I’m not sure how many folks remember William Castle nowadays, given that he did most of his most intriguing work in the 50s and early 60s but, if you are a horror fan, you are probably aware of him (and you’ve probably watched Joe Dante’s love letter to his sort of theatrical gimmicks via his brilliant film MATINEE).

That said, myself and a friend went to my favorite movie theater — Chicago’s Music Box Theatre — to see a 35mm print of Castle’s THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL that also promised to involve Castle-esque gimmicks, such as actors roaming through the audience and skeletons.

Reader: they did two screenings and the one I attended — at 9:30 on a Thursday night, nonetheless — was sold out.

I’ve seen THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL more than a few times. Vincent Price is exceptional in it, as always, and it’s chock full of schlock, including all of the standard ‘haunted house’ tropes, such as falling chandeliers, senseless locked doors, and plenty of fake-outs. (It definitely owes a debt to James Whale’s THE OLD HOUSE (1932), which Castle remade later in his career.) Is it a great film? No. Does it make much sense? No. Is it populated by B-grade actors not quite giving it their all? Yes.

Is it a memorable film? Fuck yeah. It has a fantastic set, serviceable lighting, and striking set-pieces.

I realize I’m extremely lucky to live in a city where my favorite film palace loves to show horror, and even luckier that they go to the trouble of recreating gimmicks. They even talked to Castle’s daughter to get points of reference and her blessing. These folks are doing the work.

While THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is a blast under any circumstances, seeing it in a fully sold out thousand-plus seat theater with a group of very-game audience members who were all very well-mannered while still being appropriately rambunctious was one of the best post-pandemic screenings I’ve attended. It reminded me of the controlled chaos of The Vic’s Brew ’n View (R.I.P.) where everyone’s there to have a good time and respond to the screen appropriately, be it laughing, clapping, or blurting out something legitimately funny (instead of play-acting MST3k).

I know I often say this, but nothing can recreate the feeling of seeing a movie in a theater, and when you encounter these very sort of specific circumstances, it’s extremely special. The Music Box created an experience that those who were there will be dining out on for years, and they deserve every accolade. I only hope that you can find a similar theater that you can call a home-away-from-home.


The moment I realized Dorothy L. Sayers’ THE NINE TAILORS was a special sort of murder mystery novel was when I encountered one passage and thought: “Wow, she’s really leaning hard on the details of this old church’s bells.” Ten pages later: “Cripes, I never knew that I wanted to know this much about bell-ringing!”

Sayers is best-known for her murder mysteries, specifically her Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, featuring a rich, compassionate, gregarious but astute man who often finds himself surrounded by death. GAUDY NIGHT (the tenth Wimsey story, published in 1935, one a year after THE NINE TAILORS) is perhaps her best-known, but sadly, nowadays unless you’re attending an Edgar Awards afterparty, you’re probably unlikely to hear her name or accidentally stumble over a visual adaptation of any of her novels.

This is a shame — and something The Dorothy L. Sayers Society is trying to rectify — because, as THE NINE TAILORS exemplifies, she’s exceptional at weaving a engaging world, one dense with intriguing and idiosyncratic individuals, where actions are richly detailed, and each work is ornately penned to soothe even the most high-minded snob. In her hands, the murder contained in THE NINE TAILORS almost fades away as we’re drawn into this small town and its denizens.

In other words: THE NINE TAILORS is the complete package. It’s thrilling, it has depth, it goes unfathomably deep into the world of bell-ringing in ways that manage to be highly entertaining, and it sticks the landing in an amazingly satisfying way. It’s an absolute classic, one that should certainly not be overlooked by any mystery fan.

Read here:


Programming note: NaNoWriMo is over, and I hit my goal! That said, now I’m on the wane, so posts will be intermittent until 2022.

I’m embarrassed to say that this film wasn’t on my radar until Turner Classic Movies featured Maureen O’Hara’s monologue in one of their ‘monthly promotional vignettes’. I quickly snapped up the Criterion Blu-Ray and wow, I’m glad I did. This is a bold, brazen film from one of the most prolific women Hollywood directors, Dorothy Arzner, based on a text by Vicki Baum.

It’s the story of two dancers from a ramshackle dance troupe that specialized in burlesque which had the misfortune to be preemptively dissolved. The star of the troupe, Bubbles (Lucille Ball), goes on to have an exceptionally popular mainstream striptease career under the name of Tigerlily White, and she enlists fellow prior troupe-mate Judy (Maureen O’Hara), a woman with aspirations to be a ballerina, to serve as her ‘stooge’, where Judy dances her high art act while the audience boos and jeers here in order to tease Tigerlily White’ return to the stage.

