Lost in the Movies: Remembering the Movies, Feb. 11 - 17

Remembering the Movies, Feb. 11 - 17

Every Friday, we look back at films released 10-100 years ago this week.
Visit Remembering the Movies to further peruse the past

Concerning the above picture, a trend continues and another resumes today. Firstly, we have the second 1931 film in a row. I like to change the highlighted year week to week, just to spice things up. But this week, as with last week, a pick from the Great Depression seems inevitable (and this particular image seems oddly appropriate for Valentine's Day). Meanwhile, after the lovable Little Tramp topped last week's entry, we return to the villainous focus which has characterized 2011 up to now: as with every other week of the year so far, a fascinating bad guy steals the top spot.  It's also nice to bring things full circle, because back in November I used Bela Lugosi's hypnotic image to solicit blog links for a year-end round-up. This Monday, after many delays, that round-up will finally be unveiled. In the mean time...

10 years ago (February 12, 2001)

"Reeves matches Theron note for note, and in the end -- perhaps because there are fewer hyperdramatic demands placed on his character -- he ends up being even more likable, and more believable, than she is. In his early scenes, Reeves plays a stone-cold ad guy as a cartoon version of the kind of actor critics and viewers have often accused him of being: wooden, remote and overly cool in a bland way. But as the story heats up, he warms to it gracefully, like a dancer hitting his stride. His facial expressions work as a counterpoint to the movie's screwier scenarios. His eyebrows telegraph his incredulity at Sara's goofier shenanigans, and you realize this is a leading man you can trust. He's not one of those guys who fall for the spacey beauty just on principle. 

At this point, the critics and viewers who've written off Reeves as a no-talent aren't likely to ever change their minds. If this performance and his creepy redneck turn in The Gift don't turn people on to his subtle spark, then it's simply time to write them off. Still, Sweet November isn't quite the right vehicle for Reeves as a romantic lead. He doesn't have a particularly broad range, but he's possessed of an exceptional, level-headed sweetness that's his alone, and a sharper, drier, more angular story would serve him better." - Stephanie Zacharek, Salon

20 years ago (February 15, 1991)
"Chase turns in his usual low-energy, low-output performance here. If it were at all possible to do so, I very much suspect that Chase would deliver every performance while napping in a La-Z-Boy recliner. The tragically misused Candy and Aykroyd here embody comic grotesques that amply live up to the second part of the comic-grotesque equation but come up short on the "comic" part. The only time I even came close to laughing during the entire film was when special guest stars Digital Underground (featuring a hanger-on who'd go on to a little bit of fame as 2Pac) refer to Aykroyd's abode as 'Extremely Draculated'. Aykroyd embraces icky prosthetics and repugnant make-up with the outsized glee of a virginal Fangoria subscriber but neglected to add 'gags' to his constant gross-out attacks. Watching Aykroyd fill every last molecule of the screen with stomach-churning ugliness is like watching a disturbed preteen boy proudly display a giant map of the U.S.A made entirely out of the internal organs of roadkill: no matter how much care and thought went into it it's still disgusting and pointless. Nothing But Trouble is the antithesis of a 'hang out movie'. Aykroyd here has lovingly, meticulously created a hideous, grotesque nightmare world nobody in their right mind would want to visit the first time around, let alone return to." - Nathan Rabin, The A.V. Club

30 years ago (February 11, 1981)

"This film is an embarrassment. Contempo Perils of Pauline sees earnest, dedicated Egyptologist Lesley-Anne Down through countless situations of dire jeopardy as she travels from Cairo to Luxor's Valley of the Kings in pursuit of a mysterious tomb of riches, which also holds great interest for black marketeers." - Variety

