You can never have enough of the Universal Monsters so it’s a good day when you learn you have more ways to watch.
Starting Jan. 15, NBCUniversal’s YouTube channel “Fear: The Home of Horror” is hosting seven movies starring such iconic creatures as “Frankenstein,” “The Bride of Frankenstein” and “The Mummy.” You can watch each film for free for one week from the premiere date and also purchase discounted digital copies of the films.
Here’s the schedule, with films set to be released at 3 p.m. EST:
For longtime fans, this is simply another place to catch these films again, even if it’s just for a week. But this move also helps introduce the films to new viewers who may stumble upon them while looking at Fear’s more modern content like “Jaws,” “Chucky,” “The Invisible Man” (2020) and TV shows like “The Purge” and “Bates Motel.”
Recently “Fear,” which has more than a million subscribers, has been stocking up on some interesting Universal classics material including trailers, explainers, scenes and character introductions making it a good resource to find content on the Universal monsters. There’s some fun stuff, too, like side-by-side comparisons of the 1933 and 2020 versions of “The Invisible Man.”
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Many film fans wrestle with the topic of movie remakes. I fought the idea until I realized that some of my favorite films are remakes. (Another version of “Jane Eyre”? Yes, please.) Sometimes they work – and work very well. Other times, they aren’t successful. It seems to only be fair to give them a chance then – even if it takes you a while.
From the first time I watched the 1945 film “The Enchanted Cottage,” I fell so deeply under its spell that I remember thinking it could never be remade. It’s not for everyone – especially in today’s cynical world. It’s so unabashedly sentimental and fantastical that it’s understandable if it’s too much for some, but on an emotional level, it was perfect for me.
Why that one of all movies? Why not “The Wizard of Oz,” “Casablanca” or another film so extraordinary or beloved that talk of a remake would be universally bashed? Why would I pick this lovely, but little film that isn’t well known except in classic movie circles?
It’s as simple as its sweet title. This enchanting story works through the lens of a fairy tale that is very much of a time gone by. It’s about a disfigured war veteran and “homely” young woman who heal together through the magic of a cottage. The black and white film is colored by shadows and candlelight, lending it a dreamy look that casts the viewer under a spell. It is the embodiment of “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” not a phrase the modern world fully embraces judging by our preoccupation with youth serums, injections and anti-aging treatments.
About three years ago, a film called “The Enchanted Cottage” popped up on Amazon Prime. Hoping it was just a film with the same name, I watched the trailer and realized it was definitely a remake. I didn’t have the heart to watch.
Then I learned my beloved 1945 movie was a remake of a 1924 film that was based off a play. It was time, then, to watch two other versions of “The Enchanted Cottage” that were made more than 90 years apart.
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The story of ‘The Enchanted Cottage’
“The Enchanted Cottage: A Fable in Three Acts” was written in 1921 by British playwright Arthur Wing Pinero. It was a timely post-World War I play that sublimely looked at the horrors of war through Oliver, an injured veteran, and Laura, a painfully shy and unattractive young woman who meet at the cottage of the title. Their lives intersect with Mrs. Minnett, the cottage owner/caretaker, and a blind veteran who are both eager to help them.
Their intense inner pain leads Oliver and Laura to find some solace in each other and enter into a marriage of convenience that only brings more suffering. As they fall under the cottage’s spell, their emotional healing manifests in physical changes, too. In the play, that magic is credited to the love of past honeymooners that permeates the cottage and Mrs. Minnett, who may be a descendant of a “beneficent witch.”
The movies drop the witchcraft reference for the more romantic idea of a love enchantment from past inhabitants. Otherwise, they carry the play’s basic outline and important plot points.
In 1922, the play opened in London; a year later it was on Broadway starring Herbert Bunston and Katharine Cornell; and the following year it was adapted for film for the first time.
A silent film speaks volumes
The 1924 silent film starred Richard Barthelmess as Oliver and May McAvoy as Laura. As the film opens, a wounded Oliver is home from the war. He walks hunched over with the help of a cane and has little use of one hand. Already bitter and filled with self-loathing, he learns the woman he was expected to marry is in love with someone else. Wanting to hide away, Oliver leaves his wealthy home and wanders for months before holing up at a cottage. After his overbearing sister arrives with promises of moving in to care for him, Oliver takes advantage of an offer of friendship from Laura and proposes a marriage of convenience and companionship.
