Classic Double Feature: Shadow of a Doubt (1943) & Compulsion (1959)

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Greetings, all and sundry!

Allow me a few moments of your time in indulge the nostalgia of my youth. And broach a topic very close to my some may say, misspent early years.

The Classic Double Feature.

Usually reserved for Saturday matinees in the more austere theaters of the day. More often than not, theme or actor based. And superior quality. Genres of films selected was seasonal. With westerns and action popular in the summer. While offerings in Film Noir, horror, mystery and science fiction slated for fall through spring.

There is a method to the madness in the films I’ve selected. Both are films worthy of note and curiosities to our hostess, Ruth. Who desires to learn more of the works of master craftsman, Alfred Hitchcock and perpetual actor, Dean Stockwell. While the choice of which film leads is one which has plagued theater managers since the invention of celluloid. To that end. Allow me to introduce an early work from the British master. With equal parts drama and suspense layered over idyllic, quaint, rural life in a small west coast town.

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

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A film that begins in sunny, always fair weather Santa Rosa, California. Home to many families who keep the banks, shops and stores busy. One family in particular, the Newtons; father, Joseph (Henry Travers). Mother, Emma (Patricia Coolidge). Youngest son, Roger (Charles Bates). Middle daughter, Ann (Edna Mae Wonacott). And eldest, approaching awkward teen daughter, Charlotte (Teresa Wright) or “Charlie”. Go through their daily routine of work, school, keeping house, while Charlie eloquently wishes that something, anything would happen.

That occurs when a telegram arrives announcing that Mother’s younger brother, Charles Oakley (Joseph Cotten). All calm, placid charm and deeply buried malevolence. Will be arriving on the Thursday evening train. Uncle Charles arrives. Dinner is had. Gifts are given and the first inklings of psychological thriller starts making itself known. Where most of the family see Charles as a welcome guest. Young Charlie sees her uncle as something more. Someone worldly and romantic  A man of mystery who says little about and is trying to stay ahead of his past. For good reason.

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Life continues near serenely. Until two detectives drop by to talk to the family. One detective, Jack Graham, (Macdonald Carey) tells Charlie that her uncle may be one of two men known suspected of being “The Merry Widow Murderer”. Who court older women, marries them. Then collects their insurance money and any other expensive things after their untimely, often strange, questionable deaths.

Charlie doesn’t want to believe, at first. But Uncle Charles makes a few awkward, almost embarrassing mistakes that turn heads and focuses attention in public places. And Charlie, being female and just slightly less curious than a cat. Finds small clues and evidence that lends credence to Jack Graham’s cautionary words. Topped off when Uncle Charles, perhaps a bit drunk and full of himself goes on tear about the rich in general, Rich widows in particular. And his contempt for them.

The cat is let out of the bag later, when Charles confronts his niece. Accusations are tossed around and Charles admits that he is the man the police are after. And then begs Charlie for her help. She concedes, but only on the condition that Uncle Charles
leave as soon as possible. Ironically, Uncle Charles is cut a break and some breathing room to pursue his latest mark. When the other suspect is killed in a running gunfight in Portland, Maine.

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Young Charlie becomes a loose end that needs attention. In the form of a few odd “accidents” involving stair cases and the faulty lock on a garage door. Keeping young Charlie inside while the sheltered car is left with its engine running. The laws of probability are catching up to Uncle Charles. Who announces that he is leaving by train to San Francisco. In the company of a young widow. Uncle Charles schemes to have a final showdown with young Charlie between cars. As the train starts to move and begin its journey.

I’ll leave it right here for Spoilers sakes….

Now. What Makes This Film Good?

Alfred Hitchcock just getting familiar with the idea of playing with new, near perfect settings. Then playfully tweaking and twisting the American small town ideas, dreams and families. By infusing an often charming dose of “Something wicked this way comes!” in the shape of Charles Oakley. A cypher upon which any story can be painted. Until he becomes too comfortable. And projects his disdain for others upon his brother in law, Joseph. Hinting that Joseph could not possibly be averse to embezzling funds from the bank where he works. Inside the bank and within earshot of others!

