The Curse of the Werewolf

The Curse of the Werewolf
Directed by Terrence Fisher
Written by Anthony Hinds from a novel by Guy Endore
1961/UK
Hammer Films
First viewing/Amazon Instant

 

“You know,” he said, “every time a vampire says he doesn’t believe in lycanthropes, a werewolf bursts into flames.” ― Elizabeth Bear, New Amsterdam

Hammer’s take on the 1940 Universal classic is less a remake than a vivid reimagining.

The story has been moved from England to perhaps 18th or 19th Century Spain.  It is a time of all-powerful cruel aristrocrats and sniviling yet corrupted peons.  The moviebegins with a long prelude in which a Marques torments and finally imprisons a beggar.  He is befriended by the jailer’s mute daughter.  Years later when she rejects the Marques’s advances she herself is thrown into prison where she is in turned raped by her supposed friend.

The mute girl escapes and is taken in by a kindly landowner and his housekeeper.  She gives birth on Christmas Day, considered a very bad omen and an insult to Christ at the time.  The mother dies and the landowner raises the boy he names Leon as his own son.  He is a beautiful child but as he grows he is plagued by nightmares and livestock start being savagely attacked in his vicinity…

Somehow, Leon survives to adulthood and grows up to be Oliver Reed.  When he reaches his majority he goes to seek his fortune and finds work with another landowner.  Leon and the landowner’s wealthy daughter fall in love.  But the Christmas curse does not stay dormant for long …

I can’t think of a more perfect part for Oliver Reed than as a werewolf.  He chews the scenery in the most delightful way and at this age is mighty easy on the eyes as well.  It’s an interesting and intricate story which I actually preferred to the Lon Chaney version.  This is a bloody version of the tale and all the gore is lovingly photographed in Technicolor and enhanced by beautiful atmospheric sets and costumes.  Recommended for horror fans.

Trailer – color was much better on Amazon Instant print

La Notte (1961)

La Notte
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Written by Michelangelo Antonioni, Ennio Flaiano, and Tonino Guerra
1961/Italy/France
Nepi Film/Sofitedip/Silver Films
Repeat viewing/FilmStruck
One of 1001 Films You Must See Before You Die

Giovanni: I no longer have inspirations, only recollections.

There is some gold within this sad film about ennui.

The story follows a day in the life of Giovanni (Marcello Mastroiani) and Lidia (Jeanne Moreau), a restless married couple.  Each is restless in his own way.   As the film begins, the couple visits a friend who is in the hospital in great pain.  The prospect of death has brought him some clarity and the three engage in some honest conversation.  But Lidia can’t take the strain and goes off wandering aimlessly.  Eventually, the two reunite.

Lidia doesn’t feel like another evening at home.  Neither does she want to go to a lavish party at the home of the Gherardinis.  So they go out to a nightclub and watch a mildly pornographic striptease act.  This wears down Lidia to the point that she is ready for the party.  At the party, the couple soon separate.  Temptation awaits each of them. Giovanni’s takes the form of Monica Vitti.

As in the other Antonioni films I have seen, the characters all seem to be searching for some meaning.  For all we know there is none to be found.  One has to be in the right mood to watch this stuff.  Yesterday, I enjoyed the poetry of the visuals but really wasn’t ready for the very bleak story.  My favorite part of this is actually the brief section where Monica Vitti plays the game with her makeup compact.

Trailer

 

The Devil’s Hand

The Devil’s Hand
Directed by William J. Hole Jr.
Written by Jo Heims
Rex Carlton Productions
First viewing/YouTube

 

Rick Turner: You’ve waited all your life for the perfect mate; what’s twenty minutes more?

Donna Trent: You should get over that inferiority complex.

It’s hard to imagine a more bland movie about voodoo.

Rick Turner (Robert Alda) is in a long-term relationship with Donna Trent but has yet to be persuaded to take a trip down the aisle. Lately, his resolve has been further shaken by persistent dreams about a beautiful blonde, Bianca.  He is mysteriously drawn to a shop where he finds dolls with the images of both women. The owner tells him that he ordered the Bianca doll but denies that he ordered the Donna doll.  Eventually voodoo with her doll puts Donna out of commission.  Rick becomes a devotee of both voodoo and Bianca. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

I must admit that I relied heavily on the IMDb plot summary for my own.  I remembered almost nothing about the film less than 24 hours later.  There are zero scares in this middle American cult.  Well worth a miss.

Trailer

A Taste of Honey (1961)

A Taste of Honey
Directed by Tony Richardson
Written by Shelagh Delaney and Tony Richardson from a play by Delaney
1960/UK
Woodfall Film Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

Geoffrey: You need somebody to love you while you’re looking for somebody to love.

 

There is some very fine acting in this kitchen sink drama featuring an Angry Young Woman.

Teenager Jo (Rita Tushingham) is a bit of an odd-ball – not surprisingly considering her upbringing. As the film begins she is living with her self-centered single mother Helen (Dora Bryan).  Helen has had one affair after another and is currently seeing a younger man, Peter, who has marriage on his mind.  Jo and Helen squabble constantly.

