B.L.O.G Presents: Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (1972)

Today’s B.L.O.G. (Beautiful Lady of Genre, if you’ve forgotten.) is one of the best actresses in the realm of Asian exploitation cinema. In the late 60’s she got her start in martial arts and crime pictures before landing the lead role in Nikkatsu studios in the film Female Juvenile Delinquent Leader: Stray Cat Rock (1970). She would go on to make four more pictures in that series. Then, as Nikkatsu began to make more harder edged Pink Film, she moved to Toei studios where she made tonight’s film, and it’s three sequels. If you know who I’m talking about then you know what a treat tonight’s film is, and if you don’t know then let me introduce you to…

That’s right Meiko Kaji. She’s already a Lair favorite from when she knocked the Bug’s socks off with her hard edge turn as a woman of unstoppable vengeance in Lady Snowblood (1973).However, tonight we’re looking at another of her other iconic characters.

This is a flick that features art house lightning and directing, even though it’s a women in prison movie. It goes deep with camera angles, mobile sets, and symbolism, but it also pays off with sex, violence, and torture, the WIP mainstays. So it is my great honor to bring to you Meiko Kaji and her film…


Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (1972) starring Meiko Kaji, Rie Yokoyama, Fumio Wantanabe, and Isao Natsuyagi. Directed by Shunya Ito.

femaleprisoner701meikokajiDuring a ceremony where the Warden (Wantanabe) is to receive a commendation for his jail, Nami Matsushima (Kaji), known as Matsu to her fellow inmates, tries to make a break for it. She is captured, and having raised the ire of the Warden she is thrown into solitary confinement. While confined she is tortured by the matron who brings her food, and she has time to recall what ended her up here.

She was madly in love with Sugimi (Natsuyagi), a cop out to take down the local Yakuza gangs. In fact she loves him so much, she agrees to be bait in a sting operation. Little did she know that Sugimi had been bought out by the gangs, and he leaves her out to dry. Matsu stalks her former lover and tries to murder him with a butcher knife, but she is stopped and hauled off to the prison.

femaleprisoner701scorpion2Finally regaining a modicum of freedom and returning to general population, Matsu finds herself extremely unpopular with the other ladies. It seems the Warden is coming down hard on all of them for Matsu’s infraction. Especially full of hatred for Matsu, Katagiri (Yokoyama) is contracted by Sugimi to finish off his former flame before she can escape and get to him. When a prison riot provides perfect cover, Katagiri makes her move, but can she kill Matsu or will Sugimi feel the sting of the scorpion.

Film Facts

scorpion701_25–The movie is based on a popular manga series.

–The character of Matsu was originally written as a profanity spewing brat, but the part was rewritten at Kaji’s request to portray the character as more hard boiled.

–Meiko Kaji sang the title song to this film, “Grudge Song” just as she performed the theme to her film Lady Snowblood.

–This was director Shunya Ito’s first film. He continued with the series for two more films.

The Bug Speaks


This is the type of film that is going to make you take notice. It may be the story, the look, the nudity, the violence, or just the kick ass hat that Kaji dons by the film’s end. Whatever the reason for it, there is no denying that there are quite few films which work on so many levels.The film owes much to the stereotype of a women in prison film. It reads like a checklist. A wicked warden, lesbian sex, prison riot, and torture while in solitary are all classic themes we’ve seen in movies from Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1975), Caged Heat (1974), and The Big Bird Cage (1972). Where this film deviates from the form of those films is with it depth.

10405513_tmbThe most obvious thing to mention is the look of the film. First time director Ito and cinematographer Hanjiro Nakazawa gave this film a very distinct and dreamlike quality. Many of the shots come from some very interesting angles, and their play with multicolored lights reminded me very much of Bava. The film still maintains a gritty look that seemed similar to what I saw in Girl Boss Gorilla. The balance of the two gives the film a grounding in reality where rooms with spinning walls, men in random kabuki masks, or gouging someone in the eye with broken glass (and they shake it off) seem as normal as can be.

The atmosphere of the film grants it a pass to do far out things, and the simplicity of the script’s familiar story really gives it wings. You already know where the film is headed before you watch it. Yet the dynamics of the film and the visual style are so impressive, that it ceases to matter.

female_prisonerNone of these feats could have been accomplished without Miko Kaji as Matsu. I was reading an article on this film, and the author described Kaji as having a singular look in the film. This is entirely true. From the moment we meet Matsu, she is the vision of strength, power and feminine rage, and honestly can you blame her? Except for in the flashback we never get much of a look at Kaji without seeing her with flames in her eyes. This performance gave the film a constant which the dramatic and visual variables could orbit around. Kaji becomes the center of the movie by acting like the Sun. She is a molten, fiery, hot mass at the center of this film, and everything else in it is just stuck in her orbit.

sasori_plakat_02There are several other fine performances in the film. I especially liked Yokoyama as the scheming prison rival and Wantanabe as the warden. So I don’t want to take anything away from them, but there is good reason that Miko Kaji was able to be the grounding force behind three successful franchise characters. Your eye is drawn to her for her beauty,her steely toughness, and in the final few moments of the movie, for her kick ass outfit.

If you haven’t seen this film and you’re a fan of either Women in Prison or Asian cinema, you owe it to yourself to check this one out. I think you’ll find yourself hooked from the moment you start watching it…. or should I say stung?

