation, 1934, B&W, 88 long mins.

Flipper vs. Sharks

You're my best friend, Flipper

Luke Halpin teaches Flipper to become dependent on humans.

Question: Who would win in an epic battle between Flipper the dolphin and two bloodthirsty sharks?

If you’ve seen the 1963 adventure flick Flipper, you know the answer to this question.

Flipper is the story of a boy (Luke Halpin) who befriends a friendly, smart dolphin. This dolphin is so smart, in fact, it can hear and understand conversations taking place above the water. Not only that, this thing can read Halpin’s mind.

Oh dear. We don’t mean to make this sound creepy.

The boy’s fisherman father (Chuck Connors) disapproves of Flipper the dolphin. It’s nothing personal; he disapproves of all dolphins. He tells Halpin that dolphins eat up the fish stocks and wreck fishermen’s nets. But Halpin doesn’t care what the old man says; he and Flipper have a special bond, and trouble ensues when he defies his father’s wishes.

This movie rates pretty high on our Cheese Scale, but there are enough interesting scenes to entice you to stay until the end. For example, the ocean is beautiful, even though the footage is 40 years old. We were also absorbed in the opening scenes of the movie as townsfolk scramble to prepare for a looming hurricane.

Now, we realize that you may have seen the controversial 2009 documentary, The Cove; in which case, you’ll find Flipper a tough watch. We ourselves viewed the movie with a jaundiced eye, carefully studying Flipper (real name: Mitzi) for signs of stress-related illnesses.

We would be remiss if we didn’t include some observations about this movie:

  • Halpin has an impressive fly-away bang hairdo that can withstand both wind and rain.
  • Kathleen Maguire, who plays Halpin’s mother, looks unfailingly fresh in her sensible, ironed 60’s dresses.
  • Connors has an intense listening method: He always leans forward on his right leg to show that he’s Deeply Interested in what The Other Actor Is Saying.

Get this! MGM felt audiences didn’t get enough Flipper in one movie, so they made a sequel in 1964 (Flipper’s New Adventure) which is so awful we’ll pretend it never happened.

Should you make the effort to watch Flipper? If you’re an eight year-old girl, yes. But be warned: if you do watch this movie, the inane theme song will stick in your head for weeks.

Flipper: starring Chuck Connors, Luke Halpin, Kathleen Maguire. Directed by James B. Clark. Written by Arthur Weiss. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1963, Colour, 90 mins.

The Charms of Dirt Farming

Look kids! Who needs electricity when there's wood?

Zachary Scott tries to sell his family on the charms of rustic living.

We’ve just observed something we’ve never before seen in a classic Hollywood film.

Can you guess? Give up?

Houseflies. Yup, plain old Musca domestica Linnaeus.

We ask you: Have you ever seen a housefly anywhere near Cary Grant or Katharine Hepburn? We didn’t think so.

In the opening scenes of the 1945 drama The Southerner, an actor portraying a dying farm worker allows flies to crawl over his face as he lays in real dirt in a real field, and chokes out a few last words.

It’s a haunting scene but, unfortunately, it is one of the few realistic moments in this drama. Sadly, the rest of The Southerner relies on overly-studied shots as though the actors were posing for a painter or sculptor.

Funny we should mention that, because the director of this movie is Jean Renoir, son of famed painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Renoir (the younger) was an accomplished director in France before he fled to America in 1940. The Southerner is considered one of the best from his Hollywood years, and the Academy nominated him as Best Director for 1945.

The film stars Zachary Scott and Betty Field as a couple who quit the cotton sharecropping business and rent a piece of land to grow their own crops. It is a little weird, at first, to see Scott in the role of a hard-working farmer; we’re more familiar with him as the loafish playboy in Mildred Pierce. Still, Scott is fairly convincing as a man whose single-minded determination keeps him farming the land, no matter what.

And Scott’s character needs a lot of determination. The family faces near starvation, lack of fresh water, severe winter temperatures, hostile neighbours… Practically the only thing they don’t battle is volcanic lava.

This is a strange complaint, but the movie is almost too artfully done. Here is a film that is unafraid to show real flies in a real cotton field, then it suddenly abandons this notion of realism. For example, Scott and Field return to their house after a long day of plowing. Field removes her hat to reveal coiffed, silky hair. (What? Your hair doesn’t look like this after a day of toil in the dirt?) Adding to our annoyance is the absence of sweat or dust on the actors; in fact, there isn’t a wrinkle in their clothes.

Oh well. With all the hardships this family faces, perhaps they should have their unsullied good looks as consolation.

