Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Twilight Time - OUR MAN IN HAVANA and THE MAD MAGICIAN on Blu-ray ""

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Twilight Time - OUR MAN IN HAVANA and THE MAD MAGICIAN on Blu-ray

OUR MAN IN HAVANA (1959; Carol Reed)
Written by Graham Greene (based on his own novel) and directed by Carol Reed - this CinemaScope spy comedy starring Alec Guinness, Burl Ives, Maureen O'Hara, Ralph Richardson, Noël Coward and Ernie Kovacs is the third collaboration between Reed and Greene (they also did FALLEN IDOL and THE THIRD MAN together). The story is basically about a British ex-pat vacuum cleaner salesman named Wormold (Guinness) who is living in Cuba and is recruited by the British Secret Service (via an agent played by Noel Coward) to be their titular "Man in Havana". Wormold agrees to become an agent, mostly for the extra money he'll be paid in order to join the local country club so his daughter can ride her newly acquired horse there. Wormold is instructed to recruit local sub-agents to work under him, but he's not every good at that (in fact his attempts are met with outright anger). He's also not good st gathering intelligence, so he starts making things up. The SIS (which Graham Greene is clearly making fun of) eats up Wormold's reports and even endeavors to give him more assistance for his "operation". They send him a secretary (Maureen O'Hara) to help manage all his agents (all of which are just people he has met - none of which have agreed to work with him). Soon his ruses start to turn dangerous and things get complicated. What starts a lighter affair becomes much trickier and more suspenseful as people connected to Wormold start ending up dead. Burl Ives is gravely serious in a supporting role and Ernie Kovacs steals the show with his turn as a chief of police that has an odd interest in Wormold's daughter. He feels like a more sleazy and sinister version of Claude Rain's character in CASABLANCA. All in all, the film strikes an interesting (if perhaps slightly inconsistent) tone between absurdity and intrigue - making it a unique blend of elements and a memorable watch. I had always meant to see it and will likely count it among my favorite discoveries of 2017.

You can buy OUR MAN IN HAVANA on Blu-ray here:

THE MAD MAGICIAN (1954; John Brahm)
I love Twilight Time's commitment to putting out Blu-ray 3-D - from MAN IN THE DARK, HARLOCK: SPACE PIRATE, MISS SADIE THOMPSON and the upcoming INFERNO 3-D Blu-ray (one of my 50s 3-D favorites) - they continue to bring out some enjoyable movies for fans of the format. The 3-D here is good - because it's Vincent Price and horror - it's hard not to think of HOUSE OF WAX(especially because the same producer and writer made MAD MAGICIAN and this movie came out in a year later). Black and White 3-D obviously gives it a different vibe than HOUSE OF WAX, which was in color - but there are a lot of similarities to HOUSE OF WAX in terms of story and character (some people might even claim that the two movies are almost the same). Price plays a familiar kind of unbalanced gentleman, the 3-D is sometimes a little gimmicky (basically set up to show off and not really any other reason) and there ends up being some killing in the name of art as their was in HOUSE OF WAX.
Here, Price plays a magician who used to design tricks for others, but is about to have his first performance front and center on a stage for people. The opening theater scene is pretty fun - it seems to be setting up a certain kind of "madness scenario" (by that I mean the origin story of a madman), but then it pulls a quick left turn and takes a different direction that I didn't expect. I had seen this and liked it on DVD in 2-D, but the 3-D really elevated it in my estimation. A few of the bigger plot points in the movie revolve around magic tricks involving a buzz saw and a crematorium chamber and the scenes with them are much more effective in 3-D. There's also some macabre suspense bits with a decapitated head that were fun. Seeing Price get worked up into freak out mode (which he does a few times in this movie) is always entertaining as nobody goes big the way he does. There's also some characters disguising themselves as other characters which is a device that I am kind of a sucker for. Eva Gabor is in it as well and she gives a little extra something in the way that she can be very theatrical with her acting and so can Price, so they play off each other well. Also, director John Brahm is pretty great and directed Movies like HANGOVER SQUARE, THE UNDYING MONSTER and THE LODGER (not the Hitch one).

Special Features:
-Two (!) 3-D Three Stooges shorts: SPOOKS & PARDON MY BACKFIRE.
SPOOKS has lots of stuff with people sticking things into the camera (including Moe doing his infamous eye poke straight at the viewer). Plus - a pretty awful (& weird looking) gorilla (a man in a suit). PARDON MY BACKFIRE also has a ton of items being thrown directly at the camera (think about the harpoon scene in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3).
-Also "Master of Fright: Conjuring the MAD MAGICIAN (20 mins)

You can buy THE MAD MAGICIAN on 3-D Blu-ray here:

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