Hitch on the Hump: Frenzy (1972)

necktie-killerfrenzyWelcome back to another installment of Hitch on the Hump. I know it has been quite some time since the last appearance of the Master of Suspense, but now he’s back and I’m ready to resume my goal of reviewing all of his films. To kick the series off again, I wanted to revisit Frenzy(1972) which I’ve reviewed here some time back, but it didn’t get the HotH treatment. I enjoy many of his films immensely, but there’s something about Frenzy that intrigues me. I’ve re-watched the film a few times since then, and I even had the good fortune to find the book that the film was based on and give that a read. Frenzy was Hitchcock’s next to last film, and it saw the master trying hard to keep up with the times. Many people have criticized the director for the results, but I find the film to be darkly comic, perverse, and full of the great cinematic moments that Hitch was known for.

la-berneIn the aftermath of his plodding 1969 Cuban Missile Crisis inspired film Topaz, Hitchcock sought a property that would fit more in the mold of a “Hitchcockian” film. He found what he was looking for in Arthur La Bern’s 1966 book Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square. La Bern had a proven track record as another of his novels was the basis for the 1947 film It Always Rains on Sunday, and Goodbye Piccadilly contained a wrong man plot, a dark humor, and moments that must have reminded Hitchcock of both The Lodger and Psycho. To script the film, Hitchcock wanted a writer as English as the setting and material, and so he chose writer Anthony Schaffer best known for the play (and film) Sleuth. Hitchcock and Schaffer shaped the script from the book, excising some portions that worked on the page, but would just eat up time on screen. In the end, La Bern criticized the films both for its “appalling dialog” and overall distasteful nature. This is somewhat surprising considering that the most violent passages were lifted directly from the novel. Hitchcock took the novelists criticism in stride mentioning how much money the writer would make when, “They release the book with our title.” which of course the publishers did.

frenzyThe film starts with a bartender, Richard Blaney (Jon Finch) losing his job for nicking a drink finds himself broke and low on luck. He doesn’t even have enough money to put down on a 20 to 1 sure bet at the track that his friend Bob Rusk (Barry Foster) told him about. To make matters worse, he pays a visit to his ex-wife Brenda (Barbara Leigh-Hunt), now a prosperous London matchmaker, and makes a fool out of himself at her club when she invites him to dinner. To cap off his day, Dick has to resort to sleeping at a Salvation Army shelter as he has no place else to go. Just when he thinks things can’t get any worse, Brenda turns up dead, strangled to death by the Necktie Killer who has been stalking the London’s streets. Richard had been seen leaving her office shortly before she was discovered, and soon he becomes the prime suspect. He goes into hiding with the help of his girlfriend Babs (Anna Massey), but she is later found dead as well. Framed for murders he did not commit, Dick becomes a victim of circumstance while the real killer gets away, but will justice ever get served.

frenzy1Unlike my synopsis, by the time the first murder is committed you know exact ally who has committed the crimes, and so for ease of talking about the film I will say now that the killer is Richard’s dapper, fruit salesman friend Bob Rusk. The character was supposed to be a “man about town” type, and originally Hitchcock had wanted Michael Caine for the role. Caine, however, proved to be too busy to take the part and instead Barry Foster was cast. Foster bears an obvious resemblance to Caine with his wavy hair and memorable face. He had also appeared in Twisted Nerve (1968), a British thriller with a Bernard Herrmann score that Hitchcock had screened while he was preparing for the film. Foster is absolutely why this film works. His Rusk is nearly the polar opposite of Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates. Where Norman was nervous and twitchy, Rusk is supremely confident, charming, devilish, and well dressed. (He is also impotent, but the movie doesn’t go as far into that as the novel.) In one of the most violent scenes that Hitch ever put to film, Foster plays the killer chillingly, but he is also charismatic enough that his trials to free a tiepin from the rigored hand of a dead woman in the back of a potato truck still play off as the darkest of comedy.

5697-6821Less successful was Hitchcock’s casting of Jon Finch as Richard Blaney. In a way, he was everything that Blaney should have been, a dull, unassuming and uninteresting man who is drawn into a terrible set of circumstances. His performance may have suffered because before production even began Finch made the mistake of referring to Hitchcock as “past his prime” and inferred that the actors might have to improvise to improve the script. Hitch nearly recast the role, but instead he gave the actor no leeway instructing the script girl to prompt Finch sharply if he deviated from his written lines. The one time that he openly questioned a line on set production came to a halt until Anthony Schaffer could be found and consulted. The director even cut down on the close-ups of Finch, and the careful eye will notice how much more the camera likes Foster’s Rusk than the “hero” of the film. As Patrick McGilligan noted in his biography of Hitchcock, neither the novel or the film portrays Blaney as anything other than a self absorbed ass even after his ex-wife and girlfriend are killed. From start to finish, this is a film about the killer and the patsy that is framed for the crimes is merely there to propel the film along.

frenzy2There are also some interesting supporting characters, and I want to take a moment to talk about them. Alec McCowen and Vivian Merchant have some of the most memorable scenes as Inspector Oxford and his wife. As the Inspector discusses the case over his wife’s horribly cooked epicurean adventures, the two banter in a believable and interesting way. The performances of both actors added an extra layer not evident in the novel, and they were a pure Hitchcock touch. Barbara Leigh-Hunt has little screen time, but I have to commend her for her bravery in filming the most violent of all Hitchcock scenes. Cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, fondly recalled Hitchcock’s sympathy toward the actress when she had to film the scene where her clothes were torn off and she was murdered. “He tried to spare the girl’s modesty because she didn’t like what she was doing, she didn’t like exposing her breasts.” The scene is powerful and harrowing, a credit to both the actress and the director daring to go further than he ever had.

