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Tag Archives: Vincent Price

Jack Nicholson in The Raven (1963)

Bizarrely enough, I had never before seen Jack Nicholson in a movie until he unexpectedly walked through the door in a 1963 comic B horror movie, The Raven, directed by Roger Corman and starring Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, and Peter Lorre. I never associated Jack Nicholson with comedy, but the kicker is that in this comedic story with Price, Karloff and Lorre hamming it up for all they are worth, Nicholson is actually pretty funny.

The film opens with Vincent Price, as Dr. Erasmus Craven, quoting Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven.” Dr. Craven is a sensitive soul, a vegetarian and sorcerer who “prefers to practice [his] magic quietly at home” and is still mourning the death of his second wife, Lenore. But into his misanthropic musings comes a real raven, who turns out to be the rather ineffectual Dr. Bedlo (Peter Lorre), transformed into a raven by the magic of Dr. Scarabus (Boris Karloff), the evil grandmaster of the Brotherhood of Magicians. When Dr. Craven hears from Dr. Bedlo that he thought he saw Lenore (Hazel Court) alive at the castle of Dr. Scarabus, the two set out to investigate.

However, on this dangerous mission they somehow end up bringing the whole family: Craven’s daughter Estelle (Olive Sturgess) and Bedlo’s son, Rexford (Jack Nicholson), who fall in love while their parents deal with Scarabus. They arrive at the castle and are met by Scarabus, dripping false benevolence as only Boris Karloff can.

Entering Scarabus’ Domain

The idea of Jack Nicholson as Peter Lorre’s son is pretty funny in itself. As Scarabus says after mistaking Rexford for Craven’s son and being set right, “The resemblance is quite uncanny.” Even Craven asks Bedlo if Rexford favors his mother. Bedlo’s gloomy reply is that “she favors him.”

While the Price, Karloff and Lorre ham it up for all their worth (delightfully), Jack Nicholson steps into the story with perfect earnestness and sincerity, speaking in a kind of deadpan, flat tone. He was originally sent by his mother to find his father and is always trying to take care of him, remonstrate with him, prevent him from drinking too much wine or challenge Scarabus to yet another duel. It’s all the more amusing for his seeming unaware of all the jokes going on around him.

The special effects are hopelessly cheesy, but the cast pretty much knows it and seem to all be having a grand time. Scarabus wants Craven’s secret for magic by hand gestures and the two of them have a magic face-off, rather in the mold of Gandalf and Saruman in The Fellowship of the Rings, only the participants seem to be having more fun in The Raven.

Evidently, Jack Nicholson made his start in B films and appeared in a number of movies directed by Roger Corman. He had all good memories of working with the cast of The Raven, though he didn’t care for the actual raven, who had an inconvenient habit of relieving himself on people. The script is entirely un-serious. Matheson felt that was the only way to adapt a poem to screen. It seems like there are far worse B movies to make at the beginning of a career…and far worse actors to work with.

This post was written as part of the “Here’s Jack Blogathon,” hosted by Realweegiemidget Reviews. Be sure to check out more posts about Jack Nicholson for Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3!

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2017 in Movies

 

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Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre: 1982-1987

916rb5eKHuL._SL1500_I love fairy tales and although I was too young to watch Shelley Duval’s Faerie Tale Theatre when it originally aired on television (in fact, I wasn’t even alive), it was nevertheless a part of my childhood because my aunt had taped a few and we used to watch them frequently, especially “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” and “The Princess and the Pea.” For me, those versions of the stories were the stories.

Now, I’ve begun working my way through the entire series. As a child, I didn’t appreciate it much, but now I am rather staggered at the cast Shelley Duvall was able to recruit: Vanessa Redgrave, Liza Minnelli, Christopher Reeves, Mick Jagger, Robin Williams, Gregory Hines, Vincent Price, Carrie Fisher, Teri Garr, Jeff Bridges, Lee Remick, Bernadette Peters, James Earl Jones, Christopher Lee, Helen Mirren, Barbara Hershey, Billy Crystal, Jeff Goldblum, Burgess Meredith, Leonard Nimoy, Susan Sarandon, Eve Arden, Matthew Broderick…the list goes on. Guest directors include Tim Burton and Francis Ford Coppola.

The story goes that Shelley Duvall was reading a book of fairy tales while filming Popeye and had the idea to turn them into a live-action anthology series, which she would host and occasionally star in. She received encouragement from Robin Williams, who then starred in the series’ first story, “The Tale of the Frog Prince,” which he did with Teri Garr as the (very) spoiled princess.

