The Black Cat
A profound and brilliant analysis of “the immortal classic by Edgar Allan Poe”, who is betokened in “America’s greatest writer”—of unread fiction.
Hungary’s greatest psychiatrist, Austria’s greatest architect.
A fortress now a beautifully-designed home, commanded by the Austrian. He keeps dead women preserved standing erect in glass cases, their loveliness intact. One of them was the Hungarian’s wife, who died during his long imprisonment. Their daughter now shares the Austrian’s bed after a fashion, and is seen at last in preparation for a glass case of her own.
The Hungarian has an instinctive dread of cats, seeing the title character across the room, he picks up a knife and hurls it instantly, killing the beast.
In contrast, the opening scene has the American and his bride ensconced in their compartment on the Orient Express, but resolving to eat. The porter explains that there has been a most unfortunate mistake, and the Hungarian is introduced (cf. Frost, “Love and a Question”).
Aboard the train once again, the American reads a newspaper review of one of his mysteries, the article paraphrases Poe’s opening. “For the most wild yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief...”
Moon Over Harlem
A great little picture supposedly shot in four days on 16mm scraps, and featuring one of the greatest wipes in the cinema (young couple in big convertible drive off right, man enters left with tray of Martini cocktails).
The rackets in Harlem are controlled from downtown or Detroit, bleed poor folks and shopowners, get a widow woman killed and finally rub themselves out by way of Newark.
The daughter takes a job at a nightclub with Christopher Columbus and His Swing Crew. Her fiancé gets folks organized against the mob.
Sidney Bechet and His Clarinet famously appear.
Tomorrow We Live
A superconcentrated film on crime and war, the compression in six reels forces the issue.
A black-market gangster and nightclub owner powers his operation on blackmail files, Pop’s a “two-time loser” and has to give in, his daughter’s engaged to an Army sergeant off to fight guys like the gangster, Hitler for instance.
The title is the answer to a yes or no question.
Ricardo Cortez is a model for Al Pacino, Jean Parker is the girl.
Master of the Skies
A restricted training film introducing air and ground crews to the precision air-driving mechanism that allows fighters and bombers to fly at high altitude and maintain air supremacy.
Cartoon inserts convey certain ideas and give a schematic view of the workings.
Maintenance and overhaul are discussed, also control of the mechanism in flight.
Girls in Chains
The saeva indignatio is as strong drink to a milksop. “Why is it that people won’t listen to a recital of the corruption of this town? Why, they’re bat-blind, the whole bunch o’ them!”
This line of comedy lights the way through the gloom of a Dickensian situation made to mirror Europe at the time of filming.
A thing of beauty on the Pacific war, to match Girls in Chains. Flagg and Quirt of the merchant marine bring up sunken gold from the Tropic Star scuttled by her captain and purser, who kill each other taking it back.
This time the girls are not in county correction school but saloon girls at a raided tropic joint called Isle of Forgotten Sins (cp. Rain or Donovan’s Reef).
It’s all forgotten in the title storm.
Paris, the name Manet is dropped before an examining magistrate by an artist’s model now retired to other business. No-one can identify the painter of a strange canvas (suggesting early Cézanne perhaps) recently exhibited by a Duke and bearing the likeness of a girl found murdered.
The artist rescued a girl found unconscious in the street, painted her portrait as Joan of Arc, won a place for it in the Louvre and the Legion of Honor. It means nothing to her, she offers him money for his services, a common prostitute, he strangles her. Every time he paints it comes out the same way, hence a string of murders.
He has a sideline, an open-air marionette theater.
Ulmer’s Hamlet is entirely updated, makes fun of Freudian interpretations, and gets a crook.
The complicated tessitura achieves all this with considerable ease and skill. Critics seem unable to understand it, and talk at cross-purposes.
That is Ulmer’s wit for you, if you like.
The late king was lieutenant-governor of California, and so forth.
Very ably acted and filmed.