directrorchairI mentioned Gilbert Taylor before, but I haven’t had time to talk about how great this film looks. Taylor had served as cinematographer on films like Dr. Strangelove and The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night, and he captures both the essential Britishness of the film and some stunning tracking shots that were pure Hitchcock. One, in effect the reverse of the stairway shot in Psycho, follows Rusk and his victim up a stairway until they disappear into a room then the camera slowly, smoothly tracks down to the London street as the murder takes place off-screen. Not only is it a wonderful shot, it also illustrates something one of Hitchcock’s main themes, violent terrible acts happen right in the midst of everyday life. If there’s a weak portion of the film, then it must be the score by Ron Goodwin. While it is more than serviceable, it also made me long for long time collaborator Bernard Herrmann who had fallen out with the director. Knowing what Herrmann had done in the similarly themed Twisted Nerve, I can only speculate how interesting his work on this film would have been. Goodwin provides decent music for many of the set pieces, but none of it really sticks in my head or brought the film to another level.

frenzy4Frenzy really was Hitchcock’s stab at staying relevant to modern cinemagoers, and it was also the first film of his to be tagged with an ‘R’ rating. Some people have criticized this film for trying to hard, but Hitchcock had never been one to stay behind the times. He was a progressive filmmaker, and it doesn’t surprise me that he would want to push the boundaries of sex and violence in his films. I find it to be a fascinating work, and while it may not quite stack up to some of his earlier work, it is a film I gravitate back to repeatedly. This was really the last film where Hitch was able to put all of himself into the production, and the fact that it retuned him to his native England for the first time in 20 years surely was revitalizing to the director. He had one more film in him, the underwhelming 1976 feature FamilyPlot, but by that time both he and his wife Alma were in ailing heath. Frenzy is the work of a master director expanding his limits, and to me, it is as important a film as he ever made.

Ursula Andress Undressed For Dinner


Statuesque blond beauties have been a hallmark of cinema over the years. From Jayne Mansfield to Marilyn Monroe, the camera has always loved a bombshell, but there’s one scene that stands out above the rest. When Ursula Andress emerges from the Caribbean waters in the first James Bond picture, Dr. No. , a sex symbol had been born. Andress had taken the part on a lark and assumed that no one would see the movie, but instead the vision of her in the iconic white bikini has been burned into the psyche of the world’s movie goers. Dr. No. was made in 1962, and by the late 1970’s, Ursula’s star had fallen a bit. She had yet to film her memorable 1981 performance in Clash of the Titans when she took a role in a Italian picture opposite a young Stacy Keach who himself was five years away from defining himself to the American public as Mike Hammer. Tonight we bring you that film at brought these past and future icons together.

The Mountain of the Cannibal God (Montagna del diocannibale) starring Ursula Andress, Stacy Keach, and Claudio Cassinelli. Directed by Sergio Martino.

As the film opens we are introduced to Susan Stephenson (Andress), as she travels to New Guinea in search of her lost husband Henry. She is accompanied by her brother Arthur (Antonio Marsina who reminded me of Jude Law quite a lot in this film.). They are sent to Dr. Edward Foster (Keach) to enlist his help as a guide through the jungles. He thinks that her husband was headed for the island of Roka and the mountain of Ra Ra Mi. He agrees to guide them and they set off accompanied by some natives and Foster’s assistant Sura.

They make it through the jungle and onto the island. (Along the way there’s a scene of graphic animal violence that I will get into later.) Once they reach the island almost immediately one of their native helpers is killed in an animal trap, and they are attacked by masked islanders. Susan is cornered by and islander, but she is saved by Manolo (Cassinelli). They are taken to Father Moses’ mission on the island, and true motives for the expedition start to come to light. Edward was once a prisoner of the Puka tribe and forced to take part in their cannibalistic rituals. I loved the wild eyed look on Stacey Keach’s face as he intones “You never forget the taste of human flesh.” He is only interested in making sure the cannibal tribe has been wiped out. After being kicked out of the mission for bringing violence and lust among them, the party presses on toward the mountain. As they get to their destination, we learn of a plot of exploit the land for Uranium deposits and finally get a full glory and gory encounter with the Puka tribe.

I have to take a couple of minutes to talk about some specific parts of this film. The foremost thing on my mind are the scenes of animal violence. These are a running trait in the Italian cannibal films, but one particular bit of footage in this film sets it apart. A monkey is eaten by a very large python, and you see the helpless animal as it struggles to free itself from the overpowering jaws of the snake. The fear is very real and visceral in it’s eyes, and it made it a very tough scene for this hardened Bug to watch. To add insult to injury, I watched the interview footage of director Sergio Martino. Sergio seems to remember this animal snuff as being a happy accident caught spontaneously on film, but as the documentary shows (and it was pretty obvious even in viewing the movie), the monkey was pushed from off screen into the waiting python’s mouth. Sergio seems to have quite a selective memory of this film because he also claims there is no strong sexual content. In the course of the movie we see several topless island girls, and island girl masturbating, a man having sex with a giant boar, and several nude scenes from Miss Andress herself. The latter of these things is one reason I went out and tracked down this film. She was 43 when this movie was made, and there is no comparison between the plastic robots that are held up as beauty queens in this age and the natural beauty witnessed here.

To sum it all up, this movie was extremely well made. As with many of the Italian directors, the shots were set up beautifully and you can tell even though Martino was working in a low brow genre, he brought an artistic vision to the project. I enjoyed all the performances, and the plot was pretty well done with enough twists and turns in it to keep it interesting throughout. The score by Guido and Maruizio de Angelis really fits the film well and provide great atmosphere to the tenser moments. I recommend this film, but with the caveat that one needs to be aware of snake scene before you go into it. The cannibal gore itself is nothing special as compared to the modern age of special effects, but it’s that singular act of “nature” that will remain with me for years to come.