If you only know Lucille Ball from I LOVE LUCY, she had quite the career as a supporting film actor prior to her sitcom career — she had a few stand-out roles in noirs like Douglas Sirk’s LURED (1947), and also held her own against Katharine Hepburn in the extremely entertaining STAGE DOOR (1937). While it was an earlier film for Maureen O’Hara — she was coming off of JAMAICA INN and THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME — she brings her A-game to this.

Ultimately, DANCE, GIRL, DANCE is a powerful film about exploitation and appeasement and the willingness to settle, to be content to not attempt to rise above your current station, and it is not subtle or apologetic about it. For its time, hell, even now, it is an astounding work from Dorothy Arzner who, sadly, has been mostly forgotten by film academics. (Thankfully, not all.)

Dorothy Arzner was the first woman sound director and, for many years, the only woman director in Hollywood. Not only that, she was as unapologetically openly gay as you could be back then, hair shorn short and her uniform consisted of menswear. Dancer and choreographer Marion Morgan was her partner, and Arzner leaned on her skills for DANCE, GIRL, DANCE.

Despite that, she’s rarely talked about today, which is a crime because this film is Arzner using her platform to dissect the role of a viewer and the role of a creator, while also featuring a woman taking advantage of another woman explicitly because of capitalism, all without completely vilifying her. It’s a complicated work, one that also manages to be severely entertaining.

“Give ‘em all ya got, baby.”

“They couldn’t take it.”

Turner Classic Movies Film Fest: Part One (2021)

Turner Classic Movies’ annual film festival is virtual for the second year in a row. While last year it took place entirely on TCM’s cable channel, this year they’re also leveraging HBO MAX for ‘Classics Curated By TCM’. Unlike prior years, there’s no real theme, which is disappointing, and I think leads to a rather lackluster lineup, but your mileage may vary.

I thought I’d point out a few noteworthy pieces for TCM’s timed ‘screenings’ today, and HBO MAX’s offerings tomorrow:

‘Screening’ via TCM Full Schedule:

May 7th 1:30am EST: DOCTOR X (1932)

If I were smarter, I would have posted this earlier this week because this probably will have already aired by the time you read it, but it’s worth mentioning. The UCLA Film & TV Archive and The Film Foundation recently restored this two-color Technicolor marvel — similar to how they restored the previously recommended THE MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933). Michael Curtiz also directed it (as he did WAX MUSEUM) and Fay Wray also appears in it, so you know it’ll be some top-notch classic horror.


Comedic genius and horror film fan Dana Gould wrangled an all-star list of comedians including Maria Bamford, Bobcat Goldthwait, Oscar Nuñez, Bob Odenkirk, Janet Varney, Paul F. Tompkins, and more to perform his adaptation of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. Fun fact: Gould was good friends with Vampira (who barely but memorably appears in Woods original film) near the end of her life, and helped out of more than a few bad times.

May 8th 3:15am EST: let me come in (2021)

Bill Morrison (DAWSON CITY: FROZEN CITY) shaped this from the remains of the German silent film PAWNS OF PASSION (1928). While I haven’t seen this, I’m fascinated with it simply from a film history perspective and the fact that it’s managed by Morrison intrigues me even more.

May 8th 8am EST: I LOVE TROUBLE (1948)

I haven’t run the numbers, but it feels like there are fewer noirs in this fest than prior years, but this is one I’ve been meaning to watch for a while.

May 8th 11:45am EST: NICHOLS AND MAY: TAKE TWO (2021)

A new doc regarding the extremely influential comedic team of Mike Nichols and Elaine May. I’ve seen prior docs on ‘em, and yet I’m still making time for another.

May 8th 10pm EST: LADY SINGS THE BLUES (1972)

I’ve only read about this film in contrast to the recent Billie Holiday docudrama, and I know it takes wild liberties with her life, but are you going to pass up the chance to see Diana Ross, Billy Dee Williams, -and- Richard Pryor in the same film? (Yes, I know Ross and Williams were in MAHOGNY together.)

May 9th 4:15am EST: I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING! (1945)

Exactly the sort of fest film I’d attend without knowing anything but the basics. It’s a romance and it’s written and directed by legendary English filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

Tomorrow: some HBO MAX TCM Fest recommendations.


(Criterion/IndieFlix/VOD) Yes, another film with Orson Welles, albeit directed by Carol Reed (who had previously directed the stellar noir ODD MAN OUT). It’s not just one of my favorite noirs but one of my favorite films period. For example, I snuck in excerpts from the soundtrack it into my wedding playlist. (I’ll note it was the dining playlist, not the dance playlist.)

