Basil Rathbone, Fortune Hunter

Basil Rathbone alksjdf ksadjf skadlfj Image: Doctor Macro

Basil Rathbone arches an eyebrow before chewing the scenery. Image: Dr. Macro

There’s nothing more chilling than a villain with a large vocabulary.

In the 1937 British thriller, Love from a Stranger, Basil Rathbone plays the kind of villain nobody wants to meet in real life. Rathbone’s villain is handsome, suave and articulate. But he would do anything to get your money – including marring you.

We first meet Rathbone’s gold-digging character when he arrives to view an apartment for rent. The current tenant (Ann Harding) is moving out because she’s just won the lottery – approximately 10 million in today’s dollars.

As he’s snooping around the apartment, Rathbone comments on the view. It reminds him of a more innocent time, he says wistfully, before he became intimate with war and travel and – ahem – wealth.

Harding, freshly broken up with her fiancé, must sail to France the next day to collect her lottery winnings – and look over there! Rathbone just happens to be sailing on the same ship, and surprises her with French pastries while she lounges on the deck.

Let’s analyze this for a minute. A handsome man brings you French pastries, and insists he show you the glam side of Paris. Really, you can’t fault Harding for falling in love with him.

However, we the audience know that Rathbone is up to no good. Even Harding’s ex-fiancé (Bruce Seaton) warns her, astutely pointing out she knows nothing about Rathbone.

But our man Rathbone is able to dismiss all this negativity. He not only has the vocabulary to manipulate, he has the acting chops too.

In one scene, Harding discovers Rathbone slumped at his desk, head resting on his hands in utter despair. His claims a bank draft has been held up, and now he can’t pay for their new house. Harding insists she pay for the house, and suddenly Rathbone produces all sorts of papers for her to sign. His voice is smooth and reassuring: No need to read this, darling, just sign here.

But Rathbone’s villain is more dangerous than that. We soon become aware of his mental state, and it is not reassuring.

Rathbone laksdjf klsdfj Image: Tout le Cine

Ann Harding realizes the honeymoon is over. Image: Tout le Cine

Rathbone says he’s an amateur photographer and has claimed the cellar in the new house for his workroom. Specifically, he calls it a “dark room”, which is not unusual, but the way he says it, a slight chill goes down your spine.

He tells Harding he plays music when he’s working in the cellar, because his mind spins with noise and memories of the war. “Suddenly the noise changes into the music, turning my first terror into ecstasy,” he cries, beads of perspiration on his face.

It’s as though Rathbone springs a leak after this unexpected confession, and he’s suddenly spouting all kinds of ego-centric philosophies. For example:

  • “A woman’s weakness is a man’s opportunity. Did someone write that? Or did I think of it myself? If I did, it’s good. It’s very good.”
  • “I have great insight. I’m different from other people. For instance, I have a lot of power over women. I’ve always had it.”

From this point on, Harding frequently gives Rathbone the side-eye – and rightly so. Harding’s character is smart and capable, but we’re not certain if she’s any match for Rathbone’s madness.

Love from a Stranger was also released as A Night of Terror. It was adapted from a stage play by Frank Vosper, and is based on a short story by Agatha Christie. It has a rather ridiculous and convenient ending, but Rathbone’s performance is pure entertainment. If you enjoy Rathbone in a sinister role, you’ll want to see this film.

Love From a Stranger: starring Ann Harding, Basil Rathbone, Binnie Hale. Directed by Rowland V. Lee. Written by Frances Marion. Trafalgar Film Productions, 1937, B&W, 86 mins.

Ingrid Bergman: Questioning Your Way to Better Mental Health

Ingrid Bergman discovers Gregory Peck (asleep) is not who he claims to be. Image: AllPosters

Ingrid Bergman discovers Gregory Peck is not who he says he is. Image: AllPosters

In the 1945 thriller Spellbound, Ingrid Bergman asks a lot of questions.