Jeepers Creepers (2001) Death Loves Johnny Mercer

jeepersHoly shazbot, this makes three days in a row, and this time I’m back with an old favorite. Sometimes with all the new flicks I want to talk about, I neglect to go back and really talk about old favorites that deserve a place on your shelf, your queue, and definitely on the Lair. I’m talking about 2001’s Jeepers Creepers, everyone’s favorite supernatural slasher film with a vague connection to a 1930’s Johnny Mercer tune. Some say that United Artists was all for the connection as they were the original rights owners of the song, but little known are the other Johnny Mercer themed slashers they intended to make after Jeepers Creepersmade big box office. The Girlfriend of the Whirling Dervish,The Lady on the Two Cent Stamp, and Hooray for Spinach all went into pre-production, but none of them ended up making it to the big screen. The world will never know what randomly thrown together plots and loose collection of powers those song-powered sadists might have contained. All we can do is appreciate what we do have and enjoy watching Jeepers Creepers.

jeepers-creepers-2001-14-gDarry and Trish (Justin Long and Gina Phillips) star as a brother and sister on their way home for spring break. Trish, in no hurry to get home and face her mother’s endless questions about her boyfriend, asks Darry to take the long way down two-lane country roads to delay their arrival. (I’m betting she never took anything that wasn’t an Interstate ever again.) After having an encounter with a rusty, aggressive truck on the road, they spot the driver dropping what looks like a human body down a shaft. Derry (being softhearted as well as softheaded) wants to go back and see if anyone needs help. Naturally, this only gets them deeper involved with “The Creeper”, a flying, axe wielding demon that’s woken up for its annual feeding like a bloodthirsty cicada.  Working from a sense of smell, “The Creeper” is soon hunting down the siblings and killing off anyone who might help them. Hence look for deaths from the great Eileen Brennan (Clue, The Sting, Private Benjamin), Brandon Smith (Robocop 2, No Country for Old Men), and Patricia Belcher (Bones, Flatliners, every sitcom in the last 15 years).

the-creeper-jeepers-creepers-imageGiven the curtest inspection to the plot, the killer’s motivations, origins, etc, or the actions of 95% of the film’s characters,Jeepers Creepers fades faster than fingerprints left by dead skin cells. For me,Jeepers is one of those films where it’s best I turn my brain off, sit back, and start yelling at people for being stupid. Knowingly Gina even says to Derry as he tries to lean down “The Creepers“ body chute, “You know that point in horror movies where somebody does something stupid and everybody hates them for it. This is it.” It was, but there are also a jillion examples of that very behavior in this film. No matter what is happening around Gina and Derry, they have to stop and look at it. These two really are a supernatural serial killer’s dream, bratty, brash, dumb, and always ready to stop for help and provide a few more bodies. Trying to make Jeepers Creepersmake sense (don’t even get me started on actual on screen continuity), is a fools errand, and I know while fools are off doing such things I could be gleefully watching the Mac guy get it.

jeepers-creepers1Writer/Director Victor Salva broke through to the mainstream in 1995 when his strange little film Powder became something of a surprise hit. Before then Salva had stuck to genre type features, but after he took one more stab at family friendly fare with Rites of Passage in 1999. It’s success (or lack thereof) is probably best illustrated by the fact that two years later he returned to horror with Jeepers and has kept on the path of terror ever since. Jeepers Creepers, while lacking some in the story and sense department, is a gorgeously filmed movie. Salva worked with his frequent collaborator Don E. FauntLeRoy, and they did a great job both setting the movie’s tone and working out great shots for their killer. With such a high concept design, demon head, silver spiked axe, frizzy hair, duster, wings, and so forth, Salva did an excellent job slowly revealing portions of the killer, slowly building the whole picture in the audience’s mind.

10963-1-400x400Jeepers Creepers would never go on my shortlist of great horror films unless the category was “winged slashers” then it would probably take top honors. It would however go on a list of films I just find to be super enjoyable to watch. The kills are grotesque enough, the killer interesting enough, and the characters completely enjoyable to yell at when they do stupid things. This is especially true of Justin Long. (While I’ve never been a big fan of Justin, his acting is particularly sketchy in JC and it doesn’t help that his character is fairly unlikable. Drew, what do you see in that dimwit?) Jeepers Creepers is the perfect type of film to put on and have fun watching. Who cares where you got them eyes as long as they’re watching something that you enjoy.

Feature Friday: Massacre in Dinosaur Valley (1985)

It’s the fourth Friday this month, and we’re nearing completion of our jungle adventure. Now that we’ve survived two waves of cannibals and escaped from the Amazons, it’s time for a little spot of jungle adventure. Tonight’s film takes us deep into the Amazon, the Green Hell itself, for an adventure with some laughs, some nudity, some heart rippin’, and a touch of political commentary. Gather round one and all, and beware the tale of the…. massacre_in_dinosaur_valley_poster_02

Massacre in Dinosaur Valley (1985) starring Michael Sopkiw, Suzane Carvalho, Milton Morris, and Andy Silas. Directed by Michele Massiomo Tarantini.

000730-a Bone hunter Kevin Hall (Sopkiw) talks his way onto a flight into the dense jungle to a secret location known as Dinosaur Valley. Accompanied by Dr. Ibanez, his lovely daughter Eva (Carcalho), Vietnam vet Captain Heinz (Morris) , Heinz’s wife Betty, and a fashion photographer with his two models. Their small plane crash lands in the wrong part of the jungle, and the pilot is killed. They set out on foot to find their way home under Captain Heinz’s direction, but they soon become even more lost, and worse yet deep in cannibal country.

