Monday, July 31, 2023

The Furies (1950)

The Furies (1950) is the first western directed by Anthony Mann (although it was released after Winchester ’73).

T.C. Jeffords (Walter Huston) owns an enormous ranch called the Furies, a cattle empire that he built up in a determined but unscrupulous manner. He has a vast empire in land and cattle but is chronically short of cash. That will be important later.

He has a son named Clay, for whom he has little respect. T.C.’s daughter Vance (Barbara Stanwyck) is another matter. She’s the apple of his eye and she’s as tough and strong-willed as her father. T.C. enjoyed building up his empire but he’s not so fond of the tedium of the day-to-day running of his business. He has promised Vance that she will take over the running of The Furies.

T.C. made a few enemies along the way. He has an uneasy relationship with Juan Herrera (Gilbert Roland). The Herreras are squatters on The Furies but they believe they have an ancestral claim on the land. To make things more awkward Juan is in love with Vance. She regards him as just a friend.

It would make life easier for T.C. if the Herreras could be driven off The Furies. That will also be important later.

Another of the old man’s enemies has just appeared on the scene. Rip Darrow (Wendell Corey) is a gambler who owns the Legal Tender Saloon. The Darrows believe that T.C. cheated them out of a parcel of land known as the Darrow Strip. And T.C. shot Rip’s father. As you might expect things are pretty tense between T.C. and Rip. Rip still believes that the Darrow Strip is his by right. Yet another factor that will prove to be important.

The situation is about to get a lot more tense. Vance has fallen for the smooth-talking gambler. It’s a courtship that will lead to unexpected results.

The spark that will eventually lead to an explosion is provided by the arrival of Flo Burnett (Judith Anderson). Flo is a middle-aged adventuress and she’s got her hooks into T.C. and that is a threat to Vance. Vance means to have The Furies and it’s obvious that Flo also intends to have everything that T.C. has including The Furies. There’s going to be an epic battle between these two women.

When it happens the explosion takes a surprising and shocking form and it has momentous consequences. Vance discovers that hate can be more satisfying than love, or at least that’s what she thinks.

This is not a conventional western. It’s a western melodrama, in the sense that movies like Duel in the Sun (1946) and Forty Guns (1957) and the bizarre Johnny Guitar (1954) are western melodramas. You could also describe these movies as women’s westerns. The plots are not driven by conventional western themes like revenge but by emotional dramas.

There’s one major gunfight scene but it doesn’t play out in a straightforward western way.

There’s a very strong emphasis on psychological and emotional drama. Revenge plays a role, but again not in typical western style. And the resolution does not come in the form of a showdown with six-guns. It’s a psychological and emotional showdown.

Anthony Mann’s westerns are often described as noir westerns. I’ve always been a bit sceptical about this. The Furies does have noirish qualities and a slightly noirish look. Unusually for a major studio western in 1950 it was shot in black-and-white and there are plenty of noir shadows and night scenes, with characters silhouetted against the night sky in a very moody brooding noir way. It’s closest in spirit to noirish female-centric melodramas like Mildred Pierce and Leave Her To Heaven. And there's a touch of Greek tragedy and even Shakespearian tragedy (both of which appealed to Mann).

Nobody but Barbara Stanwyck could have played Vance Jeffords. Nobody else could have made such a character so convincing and so fascinating. Vance is not a straightforward heroine. She adores her father but she intends to have The Furies no matter what she has to do to get it and even if it sets her against him. She’s not an entirely sympathetic character but we have to admire her tenaciousness. She’s a bit like Scarlett O’Hara. She’ll do what she has to do to get what she wants.

Walter Huston, in his final film rôle, is just as good. They’re a father and a daughter who are not so much people as forces of nature. T.C. starts out as a larger-than-life heroic figure but we soon begin to suspect that he’s a hero with feet of clay. He makes foolish financial decisions. His infatuation with the scheming Flo shows his poor judgment. He is indecisive and impulsive and he has a brutal streak (which his daughter has inherited). Vance and T.C. are complicated and conflicted.