She asks so many questions, in fact, we’re willing to bet she holds some kind of cinematic record.

Bergman plays a psychoanalyst who helps amnesia victim Gregory Peck uncover details of a murder he may or may not have committed. She is convinced Peck has knowledge of an event so horrible he’s buried it in his subconscious. This is coupled with a Guilt Complex that is clouding his mind.

We (as in, yours truly) are not trained in psychiatry, so here’s the simple Wikipedia definition of a Guilt Complex:

Guilt Com·plex (noun) : an obsession with the idea of having done wrong

You need to keep this definition handy because the term “Guilt Complex” really gets around in this film. Between Guilt Complex discussions and Bergman’s questions, it’s a wonder anything gets done.

But in spite of all of this heavy-handed psychiatry, Spellbound zips along. When Peck is discovered to be impersonating a man who has disappeared – and later found dead – Bergman takes it upon herself to Sort Things Out.

Of course, she and Peck and fallen in love, and she’s convinced of his innocence. It’s hard to know what this conviction is based on, because here’s what keeps happening:

  1. Peck sees a pattern of straight lines and goes into kind of a trance.
  2. Bergman starts grilling him with questions. What does he see? What is he thinking? What does he remember?
  3. Peck snaps at Bergman and tells her to stop.
  4. Bergman asks even more questions.
  5. Peck blacks out.

Bergman is certain this means progress – and she may be right, because each time Peck is able to shake a few more memories out of the box.

So you can see why Bergman asks so many questions. It appears you have to, if you’re going to reboot someone’s memory.

Now, all of this questioning takes place in between dodging the police and mental health authorities, and hoping Peck doesn’t get any funny ideas when he sees a pattern of lines while he’s holding a straight-edge razor.

Silly Ingrid trusts Peck enough to go skiing with him near perilous cliffs. Image: lsdkjf

Silly Ingrid goes skiing with Peck near perilous cliffs. Image: Adam Mohrbacher

Spellbound is not one of our favourite Hitchcock films; however, Hitch is such a clever director and the cast is so good, it ends up a much better film than it looks on paper.

Bergman’s performance is crucial – it’s up to her to carry the film. She convinces us the answers to the mystery are so close, we can almost reach out and touch them.

Her character is unafraid to collide head on with what comes next, even if it means Peck might kill her. (Well, if she insists on asking all those blasted questions…) However, her desire to cure him is far greater than her fear of him.

Bergman also has a way of slipping into Kind Doctor Mode, the way some doctors do when they’re delivering bad news in an upbeat way. When she questions Peck, she speaks in a soft, cheerful voice and assures Peck they’ll Get To The Bottom Of This.

How can you not salute a woman like that?

Spellbound has its flaws, in our opinion, but it is a must-see for Ingrid Bergman fans – or for those who like a big helping of psychoanalysis with their thrillers.

Spellbound: starring Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Michael Checkov. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Written by Ben Hecht and Angus MacPhail (adaptation). United Artists Corp., 1945, B&W, 115 mins.

This post is part of The Wonderful Ingrid Bergman Blogathon hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema. Click HERE to see the schedule.

Ingrid Bergman Blog

Teresa Wright: Film Noir Superhero

Teresa Wright ... Image: alksdjf

Poor Joseph Cotten has no idea with whom he’s dealing. Image: DVD Klassik

Spoiler Alert!

In Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, Teresa Wright does something no law enforcement agency is able to do.

She handily dispenses with a dangerous villain and makes The World A Safer Place. (Get this: She does so while wearing classic leather pumps and tailored outfits.)

Shadow of a Doubt (1943) is Hitchcock’s attempt to scare the pants off cozy, middle-class America – if such a thing existed during WWII. The film is about a psychopath (Joseph Cotten) who hides from federal agents by staying at his sister’s home in a small California town. The family is enamoured with Cotten because he brings them expensive presents and always finds flattering things to say.

