It’s a sad day for Madrid, especially for the barrio of Malasaña. The last video store in the neighborhood has closed. After 14 years of swimming against the tide, Ficciones closed a month ago today. I haven’t been able to rent a video since.
Sadly, I might not have rented one even if it had remained open. I liked Ficciones, don’t get me wrong, but with all the oldies available for free on YouTube and Archive.org, plus all those wonderful series on Netflix, a local video store was more of a nice idea than a regular shopping experience.
And it’s only now that I’m realizing how much I and everyone else screwed up.
Beyond the 1978 original, I have close to zero interest in the Halloween franchise filled with numerous sequels, a partial reboot, a remake, a sequel to the re-make, and now another partial reboot sequel (I think; details on the new film remain unclear at this point). The only other film in the Halloween series that interests me is Halloween III: Season of the Witch, which has no connection to any other series installment. However, Halloween III is ultra-bizarre and it has the benefit of making the best use of the holiday.
The only “slasher” franchise that I’m actually a fan of is Psycho. The original Alfred Hitchcock Psycho is a masterpiece, obviously, but it wasn’t a slasher horror film in the way we define these movies now (i.e. define them post-Halloween). It was one of the critical building blocks of what slasher films would become. Its sequels, however, were released when the slasher film was a firmly established genre. And bizarrely, I’m way into them.
Since I recently did a write up on the original Halloween, it became imperative… imperative … that I chronicle the killing spree of the grandfather of the screen slashers, Norman Bates. Because lists are fun.
Blade Runner is my favorite science fiction movie and it’s probably in my Top 10 Movies of All Time as well. It’s scifi, hard boiled noir with great cinematography. I have the 4-disc Director’s Cut DVD set and a couple soundtrack CDs. I played the PC game through twice and I even have D.K. Jeter’s two not-so-great sequel novels (thank goodness they didn’t turn to those for the sequel!).
I am optimistic that Blade Runner 2049, the sequel out next year, over two decades after the original, will be a good movie. Hampton Fancher, who co-wrote the original Blade Runner script, co-wrote this one as well. And Harrison Ford is back as Rick Deckard. Now, I think that Ridley Scott played a pivotal role in the look and feel of Blade Runner. He is listed as an Executive Producer on the new film, but he is not directing. So, I’m a bit concerned.
In the new film, Ryan Gosling plays Agent K, a young blade runner who discovers a secret which could destroy society. So, he seeks out former blade runner Rick Deckard (Ford), who seems to have been missing for thirty years, for help. Visually, this has the Blade Runner feel. And I can’t stress enough how important that’s going to be. If watching this new film doesn’t take you back to the original, it’s going to be a failure.
We’re back with more Basil Rathbone again this week. Of course, you read last week’s essay about Sherlock Holmes & the Secret Weapon. This week, it’s a look at The Scarlet Claw, which seems to be considered the best of the Universal films (though it’s not my favorite).
First, let me mention the restorations done for the Rathbone films. The UCLA Film and Television Archive has restored over 700 movies and television shows, including all 14 of the Rathbone/Bruce films. I had bad VHS copies of this series and UCLA did a phenomenal job in restoring them. They are a treat to watch.
They also include commentary tracks – some by Holmes author and expert (and my former editor) David Stuart Davies. These DVDs have become more affordable over the years and I highly recommend purchasing these over cheaper, much lower quality discs. Trust me. I used to run the HolmesOnScreen.com website, you know!
Moving on: We can divide Basil Rathbone’s movie career as Holmes into three phases. The first encompasses the two films from Twentieth Century Fox: The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Both of these were set in Victorian England and Rathbone dons the deerstalker and Inverness cape.
Next are the first three Universal films. In Sherlock Holmes & the Voice of Terror, SH & the Secret Weapon and SH in Washington, the great detective is aiding the war effort. These three are more patriotic spy flicks than typical Holmes fare.
It’s reported that in early 1939, movie mogul Daryl Zanuck was at a party when a friend suggested that someone should make movies out of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic detective stories. Zanuck liked the idea, but wondered aloud who should play Holmes. The friend, writer Gene Markey, replied “Basil Rathbone” without hesitation. He then added that Nigel Bruce would make a perfect Watson.
Shortly thereafter, the duo began filming The Hound of the Baskervilles, followed quickly by The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Rathbone’s Hound is still considered the standard, nearly seventy years later. Both, released in 1939, were set in Victorian London, as opposed to the popular Arthur Wontner films of the thirties, which were Edwardian in design.
Surprisingly, Fox decided to pull the plug on the series. Rathbone kept his magnifying glass handy, however, as he and Nigel Bruce were starring as Holmes and Watson in a very popular radio series.
The first three Holmes films at Fox were Word War II thrillers. This isn’t a huge surprise, as the planet was aflame. While the two Fox movies could be seen as reassuring, British escapist fare, a money-focused studio could also look at them as quaint and irrelevant. Holmes fighting evil and bucking up nations entrenched in the good fight made commercial and patriotic sense.
I’m fortunate in that the powers that be at Black Gate let me roam way off topic once in a while. The fantasy stuff isn’t really a stretch, since that’s at the heart of Black Gate itself. Other times, I’m just talking about something I really like. Such as, say, Humphrey Bogart.
