This past weekend it was extra-toasty in Southern by-God Illinois, and so it was a perfect time to stay indoors and shamelessly indulge in movie-watching. TCM had some beautiful prints of several Charlie Chaplin films, plus a good documentary. (Though nothing beats Robert Downey Jr. in Chaplin!) I also should mention (she says in a very quiet, rather abashed voice…) Little Gloria, Happy at Last, the 3.5 hour, 1982 dramatization of the book of the same name. Gloria is, of course, Gloria Vanderbilt, she of the 1980s blue jeans and mother-of-Anderson Cooper fame. As a child, she was a sad little pawn in a nasty depression-era custody battle–and was also known as the richest little girl in America. Yes, it was shameless of me and I enjoyed every minute of it.
But the best part of my film madness was seeing two Val Lewton films: The Body Snatchers and Isle of the Dead. Do you know Lewton’s films? Lewton was brought in to RKO in the forties to produce low-budget horror films.
But RKO really just provided him with a few dollars and titles to work toward. And the titles were plain pulp: Cat People, Revenge of the Cat People, the Seventh Victim, The Leopard Man, I Walked With A Zombie. Lewton made the best of the titles and, for the most part, produced beautiful, dark films with a kind of psychological depth that was almost unheard of in Hollywood until 1950s realism stepped in. Of course, there’s little that’s realistic in Lewton’s films, and the characters are often unpredictable and unreliable in their behavior. Surreal may be a better word for them.
This winter, Martin Scorcese did a comprehensive documentary on Lewton that TCM tied to a Lewton film festival. You can check it out here.
Oh, and I forgot that we watched Bride of Frankenstein with Bengal. But that’s a whole other post!