From there, this film truly becomes enchanted with visions of joyous past honeymooners in the house. Their ethereal images are a stark contrast to the darkness surrounding Oliver and Laura who are trapped within themselves in profound sadness. “I’m so ugly, I mock the memories that linger here,” a despondent Laura says in an intertitle. Laura’s pain is so powerful it melts Oliver’s heart and he finally sees her unselfishness, love and beauty.
The film is in the public domain so it’s easy to find online. It does show its age as so many silents do, yet I was still deeply touched by the emotions clearly conveyed by Barthelmess and McAvoy.
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A magical 1945 remake
The 1945 film presents more of the back story of the characters. Dorothy McGuire is Laura, hired by the kind widow Mrs. Minnett (Mildred Natwick who lends the role great gravitas) to help her in the cottage. A clock shows how time stopped in 1916 when Mrs. Minnett’s husband was killed in World War I.
Robert Young plays the handsome Oliver who plans to rent the cottage for his honeymoon, but instead goes to war and returns to the cottage disfigured, bitter and suicidal.
The cottage and a new friend, John (Herbert Marshall), a pianist who lost his sight in the war, work their magic. Laura comes out of her shell and Robert’s bitterness ebbs away. Their serenity is shattered by an impending visit from Oliver’s family that causes him to abruptly and awkwardly propose.
It’s a horrible proposal filled with pain, loneliness and a powerful raw honesty that they can’t shake even after they marry. But love helps scars fade as beauty emerges and a deep happiness grows.
While the three films all deal with despair, this version is particularly powerful. A scene of Laura left alone, rebuffed by soldiers at a canteen dance once they see her face, is achingly sad. Oliver’s difficulty in facing his wounds is partly because of how his family reacts to him, and his anger at having his life changed by the war is palpable and heartbreaking.
Other films from director John Cromwell (father of actor James Cromwell) include such highly regarded romances as “Made for Each Other,” “Night Song” and “In Name Only.” “The Enchanted Cottage” was a favorite of Cromwell and actor Young, who named his home The Enchanted Cottage. The beautiful piano concerto by Roy Webb, which forms the tone poem used to frame the story, was Oscar-nominated.
A modern look in 2016
This version of “The Enchanted Cottage” is poignant with its use of 9/11 and the ensuing war as the reason Oliver (Paul D. Masterson) puts his engagement on hold and goes to Iraq against his father’s wishes. When Oliver returns injured and with horrible facial scaring, he cuts off contact with his family and hides away at the cottage.
In this case, Laura is a neighbor and nurse who cares for Oliver’s wounds and his heart. She’s played by Sarah Navratil as an awkward and nervously chatty woman who hides behind stringy long hair, a hat and glasses. The late Richard Hatch is a welcomed sight as Oliver’s father.
Perhaps it’s the fact that the film is so new and is in color that makes it feel less magical than the previous versions. (Black and white film has a magic all its own.) Oliver and Laura talk to each other much more and you can sense that at least their internal changes are evolving naturally. Physically, Oliver’s wounds are fresh in this film (they appear healed in the other two) and we watch him grow stronger through medical help and physical therapy.
It’s been hard to find background information on this version. It is associated with the Arts Institute of California, which was part of a series of arts institutes across the country, but has since closed down; and the Theatrical Arts International Foundation, a supporter of the arts through the California Theatre of the Performing Arts in San Bernardino. Those groups and much of the cast and drew also worked on other movies like “The Invisible Man” (2017) and the “Picture of Dorian Gray” (2018), giving insight that this was an indie project and produced on a lower budget. Joseph Henson is credited as the lead director among seven directors.
* * * *
So now we have three film versions from an unlikely source – a 19th century English playwright without enduring name recognition at least in the film world. What has endured, however, is his story of “The Enchanted Cottage” which remains relevant a century later because it is grounded in the understanding of deep pain, loneliness and the sacrifices of war that all generations can sadly understand. It also holds the timeless message of the healing power of love – and that is its true enchantment.
Uncredited. What a perfect word to succinctly sum up the career of character actor Richard Deacon.