A funny thing happens on the way to Hollywood, the budding virtuoso hitches a ride with a dying tout who leaves him a fancy car, nice clothes and a small wad of cash. The new man picks up a girl thrown out miles ago, she says “you’re not the guy” and lords it over him, until she’s strangled by misadventure.
The mise en scène is exactly that of a joke told in the cinema, among the clientele well-habituated to its premises.
The Strange Woman
She marries Isaiah, a rich lumberman, seduces his despised collegiate son Ephraim into killing him, then shuns the boy to marry John, Isaiah’s foreman, only to die accidentally in a misconceived fit of jealous rage.
The raw facts have a parallel of sorts with Wedekind’s Lulu, but the richness of manufactured detail has its own lines, and the story is laid in New England a century or so earlier.
If there is any doubt about the filmmakers’ position, the locale is Bangor, Maine.
The deus ex machina is an itinerant preacher who takes the title for the theme of his sermon in the third act, from Proverbs.
Strange men from other lumber camps riot in the fledgling town at the end of the first act, there is no city government or police force, though Isaiah has argued for both. His lumbermen at Camp Three, led by John, are awaited day after day to put down the disturbance.
And so it goes in the screenplay, beautifully, attentively filmed by Ulmer. She wants to be rich, she wants to marry her childhood sweetheart Ephraim, she wants only John.
She and Ephraim are children at the river in the opening scene. He can’t swim, she pushes him in to teach him and then holds his head underwater with her foot.
As Isaiah’s wife she is well-regarded for her charitable works, she even breaks the impasse keeping Bangor’s wealthy men from contributing to the long-sought church expansion. When she takes over his business she operates at a distance, leaving John in charge.
“It’s heard so much great music it’s full of it. Can’t you hear it?”
“All I can hear is the plumbing.”
The Schumann Quintet (Fanny and Alexander).
“The luck o’ the Irish to ya now. And many of them.” Before this, a dispute over tempo (The Red Shoes). The painstaking sound recording was not recognized by the Academy.
A little Lamb, Milton’s fall of Satan, “I’d rather play in a saloon!”
Bruno Walter, The Mastersingers, the tympany and cymbal crash that must have decided The Man Who Knew Too Much.
Lily Pons, Lakmé. Piatigorsky with six lady harpists, The Swan.
“The holy of holies.” Rise Stevens, Carmen. Rodzinski, Beethoven’s 5th, fourth movement. Artur Rubinstein, the famous Polonaise and the Ritual Fire Dance. How do you get there? “Practice very hard, Bach and Bach and Bach.”
Swinging with Chopin, Ulmer on location, Damrosch remembering Tchaikovsky.
Jan Peerce, “O Sole Mio”. Ezio Pinza, Don Giovanni.
Vaughn Monroe at Club Monroe, “The Pleasure’s All Mine” and “Beware, My Heart”. Crosland’s The Jazz Singer with an Irish cleaning lady mother now in a Carnegie Hall office job.
Mein Irisch Kind,
Wo weilest du?
The essential artistic problem, no royal road. Heifetz, Reiner, Tchaikovsky. “But Nora,” says the soloist, “you are Carnegie Hall.” The Beethoven anecdote is faintly adduced or adumbrated, how he dispatched a rival by improvising on the fellow’s bass line, upside-down.
Tchaikovsky’s 5th, “there’s no-one like Stokowski.”
Harry James, “a modern rhapsody”, with piano and orchestra.
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times found it “trite and foolish” apart from the music, also “hackneyed and maudlin”, a “thankless endeavor”.
Variety went still further, “trite story and direction”.
Leonard Maltin, “lame story”.
Time Out, “uninvolving connective narrative”.
Thus all the critics contrived to miss the point, Hal Erickson (Rovi) going so far as to misconstrue “the wafer-thin plotline”.
Halliwell’s Film Guide, “slim and risible”, citing James Agee to no purpose.
