Posts Tagged ‘history

04
Dec
16

#39 Cleopatra

#39. Cleopatra (1934)

cleopatra-1934-poster-2

Starring Claudette Colbert, Warren William, Henry Wilcoxon, and Ian Keith.

Directed by Cecil B. DeMille

The Short, Short Version:

This historical romance has Queen Cleopatra (Colbert) kidnapped and left in the middle of the desert along with her assistant. While Caesar (William) sits plots out his capture of Egypt Cleopatra manages to outwit her captor and cozy up to Caesar. This relationship proves fatal as 1) Caesar is already married to Culpernia and 2) No one in Rome likes Cleopatra. Failing to heed the Ides of March Caesar is assassinated and Cleopatra takes the only vehicle she has back to Egypt. Marc Antony (Wilcoxon), pissed off at Cleopatra as well, takes his legions into Egypt dead set on killing Cleopatra. Cleopatra placates to Antony and he, in turn, falls in love with her. Octavius (Keith) uses this relationship to turn Rome against Antony.

Why This Made the 40:

The second of the categories this came from the “Haven’t Watched” one. Believe it or not I have a few movies I found interesting by the packaging or historical context and as such, collected them; this was one.

This movie is about as compact as a black and white epic can get. 100 minutes may sound short however DeMille wastes no time in movie. Each scene “ramps up” to the next scene and gets bigger and better as it goes along. Claudia Colbert seethes sex and allure as Cleopatra and she knows how to play her cards and really, this movie is a showcase for her. William and Wilcoxon do fine jobs with their characters as much as they were written but again, this movie wasn’t about Caesar or Marc Antony so much as Cleopatra. As a female protagonist movie it navigates the sensibilities of the time fairly well.

Secondly, it’s a DeMille movie. From 1914 to 1956 he directed 80 films, most notably, “The Ten Commandments.” His sense for epic grandeur is in no short supply here – from the rooms of Egypt to Cleopatra’s trireme it’s about space and glory and opulence. The musical number on Cleopatra’s ship is the greatest example of it with the camera slowly pulling-back to show Marc Antony at the head of the ship as if on a stage while on the floor below are dancers and hoops on fire and even further back synchronous rowing and at the back one guy pounding on a giant drum. All in one shot. THAT is directing.

Like “Key Largo,” the coup-de-grace scene is expertly edited; tight and never short of action. Once Egypt and Antony take on Rome there’s a sequence that shows triremes ramming into each other, soldiers falling into the water (complete with underwater shots), Roman legions versus Egyptian legions, sword-fighting – everything one could ask for in a spectacular fight scene. You can also notice small bits of actors in front of a backlit projected image but those are interspersed with the other action shots so as not to interfere with the “suspension of disbelief,” which in my opinion was an incredibly smart move.

Did I enjoy it? Yeah. Equal mix history, romance, and action movie on an epic scale in 100 minutes is a feat for its time and altogether a decent movie. Sure, there are a few hokey instances such as Caesar playing with a device that’s supposed to thrust spears into the enemy (made from a cash register) and a giant door with a metal locking mechanism, but really these are just “of the time” issues; they happen every generation. Give it a spin if you get a chance.

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07
Oct
08

Where’d HE come from? The Wolf Man

It’s nighttime. A full moon is on the rise. Your hands are itching, so you begin to scratch. Dark hairs start to grow on the back of your palm. Your ears, eyes, and nose begin shifting around on your head. Dropping down to all fours, you have but one thought on your mind: human flesh. A radio in the background is playing “Werewolves of London,” by Warren Zevon. In irrepressible urge to howl at the moon floods over you. But, how did we get here?

 

Werewolf legends are almost as time immemorial as vampire lore. Both stem from the idea of shapeshifting, albeit into bats, wolves, or whatever. One of the earliest examples is the Greek story of Lycaon, the mythic king of Arcadia. After resorting to eating human flesh, Zeus turned him into a wolf. And according to Herodotus, there was a tribe that turned into wolves once every nine years.

 

And these legends, again like vampires, twist and turn through the ages, mainly becoming more elaborative and exaggerative in Europe, where the wolves were thought to be evil men who were commanded to terrorize by the Devil. Some werewolves were thought to be fighters who disguised themselves in wolf clothing. Whatever the cases or the causes, one thing remained simplistic: werewolves brought murder and carnage with them.

 

Enter Peter Stumpp. For twenty-five years he had a track record that would make Dracula envious: he sucked the blood from goats, sheep, lambs, men, women, and children, as well as having consumed their flesh. Upon torture, he claimed to be in league with the Devil and to have had incestuous relations. Some theorize that this was socio-politically motivated, but either way the guy had a gruesome death. He was put on a wheel and had his flesh torn from his body using hot pincers, his limbs were broke and he was beheaded, all to keep him from returning from the grave. As a warning to others the torture wheel was set on top of a pole with a figure of a whole on it as well as his severed head.

 

But how did one become a werewolf? Two distinct ways: one, make a pact with the Devil. Two, be bitten by another werewolf. The upside to number one is that it’s less painful, but there’s the whole “selling you soul to Satan” thing. Number two is more painful, but if you kill the werewolf that bit you the “curse” is lifted. Or so Hollywood says.

 

And that’s where the real mythology of werewolves comes from: Hollywood. Traditionally speaking, werewolves are less romanticized than vampires and were often the excuse behind killings more appropriately attributed to serial killers and the like. Wolves in general rarely, if ever, attack a human being, but we find ourselves mortally afraid of the possibility. But once cannibalism, mutilation, and wolves are mixed with ideologies and myths reaching back to ancient times, the rest is sheer fiction.

 

That Hollywood history begins with “The Werewolf,” a 1913 movie about a woman taught how to change into a wolf, seeking revenge on white settlers. Also a silent film, “Wolf Blood,” was released in 1925. It’s about a logger who, after an altercation, needs a blood transfusion. He gets the blood of a wolf and imagines himself as one. Meanwhile, the rival logging company is being picked off one-by-one by wolves. Coincidence? And “Werewolf of London” (1935) was the first to show werewolves on two legs.

 

1941’s “The Wolf Man,” was the cornerstone to the collective werewolf mythos. Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) returns to his ancestral home, falls for a girl, and buys her a silver-headed walking stick with a wolf on it. When he saves her friend from an attack, he’s bitten and now cursed to be a werewolf. After roaming the countryside for a bit, he’s finally returned to normal (read: killed) by his father with his silver walking stick. Silver, changing during moonlight and the pentagram tie all came from this movie. Of note, the “changing under a full moon” idea came from the sequel, “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.”

 

From that point the “Wolf Man” has met Abbott and Costello, been a teenager (“I Was a Teenage Werewolf”), and even had its own TV series (“Werewolf”). Also, watch for Benecio del Toro as “The Wolf Man” next year!

 

“Stick to the roads, and stay clear of the moors.”

04
Jun
08

UPDATE on Universal Studios Backlot Fire

 

 

I just ran across this article today:

 

http://www.backstage.com/bso/news_reviews/film/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003811060

 

This is an update on the information on the fire at the Universal Studios Backlot.

 

Feel free to drop back by and comment.

 

Thanks,

-Chas