The Amazing Exploits of the Clutching Hand (1936, Albert Herman), Chapter 3: House of Mystery

It’s another action-packed episode. The action is atrociously executed, but there is definitely a lot of it. After a perfunctory cliffhanger resolution, the Clutching Hand sends more thugs after detective Jack Mulhall and his sidekick, reporter Rex Lease (Lease’s professional makes no difference to the plot–he’s just a sidekick at this point). They come after them on motorcycles, so The Amazing Exploits of the Clutching Hand has a motorcycle chase. For a little bit, then it turns into a terrible fist fight with bad everything. Bad direction, bad editing, terrible sound. Just awful sound.

After the fight, Mulhall and Lease finally get to the *House of Mystery*, which isn’t very mysterious. It’s a boarding house. Where there’s a man pretending to be in a wheelchair. He’s also presumably pretending not to be in a terrible wig. He’s probably supposed to be in a wig, but I’m guessing it’s not supposed to be a terrible wig.

Or the House of Mystery is where Mae Busch meets with the psychics. At least they seem like psychics. There’s a lot of characters to following in Clutching Hand and none of them are likable and none of the actors are any good. Mulhall’s got some terrible moments in Mystery, for example. And he’s the lead. He’s supposed to be the hero. You’d want the Clutching Hand to win if he weren’t so terrible too.

There’s a fight with the psychics–but with Robert Walker (I think–there really are way too many characters and all the white guys have brown hair and look the same)–same bad sound effects and editing and so on. Maybe the novel is better? Clutching Hand works hard at being mysterious but it’s a who cares level of mysterious. The filmmakers treat their audience as captives, like they’re being forced to sit through the chapter to get to something they actually want to see.

After the second fist fight, there’s this sequence where Mulhall gets into disguise to go back to the House of Mystery. There was something suspicious about the guy in the bad wig in the wheelchair after all.

There’s a secret passage and a gang hideout and all sorts of stuff under the boarding house.

Sadly Mulhall doesn’t wear the eye patch in his disguise. The eye patch would’ve made it at least silly. Instead, it’s just… not good. At anything.

CREDITS

Directed by Albert Herman; screenplay by Leon D’Usseau and Dallas M. Fitzgerald, based on an adaptation by George M. Merrick and Eddie Granemann and the novel by Arthur B. Reeve; director of photography, James Diamond; edited by Earl Turner; produced by Louis Weiss; released by Stage & Screen Productions.

Starring Jack Mulhall (Craig Kennedy), Rex Lease (Walter Jameson), Mae Busch (Mrs. Gironda), Ruth Mix (Shirley McMillan), William Farnum (Gordon Gaunt), Marion Shilling (Verna Gironda), Bryant Washburn (Denton), Robert Frazer (Dr. Gironda), Gaston Glass (Louis Bouchard), Mahlon Hamilton (Montgomery), Robert Walker (Joe Mitchell), Yakima Canutt (Number Eight), Joseph W. Girard (Lawyer Cromwell), Frank Leigh (Maj. Courtney Wickham), Jon Hall (Frank Hobart), Franklyn Farnum (Nicky), and Knute Erickson (Capt. Hansen).


RELATED

Advertisements

He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown (1968, Bill Melendez)

He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown opens with Snoopy terrorizing the kids. He’s indiscriminately vicious, leading to the kids complaining to Charlie Brown about it. Charlie Brown’s solution is to send Snoopy off to the puppy farm for reeducation.

Snoopy is Dog’s draw. His worst moments are the initial terrorizing and even those are perfectly good. They’re beautifully animated. The transitions from cute Snoopy to terrorizing Snoopy are phenomenal. Melendez’s direction is strong throughout, particularly during the travel montages, but the opening terrorizing is more than solid stuff. Charles M. Schulz’s script works fast, getting Snoopy in trouble–after a quick, well-directed Red Baron (ish) sequence–and getting him off for retraining.

