Movie Review: The Last Man on Earth

Movie Review: The Last Man on Earth (1964) directed by Sidney Salkow and Ubaldo Ragona.

It has been three years since Robert Morgan (Vincent Price) has seen another living human. There are only the dead-and the undead. A mysterious plague swept the Earth in 1965, causing blindness and death. But at least some of those who died of the disease reanimate as creatures somewhat like vampires. They fear sunlight, avert their eyes from mirrors, and are repulsed by garlic. And they crave blood. The stronger ones feed on the weaker ones, so there are fresh corpses on Morgan’s doorstep every morning.

The Last Man on Earth
Morgan tries vainly to signal any other survivors.

The undead aren’t very strong or smart; the very brightest of them seem confined to one or two phrases that are continually repeated. But there’s a lot of them, they’re persistent, and they have nothing better to do at night than attack Morgan’s now-fortified house. So in the daytime, Morgan gathers supplies, disposes of corpses in the burning pit the government set up before it collapsed, and stakes as many “vampires” as he can find.

This cult classic movie was based on Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend and Mr. Matheson wrote the first draft of the screenplay. Unfortunately, he didn’t like the changes made (including the new ending) and had his name changed to “Logan Swanson” in the credits. Rome, Italy doubles as an unnamed American city, and most of the cast and extras are Italian. 

The movie opens with a half-hour of Morgan’s typical day and night activities before going into an extended flashback. We learn that Morgan was a researcher at Mercer Chemical trying to find a vaccine or cure for the mystery plague, made more difficult by the apparent 100% fatality rate and having no idea how it was spread. Morgan’s colleague Ben Cortman (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) realizes about the vampire thing well before it’s confirmed, and holes up in his garlic and cross-festooned home rather than come into work. (This apparently does not help, as by the time the film opens, he’s the closest thing the undead have to a leader.)

Morgan loses his small daughter, and the government takes her to be burned. So when Morgan’s wife succumbs to the plague, he chooses to take her to a remote spot and bury her instead. That night, there’s someone at the door whispering to be let in. Now Morgan believes in vampires. 

Back in the present, Cortman has succeeded in wrecking Morgan’s car, so Morgan varies from his usual haunts to obtain a new one. As a result, he sees a stray dog for the first time in years (it’s not clear whether animals also are infected the same way, but don’t rise, or if the undead just ate most of them.) While trying to catch it, Morgan finds staked corpses, but these are staked with metal spears (probably repurposed from fences) instead of the wooden stakes he uses. Someone else is alive!

The dog turns up on Morgan’s doorstep, badly wounded, and dies. While disposing of it, Morgan sees a woman nearby, standing in the sunlight! This turns out to be Ruth Collins (Franca Bettoia, dubbed by Carolyn de Fonseca), who is deathly afraid of Morgan. She reveals the existence of an enemy Morgan didn’t even know existed, with hostility towards Morgan because of his seemingly reasonable actions. This propels the film to its tragic climax.

While I can see why Mr. Matheson was disappointed by the changed ending (and none of the film adaptations have ever used the original ending), the movie’s ending is suitably horrific and works quite well. There’s also good use of tragic mistiming–Morgan’s defenses against Cortland are very similar to the ones Cortland hoped to use to protect himself, and Morgan doesn’t realize he had the cure he was looking for in his own veins until there’s no one else to test it on. Which sets up the misunderstanding that dooms Morgan in the end.

This film is a showcase for Vincent Price, who plays Morgan in an understated tone through most of the film. 

The movie is in the public domain, so a copy should be easily obtainable, and it’s well worth seeing if you’ve never had the chance, or have only seen the other adaptations.

Book Review: Riley and the Great War

Book Review: Riley and the Great War by James Anderson O’Neal

Jim hasn’t had much contact with his grandfathers over the years; Grandpa Jimmy was often absent without explanation, and Riley was even more remote, seldom talking even when he was present. But now that Jimmy is dead, Riley has a present for his writing-ambitious grandson. Jimmy (known to his friends as Cornelius) wrote his autobiography in secret, and now it’s Jim’s to transcribe with Riley’s expansions and corrections. The secrets of the past unfold.

Riley and the Great War

The story begins in Independence, Missouri, where the men met as young boys and became friends. It follows them to Mexico and an encounter with Santa Ana, and then to the battlefronts of World War One. Along the way they have multiple encounters with the man they first know as the Spaniard, who becomes their archenemy.

