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Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Study in Classic Horror- WEIRD WOMAN (1944)

This my second visit to the Inner Sanctum, and I think a pattern is beginning to emerge. Once again Lon Chaney Jr. falls victim to the machinations of a jealous woman. And once again we are made privy to his inner thoughts, but as the inner sanctum in question is that of the mind, perhaps that’s the common element. I suppose I’ll find out as I continue through the series.

This time around Chaney plays college professor Norman Reed, a man who has made his name on studies in logic. On a trip to the South Seas he meets Paula (Anne Gwynne), who has been raised by island natives to believe in tribal superstitions. Despite the dichotomy of their beliefs, the two fall in love and marry, much to the chagrin of Norman’s ex-girlfriend Illona (Evelyn Ankers). Illona begins to plot revenge by mentally manipulating Norman, Paula, and their colleagues at the college. Norman quickly finds himself under scrutiny for his professional conduct and, eventually, suspicion of murder. Paula tries to combat Norman’s troubles with her old tribal rituals, and Norman begins a mental war with himself as what appears to be mysterious circumstances begin to challenge his faith in logic.

While not quite on par with the first Inner Sanctum mystery, Weird Woman is still an enjoyable ride. Unlike Calling Dr. Death it won’t keep you guessing. The audience is let in pretty early on the fact that Illona is up to something even if the other characters are not. Chaney’s performance comes down a notch; his onscreen performance to the frequent inner-monologues doesn’t quite match up as well as it did in the earlier film. The rest of the cast gives merely adequate performances- with one exception. This film really was Evelyn Ankers’ time to shine. In The Wolf Man and Captive Wild Woman Ankers was pretty much the typical scream queen, the damsel in need of rescue, but here, she makes a rather devious villain. In a genre where there were really few good roles for young women, it makes for a refreshing change. Like Patricia Morrison in Calling Dr. Death, the Inner Sanctum is proving a good source for villainous females.

I’d say two for two then on the Inner Sanctum series. I look forward to seeing if it maintains its batting average.

This week’s supporting features:

Donald Duck in The Autograph Hound (1939)

The Our Gang short Free Wheeling (1932)

Next time:

Son of Frankenstein (1939) starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Basil Rathbone, and Lionel Atwell

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Oh, Wise Guy, Eh? Nyuk, Nyuk

Yes, I admit it. I just saw The Three Stooges, and I had a good time. Unlike many of the recent revivals of old television and movie characters this is a loving homage rather than a self-referential parody. Chris Diamantopoulos, Sean Hayes, and Will Sasso are dead-on as Moe, Larry, and Curly, not just in voice, but in every nuance and mannerisms. I would have liked to have seen more references for the longtime Stooge fans, there was a sequence in a hospital, and no one thought to include a "Calling Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard", and a Shemp cameo would have been nice, but I think a character named Teddy may have been a nod to Ted Healy, who was part of the Stooges' original vaudeville act.

Early into the movie I realized I should approach it less like I would say the Smurfs movie or any of a dozen film reboots of tv sitcoms, and more like a stage show like A Day in Hollywood / A Night in the Ukraine (part of which is a re-imagining of a Chekhov story as a Marx Brothers film). Even as a film, I'd say it has more in common with the latter in spirit. I realized that had this been on Broadway rather than the big screen it probably would have been less controversial among the purists. (And a purist I often am.)

It's by no means flawless, I could have done without a Jersey Shore subplot, although there was a sense of satisfaction in seeing Snooky and crew getting eyepokes and head slaps (but lordy, they CANNOT act), but still, it was a fun diversion. I hope some of the kids in the audience will be tempted to check out the classic shorts, I know I'M in the mood for some.