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Just one of many soliloquies. Delivered with the same wide eyed, calm innocence Mr. Cotten tapped into earlier as best friend and conscience, Jedidiah Leland, in “Citizen Kane”. Only this time it works to his character’s benefit and is a little creepy to take in. Verbal wedged planted between friends that misdirect and distract and create slack for Uncle Charlie to play with.

While Teresa Wright is the personification of budding teenage womanhood. Too smart by half. Driven by emotions that run deep and wild beneath the surface. Who lets her words pull her into the intrigue. While not knowing what is on the other end. Her
younger siblings, Roger and Ann form a sort of Greek Chorus when the family is gathered together. Though Ann is also far too smart for her young age. Young Charlie’s mother and father are content to get by and preserve the American Dream. Even as Emma starts to see her beloved younger brother as someone she doesn’t really know.

What Makes This Film Great?

The town of Santa Rosa, California. That is just big enough and prosperous enough to illustrate small town America. With its tree-lined streets. large houses, well cared for lawns. Slightly out of era cars and tracks and smiling traffic cops. Which would be used again in “Pollyanna” and “Some Came Running”.

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Here. it represents the perfect summer weather Petri Dish to reveal cracks in its characters and secrets revealed with the addition of Mr. Cotten’s often too arrogant Charles Oakley. Given more emphasis through Thornton Wilder’s written words and Joseph A. Valentine’s often shadowy indoor and tight, razor sharp B&W outdoor cinematography. Aided by Dimitri Tiomkin‘s suspenseful score and music direction by Charles Previn. Set and art direction by Russell Gausman and John B. Goodman. Plus gowns and ensembles that are neither too frumpy or too elegant by Vera West and Adrian add to both story telling and an almost time capsule feel and effect.

Then there is Hitchcock. Gently tugging at the edges. Keeping the canvas of the tale and town taut. While slyly nicking there and slicing there. Letting nature do its thing and follow the path of least resistance. As the myth of rural solitude and serenity bares its all too human weaknesses. Perhaps, not a date film. But certainly one to indulge in to see the first confident steps of a sly, masterful director hinting at greater things to come!

Notes: Nominated and accepted into the National Film Registry in 1991.
Available for viewing on You Tube


Compulsion (1959)

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As is traditional with film distribution. The second film of a Double Bill or Feature should be of lesser stature and lower budget. Hence the phrase “B-Movie”. And this offering from 20th Century has that writ large. Though wisely and frugally spent in telling the tale of the infamous Loeb & Leopold “Perfect Crime’ kidnap and murder case of 1924. With the help of Meyer Levin, who had written the best selling novel of the same name the film is based on. And aided by Richard Murphy‘s faithful screenplay.

Centered around two Chicago law students with off the scale IQs and a completely less than healthy reverence for the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche and his “Man and Superman” hypothesis. The Alpha of the pair is Arthur Strauss. Played with snide, very spoiled, well connected arrogance by Bradford Dillman. Who doesn’t have any friends. And not much use for people in general as he constantly looks for ways to show his elite superiority to others. Their perceived inferiority and uselessness of their laws that are beneath his contempt.

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Artie’s partner in crime is Judd Steiner. Masterfully under and occasionally overplayed by a young Dean Stockwell. A self-imposed outcast who enjoys Ornithology, Taxidermy and deep down inside wants badly to be part of something. Oddly gravitating towards Dillman’s Strauss with near gleeful, sometimes clumsy subservient abandon.

Their first “perfect crime” which begins the sharply rendered film sets the stage for future events. With the breaking into a campus Fraternity house and taking sixty seven dollars, odd jewelry and a second hand manual Underwood typewriter with a
broken letter key. Fleeing in Judd’s Stutz Bearcat convertible, Judd starts hitting his flask while Artie drives off and nearly sideswipes a drunken pedestrian on a lonely stretch of road. Artie chides Judd for drinking and continues to needle Judd. Very
much like a married couple with an abusive husband. Until Judd nearly breaks down into tears. Swearing that he would do any thing to make things right. Artie smiles and tells Judd to turn around, drive and hit the drunk. Artie tries, but swerves at the last
second. Giving Artie an ever bigger, subtle psychological weapon with which to bludgeon Judd. As the two continue into the night.

