Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Cisco Kid (1931)

Yes, that Cisco Kid is a bad hombre. Mexican. Crosses the border into America all the time and no one stops him. To rape and steal. You know Mexico doesn't send its best. Taking our women. Not willing to work. Just wants to live off the fat of the land. We need a wall. And The Cisco Kid will pay for it by God.

This is Warner Baxter's second outing as the Cisco Kid wearing a thick Mexican accent like a rotting carcass around his neck. At one point he is speaking to a lovely senorita in English and her to him in English and the film actually explains why which I thought was rather cute. "I like to speak English very much" "I too like to speak English. Let us not speak Spanish".

In his first portrayal as this rascally but big hearted robber in In Old Arizona (1928) he won the Academy Award for Best Actor which after seeing this film is sort of mindboggling. But it was one of the first movies to have sound and be shot outdoors in the rugged West. He also sang in it as he does in this film (La Cucaracha of all songs). Baxter was to portray Cisco one other time (The Return of the Cisco Kid) before handing his accent on to Cesar Romero who did not have to fake it. Romero made six Cisco kids before the character moved into TV. Baxter went on to become The Crime Doctor! To my surprise the character is based on an O'Henry story but in that he is not such a nice jovial fellow.

This is perhaps one of the most mellow Westerns I have ever seen. Practically nothing happens. A calvary officer (Edmund Lowe) chases after Cisco for the whole film just as he apparently did in Old Arizona while the Cisco Kid chases women and is kind to little chidren. It has the excitment of a burnt match. But it only comes in at a little over an hour and I was able to watch it while waiting in my doctor's reception.

The Skull (1965)

This horror film from the British company Amicus shows how much can be done with a skull, music, lights and clearly not much of a budget to generate a creepy atmosphere and a few chills. No special effects really to speak of and a minimum of gore. It is a class act all the way with a great cast of British actors, a good director and an experienced studio. Amicus was in production at the same time as the much better known Hammer and never reached their level but they put out some decent horror often in the form of anthologies with a few short stories filling up the movie.

This one though has only one story and stars Peter Cushing along with other familiar names in much smaller roles - Nigel Greene, Patrick Magee, Michael Gough and Christopher Lee. The scenes between Cushing and Lee are always enjoyable. Director Freddie Francis had worked for Hammer doing The Evil of Frankenstein, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, Paranoiac and Nightmare.

Cushing plays a staid and sophisticated collector of ancient artifacts who would not jaywalk. A seedy seller gets him to purchase a book written by the good old Marquis de Sade with a cover of human skin. If that isn't bad enough he next purchases the skull of the Marquis. He feels compelled to. Because the skull is pure evil! With a direct line to Satan. Lee warns him to stay away from it but collectors will be collectors.

The music which adds a lot to this film was composed by Elisabeth Lutyens who was the first female to score a film. She has an atonal modern sound that seems apt for horror films and also scored Never Take Sweets from a Stranger, Paranoiac, Dr. Terrors House of Horrors and The Earth Dies Screaming.

Shadow of the Cat (1961)

Fairly nifty British period (early 1900's) crime horrorish film that feels like something out of Hammer but in fact was produced by B.H.P. Film using Hammer facilities and some talent from Hammer. Director John Gilling was to go on to make a number of good Hammer films and actors Andre Morell and Barbara Shelley are familiar to Hammer fans as well.

I have always gotten along with cats, but they get a bad rap for not being loyal to their owners like dogs are. So it is nice to see a cat portrayed as loyal to its owner even after she is dead and buried. Deadly loyal. Lesson learned. Don't kill someone in front of their cat because that is what happens here. They come to regret it. An elderly husband kills his wealthy wife with the help of his two servants and they begin to become obsessed (echoes of Edgar Allan Poe) with killing the only witness - the cat. 

But killing a cat is not so easy and so they bring in three more avaricious family members to help out. The cat is just thirsting for revenge - watching, waiting. As foolish as this sounds it is well-acted, excellently shot (by Arthur Grant who shot a bunch of Hammer films), claustrophobic atmosphere and gives off more tension than you might expect.

The lovely Barbara Shelley is the only member of the family who doesn't have a reservation waiting for them in Hell and plays the niece of the dead woman come for a visit.
Not sure what this is exactly