Jo meets a kind sailor and embarks on her first romance.  Before he goes off to sea again, they consummate the relationship.

Peter can’t stand having the smart-mouthed Jo around.  She gets a job selling shoes and rents a ramshackle apartment that is clearly too big for her.  She befriends an equally odd-ball customer named Geoff (Murray Melvin) and he moves in with her.  Before long, Jo finds she is pregnant.  Her anxiety level is only raised by the fact that the baby will be black.  But Geoff, who is gay, is more than willing to act as a surrogate father.  This leads to a war of wills between Geoff and Dora.

This film deservedly raised Tushingham to prominence and the performances of Bryan and Melvin rise to her level.  Bryan actually manages to make a basically unlikeable character oddly touching.  The story is interesting and the treatment of the race and gay questions is fresh and non-judgemental.  I was puzzled by the unresolved ending.  I would have liked something a bit tidier.  Still recommended.

Clip

The Explosive Generation (1961)

The Explosive Generation
Directed by Buzz Kulik
Written by Joseph Landon
1961/USA
Vega Productions
First viewing/Amazon Prime

 

Mrs. Katie Sommers: What do you mean “prove” your love?

Janet Sommers: Well if you don’t know, maybe you’d better ask DAD!

 

I was pleasantly surprised in the variety of ideas explored in what looks suspiciously like a straight exploitation flick from the poster.

English teacher Peter Giffort (William Shatner) “gets” teenagers and has been selected to teach the “Senior Problems” course designed to prepare graduating teens for “real life”. The discussion turns to problems seniors are experiencing in their current lives and Janet (Patty MacCormack) suggests that the number one problem is “sex”.  There is kind of a mixed reaction to discussing this but Giffort invites anyone interested to write a paper explaining their problem.

Janet’s own problem stems from an unauthorized and unchaperoned over-nighter spent by her and a girlfriend with their boyfriends at a beach cottage owned by one of the guy’s fathers.

The boys are none to happy that Janet may have spilled their secrets.  But in the meantime, the parents get wind of Giffort’s intentions, misconstrue and magnify the intent, and end up protesting to the principal.  All the principal wants is peace and he even gets Giffort to apologize.  Then the students take matters into their own hands and a youth movement is born.

I expected nothing from this sex ed movie and it actually kept my interest the whole way through.  This little movie sort of shows the birth of the youth culture that would contribute to the burgeoning civil-rights movement and lead to the anti-war movement and hippie culture by the end of the decade.

Montage of clips (spot an early performance from Beau Bridges!)

The Young Savages (1961)

The Young Savages
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Written by Edward Anhalt and J.P. Miller from a novel by Evan Hunter
1961/USA
Contemporary Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Dear kindly Sergeant Krupke, / You gotta understand, / It’s just our bringin’ up-ke / That gets us out of hand./ Our mothers all are junkies, / Our fathers all are drunks./ Golly Moses, natcherly we’re punks! – “Gee, Officer Krupke” from West Side Story, lyrics by Steven Sondheim

 

This A-list juvenile delinquent drama can’t quite decide what it wants to be.

A turf was has broken out in East Harlem between the Thunderbirds, an Italian gang, and the Horsemen, a Puerto Rican gang.  As the story begins, three Thunderbirds are seen walking purposefully through town en route to brutally killing a blind Puerto Rican teen who had been sitting on his front stoop playing the harmonica with other family members.

DA Dan Cole thinks the aggressive prosecution and conviction of the boys for first degree murder will be a valuable campaign asset.  Assistant DA Hank Bell is enthusiastic about taking the case but must disclose that he had a teenage romance with the Mary, the mother of one of the boys (Shelley Winters).  Bell’s wife (Dina Merrill) sees something sordid in making the case political and in seeking the death penalty for offenders so young.

Mary is certain that her boy could not have participated in the killing and Bell goes out to personally investigate the crime, along with the circumstances of the accused and the victims.  None of it makes a pretty picture.  An eventful trial ensues.

This film ticks all the boxes for an early sixties social drama with its focus on political corruption and misunderstood youth.  I thought the message was muddied, however.  The movie never really decides how it feels about these boys.  The acting is solid, if not spectacular.

Promo

Nikki, Wild Dog of the North (1961)

Nikki, Wild Dog of the North
Directed by Jack Couffer and Don Haldane
Written by Ralph Wright and Winston Hibler from a novel by James Oliver Curwood
1961/USA/Canada
Walt Disney Productions/Cangary/Westminster Films
First viewing/Amazon Instant

“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” ― Will Rogers

Disney gives its nature documentaries a plot and we get a pleasant family film about a Malamute dog and his friend who just happens to be a bear cub.