The series itself has so far proved rather endearing, apart from my nostalgic memories. It looks nothing like a slick modern show, which is a large part if its charm – magical, occasionally kludgy, idiosyncratic, often tongue-in-cheek but not always, with a unique twist for each story. It has it’s own unique warmth, like a televised play. And the way the stories are written, they can be enjoyed by both children and adults.

The story I saw most frequently was “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” starring Vanessa Redgrave, Elizabeth McGovern, Vincent Price, and Rex Smith (who I always think of as Frederick from the 1983 film of “Pirates of Penzance” with Kevin Kline and Angela Lansbury). Vanessa Redgrave is clearly having a ball as the wicked queen who is enthralled with her own beauty and likes to detail every single perfect nuance of her features to her bored mirror, played with inimitable snark by Vincent Price. Elizabeth McGovern is a sweet Snow White and Rex Smith plays the prince, who mostly sits around and sings, waiting for his princess to arrives…which she eventually does, albeit a little bit dead at the time.

“The Little Mermaid” (which can be viewed here) is actually is closer to the original Hans Christian Anderson story than the Disney film, though the special effects look primitive (if imaginative) and I was a bit surprised to find Helen Mirren as the little mermaid’s rival for the prince’s affections. “The Three Little Pigs” stars Billy Crystal as the hippy (but wise) little pig  who builds with brick (and plays the oboe) and Jeff Goldblum as the wolf trying to “bring home the bacon” to his nagging wife.

Tim Burton directed “Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp,” with James Earl Jones as two genies (the bombastic genie of the lamp and the soft-spoken genie of the ring) and Leonard Nimoy is a wizard trying to steal the lamp. Liza Minnelli, looking and sounding exactly like her mother, appears as a bedraggled princess in “The Princess and the Pea.” Carrie Fisher is Thumbelina, dodging amorous frogs and moles. Jennifer Beal and Matthew Broderick (and Eve Arden as the stepmother) appear in “Cinderella.”

That’s all I’ve seen so far. Fortunately, the entire Faerie Tale series can be found on youtube. Next up is “Rapunzel” with Jeff Bridges, “Sleeping Beauty” with Bernadette Peters and Christopher Reeves and Christopher Lee in “The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers.”

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2016 in Movies

 

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The House of the Seven Gables – Movie and Book

house-of-seven-gablesOne of the main reasons I read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The House of the Seven Gables is because I also wanted to watch the 1940 film adaptation, starring George Sanders, Vincent Price, and Margaret Lindsay. I am trying to discipline myself to read more books before rushing off to watch their film adaptations. How do they compare? It’s not easy to compare, since they are both essentially different stories, but I enjoyed both.

The House of Seven Gables: Novel

The House of the Seven Gables was published in 1851 and is a Gothic novel soaked in story layers, ghosts and curses, greed and decaying life and the hope of new life, though it is never made explicit whether or not the supernatural elements are true or merely the fancy of the author.

It is not a conventional story and somewhat difficult to summarize because of its many layers, though the plot is simple. Hawthorne begins the novel by giving us a bit of history. There was land owned by a man named Matthew Maule in the 1600s. Colonel Pyncheon offered to buy it, but when Maule refused, Pyncheon denounced him as a sorcerer and Matthew Maule died during the Salem Witch trials. But before he died, Maule said that God would give the Pyncheon’s blood to drink. And sure enough, not long after Colonel Pyncheon built his great, wood house with the seven gables, he died mysteriously, with blood found on his neck (referred to later as a throat aneurysm). And a number of Pyncheon’s die in this way through successive generations.

Hawthorne then proceeds to give us a bit more history as Pyncheon’s descendants descend into decay, financially and spiritually. One Pyncheon takes it into his head to right the wrong done a long time ago by Colonel Pyncheon to Matthew Maule by returning Seven Gables to the Maule family. But before he can do so, he dies mysteriously. One of his two nephews, Clifford Pyncheon, is accused of the murder and sent to prison. The other, Jaffrey Pyncheon, reforms his wild ways and becomes a model citizen and a judge. But this is all background and disposed of in one chapter, even though it is extremely important to the story.

House of Seven Gables, owned by Hawthorne's cousin, which inspired the house of the story

House of Seven Gables, owned by Hawthorne’s cousin, which inspired the house of the story

The bulk of the book begins with Hepzibah Pyncheon, an elderly woman, also the sister of Clifford. She is obliged to open a cent shop inside Seven Gables to support herself and Clifford, who is being released from prison soon. In the dark house comes Phoebe Pyncheon, a young relative whose parents live in the country. She is like a breath of fresh air in the old house and it seems like the house is beginning to come alive again under her influence. Meanwhile, there is a mysterious lodger at Seven Gables named Mr. Holgrave, who is a daguerreotypist. And Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon really wants to see Clifford, though both Hepzibah and Clifford hate him and won’t let him in, despite his reputation for being a good man.