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Comes the morning and Judd is in class arguing Nietzsche with his law professor as another player enters the fray, Sid Brooks. (Young, fresh faced and freckled, Martin Milner) A middle class student who pays his freight as a reporter on the Bulldog (late) edition of the local Chicago paper. Who stumbles across Artie and Judd as they set up an alibi with a group of other students and girlfriends to cover the next step in their “cold, dispassionate experiment”. The alibi is a get together at a speak easy that Artie found earlier. The time, nine o’clock.

Sid begs off, due to his job. And several unique and tragic events fall into place between that afternoon and night. Sid clocks in and finds that’s there is a drowned boy in the city morgue. And that a ransom note has arrives at the Kessler home. Demanding ten thousand dollars in old fifty and twenty dollar bills. Sid’s boss, Tom Daley (Edward Binns) sends Sid to the morgue. Where the child, later identified as Paul Kessler had been beaten and mutilated before being stuffed in a drainage culvert. Sid also finds a pair of round lenses reading glasses with the body. The glasses fit neither Sid or the boy. So Sid calls his boss and the wheels start coming off the “dispassionate experiment”.

The body is identified by the boy’s father. Sid’s boss, Mr. Daley shows up at the morgue and is brought up to speed by Sid. The glasses are put in safe keeping before being turned over to the police. All the makings of a wonderful night of celebration for Sid. Even if his girlfriend, Ruth Evan (Diane Varsi) is in Judd’s company. Sid mentions the glasses and Judd’s hand immediately goes to his suit coat’s empty breast pocket. Artie asks for more details and nearly explodes when Sid mentions the ransom note’s broken, offset letter.

Made even worse as Artie discovers that Judd still has the typewriter! After three days of trying to misdirect the Chicago cops assigned to the case. Which causes a cascade of accusations and weak counter arguments from Judd. Another experiment is agreed upon to prove Judd’s dispassion for others. And Sid in particular. Artie would get rid of the typewriter and clean up Judd’s mess. If Judd sets up a date with Ruth and sexually assaults her at a secluded aviary. Artie holds up his end of the bargain, but Judd doesn’t know what to do with Ruth. Or how. And falls miserably.

The local District Attorney, Harold Horn (E.G. Marshall in fine form!) under pressure from above tells the local cops to bring Judd in for some questioning the next afternoon. And the real came of Cat & Mouse begins. With many questions as to Judd’s whereabouts on April 17th, the day of young Kessler’s disappearance, kidnap and murder. Judd starts out arrogantly and obliquely. Believing he has the upper hand until Horn brings out the reading glasses. A style of which over four thousand were sold in Chicago alone. But only a few with a new type of hinge. And one of those was sold to Judd months ago.

Judd talks into the evening as Artie is brought in to corroborate Judd’s story. Artie is well prepared. A much better liar. And mentions a family dinner and a guest who is a Federal judge an hour hence. Yet, Horn is not impressed. Politely, sometimes slyly asking questions about a rented black sedan and more details about the two women he and Judd supposedly picked up the night in question. Artie counters well and Horn is about to let them go when Judd’s chauffeur shows up. With toiletries and a change of clothes for Judd. Offhandedly mentioning that Judd’s Stutz Bearcat never left the estate’s garage that day, April 17th. Since he has changed the car’s worn brake shoes.

Round Two arrives without preamble as Horn goes after Judd with a vengeance! Shredding Judd’s many innocuous points of interest (Hot dog stand, park, chance meetings) before going after Artie. Unaware that Judd’s father has called famed attorney, Jonathan Wilk (Orson Welles doing his best Clarence Darrow) in the interim. Horn and his assistant, Mr. Padua (Gavin McLeod) go over each detail as Artie rebuts. Then decides to roll over on Judd in a classic “He said… He said” conundrum. Which only makes Judd’s loud and sometimes pitiful meltdown all the sweeter when informed of Artie’s cowardly treachery.

Judd and Artie are charged, arraigned and kept separate in County Lock Up as family retained psychologists and psychiatrists are called in. As Wilks prepares to go up against a city who wants to see his clients swinging beneath a gallows…

Now. What Makes This Film Good?