Nikki is still almost a puppy when his owner, a trapper, takes him with him for work in the far North Canadian wilderness.  While there, they encounter mother bear and her cub.  Mother is killed protecting her baby from a wolf and the cub becomes one of the family.  Nikki and the cub don’t get along at all and for some reason the trapper solves that problem by tying them together and putting them in his canoe.  The animals become separated from the human and we watch their friendship and adventures in the wild.  Toward the end the cub goes to hibernate and Nikki is left on his own in the harsh winter where not all humans turn out to be humane.

This is quite watchable.  The dog actor is very talented!

Clip

The Deadly Companions (1961)

The Deadly Companions
Directed by Sam Peckinpah
Written by Albert Sidney Fleischman from his novel
1961/USA
Pathe America/Carousel Productions
First viewing/Amazon Instant

 

Yellowleg: You don’t know me well enough to hate me that much. Hating is a subject I know a little something about. You got to be careful it don’t bite you back. I know somebody who spent five years looking for a man he hated. Hating and wanting revenge was all that kept him alive. He spent all those years tracking that other man down, and when he caught up with him, it was the worst day of his life. He’d get his revenge all right, but then he’d lose the one thing he had to live for.

Sam Peckinpah’s big-screen debut is surprisingly tame.

Ex-Uniion soldier Yellowleg (Brian Keith) is on a mission to take revenge on the rebel who tried to scalp him.  In the meantime, he teams up with Southern eccentric Turkey (Chill Wills) and lustful bad guy Billy (Steve Cochran) to rob a bank.  But Yellowlegs is basically a good guy and when he sees bandits attempting to rob a store, he shoots.  Unfortunately, he hits the son of “fallen woman” Kit Tilden (Maureen O’Hara).

The rest of the film follows the stormy relationship between Yellowleg and Kit as the the entire band escorts her through Apache territory to the grave of her husband to bury the boy.  With Struther Martin as a preacher.

This movie was obviously made on a shoestring budget.  The acting is strong but the dialogue is not and I found it completely predictable.  This is of historical interest for those interested in seeingd a Peckinpah film before the old ultra-violence set in.

Clip

Love Old and New (1961)

Love Old and New (Shamisen to ootobai)
Directed by Masahiro Shinoda
Written by Takao Yanai; story by Matsutaro Kawaguchi
1961/Japan
Shochiku Eiga
First viewing/FilmStruck

 

 “We have been cut off, the past has been ended and the family has broken up and the present is adrift in its wheelchair. … That is no gap between the generations, that is a gulf. The elements have changed, there are whole new orders of magnitude and kind….

My grandparents had to live their way out of one world and into another, or into several others, making new out of old the way corals live their reef upward. I am on my grandparents’ side. I believe in Time, as they did, and in the life chronological rather than in the life existential. We live in time and through it, we build our huts in its ruins, or used to, and we cannot afford all these abandonings.” ― Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose

Shinoda does a good job with an Ozu-light sort of domestic drama.

The story concerns a widowed mother who plays the samisen and instructs men in the traditional art of kouta singing and her 20-year-old daughter who favors reckless motorcycle riding with her boyfriend.  The younger couple crash their bike and the daughter is badly injured.  The doctor who cares for her turns out to be the mother’s old flame.  The older couple rekindle a relationship and the daughter is shocked and appalled at her mother’s conduct.  But the generations are really not so different after all …

This reminded me of a story Ozu would make.  It really highlights the way the Master would strip the theme down to the essentials.  This was a bit more melodramatic and it is a tribute to Shinoda that he handled the script so well.  Worth seeing.

 

 

Hercules in the Haunted World (1961)

Hercules in the Haunted World (Ercole al centro della Terra)
Directed by Mario Bava and Franco Prosperi
Written by Mario Bava, Franco Prosperi, Sandro Continenza, and Duccio Tessari
1961/Italy
SpA Cinematografica
First viewing/Netflix rental

King Lico: Oh god of evil, the great dragon has swallowed the moon. And now my destiny shall be fulfilled. The blood of Deianira shall be my blood. Eternal shall be my reign in thy name. Eternal shall be the sorrow of Hercules. And eternal shall be the night for the woman he loves.

The principal reason to watch this hoary “peplum” semi-thriller is for Mario Bava’s eye candy.

Hercules (Reg Park) and his horny friend Thesus journey to their home in Icalia for a reunion with Hercules’ fiancee Daianara.  When they get there they find that the evil king Lico (Christopher Lee) is now in charge and Daianara has lost her memory.

At Lico’s suggestion, Hercules consults Medea who tells him the only way to save his beloved is to retrieve the stone of forgetfulness from Hades.  First, the pair must fetch a golden apple from the Kingdom of the Night so that they can survive their journey to the underworld.

Many supernatural adventures ensue.

Bava’s use of color is effective and he manages to create creepy effects on what appeared to be a very low budget. Otherwise, the film is just about what you would expect from the title. I watched a dubbed version of the film.  Christopher Lee certainly didn’t sound like himself!  I’ve seen some pretty bad prints around but the DVD I rented looked great.

U.S. Trailer