But the events of the story are not that important in the novel. There is a bit of mystery, very little action. Mostly, there are set scenes that Hawthorne describes and then uses to discuss his characters – their past, their present and their association with the overall story. Hepzibah opens a cent shop and as she does so, Hawthorne tells us about her. How she has a scowl, but not because she’s bad tempered, but because she’s nearsighted. She was bred a lady (the Pyncheon’s are the American equivalent of impoverished aristocracy) and is humiliated by being forced to work. But she has a good heart and is loyal to Clifford.

After Phoebe arrives, Hawthorne takes time to discuss the essential sunshine of her nature. She is something fresh and new from the moldy line of Pyncheons and seems to dispel the curse merely by her refreshing presence, even brightening up the ruined life of Clifford, who would have been a somewhat shallow lover of all things beautiful, but now is a sorrowing man who has a dim sense of goodness that Hawthorne suggests he might not have had otherwise.

The way Hawthorne tells his story, the past and the present seem somewhat blurred. His theme are ancestral decay and family legacy (in this case, a legacy of guilt and rapacity) which is handed down the generations, though Hepzibah and Clifford seem more like victims than perpetrators. It’s a bit of a slow read, but Hawthorne’s prose is lovely. He paints word pictures so vividly and the atmosphere of the book is so strong, it almost comes off the page and I enjoyed it much more than I did his most famous novel, The Scarlet Letter.

The House of the Seven Gables – Movie

house-of-gablesThe movie, on the other hand, is not very like the book. It is a more straightforward Gothic tale of romance and vindication, though it retains the sense of the family legacy of greed and a curse, without the same sense of decay. What makes the movie interesting is its exceptional cast: George Sanders, Vincent Price, and Margaret Lindsay.

The movie begins when Clifford (Vincent Price) and his brother Jaffrey (George Sanders – Jaffrey and Clifford were cousins in the novel) are still young. Hepzibah is transformed into a cousin (Margaret Lindsay) who is in love with Clifford.

Clifford is a musician, eager to leave his moldy family behind and go to New York. He also wants to sell Seven Gables, which appalls his greedy brother, Jaffrey, who believes that there is hidden in the house documents that could make the family very rich (there are echos of this in the novel). When a loud argument between Clifford and his father leads to the latter’s death of a throat aneurysm, George accuses Clifford of his murder and Clifford is sent to jail.

But instead of inheriting the house, Jaffrey is stunned to learn that Hepzibah actually will inherit the house. She forbids Jaffrey to ever enter and closes all the shutters, and cutting herself off from life until years later, when Clifford returns. She also has a lodger, Matthew Maule (Dick Foran), descendant of the original Matthew Maule, and who met Clifford in prison (this Maule is an abolitionist) and is helping him to clear his name. Also Phoebe (Nan Grey) is comes to stay, though she has less to do than she does in the novel, except be a love interest for Matthew Maule and provide contrast with Hepzibah.

Margaret Lindsay is sensational as Hepzibah. As the young Hepzibah, she reminded me of Barbara Stanwyck. The role is actually the kind of thing you could imagine Barbara Stanwyck or Bette Davis sinking their teeth into. She begins as a young girl, with mischievous eyes, hope in her face and a bounce in her step (though not excessively bouncy). But after the years of being alone, her posture changes and grows more severe, her expression hardens, her voice deepens, with a bearing that has a strong resemblance to Olivia de Havilland walking up the stairs at the end of The Heiress.

The young Jaffrey, Vincent Price and Margaret Lindsay

The young Jaffrey, Vincent Price and Margaret Lindsay

There is a lovely, touching scene when she and Clifford are reunited after eighteen years of separation. Both have changed so much, ravaged by time, and they are both afraid to see each other again, for fear of what the other will think of them. But their romance is the real romance and heart of the film (Phoebe and Matthew are mostly there for contrast, as the fresh young couple).

Vincent Price is so young in this film. He was about 29 and had only made his film debut two years previously. But he still has that voice and also does an excellent job playing both the younger Clifford, full of energy, and the older Clifford, now with white hair and a stoop in his shoulders.

George Sanders as Jaffrey remains mostly the same when young and older, but George Sanders is always such a perfectly sneering villain, and he’s not supposed to show the affects of time as much as the others.

Overall, it’s a very satisfying film. It’s not well known, only released as a DVD-R, but worthwhile if you are at all a fan of the actors involved. And its not  necessary to read the book before viewing, though the book is worthwhile in its own way.

 
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Posted by on November 9, 2015 in Books, Movies

 

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