Wright plays Cotten’s niece, a smart young women with an affinity for her uncle. They both have the name “Charlie”, along with a peculiar bond that is best left unanalyzed. Additionally, Wright is convinced she has a telepathic ability to communicate with her uncle.

Unhappily for Cotten, this nearly proves to be true.

When he first arrives at the family’s home, Cotten’s odd behaviour stirs Wright’s curiosity, but she pushes these feelings aside lest they taint her admiration. However, when a handsome law enforcement agent (Macdonald Carey) tells her Cotten is a murder suspect, she starts researching her mysterious uncle. She’s determined to prove the agent wrong, but evidence to the contrary soon becomes overwhelming.

Shadow of a Doubt has a top-notch cast, including Patricia Collinge, Henry Travers and Hume Cronyn. Joseph Cotten gives one of his best performances as the evil Uncle Charlie, complete with chilling stares and menace-laced taunts.

Some say this is Cotten’s film, but we disagree. We feel this film rests squarely on Wright and her transformation from adoring niece to fed-up adversary.

Teresa Wright lkjdf ksdj Image: laksdjf ksdjf

Teresa Wright: Superhero in Vera West couture. Image: This Distracted Globe

Wright has an extremely expressive face; it’s almost as though we can read every thought that enters – and leaves – her mind. This is crucial when a character like hers undergoes such a fundamental shift in worldview.

Not only that, Wright holds her own against Cotten, the acting veteran. He’s charismatic and compelling, but she doesn’t shrink in his presence. Even after he’s cajoled and insulted and threatened her, and she’s collapsed in tears, she remains a stubborn, defiant presence on screen.

A good example of this is when Cotten learns he’s no longer considered a murder suspect. Look at his smugness now! He has the condescending confidence of a man who can’t lose. Even though the law enforcement agents have left town – and left Wright to fear for her life – she still accuses Cotten with every withering glance. In these scenes, Cotten does most of the talking, as if to conquer her accusatory silence.

Finally she snaps and puts a stop to his endless crowing: “Go away, or I’ll kill you myself.”

That’s exactly what happens, in the end, although the film portrays this incident as an accident.

Is it?

If you haven’t seen Shadow of a Doubt, you’re in for a real treat. All the performances are riveting, but none more so than Teresa Wright’s.

Shadow of a Doubt: starring Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten, MacDonald Carey. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Written by Thornton Wilder, Sally Benson, Alma Reville. Universal Pictures Company, Inc., 1943, B&W, 108 mins.

This post is part of the Summer Under the Stars Blogathon co-hosted by Journeys in Classic Film. Click HERE to see the schedule.

Teresa Wright TCM

How to Survive Shipwreck with a Murderer and a Stupid Detective

Gwen Lee surveys the morons around her.

Gwen Lee surveys the morons around her.

If there’s anything the movies have taught us, it’s this: Whenever you go on a boat, always wear your best gown and pearls – and bring your fur coat, if you have one.

The movies tell us how exciting ships are. A person is forever running into millionaires or Royalty In Disguise. If you’re really lucky, you’ll become shipwrecked on an uncharted island.

Something even more exciting happens in the 1933 comedy-thriller, The Intruder, and it begins on a dark and stormy night – which, as you know, is the best time for evil-doers to run amok. A cruise ship is knocked off course due to strong winds while a murder is being committed on board. Not only that, the murder victim is robbed of diamonds that were stolen from someone else.

Then the ship crashes and the murder suspects – along with the murderer – are forced into a single lifeboat. They land on a deserted island, where the intrigue continues!

See? If a person had decided on a road trip instead of taking a cruise, they would have missed all the fun.

The Intruder is a campy, pre-code treat recommended to us, in an off-handed way, by our friends at Noirish.

There is a good collection of characters in this film, including the bossy-but-thick-headed detective (William B. Davidson), who offers such insights as, “Well, either they’re alive or they’re not.” There’s also an inebriated passenger (Arthur Housman), who wonders if the rescue ship will feature a well-stocked bar.