Wendell Corey is a bit overshadowed by Stanwyck and Huston but he’s OK as well. Gilbert Roland and Judith Anderson round off a strong cast.

There are some slightly disturbing vaguely incestuous undertones to the relationship between Vance and her father. It’s subtle but remember that 1950 was the high tide of Freudianism.

The Criterion DVD release of The Furies includes an unusual and very welcome extra - the source novel by Niven Busch! Not in some silly ebook format but an actual physical book, a proper paperback. I think that this is a superb idea. And there are lots of other extras as well including an audio commentary (which unfortunately reveals spoilers for all of Mann’s other westerns and should therefore be avoided). There’s an excellent and enlightening 1967 interview with Anthony Mann and a whimsical 1930s interview with Walter Huston. The transfer is gorgeous.

The Furies isn’t a perfect movie. The ending is perhaps not entirely satisfactory. It is however an absorbing psycho-sexual-emotional melodrama and it’s nicely overheated and it’s highly recommended.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Secret of the Incas (1954)

Secret of the Incas is a 1954 adventure movie from Paramount starring Charlton Heston. The movie was shot widescreen in Technicolor with some location shooting in Peru and looks spectacular and exotic. The subject is the search for a fabulous Inca treasure, lost for four hundred years. It’s a large gold starburst studded with countless precious stones.

The resemblance between this movie and the Indiana Jones movies is no accident. Secret of the Incas was a major inspiration for the Indiana Jones movies and Heston’s performance most definitely influenced Harrison Ford’s later performances. The whole look of Indiana Jones was lifted directly from Secret of the Incas.

Heston plays Harry Steele. Harry makes his living as a tour guide and taxi operator in the Peruvian city of Cuzco, high in the Andes. He makes out OK financially but he hopes to do much better. He’s not overly worried if he makes his fortune in a strictly honest way. Money is money and Harry likes money. Harry has an interest in archaeology although that interest is focused entirely on the financial rewards.

Harry might have stumbled onto something big. He has found a small piece of a larger stone carving. Put the two pieces together and you have the secret of the location of that Inca starburst.

What Harry doesn’t want is for Ed Morgan (Thomas Mitchell) to get involved. He’s an even bigger crook than Harry and he knows the stories about that Inca treasure. If Ed thinks there’s a chance of finding the starburst he’ll want in.

What Harry needs is a plane. A light plane. Of course he can’t afford to obtain one legally, but Harry doesn’t intend to obtain one legally. That’s where the girl comes into the picture.

The girl is Elena Antonescu (Nicole Maurey) and she’s escaped from behind the Iron Curtain. She has come to Harry for help. She needs to get to Mexico. She appeals to his better nature, she appeals to his sense of fair play, his sense of chivalry. She makes bedroom eyes at him. She cries. Harry isn’t interested. Those things don’t work on Harry.

Then Harry realises that Elena could be the key to getting hold of a suitable plane. There’s a Piper Super Cub that could be stolen with her help, and the owner won’t be in a position to do anything about it. Suddenly Harry is willing to help Elena. Elena isn’t stupid. She doesn’t trust Harry but she doesn’t have much of a choice. And maybe she can work on Harry so that he really will get her to Mexico.

Harry and Elena get to Machu Picchu, which is where the starburst is to be found. No-one has any chance of finding it there without that vital fragment of stone in Harry’s possession. Unfortunately there’s a major archaeological dig in progress there, under the supervision of Dr Stanley Moorehead (Robert Young). Harry was hoping to be able to find the starburst without having an audience watching him.

The locals still speak the Inca language, still think of themselves as Incas and still worship the old gods. They’re not likely to be thrilled about Harry’s plan to steal the starburst.

Thomas Mitchell gives a typically seedy sinister performance. Robert Young gives an equally typical straight-arrow nice guy performance. Nicole Maurey is OK as Elena.

But this is Charlton Heston’s movie. Harry Steele is like a cynical, selfish, dishonest criminal version of Indiana Jones but with the same daredevil spirit and the same resourcefulness. He’s actually a much more interesting and complex character than Indiana Jones. Heston is at the top of his game here.