"For a film to succeed, it must be loved, not only by its audience but by its makers: if they fail to show it care and commitment, treating it as a product that needs tailoring to sanitized marketing concepts or failing to take into account the personalities of those involved, then its suffers like a child neglected. Filmmakers must love every film they make with as much passion and devotion as they can humanly muster. Filmmakers like Schaffner – who has modern parallels in J. J. Abrams, Jon Favreau or Chris Columbus – deny the opportunities presented through full exploration of the cinematic spectacle and its relation to a film’s unique material by condemning cinema and the film-making process as a profession rather than a vocation." - Brett Gerry Films

Sphinx (1981)

40 years ago (February 17, 1971)
"With all that in mind, what makes Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay so much more than your run-of-the-mill Euro- sleaze opus is that the film plays out beautifully in an almost dreamlike state. Additionally, the execution of what might be considered stilted dialogue at best is often wickedly funny. Another thing that stands this film apart from the rest of the legions of Rollin-esque sycophants is that it viciously avoids the pitfalls of the genre. That is to say, that the film is erotic with out ever once being gratuitous. Indeed even the final [climactic] (sorry, I just had to say it once) orgy sequence is much more Eyes Wide Shut than it is Caligula. That is as high a compliment as any I can fathom giving an early 1970’s sapphic erotic fantasy." - Severed Cinema

Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Faye (1971)

50 years ago (February 15, 1961)
"Perhaps the film's biggest strength is to highlight the frustration of having motivation and hard work matter much less than connections and money. The film walks a fine line between optimism and pessimism, but in its darker moments it offers a harsh critique of the economic foundations of society. Hope comes in the form of human generosity, whether from the understanding son of the family's creditor or the middle-aged housemaid who becomes romantically involved with the father. (A date that the older couple takes to a movie theater to see Chunhyang-jeon is one of the film's most fondly-remembered scenes.) The Coachman was the first Korean film to win a major overseas award, taking home the Silver Bear (Special Jury Prize) from the 1961 Berlin International Film Festival. It has since become recognized as one of the classics of Golden Age Korean cinema. Although somewhat overshadowed by the achievements of its contemporaries The Housemaid (1960) and Obaltan (1961), The Coachman remains a crowd-pleaser and a touching portrait of a society in transition." - Darcy Paquet, Darcy's Korean Film Page

"As implied by his profession, coachman Chun-sam is a character who navigates the modern period with a pre-modern identity and mindset. ... Coachmen are obsolete in modern society. Chun-sam's existence is perpetually threatened by characters like his creditors and his boss, who embody the modern social order. His children are similarly subjected to various hardships, the main reason for which is the mere fact that they are 'the children of a coachman.'" - Korean Film Archive

The Coachman (1961)

60 years ago (February 17, 1951)
"Though saccharine and unrealistic, this sentimental piece of Americana is enjoyable all the same. The tempestuous Hayward liked director King, who treated her with kid gloves and was to become her favorite helmsman, but she resented being costarred with Lundigan, a B-film leading man. While on location outside of Dawsonville, Georgia, Hayward got absorbed in taking some snapshots of the breathtaking scenery of Amicolola Falls. She was backing up while taking the photographs and didn't notice that she was about to step into space and fall into a 729-foot gorge. Studio chauffeur Will Gray spotted her and, in seconds, darted to her side to catch her at the last second before the actress plummeted to certain death." - TV Guide

"I'd Climb the Highest Mountain, which Producer Lamar Trotti has derived from a novel by Corra Harris, A Circuit-Rider's Wife, is not what you'd call a picture with a strong dramatic plot, rising to peaks of high excitement or theatrical suspense. It is rather a loosely rambling recount of touching and amusing episodes in the lives of a country parson and his inexperienced city-bred wife as they patiently devote themselves to the service of the people back in the hills. But it is done with such winning affection and it is so agreeably played by William Lundigan as the parson that it carries a warm and cheering glow. Some of the episodes may strike you as a bit artificial or contrived, as often the stilted behavior of self-conscious rustics is. For instance, the sudden arrival of a rich city lady in Mossy Creek, casting eyes at the unsuspecting parson while presumably learning the Scriptures from him, is a little on the quaint side, and so is the fluttery display of female retaliation on the part of the parson's wife." - Bosley Crowther, New York Times