The best character in this film is Daisy (Gwen Lee), a mashup of Joan Blondell and Mae West. Daisy is the ultimate Pre-Code Woman: smart, brash and capable. She’s the type of character you want on your side if you’ve been shipwrecked on an uncharted island with:

  • a crafty murderer
  • an assortment of murder suspects
  • a diamond robber
  • a stupid detective
  • a wisecracking drunkard
  • a crazed castaway
  • a man in gorilla suit (Don’t ask.)

Daisy shows us how handle this situation and still look as fresh as, well, a daisy.

The key lies in her Alfreda gown, accessorized by a multi-strand pearl necklace, which she wears throughout the ordeal. (Let this be a lesson, Dear Reader: One need not let fashion suffer when dodging murderers on a remote island.)

Gwen Lee (right) tells Lila Lee (no relation) to straighten her stockings.

Gwen Lee (right) tells Lila Lee (no relation) to put on her big girl stockings.

Hollywood costume designer Alfreda enjoyed her greatest popularity in the early 1930s. Her gowns were featured in such pre-code gems as Forgotten Terrors, Officer 13 and  A Shriek in the Night. Not only were her gowns gorgeous, they gave heroines an important quality: courage.

For example, in The Intruder, Daisy never becomes flustered. When she and another female passenger, Miss Wayne (Lila Lee) fall into the clutches of a kidnapper, the women duck into a castaway’s shelter. Here they they discover a human skeleton named “Mary” sitting in a chair. Miss Wayne, understandably, becomes fretful about being killed. Daisy promises she won’t allow the murderer to harm them: “Over my dead body,” she quips.

Alfreda was not one to design a costume without practical features. Daisy’s gown is black, sleek, and durable enough for shipwrecks. But it has an added feature – a handy slip which Daisy tears away and uses as a bandage to save Miss Wayne’s life.

The Intruder seems to draw mixed reviews from audiences. Many people have a “meh” reaction, but we think this pre-code flick is a fun mix of black humour and genuine intrigue.

The Intruder: starring Monte Blue, Lila Lee, William B. Davidson. Directed by Albert Ray. Written by Frances Hyland. Allied Pictures Corp., 1933, B&W, 54 mins.

This post is part of THE PRE-CODE BLOGATHON, hosted by Shadows & Satin and Click HERE for a list of all the entries.



How to Tell if Your Prisoner is Too Smart for You

Madeleine Carroll sees her chance to escape. Image: kdsjf eoifu asdkljf

Tip: Never allow a woman access to her handbag. Image: Explore BFI

Dear Movie Villains:

Becoming an Evil Villain is largely a matter of trial and error. As far we know, there is no correspondence course to guide you in becoming a dastardly mastermind.

With that in mind, we hope you’ll take some well-meaning advice from the Alfred Hitchcock thriller, The 39 Steps (1935)If there’s one take-away from this movie, it’s this: Know thy intellectual limitations.

In The 39 Steps, there are two people you need to defeat: The first one is Robert Donat, a bungler who believes he can outwit seasoned, professional villains.

The second one is more tricky. She is Madeleine Carroll, a smart and decisive woman who trusts no one except the blasted police.

The film, briefly, is about spies smuggling Government Secrets to a foreign power. Donat stumbles into the middle of this situation because (a) he believes what everyone tells him and (b) he thinks he can just pop into the spy business on a lark.

He ends up dragging no-nonsense Carroll into this mess, which is nearly his undoing – and is definitely the undoing of the poor, defenceless bad guys.

Dear Villain, we can tell you’re a bit anxious, and well you should be. How do you know if you have a Madeleine Carroll Smarty Pants Prisoner (SPP) on your hands? We’re glad you asked.

Who are you? Where are we going? Why do I have to go? Image: lkdsjf aoieuf sdjkf

Tip: A quizzical woman is already on her way to outsmarting you. Image:

Clue #1: An SPP will ask lots of questions, but don’t think this is the sign of a hysterical female. If you know what’s good for you, you’d better answer her with some believable baloney.