Watching a fresh on again, off again young talent in Mr. Stockwell mix so well with solidly ensconced contemporaries, Dillman, Milner and Varsi. Being confident and comfortable enough in their own skins to portray two spoiled and coddled, seriously sick puppies (Regarding Dillman and Stockwell) who would be right at home commanding a company of Hitler Youth in 1939 Germany. Both are near childishly juvenile in their assured arrogance that they are above the law and are righteous in their beliefs. Until they realize that the law does not give Brownie Points for genius.

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While Martin Milner stoically, reliably delivers the goods as Sid Brooks. With all the makings of a great reporter and newshound. Whose world is upended when someone he admires and envies a bit in Artie and his “odd duck” friend, Judd are revealed for
what they are. Offset by his girlfriend, Ruth’s perhaps tainted innocence. Ms. Varsi’s take on Ruth is odd to behold. In her moments with Judd, Sid. And later on the witness stand. Held far too tightly by her emotional naivete. In a very pivotal role for a
veteran of  “Peyton Place” and  “Ten North Frederick”.

High marks over all for director Richard Fleischer and his nearly standardized method of scenes averaging 11 to 14 seconds. Long enough to introduce a character, record an argument, move the plot along by planting a seed. Then watching it grow and expand to fruition later in the film.

What Makes This Film Great?

With just over an hour’s worth of build up through Judd’s sloppy performances in these “experiment”. Arguments and kind of creepy cat fights with his “superior”, Artie. The first glimmers of the paired serial killers of today (The Green River Killer(s), Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole, Aileen Wuormos, etc) start making themselves known. With one Alpha (Artie) controlling the discussion and later situations. And a subservient (Judd) doing his best to please and be part of something bigger. A dynamic writ large while less than subtly hinting at a homosexual relationship. Heightened by Lionel Newman‘s horn heavy soundtrack.

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The film’s remaining thirty plus minutes belong to Orson Welles and his soft spoken, mumbled take on Clarence Darrow. His size and near Waltz gait command every shot as he fights small skirmishes with D.A Horn. Resists or ignores intimidation and a random cross burning by the Klan. Never ceding an inch as the drab, oddly homogenous and uniform looking jury hold Artie and Judd’s fate in the balance. Thanks to Mark-Lee Kirk’s moody lighting and William C. Mellor’s superb B&W cinematography.

The usual loud chest thumping one would expect from a Lee J. Cobb is deftly, emotionally eschewed. For up close and personal words when needed to cajole the jury. Or whisper close, perhaps veiled threats are directed Horn’s way. Mr. Welles’ Wilk is perhaps the most un-Darrow like performance on film. But it works quite well in baring Darrow’s zeal in fighting the death penalty. Kudos for Mr. Welles’ bravery and for his offered and agreed upon, deft direction of the courtroom scenes.

Note: Available to view on You Tube.


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Classic Review: The Thing from Another World (1951)

Greetings all and sundry! A few weeks ago, Ruth suggested I take a look at the ‘Classics’ and come up with an appropriate critique of a film from yesteryear. My mind virtually tumbled with titles as one continuously rose from the cinematic landscape to give pause and grab attention. As it had more than fifty years ago. To that end. I present you:

Loosely based on the very short story, Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr. and comprised of a snug, compact 87 minutes. This film is the epitome of cinematic story telling. With a beginning, middle and end all under the deft, masterful touch of Howard Hawks. Even if Christian Nyby is credited as the director. Mr. Hawks‘ fingerprints are all over this minor masterpiece!

The story begins in the middle of a blustery snow storm wreaking havoc on one corner of an Air Force Base and its Officers’ Club outside of Anchorage, Alaska. The howling wind blows reporter Ned Scott into the club to thaw out and stumble across the crew of C-47 assigned to the base trading quips and playing poker. Pleasantries are exchanged as Captain Pat Hendry. Marvelously played with a nonchalance that would set the tone for countless other ‘Red Scare’ Science Fiction films, by Ken Tobey;  is told to report to General Fogarty right away.

It seems that Polar Expedition Six, a small outpost up near the North Pole has reported an anomaly that bears closer investigation. Not much more to go on. Take your plane, some sleds and a dog team and check it out. Cut to the C-47 in flight. With sheet metal skis wrapped around its extended landing gear as the crew and Ned Scott ponder what the mystery is all about. A clue is revealed as the plane’s navigator notices the magnetic compass is off. That initiates a radio call to the expedition so the plane can follow its signal.

