Category Archives: dwight frye
Dark Shadows ~ When I first saw the trailer for this new version of Dark Shadows my thoughts were, “Oh boy, here’s Tim Burton raping another piece of my childhood, just like he did with Batman, Willy Wonka, Planet of the Apes, and tried to do with Superman.” To an extent, I was right, but if I’m absolutely honest, having seen the film, there’s also a lot of love and homage in there too, right next to the blatant disrespect and mockery.
The story for those who don’t know is that of Barnabas Collins, cursed by an ex-lover, also a witch, to become a vampire in the 18th century, imprisoned, released and awoken in the 20th century. This was the basis for the last few years of the late 1960s/early 1970s ABC soap opera cult classic “Dark Shadows.” Tim Burton, a supposed fan of the series, has decided to remake it as a camp comedy horror drama, emphasis on the camp and the comedy. Not that “Dark Shadows” wasn’t camp, mind you, it was, it just wasn’t planned to be. Like all good camp, it took itself deadly serious. That’s not the case here at all unfortunately. Often, as with most of his films, what’s funny to Tim Burton is rarely funny to everybody else.
All the good zingers are in the previews, so don’t go in expecting much more. That said however, in between all the failed jokes are tons of in-jokes and Easter eggs for fans of the show. Tim Burton may have disrespected the TV series, but he certainly did know it backward and forward. He does streamline and he does change many details, but still the love is evident. It’s when he tries to make fun of it and fails that fans and non-fans alike will cringe.
I dislike Johnny Depp’s Barnabas Collins quite a bit. As he sometimes does, it seems as if he made up a character in a improv class and then built a movie around it. Depp might be better off getting together and making movies with that Borat guy rather than raping my childhood with substandard remakes of old soap operas. He does have Jonathan Frid’s speech patterns down however. I have to give props to Helena Bonham Carter’s Dr. Julia Hoffman for the same reason. Her voice is perfect, but her over the top dye job alcoholic drag queen version of the doctor not so much. Fans of the show will laugh their asses off at her, it’s both hideous and hilarious.
Another of my favorites, Jackie Earle Haley is cast brilliantly as groundskeeper Willie Loomis (and yes, I bet that’s where “The Simpsons” got the name from). He is one of the highlights of the flick, both dramatic and comedic. Don’t blink or you will miss the two second cameos by surviving cast members of the soap opera – Kathryn Leigh Scott, David Selby, Lara Parker, and the recently late Jonathan Frid – as guests at the ball/happening with Alice Cooper.
Michelle Pfeiffer is pretty pedestrian for a role she wanted so badly, but she doesn’t have much room to act next to the scene-eating Depp. Same for one of my faves Jonny Lee Miller and newcomer Bella Heathcote – not enough room. I would have loved to have seen more of them, but such is the way of the soap opera. Speaking of over the top scene-stealing, Eva Green from “Camelot” is just absolutely crazy town as Barnabas’ nemesis Angelique. It’s almost as if the actors got drunk and played make-believe as their characters at some points. Also, much like 1989’s Batman, Burton is unable to come up with an ending so it feels like he starts pulling ideas of out his butt. Seriously, the last twenty minutes of this movie are insane, and not in a good way. It’s almost unwatchable.
The problem is that it’s not all bad, and that this really could have been a good movie, and not just that, a good movie, a respectful remake, and it didn’t have to resort to low brow comedy. The credits sequence in the beginning, set to the Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin,” with Victoria Winters coming to Collinsport, is so ABC telemovie that not only would Dan Curtis (creator of “Dark Shadows” as well as more than a few movies of the week) would have been proud, but I was half-expecting to see Kim Darby, Kate Jackson, or Karen Black make an appearance.
There was a lot of stuff to love set amongst the comedic ruins of this flick. I loved both the inside and the outside of Collinwood, the town of Collinsport they built on the set, including the Blue Whale. The bit with Alice Cooper, which in the previews appears to be a one note joke, turns into brilliance by the inclusion of “The Ballad of Dwight Frye” as background for a couple scenes.
All in all, except for the last quarter of the movie, I did enjoy it. It’s not “Dark Shadows,” it’s not the cult classic gothic soap opera of my youth, but I did laugh, I did smile, and I still have my memories. Worth seeing for the curious, the fans, and for those with no point of reference whatsoever. I just would have rather seen the movie it could have been, as opposed to the one it is.
THE ORIGINAL BLACK BIRD
A Video Review of “Dangerous Female” also known as “The Maltese Falcon” (1931)
Copyright 2003 Glenn Walker
Really no one but film buffs know that Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon” was made into a motion picture twice before the famous 1941 classic starring Humphrey Bogart. Bette Davis starred in Satan Met a Lady in 1936 but Dangerous Female was the original.
The story sticks pretty close to the Hammett novel. Private investigator Sam Spade seeks both a rare jeweled statuette and the murderer of his partner unaware the cases are related. Dangerous Female is classic film noir from Hammett, the original master of the literary genre.
The cast for the time is phenomenal. As Sam Spade is Ricardo Cortez who was originally considered to be Rudolph Valentino’s successor. While this is an interesting turn from his usual smirking Latin lover routine he makes for an entertaining if most un-Bogart-like Spade. It is harder to get past his bizarre cigarette gestures than the idea of a Hispanic Sam Spade. This is however ironic because Cortez is actually Austrian. That’s right, he’s more Arnold Schwartzenegger than Jennifer Lopez.
Bebe Daniels who plays Ruth Wonderly worked with Harold Lloyd as a teenager but is probably better known for her parts in classic musicals like Rio Rita and 42nd Street. Otto Matieson as Cairo proves he is no Peter Lorre here in a bad bit of casting. Dwight Frye, most infamous as Renfield in the 1931 horror classic Dracula, shines as the baby-faced but menacing Wilmer Cook. Longtime character actress Una Merkel plays a nice counter to Cortez’ Spade as secretary Effie. She’s a treat in any role.
As Iva Archer, the widow of Spade’s dead partner, is the beautiful Thelma Todd. This blonde bombshell also known as ‘Hot Toddy’ is a Hollywood legend. At the peak of her success she was also a businesswoman and one of Tinseltown’s brightest stars. She did however have a tendency toward bad boys. It is believed her relationship with mobster Lucky Luciano led to her being found dead at the wheel of her car in her own garage. As you can see from this role it was quite a loss.
Despite the cast Dangerous Female is stagy in places and seriously lacks a proper soundtrack although soundtracks were rare at the time. Other than the 1941 Bogart classic this is the best version of “The Maltese Falcon.” If you can find it definitely check it out.