This is “secret history”; Riley and Cornelius have constant close encounters with famous people, but most of these involve embarrassment or national security so the pair’s names somehow never get into the history books.

Good stuff: Some nice action scenes, and contrasting protagonists who have very different approaches to their problems. Riley comes across as much more competent than Cornelius, who is good at talking himself into trouble but not so good at talking himself out.

Not so good: “The Spaniard” feels like a throwback to the all-evil, all the time foreign villain of early Twentieth Century popular literature. He’s cartoonishly villainous, but with 21st Century evil acts added to his repetoire that would only have been hinted at in the literature of the time.

Cornelius isn’t likable enough to overcome some of the ethically dubious things he does. He’s supposed to be a charming rogue, but it’s not working for me.

Content note: There’s torture, rape and sexual assault, mostly by the Spaniard. Cornelius has a lot of extramarital sex.

Best line: “I hope this will not make you think less of women, but I must kill you now.”

This is the first book in an intended series that will cover most of the 20th Century. If you like “secret history”, you’ll probably enjoy this book.

Book Review: People of the Book: A Decade of Jewish Science Fiction & Fantasy

Book Review: People of the Book: A Decade of Jewish Science Fiction & Fantasy edited by Rachel Swirsky & Sean Wallace

One of the perils of reading a lot of anthologies is that you see a fair amount of overlap in stories, particularly in themed anthologies. (I include “Best of the Year” in that as there tend to be multiple Best Ofs each year.) This anthology tries to mitigate it a bit by limiting itself to newer works by Jewish writers, between 2000 and 2010, instead of relying on the classics. Thus we have twenty relatively fresh stories to savor.

People of the Book: A Decade of Jewish Science Fiction & Fantasy

“Burning Beard: The Dreams and Visions of Joseph ben Jacob, Lord Viceroy of Egypt” by Rachel Pollack opens the volume with a retelling of the tale from Genesis. Joseph has the gift of prophecy and interpreting dreams, but this is not always or even usually a boon to him. He sees visions of his successor Moses, and what it portends for the people of Joseph.

“The History Within Us” by Matthew Kressel concerns one of the last humans in the galaxy, if not the last one, preparing to be sucked into a black hole. This is part of a project to seed the new universe to come with some of the information and history gained in the old one. (Which is collapsing early because humans weaponize everything.) Betsy carries the memories of her family all the way back to the Twentieth Century, but is she their caretaker, or their prisoner?

This collection is heavier on fantasy than science fiction, and the latter tends to “alternate history.”

Some stories I really liked: “The Tsar’s Dragons” by Jane Yolen, in which the seeds of the Russian Revolution are looked at with the metaphor of dragons for political power. “Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel” by Peter S. Beagle, about a painter and the angel who becomes his model, somewhat unwillingly (and is one of the most optimistic stories in the book despite the suffering included.)

“The Problem with Susan” by Neil Gaiman features a dying literature professor whose life has parallels to Susan Pevensie from C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books. Or she may actually be Susan or the inspiration for the character; that’s left deliberately vague. It has an intensely dissatisfying ending, which I understand is deliberate. This is the only story in the volume with no direct mention of Jews or Judaism–I have to wonder if it was included just to have a Gaiman story?

Ones I didn’t like so much: “Fidelity: A Primer” by Michael Blumlein is about a father’s decision not to have one of his twin sons circumcised. It might be magical realism, if you squint at it sideways, but seems mostly pointless. The Michael Chabon story about golems weaves his actual life story in with what are presumably fanciful inventions, and runs far too long for the subject for my tastes.

Content notes: Unsurprisingly, some of the stories mention/are set in the Holocaust, with all that entails. One story has torture as a central plot point.

Overall, a solid anthology with some top-notch talent and a couple of clunkers. Well worth picking up if you enjoy literature with Jewish themes.

Movie Review: The Curse of King Tut’s Tomb (2006)

Movie Review: The Curse of King Tut’s Tomb (2006)¬†directed by Russell Mulcahy.

