Leah Young is an ex-acting, ex-film student who spends her nights in and writes about movies here:https://anothernightinfilm.wordpress.com/, (her old blog washttps://hardboiledgirl.wordpress.com/.) She also occasionally writes for the film noir newsletter (noirsletter?) The Dark Pages. @hardboiled_girl on Twitter.
Supernatural, 1933 - Supernatural, the only major studio outing from the brothers Halperin (of White Zombie fame) opens with warning quotes from Confucius, Muhammad, and Saint Matthew on dealing with the dead, which dissolve to a crazy montage about murderess Ruth Rogen who, I kid you not – killed three of her lovers in a wild orgy. The heavy science begins with a psychologist experimenting with ultraviolet rays to capture Rogen's evil spirit before it wrecks any kind of postmortem havoc and a charlatan spiritualist with a poison ring looking to prey on rich folks with recent deaths in the family. He sets his sights on a somewhat mis-cast Carole Lombard, who ends up interrupting the whole nutty experiment and becoming possessed by Rogen's evil spirit who – by the way – wanted her revenge on the spiritualist. The usually luminous Lombard is drippy and bored through the first half, but rallies for the “possessed” portion of the film, vamping around in black satin and arching her pencil thin eyebrows with murderous glee. Not quite bad enough to be merely camp and by no means a classic (choice dialogue; when confronting the possibility that the evil spirit of a crazy orgy murderer could be roaming the streets, “Hm. Seems kind of creepy when you think about it.”), Supernatural is an interesting curio from Paramount with plenty of primitive psychobabble, gorgeous production design, and substantial atmosphere.
It Happened One Night, 1934 - Why didn't anyone tell me about It Happened One Night? I've seen my fair share of Capra-corn, and I'm surprised and a little embarrassed it took me this long to watch what may be Frank Capra's most delightful film (oh, and also one of the biggest films of 1934). Not that it needs a synopsis, but in case you're under a similar rock, Claudette Colbert plays a spoiled heiress on the run from her Father and looking to reunite with her new husband. She runs into newly-fired newspaperman Clark Gable who agrees to help her get to her husband in exchange for an exclusive story. They don’t get along right up until they fall in love, but only after inspired physical comedy, abundant wit, and marvelous banter. That hitchhiking scene! Colbert’s eyebrows! Gable is at his most roguish and rakish, Colbert is at her most coquettish and charming and Capra's signature long-windedness actually helps the movie rather than hinders it. There's a reason this won the big five Oscars.
(I caught this on a matinee in a classic film series. The theatre was almost packed, mostly with seniors, and I don't know that I've had any other theatre experience this year with a more lively or appreciative audience. Some enchanted afternoon.)
Mad Love, 1935 - The first new movie I watched in 2014 ended up being one of my favourites for the year. Mad Love is both Peter Lorre's auspicious Hollywood debut and the last picture directed by the great Karl Freund - but wait, there's more. Lorre plays Dr. Gogol, a brilliant surgeon who just happens to be obsessed with an actress (Francis Drake) in a horror play, every night he attends the show to watch the object of his affection be tortured on stage in a Grand Guignol fashion. When she marries a pianist (Dr. Frankenstein himself, Colin Clive) he has only a wax effigy of her for comfort. However, when Clive's hands are crushed in an accident, Gogol is the only surgeon who can help – by surgically attaching the hands of a freshly beheaded American murderer. Freakish, baroque, expressionistic hijinks ensue. Like the 1924 silent film The Hands of Orlac, Mad Love has aged exceptionally well. The cast is top notch, the cinematography is to die for, and it strikes the ideal balance between genuine psychological horror and high camp - something so many horror films that followed would struggle with.
The Chase, 1946 - Proving that no good deed goes unpunished, The Chase casts Robert Cummings as a man who simply returns a wallet that he found on the street. Unfortunately, the wallet happens to belong to a psycho gangster who lives with his beautiful but unhappy wife and oily henchman (Peter Lorre again!). Cummings is hired as the gangster's chauffeur and gets himself in a whole pack of noir trouble by agreeing to help the wife get to Havana. After being framed for a murder he didn't commit, the chauffeur discovers that the events of the day in question may not have happened the way he remembered. Based on a novel by noir staple Cornell Woolrich and shot in a stark expressionistic style by noted cinematographer Franz Planer, The Chase is one of the most lyrical and dream-like film noirs I've ever seen.(Full review on my old blog: https://hardboiledgirl.wordpress.com/2014/03/08/the-chase-1946/)
Julie Darling, 1983 - This one caught me off guard. I was expecting a trashy 80's late-night horror show with the guy from Tenebre. Instead, Julie Darling is a deeply queasy and surprisingly twisted little gem about the titular teenaged Julie and her raging Electra complex. A study in Freudian craziness, Julie Darling takes the bad seed movie to the extreme, handling the murderous characterization of Julie (Isabelle Mejias, a pro through and through) with the kind of cold calculation usually reserved for the most seasoned of middle-aged male psychopaths. The acting isn't uniformly great (though the ubiquitous Sybil Danning also stars), and the film is set in that nebulous 80's urban hell (Toronto and Germany), but even these low budget drawbacks ultimately work in its favour. A masterpiece it is not, but there's certainly a pile of inferior films that have endured while Julie Darling has fallen by the wayside.