Tag Archives: Terence Fisher

The Curse of the Werewolf (1961, Terence Fisher)

The Curse of the Werewolf has an absurd epic structure. Clifford Evans narrates; he eventually comes into the film, which means there’s no way he’d know about events he didn’t witness except everything does apparently take place in the same Spanish town.

First is the story of a beggar, played by Richard Wordsworth, who ends up the forgotten prisoner of Anthony Dawson’s evil Marques. Wordsworth, who has a bunch of dialogue in the beginning, doesn’t speak at all once he’s imprisoned. The jailer has a daughter who can’t speak, so they form a bond.

Unfortunately, when she grows up and becomes a buxom–and still silent–Yvonne Romain, she spurns Dawson’s advances, ends up in the dungeon with Wordsworth, who’s reverted to some kind of man-beast. He attacks her, then dies. She’s released, kills Dawson, escapes. Six months later, after she’s been living in the forest, Evans finds her.

It’s at least twenty minutes into the movie. Curse spends a lot of time on Dawson’s cruelty and Romain’s suffering. The opening scene has Dawson’s wedding party–it figures into Wordsworth’s story–but there aren’t any women. Just a bunch of British guys pretending to be eighteenth century Spaniards. Right off, director Fisher’s composite wastes the frame. He’s always got the camera too far back, like he’s trying to show off the set instead of the actors. And given the first hour is incredibly talky, it’s not a good device.

None of the plot recap above is really a spoiler because none of it is about a werewolf. After Wordsworth hands the film off to Romain, who hands the film off to Evans, Evans quickly gives it over to his servant, Hira Talfrey. She’d be better at caring for pregnant Romain. That’s right, she’s pregnant. And she’s going to have her unwanted baby on Christmas, which–Talfrey tells Evans–is a big no no. Jesus doesn’t want any bastards born on his birthday, so he’s going to curse them.

And what curse does Jesus give on the baby, played by Justin Walters as a boy and Oliver Reed as a sexy man about town? Why, The Curse of the Werewolf.

Sadly, the film doesn’t end with Reed duking it out with Jesus. Instead, it’s an abbreviated werewolf story. Oh, there’s some stuff with Walters as a werewolf cub, but it just drags things out. Curse of the Werewolf drags. It’s never scary and it drags. It doesn’t even have makeup until the last ten minutes or so. Is it good werewolf make-up? Definitely. Is it worth sitting through eighty boring minutes? No.

Reed is basically okay. Talfrey’s pretty good, if you ignore her working class British accent being a tad out of place in eighteenth century Spain. There are a handful of actors whose dialects are part of their schtick. None of them are appropriate for Spain. Reed might try a Spanish accent once or twice, but not excessively.

Many of the people opposite Reed, including Talfrey, are in old age make-up. Some might even go through a couple rounds of it. It doesn’t help any of the performances, but doesn’t really hurt any (except Dawson’s).

Romain’s good at being terrified. Fisher’s directing for her cleavage, not her performance, which never helps. And screenwriter Anthony Hinds’s decision to make her unable to speak might have been convenient budgetary (though, why) but certainly not narratively.

Evans is blah. He’s not bad, but he does nothing with the part. Especially since he’s tasked with providing Reed a good enough home he won’t turn into a werewolf. Catherine Feller plays the middle class girl Reed loves. Only she can keep the werewolf at bay.

Or not, because the movie’s over once the werewolf shows up.

The Curse of the Werewolf is distressingly mundane.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Terence Fisher; screenplay by Anthony Hinds, based on a novel by Guy Endore; director of photography, Arthur Grant; edited by Alfred Cox; music by Benjamin Frankel; production designer, Bernard Robinson; produced by Hinds; released by J. Arthur Rank Film Distributors.

Starring Oliver Reed (Leon), Clifford Evans (Alfredo), Hira Talfrey (Teresa), Justin Walters (Young Leon), Yvonne Romain (Servant Girl), Richard Wordsworth (The Beggar), Catherine Feller (Cristina), John Gabriel (The Priest), and Anthony Dawson (The Marques Siniestro).


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The Mummy (1959, Terence Fisher)

I’ve long held there are no good filmic Dracula adaptations. I’m now going to say there aren’t any good Mummy pictures after the Karloff one. This Hammer production was an officially licensed remake of the Universal production… only not the Karloff title, instead the inferior Universal follow-ups, The Mummy’s Hand and The Mummy’s Tomb. These films are awful, so, in making their first official remake of a Universal horror picture, Hammer chose to remake two awful ones (combining them into a single picture).