Unfortunately, Charlie Brown (Peter Robbins) decides to give Snoopy a layover on his trip. Snoopy’s going to spend the night at Peppermint Patty’s. Peppermint Patty (Gabrielle DeFaria Ritter) who just thinks Snoopy is a funny-looking kid.

Once Snoopy gets to Peppermint Patty’s and she treats him so well, he decides he’s not going to leave and instead goes on furlough. I mean, she’s got an in-ground swimming pool and waits on him hand and foot. While Snoopy’s various antics–and his eventual emotional breakdown–are Dog’s essentials, DeFaria Ritter is the one who makes it all work. Snoopy (despite director Melendez contributing growls and such) is nonverbal. DeFaria Ritter gets a lot of dialogue–all of the verbal jokes and gags–for most of the cartoon.

Even after Charlie Brown comes back in–he finds out Snoopy is skipping retraining and heads over to Peppermint Patty’s leash in hand, causing a further rift between he and Snoopy–DeFaria Ritter still gets the best material. When Snoopy comes back to her house after his dust-up with Charlie Brown, Peppermint Patty has had enough with the waiting on him and instead puts him to work cleaning the house, which ends up being as hilarious as when she’s waiting on him.

Charlie Brown once again comes back, this time because he and the kids miss Snoopy, only for the reunion to again go south, leaving Snoopy more trapped than ever.

Schulz’s plotting is outstanding, Melendez’s direction is spry, the animation is exquisite–Vince Guaraldi’s score is a little wanting but still fine. He’s Your Dog is a fine cartoon, a great showcase for DeFaria Ritter, as well as Snoopy as a lead character. Schulz gives Snoopy multi-layered adventures. There are his daydreams, his main plot, then the incidentals. There’s always something different, even when they repeat the same animation (just once, but noticeably). Schulz and Melendez do a great job keeping Snoopy’s adventure fresh.

And when Dog needs to be sentimental or emotional, Melendez and Schulz always make it happen without getting too saccharine.

The cartoon’s pragmatically exquisite.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Bill Melendez; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Robert T. Gillis; music by Vince Guaraldi; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Peter Robbins (Charlie Brown), Sally Dryer (Lucy), Christopher Shea (Linus), and Gabrielle DeFaria Ritter (Peppermint Patty).


RELATED

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995, Joe Chappelle)

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers doesn’t even run ninety minutes and gets boring fast; the last twenty minutes are completely mind-numbing. Nothing makes sense, characters act without motive, cults cult without purpose, it just goes on and on. At least Donald Pleasence is lucky enough to get knocked out for a bunch of it.

Pleasence isn’t in Curse very much. The scenes he does get are usually silly, sort of half expository, half bridging scenes to keep things moving. He has no narrative of his own, which is fine. He’s so uninvolved with the film’s events he shouldn’t have one. Of course, no one gets their own narrative in Curse. At least, nothing approaching a completed one.

Lead Paul Rudd doesn’t. His character survived the first Halloween as a kid, which makes him early-to-mid-twenties. He lives in a boarding house and obsesses over Michael Myers while peeping on new neighbor Marianne Hagan across the street. She’s a single mom moved back in with her family–mom Kim Darby, dad Bradford English, brother Keith Bogart. Devin Gardner plays Hagan’s kid.

So Hagan and Rudd don’t show up for about twenty minutes, maybe a little more–though Rudd does narrate the opening titles, which are set over J.C. Brandy giving birth and then running from Michael and a cult. From a basement. Director Chappelle likes his basements. He likes to poorly direct scenes in them; cinematographer Billy Dickson lights these basement scenes poorly, like everything he lights in the movie. It’s all poorly lighted. Dickson and Chapelle shoot their night exteriors with a lot of blue light. Bright blue light.

Back to Brandy. She’s from the last couple movies but it was a different actress. The movie introduces her in the Rudd voiceover during the titles and there’s no time spent establishing her character. Even though her escape subplot goes on forever, it’s filler. And badly directed. Chappelle badly directs everything in Curse. The movie doesn’t just not having anything to recommend it, it has nil positive elements.