The movie itself is like a grown-up version of Raiders of the Lost Ark and it’s much more cynical and much more honest about the motivations of those who search for hidden archaeological treasures. It doesn’t have the non-stop action of Raiders but in its own way it’s every bit as good. Highly recommended.

Heston made this movie in the same year that he made of the all-time great adventure movies, The Naked Jungle.

Secret of the Incas wasn’t the only proto-Indiana Jones movie. There was also Valley of the Kings, also made in 1954, and it’s very much worth seeing as well. And if you can’t get enough of 1950s treasure-hunting movies I also recommend Plunder of the Sun (1953).

Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray release of Secret of the Incas looks lovely.

Friday, July 21, 2023

Blue Panther (1965)

Claude Chabrol’s Blue Panther (the original title is Marie-Chantal contre Dr Kha) is a lighthearted 1965 eurospy romp, or at least that’s what you might assume.

It opens with a murder on a train heading for Switzerland. Then Bruno Kerrien (Roger Hanin), who claims to be an advertising man, meets Hubert de Ronsac (François Moro-Giafferi) and his pretty cousin Marie-Chantal (Marie Laforêt) in the dining car. Bruno gets jumpy when he realises he is being watched. He asks Marie-Chantal to do him a favour. He wants her to hold on to a piece of jewellery for him for a day or two. The jewel is a blue panther with ruby eyes.

Marie-Chantal senses some kind of intrigue here and that sounds like fun so she agrees.

Later on the ski slopes she encounters reporter who tells her he is in Switzerland in pursuit of a story about international espionage. She guesses that the blue panther is involved.

There are all sorts of shady characters at the hotel. And pretty soon there’s a murder. And Marie-Chantal makes a dying man a promise.

She now realises that she’s playing a dangerous game but she’s kind of excited. At least having people chasing you and tying to kill you isn’t boring.

The Blue Panther is of course the movie’s McGuffin. Marie-Chantal has no idea what its significance is and neither does the audience. But there’s a bewildering assortment of people who want that jewel. Some might be good guys but we figure that most are bad guys and there’s no way of knowing which are which. There are two Soviet agents, one of whom is a young boy. He’s the boss. There’s a guy who could be a CIA assassin. Another guy might be working for an African terrorist organisation. And there’s the mysterious Dr Kha, presumably a diabolical criminal mastermind.

Plus there’s Olga (Stéphane Audran). She could be working for Dr Kha or she could be a freelancer. And Paco (Francisco Rabal). We have no idea what his affiliation might be. He seems like a good guy but it would be dangerous to jump to conclusions.

Luckily Marie-Chantal is a judo expert. She also seems comfortable with handguns. As innocent bystanders caught up accidentally in espionage go she’s pretty competent. She’s a smart girl - she’s suspicious of everybody. She never panics. She’s breezily confident that she can outsmart all these spies. She behaves as if getting caught in the middle of a web of espionage is just one of those things that a sophisticated girl should be able to handle. And the spies find themselves having to dance to her tune.

Marie Laforêt really dominates the movie in an effortless fashion. It’s an odd detached performance but it’s intriguing.

This is a strange movie. It seems on the surface to belong to the eurospy genre but it doesn’t really. It’s more like Chabrol was embarrassed by having to make such a movie so he decided to approach it in an off-kilter mocking sort of way. It never develops the energy or the sense of fun that you expect in a eurospy movie. There is some violence but there are no action set-pieces. There’s no suspense. It’s the sort of movie you’d get if you asked an intellectual who despises spy movies to make a spy movie.

Chabrol was associated with the Nouvelle Vague and this movie has all the flaws that one associates with that movement. It’s more like an intellectual exercise than a movie. Chabrol was clearly trying to avoid doing anything sordid like making a popular commercial movie. And it’s self-consciously clever. If you enjoy clever-clever self-referential movies that deconstruct the genre and get all meta and play elaborate games with audience expectations then you’ll enjoy it. But this sort of thing has been done a lot more effectively. If you want to see this sort of thing done really well watch Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Trans-Europ-Express instead. It’s a much better and much more enjoyable movie than Blue Panther and it’s cleverer and wittier as well.