Example: In the film, villains tell Carroll and Donat they will be driven to a police station, but it quickly becomes apparent they are driving elsewhere. Carroll starts blasting the men with questions: How come they’re not going to the police station? Where are they going? Why are they going this way, not that way? You see, she’s already figuring out a way to escape and Do You In.

Robert Donat hides from the millions of coppers Carroll has alerted. Image: aksdj flkasdjf ksdjf

Tip: A woman who alerts 5 coppers will just as easily alert 5,000. Image:

Clue #2: An SPP never misses an opportunity to tell the police anything. And not just one police officer, but as many as she can find.

Example: On the train to Scotland, when she first meets Donat and recognizes him as a fugitive, Carroll alerts every copper on the train – and there happen to be several to alert. Not only that, she’s gotten them so worked up they’ve phoned ahead to every train station in the U.K.

You think this person isn’t going to marshall an entire government against you, if so inclined?

In response to this threat, Carroll calls Donat a "big bully". Image: lskdjf aiefj

Tip: If a woman is calling you names, she’s not afraid of you – even if she’s in a chokehold. Image:

Clue #3: An SPP may employ tough talk, but instead of masking an inner fear, it’s actually making her braver.

Example: While on the run, Carroll makes it clear to Donat that she doesn’t believe his so-called “spy story”:

Donat:    “Do you want them to hang me for a murder I never committed?”
Carroll:  “As long as they hang you, I don’t care whether you’ve committed it or not.”

Dear Villain, please take our advice and don’t let your ego sully your intellectual capacity. If you’ve gotten yourself entangled with a Madeleine-Carroll-type character, you need to admit defeat and back away slowly.

The 39 Steps: starring Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll, Lucie Mannheim. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Written by Charles Bennett and Ian Hay. Gaumont-British Picture Corporation Ltd, 1935, B&W, 83 mins.

This post is part of the MADELEINE CARROLL Blogathon, hosted by Tales of the Easily Distracted and yours truly. Click HERE for a list of all participants. Madeleine-Carroll-Blog-4_fix

Alfred Hitchcock’s 3D Murder

_____ can't wait for Grace Kelly to put the phone down. Image lsdkfj asd

Anthony Dawson can’t wait for Grace Kelly to hang up. Image:

We had an almost pure classic movie experience recently.

Well, perhaps not us, exactly, but the woman sitting beside us in the theatre, at the screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder. It was, we might add, SHOWN IN 3D. Whee!

(Note: If you haven’t seen Dial M for Murder, even in 2D, you really ought to ASAP. You can thank us later.)

In the film, Ray Milland plays a former tennis star who discovers his wife (Grace Kelly) is having an affair with an American mystery writer (Robert Cummings). Milland, unwilling to divorce his wife’s money, begins to plan her murder.

The most fascinating element of this film, in our view, is that it takes place on a single set – the couple’s London flat. The one overarching dramatic moment is when the would-be murderer (Anthony Dawson) tries to strangle an unsuspecting Kelly while she struggles furiously, fumbling for a pair of scissors with which to fight back.

(Digression: On the big screen, this moment is riveting. Kelly’s hand desperately gropes behind her for the scissors she knows are within reach; her frantic hand movements reveal a woman who will not let her life be stolen so easily. One can hardly breathe when watching this scene in 3D.)

Even though the action takes place on one set, Hitchcock uses clever camera angles to keep us engaged. For example, when Milland demonstrates to Dawson how the killing should be done, Hitchcock mounts the camera high above the set; it feels as though we’re watching a crime via security camera.

Ray Milland choreographs the perfect murder. Image: lskdjf asdjk

Ray Milland choreographs the perfect murder. Image:

After Dawson has been unexpectedly killed, Milland straightens the room and manipulates bits of evidence before police arrive. Here, Hitchcock places the camera very close to the floor, as though we’re witnessing this as the dead man might.

