Uncharted Cinema #15: Kind Hearts and Coronets

kindheartscoronetsRobert Hamer, UK, 1949, 106 min.

Read about the Uncharted Cinema Project here.

Before: For some reason I thought this was a Powell & Pressburger film. I was wrong. But I am expecting something similar: a witty and smart period piece with some feels.

After: This has a great setup. The film opens on death row. A well-spoken regal young man (Dennis Price) is in a cell writing his memoirs. It’s nearing the time of his execution for the crime of murder.

How did he get to this point? And why is he taking it so matter-of-factly? It was a long road that got him to that point, and the film starts from the beginning.

Without spoiling anything: Louis, our narrator, is a distant relative of the Duke of the D’Ascoyne family and is the last in a long line of elligable family members who will inherit the Dukedom.

Unfortunately, his mother was ostracized from the family and he grew up poor and under-privelaged. But he made due and was happy with his lot, until a brash moment after his mother’s death where he decides that he does deserve the royal title.

But so many relatives stand in his way! An admiral, a priest, the duke’s son, a general, Lady Agatha, and the Duke himself. And the best part, they are all played by Alec Guinness!

It’s a series of great performances in a film filled with great performances. The plot zips along, the jokes are well-written and visually sharp. The whole film is full of unexpected delights.

The style of the film can be exemplified by the two leading ladies, both having central roles in the development of Louis’s character. One is the regal and aristocratic Edith (Valerie Hobson), a prim and proper teetotaler that represents the world Louis is trying to break into. The other is Sibella (Joan Greenwood), the energetic and eager love of his younger years, a passionate and unpredictable force.

That’s the film in a nutshell: a prim and proper British comedy with impeccable upbringing. But one that, even today, is still fresh, fun and surprisingly inventive.

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Uncharted Cinema #14: Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine

drgoldfootNorman Taurog, USA, 1965, 88 min.

Read about the Uncharted Cinema Project here.

Before: I picture this as a mildly amusing 60’s kooky comedy flick. Nothing more, nothing less.

After: This film is a product of it’s time. A time when the Hayes code was on it’s way out and studios were churning out titillating cheapos to take advantage of audience’s new-found predilections.

It checks all the boxes: humor, sex, name-recognition, and to top it off, Goldfinger had come out the year before. I guess the studio didn’t think much else was needed.

The titular Doctor, a fun and campy performance by Vincent Price, is on a mission to collect wealth and power from all the eligible bachelors around the world. To do that he developed a machine that creates bikini-clad female robots. He trains them in all the skills needed to land these powerful mates, strip them of their financial attributes, and return with the goods back to his lab.

Things go awry when his previously-deceased assistant Igor (Jack Mullaney), sends #11 (Susan Hart) out to nab the wrong guy: a lovable loser played by Frankie Avalon. Shenanigans ensue.

The script is very loose and broad. If you are looking for an interesting story, look elsewhere. The script for this one is a wobbly contraption used to hang jokes on.

While some jokes hit, most of them fall flat. You don’t realize how good the great slapstick performers are until you see the so-so ones in this film trying the same style of humor.

There are some interesting things, though. The in-jokes are fun for nostalgic reasons, and Vincent Price pulls of an interesting performance. Susan Hart is something to see as well. Partly because of the gold bikini, and partly because she shows a lot of range.

Is the film entertaining? Mildly. But it does have quirky historical cache. It’s a film that brings together The Supremes (who do the title song), an AIP horror icon, the star of the Beach Party series, a strange claymation title-sequence, and unabashed sexism. You’ll probably never see something like this again. Oh wait… they made a sequel?!?

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Uncharted Cinema #13: Beyond the Black Rainbow

BeyondtheblackrainbowPanos Cosmatos, Canada, 2010, 110 min.

Read about the Uncharted Cinema Project here.

Before: I don’t know much about this film. I’ve seen it on various film lists, but the images and description made it seem like it was going to be weird for weird’s sake, which I hate. But it’s been compared to Cronenberg, so that’s a plus!

After: Beyond the Black Rainbow opens with a vintage 70’s film strip. An advertisement for a cult-like wellness center, Arboria, that promises to deliver members true happiness.

