Tag Archives: Adventure

Secret Kingdoms, Mysterious Islands, Evil Overlords! Why It Must Be Films From the 1930s!

Part Two

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Based on a short story, The Most Dangerous Game (1932) is a pre Hayes Code (or the “No Fun Code” as it ultimately became, stripping Hollywood films of any whiff of sex or immorality for almost 40 years) gem that features the same set and some of the same cast and production crew as King Kong which was made the following year.  Clocking in at a brisk 62 minutes it has pretty much everything you’d want in a pulp adventure: shipwrecks, sharks, a mysterious tropical island, a strapping hero, a distressed damsel, and best of all – an evil aristocratic-castle-owning -tuxedo (with tails) wearing- goateed Russian villain General Zaroff (who naturally has a scar running down the side of his forehead, owns a grand piano and has a brutish mute henchman named Ivan).  General Zaroff is a professional hunter who lures unsuspecting travelers to his shore (it’s easy when you own an island called Ship Trap Island) ultimately releasing his captives into the jungle where he and his savage dogs hunt them down for sport.  He’s a man of big appetites or as he puts it “Hunt first the enemy, then the woman. It is the natural instinct. The blood is quickened by the kill. One passion builds upon another. Kill, then love! When you have known that, you have known ecstasy.” The damsel (Canadian born Fay Wray) sees things differently as she and the hero Joel McCrea (who also happens to be a professional hunter) run through the swampy jungle – crossing the same chasm spanning felled tree that was used to great effect in King Kong – attempting to evade capture and death at the hands of General Zaroff.        

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The last film on this list also features a shipwreck on a tropical island – The Island of Lost Souls (1932) and like the others here, was based on a work of fiction – H.G. WellsThe Island of Dr. Moreau. This is one odd ball movie that really sticks with the audience after viewing. Charles Laughton plays Dr. Moreau who conducts gruesome experiments on the island’s animals, attempting to make them more human while insisting on strict obedience from his hairy hybrid charges (Bela Lugosi plays the lead manimal The Sayer of the Laws) . The shipwrecked hero causes quite a stir and upsets the balance of power on the island –there is also some chemistry between him and Lota the Panther Woman who as the name suggests is part woman, part panther.  If you’re a fan of the band Devo (and who isn’t?) the line “Are We Not Men?” will ring a bell as it was one of their album titles as well as refrain of the island inhabitants in their bid to be more human.  The movie was banned in England for decades and no doubt also banned from H.G. Wells’ life as word has it he hated this adaptation.  According to the internet,we owe the saying “The natives are restless” to this film which had Dr. Moreau say “Yes, they are restless” in response to a question about the locals natives.

With a little luck and some time to organize I’ll finish up with a few more posts before too long featuring such films as the incredible I Was a Fugitive From a Chain Gang and Fury among others.

 

 

 

 

Secret Kingdoms, Mysterious Islands, Evil Overlords! Why It Must Be Films From the 1930s!

Part One

Many months ago I wrote a blog entry about the 1930s covering in a very whirlwind and utterly selective manner a few people places and things which got my “interesting stuff” antennae twitching.  At the time I called the 1930s my second favourite decade (there has been no change in rankings in the interim) and now 9 months later it’s time to complete my tribute to this era with a look back at some films from the libraries’ collection which makes me flip my lid.

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She (1935) – Based on H. Rider Haggard’s 1887 novel  She: A History of Adventure – Believe it or not this was already the 5th film adaptation of this work (and we think Hollywood recycles ideas now!) directed by the King of Stop Action Claymation  Ray Harryhausen who only died just last May. The original plan was to film in  colour but at the last minute was switched to black and white (it was finally colourizied by Harryhausen in 2006) She was unfortunately a disaster at the box office and in fact was thought lost for years until rather bizarrely an original print was found in Buster Keaton’s garage. The film features an amazing set of grand art deco design and starred Helen Gahagan in her only film role playing the menacing queen of Kor aka She (Who Must Be Obeyed).   Five years after playing She Who Must Be Obeyed, Gahagan was one of the first women to be elected to the US House of Representatives as a left leaning Democrat, had a public love affair with Lyndon Johnson (seriously…LBJ!?) and eventually ended her political career after losing to Richard Nixon  but not before she coined the nickname Tricky Dick.