This film is perfectly cast. Kelly and Cummings are brilliant, and Milland – Great Scott! His lengthy monologue to Dawson, recounting his discovery of Kelly’s affair, is mesmerizing. And when police start to suspect Kelly of cold-blooded murder, the smirky Milland is dazzling as laughs at suggestions that she may be guilty. The police see him as a man defending his wife, but we know he’s delighted that he’s, ahem, getting away with murder.

We (as in, yours truly) have seen this film several times, but it took the big screen and 3-D to make us appreciate it in a new way.

It also took the reactions of the young woman sitting next to us. She had never seen an Alfred Hitchcock film, and – get this – she had never seen a 3-D movie.

One would not have believed it possible in our society.

However. Her reactions would have been similar to someone seeing the film when it was newly released 1954. The woman gasped as Kelly drove the scissors into her attacker’s back. She said, “Oh ho!” at various plot twists, and laughed when, at the end of the film, the inspector (John Williams) combs his moustache while phoning Scotland Yard.

She provided an almost pure classic movie experience because it was like seeing Dial M for Murder for the first time, as Hitchcock intended it to be seen – in a theatre and in 3D. It was a pleasure to be seated next to someone who expressed nothing but admiration for this remarkable film.

Dial M for Murder: Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Written by Frederick Knott. Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc., 1954, Warnercolor, 105 mins.

On Precise Correspondence when Spying

Peter Lorre (left) gives Madeline Carroll the stink eye. Image: lskdjf asdfkj

Peter Lorre (left) gives Madeleine Carroll the stink eye. Image: The Belcourt

We believe modern Hollywood has been untruthful in its portrayal of the Spy Business. For example, modern spies never have trouble finding a parking spot. Furthermore, they never pay for parking.

Not that we’re annoyed.

The biggest Hollywood misconception, as far as we’re concerned, has to do with paperwork – correspondence paperwork in particular. Everyone in the developed world is saddled with this nonsense including, we’re certain, actual spies. But not according to Hollywood. When was the last time you saw James Bond write a memo?


In order to get a more accurate view of Spy Correspondence, we had to turn to the Master. By this we mean Alfred Hitchcock and his WWI mystery/thriller Secret Agent (1936)This film is based on W. Somerset Maugham’s Ashenden: Or the British Agent.

Hitchcock’s film adaptation stars Sir John Gielgud and Madeleine Carroll as British spies posing as a married couple on vacation as they pursue a German agent in Switzerland. Peter Lorre is Gielgud’s assistant (think: precursor to Batman’s Robin),  and Robert Young is an amorous young man bent on persuading Carroll to ditch her “husband”.

This film is filled with wonderful British phrases (“Now, see here!”) and fast, snappy dialogue (“This lady is not my wife. She has been issued to me officially.”).

It’s also a fascinating espionage story, although the outcome is a little too easy to guess. However, as stated, we are more concerned with an accurate portrayal of Spy Correspondence.

Secret Agent has the usual paperwork formalities: examination of forged passports; letters handed to spies from hotel desk clerks; an incriminating note passed from one employee to another in a factory. Many of these are written in code, which is always thrilling in a spy movie. There is also the de rigueur scene where an urgent telegram is rushed to spies while they are enjoying A Night Out, which subsequently ruins said Night.

As if to drive home the importance of Precise Correspondence, the last shot of the film is of a handwritten note on the back of a postcard. Plus, as if there wasn’t enough paperwork going around, characters also write Letters Of Resignation and Relationship Termination.

However, Spy Correspondence is deadly serious, and one scene in particular demonstrates this graphically. It is a scene that we did not expect, and it made us gasp.

