Jacques Tourneur’s Pulp Fiction Pipe Dream

RKO may have been seen as low on the totem pole in the Hollywood hierarchy compared to MGM, Warner Bros. and other larger studios but their importance in film history is assured by a remarkable roster of talent that at one time included such directors as Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock and John Ford. One of RKO’s most famous contractees was Jacques Tourneur who secured his reputation in the forties with Cat People (1942), I Walked With a Zombie (1943), The Leopard Man (1943) and Out of the Past (1947).

Tourneur’s work in the early to mid-fifties might not have matched his glory years at RKO but he still managed to turn out occasional gems like the underrated Joel McCrea western, Stars in My Crown (1950), a late period noir (Nightfall, 1956) and a cult horror classic, Curse of the Demon (1958). Even the less distinguished films from his final years are worth a look and Timbuktu (1958) is a genuine curiosity, flaws and all.  Continue reading

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Love is a Battlefield

Is there something weird in the water in Australia..or maybe the air is different? All I know is that that culture has produced some of the quirkiest and most unusual films of any country beginning in the seventies with such movies as Peter Weir’s The Cars That Eat People (aka The Cars that Ate Paris, 1974), Stone (1974), and Thirst (1979), and continuing through the ensuing decades with such cult items as Jane Campion’s Sweetie (1989) and Rolf de Heer’s Bad Boy Bubby (1993). More surprising is that a few have gone on to become highly profitable hits in the U.S. such as Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom (1992), Muriel’s Wedding (1994), and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994). But one of my favorites – Love Serenade (1996) – didn’t strike box-office gold like the above three titles. It’s a strikingly original black comedy for those who fancy that often unappreciated mixture of the macabre and the comical which is rarely executed with this much wit and verve.   Continue reading

Lee Tracy Does Washington

Whenever a repertory cinema like NYC’s Film Forum or a film archive like the George Eastman Museum programs a Pre-Code series you can bet that Lee Tracy is bound to be in a few of the famous titles such as The Strange Love of Molly Louvain, Love is a Racket, Doctor X, Blessed Event (all released in 1932) and Bombshell (1933). He’s also likely to be playing some kind of shady careerist such as a carnival barker, ambulance-chasing lawyer or tabloid newsman. That’s probably due to his legendary performance on Broadway in 1928 as reporter Hildy Johnson in The Front Page, written by Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to play the role in the 1931 screen version – Pat O’Brien won that honor and Rosalind Russell played the female version in Howard Hawks’ 1940 remake, His Girl Friday – but Fox Pictures realized Tracy’s potential and brought him to Hollywood in 1929.  Continue reading

Ernesto Gastaldi’s Seminal Giallo

With a tumultuous background of waves crashing against a rocky coast, a descriptive statement from Sigmund Freud on the meaning of libido scrolls down the screen. Part of the Austrian psychoanalyst’s quotation defines libido as “the energy, regarded as a quantitative magnitude… of those instincts which have to do with all that may be comprised under the word ‘love.’” But the film that follows is not about love but rather the perversion of it starting with an opening sequence in which a child witnesses the aftermath of his father’s violent S&M session with a female companion, an incident that scars him for life.     Continue reading