Tuesday, May 01, 2018

In the 1960's a few comic book series were created in Italy that can be a bit confusing to try and keep straight. The most famous I think would be Diabolik that started up in 1962 by two sisters. A film of it (Danger: Diabolik by Bava) was made in the same year as this one and seems to have had a strong visual influence on it. There was also Satanik but a different one from this film's Satanik - that one was a male in a skeleton outfit and the comic was also titled Killing in some territories. Another comic character was Kriminal who also had a skull uniform and there were a couple films made of him. And then there was this Satanik begun in 1964 by Max Bunker who also created Kriminal. It went on as a comic book for 10 years.

What all of these have in common is that their literary father seems to be Fantomas in that they are all criminals, ruthless and the heroes of their comic books. I can't think of any US comic book in which the ongoing main character was a killer. At least in the old days when I read comics.
The story of Satanik which this film follows somewhat closely is that a female scientist has a ravaged face and so kills the creator and steals a potion that will turn her beautiful. But it also makes you a psychotic killer - but since she killed to get it I would guess that she was pretty close to that already. Satanik is played by the loverly Polish actress Magda Konopka who I had never heard of but has a decent filmography. As to her acting, I would say she has a stomach that men dream of during a dreary winter.

Not a lot actually happens in the film and what does, happens slowly - it is a cool stylish film that seems most interested in the pop fashions of the time and simply gazing at Magda. But I quite like that Euro-look of films in the 1960's and did I mention that Magda has a great stomach.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

This Man is Dangerous - 1953

This is a very enjoyable tough guy stylish French crime film based on the Lemmy Caution novels. There were 11 of them written by British author Peter Cheyney from 1936 to 1953 (there is an Omnibus on Kindle of them all) - this one is based on the first book in the series of the same name - the French title of the film is Cet Homme est Dangereux. Of the books six were made into films by the French and then of course there is Alphaville by Godard which was not based on one of the books or much of anything else that makes sense.

Eddie Constantine starred as Lemmie in all of them. Later on films with the character of Lemmie with Constantine again in the role were made in 1983, 1984, 1986, 1989 and for the last time in another Godard film in 1991, Germany Year 90 Nine Zero. Constantine was a fascinating figure with his craggy crumpled face broken up like the moon with bad acne in the past - but that just added to to his tough guy image in the films he made.

Born in Los Angeles he went to Europe to study opera - yup opera - but when that didn't work out he went back to America, got married and then went to France where he had an affair with Edith Piaf after he showed her one of his songs that he had written. With Piaf pushing him publicly, Constantine became a French pop star and got into film in 1953 with his role as Lemmie Caution. He was basically to remain in Europe for the rest of his life performing in films and singing - though he was also to appear in some American films. He died in 1993.

I read this book and it is fairly enjoyable as it moves fast and has a lot of bravado - but the dialogue Cheyney writes feels like he took it from watching the Warner Brother's crime films of the 1930's with Cagney, Raft, Bogart and Edward G. Robinson - all exaggerated tough guy talk that would make Hammett and Chandler blush - it was Cheney's attempt at writing American pulp. But it worked and he sold a ton of books though apparently France really took to his Lemmie Caution character. I am not sure many people in America have a clue who he is now.

The film follows the book very closely - though thankfully they re-wrote the dialogue and moved the action from England to France - but it starts about half way into the book - which may have been the right thing to do and certainly no worse than a slap across the face - of which there is a lot in this film - be careful if you go to France - slapping faces seems as popular as drinking wine. The story has a faint resemblance to Hammett's Red Harvest (1927) in which a detective cleans up a town by setting the two gangs against one another - a theme that was later used by Kurosawa and Sergio Leone.

There are some no good hard boiled dames, gunplay, knockabouts, betrayals, whiskey, cool cars and of course the face of Constantine that dominates the film like a giant Chesire cat grinning at the world around him.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Blockade - 1938 - Henry Fonda

The film Blockade from 1938 is more interesting for the politics around it than for the film itself which some 78 years later feels very antiquated, theatrical, stilted and didactic. It was unusual for Hollywood of the 1930’s to be political when it came to events that were going on in Europe due to the potential loss of profits if the film was banned and also because of the power of the Isolationist lobby back home. Blockade broke all the rules as it tells the story of a Republican territory holding out against the Nationalists under Franco. In it Henry Fonda plays a simple peasant who takes up arms to defend his land against the Nationalists and Madeline Carroll (39 Steps) is a spy for the other side. Naturally they fall in love. The Nationalists have enforced a blockade and the people are starving.

There is no doubt which side the filmmakers are on as the film goes from speech to speech and hungry face to hungry face. One of the great independent producers of that time, Walter Wanger had this to say when told that making such a controversial film would lose money "Not only do we meekly take intimidation from abroad, but we jump obediently when almost anybody in this country says, 'Frog!' It's ridiculous, and I, for one, don't intend to continue. I'm going to release this Spanish picture as is, and if it's banned in Europe, I'll have to take my loss." Now the film never explicitly identifies either side but there isn’t a bit of doubt who the bad guys are.

The scriptwriter was John Howard Lawson, one of the openly Communist writers in Hollywood at the time and he throws a lot of the political jargon in this film in the mouth of Fonda. Later he was to be one of the Hollywood Ten and was blacklisted after the war. Some of his other screen credits are Algiers, Sahara and after being blacklisted Cry, the Beloved Country under an alias. Director William Dieterle didn’t fare much better. After a very successful career, he was as he said “gray listed” because of his involvement with Blockade and after the House UnAmerican Committee (HUAC) hearings the job offerings slowed down and he was forced to move back to the country of his birth Germany to get work. Rather ironical isn't it. Going to Germany to be free to do his work.

I wish I could say it was a better film, but it is not that good. Still Henry Fonda gets to give a speech at the end of the film that was perhaps an audition for Grapes of Wrath two years later. Sadly in 1939 the Republicans were to be defeated by the Fascists. Over 30,000 Republicans were executed.