While I love everything about it — the zither-centric soundtrack, the clever use of post-wartime occupied space, the amazing chiaroscuro work and canted angles supplied by Reed’s go-to cinematographer Robert Krasker, Holly Martins’ (Joseph Cotton) writerly self-deprecation, and obviously Welles as Harry Lime and the marvelous scene construction of the cuckoo clock scene — I came to it far later in life than I should have. While other films have liberally borrowed from it — notably BRAZIL with its zither use and own Harry Lime — and while it’s widely considered one of the greatest British films ever made, I have the impression that it’s a film that is rarely watched by anyone apart from cinephiles and noir nerds like myself. It’s not a film you hear friends say ‘Oh, I saw that with my mom (or dad)! They absolutely loved that film. Let’s watch it again!’ Casual filmgoers don’t seem to speak of it with the reverence they would of, say, CHINATOWN.

Perhaps it’s because Cotton lacks the enigmatic charisma of Bogart, even though I can’t see Bogart as Holly Martins. Perhaps most people hate zither music. Perhaps I’m wrong, and youths organize weekly watch parties for it. Regardless, it is rich and substantial, and a film that folks should see far earlier in life. It captures a very specific time in a way that few movies do, and the fact that it has a complicated male relationship, an exceptional villain, and a thrillingly extraordinary chase scene, should be more than enough to merit anyone’s attention.

Or, perhaps I’m entirely wrong about all of the above and maybe it has aged terribly, now considered to be completely overrated. Watch and see for yourself. All I know is that I’ll never stop loving it.


(kanopy/VOD/YouTube) Sure, F.W. Murnau directed NOSFERATU, FAUST, as well as one of the greatest melodramas ever with SUNRISE: A SONG OF TWO HUMANS, but my favorite film of his is THE LAST LAUGH.

THE LAST LAUGH is an extraordinarily depressing story of a hotel porter’s fall from grace starring Emil Jannings, an actor exceptional at portraying broken characters. While the tale is simple, it’s not simply told, as Murnau puts forward all of his talents with his ‘untethered camera’ as possible. Briefly put: the aging hotel porter (Emil Jannings) loves his job, loves the limelight of the front door and accommodating the hotel’s guests. However, his boss deems him too old and re-assigns him to be a washroom attendent. Despite the very slight story, it’s an expressionistic marvel, pure cinema, with Murnau’s camera visually and emotionally gesticulating all over the place, eschewing title cards except for one which is displayed upon Jannings falling asleep in his newly anointed washroom attendent’s chair. (Yes, yes, one might construe the following as a spoiler):

“Here our story should really end, for in actual life the forlorn old man would have little to look forward to but death. The author took pity on him, however, and provided quite an improbable epilogue.”

The last fifteen minutes of the film consists of an orgy of food, montage, and lower-class well-wishing. Talk about having your cake and eating it too.

A clip:

The full film via YouTube (it’s in public domain, but there are restored editions out there that are worth your hard-earned cash):


(VOD) When most folks hear Norma Shearer these days, they probably think of THE WOMEN (if they recollect her at all), but while she was a star well before THE DIVORCEE, it’s THE DIVORCEE that turned her from a conventional leading lady into an unconventional one, one proudly willing to tackle sensitive material. (It helps that she won an Oscar for her role.)

THE DIVORCEE is based on a Ursula Parrott’s novel EX-WIFE — it shouldn’t be confused with the lost 1919 silent film THE DIVORCEE, which was based on the 1903 play LADY FREDERICK — and centers around a love triangle between Jerry (Norma Shearer), Ted (Chester Morris), and Paul (Conrad Nagel). Paul loves Jerry, but Jerry marries Ted. Paul gets drunk and, while driving a party of their friends home, gets into an accident, viciously scarring friend Dorothy’s (Helen Johnson) face. Paul feels terrible guilt and marries Dorothy. Ted cheats on Jerry, so Jerry returns the favor by sleeping with Ted’s best friend Don, and informs Ted that they’re even now. Ted becomes outraged and divorces her.

Jerry moves on, living her best life by traveling and partying, while Ted becomes an alcoholic, and Paul re-enters her orbit, still married to Dorothy. Lessons are then learned by all, roll credits.

If it sounds like I’m dismissive about the end of the film, it’s because it’s meant to be dismissed. THE DIVORCEE is a pre-code film, which means that it didn’t have to adhere to the increasingly strict Hays Code of on-screen moral representation that penalized, well, practically every Hollywood production from the mid-1930s into the 1960s. While it’s possible THE DIVORCEE could have been made under early Hays Code regulations, it certainly wouldn’t be so frank about infidelity. That said, the closing is laughably moralistic, and undoes all of the fine progressive groundwork of the prior 80 minutes, but I find it hard to believe audiences of the time would have been fooled by it.