The plane lands and is bedded down for the night and the crew meets the scientists of PX6. Headed by Dr. Arthur Carrington. Egghead extraordinaire and recipient of countless kudos and awards. Arrogantly played with a heavy dash of elitist smarm by Robert Cornwaite. Who lords over a clutch of lower tier, like minded individuals. Including Drs. Redding (George Fenneman, emcee of You Bet Your Life),  Vorrhees (Paul Frees), Wilson (Everett Glass), Chapman (John Dierkes), Laurence (Norbert Schiller) and Ambrose (Edmond Breon). All aided by Nikki Nicholson. Resplendent and smartly played by Margaret Sheridan. Who Captain Hendry has more than a subtle interest in.

Discussion is quick, jumbled and often stepped upon as this trip further north is discerned. Something large, fast, heavy and metallic passed through the arctic atmosphere several hours earlier. Close enough to set off time delay cameras and seismographs miles away to catch what could be a meteor, but isn’t on film. And its location determined through the math of sound traveled to sensitive microphones. Cue the scary, way ahead of its time Theramin track as another flight is put together to find out what fell out the sky.

The mission lands not far from a flaw in the ice that is visible at altitude. The scientists, crew and dog sled teams are assembled and head off to discover a few feet of what looks like vertical stabilizer poking up through the ice. Samples are filed off and collected as the explorers peel off in all directions and find that they are standing in a circle above the unknown intruder! Picks, shovels and axes are discarded in favor of  quicker, easier to use Thermite. Charges are placed and spectacularly set off. And whatever it was sinks below the polar ice. But not before something is ejected away and much closer to the surface and found by the always clever Crew Chief, Dewey Martin behind a handy Geiger Counter.

The foreign object is exhumed, but kept in a block of ice that is loaded on a dog sled. Loaded on the plane and brought back to the gaggle of Quonset huts that make up PX-6. The block of ice is kept in a freezer and a guard posted. Messages are sent southeast to Anchorage and General Fogarty. The ether virtually sings with far too many questions that have no answers. Orders given that makes Dr. Carrington smugly happy as Captain Hendry and crew plan for many long days ahead. Though Hendry does manage some quality time with Nikki that involves alcohol and rather tame rope bondage found in the film’s restored footage.

As the visitor in the frozen block of ice scares the posted guard silly. The guard wraps himself in an electric blanket. Then puts the blanket on the block of ice to cover the Thing’s creepy eyes that the guard swears are following him! The blanket questionably melts the ice and the Thing escapes, but not before taking a few rounds from the guard’s .45 before making its getaway.

Surprisingly, panic does not ensue as the crew, eggheads and Nikki discuss what the Thing is and what its plans may be. Carrington is all for abiding by General Fogarty’s orders to keep whatever it is alive at all costs, but Hendry and his crews have their doubts. A search is  conducted, both inside and outside. An arm and its hand are recovered and examined. Remaining perfectly still throughout the discussion and dissection. Then slowly begins to move and add its two cents. Notes are taken by Nikki as a consensus is arrived  upon. The Thing isn’t human, but vegetable! Impervious to most any kind of damage. So, what does one do with or to an alien, radioactive vegetable?

“Boil it. Cook it. Or fry it?” Nikki suggests whimsically as Hendry and his crew run with the idea. Moving from the Greenhouse throughout. Gathering whatever implements of destruction they can while nailing down and barricading doors with whatever is handy. An idea is hit upon by the Crew Chief as clumsy sounds of breaking and entry echo through empty connecting hallways. Kerosene is poured into a bucket. Lights are turned off and a Flare Pistol unwrapped as the Day Room plunges into darkness. Its door is flung open and the Thing makes its entrance.