Not only is his impressively extensive resume filled with “uncredited” roles, Deacon also never received the credit due from his long body of work that included roles on some of the best-loved classic TV series including the iconic “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”
Instead, he’s typecast in our memories as a striking visual: tall (6-1), bald, bespectacled. Yet even when he’s in the background in one of those uncredited roles, Richard Deacon stands out.
Deacon deserves our respect and attention and that’s why I chose to write about him for the 9th annual “What a Character” blogathon hosted by Aurora of Once Upon a Screen, Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled and Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club. You can read all of the other entries by going to those blo
Deacon’s first film role was as an MP in the sci-fi yarn “Invaders from Mars.” That was 1953 and over the next seven years he would be in at least 40 movies of various genres (and on as many TV shows). Most roles were “uncredited” so you won’t find him in the credits, and often his character is referred to generically like desk clerk, salesman, hotel manager, pawn broker, banker.
Let’s think about those just those seven years to get a full appreciation for Deacon and his remarkable perseverance. He must have had a strong lack of ego and, I would bet, a deep passion for his craft to work so hard, for so long without being labeled “a star.”
It took only one flip through “Fright Favorites: 31 Movies to Haunt Your Halloween and Beyond” to see we were going to be good friends.
While I love deep-dive books about film history, they often sit on the shelf after the initial reading waiting to be pulled out again for special occasions and projects. The informative “Fright Favorites,” however, is a book you’ll want to keep within easy reach.
It is the latest in the Turner Classic Movies Library series that has reimagined the coffee-table book in a compact size (roughly 7.5 by 8 inches) that’s easy to hold and read, or just flip through to look at the gorgeous photography.
Noted film historian and author David J. Skal grew up during the monster movie craze of the 1950s, becoming part of the first generation of “monster kids.”
So he dedicates “Fright Favorites” to “monster kids of all ages everywhere” as he takes us through horror movies not as a comprehensive history, but rather as a “diverse sampler of chilling, thrilling, and often laugh-provoking classic movies especially well suited to mark the thirty-one days of October.”
Skal succinctly explains how our celebration of Halloween has changed over the past century-plus from Hollywood’s early affection for cute and whimsical pinups of starlets posing with broomsticks, cats, pumpkins and witch hats, to what has become a growing cinematic season and part of a multibillion-dollar annual industry.
He credits John Carpenter’s original “Halloween” with contributing to “the explosive growth of Halloween as the second-biggest retail holiday in America after Christmas,” and helping fuel the urban mythology of Halloween.
“The ‘Halloween’ phenomenon reconnected the holiday to its primary, if forgotten, cultural purpose: a ceremonial acknowledgment of mortality and the never-ending cycles of life, death, and the mysteries that follow. Before John Carpenter reinvigorated the holiday with ritual human sacrifice, did anyone still make a conscious connection between a jack-o’-lantern and a grinning skull?” Skal writes.
Those four movies and many others in the book will be shown on TCM in October including “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” “Mystery of the Wax Museum,” “Them!” and “The Wolf Man.”
TCM’s Star of the Month (#sotm) is horror great Peter Cushing, whose films will be featured in prime-time every Monday night in October. Though the first two weeks (Oct. 5 and 12) focus on Cushing’s early roles and non-horror work, Oct. 19 is devoted to his Hammer films – including three Frankenstein movies – and Oct. 26 is all horror including two Dracula films.
Oct. 14 is Tod Browning Day with seven of his films programmed including three with Lon Chaney. The month culminates in around-the-clock horror films on Oct. 30 and 31.
Though a word isn’t spoken in it, much is communicated. A small circular light pierces the dark screen as a young man in World War II Germany is looking for his love. Another light appears, and the circles meet, like “two moons.” The two young lovers, tears in their eyes, finally see each other, but then hastily shut off their lights in fear of approaching soldiers.
The scene is from “We Were Young,” a 1961 film by Bulgarian director Binka Zhelyazkova and it’s so captivating I wrote down the title and circled it multiple times as a reminder that I must see this film.
I’ve since watched the two-minute clip multiple times and remain entranced.
There are countless moments like that throughout the 14-part film by Mark Cousins, the filmmaker, author and former film critic who previously made the epic 2011 documentary “The Story of Film: An Odyssey.”