The group is perused by the cannibals, and soon one of the models and Eva are taken hostage. The two girls are offered up in a ritual to appease the tribe’s Gods, but Kevin comes to the rescue. They take off though the jungle, but soon fall into the clutches of China (Silas), the head of an illegal mining operation. China imprisons Kevin and intends to make the girls sex slaves Kevin struggles to free himself, but perhaps it is their fate to perish in Dinosaur Valley.

Film Facts

000730-d –For the scene where the tribe’s priest eats a heart, the actor playing the priest dined on a fresh pig’s heart.

–Most of the cannibals are played by Brazilian military men who were on leave.

–Michele Massiomo Tarantini was more widely known for his sex comedies. He was also the assistant director on The Case of the Bloody Iris.

The Bug Speaks

This flick surprised me on a couple of levels. I try not look look into anything, or anything much, about the films before I watch them. So when I put it on and it had the slick ’80’s sheen to it, I was ready for disappointment. Luckily I didn’t get it, instead I got an old fashion adventure movie which brought to mind several contemporary films. Romancing the Stone (1984) andKing Solomon’s Mines (1985) sprang instantly to mind. Unlike those two films, Tarantini filled this movie with ton’s of nudity and a fair amount of gore.

000730-bMost of the other actors leave little impression (guys who looked like Borat and Hurley from Lost) or the impression they leave is one of what their naked body looks like (basically all the women in the film) However there are a few exceptions Micheal Sopkiw, previously seen in Martino’s 2019:After the Fall of New York (1983), does turn in a great hammy performance that any Bruce Campbell fan would enjoy. He’s a man of action, but he’s always got time for a one liner. Sometimes they are very funny, and sometimes he just calls the bad guy, “and evil, fat, smelly bastard”. The other real exception is Andy Silas as the evil mine foreman China. He is delightfully evil in the part, and seems to be doing both a good and convincing job of being a scum bag.

massacre-in-dinosaur-valley-3The direction of the film is nothing special. These kind of films were obviously not Tarantini’s forte, but he manages to give this flick a  great ’80’s feel. I really liked that this seemed like it could have been retitled Like Totally a Cannibal Movie. It was a welcome departure from the muddy look of earlier pictures in the genre. What Tarantini did really well though was construct the script. Featuring such disparate pieces as men in dinosaur masks, a fight in piranha infested water, death by quicksand, and evil lesbians, Tarantini managed to stitch together a very entertaining little flick.

000730-cThere are some other great scenes as well, but I don’t want to spoil much for you folks that have not seen this one. Suffice it to say that it contains my favorite spear to the gut effect. With no animal violence or huge piles of gore, this film doesn’t really stack up with the impact of it’s sub-genre brethren. What it does accomplish is becoming it’s own kind of film. Sure there was stuff I found reminiscent of this or that, but if you pick hard enough you’ll find that almost everywhere. What this film did is successfully bring together the action film, the comedy, and the cannibal to make for one really fun time.


Hitch on the Hump: The Lodger (1927)

alfred-hitchcock-on-the-s-001Of all things, we have electric cables to thank for Alfred Hitchcock making his way into the film world. In 1918, Hitchcock was a nineteen year old man working in the advertising department of Henley’s, a company specializing in early electrical supplies. At the time, there was no separation between the writers and artists in the advertising department; they were one in the same. So the young Alfred spent his days writing brochures to sell Henley’s wares and then illustrating them as well. In time he found he had some degree of proficiency with the pen on both accounts. In 1921, when he saw that Famous Players-Lasky, a London based production arm of Paramount Studios, was looking for artists for the captions in silent films, he prepared a portfolio of designs and was quickly offered work. April 27th of the same year was Hitchcock’s last day in advertising and his first in the movie world.

43As luck or necessity would have it, Hitchcock ended up working far beyond the job description as a “captionist”, and the hard working young man soon parlayed his break first into a job assistant directing films before working his way into the big chair. In 1925, he helmed his first directorial feature, The Pleasure Garden, followed closely by 1926’s The Mountain Eagle. Unfortunately, neither of those film survive in their entirety. However his third film, which the director himself noted that “you could almost say that The Lodger was my first picture”, managed to survive through the decades. It was also the first script that Hitchcock chose from properties available from the studio, and the young director relished translating a novel that he loved for the screen.

bf2838f0cfddab1593366585051434d414f4541Written by Marie Belloc Lowndes and published in 1913, the novel was a best seller in it’s time, and when it was brought to the stage in 1916, Hitchcock went to see the show and liked it though it departed from the novel by adding in humorous elements. The film was adapted to screen by Players-Lasky writer Eliot Stannard who would pen nine of Hitchcock’s early silent films. Like the stage adaptation, TheLodger would also have some major changes made to it for film viewers.

0808_000017The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog concerns a Landlady and her husband (Marie Ault and Arthur Chesney) who take in a new lodger (Ivor Novello). Soon their daughter Daisy (June Howard-Tripp), a model, falls for the lodger much to the chagrin of her policeman boyfriend (Malcolm Keen), but the copper becomes convinced that the lodger is none other than The Avenger who stalks the streets every Tuesday night killing off young blonde woman.