Oh, how wrong they were. For the characters, and, unfortunately, for the viewer as well. This film is a slog. Its visual aesthetic is a claustrophobic second-rate Kubrick clone and its soundtrack is composed of the same brain-numbing repetitive sounds.

The story, without giving too much away, is about a young girl being held for mysterious reasons in the heart of this organization. There are some twists and turns from there, but what happens isn’t very interesting or original.

There isn’t much I can recommend here. The pace is slow, and without any interesting direction or writing, it’s quite excruciating to watch. It just feels like a poor copy of various cult films from the past fifty years.

So many of them did it better: 2001, Altered States, Suspiria, Begotten, Scanners, Solaris. Instead of watching Beyond the Black Rainbow, watch one of those instead.

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Uncharted Cinema #12: In a Lonely Place

In-a-Lonely-PlaceNicholas Ray, USA ,1950, 94 min.

Read about the Uncharted Cinema Project here.

Before: I don’t know much about this. But a film noir starring Bogart and directed by Nicholas Ray? You can’t go wrong with that!

After: This film is anchored by the tension between two opposing genres. The first is a romance between has-been writer Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart) and his neighbor Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame). The second is a murder of a young coat-check girl which may or may not have been committed by Dixon.

Gloria at first thinks he is innocent. In fact, she clears him with the police by being his alibi. But as things move along she thinks there might be more going on she doesn’t yet know about. The dark side of Dixon’s personality is slowly emerging. The best part of the film is the way it makes you feel Laurel’s doubts as to what actually happened.

Bogart is great playing a character that appears to be honest and sincere, albeit gruff. He speaks his mind and leaves everything out on the table. As the film goes on we learn more and more about his character, which puts more and more doubt on what happened the night of the murder.

Is the matter-of-fact attitude that Dixon has what drew Laurel to him? It’s unclear, and that is where the film falls short. The romance happens too quickly and doesn’t have any weight. Unfortunately, because of this, that half of the story doesn’t push hard enough against the thriller half.

It’s a shame, because the rest of the film is really stellar. The acting is great all around, especially in the supporting cast. There are moments of humor and moments of real excitement and tension. But no matter how much the film does right, it was always sitting on a foundation that was half-faulty. The result is a film that approaches greatness, but can never quite get there.

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Uncharted Cinema #11: Scotland, PA

ScotlandPABilly Morrissette, USA, 2001, 104 min. 

Read about the Uncharted Cinema Project here.

Before: I don’t know about this film, besides it’s a version of Macbeth. I’m expecting a very 90’s indie vibe: no money, lots of spirit, good script, uninteresting direction. But I’m probably just type-casting. We’ll see!

After: Well, I was right about one thing. Scotland, PA stinks of an independent film of the time period. But that isn’t a bad thing! This updated Shakespeare tale tells the story of MacBeth but sets it in a small-town restaurant in the 70’s.

“McBeth” (James Le Gros) and his wife (Maura Tierney) work as a waiter and waitress at Duncan’s, just waiting around for things to get better. They assume that will happen when their manager gets fired for stealing and McBeth (the obvious replacement) gets a promotion.

Except the owner (James Rebhorn), decides to keep the management position in the family and give it to his unqualified and ungrateful son, Malcolm.

Well, Lady McBeth can’t stand for that and starts instigating a plot where McBeth murders the owner and they get the restaurant for themselves. Things get complicated with a detective shows up to investigate the unusual crime. Christopher Walken is great in that role. Really pouring on the charm.

The film keeps the tone light despite the subject matter. And that’s good, because the sequence of events, if played seriously, would be preposterous. Instead, they are amusing scenes that let the onscreen talent entertain the audience.

Luckily, the on screen talent is up for the challenge. The stand-ins for the three witches (Andy Dick, Amy Smart, Timothy ‘Speed’ Levitch) are stand outs. As well as Christopher Walken and Maura Tierney. Mostly everyone else does a good job.

And that’s important, because the film itself is driven by its charm. The script isn’t particularly good and the direction is only competent. With lesser actors that would have ruined the film but in this one it is enough to make it worthwhile.

If you don’t know the story of MacBeth, you won’t get all the jokes. I knew the tale but not intimately enough to laugh at every reference. But even if I didn’t know the story, there would still have been plenty in here to amuse me.

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