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Ellsworth’s Cinema of Swords: Flynn’s Last Flourishes

Ellsworth’s Cinema of Swords: Flynn’s Last Flourishes

The Adventures of Don Juan (Warner Bros, 1948)

Errol Flynn’s late-career swashbucklers are widely considered mediocre efforts, desperate attempts by an aging and fading star to recapture his youthful popularity, but that sells the films short. It’s true that by the late Forties, Flynn could no longer match the vigor and charm of his performances in Captain Blood (1935), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), and The Sea Hawk (1940) … but really, who could? Compared to any other standard, Flynn’s later sword-slingers are average at worst and mostly better than that. Flynn wasn’t keen to make most of these pictures; he was well aware that he wasn’t the athletic rascal he’d been almost twenty years before, but he was still a solid leading man and now and then the old charm shone through. Enjoy these films for what they have to offer, and you won’t be sorry.

The Adventures of Don Juan

Rating: ***
Origin: USA, 1948
Director: Vincent Sherman
Source: Warner Bros. DVD

Errol Flynn had given up doing swashbucklers after The Sea Hawk (1940), but with the revival of the historical adventure genre in the late ‘40s, Warner Bros. gave him a sword and put him back in trunk-hose for The Adventures of Don Juan.  It must be said, Flynn doesn’t seem entirely comfortable in the role of Don Juan de Maraña, the scandal-plagued womanizing rogue who is forced to give up his naughty ways and turn over a new leaf. After disgracing himself by plucking forbidden fruit at the English Court, Don Juan is summoned back to Madrid by the Queen of Spain (Viveca Lindfors) and commanded to reform. And, however improbably, he does, because his soul is purified for the first time by his true love … for the queen herself. (No, really.) Unfortunately, purged of the rakish qualities that made the character distinctive, Don Juan becomes a conventional noble who gets entangled in conventional court intrigues, saving the queen from a conventional treasonous minister by foiling his conventional plot at the last minute—as usual.

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Goth Chick News: Zombie Takes on The Munsters

Goth Chick News: Zombie Takes on The Munsters

I’m not sure how I feel about this.

Normally there are always mixed feelings when a beloved sitcom heads to the big screen. Will a movie with high production values ruin the original charm? Will what seemed incredibly entertaining on the small screen, come off as cheesy on the big one? And maybe most importantly, what actors could possibly do justice to the characters we grew up with?

And honestly, the results here are extremely mixed. On the positive end of the spectrum, you have the 1964 show The Addams Family, whose movie iterations (1991 & 1995) were very artfully translated, charm intact, from the source material. In the middle you have shows like Lost in Space (1965) and Star Trek (1966) whose big screen iterations were fun, if a bit uneven. But then you have the complete “OMG why???” examples such as Dark Shadows (1966), whose 2012 remake was a hot mess, at least in my opinion.

But this week we learned about a new film adaptation of The Munsters (1964) that comes with a whole lot of mixed emotions. On the one hand, this does seem long overdue. There was a Munsters movie back in 1966 starring the original cast, which was released directly following the cancellation of the TV show. And though there have been three other revivals of the characters, with the last one being in 1996, all were made for television. So, it seems like the time had come to see The Munsters get the Hollywood treatment.

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Ellsworth’s Cinema of Swords: Hu’s On First

Ellsworth’s Cinema of Swords: Hu’s On First

Come Drink With Me (Hong Kong, 1966)

Even if you’re not a big fan of wuxia, or Chinese historical martial arts films, you’ve certainly seen Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, so you’re aware of their distinctive visual style. That style, of course, didn’t come out of nowhere, it developed over time, and can be traced back to the work of one man, writer-director King Hu, the creator of the modern wuxia movie. This week we’re looking at Hu’s first three hugely influential films, which established the tropes, look, and feel of the genre in the Asian cinema of the late Sixties.