3139The first major change to the script came not as a necessity as much as a demand. Ivor Novello was quite the dashing leading man, and it was quite important that his image remained intact. The lodger in the novel turned out to be the murderous Avenger, and it would not do at all for the heart throb to turn out to be the villain. So with some rewrites, Novello turned out to be the first “wrong man” in the Hitchcock pantheon. He also set the framework for many of the Hitchcock leading men with his lanky build and raven hair, a sort of polar opposite to the short, fat, balding director. Hitchcock rather liked Novello, but as biographer Patrick McGilligan notes, “he was wary of the actor because of his acting limitations and his homosexuality, unknown to his female fans but no secret to those around him.”

0115Another prototypical archetype that first appears in The Lodger is June Howard-Tripp (billed simply as June) as the demure curly headed blonde, a perfect target for The Avenger. June was a dancer and star of musical comedies, but she had screen-tested with Novello a few years prior and the star may have requested her. Throughout his career, Hitchcock was testy about his “fixation with blondes” and in referring to the blondes in his early films he noted that they photographed in higher contrast. Then again he also remarked, “I more or less base my idea of sexuality on Northern European woman. I think northern Germans, the Scandinavians, and the English are much sexier, although they don’t look it.” June, with her nubile young looks, is quite fetching in The Lodger as well as providing an excellent turn as a woman caught between a cop and a suspect.

0279Even with these early films, Hitchcock was playing with the camera to see what striking images he could bring to life. The first appearance of the lodger at the door with his top hat and scarf wrapped around his face easily brings to mind the influence that the German Expressionist directors like Murnau and Lang had on the young director. It could easily have been a slice of film cut straight from Murnau’s Nosferatu. The other great trick shot in the film comes as the landlords listen to their new lodger pace upstairs. First we follow their eyes to a swinging chandelier and then the floor fades to show the soles of the lodger’s shoes as he walks. In his interviews with Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock noted that, “many of these visual devices would be superfluous today because we could use sound effects instead.” and went on to say, “Today I would simply use the swinging chandelier.” Even if Hitch thought that his trickery was overdone, it is important to note that, as he would do in almost all his films, Hitchcock was constantly interested in experimenting to create new and exciting visuals for his audience.

0748When the film was complete, it did not garner the high praise that the director had hoped for, and the studio brought in film critic Ivor Montagu to fix the film which the producers sneeringly deemed too “artistic”. Montagu fell in love with Hitchcock’s film, and the promise that the young film maker held. He helped Hitchcock pare down the intertitle cards that numbered near 500, and suggested some minor reshoots to the ending of the film. Other than that he basically left Hitch’s film alone, and it was released in 1927 and was named in Hitchcock’s words as “the greatest British picture made up to that date.” The Lodger also marked another beginning of sorts. Alma Revile worked as the Assistant Director on the production, and soon after completion of the film she became Mrs. Hitchcock. She would continue to work with Hitchcock on his films throughout his career. From inception to script to screen, she became his constant companion and collaborator for the rest of their lives.

0946For all the times I have railed against film viewers who have trouble watching Black and White films, I have my own prejudices. I find silent film near impossible to keep my attention, and to be honest, TheLodger was no exception. I watched this film in short bursts so I could keep my mind on the subject at hand, and I did find the film enjoyable though by the standards of modern film it has quite a slow pace. If it were not for the interesting use of cinematography, I may have found it less compelling than I did. That being said, I do recommend that any fan of Hitchcock’s films take a look at this one. While it would be many years and many more films before Hitchcock returned to the thriller genre, The Lodger shows that the director was predisposed to dark themes in his film from the very beginning.


The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t (1966): Holiday Film Italian Style!

247969-1020-aLast week I promised you folks a Christmas movie that hailed from the Italian peninsula. With only a few days left until the big holiday, here is the film as promised. I’ve been watchingThe Christmas that Almost Wasn’t for many, many years now. Back in the early ’80’s, they used to play this every year on HBO, and I’ve been slowly wearing out my tired copy taped off TV since then. The heartwarming tale was always a favorite, but it wasn’t until I was watching it last year that I noticed something seemed a little off. I don’t know how it never occurred to me that it wasn’t an American production, but it somehow it did not. I thought I should take a look into this film, and I was a little surprised by what I found. The film I had grown up loving was an Italian production by the name ofIl Natale che quasi non fu (1966) directed by Rossano Brazzi. So today, I am very happy to share with you this little remembered gem from Italy which is one of my very favorite Christmas classics.

untitledIt’s a week before Christmas and Santa (Alberto Rabagliati) is in trouble. With nowhere else to turn, Santa asks for help from Sam Whipple (Paul Tripp), a lawyer who as a child once sent a thank you letter to Santa. It seems that Santa is being evicted from the North Pole by Phineas T. Prune (Rossano Brazzi), a child hating miser who wants to put an end to Christmas. Sam and Santa try to appeal to Prune’s better judgment, but when that doesn’t work Santa gets a job as a department store Santa to try and make the rent. Prune ruins that too, and it all looks hopeless. Santa’s only hope is the children of the world who rally to save the holiday that they all love.

untitled-1Written by American children’s show personality Paul Tripp, The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t is the rare case of a heartwarming holiday film that doesn’t feel mushy. In fact, at times the film feels quite grim. After all, I can’t think of another film where Santa Claus looks so depressed. While it still appealed to me as a kid, I’m not sure what youngsters today might think about it with its melancholy tone. The “grown ups” out there who have a passion for Italian genre film will probably dig on this flick. It has the same kind of look and feel as similar Italian fare from the era, and even a few genre film connections as well.

