Freaks

This is a 1932 film I had been wanting to see for quite some time, and when I chanced upon it on YouTube I had to watch it there and then.

I was expecting this to be a blatant exploitation film, just a film version of a circus freak sideshow, which it was for some part. But mostly it did not portray the various actual circus performers in a disrespectful way, and by the end of the film they were basically revengeful heroes.

The main character was Hans, a German dwarf who falls in love with a trapeze artist in the travelling circus they are part of. The trapeze artist, Cleopatra, learns that Hans has inherited a large amount of money, so she and Hercules (the strongman of course) conspire to get into that money. Hans has a dwarf lady friend (played by his actual sister), and she loved him, so things get messy quickly.

Other actors included a man who had no arms or legs, the bearded lady, Stork Woman, conjoined twins, and Schlitzie (also called ‘Pinhead’). Each of them was given a little time in the film so we could observe their various traits. There were also side stories, some of which were quite silly, including the love quadrangle between the conjoined twins, one of the twins’ husband, and another chap who proposed to the other twin. And the story of the bearded lady having a baby.

I wasn’t expecting much going into this, but by the end I was quite impressed and was hoping Cleopatra would get what is coming to her, which she did in a very bizarre fashion.

From Wikipedia: Following disastrous test screenings in January 1932 (one woman threatened to sue MGM, claiming the film had caused her to suffer a miscarriage),[6] the studio cut the picture down from its original 90-minute running time to just over an hour. Much of the sequence of the freaks attacking Cleopatra as she lies under a tree was removed, as well as a gruesome sequence showing Hercules being castrated, a number of comedy sequences, and most of the film’s original epilogue.

The final cut is 59 minutes long.

It was a financial disaster when it came out, and was banned all over the place due to it’s “outrageous and repulsive” content. The director made only three more films after this, the film had ruined him. The actress playing Cleopatra hoped this film would boost her waning career, but she too was finished after this.

It was banned in the U.K. until 1963, and upon release was given an X-rating. It became a cult film in the 1960’s.

Researching the various actors in the film I was surprised to see that many lived to a ripe old age despite their physical or mental deficiencies. Schlitzie died aged 70 after a long life of mostly performing, something he loved doing (he had a mental age of 3). The actor playing Hans died aged 83, and Koo-Koo lived into her 80’s.

It is a very good thing people are not being treated like this anymore, either on film or in circus acts, but I found this to be an almost sympathetic look at how these people lived. They were not portrayed as monsters, but instead as quite happy and positive people who enjoyed a good time.

Well worth a watch as this is a significant film in many ways.

Date watched: June 30th
Score: 8/10
Film count 2019: 19

Diamond Trail

This is a 1933 pre-code film about the daring adventures of newspaper reporter “Speed” Morgan and his run-in with gangster boss “Flash” Barrett.

Here is the full synopsis from IMDB: Reporter “Speed’ Morgan helps gangster “Flash” Barrett escape an ambush by rival gangster Mullin’s henchmen, and then escape the pursuing police. Posing as a wanted gangster named “Frisco” Eddie, Morgan is made a member of the gang and goes West with them as Barrett is looking for rancher Bill Miller, who was his in-between man on stolen diamonds until Miller dropped a package, found out it contained diamonds and hid and kept them. Miller’s sister, Lois, is unaware of her brother’s connection to the eastern gangsters.

“Hiya Doll!”

This is very simple story telling, and also made very simply. It is all-round simple.

It is also quite genre bending. The film starts off as a 1933 modern day style film, with the moider of a rival gang member by “Flash” barret, which “Speed” Morgan witnesses. Sensing a scoop he helps “Flash” flee the scene of the crime in the hope that he can infiltrate the gang, which he does. We are then introduced to the main plot of the story which takes place in the Wild and Woolly West. The gang members actually drive into a Western town like the one in Gunsmoke or Rawhide in a gangster-style convertible jalopy. The town’s folk are all dressed in cowboy garb of course, and all ride horses instead of driving cars, although there is a car in the town that they can rent if they need it.

“Tell me where da ice is at, or I’ll plug ya. See?”

It is as though the film producers thought it would be a great idea to mix a gangster land story with a western. Perhaps 1930’s America was actually like that…no idea.

Something I really liked is that everyone was wearing a hat of some sorts… those were the days!

Kirk Douglas was 17 years old when this film was made.

Silly entertainment, but entertaining it was, and thought-provoking on many existential levels.

Date watched: February 24th
Score: 6/10
Film count 2019: 4

Sunset Murder Case

I felt like watching an old noir film last night, so I chose this 1938 crime story on YouTube.


Not sure what is going on with the film title in this poster

The story was muddled, but basically it was about a showgirl that had returned from Europe where she was the toast of the town. But her father, a police dude was moidered while investigating the murder of a woman on Sunset strip. She wanted to get revenge on the rat that did it, so with the help of her police beau and another cop, she cooked up a plan to find the killer by posing as a singer in a nightclub where she suspected the crims were hanging out. There was also a reporter involved, a blonde bimbo (played by the excellently named “Sugar Kane”), and several other characters which really made following it all quite confusing. There were no car chases, although there was a nutty crash where a guy pushed a car in the path of another slow-moving car which then promptly fell over onto it’s side, seriously injuring the dame inside…cars in those days were death-traps.