Most history books leave out some details of the Pharaoh Tutankhamen’s reign. For example, they won’t tell you that King Tut was a winged superhero who fought an army of demons led by the Great Beast Set. Nor do they mention that Tut banished the demons by breaking the Emerald Tablet that allowed the creatures to enter our dimension in four parts. But adventure archaeologist Danny Fremont knows. He’s been traveling around the world gathering the tablet pieces so he can put them together and use the tablet’s powers for the good of humanity–only to have each piece stolen by Dr. Sinclair, agent of the powerful Hellfire Council. Only one piece remains to be found, and there’s only one place it can be. King Tut’s Tomb!

The Curse of King Tut's Tomb (2006)
Dr. Sinclair and the Hellfire Council summon the Great Beast Set.

This movie was a Hallmark Channel two-part special. While it’s not quite the holiday card-inspired story I normally associate with Hallmark, this means a lack of gratuitous swearing, and the women keep their clothes on. Most of the film was shot in Jaipur and Mumbai, with Indian actors filling in most Egyptian roles, including all the extras. Historical accuracy is clearly not a huge concern here, so you should leave that at the door.

Danny Fremont (Casper van Dien) is obviously meant to remind us of Indiana Jones, being a swashbuckling archaeologist with a reputation as a bit of a kook. (He has books out on Atlantis, and once he’s done with King Tut’s tomb is planning to go after Noah’s Ark.) Things haven’t gone so well for him since the Hellfire Council got his teaching certification revoked and book deal trashed. (The Hellfire Council also has a secret monopoly on the cure for tuberculosis.) Even the brilliant Egyptologist Dr. Azelia Barakat, who Danny has been trying to woo onto his side, thinks he’s nuts. Also, his last few digs haven’t panned out and the workers haven’t been paid.

Dr. Sinclair (Jonathan Hyde), conversely, is far more well-spoken, dresses better, and is generally more competent than Danny at everything except finding artifacts first. This last bit gets the sinister archaeologist a lot of stick from his fellow members of the Hellfire Council, particularly their leader Sir Nathan Cairns (Malcolm McDowell). It comes as no surprise when Sinclair turns on the rest of the council as soon as he gains the power of the Emerald Tablet.

And of course a supporting cast of quirky characters, including an explosives expert nicknamed Rembrant.

A lot of story beats are utterly predictable. Of course Danny’s going to find the tomb and the fourth tablet, and get the girl. Of course Sinclair will somehow steal the tablet and summon a bunch of demons and betray anyone who ever trusted him. Of course there will be a happy ending. But the nearly three hour run time helps make the film seem leisurely. (And there are a couple of flash-forwards to remind us that CGI bits are coming.) The pace picks up considerably in the last half hour as most of the cast departs the film.

Content issues: There’s a fair amount of violence, both magical and semi-realistic. There’s a head-under-water torture scene. The depiction of mental illness is dubious at best. Danny’s romantic pursuit of Azelia leads to a couple of uncomfortable scenes, especially after he learns she’s engaged to another man. One aspect of the happy ending could come across as a bit racist.

The first hour or so is probably the weakest while the movie sets up all the characters and situations.

Overall, this is a pleasant afternoon’s viewing if you can access it free or as a package with a bunch of other movies.

Manga Review: Dragon Quest Monsters + Volume 1

Manga Review: Dragon Quest Monsters + Volume 1 by Mine Yoshizaki

Terry was a hero summoned to another world. Though a mere boy, he had a way with monsters, and was able to convince them to team up with him on adventures. He put together a strong team of monsters to match against other Monster Masters’ teams in battle. Finally he won the championship in the Tournament of Starry Night. But that was then.

Dragon Quest Monsters + Volume 1

Kleo is a young fellow who blows off study and chores for running off to the woods to play hero. The village of Motile is peaceful, but there are some weak slimes in the forest. Kleo, despite his ambition to become a legendary hero, is no match for even the feeble monsters here. His mother and little sister wish he’d concentrate on becoming a respectable member of society.

It wouldn’t be much of an adventure story if Kleo settled down and studied, would it? Instead, the magical creature Watabou offers to transport the boy to another world where he is needed. And so Kleo finds himself in Greattree, a kingdom carved out of a giant tree.

However, he isn’t being recruited as a Hero who fights monsters, but as a Monster Master who tames monsters to battle others! It seems the previous Monster Master, Terry, has not returned to the kingdom for quite some time, and efforts to contact him have been in vain. And a phenomenon known as the Wave of Evil has been turning previously tame monsters into feral creatures that attack humans.

