4 posts categorized "Gothic"

March 12, 2022

THE INNOCENTS — THE CRITERION COLLECTION

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

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ColeSmithey.comTruman Capote's script contributions to adapting Henry James's ghost story "The Turn Of The Screw" appear to have fleshed out the novella's potential for maximum psychosexual impact.

This 1961 gothic horror classic has informed everything from "The Exorcist" to "Crimson Peak."

Director Jack Clayton delivers penetrating chills with economy buffeted by lush set designs that define the creeping insanity of Deborah Kerr's governess character.

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Miss Giddens has some twisted BDSM ideas escalating in her imagination. Meanwhile, she suspects the young brother and sister in her charge are up to no good.

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Child abuse is at the core of this unsettling shocker.

Nightmares may follow.

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Don't underestimate "The Innocents."

This is one effed up movie.

Not Rated. 100 mins.

5 Stars

Cozy Cole

Cole Smithey on Patreon

March 04, 2014

SUNSET BOULEVARD — CLASSIC FILM PICK

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal! Your generosity keeps the reviews coming!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

 

 

Sunset BoulevardRevolutionary at the time of its release, Billy Wilder’s gothic tale of broken Hollywood dreams, turned traditional noir tropes on their heads in 1950. The Austria-Hungarian-born filmmaker created a drama that is droll, creepy, and brimming with insider knowledge of its already simulated milieu of has-beens and could-bees.

From its irregular wraparound storyline to its perfect juxtaposition of conventional and bizarre characters, everything about “Sunset Boulevard” oozes tabloid ink that could be mistaken for blood in the context of a black-and-white film.

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“Sunset Boulevard” is a self-reflexive Hollywood satire that takes targeted shots at the industry from various angles. To avoid censorship Wilder meted out pages of the script three at a time to Paramount. He knew he was pushing limits.

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Having lived in the Los Angeles neighborhood of the film’s title during the ’30s and ‘40s, co-writer/director Billy Wilder was intimately familiar with the area’s residents. Some, like the film’s insane antagonist, were retired film stars of the silent era who saw their fortunes slip away under the advent of sound to movies.

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Nora Desmond (played by Gloria Swanson with exquisitely camp intensity) is one such bird. Since starring in silent pictures under Cecil B. DeMille, the aging Hollywood queen of the silver screen has become a recluse. Nora lives alone in a rundown Boulevard mansion with her faithful chauffeur Max (Erich von Stroheim). As the story unfolds, the more intimate nature of Max’s relationship to Nora is revealed.

Sunset Boulevard

The home’s unkempt swimming pool provides a watery grave for William Holden’s Joe Gillis, the unsuccessful screenwriter who posthumously narrates the events of the story leading up to his death.

Beaten down and broke, Joe is an everyman character who stumbles through his days writing scripts that don’t sell. He plans to throw in the towel, and return to his job as a copy editor in Dayton, Ohio. A pair of repo men chases Joe in his oversized convertible. A blown tire sends Joe escaping into Nora Desmond’s disused driveway. Nora mistakes Joe for a casket deliveryman. That the awaited chest is intended for the midnight burial of her recently deceased chimpanzee speaks to Nora’s strained mental state. She’s attempted suicide on more than one occasion. All of the home’s interior doorknobs have been removed. Little does Nora Desmond realize that the biggest role of her life is that of a bloodthirsty vampire.

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Upon discovering that Joe is a screenwriter, Nora shows him a script she’s been working on that she believes will restart her film career. Seizing the opportunity before him, Joe becomes Nora’s kept man. She buys him fancy clothes, deluding herself that the two share a genuine romantic connection. Meanwhile, Joe slips out at night to collaborate on a script of his own with Betty Schaefer (Nancy Olson), a studio script reader and a more romantically suitable object of desire.

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The deranged Nora Desmond and her house of horrors come complete with a tuxedoed butler to serve as her Igor-styled assistant. Cobwebs and overgrow shrubbery influence the story as told by a dead man. Billy Wilder’s deft weaving of gothic elements, not the least of which is Nora’s decrepit mansion, casts a spell from which Joe is unable to break free. He, like the audience, is stuck in a frightful place awaiting an equally terrible fate.

Not Rated. 110 mins.

5 Stars
Cozy Cole

Cole Smithey on Patreon

July 23, 2012

THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER — THE CRITERION COLLECTION

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal! Your generosity keeps the reviews coming!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

 


ColeSmithey.comCharles Laughton, a consummate British actor of stage and film, directed only one film during his lifetime, but he made it count. The ubiquitous novelist, screenwriter, and film critic James Agee provided the fact-based source material that Laughton sculpted into his personalized masterpiece of Gothic cinema.

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By incorporating angular set and lighting designs — inspired by such German expressionist films as “Nosferatu,” Laughton created an American Gothic style that informed generations of filmmakers in various genres. Although critics dismissed “The Night of the Hunter” at the time of its release in 1955, it eventually earned its rightful place among the best films of all time.

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Laughton took an innovative approach toward satirizing America’s Christian belief system and methods of manipulating its society. The setting is West Virginia during the Great Depression. Robert Mitchum plays serial killer Harry Powell. He marries women, kills them and steals their money. Harry dresses as a preacher. He wears a plantation necktie and wide-brim black hat. He peppers his language with biblical phrases. “L-O-V-E” is tattooed on the knuckles of Harry’s right hand. “H-A-T-E” is tattooed on the left. Reverend Harry wins friends and influences strangers with a well-practiced sermon about a battle between good and evil, now an iconic scene in cinema. Harry demonstrates the conflict by locking his fingers and twisting his hands back and forth as he displays his mastery of evangelical showmanship. Privately, Harry likes to carry on conversations with God. He believes in the Holy Ghost. Or maybe just himself.

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The movie opens with a group of children discovering the corpse of one of Harry’s female victims. The narrative cuts to Ben Harper, a family man on the run from police after carrying out a bank robbery. Approaching sirens get louder as Ben decides where to hide the money before making his son John (Billy Chapin) and younger daughter Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce) promise to never reveal the secret.

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Arrested for car theft, Harry is thrown in a cell with Ben (Peter Graves). Ben talks in his sleep. Ben’s execution coincides with Harry’s release. Harry goes straight to Ben’s weak-willed widow Willa (Shelly Winters) and insinuates himself into her heart. Marriage follows. The crux of the story coalesces around the couple’s would-be conjugal bed, where Harry makes clear that the purpose of sex is only for procreation. Laughton’s Gothic melodrama explodes. Since Willa agrees she doesn’t want more children, intercourse is off the table. Only Harry’s fire-and-brimstone speechifying will guide Willa’s psyche through prayer.

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The centerpiece of the film is a lingering underwater shot of Willa’s corpse sitting in the front seat of the Model T in which Harry buries her in a nearby river. Laughton shows the chilling scene from different angles to quell any hope that the victim might still have a breath of life left in her. The horror is real. So is the genius of this unforgettable film.

Rated PG-13. 99 mins.

5 Stars

Cozy Cole

Cole Smithey on Patreon

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