September 22nd, 2009

DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1920) ****

John Barrymore stars in the silent screen’s most memorable portrayal of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  The story has been told countless times before, so you all know what goes down:  Dr. Jekyll is a kindhearted man who creates a potion that can separate his “bad” half from his “good” half.  His “bad” half takes on the name Mr. Hyde who hangs around with trollops and kills people.  Pretty soon, Hyde takes over whenever he wants and threatens to destroy Jekyll’s life forever.


Because the overly familiar story is an old hat and has been remade and parodied to death, the only way to really grade the movie is on the transformation scenes and the murder sequences.  In that respect, it’s pretty rocking (for a nearly 90 year old movie that is.)  I still think the 1931 Fredric March version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is best of the numerous screen adaptations but this one is a close second. 


The transformation scenes are quite effective and are mostly done in a single take.  Barrymore doesn’t rely on prosthesis for his transformations and more or less just contorts his face a lot.  The results are fairly spine-tingling.


This version does a solid job at setting up Jekyll as a really nice guy, so it’s all the more shocking when he does something vile as Hyde.  At first I didn’t like all the screen time devoted to Jekyll doing charity work for the poor but this is paid off nicely when Jekyll squashes a poor homeless kid to death.  There is also an excellent scene in which Hyde bludgeons his future father-in-law with a cane over and over again that must have been pretty disturbing for the time.  We even get a stellar freakout scene too where Jekyll imagines a giant spider crawling on top of him.  I don't remember seeing that in any of the other versions.


Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde lands itself on The Video Vacuum Top Ten Silent Movies of All Time list at the Number 4 position, which places it in between Phantom of the Opera and The Unholy Three.


Holt is one of the last decent “Lawmen” patrolling the futuristic wasteland.  When he gets killed by the crime boss Hawk, his brother Wade goes out for revenge.  Hawk is too powerful though and promptly has Wade arrested.  Five years later, the limping Wade gets out of prison and tries yet again to get his hands on the man that murdered his brother.


Death Collector is a piss-poor low budget post-apocalyptic pseudo-western.  How do we know it’s supposed to be a western?  The futuristic saloons have swinging doors on them, that’s how.  The big tip-off though is the opening credits which feature random ass scenes from old black and white cowboy movies.  You might be better off with one of those old westerns than this mess.


The dude that played the hero (he’s too dull to even bother worth looking on IMDB to find his name) is pathetic.  He has zero screen presence and is a total joke during the action scenes.  What’s worse is that he dresses like a 50’s rock n’ roller, carries a guitar, and (unfortunately) sings.


Some of the lame attempts to make things seem futuristic (lots of junkyards and parking lots are used as locations) are good for a laugh but most of the movie is just plain awful.  The fight choreography is a straight-up joke.  There are so many clearly faked punches in this movie, it’s ridiculous.  While the flick was somewhat watchable during the early going, things take a considerable nosedive once Wade goes after the villain the second time around.  The editing begins to get real crappy at this point too and the tension completely drains out of the whole thing before the end.


Ultimately, Death Collector tries too hard to be a quirky cult movie and as a result, it’s more or less worthless.  There’s an occasional moment or two of strained humor that ends up being funny though (like when the villain guns down a guy for making him late for his bowling game).  I mean this is the only movie I can think of off the top of my head where the villain is so powerful that he has his own beer commercial.  Other than that, spend your 90 minutes on something else.


“Splatterpunk” authors John Skipp and Craig Spector turn up in cameo roles.


The villain Hawk gets the best line of the movie when he says, “I like you Mr. Holt.  You’re so stupid it gives me pleasure!”


AKA:  Tin Star Void.

THE WAR WAGON (1967) ** ½

Jackson (John Wayne) gets out of jail after being wrongly imprisoned with a chip on his shoulder.  He joins forces with Lomax (Kirk Douglas), a hired gun to get back at the guy who had him sent up the river.  The unlikely duo teams up with an alky explosives expert (Robert Walker, Jr.) and a drunken Indian (Howard Keel) to rob a wagon filled with gold belonging to Jackson’s arch-nemesis.  


John Wayne and Kirk Douglas are two guys who are about as different as you can get.  (Wayne was a staunch Republican and Douglas was a card-carrying Democrat.)  Seeing their mismatched personas play off each other is what makes them such a likable team.  Together, they have a fun sense of one-upmanship that is easily the best thing about the film.  They also get some great tough guy banter too.  After shooting two ruffians at the same time, Douglas sniffs, “Mine hit the ground first”, to which The Duke retorts, “Mine was taller”.


Wayne and Douglas’ chemistry can only carry the movie so far.  The film is quite enjoyable when Wayne is rounding up his team of ragtag miscreants for their mission but once their plan is set in motion, the flick begins to stall.  Although director Burt (Return of the Seven) Kennedy films the proceedings in a solid workmanlike manner, he can’t stop the flick from getting severely bogged down around the halfway point.  While the heist itself is well done (Ewok technology is used) it’s too little too late.  I did like the scene where a villainous Indian blew up after drinking nitroglycerin though.


Douglas gets the best line of dialogue in the flick when he asks The Duke, “You always wear a gun over your underwear?”

DOOMED TO DIE (1940) **

Boris Karloff makes his fifth and final appearance as the famed Chinese detective Mr. Wong.  This time around he’s investigating the death of a wealthy shipping magnate.  Wong’s got to wade through the usual heap of red herrings and dead ends before he finally gets his man.


Doomed to Die is strictly routine stuff.  If you’re a fan of the series though, it’s not the worst way to kill 67 minutes.  This one isn’t especially memorable but at least it moves along at a steady clip (whenever Wong’s police inspector buddy and that annoying reporter dame aren’t hogging the spotlight, that is).


Most of these Mr. Wong movies aren’t very good but they remain fun to watch because of Karloff.  There’s just something about seeing old Boris in really bad Chinese make-up that makes a thoroughly mediocre mystery movie worth watching.  You have to wait a good 15 minutes before he shows up in this one but he does have some nice moments sprinkled throughout.  (I particularly liked the part where he narrowly survives a drive-by shooting.)  It’s just a shame that the plot is so bland.


Karloff was replaced by Keye Luke (an actual Asian for a change) for the next (and last) entry in the Mr. Wong series, Phantom of Chinatown later in the year.


AKA:  The Mystery of Wentworth Castle.