Indeed, the only available starter monster is Slib the Slime, a seemingly weak creature who has somehow lost access to the combat techniques it learned when it worked with Terry. It and Kleo don’t get along at first, but Slib has hidden potential.

The Dragon Quest series is one of the favorite video game franchises in Japan, fantasy adventure stories with character and monster designs by Akira Toriyama (Dragonball). Dragon Quest Monsters is a spinoff series using the monsters for battle against each other ala Pokemon. The “Plus” symbol in the title refers to the New Game + feature where you can play the game over with extra optional content unlocked.

The manga creator, Mine Yoshizaki, has done a number of video game based manga before, but is probably best known in anime fandom for the Sgt. Frog comedy science fiction series. His cartoony style works well with the subject material.

The plot is pretty standard stuff–unlikely hero must put together a quirky team of misfits to defeat the powerful Dragonlord and save the kingdom. Kleo’s kind of a dumbass, and has to have everything explained to him, but has the essential hero quality of not knowing when to back down.

This is very much a boy’s story; the female characters exist to be temporary obstacles or support characters; the female Monster Masters have more experience than Kleo but are considered irrelevant by the kingdom in regards to finding Terry or protecting the people. There’s also some objectification going on as Kleo is assumed to be way more interested in girls’ breasts than he actually is.

Generally, though, this is suitable for boys eight and up who love monster collecting games.

Book Review: Boundaries Without: 2017 Anthology of Speculative Fiction

Book Review: Boundaries Without: 2017 Anthology of Speculative Fiction edited by Cynthia Kraack and Steve McEllistrom

The loose theme of this anthology, per the introduction, is the different worlds and possibilities outside the borders of our consensus reality. Most of the sixteen stories in this book are new, but a scattering are older reprints.

Boundaries Without: 2017 Anthology of Speculative Fiction

The opening story is “An Inconspicuous Ring” by G. Bernhard Smith. A grad student discovers proof of extraterrestrial life, and also falls in love. This one made me uncomfortable–the main character is one of those fellows who isn’t good with women and hasn’t bothered to learn how to approach someone he’s attracted to in a respectful way. He only backs off when he has to deal with another man. But the story is clearly on his side.

The final story is “Shift” by Nancy Holder. An aging lobster fisherman starts noticing a wrongness about the lobsters he’s catching, and slowly that there may be something wrong with his community. Or maybe the problem is with him? Nicely spooky with a growing sense of dread.

Also good are:

“The Exclusive, True History of Dick Cheney, George W. Bush and the Secret Neocon Plan to Get Into Heaven” by Roger Barr, a silly story about government officials trying to rule lawyer their way out of damnation. Best part is that it’s not science fiction or fantasy, it could all be true, because you can’t prove it didn’t happen!

“Refugee in Paris” by Cynthia Kraack. An American couple is stranded in Paris when a plague breaks out, and they must survive until travel is no longer blockaded. A good look at both the mob fear and individual kindness found in disaster scenarios.

Less good are “Impulse Control” by CM Kerley about two jerks testing nanotechnology for an unknown party, which reads like an early chapter in a novel with characters doomed to die before we get to the protagonist, and “Divination by Water” by Pedro Ponce, a dream-logic story about people swimming in a location that’s only vaguely described.

Overall, it’s a decent enough anthology of mostly new material; check it out if you like any of the authors.

Movie Review: Chamber of Horrors

Chamber of Horrors (1940) directed by Norman Lee

When Lord Charles Selford dies, he leaves his fortune to his young son John or in the case of John’s death, to his equally young niece June Lansdowne, who lives in Canada. He appoints his friend Silva as guardian for John. However, the Selford family jewels are locked in the tomb with Lord Selford, through a door with seven locks. The seven keys are given into the keeping of family solicitor, Havelock.

 Chamber of Horrors
The Maiden just wants to give you a big hug!

Years later, when both the children are grown, Silva summons June to England. She finds him in a nursing home, ill and suffering with guilt over some mysterious crime. Silva gives June a key (one of the seven) and is about to explain more, but is shot dead. By the time June is able to bring the matron back to the room, there is no trace of Mr. Silva, moreover, the matron claims there was no patient in that room to begin with!