Blue Panther often gets compared to Joseph Losey’s Modesty Blaise, made a year later. You could say it’s Modesty Blaise without the crazy outrageous fun elements.

As a spy movie or a spy spoof Blue Panther just doesn’t spark.

And then it just ends. Which I’m sure is very clever and avant-garde but I’m old-fashioned enough to enjoy movies with actual endings.

Of course Chabrol was not trying to make a spy movie, and he was not trying to make a spy spoof. He wasn’t interested in telling anything even resembling a coherent story. He was trying to deconstruct the genre and turn it inside out and make a movie about movies so if you’re looking for a spy movie you’ve picked the wrong movie.

Whether you enjoy this movie or not depends on whether you’re prepared to accept it for what it is. If so you’ll probably enjoy the game that Chabrol is playing, assuming that you like those sorts of cinematic games. Blue Panther is recommended if you’re a fan of this sort of thing. If such cinematic games are not your thing then you’ll be extremely bored.

Kino Lorber’s DVD provides a very nice transfer and there’s an audio commentary with Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson.

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Murderers Club of Brooklyn (1967)

Murderers Club of Brooklyn (Der Mörderclub von Brooklyn) is the fifth of the German Jerry Cotton crime movies. It came out in 1967. It was also released in English as The Body in Central Park (a rather appropriate title).

FBI agent Jerry Cotton is the hero of an incredibly successful series of German pulp novels. It began in the mid-1950s and was still going strong sixty years later, with total sales of close to a billion copies.

It’s hardly surprising that someone had the bright idea of bringing the popular G-Man to the big screen and between 1965 and 1969 eight Jerry Cotton movies were made in Germany, all starring George Nader. The early movies were shot in black-and-white but beginning with Murderers Club of Brooklyn they were made in colour. In fact the pre-credits sequence is in black-and-white, presumably to heighten the impact of the switch to colour.

These movies are all set in the United States. They were shot mostly in Germany but with some location shooting in New York. Murderers Club of Brooklyn makes use of Hamburg locations as well, doubling for New York.

Murderers Club of Brooklyn is a kidnapping story. It’s not easy to come up with original twists to such stories but one interesting touch in this film is that the ransom demands are made before the kidnappings. This gang is confident that even if the FBI is alerted beforehand they can snatch their victims from under the noses of the G-Men. The gang’s confidence seems to be fully justified.

The gang has selected three victims, all wealthy middle-aged businessman. Banker Dyers has a pretty daughter named Jean, Cormick has an equally pretty daughter named Edna and Johnson has a son. So all three men are suitable victims.

It becomes obvious very early on that this gang is ruthless. When they initially kidnap the wrong girl they immediately kill her.

The FBI not only have to solve the case, they have to do so without endangering the lives of two people who have fallen into the gang’s hands. Jerry thinks he has the key to the case, if only he can figure out why a certain person had to die.

We have our suspicions of several characters but scriptwriters Manfred R. Köhler and Herbert Reinecker offer enough misdirection to keep us uncertain as to the identity of the villain.

The 1960s was a golden age for German popular cinema. The Edgar Wallace krimis were hugely successful and the Kommissar X eurospy thrillers were very popular. The Jerry Cotton movies had a different flavour. They were aiming at the feel of hardboiled American crime movies of the 50s and they achieved that feel reasonably well. Jerry is a two-fisted action hero and he’s like an unstoppable force of nature.

The Jerry Cotton movies put the emphasis on tough-guy action. Murderers Club of Brooklyn has countless well-staged fight scenes and some fine imaginative action set-pieces.

George Nader was perfectly cast as Jerry. He had been groomed for stardom in Hollywood in the 50s but it was a stardom that he never managed to achieve. Doing the Jerry Cotton movies was a sound career move. As usual Heinz Weiss plays Jerry’s partner Phil Decker although in this movie Phil mostly just manages to get himself into trouble.

The strong supporting cast includes Dagmar Lassander as Jean. A couple of years later she starred in the superb Italian psychedelic erotic giallo The Frightened Woman (AKA The Laughing Woman).