While the film has some clunky visual exposition — specifically the opening shot that looks like they opted to film a high school theater rendition of the novel — a fair amount of Robert Z. Leonard’s work is stellar, especially whenever Jerry and Ted are in a tight two-shot. (The moment when she plots her next step after confronting him about his infidelity, the smoke in the party room rolling behind her head simulating angry steam, is pitch-perfect.)

Not a trailer, but an excerpt:


(Criterion/kanopy/VOD) One of the first screenings I attended upon moving to Chicago was for Jacques Tati’s MR. HULOT’S HOLIDAY at the Music Box Theatre. Sadly, it was in their sidecar theater and, if you think that room is ramshackle now, you should’ve seen it in the 90s. It was a matinee and, while I’d seen it before — I was introduced to Tati and MR. HULOT’S HOLIDAY back when I was a Purdue student — I couldn’t wait to see it in a proper theater, even if the screen wasn’t much larger that one in a college classroom.

Sadly, in a predictably Tati-esque manner, the print burned and tore apart no less than twenty minutes into the film. So it goes.

But! I’m here to extoll Tati’s PLAYTIME, both his greatest film, and also the film that would doom him. Before PLAYTIME, he was a celebrated physical comedian who had directed several very visually clever and humorous movies, including MR. HULOT’s HOLIDAY. PLAYTIME was to be his magnum opus, and he sunk all of his money into a number of dazzlingly huge sets, all constructed to fuel his vision of satirizing modern urban architecture and mode of living.

The end result was an absolute marvel. At the risk of sounding pretentious, it’s pure cinema, each frame densely packed with revelations, but never overwhelming the viewer. It’s a marvelous onion of a work, one where you’ll see something new with each and every screening, jam-packed with gags, either with the blocking, a flourish of color, someone’s line of sight, but the film is always in complete command when it needs to draw your attention to one of the few plot-related setups.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched it. It’s one of the few films I’ll always make a point to catch when it comes to town. It’s an utter delight — one of a handful of films I consider ‘perfect’ — which is why it’s so sad that production overruns bankrupted Tati, then the film flopped upon release, and he never quite recovered from its failure.


(YouTube/DVD) THEODORA GOES WILD is a screwball comedy that not only features winsome repartee between leads Irene Dunne and Melvyn Douglas, but is also about liberating men and women from cultural shackles.

Dunne is Theodora Lynn, a Sunday school teacher by day, but racy, explicit romance author by night. No one but her publisher knows about her writerly habits, at least until Michael Grant (Douglas) the progressive cover artist of her book, discovers her secret and finds himself hellbent to convince her to come clean and live an open life, one where she be proud of her achievements and can actually spend her well-earned novel money. Consequently, he shows up in Theodora’s small town and weasels his way into her life posing as a gardener, and antics ensue.

It’s a tightly scripted, rollickingly good time from director Richard Boleslawski, based on a story from Mary McCarthy (who certainly pitched it as a story she wanted to see on screen). Yes, there’s some dated content, but it has aged remarkably well.


(VOD/Every other week on TCM) THE THIN MAN is based on the Dashiell Hammett detective novel of the same name but, while the pre-code film adaptation retains the same narrative bones as the book, it backgrounds the murder mystery in favor of the boozy, flirty interplay between spouses Nick & Nora Charles, resulting in one of most winsome on-screen couples.

Like the book, Nora (Myrna Loy) is a rich socialite, and Nick (William Powell) is a man who gave up his detective badge to marry her, and they have a dog in lieu of children. They spend their copious recreational time running around night clubs, garnering hanger-ons and hangovers, making each other laugh with witty banter and, in general, having one good time after another, at least until Nick gets roped into investigating a murder. What makes them such a great on-screen couple is that, yes, Nick is the investigator, but Nora is often the instigator, has just as much insight and deductive powers as Nick, she takes no shit, and Nick is always willing to indulge her. They both push-and-pull each other with an endless amount of quips and gazes, and love each other for doing so.

While it’s always worth watching Loy & Powell together, what really makes the film resonate is the sparkling script penned by married couple Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, who had an amazing tandem career both as playwrights (they won a Pulitzer for their stageplay of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK) and screenwriters (they also worked on FATHER OF THE BRIDE, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, and SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS). They were not shy about admitting that they poured much of their relationship into the screenplay, and it shows, as they feel like a real forever-love couple — doting, a bit combative, occasionally prickly, always respectful — but never in a cloying way. It’s a delightful watch, a film I never tire of.

  • If you’re interested in reading more about Goodrich & Hackett, I suggest the combined biography of the two in THE REAL NICK AND NORA by David L. Goodrich.