Silhouetted and back lit, the Thing shambles in. To meet an axe from the Co-Pilot. A large splash of Kerosene and an igniting flare. The Thing bursts into flame. Its arms swing and catches Nikki’s protective mattress aflame before the Thing retreats and dives through a nearby window as the storm wails and billows outside. Damage control is assessed as wounds are tended to and the Thing’s steps retraced and dead, drained of  blood sled dogs are discovered stuffed in a cabinet. Reassessment is called for and repairs are made as an inventory of medical supplies is made and a question arises. One of the scientists was injured in the latest fracas, but is not being given plasma. Hendry asks Nikki about it and she reveals that the injured scientist in being transfused by others of his own blood type. The plasma is being used by Dr. Carrington. Who’s quickly sliding into Mad Scientist territory. With an IV of plasma feeding the Thing’s discarded, pod seed sprouting appendage in the Greenhouse.

Now the panic, though low keyed begins to rear its ugly head. As Nikki notices kibbitzing exhaled breaths starting to mist in the chilling air. The Thing has cut off the oil to the connected Quonset Huts’ heating system! A more elegant trap is thought up involving wire fencing, a wooden pallet walkway and arcs of high voltage, high amperage electricity. The question remains, will the Thing fall into the trap? The Geiger Counters watched by scattered guards start climbing and seem to hint so. The Guards retreat to the compound’s main generator as the Thing makes its presence known. Lights are extinguished along the way as the generator suddenly goes off line, courtesy of the now mad Dr. Carrinton. Who has a Mexican Stand-off before being rushed and supposedly subdued.

The power comes back on, but the Thing is leery. Uncertain what do do as he ambles off the pallet walkway. Picks up a heavy wooden 4X4 and leaps back on to avoid a tossed axe. Dr. Carrington dashes out and lets his liberal, scientific heart bleed as he tries to coax the Thing into understanding and cognizance of its superiority over humans. Which appears boring and doesn’t much  impress the Thing. Who blithely knocks Dr. Carrington aside and steps into three curling arcs of electricity. That elicit strange sounds from the soon smoldering, eventually melting, collapsing Thing.

Captain Hendry wants to keep the arc running until there’s nothing left as focus shifts to the dining hall. As the outside storm abates enough for communication back to Anchorage. Now inundated with reporters the world ’round. As Ned Scott puts the best possible spin on the situation
with a final urgent plea to everyone listening “To Watch The Skies!”.

What Makes This Film Good?

Less than an-hour-and-a-half loaded to the brim with superbly executed story telling in glorious, shadowy, claustrophobic B&W. With no excess fat or time devoted to sub-plots or extraneous nonsense. Evenly distributed over a cast of familiar, though unknown faces. Who stalwartly maintain the film’s B-Movie mystique. As more and more is discovered about the crew and expedition’s unwanted guest.

Ken Tobey is the absolute definition of a post WWII, 1950s savvy military officer. Calm and often humorous in the face of unknown adversity. Near fatherly in his patience with his wise cracking crew and the slowly unraveling, effete Dr. Carrington. Willing to listen to the good Doctor at first. Less so when his crew and the expedition and its compound are threatened. Mr. Tobey sets the bar very high for many, distinctly of its time, ‘Us versus Them, Red Scare’ Science fiction films.

The ensemble of actors and their assorted lesser scientists, egg heads and Poindexters  in attendance are all spot on. From George Fenneman and his Varsity sweatered Dr. Redding to Eduard Franz’s whiz kid Dr. Stern. To Nicholas Byron’s tall and laconic, radio operator ‘Tex’ Richards. All deliver admirably in their short times on screen.

Robert Cornwaite’s elegant, arrogant, elite Dr. Carrington. Absolutely brimming with  condescension towards Captain Hendry and his crew. Who would dare sully his arctic resort of pure science with their military sidearms, carbines and narrow thinking. The absolute embodiment of post war, effete, bleeding heart liberal whom Senator Joseph McCarthy would soon be warning people about.

Last but not least, the Thing itself! Future Marshal Matt Dillion. James Arness in high fore headed, near silent alien drag. Deliberately left out of the picture until those times when fully needed and rarely long enough (Inset Jaws reference here!) for recognition.

What Makes This Film Great?

Once you get past the Winchester Pictures/RKO Radio Pictures start up. Hawks lets you know that you are not in Kansas, anymore. As a blank scree slowly catches fire to eerie, unearthly sounds provided by a Theramin. A musical instrument that creates sound without being touched.
Also used by Edward Hermann in The Day the Earth Stood Still the same year. Check out the first twelve bars of The Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations to get an idea of its sound as the fire burns and reveals the film’s title and sets up the story.