untitled-2At the time, director/star Rossano Brazzi was known primarily for his turn in 1958’sSouth Pacific, and he worked on both sides of the Atlantic in both TV and film in small roles. Brazzi was just perfect for the part of Phineus T. Prune with his look that seemed like he might twirl his mustache and tie a women to railroad tracks at any moment. He clearly enjoyed the role as the Christmas stopping baddie, and his scenes with Prune’s butler, the Lurch-like Blossom (John Karlsen), are incredibly entertaining. (Karlsen would go on to appear in Michele Sovai’s 1989 film The Church as well as Roger Corman’s 1990 film Frankenstein Unbound.) Brazzi did a find job with both his duties, and while the film doesn’t contain a lot of flash, it is directed with a steady hand and is not without its artistic flourishes. Brazzi would continue to act right up until his death in 1994, and over the course of his career he appeared in 1981’s The Final Conflict, 1974’s Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks, and 1969’s The Italian Job.

untitled-3The other star of the film is Paul Tripp as Sam Whipple, and I’m afraid genre film connections are nil as far as Mr. Tripp is concerned. His career was grounded in children’s programming, and he has that same affable nature that Fred Rogers exhibited for all those years. Tripp is entertaining, but the parts of the film that focus on Whipple and Santa are the weakest. Thankfully they are few and far between. It is interesting to note that, like most Italian films of the time, it was filmed without sound and dubbed later. Only Brazzi and Tripp provide their own voices and singing to the soundtrack.

untitled-4There are several other solid supporting characters as well. This was the last film in the career of Alberto Rabagliati, who played Santa, and there is something especially endearing to me about his glum Kris Kringle. Mrs. Claus was played by Rossano Brazzi’s wife Lydia, and it must have been quite fun for her to give her heel playing husband a hard time. The last performer I have to mention is Mischa Auer as Santa’s head elf Jonathan. He’s really charismatic and entertaining, and this role came at the end of a long career playing eccentric characters in films such as Orson Welles’ Mr. Arkadin, the Abbott and Costello film Hold that Ghost, and Frank Capra’s You Can’t Take it With You.

untitled-5Now I’ve gone quite far into this film without mentioning the songs. That’s partially because I don’t want to scare anyone off because it’s a musical and partially because the music is where it has it strongest and strangest genre film connection. Like the screenplay, the lyrics to the songs were written by Paul Tripp, but the score and orchestration was handed over to Bruno Nicolai. The composer for films such as Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have The Key, The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, Eugenie, and The Mercenary turns in a whimsical score that is far removed from his better known work. The songs are quite catchy and memorable throughout, and after you’ll often find tunes like “The Name of the Song is Prune”, “I’m Bad”, and “Why Can’t Everyday be Christmas” popping into your head. There is also an excellent title tune sung by Glen Yarborough whose voice you might recognize from the songs he sang for the Rankin-Bass versions of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. (His style was also parodied a couple of years back on South Park when they detailed the adventures of Lemmiwinks the gerbil.)

untitled-6From beginning to end, I really love this film. Because of how close I am to it, I’m not sure how objectively I can rate this film, but I really encourage folks to check this one out. Unfortunately, even though it is available on DVD, Netflix does not currently carry the film. It can be picked up cheaply from Amazon. I got a spanking new DVD copy for 3 bucks.. For fans of Italian genre film, I think this is the perfect Christmas treat. The Christmas that Almost Wasn’t shouldn’t be the Christmas the film that you didn’t see. Check this one and enjoy the best thing Italy added to Christmas since Panettone. Mmm, raisins.

Christmas Shorts: The Christmas Eves (1936): These Gals Stuff Stockings with Gams

I’ve stumbled across a number of interesting little Christmastime titles over the weekend, so I wanted to share a few of these with you folks. Starting at the oldest thing I dug up, the 1936 film The Christmas Eves. It starts off innocently enough with four girls (who apparently sleep in two beds) wake up for Christmas morning….

When the girls wake up, it’s time to gather under the Christmas tree to open presents.


Which turn out to be stockings and sweaters. Naturally this requires the girls to take off all their clothes to try them on.


Of course those aren’t their only presents, they get trains,


and toy planes…


and apparently handguns…


The handgun was definately this gal’s favorite…


Then they participate in a favorite holiday tradition, bottomless target shooting…


It was a very merry Christmas for all, but next year I hope Santa can see his way to bringing these girls some pants.


It’s not the way my family celebrates the holiday, but I do see how it could have certain advantages.

Hope you folks enjoyed this first rather risqué installment of Christmas Shorts.  I’ll have another tomorrow and all kind of goodies planned leading up to the big day.

Celebrate Mardi Gras With The Bugg!

Hey folks. It’s Mardi Gras, and before I give up not being awesome for Lent (so easy, let me just say), I want to live it up. For me living it up means looking back at all the old, and new, New Orleans related posts that can be found in and around The Lair.

(Just click on the poster to be whisked off to any of the reviews)

First off let’s start with the new stuff. How about the definitive look into the Video Nasty title Mardi Gras Massacre. Well, you can see it for yourself today over at the Bloodsprayer. If you want all the ancient Aztecan rituals that Mardi Gras is known for, then head on over and check it out.


Now to look into the Lair and see what else we can find.

First up The Cincinnati Kid with Steve McQueen. While the title may feature a Northern locale, the setting of this Norman Jewison film is all New Orleans. With a great cast featuing McQueen, Ann Margaret, Karl Malden, and Edward G. Robinson, it’s a good way to get your NOLA going.


ext up is one that has very little location shooting in it apart from the old New Orleans Zoo, but where else could a film like Cat People be set at than New Orleans?


One of my absolute favorite pieces of Crescent City cinema is the Jean Claude Van Damme/ John Woo collaboration Hard Target. You get lots of great city shots and Van Damme as a cajun!