Like that extensive documentary, “Women Make Film” is well worth your time especially as it’s presented in a three-month immersive programming initiative by Turner Classic Movies focusing on female filmmakers.
If the film title “The Sin of Nora Moran” is familiar to you, chances are that you know it from the exquisite poster by Alberto Vargas, not necessarily from seeing the movie.
The 1933 Pre-Code film hasn’t been as easy to see as the famous poster that is often lauded as one the greatest in film history (it ranked No. 2 on a Premiere magazine list).
So when “The Sin of Nora Moran” premiered on Turner Classic Movies in May as part of an evening of Pre-Code films, it blew up the classic movie Twitterverse with praise, awe and bewilderment. (It was to be shown at the canceled 2020 TCM Film Festival and I can only imagine how extraordinary it would have looked on the big screen.)
Now we can watch this Poverty Row film in a new 4K restoration on DVD and limited-edition Blu-ray from The Film Detective. (Both have the Vargas artwork on the cover.) The restoration is by the UCLA Film and Television Archive and it looks and sounds great, unlike the generally fuzzy public domain copies and clips previously available online.
The Blu-ray comes with a mini booklet that includes a short written appreciation by film historian and producer Samuel M. Sherman, who played a key role in getting this film in the public eye.
Sherman narrates a 17-minute featurette that includes rare photos and film clips as he tells how he was introduced to the film in the 1960s, “traded” for a rare 16mm print of it (he doesn’t remember what he traded, saying “It’s lost in antiquities”) and ultimately obtained a 35mm camera negative that helped with the restoration. He also secured a television deal for the film in the 1980s by renaming it “Voice from the Grave” (a fitting title) and packaging it with sci-fi and horror movies. “It played coast to coast on syndicated television in the 1980s, which was an amazing thing,” Sherman recalled.
Most remarkable: Sherman forged a lifelong friendship with star Zita Johann (who he first saw in Universal’s “The Mummy”) to the point that she made him a heir to her estate. In fact, Sherman was the one who showed Johann the final version of “Nora Moran”; until then, she had only seen a working print that didn’t have the “fancier” techniques added during editing. She told Sherman she preferred the earlier version. Information like that is gold to classic movie fans and I would love to hear more from him on what Johann said about making the film.
A familiar story told in an unfamiliar way
“The Sin of Nora Moran” is a lean, 65-minute movie from the Poverty Row studio Majestic Pictures. The plot is nothing out of the ordinary and, in fact, was quite familiar at the time: girl falls for the wrong guy and has to pay for it.
So why the fuss over “The Sin of Nora Moran”?
It was a film ahead of its time in both filmmaking and storytelling. It is not presented in a linear fashion, instead it jumps – often dramatically – between different times, characters, perspectives and even reality and dreams (or nightmares as it may be).
The heavy use of montages, superimposed images and hallucinations – unusual at the time – added to the storytelling. (My favorite technique is a diagonal “wash,” usually used as a transition, but here it literally adds another layer of darkness over a character.)
The fact that it was followed by a prehistoric chicken-bird, a human-sized bee with a honeycomb so large it could trap two people in one of its cells, and a deadly giant cephalopod all in the same film was almost too good to be true.
Of course, none of what happened in the 1961 film “Mysterious Island” was true, but it was riveting to watch nonetheless. Those fantastic beasts didn’t even come from the Jules Verne novel that was the source material for the film.
Instead, they were from the fertile imagination of Ray Harryhausen who magically brought them to life as a way to improve on the novel’s basic idea of “how to survive on an island” by “incorporating strange creatures” in the movie, as he explained in an interview on the movie’s DVD.
I can’t imagine the film without them.
In celebration of the centennial of his birth (June 29, 1920), it’s fitting to honor Ray Harryhausen, a filmmaker and artist who has inspired me, entertained me and given me giant reasons to return to “Mysterious Island.”
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Although I didn’t know it at the time, “Mysterious Island” was my introduction to Harryhausen. Later, when I understood that Harryhausen was the connection between those creatures and others in films like “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” (1953) and “Mighty Joe Young” (1949), I sought out more of his films. (Didn’t we all?)
