Thursday, May 31, 2018

THE STORY OF ROBIN HOOD (1952) - Disney Tackles the Legend

I love Robin Hood films. One of my favorite movies of all time is the 1938 Warner Brothers movie THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD starring Errol Flynn in the title role. It's a bona fide classic with great action, fantastic dialog, wonderful characters and a take on the legend that presents events in a clever way. Until several years ago I had rarely bothered with other cinematic versions of the story as they inevitably fell victim to problems that hamstringed them in some way. Sometimes the problem was bad casting (Kevin Costner, anyone?) or having nearly an hour chopped out of the full-length running time (1991's John Irving directed film). But often these films are simply guilty of not matching the high quality of the Flynn film or even the excellent (if overlong) 1922 silent version with Douglas Fairbanks. They might be good but they're not great.

Enter THE STORY OF ROBIN HOOD (1952)! I recorded this film out of general curiosity a few months ago when Turner Classic Movies was screening a night of Disney features and I finally watched it last week. Wow! Where has this film been all my life?

In a lot of ways this is a typical Disney feature of the period in that plenty of money was lavished upon it giving it high production values and the look of a lush, well made film. Everything about it looks textured and detailed, colorful and alive. The film has real energy and in the high-def print used by TCM it popped off the screen for the entire running time. This isn't a half-assed attempt to do a new telling of the legend. This is a full-blooded Robin Hood adventure story with its own particular take on the events we all know from previous films. The script is tightly constructed and juggles around some of the relationships and backgrounds of characters in a way that I found absolutely fascinating. It switches the noble birth from Robin Hood to Maid Marian positioning Robin as an upstart commoner who was the subject of Marion's noble father. This puts a great spin on their relationship as younger people and their continuing and growing affection for each other as adults. It gives the relationship real depth without having to go into on-screen detail about what draws them to each other.

Some of the elements of the story that we know from previous films - especially the Flynn version - are shuffled about and placed in different spots to keep you guessing. If you're coming to this one expecting a replay of the 1938 film you will have some fun surprises. For instance, the archery contest involves not just Robin but his father and is placed very early in the story. It's used to establish not just the main character's bow skills but the methods by which Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham build their personal army of tax collectors. Great stuff! If I had one complaint about the film it's that I would have wished for a little bit more swordplay. This has nothing like the excellent sword fight between Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone in the '38 film but things are so well paced  that it didn't occur to me while watching - only afterward. And the very good songs that are played by the travelling bard add a lot of joy to the entire thing as well. I can see why there was a soundtrack LP released at the time although I suspect that these tunes are the direct inspiration for the Brave Sir Robin songs in MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (1975).

After thoroughly enjoying THE STORY OF ROBIN HOOD I thought it would be nice to add it to my collection. I looked around online and discovered that it was not available to buy on Blu-Ray. At all. A quick look at the Wiki page for the movie revealed that it has never been released on Blu-Ray and on DVD only on a limited Disney Movie Club DVD offering in 2006! What the hell? This is a great film ripe for a new audience to discover and Disney is just letting it sit there? Somebody needs to start a petition, now for a Blu-Ray release as I doubt the old DVD looks very good these days. Or TCM needs to show it a couple of times a year.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

BLACK FRIDAY (1940) Poster Art and Lobby Cards


Podcast coming soon for this one! 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Brief Thoughts - PRINCE OF THE CITY (1981)

I've known about PRINCE OF THE CITY (1981) since it was released. I remember the fanfare surrounding it specifically because of the lead performance by Treat Williams. At the time he was being touted as a probable Oscar nominee for the film and much attention was paid to him because of the expected attention this film would bring. This supposed star making role was talked about in the press with comparisons being made to Pacino and Deniro. Then the film was released, flopped and those wild speculations about Treat becoming another big dramatic actor screen presence faded. Williams went on to a solid but unimpressive career as a jobbing actor taking roles where he could in movies and television.

Now that I've finally seen PRINCE OF THE CITY (1981) I can understand why the film didn't do so well and why it's lead actor might not have blown people away. The film is a strong Sidney Lumet crime story based on real events with two major flaws. The first is that it's nearly three hours long. Although I was never bored while watching this on a recent Friday evening, it did feel a little overlong by about the two hour mark. Lumet was a master filmmaker, he has plenty of story to tell and he handles things well but it's just too long.

The other flaw is Treat Williams' much anticipated performance. I have to admit that I've never found Mr. Williams to be a particularly strong screen actor. I think he is competent but mannered and stiff. Here he advances his emotional arc within a scene far too quickly in some very important moments crippling his character's intent. The first time I noticed this was when he is explaining to two Internal Investigators why he is going to help them take down crooked cops. He goes from normal to frenzied with nearly no warning making it difficult for me to know if he was being honest with the IA cops or leading them on with a line of bull. He is actually sincere but this problem with him making emotional leaps with no subtly happens repeatedly in the movie. By the third one I realized that he was doing something that might have worked better on the stage but with the intimacy of film it comes off as phony.