Come Drink With Me

Rating: *****
Origin: Hong Kong, 1966
Director: King Hu
Source: 88 Films Blu-ray

Sometime during the Ming Dynasty, a government official commands a file of troops who are escorting wheeled cages bearing captive bandits to prison. Suddenly they’re stopped by a white-robed man with a petition, demanding the release of the leader of the Five Tigers criminal gang. The petition is refused, and the response of the Five Tigers is instant: the troops are slain in a bloody massacre and their commander, the son of the local governor, is captured as a hostage. What can the governor do but send the Golden Swallow to rescue him?

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Ellsworth’s Cinema of Swords: Bard’s Tales

Ellsworth’s Cinema of Swords: Bard’s Tales

Romeo and Juliet, 1936

William Shakespeare was the greatest playwright in history (fight me!), but his record as a screenwriter is, shall we say, uneven. There’s a long list of films adapted from or inspired by the works of the Bard of Avon, but most of them are considerably less memorable than their sources. However, sometimes a filmmaker steps up and meets the challenge and the result is a movie one can watch over and over with admiration and pleasure. Here are three films based on Shakespeare that also play regularly at our notional Theatre of the Crossed Swords. [Insert favorite Shakespeare quote here!]

Romeo and Juliet

Rating: *****
Origin: USA, 1936
Director: George Cukor
Source: Warner Bros. DVD

What’s Romeo and Juliet doing in the Cinema of Swords? Isn’t that a love story? It is, but this version is a love story punctuated by four superb rapier duels, three of them involving Basil Rathbone, and one of those is against Leslie Howard — that’s right, Sherlock Holmes crosses swords with the Scarlet Pimpernel!

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Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: The Art of Darkness

Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: The Art of Darkness

The Night Gallery on DVD

Few things in life are more trying than playing second fiddle to a sibling whose charm, poise, good looks and dazzling achievements you can never hope to match. Just ask Night Gallery, forever standing in the shadow of one of the most legendary and beloved of all television shows, The Twilight Zone. (At this point I am morally – if not legally – required to disclose that I am a spoiled youngest child who got every freakin’ thing he ever wanted, at least according to my sister.)

In case you need reminding, Night Gallery was an outré-story anthology show hosted by Rod Serling that ran for three seasons on NBC, from 1969 through 1973. Each hour-long episode featured two, three, or even four separate stories (at least until the third season, when the show’s running time was cut back to a half hour), which Serling, in his role as the curator of a museum of the macabre, would introduce with a painting (or occasionally a piece of sculpture) illustrative of the tale, hence the series name.

Night Gallery shares many qualities with its predecessor, but several things distinguish it from the earlier show. Like Twilight Zone, Night Gallery was created by Rod Serling and he wrote some or all of over half of the episodes, but he did not produce the series. This was a big change and it meant that he had far less authority over Night Gallery than he did over his previous creation. (As the creator and face of the show, he thought that his wishes would be respected even without the producing title, but it often didn’t turn out that way.)

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American Gods on the Small Screen

American Gods on the Small Screen

Like most of you, I read and enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, so I was happy to see it get the premium specialty TV treatment, although I didn’t have the time or the right subscriptions to watch it until this year. I just binged all three seasons, and it’s a gem. It has a few flaws, the most major being its pacing, which might be why Starz dropped it after season three, but even these three seasons are a work of art.

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The Japanese Giant Monster Golden Era Ends: Space Amoeba (1970)

The Japanese Giant Monster Golden Era Ends: Space Amoeba (1970)

Earlier this week, while collating ideas for writing about the history of a particular giant monster who recently played a featured role in Godzilla vs. Kong (but who is neither Godzilla nor Kong), an alien sensation suddenly overpowered me. I had to go watch another giant monster movie, one I hadn’t given any attention to in fifteen years: Space Amoeba

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Ellsworth’s Cinema of Swords: I Heard You Like Swords

Ellsworth’s Cinema of Swords: I Heard You Like Swords

The Sword and the Rose (Walt Disney, 1953)

What? Has Lawrence run out of theme ideas? Has the well gone dry at last? Perish the thought! I was just looking at my list and saw there were several movies with “Sword” in the title that we hadn’t covered yet, and they’re all worth discussing, so here we are.

