Remade, but was it necessary?

Perhaps apropos of nothing -- which is what I say when I'm about to discuss something of little or no importance -- I notice that a new version of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS will be issued to theaters Nov. 10. Directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh as Agatha Christie's iconic Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, this production promises a "stylish and suspenseful" viewing experience, as proclaimed by its promotional material, and it no doubt will be all it sets out to do. But considering the equally lavish adaptation of "Murder on the Orient Express" that appeared just over four decades ago, was another version of the tale all that necessary?

I have a different take on remakes of movies. They generally fascinate me until I see them, and I am left with the conclusion that the original version was better. New ideas introduced into the remake are okay with me, particularly if they show signs of originality or offer another take on what was so excellent about …

Gothic light: 'The Strange Door'/'The Black Castle'

Often considered the dawn of science fiction in Hollywood, the early 1950s saw that although the classic horror films of the '30s and '40s -- especially those released by Universal Pictures -- were no longer in production, there was still a lingering appreciation of them by audiences. Universal, which became Universal-International in 1946, backed away from the profitable if assembly-line thrillers of recent vintage by shutting down its second feature and serial units to concentrate on bigger movies.

However, response to its pairing of moneymaking comics Bud Abbott and Lou Costello with the studio's most famous monsters in ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948) was such that executives took notice, and rightfully so. A&C MEET FRANKENSTEIN generated as many chills as laughs and offered some heightened production value to patrons, prompting some speculation that a revival of movies featuring the Frankenstein Monster, Count Dracula and the Wolf Man was in the offi…

When Sherlock went to war

Universal Pictures' decision to launch a series of second features featuring Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's great detective, Sherlock Holmes, came as the world conflict between democracy and dictatorship deepened. America was now in the war after helping the United Kingdom survive alone against the German juggernaut, and Hollywood was doing its part to lift morale with a heavy injection of propaganda into its product, with everyone pitching in to defeat the Axis. It was only logical that the Holmes films Universal put into production made Sherlock an agent in the war effort, employing his talent for deductive reasoning in solving crime to the larger problems the British Empire faced through espionage, sabotage and treason from its enemies.

The first three movies in the series that commenced with the Sept. 18, 1942, release of SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE VOICE OF TERROR have been taken to task by fans for presenting a jarring update of Holmes from the comfortable Victorian period in which…

Discovering a 'Maker of Men'

One of the joys in checking out the availability of movies on YouTube and streaming sources is the stumbling on to something new to the viewer's experience. For this writer it was in discovering that AGGIE APPLEBY, MAKER OF MEN, a play by Joseph Otto Kesselring of ARSENIC AND OLD LACE fame, was made into a 1933 movie several years prior to the author's first draft of ARSENIC emerging from the typewriter. As Kesselring's other works that made it to the stage were nowhere nearly as successful as ARSENIC, this production of AGGIE APPLEBY, MAKER OF MEN, written by other hands, offers some insight into Kesselring's exploration of Great Depression social conditions in comedic terms.
Not that AGGIE APPLEBY, MAKER OF MEN, is a lost film or even one overlooked in its day. It was in fact routinely reviewed by newspaper critics and has gained something of a reputation as an example of the freer examination of contemporary mores before the Production Code stifled more adult-natured…

Review: Monsters of a Universal kind

THE MOVIE MONSTERS OF UNIVERSAL STUDIOS, by James L. Neibaur. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017, 213 pages. $38 (hardcover), $36 (e-book).

While the field of book-length studies of the iconic monster films produced by Universal Pictures between the 1930s and '50s is a crowded one, James L. Neibaur proves there's always room for one more with a fresh viewpoint and solid observations about what makes those flicks great and what doesn't. THE MONSTER MOVIES OF UNIVERSAL STUDIOS is written with the assurance of a devotee, but one who can view them dispassionately and be unafraid of calling them out on their defects -- not there are that many, in this reviewer's humble opinion.

"The monster movies ... have extended beyond the context of the era of their release and have lived on over time and generations," Neibaur rightly contends in explaining the book's thesis when it comes to the Universal classics. "The iconic characters and enduring stories co…

A stable base: Edgar G. Ulmer at PRC (Part 4)

Much has been written about DETOUR, Edgar G. Ulmer's next production for Producers Releasing Corp., since its initial release. By then World War II was over and U.S. movies were again being exported to Europe. DETOUR was among the new releases the French moviegoing public and its critics saw, earning it an early reputation as a seminal film noir because of its closeness in spirit to French cinema's "poetic realism" that emerged in the '30s, considered by some examples of noir thinking in the years prior to the war. Indeed, the closing thoughts of DETOUR's central character, Al Roberts (Tom Neal), forever served as a direct example of the noir experience: "This I know -- at any time, fate can put the finger on you for no reason at all."

Because of all of the critiques and literature about DETOUR, there will be no attempt here to dissect its meanings beyond the contention that it is Ulmer's masterpiece for the studio, a triumph of the minimalism f…