There were plenty of fedora hats.

The main actor was Sally Rand who back in the day was well-known as a dancer who specialised in a dance routine with a giant bubble-ball. She was also known for her “fan dance”.


Doin’ the Bubble

So of course the director or Sally herself just had to include her doing her thing in the film. But, for some reason the whole bubble dance routine was completely silent, so I skipped over most of it (it lasted a while). She sang a couple of tunes later on, which I also skipped over.

The story as I said was muddled and confusing, I gave up trying to figure out who was whom, and what the heck was happening, and just waited for it to finish. At only 59 minutes long I was glad I didn’t have to wait long.

The final scene wrapped up the climactic ending in less than a minute, I guess they ran out of money, or film.

The acting, directing, and cinematography was all very B-grade stuff, I can’t think of anything going for it.

Date watched: June 24th
Score: 2/10
Film count 2018: 37

Sabotage

This is a 1937 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and is a story of terrorism in London.

Alf had made quite a few films before this one, in fact his first was in 1920, but even so this didn’t really have the feel of a Hitchcock film. It seemed a bit sloppy at times, and some of the situations were a bit contrived. The acting was fine though, and the quality of the film was very good, especially when you consider that this was made 81 years ago.

What really made this film though was the ending, which was quite shocking, even by today’s standards. I won’t go into details, but I will say it involves a boy unwittingly carrying a ticking time-bomb on a bus. Even Alfie had reservations about the scene (Alf kept to the ending of the book that this was based on).

To my surprise this has a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the ending probably has a lot to do with that.

Worth a watch, but mostly for Hitchcock fans. Two years later he would go to America and make his first film there, Rebecca.

Date watched: December 22nd
Score: 7/10
Film count 2017: 143

Doctor Syn

Doctor Syn is the main character in a series of books about pirates, smugglers, Marsh Phantoms, and skulduggery. I am currently reading the third book in the series which is a rollicking good one too. Last night I decided to watch another Doctor Syn film having already seen the excellent Captain Clegg with Peter Cushing.

This film was made in 1937 and starred George Arliss (born Augustus George Andrews) who was a successful British actor in the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s. It was based on the first book in the series and some of the filming was done in Dymchurch which is where the original story is based (Dymchurch has a celebration of the novels every two years).

The film itself was quite average, but because of the book I found it fun to see the story I know well in moving pictures and sound, even if it was 80 years old.

It would be great to see a modern blockbuster version of this film. The Clooney would be perfect as the dashing Doctor Syn/Captain Clegg, with Joe Pesci as the Sexton Mipps. It would certainly give the awful Pirates of the Caribbean series a good thrashing. One can but dream.

Date watched: September 28th
Score: 6/10
Film count 2017: 109

Stand-In

I watched this mostly because it has The Humph, although he was not the main character in this 1937 film.

Leslie Howard (read about him on Wikipedia, tragically killed during the war) starred as a math-whizz who is put in charge of finding out why a poverty row film studio is losing money. The Humph plays a producer who is trying to save the studio, but is being undermined by people who want it to go bust.

Joan Blondell, a name I have heard before, plays the love interest of Leslie’s character, and she is one of the highlights, along with Leslie and The Humph of course.

The script is quite funny at times, and is all in all an entertaining romp poking fun at Hollywood itself.

There was one funny scene where an angry mob of studio workers get their hands on a studio executive who was in on the conspiracy to bankrupt the studio. Several workers grab him and sending him flying over a concrete wall that must have been at least 4 m high, we didn’t actually see them throw him, but we saw a stuntman really fly!

stand-in

According to Wikipedia this film made a profit of just $9,274 (US$156,000 in today’s money), which is kind of surprising.

The Humph at this time was not a leading man, and had his first success in film only a year earlier in The Petrified Forest, also starring Leslie Howard, as well as Bette Davis. The Humph played a gangster, which at the time he was typecast as in a few films including Angels With Dirty Faces. And I just realised that he is not on the MBMS Page Of Fame, which is a travesty, so he is now.

Date watched: March 3rd
Score: 8/10
Film count 2017: 44

King Kong

I have been wanting to watch this for a while, and as it is on the AFI list of top 100 films (number 43 actually) I decided to finally watch it.

It is easy to see why this is on the top 100 list. The special effects in this were quite outstanding for the 1930’s, and the story was mostly thrilling and fun to watch. The read on Wikipedia about how they did the special effects is an interesting read, and was quite complicated.

Some of the acting was not all that good, and the portrayal of the natives on the island was a bit racist, although in those days it wouldn’t have been viewed as such.

I may have to watch Peter Jackson’s remake again (I can’t find a review for it on this site) to see how it compares.

Date watched: February 11th
Score: 9/10
Film count 2017: 34

king_kong_1933_french_poster