The influence of Welles is patent, but this is Ulmer’s Scrooge, “a victim of clichéd and outmoded direction and of weary dialog to which no actor could do justice” (Variety).
He has a peace foundation, endowed with his house and a fortune.
“Pulp poetry” (Geoff Andrew, Time Out Film Guide), “some kind of a blasted masterpiece” (Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader), “a long, tedious recital” (T.M.P., New York Times).
“Rich melodrama with some entertaining moments,” says Halliwell’s Film Guide, drily.
The Pirates of Capri
“Italy, 1798”. The opening shot tells the tale, a real vessel under sail as in Polanski’s Pirates. Aboard, a tyrannical captain, a scrap of Pulcinella...
“No tricks, it’s all real!”
The pirates’ cove, recalling “a stormy night” in Ryan’s Daughter (dir. David Lean).
T.M.P. of the New York Times, “not much actual life... pompous and dull make-believe... stuffy and obvious”.
A real grotto... a fine Italian film. Not Minnelli’s Macoco, Ulmer’s Scirocco.
In the name of Voltaire, an invented confession (cf. this scene in the torture chambers run by the Minister of Police with a similar one in The Devils, dir. Ken Russell).
Count Amalfi composes verses like “that demm’d elusive Pimpernel!” Something of a court poet, the count, “impresario, patron of the arts.”
Marie Antoinette’s sister is on the throne (Ulmer has Binnie Barnes in a mirror for this), Napoleon “on the outskirts of Naples.”
Anchise Brizzi cinematography, Nino Rota score. “Do you consider everything you do a masterpiece?”
“It’s a great curse, Your Majesty, but I was born with a superabundance of wit.” Hell-for-leather on a horse, Scirocco. The trumpet call of Fidelio in the night. “All men are created equal...” Plans for revolt. A Douglas Fairbanks flight. “Turn around, let me see that pretty face of yours. Oh no, no, turn back!” A gallant white steed, Italian songbirds at night.
The Man from Planet X
The powerful analysis brings this down to World War II and no mistake, the planet careens toward Earth to draw nearest Burry in Scotland, which must be the natural home of the Burry Man.
Oddly enough, Halliwell’s Film Guide and Time Out Film Guide have no use for the film. Variety was more receptive.
The hero was a bomber pilot, now a reporter, he squelches the invader by cutting off his supply (the breathable gas in his space suit). The scientist observing the planet’s approach was a meteorologist “lent by the British” to the bomber group, and so forth.
One of the scientist’s pupils, now an ex-convict, thinks to profit by the aliens’ invention of a metal harder and lighter than steel, and whatever else he can force out of the title character, who expands the scope of the drama by looking rather Japanese.
St. Benny the Dip
The premise is from Kierkegaard (making the “movement” of faith). The technique unites interiors in dolly-and-pan long takes with New York exteriors as good as any. The style is like nothing so much as The Sin of Harold Diddlebock. The script is so funny that a tough comedian like Lionel Stander has a hard time keeping a straight face. Taking a shower, he says “I’m gonna wash that man right outta my curls.”
The gag is that it’s a parody of Les Misérables. Perhaps there is Brother Orchid, but the influence on We’re No Angels and Robin and the 7 Hoods is apparent. Thematic material is shared by Hollow Triumph, something big, The Passenger, etc. Nina Foch in glasses at her drawing table was directly imitated by Barbara Bel Geddes in Vertigo. Waiting for Godot’s hat trick appears here.
The way the joke is set up, it’s possible that Ray Bradbury’s story, “The Wonderful Ice-Cream Suit”, got some of its inspiration here.
Murder Is My Beat
This is the cop who jumps off the train to live, the murderer who kills to stay on the train, and another who jumps off to die.
The profoundly beautiful structure has not only escaped notice but served as an æsthetic flag in absentia for more than one critic (“marvelously incoherent,” says Dave Kehr in the Chicago Reader), the result of which is the assessment by the Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “hokey” (Leonard Maltin contrives to write, “standard B treatment”).
