Category Archives: silver screen classics

The Lady Vanishes 1938

The Lady Vanishes ~ I had not seen this Alfred Hitchcock classic before seeing it several Mondays ago at the Rave Cinema Classics locally. I’m glad I saw it, and am kicking myself for not seeing it years ago. The Lady Vanishes is everything one expects and loves in a Hitchcock flick, and it reminded me a lot of one of my faves, Shadow of a Doubt. There is intrigue, humor, fascinating characters, and plots twists galore. Most of all, it’s fun. I loved it.

A couple investigate a missing old lady on a train across pre-war Europe, where the apathy and selfishness of others keep the mystery intact. This is not the stereotypical Hitchcock flick, although his touch is golden and obvious throughout. And speaking of interesting characters, this film is the first appearance of Charters and Caldicott, who have appeared in various British films over the years. Fun, suspenseful and highly recommended.

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Silent Hunchback at the Ritz

The Hunchback of Notre Dame ~ I love silent film, but apparently I am one of the few. I was kinda surprised at the turnout for this 1923 masterpiece compared to other films presented by Silver Screen Classics at Showcase at the Ritz. I even overheard one woman at the box office upset that this wasn’t the Charles Laughton. She asked for her money back when she heard it was silent. She objected to having to read, she said. Surprisingly she saw a subtitled movie instead – go figure.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against the 1939 version of Hunchback with Laughton, it’s terrific, and Maureen O’Hara was amazing. But the 1923 Lon Chaney version is classic, the best in my opinion, and not the original, it should be noted either. Victor Hugo’s novel has been filmed multiple times throughout film history. Not seeing this version just because it’s silent, to me, is like refusing to see The Wizard of Oz because Judy Garland is not Fairuza Balk. Oh well, it’s your loss, folks.

Michelle McDonald, a manager at Showcase at the Ritz, has gotten much better at the introductions of the movies here, but film historian Lou DiCrescenzo is still much missed. I hope he returns soon. His knowledge and love and respect of the artform is unparalleled. After some fun and waiting on a new projectionist, the movie finally started.

Sadly, this was not a great print, but strictly speaking, there really aren’t that many great prints of this one. In fact, a complete version doesn’t exist, that we know of, we’re still missing ten to fifteen minutes from what I understand.

Amazing sets and the always amazing make-up and portrayal of Lon Chaney highlight this film. There is a ponderous cast of characters, and that and the long setting up of the story are not strictly the film’s fault, but Victor Hugo’s. Tastes from the time it was written to the time of this past century had changed. Disney actually did a fairly excellent job of Cliff-noting it (and also unfortunately politically correcting it as well) many decades later in 1996.

Esmeralda as played by Patsy Ruth Parker is wonderful, and Nigel DeBrulier as Don Claudio and Ernest Torrence as Clopin are terrific villains – who were notably combined into one for the aforementioned Disney adaptation. And Chaney, hell, Lon Chaney is always amazing. This is the role that cemented his legendary status as both a performer and a make-up master. He is the king. Quasimodo’s whipping scene, pivotal in the film, is particularly intense. Chaney is genius at portraying both monstrous and pitiful at once. Though brief, Esmeralda and Quasimodo’s scenes are far more entrancing than Parker with any of the other male leads.

While Parker and Chaney stand out in this film, silents were the realm of pantomime and over the top acting. Here the poet Gringoire as played by Raymond Hatton – famous later in life for The Three Mesquiteers – is the champion. Even though he has his share of dramatic moments as well, his humorous takes steal his scenes, especially one with Norman Kerry’s Phoebus.

The film exhibits quite a political side. The caption cards especially are quick to lay the blame for tortures like the whipping and other atrocities that were done to the lower classes solidly at King Louis XI’s feet. Sometimes the class war looms largely here than any individual’s story. But of course – that’s what Victor Hugo is all about.

When the climatic siege of Notre Dame begins we see some of Chaney’s best scenes as he throws stone blocks and pours molten lead on his attackers from above. Even as a kid I was enthralled by that scene. Great stuff, always worth seeing.

This film is a mix of many genres, several scenes go by without Chaney on screen where the film could have simply been a period piece with no horror overtones. Sometimes you forget what you’re watching, during the Esmeralda and Phoebus scenes specifically. To me this is the sign of a well-rounded story and presentation.

No matter how you see it, 1923’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a film masterpiece, and must see. Highly recommended. See it, and see it on the big screen if at all possible.

A note on Silver Screen Classics, with the theatre recently being purchased by Rave, it’s now calling their Monday afternoon features the Rave Cinema Classics. Same films, same website, different name. Keep ‘em coming, folks!

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Loews Cherry Hill Does Not Want My Business

You’ve all heard my rap on Loews Theatres in Cherry Hill NJ before, but after my experience Christmas night I have come to the conclusion that not only don’t they want my money – they don’t want your money either, and furthermore, they just don’t care.

For the scary high prices they now charge for a movie ticket, well over ten dollars, they expect you to watch a film sometimes with the lights on, usually with audience members talking loudly, either to each other or on their cellphones, and texting throughout. And if you say anything to these other audience members they will sometimes go as far as to threaten you. That’s just part of the experience at the Cherry Hill Loews it seems, part of what you’re paying for I guess.

Now when I brought this to the attention of the manager on duty, Kathryn by name (and only first name as employees are not allowed to give their full names, nor are they allowed to give the names of superiors), the theatres are supposed to be checked by an employee once per show. I never saw anyone come in, and if they had, they would have seen all the lit cellphones and also noticed that the audience noise was drowning out the sound of the film.