The Sword and the Rose

Rating: ***
Origin: UK/USA, 1953
Director: Ken Annakin
Source: Walt Disney Home Video

This is based on the popular 1898 novel When Knighthood Was in Flower by Charles Major, a Victorian historical romance that had been filmed twice before in the silent era, and has just enough swashbuckling in it for inclusion here. Despite its title, it’s not set in medieval times but during the early reign of King Henry VIII, telling the story of his sister, Princess Mary Tudor, and her (largely unhistorical) love for Charles Brandon, a mere captain of the guard. Brandon is played by Disney’s chosen leading man of the time, Richard Todd, in perhaps his best performance, though he was better known for Dam Busters (1955). Princess Mary is played by Glynis Johns, who has the impossible task of making her willful and selfish character seem adorable, but she’s so good she almost pulls it off. The leads are supported by a cast of fine British actors that includes James Robertson Justice as King Henry, Michael Gough as the Duke of Buckingham, and Rosalie Crutchley as Queen Katherine, all benefiting from a strong script with a lot of cutting gibes and haughty rejoinders.

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Goth Chick News: Finally – The Girls Get to Howl…

Goth Chick News: Finally – The Girls Get to Howl…

All the wonderful film fests in the US and Canada have been forced to go virtual over the last year, but that hasn’t stopped them from showcasing a very creative run of new films; and this one might be my favorite.

Fantastic Fest, which normally takes place in Austin, TX, is the largest genre film festival in the US. Specializing in horror, fantasy, sci-fi and action movies from around the globe, the festival is dedicated to showcasing challenging and though-provoking cinema from new voices in the industry. Like other film fests, the best of the movies which premier here, get picked up for wider distribution.

The virtual version of Fantastic Fest 2020 was home to a new werewolf movie, written by Wendy Hill-Tout along with her daughter, Elizabeth Lowell Boland, known by stage name Lowell, a Canadian singer, songwriter and producer. Admittedly, I had never heard of Lowell until now, though she has released two full-length albums, and her song Palm Trees featured as soundtrack in EA Sports game, FIFA 15. I wish I could say differently about her Mom, Hill-Tout, but alas, I cannot. She has primarily been a producer throughout her career, according to IMDB. But as a writing team, Hill-Tout and Lowell seem to have created cinematic magic in the form of the film Bloodthirsty.

Newbie director Amelia Moses of course gets credit here, as does the acting of star Lauren Beatty (Jigsaw), but to me, all really great monster movies start with a great script. And this one is a doozy.

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Ellsworth’s Cinema of Swords: Mongols, Cossacks, and Tartars

Ellsworth’s Cinema of Swords: Mongols, Cossacks, and Tartars

The Conqueror (1956)

Let’s get barbaric! Preferably on horseback in central or western Asia. Our first movie, John Wayne as Genghis Khan in The Conqueror, is so terrible that it’s famous for being terrible, while our second film, The Tartars, is just as terrible but unfairly and surprisingly overlooked, especially since one of its stars is Orson Welles. Ah, but our third movie, Taras Bulba…. Now that’s good stuff. So, ferment some milk, shave your skull except for a scalplock, and leave your effete civilizations behind, because we’re going steppin’ on the Steppes!

(And by the way, if this kind of setting is to your taste, you’re going to love the Harold Lamb short story collections edited by our own Howard Andrew Jones, stories that were a major inspiration and influence for Robert E. Howard. The books, including all four volumes of The Complete Cossack Adventures, plus Swords from the Desert, Swords from the West, Swords from the East, and Swords from the Sea, are still available in digital format — and if you move quickly, there may still be a few print copies left.

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