(On a side note, Beulah Bondi as the burdensome Grandmother is a real firecracker. She is almost like fingernails on a blackboard the way she gripes about her miserable life. In one scene, when she feels she’s had all she can take, she declares, “I’m goin’ back to the house, to sit and wait for my call to Glory.” Because we all know a life of endless complaint should be rewarded with everlasting Glory.)

We aren’t going to suggest you go out of your way to watch this film. It’s slow and lacks tension, and it draws too much attention to its careful scene composition. But if you’re looking for an example from Jean Renoir’s Hollywood years, this may be the one to see.

The Southerner: starring Zachary Scott, Betty Field, Beulah Bondi. Written and directed by Jean Renoir. United Artists Corp., 1945, B&W, 95 mins.

Wallowing Becomes Electra

Watch my head spin around!

Evil Katina Paxinou refuses to listen to yet another Rosalind Russell speech.

Gentle Reader, if you adore Eugene O’Neill and/or Greek Tragedies, please do not read any further.

We try to like Eugene O’Neill and the Greek Tragedies – we really do – but, sadly, the merits of each are wasted on us.

Such is the case in O’Neill’s play-become-film, Mourning Becomes Electra. Here is the exquisitely-titled but dreary tale about people who constantly yell at each other and continually fiddle with a set of sliding doors in their house. (How many times were those sliding doors opened and closed anyway? We found this very distracting, and even did an online search while watching the movie.)

We don’t really care about how or why Eugene O’Neill wrote this play, which is an updated version of Oresteia, written by Hollywood’s favourite ancient Greek playwright, Aeschylus. Both the original Greek play and O’Neill’s version are trilogies, in case that little tidbit makes a difference to you. It didn’t to us.

Now, dear Reader, you are probably thinking we are uneducated rubes, unable to appreciate the finer points of Greek literature, and you would be correct. In our opinion the best thing about a Greek tragedy is that everyone dies, and for that we are grateful.

Even the fabulous Rosalind Russell is no help in this dreadful film. She self-righteously stomps around her big house in her big dress, condemning her mother for stealing her boyfriend. (Okay, who wouldn’t be upset about that; but do you really want a boyfriend who’s after your mother??) The thing is, Russell greatly, er, admires her father (she is the Electra from the Greek play), while her brother (Michael Redgrave, the Oedipus) naturally worships his mother.

The one shining spot in this movie is Katina Paxinou, who plays the exotic and creepy mother. Paxinou has a terrific Greek accent and is so bent on ruining everyone’s life that you can’t help but cheer for her. Of course she has to die, and the movie feels lonely and adrift without her.

Well, after 500 hours of yelling and the sliding door business, all the characters become neatly disposed of. Only Russell’s character remains alive. She delivers a sanctimonious speech at the end of the movie that includes the cheery line, “I’ll live alone with the dead and keep their secrets.”

You do that, Electra.

Mourning Becomes Electra: starring Rosalind Russell, Michael Redgrave and Katina Paxinou. Written and directed by Dudley Nichols. RKO Radio Pictures, 1947, 173 excruciating minutes.

Treasure Island (1934)

Yo ho ho - we'll have a bottle o`rum

These blokes can't wait for the movie to end.

Many things in this movie disturb us.

People being run over by carriages or falling from a ship’s mast are one thing, but who told Lionel Barrymore to sing? Is Wallace Beery‘s hair real? Why does Jackie Cooper talk like Shirley Temple?

And why is this movie so boring?

We know, we know. Treasure Island is considered one of the greatest adventure movies of the 1930s. You probably know hundreds of people who say to you, “Dude, seriously, you gotta see it.”

Never mind the fact that we fell asleep (twice) during this movie. Part of our annoyance is this whole pirates-finding-buried-treasure scenario. Who in their right mind hides valuables in the dirt on the other side of the world? Why not just keep it and live it up? Surely there were people in 18th-century England who could fence hot property!

Okay, we’ll admit there are some interesting things about this film. The sets, for one thing, are terrific. But this is not a surprise considering the famously talented Cedric Gibbons was drafted as art director.

Also, Wallace Beery is superb as the growly-but-not-without-charm Long John Silver. The way he races through the movie on that wooden leg is something to behold. It looks like it could be painful but, if it is, Beery doesn’t let on. Plus, the parrot he schleps around is so utterly cool it makes you want to get one of your own.

Well, you might as well watch it. Just don’t put it on right at bed-time. Or after a glass of warm milk. Or, heaven forbid, both.

Starring Wallace Beery, Jackie Cooper and Lionel Barrymore. Written by John Lee Mahin. Directed by Victor Fleming. MGM, 1934, 110 mins.