Now an argument might be made that they were busy that night and might not have had time to check the theatres. Why then did more than a few employees I saw (before the film when it was even busier) have time to chat with friends, throw cups back and forth behind the snack counter, and chase each other into the rest room? Yeah, they were busy all right.

Now Kathryn No-Name was nice enough give us passes to see another film at the wonderful Loews Theatres where we would be treated to probably a similar experience. I would have rather gotten my money back. After all, if I had gotten rat poison instead of Frosted Flakes, do you think the folks at Kelloggs would have given me my money back or another box of rat poison?

Is this what the movie theatre experience is about these days? At least at Loews Cherry Hill it is. There is an alternative. I would like to direct anyone seeking a movie night out to the Showcase at the Ritz in Voorhees. It’s not far from Loews and has just about the same variety of films and even some from off the beaten path. Not only is the viewing experience a pleasure, but the staff is friendly and cooperative. They also have various special events and goodies all the time. They have my full endorsement, and would love your business. And no, I don’t know anyone there, nor do I work for them, they just know about customer service unlike some theatres.

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Silver Screen Monday

I went to Silver Screen Classics yesterday to catch a film that I have been told several times I need to see – Scarlet Street. Granted, I would have gotten around to getting the disc on my Netflix queue eventually, but trust me, it’s always better to see anything, especially a classic film, on the big screen. For those of you not in the know, every Monday at the Showcase at the Ritz in Voorhees NJ, film historian Lou DiCrescenzo presents a classic film from years gone by along with a short subject, all on the big screen.

Scarlet Street is a classic film noir from master director Fritz Lang, starring tough guy Edward G. Robinson playing completely against type. He’s a cashier and wannabe artist caught in a web of deceit with femme fatale Joan Bennett and her abusive con artist boyfriend Dan Duryea. Some of us might remember an older Joan Bennett as the matronly Elizabeth Stoddard on “Dark Shadows.” Her role here shows she was once very hot stuff. Moody atmospheric and what every film noir should be, I really enjoyed this, and probably more than I would have had I simply seen it on a television screen.

Before the feature, Mr. DiCrescenzo presented a two-reel Mack Sennett comedy starring W.C. Fields called The Barber Shop. Great gags, and he was notably upstaged by both a kid and a dog. Terrific stuff.

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Silver Screen Classics

I discovered something a couple months back. At our local National Amusements theater, Showplace at the Ritz in Voorhees NJ, they have a weekly feature called “Silver Screen Classics” where every Monday they show a classic film from yesteryear for only two bucks, including popcorn and a soda. What a bargain!

Some of the films shown that I’ve seen so far:


The Time of Your Life ~ A quirky little flick that was a labor of love for James Cagney and his wife Jeanne. Based on a William Saroyan play and shakily brought to the screen, it’s more of a series of character studies set in a bar rather than an actual story, and yet it’s quite entertaining. William Bendix shines as Nick the bartender, Tom Powers plays the heavy and crazy old James Barton steals the show as Kit Carson. Enjoyable.

Busy Bodies ~ Classic Laurel and Hardy, this time as sawmill workers. Offered as a pre-show to the above flick, this was a wonderful reminder of the comedic genius of the team. Great gags and stunts sure to entertain children and adults of all ages.

At War with the Army ~ This first Martin and Lewis film was a bit of a disappointment. First the print wasn’t so hot, but also because it just wasn’t that funny – to me at least. The audience was roaring. I just never found Jerry Lewis to be all that funny with Dean, he was annoying if anything, and here he does his finest annoying. Dean is good here and the bits of him, without Jerry, being funny were good I thought.

Wine, Women and Bong ~ Shown before the above movie, this was a pleasant surprise. And it should be noted that the pre-shows for the Silver Screen Classics are sometimes the best part. Directed by Three Stooges veteran Jules White this short featured the short-lived comedy team of Max Baer and Max ‘Slapsie Maxie’ Rosenbloom. What was interesting was that they were both ex-boxers, but it was only Rosenbloom who acted punch drunk most of the time. Rosenbloom actually sounded much like Michael Rispoli in Death to Smoochy. They were no Three Stooges and some of the gags were a bit predictable, but I laughed harder at this than at Martin and Lewis. Great stuff.

Beat the Devil ~ An all-star cast and great folks behind the camera, this flick never lives up to what it could have been. I can easily see this remade as a suspenseful caper, but here it never gets up to a lukewarm drama. Directed by John Huston and written by Truman Capote and starring Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Robert Morley and Gina Lollobrigida, there is much promise, but as I said, no impact, in this flick about conmen out for oil-rich property in Africa. A big part of the problem is Jennifer Jones, acting as an amateur here, and also that Bogart was sick at the time and not up to his usual antics. The pacing is also deadly dull. This could be good, as I said, it’s just begging for a remake.

Call It Murder ~ Originally released as Midnight (actually a much more logical title), this was pushed as a Humphrey Bogart film even though he’s only peripherally in it. Obviously it was repackaged after Bogie made it big in gangster films. Still, it’s a nice little stage drama. It borders on preachy in a few places when talking about the death penalty but for the most part delivers the goods.

Second Chorus ~ Never been a Fred Astaire fan but this was a surprise. The biggest surprise was Burgess Meredith out of “Twilight Zone” and “Batman” mode. The man has quite a range – here he’s Astaire’s best friend and rival for the girl and a job with Artie Shaw’s orchestra. He might lose that contest but he certainly steals the film from Fred Astaire and his dancing feet.

For the latest schedule of upcoming films, please check out the Silver Screen Classics website.