Fortunately for June, her sassy and man-hungry best friend Glenda Baker was waiting outside, and can confirm that June didn’t just make up the existence of Silva. They’re able to make a convincing case to Scotland Yard in the persons of Inspector Cornelius Sneed and recently resigned man about town Dick Martin. While Inspector Sneed begins the laborious process of police investigation, Dick assigns himself as June’s personal caseworker. They soon begin to realize that Silva’s death and disappearance are only the beginning of a murderous conspiracy that will end in…the Chamber of Horrors!

This film was loosely based on Edgar Wallace’s novel The Door with Seven Locks and had that title in Britain, changed to the scarier-sounding “Chamber of Horrors” for the American release. 

The chamber in question is not the tomb secured with seven locks, but a separate building filled with the sinister Dr. Manetta’s collection of poisoned cups and torture implements. (The doctor claims descent from the Torquemada clan.) The most notable feature is a “maiden” that slowly embraces its victims with bladed arms.

Despite the name, this is in no way a horror movie, but instead one of the mystery-thrillers that were popular in Britain in the prewar era. As soon as a foreigner and his mute servant are introduced, it’s clear that they’re villains of the piece. (Content note: now-outdated term for the physically disabled used.) Dick openly admits suspecting Dr. Manetta just from his appearance. Which is not to say there aren’t twists before the end.

June is about as good as we could expect from a female lead given when the film was made and its genre. She’s a plucky, adventurous girl not given to unnecessary breakdowns, but becomes a damsel in distress for the last act. The romance is one of those instant attraction things so common to this sort of plotline. Glenda is a bit more stereotypical, but gets many of the good lines. (She especially plays off Inspector Sneed, whose constant exhaustion is only partially faked.)

The acting is decent to good, and the humor balances well with the thrilling bits.

While this movie is suitable for ages ten and up, parents may want to talk to younger viewers about stereotyping people as villains because of nationality or handicaps.

Book Review: Dark Streets Cold Suburbs

Book Review: Dark Streets Cold Suburbs by Aimee Hix

Disclaimer: I received this Uncorrected Proof through local bookstore Once Upon a Crime to facilitate writing this review. No other compensation was offered or requested. As my copy was an uncorrected proof, minor changes (mostly fixing typos) may appear in the final product.

Dark Streets Cold Suburbs

Apprentice private investigator Willa Pennington is still recovering, both mentally and physically, from the wounds she received during her first major case. Among other things, she’s gotten serious about taking self-defense lessons. So serious that instructor Adam asks her to demonstrate her skills against ambushers in front of a beginners’ class.

Dropping two out of three (the third one was a surprise) isn’t bad, but it’s not ideal. But Willa telling her story touches a chord in one member of the class, and the private eye finds herself making a connection with troubled teen Aja.

Willa’s family has been walking on eggshells since the incident, and she’s having relationship trouble with lover Seth, an Alcohol Firearms and Tobacco agent. She knows Seth is dealing with his own heavy issues, but that doesn’t make him less of a jerk. So it’s almost a relief when Aja calls for help.

Turns out Aja’s trouble is her ex-boyfriend Damian, who’s turned stalker and become increasingly violent. Willa is glad to take the case, in addition to the cold case her mentor on the police force asked her to review. But then two cases turn into three when a major suspect turns up dead. The suburbs may not be gritty, but in the early spring, they’re still plenty cold.

This is the second Willa Pennington novel. Per the backstory, she was a cop until her best friend died in Afghanistan, then Willa decided to join her father’s private investigation firm as a change of direction. In no way, however, is it a safer job!

The good: This is a fast-paced book which I was able to read quickly. I liked the realistic treatment of Willa’s recovery from trauma. She’s much better than she was, but still has issues both physically and emotionally. Even though I didn’t read the first book, I can tell she’s learned from experience to use her network of friends and family more wisely, and insure that plenty of backup is handy when the chips are down.

Several of the characters are likable, especially Aja, Willa’s primary client. She’s a poor little rich girl who’s been given more money than face time with her parents, and trying too hard to act tough enough to handle problems a teen shouldn’t have to.

Less good: Willa’s overloaded with quirks, which is honestly a thing she shares with a lot of fictional private eyes. Layer the trauma on top, and it’s difficult to get to the core of the character. See if you can guess which quirk is the important one that comes back at the end of the story.