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Another adventure film based on a book was The Lost Horizon ( 1937). James Hilton wrote the book and Frank Capra (who had a run of classics in the 30s and 40s) directed the film. The story tells of  group who stumble upon the hidden paradise of Shangri-La deep in the Himalayas after a rescue mission gets hijacked and subsequently crash lands.  It turns out once you find paradise where nobody ages; it becomes a tough habit to quit.  This film was also a bust initially and went way over budget. Like She, The Lost Horizon was also considered for colour film but was deemed too expensive, even so it still went way over budget and initially ended up with a whopping 6 hours run time eventually whittled down to a more manageable 134 minutes.  Somehow through all the cutting and re-releasing and re-editing a total of 7 minutes of the film has been lost forever which explains why in the library’s dvd contains just the audio track and various promotional stills which fill in the gap of the missing footage.  It’s a bit jarring upon first viewing but “lost forever “ is “lost forever” so what are you gonna do?

 

Die Hard: perfect action perfect Christmas

MV5BMTkwMjg3ODgzNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjE5NzAyMQ@@  V1 SY317 CR10214317  202x300 photoI sometimes feel that I should avoid discussions of favourite Christmas / holiday movies. While I love LOVE movies – especially during the December holiday season – I have never really considered myself a fan of Christmas movies. Yes, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is probably the best of that particular series. Of course, the original Miracle of 34th Street (not the remake) is still a charming classic. A Christmas Story remains as lovely as ever (as does, one might argue, Black Christmasif only as it offers a different take on the season; Bob Clarke also directed both movies). It’s a Wonderful Life remains essential any time, month, or season.

But if I have to pick my all-time favourite Christmas movie (and this hardly an original pick), there’s no question or debate in my mind. My pick is the 1988 Bruce Willis Holiday classic – released that summer of course – Die Hard.

I mentioned Die Hard in a recent post on thrillers from the 1970s. And while I am uncomfortable repeating myself here, I felt this burden necessary after a  conversation with my colleague Sarah.  SHE HAS NEVER SEEN DIE HARD.

I swear, my left eyelid started twitching. I thought we had already hit barrel bottom when she admitted to have never seen any of the Alien movies. But this…

PYRPAS0150 207x300 photo…okay. First things first: Bruce Willis rocks. Before Die Hard, we really only had the television show Moonlighting. I remember it being a fun, quirky show – but Moonlighting Willis was never an action hero. That changed, of course – but this was something we should have picked up long before. I think that I remember a Quentin Tarantino quote on Willis (I might have this wrong but I don’t think so) suggesting that Bruce Willis embodies many of the tough guy qualities of the many tough guy actors from 1950s Hollywood. Think Robert Mitchum or Ralph Meeker or Sterling Hayden or Glenn Ford.

I believe there is something to this – all kinds of fine directors continue to use him correctly – but Willis in Die Hard pushed this tough guy thing further. Before Die Hard (at least in 80s cinema), action heroes came in the Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone variety. Don’t get me wrong here: some of these movies are pretty good. But these movies were superhero action movies. You had to have muscles like Stallone or Schwarzenegger to be an action hero. Die Hard shifted this with Willis as the every-man-action hero. His John McClane is just an off-duty cop, in the wrong place at the wrong time. Any actor afterwards could play that credible action star. And now it seems like EVERY actor wants to play that credible action star. Nick Cage became an action star! It was heady time.

And this every-man-action-hero was given the perfect action film to be heroic in. I cannot think of a single false step, bum scene, or wrong-note performance. Indeed, Alan Rickman’s villainous Hans Gruber stills remains one 1988 202x300 photoof cinema’s best-ever villains. Die Hard is such perfect action that it completely changed what action movies should be. Suddenly everything was “Die Hard on Something Different Than a Tall Building”. So, we got Die Hard on a Boat or Die Hard on a Train, Die Hard on a Mountain or Die Hard on a Plane. Some of these movies were good, but most were terrible. Action movies seem to exist within periods of time. The Die Hard epoch lasted over ten years, until I would argue the release of The Matrix.

So yeah, Die Hard is a perfect genre-defining, action-icon creating film that is also (I haven’t forgotten) a wonderful Christmas movie. John McClane is a New York cop travelling to L.A for Christmas. The bad guys have taken over Nakatomi Plaza during the company’s Christmas party. After dispatching his first bad guy, McClane offers his first quippy quote: “now I have a machine gun …ho ho ho.” Sticking still with the bad guys, main baddie Gruber suggests that “Christmas is the time for miracles” – especially when there is a safe that needs crackin’. The film’s score is littered with references to Christmas caroles and jingles. And what says Merry Christmas more than saving your loved ones from helicopters crashing into buildings?

I love this movie.