“It Came from Beneath the Sea” (1955) and the very cool giant octopus; “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” (1958) and its Cyclops; “Jason and the Argonauts” (1963) with such wonders as the Hydra and the living skeletons; “20 Million Miles to Earth” (1957) and the Ymir; “Clash of the Titans” (1981) with the triple hit of Pegasus, Medusa and the Kraken; and the dinosaur films like “One Million Years B.C.” (1966) and “Valley of Gwangi” (1969).
Honestly, I love them all. But if there is only one Harryhausen film I can choose, it is and always will be “Mysterious Island” for a personal reason – it’s our family film.
Dad introduced me to “Mysterious Island” as a kid. We watched it over and over and enjoyed it with the same enthusiasm on each viewing. We always did that thing where one of us would look at the other before every key “entrance” (i.e., creature) in the film.
Later, when my twin nephews were about the same age as I was when I was introduced to the film (about 8 or so), we all watched it together. Repeatedly. (Clearly, “Mysterious Island” is a film that works best on repeat.)
It was embarrassing, there’s no other way to spin it. On a recent Friday night, I was hunkered over my tablet like a kid studying for a quiz seeking answers to this question: Is (fill in the blank) an animal?
And that leads to your questions.
1) Shouldn’t an adult already know the answer?
2) Why would anyone research that in the first place?
Blame it on social media. I wanted to take part in one of those fun Twitter questions/polls, but was hesitant to give a “wrong” answer. The topic: movies with an animal in the title – no proper nouns allowed. So “Lassie” was out, but “Reservoir Dogs” was in.
As a fan of creature horror movies, I had to participate. It would be a chance to draw attention to these entertaining movies.
“Tarantula,” one of my favs, came to mind first but was quickly shot down by doubt. A tarantula is a spider which comes from the arachnid family so does being an arachnid negate it from being an animal?
Once I thought about it, my mental capacity dropped to that of a preschooler. Doubts were everywhere as I questioned each movie title in my head.
“The Fly.” “Deadly Mantis.” “Black Scorpion.” “Attack of the Giant Leeches.” “Giant Gila Monster.” “Attack of the Crab Monsters.”
What was an animal and what wasn’t? Is an insect solely an insect or an animal, too? I grew more embarrassed with each search, but kept going.
Well there’s a good reason for the confusion – the kingdom Animali is massive and includes mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, amphibians and fish for starters. As it turns out, many of my favorite horror movies are animal films. Victory was mine – and I was off to watch “Tarantula.”
Ask me why I enjoy watching classic movies and the answer is a variation on a theme: Because classic movies make me feel like I’m wrapping myself in warm blanket or snuggling in a cozy chair.
They are, in a word, comforting.
So I found it interesting over the past few months as social media filled with people seemingly just discovering that movies can bring comfort. Don’t get me wrong, I love that people have sought out movies to ease their worries. But classic movies have done this for me as far back as I can remember.
Rainy days make me want to stay home, pull up a blanket and put on an old black and white movie. If I’m a bit down, a Technicolor film always lifts my spirits. If I’m tense, I watch something soothing like the ethereal “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” or the fantasy of “Brigadoon.” Looking for inspiration, I’ll put on a Frank Capra movie. When I get home from a tough day at work, I turn on Turner Classic Movies and I start to wind down.
Often, the comfort factor is obvious as with my favorite romances that have me nestling in all warm and cozy. “Laura” with its beautiful score and Dana Andrews as the hardboiled detective in love with a portrait; “Dark Angel,” a sweet love triangle (yes there are such stories) with Fredric March, Herbert Marshall and Merle Oberon as inseparable lifelong friends who truly love each other; and “An Affair to Remember” where I can watch Nickie (Cary Grant) and Terry (Deborah Kerr) fall in love. (Let’s not talk about Janou; I’ll start to sniffle.)
Others films I find comforting will seem odd because of their genres, but they have that quality by transporting me to another time (“The Time Machine”), leaving me on the edge of my seat (“House of Wax”), mesmerizing me (“Sunrise”), making me laugh (“You Can’t Take It With You”) and scaring the heck out of me (“The Haunting”).
I’m sure this can be traced to memories of being introduced to classics by my family. I watched old horror films with my dad and any time I see one of the original Universal monsters or a 1950s creature feature, I relax which is a weird reaction to a horror film. Mom liked family-based films with “I Remember Mama” being a favorite. At grandma’s, we watched Bette Davis and Joan Crawford movies with the lights off.