I didn’t grow up on Hammer horror films. I knew about them, mostly through their excellent poster art and the Maltin Movie Guide, but I didn’t really see them until I was in college. And then I discovered they’re truly awful, ineptly written wastes of time. The Mummy is, shockingly, one of their better efforts, mostly because it’s a fruit of a poison tree so it’s not Fisher’s fault. Who knows if he’d have directed it well–Jack Asher’s lighting makes the sets look as big as shoe boxes.

Peter Cushing’s a weak lead, but he’s not terrible. Christopher Lee’s okay as the mummy, I guess. Hard to mess it up. Yvonne Furneaux can’t act, but the movie doesn’t really expect anyone to act, so who cares… Only Eddie Bryne, as a police detective, and Felix Aylmer give good performances. They’re very out of place in the picture.

The Mummy‘s a dreadful waste of time and I recommend everyone avoid. But there are worse Mummy pictures.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Terence Fisher; written by Jimmy Sangster; director of photography, Jack Asher; edited by Alfred Cox and James Needs; music by Franz Reizenstein; production designer, Bernard Robinson; produced by Michael Carreras; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Peter Cushing (John Banning), Christopher Lee (Kharis, the Mummy), Yvonne Furneaux (Isobel Banning / Princess Ananka), Eddie Byrne (Inspector Mulrooney), Felix Aylmer (Stephen Banning), Raymond Huntley (Joseph Whemple) and George Pastell (Mehemet Bey, Alias Mehemet Akir).


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They Met in the Dark (1943, Carl Lamac)

They Met in the Dark offers James Mason as a romantic leading man in a thriller. For that one alone, it’s worth a look, but also because it’s an incredibly peculiar film. Not overall, unfortunately, because it descends into a routine wartime propaganda bit about fifth columnists–the details of the sinister plot are very familiar to anyone who’s seen 1930s Hitchcock films. But the point isn’t the plot–it takes some ludicrous turns–but the amusing turn… it reminds, especially at the beginning, of the Hollywood comedy mystery (maybe not a Thin Man but a Thin Man knock-off). It’s fun….

But, nicely, there’s more.

Something about the British filmmaking–even though Lamac was a Bohemian–makes They Met in the Dark quite different. It’s set in the small British village, in the small British pub, in the strange British country home, all staples of Hollywood films… seeing the British make a Hollywood film using those tropes makes for a constantly interesting viewing experience. Until the movie goes for the fifth columnists angle, which it doesn’t for quite a while and takes a little bit to get there even when it’s close, anything is possible and that possibility promises, unfortunately, more than They Met in the Dark delivers.

While Mason is great, once he’s got the girl–which happens a lot sooner than a) it should and b) it’s useful for the plot–his performance changes. It’s standard instead of singular. Mason gives such a wonderfully enigmatic performance–he is the protagonist–I kept suspecting him, along with the romantic interest, even though I knew it wasn’t him.

The female lead, Joyce Howard, is all wrong. She was twenty-one at the time of the film’s release–it was not her first role–her performance is too immature. It doesn’t fit the character’s actions. Phyllis Stanley, in the second female lead, is real good, so the contrast doesn’t help either. I mean, at the end–after I knew it wasn’t going to be Mason–I kept waiting for him to switch love interests, just because he and Howard are all wrong together. He and Stanley had three really nice scenes… Howard was only effective with him when she suspected he was a murderer.

Edward Rigby, David Farrar, Tom Walls, all good in supporting roles. Brefni O’Rorke has some funny scenes–he’s one of the characters who transitions from mystery comedy to wartime thriller the best.

The movie’s limited, obviously, by the plot and the genre, but there’s a lot good about it. Worth a look. The first twenty or thirty minutes are quite nice.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Carl Lamac; screenplay by Anatole de Grunwald and Miles Malleson, from on a story by Basil Bartlett, Victor MacLure and James Seymour, based on a novel by Anthony Gilbert; director of photography, Otto Heller; edited by Winifred Cooper and Terence Fisher; music by Benjamin Frankel; produced by Marcel Hellman; released by General Film Distributors.

Starring James Mason (Richard Francis Heritage), Joyce Howard (Laura Verity), Tom Walls (Christopher Child), Phyllis Stanley (Lily Bernard), Edward Rigby (Mansel), Ronald Ward (Carter), David Farrar (Commander Lippinscott), Karel Stepanek (Riccardo), Betty Warren (Fay) and Walter Crisham (Charlie).


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