Bogart had broken through in 1941 and was still a superstar in 1954, when he made three very different types of movies. The second, Sabrina, was a light-hearted romantic comedy, costarring Audrey Hepburn and William Holden. I actually prefer the remake, with Harrison Ford, Julia Ormond and Gregory Kinnear.
The third, The Barefoot Contessa, was a ponderous, garish melodrama. Four-time Oscar winner Joseph Mankiewicz directed, with Ava Gardner and Edmond O’Brien co-starring. The movie collapses under its own weight.
Say it Again, Sam – Bogie only managed to secure one Oscar: for The African Queen. He certainly deserved more.
In Brooklyn during World War II, a pair of black widows were luring men to their deaths. They preyed upon older, lonely men without family or close friends. With a “Room for rent” sign hanging in the front window of their idyllic-looking home, they fed arsenic-laced wine to their victims. A male relative who lived with them buried the bodies in the basement, with no one the wiser. The women were in fact little old ladies: think Aunt Bee as a serial killer.
But a nephew came over and found a body in window seat – the thirteenth victim. He slowly realized that his two loveable old aunts were killers. Then, his brother, a murderer on the lam from the police, showed up with his lackey in tow. It’s a hardboiled, true crime story that curiously, is largely forgotten today.
Just kidding! It’s actually Arsenic and Old Lace, a smash stage play that became a popular movie starring Cary Grant, Raymond Massey and Peter Lorre. The play ran on Broadway for 1,444 performances and is still in wide use today.
To those who ascribe to Dirk Gently’s belief in the fundamental interconnectedness of everything (the working premise that made him the holistic detective that he was), you might be able to tie together today’s rambling post. If you do, feel free to explain it to me. My Sherlockian approach failed miserably in the attempt. I got to the point where, once I had eliminated the impossible, whatever remained, however improbably, must be the truth. Except what remained was still impossible.
And since I’m talking about a mega-successful series, that has sold/rated well in almost every medium short of Mime, you don’t get a Spoiler Alert. If you’re not familiar with Adams’ works, I don’t know why you’re reading this post anyways. Go read/watch/play/listen to some incarnation of this stuff.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is my favorite Douglas Adams book (many folks would like me to explain how that could be!). But I first came to Adams’ just like everybody else: through The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Note I use the unhyphenated spelling.
I wouldn’t tackle that controversy without downing at least two Pan Galactic Gargleblasters first. And since I would lose consciousness two swallows into the first one, we can put that issue to bed right now. And I don’t mean on one of the follopping mattresses from the swamps of Sqornshellous Zeta, either. There.
Now we can move along. Though if you want to delve deeper into the issue on your own, see Don’t Panic: The Official Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Companion by Neil Gaiman – pages 50-51.
My wife and I enjoy watching murder mystery movies on Hallmark. More accurately, the Hallmark Movies and Mystery Channel (HMMC). Many of them had previously run on the Hallmark Channel that most folks are more familiar with. My previous cable provider didn’t provide HMMC at the tier I purchased, and many of my friends don’t have it either. It’s out there, but it’s not a low-tier feature in many systems.
Which is a shame, because there’s a lot of viewing for mystery fans. They air reruns of shows such as Hart to Hart, Matlock, Diagnosis Murder, Murder She Wrote and Perry Mason. And a staple of the schedule is Columbo. I haven’t seen every episode, but I’ve seen many of them several times and I never get tired of watching Peter Falk do his thing. “Uh, say, just one more thing…”
I also like a couple of old Hallmark franchises that have come to rest at HMMC.
Most folks knew Kellie Martin first as cute little Beckie (Becca) Thatcher in Life Goes On (a poignant, well done series) and later on as nurse Lucy Knight in ER. But from 2003 through 2007, she made eleven Mystery Woman movies for Hallmark. She played bookstore owner Samantha Kinsey, who constantly found herself involved in murders (that’s going to be a common theme in this post).
For many (especially of a certain age), the image of Doctor Watson is that of a buffoon who provides little assistance and lots of laughs. And the “credit” for that perception can be laid at the feet of Nigel Bruce. Bruce appeared in fourteen popular movies opposite Basil Rathbone’s beloved Holmes, and he also played the good doctor in well over two hundred radio plays – most with Rathbone.
In the first two films, The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, he was a bit of a clown. But after the franchise shifted from Fox to Universal, that portrayal was understated compared to the next twelve movies he made with Rathbone. The scripts called for Bruce to play a dolt – his daughter said that the disappointed Bruce made up the term ‘Boobus Brittanicus’ to describe his un-Doyle like character.
The poem below appeared in Punch Magazine. Unfortunately, after digging through my shelves, I cannot find where I got this from (I thought that it was one of Peter Haining’s books, but that didn’t pan out). But it is from the nineteen forties, when Rathbone was the brilliant, active Holmes and Bruce provided comic relief.
I think it’s both an amusing and insightful commentary on the Bruce phenomenon:
The stately Holmes of England, how beautiful he stood
Long, long ago in Baker Street – and still in Hollywood
He keeps the ancient flair for clues, the firm incisive chin,
The deerstalker, the dressing gown, the shag, the violin.
But Watson, Doctor Watson! How altered, how betrayed
The fleet of foot, the warrior once, the faster than Lestrade!
What imbecile production, what madness for the moon
Has screened my glorious Watson as well nigh a buffoon?