Category Archives: Black and White

#17 – Skull and Jones

(1937, US, 67 min, b/w) Dir Edgar G. Ulmer. Cast Francis Lederer, Margo, Olaf Hytten.

The first in the oddball Skull and Jones series. Lederer is the titular Jones, investigating supernatural mysteries with the aid of a skull (called Skull) that he carries around with him in a velvet sack and takes out to consult with when no one else is around. Called to the mansion of the recently deceased Hugo Noir by his daughter (Margo, the same year she and Lederer wed) who suspects that foul play and devilry were the cause of her father’s demise. His investigations take him beyond the sunny, palm-lined streets of LA and into the shadowy world of the occult, all leading to an explosive gun battle in a deserted night time Hollywood Bowl. An intriguing mix of horror and detective tropes with atmospheric direction from The Black Cat’s Ulmer and spry banter from all. Only one of two S&B starring Lederer before the torch was passed on a la James Bond – popular in its day, the series lasted for sixteen films and a short lived television series in the 1950’s. A blockbuster franchise attempt has been rumoured for the premise for some time, most recently with Johnny Depp in the lead.

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#16 – Götz von Berlichingen

(1927, Ger, 156 min original (44 min surviving), b/w) Dir Lupu Speyer. Cast Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Wera Engels, Alfred Abel.

The product, like the same years’ Metropolis, of the late twenties film budget excesses and, also like Metropolis, a less than resounding success at the box office. The two film’s paths have diverged since, with Metropolis accumulating praise and restorations while Götz von Berlichingen has never been easily available in any format. This reviewer, for example, has only seen it by virtue of the shockingly truncated copy held as part of the collection of a wealthy aficionado (whose name must remain anonymous). Loosely based on Goethe’s play of the same name, the surviving film includes the most famous parts of von Berlichingen’s life such as the loss of his arm by cannonball (rendered in full gory glory) and its replacement with one made of iron. In a move typical of the liberal national mood of the time, von Berlichingen’s famous statement during the siege of his castle at Jagsthausen – “…sag’s ihm, er kann mich im Arsche lecken!” – is included in full as a title card, something unthinkable before or after. It is perhaps this, in addition to the films irreverent attitude to a person who had both submarines and a Panzergrenadier division named after him by the Nazis, that meant that it was suppressed in the years that followed as ‘degenerate art’. It’s not a perfect film – at least as far as can be judged in its current form – but its well shot, well acted and deserves to be seen by more than the occasional dedicated hunter.

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#9 – Yubi o tobasu! (Finger Flying!)

(1967, Japan, 98 min, b/w) Dir Shōgorō Nishimura. Cast Hiroshi Minami, Haruo Tanaka, Anna Shimura.

A Yakuza comedy – if that’s a genre – about an accident prone underling named Shiri (Minami) who starts the film drunk and showing off to the viewer the stumped, fingerless hands he holds his sake cup with. The rest of the film is made up of flashbacks showing how he shamed himself and lost his fingers, by being beaten up by a Shinjuku prostitute when shaking her down for payment, being so inept at bribing a police officer that he gets himself arrested, allowing himself to get drugged and then smashing up a pachinko parlour and, last but not least, getting his group embroiled in a turf war. Each vignette ends with Shiri sitting dolefully with the knife and chopping board before him, before cutting to the outside of the building where only his cries can be heard. A strange mix of slapstick and sleaze, the film was rumoured to have been among Seijun Suzuki’s proposed follow-ups to Branded to Kill before he was dismissed from Nikkatsu although this speculation has been denied by Suzuki himself. Though Nishimura is outside of his Roman porno comfort zone (where he directed the likes of the wonderfully named Confessions of an Adolescent Wife: Climax!) he handles the action competently.

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#5 – Revenge of the Living Dead

(1970, US, 71 min, b/w) Dir Jon Salman. Cast Jane Dickens, Peter Grayson, Roberto DeMeo, Dominique Harrison.

You might think that a concept such as revenge would be beyond the abilities of the average brain dead zombie and you’d be right, vengeance is indeed absent from this hastily assembled love letter to/rip off of Romero’s original. The title seems merely to have been chosen because the film is presented as a sequel so I suppose we should be glad they didn’t call it Son of the Living Dead… The problems extend beyond the title too – the plot is a virtual retread of Night albeit with a mere one zombie barricading the cast in the farmhouse and a bizarre squeamishness that relegates the all-important gore off-screen. Not only that, but the protagonists actually engage their zombie in conversation towards the end! Lest my description tempt you I should warn you that there is no camp or ironic value to be had from the film either – its badness is too dull and sluggish for even that. Thankfully hard to find, it should be avoided should the opportunity present itself. Consider yourself warned!

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#4 – Boxer’s Chains, The

(1986, US, 109 min, b/w) Dir Randall Hex. Cast Matt Dillon, Stacy Herr, Brad Dourif, Ogdon Marshall.

Matt Dillon’s Cal lives in a town called Blueford in an unnamed Mid-West state. Blueford has been gutted, a depopulated maze of cracked streets and leaning buildings – it’s the mid-Eighties and Reagan’s America is downsizing. Cal lives in an abandoned factory, sleeping the day and boosting cars at night to sell to Dourif’s Cash. He’s in love with Sandy, the skinny half-punk waitress at the local diner who’s too shy to talk (an ethereal Herr in her first film role). He takes her into the country and their love blossoms and they plan their escape from Blueford. So far so generic – one part Badlands to one part Drugstore Cowboy – but what sets it apart is how it’s shot, in luminescent black and white like it’s the last silver nitrate print struck. The film just glows off the screen. The still pace isn’t a problem when it looks this good, giving you all the time in the world to drink up every shot of the big cloud smeared sky, the never-ending wheat fields, the rusting factory hulks, the planes and angles of Herr’s face shot in enraptured close-up. The film ends, not with a bang but a whimper – no high dramatics or adolescent nihilism, just life moving on as life does. When it was released in ’86 it got lost between Blue Velvet and True Stories and Randall Hex – a former war photographer who had captured the war in Vietnam – died two years following this, his only film, in a car accident that some claim still was suicide.

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#1 – Bread on the Wind

(1932, Ire, 32 min, b/w) Dir Seamus de Pascal.

A kind of realist/surrealist documentary that suggests Buñuel on holiday in Sligo, the mysterious (and pseudonymous) de Pascal serves up a horse’s lucky gold shoe (he won’t plough without it), a village of blind crones stitching frocks for cigar smoking clergy and – in the most astonishingly realised vignette – a family using a beached Spanish galleon as a house complete with their washing strung between the masts to dry and children sleeping in the barrels of its long abandoned cannons. Despite the fancy on display de Pascal – here helming his only film – never shies from the squalor of rural Ireland in his time. The film ends with a hilltop family, scanning the horizon for the flock of loaves suggested in the title but doesn’t reveal whether this is a hunger fuelled delusion or whether this is an Ireland so poor that even the bread migrates to warmer climes.

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