Peter Thomas, who also provided the music for so many of the German Edgar Wallace krimis, contributes a characteristic quirky crazy score which gives the movie an extra 60s vibe.

German popular cinema of the 60s was all about style and this movie has plenty of that commodity, as well as abundant energy. All done on a modest budget.

Murderers Club of Brooklyn is fine entertainment. Highly recommended.

It’s included in the German Jerry Cotton DVD boxed set which includes the English dubbed versions. The 16:9 enhanced transfer is extremely good.

I’ve reviewed several of the other Jerry Cotton movies including Tip Not Included (Die Rechnung – eiskalt serviert, 1966), The Trap Snaps Shut at Midnight (Um Null Uhr schnappt die Falle zu, 1966) and The Violin Case Murders (Schüsse aus dem Geigenkasten, 1965).

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Strangers on a Train (1951), Hitchcock Friday #11

Strangers on a Train is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most popular and admired movies. And it lives up to its reputation.

By 1950 Hitchcock’s career was looking just a bit shaky. The move to Hollywood in the 40s had produced mixed fortunes - some major hits and some flops, some critically acclaimed movies and others that left critics a little unconvinced. After having a major success with Spellbound he made The Paradine Case, the one Hitchcock movie almost everybody hates. He followed it up with a couple of out-and-out failures, Rope and Under Capricorn. In 1950 he returned to Britain and made Stage Fright, a movie that arouses strong negative emotions among many fans because it includes a blatant cheat (although it's actually quite fun).

By 1951 he really needed a major popular and critical success. He responded by returning to Hollywood and putting his penchant for experimentation on hold and making a classic Hitchcock-style suspense thriller. Strangers on a Train put him back on top in a big way.

Tennis star Guy Haines (Farley Granger) has a problem. He wants to marry Anne Morton (Ruth Roman), the daughter of Senator Morton (Leo G. Carroll) but his wife Miriam refuses to give him a divorce.

Guy meets Bruno Antony (Robert Walker) on a train. Bruno seems harmless, if a bit over-friendly and a bit odd. Bruno tells Guy about his plan for the perfect murder. It involves exchanging murders. Bruno will murder Guy’s wife. It will be safe because Bruno has no possible motive for the murder. Guy will then murder Bruno’s father. Guy will be safe because he has no motive for that murder. Guy assumes that Bruno is joking and thinks no more about it.

But Bruno was serious. And he does murder Guy’s wife. Which is awkward for Guy - Bruno has no motive for murdering Guy’s wife but Guy has a very strong motive, and he has no alibi.

Things get worse when Bruno insists that Guy murder his father. If Guy refuses then Bruno will make sure Guy gets convicted as an accessory in his wife’s murder.

It’s the sort of nasty twisted plot that makes for a great Hitchcock movie. Raymond Chandler received a screen writing credit although there is some doubt as to how much he contributed to the final draft. The script was based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel of the same name.

Farley Granger is very good as Guy. Ruth Roman is adequate if rather bland but it’s Hitchcock’s daughter Patricia who gets the plum female rôle as Anne’s kooky likeable murder-obsessed kid sister Barbara. A Hitchcock movie should ideally include some characteristic Hitchcock black humour. In this case that is mostly provided by Patricia Hitchcock and she’s an absolute hoot.

The most interesting character is of course Bruno. He’s disturbing right from the start. He’s obviously unstable and obsessive. He’s also perhaps sexually ambiguous. This is merely suggested in a subtle way and that works in the film’s favour. Too much emphasis on that element would have been a distraction since the real key to Bruno’s character is that he is so self-centred that he’s become delusional. He sees himself as the centre of the universe. He has never grown up. Robert Walker’s performance is wonderfully unsettling.

I like rewatching movies because once I’ve seen the movie and I know what’s going to happen I can concentrate not on the story, but on how the story is being told. That way you pick up little details you’ll probably miss the first time. In this case there’s the scene where Bruno and Guy first meet on the train. The venetian blinds on the window cast barred horizontal shadows on Bruno, but not on Guy sitting next to him. We’re immediately given a subtle hint (which we’re probably only going to notice subconsciously) that maybe Bruno is a tiny bit sinister.