The scene occurs early in the film. While Gielgud and Carroll are in their hotel room casting about for a Spy Plan, a suspicious-looking man outside their hotel stands on a street corner. He pulls a chocolate bar from his pocket and unwraps it. (In an instant replay of this action, we determined the chocolate to be solid – not hollow – Swiss milk chocolate, nut free, rectangular, partitioned into eight sections, 25% cocoa solids.)

After unwrapping the bar, the man THROWS THE CHOCOLATE AWAY to read a note that had been wrapped around it.


Any reasonable person would ask: Would it not be possible to eat the chocolate while reading the note? The answer, apparently, is NO. Nothing shall interfere with Spy Correspondence, not even Swiss chocolate.

Secret Agent is a terrific movie with quirky Hitchcockian touches and a fairly tense plot. It may not have the budget or finesse of Hitchcock’s Hollywood movies, but it’s still one to put on your Must Watch List.

Secret Agent: starring Madeleine Carroll, Peter Lorre, John Gielgud. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Adaptation by Charles Bennett. Gaumont-British Picture Corp. of America, 1936, B&W, 86 mins.

Psst! This post is part of Snoopathon hosted by Movies, Silently. Click on Secret Agent Garbo (below) to read more Top Secret info.


Angela Lansbury: Mother of the Year

Angela Lansbury and her twin, the Queen of Diamonds. Image

Angela Lansbury and her twin, the Queen of Diamonds. Image:


Warning: Spoilers

She’s a cool drink of water, Angela Lansbury is.

In the 1962 thriller The Manchurian Candidate, Lansbury plays the shrewd wife of bombastic political candidate (James Gregory), a man who cannot conceal the fact that he’s an idiot.

Having a moron for a husband is a minor consequence for Lansbury. In fact, she needs a moron if she’s going to scheme her way into the White House. It doesn’t matter who the moron – er, husband – is, as long as he can take direction.

The Manchurian Candidate stars Frank Sinatra as a U.S. Army veteran, recently retired from the Korean War. Sinatra’s character is a broken man – he cannot sleep or concentrate on his work because he suffers from recurring nightmares. These nightmares always revolve around a strange event that may or may not have happened during his tour of duty.

It’s only when Sinatra reconnects with his superior officer (Laurence Harvey) that he begins to piece together the events in Korea, and what they might mean for the United States.

Meanwhile, Lansbury (who is also Harvey’s mother) continues to drag her poor slob of a husband towards the White House. Because her son came home from Korea a decorated war hero, she’s determined to use him as a prop in her husband’s PR campaign.

In this film, Lansbury is a cool, neatly-pressed blonde, with a severely-sprayed ‘do and classic strand of pearls. She is very First Lady-ish, if not downright Presidential. Even in this harshly-lit film, she is stunning in her tailored tweeds. She’s every bit the Movie Star.

And every bit the Villain.


Lansbury supervises her thick-as-a-post husband. Image: lkdsjf

Lansbury supervises her dim-witted husband. Image: Cinema Nostalgia


Lansbury is a Take Charge kind of Villain. She either barks out orders or softly cajoles you into compliance. She smiles and gently presses your arm as though she were your best friend – or she snaps you in two like a brittle cookie. She’s a detonator, this one.

But in most scenes, Lansbury is calm, regarding others with with thinly-veiled contempt. Her expressions reveal the work it takes to drive a fool in politics. In one scene she loses patience with Gregory. “You’re going to look like [an] idiot if you don’t get in there and do exactly what you’re told,” she shouts. Gregory, a seasoned political candidate (and a grown man), whimpers like a kicked puppy.

She takes a different tactic with her beloved son, Harvey, who resists everything about her. In outlining her Master Plan, Lansbury tells him, “[This] will sweep us into the White House with powers that will make martial law look like anarchy.”

Control of the White House! Power! Martial Law!

Is this a villain, or is this a Villain? Here is a woman capable of hijacking an American election and making it look like an act of democracy. Villains don’t get any more cunning than this.