Overall I think PRINCE OF THE CITY is a very good film but it has a critical weakness at it's center. That makes it a failed classic but a still worthy effort.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

DRACULA A.D. 2015 - Hammer Film Tribute

In this homage to Hammer Films, a group of college students accidentally resurrect Count Dracula from the grave. Of course, he then proceeds to wreak havoc on their University with all the expected blood and horror.
Written, Produced and Directed by Joshua Kennedy.

Friday, May 25, 2018

BLACK FRIDAY (1940) on YouTube!

We live in incredible times! Here is the final Karloff & Lugosi Universal horror film just sitting there on Youtube for free! 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Bloody Pit #68 - SEX & FURY (1973)

SEX & FURY (1973) is more properly known as 'Story of Delinquent Female Boss: Ocho' and is a prime example of the Pinky Violence genre. Although Troy and I are both curious about this strange Japanese variation on the revenge film we have had very little exposure to it. Luckily our occasional podcasting buddy Jason chose this fine period action tale to cover giving us the opportunity to dig into one of the best of the type. I guess you could say we came for the naked swordfight and stayed for the compelling story of intertwining vengeance plots.

The film stars two of the most recognizable female leads of violent cinema circa the early 1970's. The first is Japanese actress Reiko Ike as the titular Ocho. As the movie begins in 1905 she is a woman seeking three people responsible for the murder of her father decades before. She is getting closer and now knows that each one has an identifiable animal tattoo that will point her to the guilty parties. Adding to the complexities is American gambler and spy Christina (played by Swedish beauty Christina Lindberg) who is being forced by her military controller to push Japan into a second Opium War. But Christina is conflicted because her actions might cause her Japanese lover to be killed as he carries out his quest to assassinate a nasty politician. Confused yet? Wait until you hear us take a dozen sidetracks as we go through this one!

The show can be found at The Bloody Pit of Rod or on iTunes or Stitcher. If you have any comments the show's email address is and we'd love to hear what you have to say. Thank you for downloading and listening!  

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Brief Thoughts - PHANTOM FROM SPACE (1953)

Each time I think that I've seen every 1950's science fiction or monster movie one pops up that reminds me that I still have not.

I know I've seen the poster art and the title of PHANTOM FROM SPACE (1953) for years and I think I've gotten it mixed up with the film KILLERS FROM SPACE (1954). That means that for a long time I thought that I knew this film and was avoiding a rewatch. Instead it turns out that I had never seen PHANTOM FROM SPACE until last night. It was a slow night!

After the first few minutes I realized how exciting it was to discover a science fiction / horror movie from 1953 that I haven't seen yet. Twenty minutes later I realized that I really regretted having finally located this film. I'm sure there are fans of this one out there and more power to you if that is the case. But I have to say that this dull 74 minutes was nearly unendurable. If it wasn't for the fact that I was watching with someone else who joined me in poking fun at the oddities that are part of the film I don't know that I would have made it through in one sitting. Sometimes having a movie buddy will get you through something much faster and with much less pain. The film feels painfully drawn out to feature length with several scenes of people standing around and regurgitating information we already know. Then they sit around smoking and discussing the things we already know. Maybe just to make sure the audience knows it? Maybe.

Needless to say PHANTOM FROM SPACE is an interesting curio from the early 50's independently produced science fiction film genre but it's an awfully slow affair. It was fascinating to wallow in the idiosyncratic elements of the film that are attributable to the period when it was made (see all of the smoking, all of the time) but there's just so little here of interest that there's no way I could ever recommend it for anything other than a group of people wanting to get drunk and joke around. If there are fans of this movie out there, please let me know what  I missed. But otherwise I doubt I'll be revisiting this long slog sober again in my lifetime. I usually love 1950's SF but this needed to be about 20 minutes shorter.

I do like the poster art though.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Music Video for THE CREEPING CRUDS - I Eats The Dead

New music from Nashville's own Creeping Cruds! 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

1950's Monster Movie Poster Art

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Trailers From Hell - THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS (1959)

In the Summer I always feel the pull of old monster films! 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

What I Watched in April

Over the past few years it has become typical for a new horror film to be released, get lots of great reviews by non-genre press and make a lot of money while being savaged by 'horror film fans'. The reasons given for rejecting these new horror movies are slightly varied and kind of amusing if you can separate yourself from the emotions being stoked. Recent high profile horror hits have been labeled 'slow, annoying & stupid'  (THE BABDOOK) or 'boring, stupid garbage' (IT FOLLOWS) or 'slow, predictable & lame' (THE WITCH). In most cases these horror nerds seem to have rejected these and other critically well received genre films almost because they were enjoyed by non-horror fans. Or because they were carefully paced or were driven by character instead of action or required that you actually pay attention to the film 100% of the time and not your phone. I see a lot of this type of fan adopting a kind of "If the adults like it, it can't be good!" attitude that comes out if you press them for the details behind their dismissal. Since I liked each of those films you can understand that I've developed a mild disdain for a lot of what passes for horror fans opining on the internet. Here's a hint for future internet film reviewers - If you don't like a film, you should be able to explain clearly why. Calling a film boring without any follow up shows no depth of thought and if you're not going to apply brain power to what you write, please just stop. Also, sometimes the adults have a point you super-smart rebel, you.

