Journey into Fear (1975)

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An all-star cast in an Eric Ambler adaptation!
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vt Burn Out
Canada / 95 minutes / color / New World, IFD Dir: Daniel Mann Pr & Scr: Trevor Wallace Story: Journey into Fear (1940) by Eric Ambler Cine: Harry Waxman Cast: Sam Waterston, Zero Mostel, Yvette Mimieux, Scott Marlowe, Ian McShane, Joseph Wiseman, Shelley Winters, Stanley Holloway, Donald Pleasence, Vincent Price, Alicia Ammon, Michael Collins.

journey-into-fear-1975-closer

Ambler’s novel was earlier and far more famously filmed as Journey into Fear (1943) dir Norman Foster (plus uncredited directorial assistance from Orson Welles), with Joseph Cotten, Dolores del Rio, Orson Welles, Ruth Warrick, Jack Moss and Agnes Moorehead. (Also, in 1956 the TV series Climax! made an hour-long episode out of the novel, and in 1966 a single episode was produced, “Seller’s Market,” of an intended TV series, Journey into Fear, using the character of Dr. Howard Graham and some of the novel’s ideas.)

This 1975 remake shifts the time to the present—i.e., the mid-1970s—and now, rather than an engineer who’s learned Nazi armaments secrets, our hero, Howard Graham (Waterston), is a geologist who’s discovered, somewhere in the mountains neat the Turkey/Iran border, something (it’s never specified what) of use to oil companies. For some reason this makes him a target for international terrorists.

We first meet him as he and his driver are careering down a mountain dirt-track, their brakes having failed (we assume they’ve been cut). The driver shoves Howard out of the vehicle and moments later flies off a cliff.

Howard makes his way to civilization, where he catches a train to Istanbul. Aboard that train there’s another attempt to kill him. Two men in the guise of Greek Orthodox priests spot where he’s sitting, sneak into the next compartment Continue reading

Chambre Ardente, La (1962)

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An ancient curse, a modern crime!

vt The Burning Court; vt Das Brennende Gericht; vt I Peccatori della Foresta Nera
France, Italy, West Germany / 109 minutes / bw / International, UFA-Comacico, Taurus Dir: Julien Duvivier Pr: Julien Duvivier, Yvon Guézel Scr: Julien Duvivier, Charles Spaak Story: The Burning Court (1937) by John Dickson Carr Cine: Roger Fellous Cast: Nadja Tiller, Jean-Claude Brialy, Perrette Pradier, Édith Scob, Walter Giller, Duvallès, Héléna Manson, René Génin, Claude Piéplu, Dany Jacquet, Gabriel Jabour (i.e., Gabriel Jabbour), Laurence Belval, Antoine Balpêtré, Claude Rich, Carl Brake.

Chambre Ardente - 0a opener 1

Chambre Ardente - 0b opener 2

The celebrated John Dickson Carr mystery novel upon which this is based was at the time somewhat controversial, because its solution more than hinted that the supernatural was involved; for obvious reasons, this was regarded by mystery buffs as breaking the rules. (I remember reading the novel many years ago, and I’m surprised that this element didn’t trouble me. In my mystery reading I’m usually pretty prim about such infractions.) The conclusion to the movie, too, breaks the rules of straightforward mystery plotting, albeit in a different way—one that may well infuriate some viewers.

The movie starts with a scrolled and spoken preamble:

“On July 17, 1676, Marie d’Aubray, Marquise de Brinvilliers, accused of witchcraft practice[s] and convicted of having poisoned her father, her two brothers and numerous other persons, was burnt at the stake on a Paris square, after having had her head cut off. Her ashes were thrown to the wind. Before her death she cursed the lover that betrayed her and all his descendants. The following tells the story of that curse.”

Today (i.e., in the early 1960s) Mathias Desgrez (Duvallès), the last direct descendant of Emile Desgrez—the cop who disguised himself as a priest to infiltrate the convent where Marie was hiding, became her lover and then turned her over to the authorities—is living near-eremitically in the grand chateau he built in the Black Forest for his wife, who alas died young. The only people he sees with any regularity are his nurse, Myra Schneider (Tiller), his housemaid, Frieda Schiller (Jacquet), his married housekeeper and gardener, Augusta Henderson (Manson) and Frédéric Henderson (Génin), and a neighbor, Dr. Hermann (Balpêtré), a genial doctor stripped of his license some years ago for performing an abortion. The two old men have fun exploring the occult together, although Continue reading

Silenzio dei Prosciutti, Il (1994)

vt The Silence of the Hams
Italy, US / 78 minutes / color / Thirtieth Century Wolf, Silvio Berlusconi Communications Dir & Scr: Ezio Greggio Pr: Ezio Greggio, Julie Corman Cine: Jacques Haitkin Cast: Ezio Greggio, Dom DeLuise, Billy Zane, Joanna Pacula, Charlene Tilton, Martin Balsam, Stuart Pankin, John Astin, Phyllis Diller, Bubba Smith, Larry Storch, Rip Taylor, Shelley Winters, Nedra Volz, Rosey Brown, Tony Cox.