There are countless marvellous Hitchcock touches - the stuff with eyeglasses, the visually distorted murder scene, the carnival scenes and the wild carousel scene at the end. This is Hitchcock at the top of his game as far as visual mastery is concerned. Compared to Lifeboat and Rope this is a more conventional suspense thriller, but executed with breathtaking skill.

Of course there is one extra disturbing element which elevates this film to true greatness - the ambiguity of Guy as a character. He plays the innocent throughout the movie but subconsciously at least he really did want his wife dead, he really did benefit enormously from her death and he wastes no time on regrets about her death. So one level Bruno was quite right in thinking that Guy wanted his wife murdered. Guy just didn’t want to take the risk or shoulder the guilt. Perhaps Bruno really did understand Guy. By killing Miriam Bruno lets Guy off the hook. The fact that Guy could be seen as being partially complicit in Bruno’s plan adds a nice touch of cynical nastiness to the movie.

In fact there’s even more moral ambiguity in this movie. Senator Morton, Anne, Barbara, Guy - not one of these people expresses even the slightest regret about Miriam’s murder. In fact they’re obviously delighted by it. Their only concern is that Guy might have to take the rap, and there might be a scandal. And Anne certainly suspects that Guy did kill Miriam. The fact that Hitchcock has manoeuvred us into seeing Guy as the innocent victim even though he really did want his wife dead make us complicit in Guy’s morally dubious outlook. 

One of Hitchcock’s best movies. Very highly recommended.

Saturday, July 8, 2023

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

The 1938 The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Eroll Flynn was the second feature film recounting the legendary story of Robin Hood. It was preceded by the 1922 silent Robin Hood starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr (and several earlier short silent films). There have been countless subsequent Robin Hood movies but the 1922 and 1938 versions remain the best. Both are superb movies, with the 1938 version perhaps having a very slight edge (it’s certainly paced better than the 1922 version).

It offers not just Errol Flynn in swashbuckling hero mode but Basil Rathbone in super-villain mode. Plus Claude Rains being sly and sneaky and creepy and underhanded and duplicitous.

There’s not much point in saying too much about the plot. Everyone knows the basics of the story. Good King Richard (Richard Lionheart) has gone off on Crusade, leaving England in the care of a Regent. The king’s untrustworthy brother Prince John (Claude Rains) gets rid of the Regent, declares himself Regent and plans to make himself king. Prince John’s most important ally is the cruel and ruthless Guy of Gisborne (Basil Rathbone).

The people of England are mercilessly exploited by John and his supporters. The Saxons suffer the most under the rule of the Normans. The Saxon nobleman Robin of Locksley (Errol Flynn) is outlawed and assembles a private army in Sherwood Forest. He and Lady Marian (Olivia de Havilland) fall in love. Prince John’s supporters try to capture Robin by tempting him into an archery contest and later Lady Marian is accused of treason for aiding the notorious outlaw.

There are lots of narrow escapes and lots of action. The action sequences are exceptionally well handled.

This movie was shot in Technicolor and it looks lavish and expensive (because it was expensive).

Flynn was at his swashbuckling peak, and while there have been other fine swashbuckling stars no-one has ever quite equalled Flynn in those rôles. He could make a swashbuckling hero come to life. Basil Rathbone and Claude Rains are excellent. I’ve never been a great Olivia de Havilland fan but she’s very good here. The fine supporting cast includes Alan Hale as Little John.

Oddly enough when Warner Brothers first came up with the idea of a Robin Hood movie they had James Cagney in mind for the lead. That fell through and the project was shelved. By the time the idea was revived Captain Blood had made Errol Flynn a huge star and he became the only possible choice.

Shooting the film in Technicolor was a late decision but a very good one. The Adventures of Robin Hood was always going to be a hit but making it in Technicolor ensured that it would be a gigantic hit.

William Keighley was hired to direct. Halfway through shooting he was replaced by Michael Curtiz (who probably should have been chosen in the first place). Curtiz’s arrival meant a change of cinematographers as well, with Sol Polito replacing Tony Gaudio.