Chappelle’s direction? Bad. Daniel Farrands’s script? Bad. Dickson’s photography? Bad. Randy Bricker’s editing? Bad. Alan Howarth’s music? So bad.

And none of the actors are any good. Once Rudd and Hagan take over the movie, it’s all about Rudd finding Brandy’s baby and then trying to find Pleasence. Meanwhile Hagan’s got a subplot about… nothing? She’s got a couple scenes showing she’s suffering–dad English is physically and mentally abusive, Gardner’s a weird kid–but no subplot. On one hand, it’s good Rudd and Hagan don’t have a romance subplot, but it’s also bad because it’d be so godawful it might be fun to watch.

Rudd’s really bad. Hagan’s better. Darby’s okay. English is bad. Bogart is bad. Mariah O’Brien–as Bogart’s girlfriend–she’s bad. She’s got this subplot about bringing Halloween back to the town. There’s a festival, which doesn’t appear to have actually been staged because Chappelle’s terrible at establishing shots. He, cinematographer Dickson, and editor Bricker are really terrible at tying scenes shot in different locations together. Sure, the plotting is herks and jerks along, but Bricker has no rhythm. There’ll be a bad establishing shot, then a second–longer–bad establishing shot, just on a first unit location. Curse is a visual mess.

Leo Geter is awful as a shock jock who figures in, but not enough.

Mitchell Ryan is in it a few times as Pleasence’s old boss, who wants to hire him back even before Michael Myers returns. Even though Pleasence is clearly not in shape for a nine-to-five.

The jump scares are all cheap, usually red herrings, usually with terrible Howarth music accompanying. But mostly there’s gore instead of scares. But the gore is often insert shots; obvious insert shots. Like Chappelle has something to prove. He can keep finding ways to make the move worse, even as every other “creative” impulse runs out.

Curse is bad. And it goes on too long to be amusing at all in its badness.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Chappelle; screenplay by Daniel Farrands, based on characters created by Debra Hill and John Carpenter; director of photography, Billy Dickson; edited by Randy Bricker; music by Alan Howarth; production designer, Bryan Ryman; produced by Paul Freeman; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Donald Pleasence (Dr. Sam Loomis), Paul Rudd (Tommy Doyle), Marianne Hagan (Kara Strode), Mitchell Ryan (Dr. Terence Wynn), Devin Gardner (Danny Strode), Kim Darby (Debra Strode), Bradford English (John Strode), Keith Bogart (Tim Strode), Mariah O’Brien (Beth), Leo Geter (Barry Simms) and J.C. Brandy (Jamie Lloyd Carruthers).


RELATED

The Cheap Detective (1978, Robert Moore)

It was until after The Cheap Detective was over I realized there’s never anything about Peter Falk’s fee. It’s not clear whether he’s cheap or not. It’s never addressed. It’s one of the many things Neil Simon’s screenplay never gets around to addressing, like if the third act is all a scheme or if it’s all coincidental. It doesn’t much matter–by the third act, The Cheap Detective is so overflowing with characters (there are twenty-three actors listed in the opening titles), and the movie’s less than ninety minutes, it’d be impossible to fit in a good scheme reveal. Not to say the ending is satisfactory. It’s still lazy. It’s just easy to understand why Simon didn’t try for anything ambitious. The movie’s just too crowded.

The Cheap Detective is a mix of The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, set in San Francisco, but still with Nazis after French resistance fighters. The difference is the Nazis are from the Cincinnati chapter and the French resistance fighters just want to open a bistro in Oakland. Cheap Detective has a lot of cheap, deadpan jokes, which only go over thanks to the cast.

Because even though the film’s too small–it’s mostly interiors and the same ones, over and over (budget, presumably)–and Simon doesn’t do much with the script besides the amalgamation of Bogart movies played for laughs, the cast is almost always exceptional. And, when they aren’t, it’s usually because the jokes bad.