70 years ago (February 14, 1941)

80 years ago (February 12, 1931)

"Adding to the impact of the film are the Gothic sets by Charles D. Hall, the indicatively campy yet genuinely unsettling performance of Dwight Frye as insect-eating sidekick Renfield, and some of Browning's fleeting but unforgettable shots (like the boom to the ground as an intensely hungry Renfield, his eyes practically popping out of his head, crawls on hands and knees towards the comatose body of a nurse whose blood he hopes to suck). This is a film whose imagery and story have become such familiar cliches, that it's almost a surprise to go back to the original and discover its primal power, even amidst all the dated elements and labored plot mechanics (and the film does start to sag a bit in the final third, as everyone seems to be struggling to delay the inevitable climax).

What's ultimately so creepy about Lugosi's Count Dracula is that he isn't entirely an inhuman ogre, like Nosferatu. Rather, Dracula is part 'us', part 'other' - for example, he inhabits the body of a man, yet casts no reflection in a mirror. This uneasy, undefined border zone in which both Dracula and Dracula exist makes the vampire and his film all the more unsettling, even today. It won't make you jump out of your seat, but images and moments might follow you around for the rest of the day and, what's more important, into the night." - me, November 2009

Dracula (1931)

90 years ago (February 13, 1921)
"This hilarious slapstick comedy from Mack Sennett finds Sam Smith, the resident of a small town, accused of stealing. The jealous villain J. Wellington Jones orchestrated Sam's frame-up to keep him from wooing Mary, the prettiest single girl in town. Sam moves to Hollywood where he meets movie-star Marcelle Mansfield. He manages to get into the film business and stars as a Roman gladiator, but his helmet keeps slipping down over his crossed eyes. He gets a job as a stuntman when he tries to kill himself and lands a part as a western hero." - Dan Pavlides, Allmovie

100 years ago (February 13, 1911)

"Many of Griffith's early works at Biograph champion the cause of the working poor, but seldom with the white-hot indignation he and his crew display here. The fact that What Shall We Do With Our Old? was based on a true story undoubtedly boosted everyone's efforts, and it's all the more impressive that the approach is so restrained, given the period. Miller is first-rate in the lead role, and most of the other performances are low-key and contained. As for the writing, Miller's moving performance in the final scene is complemented by the memorable wording of the final title card: 'Nothing for the Useful Citizen Wounded in the Battle of Life.'" - wmorrow59, IMDb

What Shall We Do with Our Old? (1911)


Jaime Grijalba said...

After quite some time I comment here again. There wasn't one movie in the last weeks that I had seen, which is a bit sad, but now I have seen one of them, the one with the image at the top.
I like Dracula, even if it's not my favorite film from Universal in 1931 (That would be Frankenstein), but I think it's quite good and extremely scary on its own.
But I prefer the spanish version for some reason, not a language thing, but maybe a scene structure and a more complete story.

Joel Bocko said...

I've been intrigued since I heard about it, but haven't seen the Spanish version yet. I understand it's actually aesthetically much more adventurous than the English-language film, but I suspect I'd still prefer the more famous version; however creaky it is, it's got Lugosi and some hard-to-pinpoint elemental charm.

Stephen said...


This is the first week in a while where I haven't seen any of these - not even DRACULA. Although the book is very well written, I've never been excited by the story on screen.

SPHINX sounds interesting (I'll check it out if I can) and the quote from Stephanie Zacharek (one of the best critics around in my opinion) on Keanu Reeves is good to read. He's not a particularly brilliant actor but he has something about him.

I was actually going to ask about Blog 10 so I'm happy you haven't a stake through its heart.

Sam Juliano said...

Yep, Dracula is a curious choice for Valentine's Day, but there's still a connection.

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