Easily the best thriller to come out of NOLA is Alan Parker’s Angel Heart. Not only is it creepy as hell, it will surely scare you how much different Mikey Rourke looks these days.


Less successful was Clint Eastwood’s try at a NOLA thriller,1984’s Tightrope, starring Clint on the trail of a prostitute killing murderer in the French Quarter.


One of the best horror films to ever come out of New Orleans is the Blaxploitation horror classicJ.D.’s Revenge. While you get quite a bit of ’70’s New Orleans to look at, there’s also a great and interesting story.


Easily the worst horror film to come out of New Orleans has to be Zombies Vs. Mardi Gras, but with a title like that how can you resist? While it is really quite bad, it’s not without its charms.


So check these out or your favorite film set in New Orleans today to celebrate Mardi Gras. Until tomorrow, have a great holiday and I’ll see you all back here tomorrow for a special Hitch on the Hump.

B.L.O.G Presents The Innocents (1961)

Welcome back once more to another edition of B.L.O.G, and after the intensity and brutality of Martyrs, I looked toward the classics for something a bit more subdued. I found it in the premiere adaptation of the Henry James novel The Turn of the Screw, a classic tale of supernatural horror… or is it merely psychological. That’s the beauty of the performance we get from the lovely….


Scottish born Deborah Kerr was already an established star by 1961. In fact, she had already achieved cinematic immorality after her iconic beachside make out session with Bert Lancaster inFrom Here to Eternity (1953).  Then in 1956 she appeared in yet another iconic role when she became Anna opposite You Brenner’s king in The King and I. Kerr would rarely step foot into genre film category, her only other entry being the 1967 farce Casino Royale, but with her role in tonight’s film, I think she deserves praise from beyond the mainstream film world. It is her dynamic performance and incredible strength that make this film work so well. So I am very happy to bring you Ms. Kerr in….


The Innocents (1961) starring Deborah Kerr, Megs Jenkins, Martin Stephens, and Pamela Franklin. Directed by Jack Clayton.

A young woman, Miss Giddens (Kerr) accepts a job as a governess to two orphaned children. Upon arriving at the country estate where they live, she finds her bucolic surroundings tinged by a feeling of unease. As the two children, Miles and Flora (Stevens and Franklin), begin to exhibit strange behaviors, Miss Giddens begins to believe that the manor is being haunted by spirits who intend to possess her young charges.

The Bugg Picture

innocentsmilesandpigeonsHenry James novel, The Turn of The Screw, is an amazing piece of literature, and its influence on the modern ghost story should not be understated. The Innocence lays claim to being based on James’ work, and it is by way of William Archibald’s stage play and then some rewriting by In Cold Blood author Truman Capote. This miasma of influences is fully felt in the film, and there are parts where you can clearly pick up the elements of Victorian life, a stage production, and something of a southern gothic feel. Each adds something special and wonderful to the film, and gives it a singular style amongst similar films of the era such as 1959’s House on Haunted Hill or 1963’s The Haunting.

Filmed in black and white by director Jack Clayton, who would go on to helm Robert Redford’s The Great Gatsbyand (the film which scared me so good as a kid that I still won’t check it out) 1983’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, moody and atmospheric hardly covers how this film feels. Joined by cinematographer Freddie Francis, the Amicus alum who would go on to Oscar achievement for his work on Glory (1989), Clayton was dismayed when the studio demanded the feature be shot in CinemaScope, but Francis’ use of open spaces filled with shadows and  a deep focus give the film and eerie look throughout.

This is most well illustrated in a quick moment spawned from a mistake. As Kerr’s Miss Giddens prowls around the manor with candelabra in hand there is at one point a flurry of motion. It happens quickly and even on repeated viewings nothing can be made of it, but it gives a great impression of something lurking in the darkness. In truth it was merely the clapperboard that had accidentally gotten in the frame. This happy accident coupled with the skill of Clayton and Francis make the perfect example of how subtly unsettling The Innocents can feel.

Speaking of unsettled, that’s a pretty good way to describe Deborah Kerr’s Miss Giddons. While Clayton and the screenwriters both received nominations for their work, I fail to see why Ms. Kerr was not recognized for her work. James’ novel has been much debated over the years, and one of the main points of contention is whether the novel’s governess is actually experiencing the supernatural or going mad. In The Innocents, Kerr’s performance is equally open to interpretation. She fully embodies all the fear, paranoia, and wild eyed frenzy needed to illustrate either. Coupled with the moody camerawork, Kerr’s performance is impassioned, real, and honest to the character.

innocentstwistedsisterThe other great performances come from the two young actors, Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin. I am always wary of films that showcase young actors in such heady roles, but both manage to impress and give me the heebie jeebies. Stephens’ Miles is a sly, clever boy who is charming beyond his years. Through the course of the film Stephens’ character grows stranger
and darker, and the illicit kiss he plants on Ms. Kerr will surely leave most viewers feeling as uncomfortable as audiences in 1961 felt. In her screen debut, Pamela Franklin is the very vision of the creepy little girl. There is something magnificently strange that seems to lurk beyond her eyes, and I was not at all surprised to learn she continued working in genre films with work in 1973’s The Legend of Hell Houseand 1976’s Food of the Gods.

The Innocents is a film with long reaching influence. Shades of its story can be seen in The Changeling, The Others, and parts of its sound tracking were used for the evil videotape in The Ring. I really loved the look, the acting, and the moody score by former child prodigy Georges Auric. I encourage folks to check this one out, but be forewarned that the opening third of the film is a tad slow, but if you give the film some time to build, the second act will surely grab you and the third leave you wondering why more people don’t rave about this one.