I had read just enough about A QUIET PLACE (2018) to know that it was probably good and would inevitably fall into the nerd fan hate trap. I'm sure it has but I stopped paying attention to that crap after the release of MOTHER (2017).

Turns out the this is a very well realized and almost unbearably tense horror tale. The set-up and plotting are played brilliantly to carefully ratchet up a sense of dread while letting us inside the dilemma of the small family we follow. That this is done with a minimal amount of dialog is amazing. It's a testament to the direction by co-writer and star John Krasinski that each character is well defined and sympathetic with mostly just physical acting. I expected this level of skill from the always reliable Emily Blunt but the child actors are very good too. You are never left wondering about the emotional state of the characters and what they are feeling about each other. It's very well done.

While I do have a couple of questions that the film doesn't quite answer the strengths of A QUIET PLACE are impressive and make it a must see for genre fans. Even those looking to complain because critics like it.

I've had problems with Steven Spielberg films for decades. My biggest criticism of his work is that he rarely knows when or how to end his movies. Dating back to E.T. (1982) Spielberg can find ways to drag out the final scenes of almost any film until I'm begging for the credits to roll. How many endings did SHINDLER'S LIST (1993) have? Four? And what was the eventual ending of A.I. (2001)? It stopped and re-started so many times I can't remember. But even when he crafts an actual ending to some films it's so poorly thought out that it destroys the previous two hours. How in the Hell did the son survive to pop up with the grandparents for that saccharine ending to WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005)? And has there ever been a more obvious last minute re-write of an ending than for the otherwise well done MINORITY REPORT (2002)? So, imagine my surprise when his latest film ends well but begins like a disaster area.

I have not read the book on which READY PLAYER ONE (2018) is based but I bet it works a lot better than the film. It would almost have to, in fact. I suspect that what cripples the film in my opinion is a holdover from the book's structure. In a novel you don't have to worry about not spending time with the protagonist and his friends when they are hiding behind CGI avatars. On the page they are always the characters and there is no barrier to getting to know them, identify with their struggles and understanding what drives them as people. But on film this means that we spend the entire first half of the movie trying to give a damn about CGI creatures who are primarily playing a video game that they play every day. Every day. That means that there are no stakes for all this kinetic action onscreen. It's just a bunch of very detailed go-go with no real emotional content.

About halfway through the film we finally get to see the actual actors playing these characters and then it becomes easier to feel for them. But, really, by then it's too late. Because I couldn't give a damn about all the gorgeous eye-candy for the first hour it was impossible for me to get invested in the characters so late in the story. I was only moderately interested in the story's central pop-culture wrapped mystery so I was just waiting for the thing to end so I could go home. The film ends well but the beginning is so weak it didn't matter. The spectacle was worth seeing on the big screen but I can't imagine giving enough of a damn to ever watch this again.

And how likely would it be for a 1980's pop-culture junkie to never reference Star Wars? I know they couldn't get the rights to use SW, Marvel, DC or Disney characters but it kind of stood out. The book has to be the best way to experience this tale.


TERROR FROM BENEATH THE EARTH (2009) - 5 (the fourth Mihm film)
HITLER (1962) - 7 (interesting psychological look at a monster with a great performance from Richard Basehart) 
NOT OF THIS EARTH (1988) - 6 
RUN FOR THE SUN (1956) - 8 
JUSTICE LEAGUE VS TEEN TITANS (2016) - 7(good animated adventure) 
DEVIL'S KISS (1976) - 4 (terrible Spanish chiller) 
MYSTERY IN THE WAX MUSEUM (1933) - 9 (rewatch) 
HUMONGOUS (1982) - 6 (rewatch) 
THE HOUSE OF INSANE WOMEN (1971) - 5 (period Spanish drama about an asylum) 
A QUIET PLACE (2018) - 8 (excellent horror film) 
THE HOUND OF BLACKWOOD CASTLE (1967) - 8 (excellent krimi) 
A STUDY IN TERROR (1965) - 7 (Holmes vs Ripper) 
AT MIDNIGHT I'll TAKE YOUR SOUL (1964) - 7 (rewatch) 
THE AWFUL TRUTH (1937) - 7 
READY PLAYER ONE (2018) - 5 

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Marvel Monsters Comic Book Covers

I found a cheap copy of the first volume of the hardback Marvel Monster comics today so these tales are on my mind!