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.
For four days in February, Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro was in Buffalo to shoot scenes for his much-anticipated film noir “Nightmare Alley.”
The movie, a loose remake of a 1947 film noir starring Tyrone Power and Joan Blondell, stars Bradley Cooper and Rooney Mara, who were both in Buffalo filming, along with a star-studded cast including Cate Blanchett, Richard Jenkins, Ron Pearlman, David Strathairn and Willem Dafoe.
Though his time here was limited, del Toro took part in a press conference at Buffalo’s City Hall, a 1932 art deco structure that was one of the locations that drew him to Buffalo. “It’s a jewel,” he said. “A perfectly preserved beautiful art deco jewel.”
“I’ve always been fascinated by Buffalo. I was very interested in the architecture and historical significance of Buffalo,” said del Toro, who found Buffalo’s abundance of 1930s and ‘40s architecture perfect for his period noir that is set in the 1940s.
The press conference was held on the first day of shooting. The day before, crew members were in Niagara Square outside City Hall dumping trucks of snow and laying down “snow blankets” to create the illusion of snow for a winter scene. Yes – even Buffalo has days without snow.
It’s February. In #Buffalo. But there’s no snow. So the special effects crew of the movie #NightmareAlley has had to make it. Geoff Hill (at rear of truck) found some snow in a nearby parking lot, filled up his truck & brought it to Niagara Square. More movie magic to come … pic.twitter.com/Kbxb1YHk3V
But Buffalonians could have saved them time by telling the crew about our lake-effect snow that the very next day brought enough snow that it covered all of their hard work and created the winter scene the filmmakers wanted.
When asked if he was surprised he had to bring in fake snow, del Toro said “Yes, it was like bringing tacos to Mexico. I didn’t really expect that.”
That sense of humor was abundant throughout the press conference as del Toro talked about his love for Buffalo from its architecture to comic book stores. Before the press conference, del Toro had already visited one comic book store and left with a box of goodies. He said he is eager to visit more stores and praised Buffalo’s culture of “small cinema clubs, bookstores, independent movement in music and comics and film. I really think it’s a city that is revitalizing and rediscovering itself,” he said.
Finding the right location
As del Toro was scouting locations for “Nightmare Alley” across North America (Toronto was used as the primary location), he explained how Buffalo fulfilled the multiple challenges he faced.
“I wanted to find a city that was really interesting to visit for an audience and that was a city that they weren’t overtly familiar with. When you look at period films, it’s always New York or Los Angeles – two or three cities in the entirety of America revisited for their significant historical or architectural terms,” del Toro said.
In his search, he often found the right type of period architecture, but it would be surrounded by newer buildings, leaving “big gaps of beauty and architectural integrity.”
“Most of the cities in America you cannot turn your camera 45 degrees because you’ll have something ruining the illusion that we need to create and the integrity of the architectural preservation of the city. It is both thematically and visually very important to me to set it here (Buffalo).”
Two of his previous films have had a Buffalo connection. The Gothic ghost story “Crimson Peak” was “set” in Buffalo (though filmed in Canada) in the late 1800s before moving on to England. Del Toro’s Oscar winning film “The Shape of Water” used vintage pieces supplied by local collector Michael Meriso and his CooCooU27 including the dining room set used in the apartment of Elisa (played by Sally Hawkins), the movie’s female lead.
In his reading and research on Buffalo since “Crimson Peak,” he said has has been “taken by how many times American history is made in this city and how thriving it was in many ways in different periods and how it is now for me a city that is resurging and rediscovering itself, and an absolutely amazing architectural point of view.”
When asked if he would return to make more projects in Buffalo, del Toro said “definitely.”
“The great thing about it is, unprompted, I’ve always been fascinated by the city,” del Toro said about Buffalo. “And the thing that you must enjoy because it is true, is the reputation of the city as a place where you can shoot and there is a depth of talent and a depth of crew and a quality. Filmmakers – we talk to each other like high school but much heavier people – we know each other, we talk about it and this city has a pristine reputation.”
“It is true that every day that I’m here, I fall more and more in love with it.”
* * * * *
This is the plot description released by the studio, Searchlight (formerly Fox Searchlight).
“In ‘Nightmare Alley,’ an ambitious young carny (Cooper) with a talent for manipulating people with a few well-chosen words hooks up with a female psychiatrist (Blanchett) who is even more dangerous than he is. The carnival cast includes carnival worker Molly (Mara), head barker Clem (Dafoe), and Ron Perlman as Bruno the Strongman. Richard Jenkins is part of the high society crowd as wealthy industrialist Ezra Grindle.”
When classic movie fans discover a new source of old movies, it’s like we hit the lottery.
So I feel like I’ve won the big one after finding a treasure of movies from Renown Pictures, a distribution company that specializes in British cinema and television, predominately from the 1930s to ‘60s.
More than 100 of Renown’s titles – mysteries, dramas, horror, sci-fi, detective stories, romance and documentaries– are streaming for free on Amazon Prime.
I almost made the mistake of bypassing these films when they first popped up as suggested viewing on my Prime account. They were packaged with the same blue artwork with four black and white photos. The titles, actors and directors were not familiar, so I didn’t pay attention. (Felix Aylmer? Wolf Rilla? Jane Hylton?)
Shame on me and obvious lessons learned: Don’t judge a movie by its cover – or unfamiliarity – because you’ll miss out.
It’s February and you know what that means – lots of hearts and flowers. But if you’re a classic movie fan – or your sweetie is – there’s only one way to celebrate on Feb. 14: watching classic romances at The Screening Room Cinema Café at the Boulevard Mall, Amherst.
The boutique cinema, that has a special fondness for classic movies, has a Valentine’s Day package for two offered for either “Casablanca” or “The Princess Bride.” For $40, you get two tickets, two drinks, popcorn and two chocolate sundaes. It doesn’t get better than that.
I clearly remember watching the 2006 rom-com “The Holiday” for the first time, not expecting much more than another in a long line of agreeable but often interchangeable romantic comedies.
It would be a nice, but surely forgettable, two-hour escape using the familiar formula: two people meet-cute, fall for each and face obstacles that lead to a “grand gesture” to help them live happily ever.
I was wrong – “The Holiday” is a memorable rom-com that I get more emotionally involved in each time I watch it.
It’s a combination of the great cast (Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jack Black, Jude Law and Eli Wallach – all who have never been more charming on film), relatable characters (we’ve all gone through the same things), a delightful comic touch, a few twists on rom-com tropes and the sense of joy that permeates this deeply emotional film.