The stepped on dialogue and plethora of unfinished thoughts and sentences that abound in the film. Yet move it along in an easily understood way. The elongated scene when Captain Hendry and his crew meet the scientists and staff of PX-6 is wonderful to step tentatively into. Then slowly, comfortably bask in.

The lush, sometimes shadowy B&W cinematography by Russell Harlan adds a deft touch of suspense and seems to heighten the inherent claustrophobia in many shots. Coming to a head when the Thing invades the Day Room. Is ambushed and set ablaze. A wonderful piece of action on a blackened set. With only the back lighting from an open door illuminating the scene until the Thing is lit ablaze. Wreak havoc and escapes in a stunt that would be hard pressed, sans CGI to be accomplished today.

Dimitri Tiomkin’s mysterious, often Theramin infused soundtrack keeps the tension and fear of the unknown percolating as more and more of the Thing’s handiwork is laid bare. Especially when the deceased sled dogs are discovered and when Hendry and his crew stumble across and unload on the Thing moments later.

The chemistry between Ken Tobey’s Captain Hendry and Margaret Sheridan’s Nikki is palpable and fun. Though it is Nikki who subtly steals every scene she’s in. Making more than the most of a role that creates the prototype for Sigourney Weaver’s Warrant Officer Ripley in Ridley Scott’s Alien, decades later.

The Film’s Mystique:

Though initially and for years after regarded as a B-Movie. The Thing from Another World does fill many categories in that style of film, but is so much more. Due basically to having a proven master in Howard Hawks. Calling the shots while delving into a genre of film not attempted before. And obviously having a ball in the process as his exceptional artisans and cast exceed all expectations. While making a gift of the title of director to Christian Nyby, who had edited The Big Sleep and Red River for Mr. Hawks.

The film’s overall mystique and ability to hold up so well through the years may have been a large part of its being nominated to the National Film Registry in 1951 and inducted in 2001.


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Thoughts on this film? Do share ’em in the comments.

Music Break: Five Fave Scores from Gregory Peck Films

Hello all, I’m kind of taking a blogging break today… I was going to write a review of The Artist but I’ll save that for next week. So how about a bit of movie music to perk up your day.

Peck on the set of 'Duel in the Sun'

As you already know, my recent Gregory Peck marathon has been a blast. Out of the eighteen films of his I’ve watched so far, quite a few of them actually have a memorable soundtrack. Here are five of my favorites so far:

To Kill a Mockingbird

Elmer Bernstein crafted this beautiful, evocative score to match the poignant masterpiece. This particular one in the opening sequence captures the childlike wonderment of Atticus Finch’s kids, Scout and Jem. Such an amazing melody that makes me well up with tears of joy every time I hear it.

The Big Country

This one reminds me of the Marlboro theme song used in the TV commercials I saw growing up. I LOVE this score and it’s just perfect for this epic Western, it captures the lush and majestic feel of the American West. It makes me want to go out there and ride a horse into the sunset… preferably with Mr. Jim McKay by my side 😉

Spellbound

I heard on NPR a while ago that Hitchcock knew that music can convey emotion in ways images cannot, hence the music in his films almost like a character on its own. This particular one by Miklós Rózsa is quite memorable, it’s mysterious & suspenseful, though at times it feels a bit overwhelming. According to Wiki, Hitchcock actually wasn’t fond of this music, saying that “…it got in the way of his direction.”


Arabesque

This fun score is reminiscent of 1960s Bond-esque theme songs. A longtime Stanley Donen collaborator Henry Mancini added a bit of Middle Eastern flair and a sense of whimsy to fit the plot. It may not be as memorable as his other works such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s or Charade, but I think it’s as entertaining as the movie.

Guns of Navarone

I wasn’t familiar with Dimitri Tiomkin’s work before my Gregory Peck’s marathon, but he wrote the score for Duel in the Sun and this one. He apparently wrote the score for It’s a Wonderful Life as well. This rousing score captures the bravery and adventure of the six Allied troops portrayed in the film, no wonder this stands as one of the most celebrated war movie themes.


Hope you enjoy this music break. Any particular favorite from the list?