Her genius lies in making everything look easy. Just look at this laundry list of duties:

  1. Single-handedly getting an idiot elected to the White House.
  2. Mastering mind-control techniques.
  3. Breaking up romances if they’re politically inopportune.
  4. Juggling her interests with those of her mysterious co-conspirators.

The Manchurian Candidate, besides being a top-notch political thriller, shows us a diabolical Mother-Villain at work. If you haven’t seen this film yet, put it on your Bucket List immediately.

The Manchurian Candidate: starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey and our gal Angela Lansbury. Directed by John Frankenheimer. Written by George Axelrod.M.C. Productions/United Artists, 1962, B&W, 127 mins.

This post is part of the Great Villain Blogathon hosted by Speakeasy, Shadows & Satin and yours truly. Be sure to read all the villainous contributions.


The Delightfully Evil Lilyan Tashman

Lilyan Tashman is distressed by the death of her husband's rich aunt. Image:

Lilyan Tashman manages to squeeze out a tear after the murder of her husband’s rich aunt. Image:

When it comes to movies, we like our campy-ness well done.

So imagine our delight when we discovered a new-to-us performance by Lilyan Tashman in the 1931 mystery thriller Murder by the Clock.

Ms Tashman was unknown to us personally until we read about her life and career at the fab classic movie blog, Shadows and Satin. She certainly led an unusual life; you can read the article here. (Say! If you’re not a regular reader of Shadows and Satin, you should click the “Follow” button whilst there.)

Murder by the Clock is one of those scenarios where rich people are in danger of being killed by greedy poor relatives who want their money. Likewise, the poorer relations are also in danger because the greedy rich folk want to protect said money. There’s lots of arguing and skulking and almost-murdering in this flick, not to mention actual murdering. It’s a bit of a bloodbath when you think about it.

Murder by the Clock is a good story, even if some of the plot developments are a little too convenient. You also need to forgive the some of the stilted, awkward dialogue and actions. (1931 is still pretty early for talkies, after all.) But the camerawork is innovative and has a modern feel; the atmosphere is drenched in a consistent moodiness. Even though some scenes are unintentionally hilarious, we suspect it would be a fascinating film-viewing experience on the big screen.

The best part of the film, by far, is Ms Tashman’s performance as the wife of a jelly-kneed man (Walter McGrail) who stands to inherit a lot of dough from his cranky rich aunt (Blanche Friderici). However, the annoying part about inheriting a fortune is all the waiting around until someone dies, and Ms Tashman’s character is impatient. “Do you think I’m going to sit around and watch my youth disappear?” she  snaps. She asks her husband to think about all the money she – er, we mean he – would get if the aunt were to die suddenly.

To while away the hours, Ms Tashman has acquired a boyfriend (Lester Vail). To this poor slob she insinuates that if the aunt died, and then the husband died, the two could finally marry and live a life of ease.

She also suggests the husband-murdering plan to her husband’s mentally-challenged cousin (Irving Pichel). So if one fellow doesn’t succeed in getting the husband, the other surely will.

She does all this while strutting around in stunning designer clothes and thumbing her nose at police. Plus, she gives a terrific stink eye. Your blood would run cold if someone gave you the Tashman Stink Eye in real life.

The thing about Ms Tashman is this: it’s as though she’s in a different movie than everyone else. Her campy villainess is almost like a wink to us in the audience. While most of the other actors are all serious and dramatic, Ms Tashman practically screams at us, Get a load of what I’m gonna do next. We love her for it. This kind of character takes an actress who is unafraid to grab the scene, throw it on her shoulder and carry it – in high heels no less.

If you’re in the mood to see an early talkie, especially one with impressive Camp Factor, we recommend Murder by the Clock. It’s worth seeing just for Lilyan Tashman alone.

Murder by the Clock: starring William Boyd, Lilyan Tashman, Irving Pichel. Directed by Edward Sloman. Screen Adaptation by Henry Myers. Paramount Publix Corp., B&W, 1931, 74 mins. 

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.