The Adventures of Robin Hood is an object lesson in just how good old school effects could look in the late 30s. The matte paintings are superb. The movie is a mix of such effects and plenty of location shooting. The action scenes are inspired.

When you watch it you have to remember that it was until the1922 Fairbanks movie that all the elements that we now think of as comprising the Robin Hood legend were brought together, and in the 1938 version these elements still seemed fresh. Scenes such as the quarter-staff battle between Robin and Little John and the archery contest have been endlessly copied, homaged, referenced and parodied but in 1938 they had not yet become clichés.

The Robin Hood story as we now know it is an amalgam of mediæval ballads, 15th and 16th century embellishments and additions made by 18th and 19th century writers such as Sir Walter Scott (particularly his great novel Ivanhoe). Many of the most familiar elements were not present in the earliest mediæval ballads (Maid Marian was a very late addition and King Richard and Prince John played no part in the early versions of the tale). This 1938 movie assembles all these elements into a very satisfying whole.

Errol Flynn at the top of his game, spectacular visuals and dynamic pacing make The Adventures of Robin Hood one of the great adventure movies, and the definitive Robin Hood movie. Highly recommended.

This movie is very easy to get hold of on both DVD and Blu-Ray.

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Accidental Death (1963)

Accidental Death is a late entry in the British Merton Park Edgar Wallace cycle of crime thrillers. These were released theatrically in Britain (as supporting features) and were screened on television in the US as The Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre.

These movies were only very loosely based on Edgar Wallace stories. Very loosely indeed.

Johnnie Paxton (Richard Vernon) lives in a rather palatial home and is clearly not short of money. He had been a war hero, serving in one of those hush-hush outfits operating behind enemy lines. He lives with Henriette (Jacqueline Ellis). He raised her after her parents were killed by the Gestapo. She’s not actually his adoptive daughter in a legal sense but in practice they have a father-daughter relationship. Henriette’s parents saved Paxton’s life during the war so raising Henriette was in the nature of discharging a debt.

Henriette has a boyfriend, a rather jealous young man named Alan (Derrick Sherwin).

Things start to get tense when Paul Lanson (John Carson) suddenly shows up. Paul had fought with the French Resistance during the war. He and Paxton are old comrades. Paul seems a bit edgy. His behaviour is generally odd.

Then Paul tells Paxton the reason for his surprise visit. He intends to kill Paxton. He believes that Paxton betrayed a number of Resistance fighters, including Henriette’s parents.

That immediately sets up a tense situation but there’s another factor to add to the tension - he developing romantic triangle between Henriette, Paul and Alan.

The viewer has no way of knowing if there is any substance to Paul’s accusations. Paxton’s reaction could indicate either guilt or innocence. We don’t really know what to make of him. Is he a hero or a villain?

And of course we don’t know what to make of Paxton either. He might also be either a hero or a villain.

To add a bit more spice, we know that Paul has a gun.

The ending is quite clever and original and suspenseful.

Richard Vernon is one of my favourite British character actors of this era and he’s excellent, and nicely ambiguous, here. John Carson is good although I’m not sold on his French accent. He does manage to make us very unsettled, with Paul at times seeming slightly creepy and at times seeming perhaps a trifle unstable, but he doesn’t over do it. We still believe that it’s possible that Paul is the good guy.

Derrick Sherwin and Jacqueline Ellis are fine.

Geoffrey Nethercott was the director of Accidental Death (and of another entry in this cycle, Who was Maddox?) and he does a competent job. In common with most of the directors of these Edgar Wallace movies he spent the vast majority of his career working in television.

Arthur La Bern wrote the script, and wrote a couple of other Wallace films including Time to Remember (1962) and The Verdict (1964). More notably, he wrote Frenzy for Alfred Hitchcock.

These movies were all shot in widescreen and in black-and-white.

This movie is included in Network’s Edgar Wallace Mysteries volume 5 DVD boxed set. The 16:9 enhanced transfer is what we expect from Network it’s excellent. There are no extras.

Accidental Death is not one of the best movies in this series and there are some far-fetched elements in the plot but it’s enjoyable and it has a few oddball touches that do give it an Edgar Wallace flavour. Recommended.