The puppy is alive! Alive! Peter Cushing takes up the role of the madman Victor Frankenstein, desperately trying to pursue his life’s work of discovering the secret of life while constantly being nagged by his mentor, his fiancee, and his housemaid. Christopher Lee takes up the role of the mute, murderous monster with the greatest brain in Europe. I compare this first big Hammer horror classic extensively with Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein and with the original novel. I speculate on the doctor’s youth, or lack thereof, and his disinclination to redecorate for 15 years. And I wax poetic about beaver hats, cravats, and nightgowns with built-in underwire bras.
Start the film at the Warner Brothers logo when I give the cue. (41 MB)
Arnold Schwarzenegger has been featured in nearly forty movies over the years. Curiously, few film makers have bothered to explain why their beefy hero has a thick Austrian accent or even changed the name of the character to one that sounds like it might be worn on the name tag of a guy with a thick Austrian accent. Let’s examine the major roles. Continue reading Handsome strangers→
She’s alive! Alive! The inferior-yet-still-classic sequel to Frankenstein is given the full Tysto treatment. I compare this film to the 1931 original and to Young Frankenstein. I complain bitterly about Una “Jar-Jar Binks” O’Connor. I welcome Valerie Hobston’s cleavage as the replacement Elizabeth and welcome back Dwight Frye as the assistant-who-is-definitely-not-the-dead-hunchback-Fritz. I complain a bit about the presence of Doctor Pretorius and compare him to Doctor Waldman of the first film. And I finally get around to mentioning Jack Pierce, the legendary make-up effects artist.
Start the film at the Universal logo when I give the cue. (37 MB)
It’s alive! It’s alive! It’s the horror super-classic that introduced the world to Frankenstein’s monster as we know it today. I compare it (sort of) to the novel and (sort of) to Young Frankenstein, as well as to Dracula, which I’ve also done a commentary for.
I give a lot of background and talk about the economy of story-telling that lasts until the film slows to a crawl with talky drawing room scenes. I sympathize with Fritz and then blame him for the whole tragedy. I sympathize with the monster and explain that I want my misunderstood monsters to act with criminal negligence. I point out plot holes, such as how a brain in a jar could be better than the brain of a fresh corpse with a broken neck and how Maria’s father knew she was murdered. I mistakenly say that Mary Shelley doesn’t mention grave-robbing, but she does, briefly. I pan James Whale and praise Karloff as one of the greatest of all cinema heavies and one of the nicest men you’d ever hope to meet.
What was the origin of rock and roll? Scholars (and by scholars I mean stoner music majors) have debated it for centuries, at least as far back as 1750, when Methaius Palmer observed: “The back beat in the Negro jump music causes one’s body to rock, but the rhythm in the Negro spiritual causes one’s body to roll. This, say I, is the origin of the ‘rock and roll’ and not, as some have claimed, the Polack’s polka.” Indeed. But what exactly was the origin of rock and roll? Continue reading The origin of rock and roll→
Barack Obama gets an A- for his first 100 days as president on pretty much every issue. His cabinet appointments have been clumsy, and his handling of the stimulus package unnecessarily watered down good economics with bad to satisfy Republicans who then voted against it anyway. But for the most part, he has done an excellent job of rehabilitating the United States on the world stage and handling the break down of the economy. The test he has failed was on the subject of torture. Continue reading F→
It takes guts to find a song you like and change it to make it your own. And it takes brains and a real feel for music to find a song you don’t like and realize it has potential if it were done differently. “Mack the Knife” is one of the great songs recycled from lesser songs. These aren’t covers, tho—they’re rearrangements and extreme rearrangements at that. A cover just remakes the song with the same arrangement and different vocalist and/or instrumentation. A rearrangement fundamentally changes the song’s rhythm, tempo, chord structure, and/or lyrics. Continue reading “Mack the Knife” and 5 other famous songs completely different from the originals→
My 5-year-old niece and I lend a helping hand to the Beatles in their second film, the full-color presentation of Help! Ringo becomes the target of an Indian (dots, not feathers) cult of Kali (or Kah-ili, as they say), probably still smarting from the drubbing they took from Indiana Jones thirty years before. I identify some of the cars (and tanks), and explain some of the background surrounding filming, such as how the Beatles were so stoned they didn’t know what the movie was about, how much a curling stone weighs, and how dumb it is to shoot outdoors in England in March. Keely explains some of the plot, sings along a little, and identifies which Beatles are cute. A good time was had by all.
Listened to this again and noticed two small errors: I say Ringo and John are both about 25 and then mistakenly say that Ringo is “a few years older” instead of “a few months older.” Also, I say the “Webley automatic” line is incorrect, but the name of the gun actually is “Webley Automatic Revolver,” where Automatic refers to the fact that it cocks itself (in a crude, revolver version of the action perfected later in the Browning HP and Colt M1911). You learn something new every day.
Start the film with the opening in the Indian temple at the same time as you start the commentary. (43 MB)
The Coen Brothers succeed in creating an almost magical pastiche of 1930s crime and ancient Greek epic and even make it funny, with George Clooney as the fast-talking leader of a gang of escaped convicts crossing Depression-era Mississippi to get home and ending up in a number of tight spots. I manage to avoid singing along by jabbering incessantly. I compare the story to the Homeric epic on which it is (very loosely) based as well as to Preston Sturgess’s Sullivan’s Travels, where it gets its name. And I explain various 1930s customs, manners, cars, and secret organizations whose name I need not mention.
This is the region 1 DVD release. Start the film with the studio logo at the same time you start the commentary. (49 MB)
Just in time for Halloween! A campy lawyer becomes a bug-eating lunatic in thrall to the king of all vampires: Count Dracula, as personified by Bela Lugosi. I compare the film to the Bram Stoker novel, to the stage play, and to other Dracula movies. I point out how the film set the standard for vampires from the incredible opening featuring the brides of Dracula (and the possums of Dracula) to the thrilling discussion-on-a-divan scenes to the pulse-racing discussion-on-a-staircase scenes to the chilling look-over-there-while-I-stab-Dracula ending. I mix up Joan Standing (the English nurse) and Moon Carroll (the American maid). Maybe there are no fangs and no blood (or score); maybe the actors all stand motionless to deliver their lines, maybe everything interesting happens off-screen, but this is the granddaddy of ’em all and well worth a look.