Linda Rasmussen (Rovi), “lacks the power and grim vision of Ulmer’s bleak gem, Detour,” though Andrew Sarris belies this in The American Cinema.
TV Guide sees a triumph of “technique to improve an otherwise formula story”.
The Naked Dawn
“A small gift from Hollywood,” says Truffaut. “The first film that has made me think that Jules et Jim could be done as a film” (the author wrote to him). “Poetic and violent, tender and droll, moving and subtle, joyously energetic and wholesome... every shot shows a love of cinema, and pleasure in working in it.”
The young man burdened with riches, arrived at by way of Huston (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) and Hitchcock (The 39 Steps).
Renoir and Ophuls “inevitably” spring to mind with Ulmer, “this Viennese, born with the century,” says Truffaut, “wise and indulgent, playful and serene, vital and clear, in short, a good man like the ones I’ve compared him to.”
Andrew Sarris, “a director without alibis.”
The Catholic News Service Media Review Office finds “some quirky turns but the familiar story and stereotyped characters hold little interest” in this “dark Western”.
Dave Kehr (Chicago Reader), “a remarkable... effort”.
Hal Erickson (Rovi) takes it to be a whole lot less moving and subtle.
Time Out, “rather studio-bound but compellingly tense”.
Halliwell’s Film Guide, “heavy-going”.
A Roman rider in the snows instantly prefigures Mann’s The Fall of the Roman Empire, he brings news of Hannibal’s terrible march across the Alps from Spain with an army of Numidians, Libyans, Carthaginians, Spaniards and elephants, a costly maneuver, many die.
In Rome, political folly and military incompetence endanger the State.
The Battle of Cannae is depicted.
A Roman maiden seeks peace with Hannibal, the mother of his son arrives from Carthage with the boy, the maiden is put to death by her uncle, the Cunctator.
Howard Thompson (New York Times) thought it was “old-fashioned”.
A brilliant, satirical understanding in comparison with the calm nobility of Bragaglia’s version, material is added or subtracted, different takes are used, the editing varies in each.
The Amazing Transparent Man
He is the vanguard of an army atomically rendered invisible to conquer the U.S., his name’s Joe Faust (cf. Ulmer’s Bluebeard).
The secret of his invisibility is an advanced form of x-ray, as Henry Frankenstein’s ray went well beyond the violet, even the ultraviolet.
Maj. Krenner, a mercenary soldier, has engineered the scheme and sprung Faust from prison to crack Government safes. Dr. Ulof’s ray is first tested on a guinea pig.
Filmed over several days with a great eye in Dallas.
Beyond the Time Barrier
High-speed high-altitude flight leaves the world behind for a future of Citadel and mutants, all stricken by cosmic plague, deaf, mute and sterile (with but few exceptions).
Atomic fallout is the culprit indirectly, it has destroyed the Earth’s protective layer against radiation from outer space.
Film4 admires Ulmer but says he is “defeated here”, not giving the director his due.
There is a notable quote from Rod Serling when the pilot lands after his historic flight. Sands Air Force Base has become a ruin in an hour’s time, he wanders through it shouting, “where is everybody?”
The new city is off in the distance.
“Italy, September, 1944”.
The retreating Germans seal off a supply depot in an extensive cavern system, using high-explosives.
Inside are a GI private, a PR captain, Col. Blimp, a Canadian flier, a German, a Neapolitan soldier and his girl.
The ordeal lasts six months. The composition completely eluded Howard Thompson of the New York Times.
Blimp and the captain are drunks, the flier just escaped from a prison camp, the Neapolitan is jealous of the GI. The girl, as Thompson observes, is beautiful.
The German finally climbs out through a natural air-shaft, a Partisan sniper kills him.
Blimp, daft, blows himself up and clears the entrance.
They had their goat for Christmas dinner, Blimp read the Bible to them, starting from the waters and the light.
The Canadian and the captain drown before the exodus.