Silence of the Hams - 5 no captionIn the, er, grand tradition of Airplane! (1980) and The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988), one of those slapstick parodies that operates on the principle of throwing as many jokes at the wall as possible and hoping that at least a couple of them stick. In this case, about half a dozen did, which—for this curmudgeonly watcher—is above par for the genre. Most of the rest is about as funny as a botched vasectomy. Perhaps if I’d had a few beers first . . .

The principal target of the parody is PSYCHO (1960), and the one convincing part of the script is the final identification of the person who murdered the writer/director of this mess, Ezio Greggio, in the shower. Another main target, although secondary to Psycho, is—as Continue reading

Phone Call from a Stranger (1952)

US / 96 minutes / bw / TCF Dir: Jean Negulesco Pr & Scr: Nunnally Johnson Story: I.A.R. Wylie Cine: Milton Krasner Cast: Shelley Winters, Gary Merrill, Michael Rennie, Keenan Wynn, Evelyn Varden, Warren Stevens, Beatrice Straight, Ted Donaldson, Craig Stevens, Helen Westcott, Bette Davis, Hugh Beaumont, Tom Powers.

Phonecall from a Stranger 0a opener

Phonecall from a Stranger 0b second opener of pair

Iowa lawyer David L. “Dave” Trask (Merrill) leaves his wife Janey (Westcott), plus their two daughters, to take a flight for LA to try to sort his head out; he can no longer live with her or the memory of the “little slip” she committed. He books himself on the plane under the name Joseph H. Collins so that Janey can’t track him down.

Phonecall from a Stranger 1 Janey reads Dave's goodbye note-

Janey (Helen Westcott) reads Dave’s goodbye note.

The weather’s appalling, and the flight suffers various delays. Dave becomes one of a disparate quartet of passengers thrown together by circumstances; Continue reading

What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971)

US / 101 minutes / color with some sepia & white / Filmways, Raymax Dir: Curtis Harrington Pr: George Edwards Scr: Henry Farrell Cine: Lucien Ballard Cast: Debbie Reynolds, Shelley Winters, Dennis Weaver, Micheál Mac Liammóir, Agnes Moorehead, Helene Winston, Peggy Rea, Logan Ramsey, Allen Pinson.

In the mid-1930s, in Braddock, Iowa, the sons of dowdy, dumpy Helen Hill (Winters) and glamorous dance teacher Adelle Bruckner (Reynolds) are convicted of a brutal murder. Vilified by the public and threatened by anonymous phone calls, the two women flee to Hollywood and change their names, becoming Helen Martin and Adelle Stewart and together, with the aid of diction coach Hamilton Starr (Mac Liammóir), setting up a dancing/performance school for children.

Soon Adelle catches the eye of Linc Palmer (Weaver), wealthy divorced father of one of her young students, and romance blossoms. Yet Helen’s behavior grows ever stranger, her gory visions seemingly rooted in the violent death, years ago, of her husband as he fell under the plow on the family farm; at the same time it becomes evident that the women’s anonymous phone caller—the lover (Pinson) of their sons’ victim—has traced them to their new home. When a terrified Helen pushes the lover downstairs, killing him, she and Adelle drag the corpse to a nearby roadworks, throwing it into a trench to make the death seem an accident. It seems briefly as if their troubles might be over, but of course they’re only just beginning . . .

What's the Matter with Helen (1971) - What Helen did to Debbie Reynolds

What Shelley Winters did to Debbie Reynolds

The movie’s fairly typical of writer Farrell’s noirish gothic melodramas, such as Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), HOW AWFUL ABOUT ALLAN (1970 TVM) and most famously WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962), although its first half comes with a number of distinctly un-gothicky song-and-dance routines done by Reynolds and, in Shirley Temple-wannabe mode, by her youthful charges.

While Weaver portrays a deliberately stereotyped genial rich Texan (I can’t remember him addressing Adelle as L’il Lady, but I’m sure he must), the other three principals ham it up joyously, capturing some of the Grand Guignol spirit of Tod Slaughter, who was more contemporary with the events of the plot. Moorehead has a smallish role as Sister Alma, the avaricious preacher of the aptly named Church of the Open Hand.

The movie’s overall affect, despite the abundance of talent involved—not just the leading players but crew members like cinematographer Ballard—is of a sort of pleasing mediocrity, as if director Harrington and the rest wanted to give proceedings a TV movie feel, a slight downmarket tawdriness that’s in keeping with Adelle’s efforts to make her children’s stage production glitzy.

On Amazon.com (as part of a four-movie set): Scream Factory All Night Horror Marathon (Whats the Matter with Helen, The Vagrant, The Godsend & The Outing)