The Bat (1959)

US / 80 minutes / bw / Liberty Pictures, Allied Artists Dir & Scr: Crane Wilbur Pr: C.J. Tevlin Story: The Bat (1920 play) by Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood Cine: Joseph Biroc Cast: Vincent Price, Agnes Moorehead, Gavin Gordon, John Sutton, Lenita Lane, Elaine Edwards, Darla Hood, John Bryant, Harvey Stephens, Mike Steele, Riza Royce, Robert B. Williams

Celebrated mystery novelist Cornelia van Gorder (Moorehead) has rented an old house in the middle of nowhere, The Oaks. It’s a sufficiently creepy place that all the servants up and leave her except her maid/companion Lizzie Allen (Lane) and her chauffeur, Warner (Sutton).

Agnes Moorehead as Cornelia

She’s rented the house from Mark Fleming (Bryant), realtor nephew of local bank president John Fleming (Stephens), who’s off in the forest on an extended hunting vacation with local coroner and John’s personal physician, Dr. Malcolm Wells (Price). When Fleming Sr. tells Wells he’s robbed the bank of a million bucks in bonds and arranged that naive clerk Victor Bailey (Steele) will be the patsy for the crime, the good doctor murders him, then chucks the body into a handy forest fire; in his role as coroner, he can ignore the bullethole and register Fleming’s death as caused by the conflagration.

Vincent Price as Wells

The million bucks is somewhere in The Oaks, probably in a secret room. Can Wells get to it before local top cop Andy Anderson (Gordon)?

Oh, and did I mention there’s a serial killer called The Bat on the loose? He Continue reading

Laura (1962 TVM)

West Germany / 110 minutes / bw / Bayerischer Rundfunks, Riva Studios Dir & Scr: Franz Josef Wild Pr: Werner Preuss Story: Laura (1943) by Vera Caspary Cine: Günter Kropf Cast: Hildegard Knef, Adolf Wohlbrück (i.e., Anton Walbrook), Hellmut Lange, John van Dreelen, Hillie Wildenhain, Wolf Schmidtholstein, Nora Minor, K.G. Gensichen, Thomas Alder.

A while ago I wrote here about another adaptation of Caspary’s novel, A Portrait of Murder (TVM 1955) dir John Brahm, with Dana Wynter, George Sanders and Robert Stack, and, glancing at that entry just now, I couldn’t help but feel that its opening paragraph, minus a few words, is exactly apposite here:

. . . this is not so much a remake of Otto Preminger’s classic LAURA (1944), which featured Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price, Judith Anderson and Dorothy Adams, as a re-adaptation of Caspary’s novel for the screen. There’s a visible (and visual) awareness of Preminger’s version, but really this is its own entity. Much of the Continue reading

A Portrait of Murder (1955 TVM)

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“What a terrible way for a beautiful dame like that to die.”
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vt Laura
US / 43 minutes / bw / CBS Dir: John Brahm Pr: Otto Lang Scr: Mel Dinelli Story: Laura (1943) by Vera Caspary Cine: Lloyd Ahern Cast: George Sanders, Dana Wynter, Robert Stack, Scott Forbes, Johnny Washbrook, Gloria Clark, Gordon Wynne, Robert Williams, Harry Carter.

Done as an episode of The 20th Century–Fox Hour, this is not so much a remake of Otto Preminger’s classic Laura (1944), which featured Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price, Judith Anderson and Dorothy Adams, as a re-adaptation of Caspary’s novel for the screen. There’s a visible (and visual) awareness of Preminger’s version, but really this is its own entity. Much of the Continue reading

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

Heart of Justice, The (1992 TVM)

US / 88 minutes / color / Amblin, Brandman, Planet, Turner, TNT Dir: Bruno Barreto Pr: Donald P. Borchers Scr: Keith Reddin Cine: Declan Quinn Cast: Eric Stoltz, Jennifer Connelly, Dermot Mulroney, Dennis Hopper, Harris Yulin, Vincent Price, William H. Macy, Bradford Dillman, Joanna Miles, Katherine LaNasa, Keith Reddin, Gail Neely, Felicity Huffman, Ross Leon, John Capodice, Hawthorne James, Paul Teschke, Arthur Eckdahl, Issac Clay, Donald Craig, Kurt Fuller, Richard Grant.

Heart of Justice - 0 opener

After having finished lunch with his old friend Reggie Shaw (Price) at the Arts Club on Gramercy Square, successful novelist Austin Blair (Hopper) is gunned down on the sidewalk by rich kid Elliot Burgess (Mulroney), who then kills himself. The editor of the New York Globe, Keneally (Yulin), gives scruple-free reporter David Leader (Stoltz) the task of investigating the story.

Heart of Justice - 0a somewhere (or drop)

At first David doesn’t get too far, because the rich Burgess family is circling its wagons. Dad (Dillman) is a powerful corporate lawyer but gives the impression of being a wheeler-dealer in the Mitt Romney style; Mom (Miles) lives in her own little cocoon; while Elliot’s sister Emma (Connelly), despite seeming barely out of high school, is an enigmatic figure of great allure. David, who is entirely self-absorbed, has a habit of using his own allure to exploit women of all ages and who treats his current girlfriend Hannah (LaNasa) atrociously—when she’s finally had enough and dumps him, his only regret seems to be that now there’s no one to cook his meals—regards the fresh-faced Emma not just as a possible route to his story but also as, potentially, another notch on his belt.

Trouble is, she wants nothing to do with him.

Heart of Justice - 1 David's first sight of Emma

David’s first sight of Emma (Jennifer Connelly).

Heart of Justice - 2 Hannahtries to relate to David

Hannah (Katherine LaNasa) tries unsuccessfully to get David to relateto her.

From the Burgess family maid, Jean (Neely), David discovers that Elliot was always passionately defensive of sister Emma and used to have lots of fights with his father on her behalf. From Emma’s old schoolfriend Annie Hodges (Huffman) Continue reading