Falk is the Bogart caricature. More on Falk in a bit, I need to get through the supporting cast. First, the characters cribbed from Falcon and Casablanca. Falcon: Madeline Kahn is Mary Astor, Marsha Mason is Gladys George (partner’s widow), Dom DeLuise is Peter Lorre, John Houseman is Sydney Greenstreet, Paul Williams is Elisha Cook Jr., and Stockard Channing is de facto Lee Patrick (the secretary). Casablanca: Louise Fletcher is Ingrid Bergman, Fernando Lamas is Paul Henreid, Scatman Crothers is Dooley Wilson, Nicol Williamson is the Nazi commander. Ann-Margret and Sid Caesar are kind of riffs on Big Sleep characters but barely. Then James Coco is around–in the Casablanca stuff–as the club owner, since Falk is the detective not Rick. And Eileen Brennan, in the film’s fourth biggest part, is a sultry night club performer who falls for Falk. Or does she.

Simon’s script adapts scenes from both Falcon and Casablanca, somewhat successfully merging the two. It’s silly, smile-provoking, but effective. Kahn is fantastic, DeLuise is fantastic, Mason is fantastic. Brennan’s good with a thin part folded in on itself, Lamas is good, Ann-Margret is fun, John Houseman does a fine impression (it’s interesting to contrast him with DeLuise or Williams, who aren’t aping the source performances as much). Channing is good. She’s got almost nothing to do. Ditto Williamson. Crothers is basically a cameo. In some ways, so is Coco. Fletcher is the least successful, partially because of the part, partially because she still functions like Ilsa in Casablanca only without any chemistry with Falk.

And now it’s time for some Falk discussion, which–sadly–doesn’t rhyme with frank as much as I’d like.

Falk moves through Cheap Detective amiably, humorously, but always as support for his more outlandish costars. He’s not the straight man; he’s a little befuddled (or is he) and he’s always subdued. He’s a great costar. He’s not a great lead. Anyone putting in any effort dominates their scenes with him (so, basically, not Houseman and not Fletcher, though for different reasons).

Even though Falk’s The Cheap Detective, he’s barely the lead and definitely not the protagonist, not with Simon’s third act shenanigans. Those shenanigans are particularly disappointing because the film’s never better than at the end of the second act, when it seems like it might add up to something.

I suppose it does add up to something, but not anything ambitious or even enthusiastic.

Nice music from Patrick Williams. Decent photography from John A. Alonzo, though there’s only so much he can do given the obviously limited shooting locations. Sidney Levin and Michael A. Stevenson’s editing is a mess. They can’t cut to or from close-ups; some of the problem appears to be Robert Moore’s composition. Cheap Detective is Panavision and almost charming for it, but Moore runs out of shots fast and keeps using the same three-shot over and over again. The shots become predictable. And if you’re familiar with the source material, the scenes become predictable. Cheap Detective gets by thanks to the cast and their enthusiasm more than anything the filmmakers contribute.

The film seems like a better idea than it turns out to be in execution, but there’s still some excellent material throughout. And Kahn, Mason, DeLuise, and Brennan are all great.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Moore; written by Neil Simon; director of photography, John A. Alonzo; edited by Sidney Levin and Michael A. Stevenson; music by Patrick Williams; production designer, Robert Luthardt; produced by Ray Stark; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Peter Falk (Lou Peckinpaugh), Madeline Kahn (Mrs. Montenegro), Marsha Mason (Georgia Merkle), Eileen Brennan (Betty DeBoop), Louise Fletcher (Marlene DuChard), Fernando Lamas (Paul DuChard), Ann-Margret (Jezebel Dezire), Stockard Channing (Bess), Dom DeLuise (Pepe Damascus), James Coco (Marcel), Nicol Williamson (Colonel Schlissel), Scatman Crothers (Tinker), Paul Williams (Boy), John Houseman (Jasper Blubber), Vic Tayback (Lt. DiMaggio), and Sid Caesar (Ezra Dezire).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE NEIL SIMON BLOGATHON HOSTED BY PADDY LEE OF CAFTAN WOMAN and RICH OF WIDE SCREEN WORLD.


RELATED

superior film blogging

Advertisements