The actual mystery bit, the cold case, was perhaps a bit too easy for me to solve–about fifty pages ahead of Willa. (The conclusion of the stalker/current day murder case is more satisfying, but relies much less on catching the clues.)

Also, all of Willa’s friends and family are top-tier at their skills, including her little brother, a hacker who is government agency material at age sixteen. It’s a bit lop-sided against the baddies.

Content notes: stalking, domestic abuse, child neglect.

Overall, a competent book that should please fans of tough gal private eyes.

Book Review: The Halloween Tree

Book Review: The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

Eight boys are out in costume tonight, looking for Halloween fun. Skeleton, witch, ape-man and so many more. Eight boys, but it should be nine. Where is Pipkin, merriest of the lot? He is taken, vanished into the darkness. What can be done? They must search for him, through time and space, with the aid of Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud. And along the way, discover the true meaning of Halloween!

The Halloween Tree

This 1972 children’s fantasy shows off Ray Bradbury’s lyrical prose (verging on poetry) and the illustrations of Joseph Mugnaini, and the Yearling cover by Leo and Diane Dillon is pretty good too.

The plot, what there is of it, is a whirlwind tour of past times and foreign places, presided over by Moundshroud, one of the jolliest stand-ins for Death I’ve ever read. He’s clearly having a ball making kites and urging the boys forward on their mad dash to save Pipkin.

Pipkin is the boys’ boy, kind of like a benevolent version of Peter Pan. In his absence, the de facto leader of the boys is Tom Skelton, who is wearing a skeleton costume because, well, wouldn’t you? The other young fellows are kind of interchangeable, managing one or two scenes of relevance each.

Bradbury does an excellent job of tying the theme together, and there’s some imagery here you won’t soon forget.

The book does tie very much into Bradbury’s nostalgia for his own boyhood, and is very much a boy-oriented story. Twenty-first Century kids might have a harder time relating to such a one-gender tale. (The cartoon adaptation, narrated by Ray Bradbury himself, changes the child wearing a witch costume to a girl to reflect a more modern sensibility.)

Despite the spooky trappings, this is fantasy rather than horror, at least until the end, where the children face a dark choice they may not fully understand.

Suitable for fourth-graders and up, and a bit younger as a bedtime story read with an adult. Also recommended to grown-ups with nostalgia for the Halloweens of their youth.

Here’s the opening to the animated version:

Movie Review: Blackmail (1929)

Movie Review: Blackmail (1929) directed by Alfred Hitchcock 

Alice White, who works in her father’s tobacco shop, is bored with her police detective boyfriend Frank. She acts obnoxiously during a date with him, causing Frank to cancel. But Frank hesitates long enough outside the restaurant to see Alice leave with handsome artist Mr. Crewe, who’d arranged to meet Alice there.

Blackmail
J’Accuse!

It’s clear that Alice and Mr. Crewe don’t know each other well, but he pressures her into a visit to his studio apartment. He’s clearly a skilled painter, and also plays the piano and sings. The two young people flirt, and Alice tries on a model’s ballerina dress (which she’s a trifle too big for.) All seems to be going well until Mr. Crewe forces a kiss on Alice. Unconsenting, Alice decides to leave, but Mr. Crewe takes away her street clothes, and then (behind a curtain) attempts to rape Alice. She stabs him to death in self defense.

Distraught and dazed, Alice obscures some evidence that she was at the apartment, but forgets her gloves. She wanders until dawn, then successfully fakes having been in bed.

Frank finds Alice’s glove at the scene of the crime and recognizes the murder victim, but pockets the evidence and does not tell the other Scotland Yard men about his knowledge. He goes to Alice’s shop and attempts to discover her connection to the crime. But their conversation is seen by another man. As it so happens, he saw Alice go into the artist’s building on the night of the murder…and has her other glove! He’s got blackmail on his mind.

This was Alfred Hitchcock’s first talkie, and indeed is considered the first “full” talkie from England. It was initially filmed as a silent film but many scenes were reshot during production. The first few minutes of the talkie version are “silent” as we see Frank’s workday, capturing a criminal, interrogating him, a lineup, and then pressing charges. Only when the detectives are in the locker area at the end of the day do we first hear talking.

One effect of the switch to sound was a problem with Alice’s actress, Anny Ondra. Her strong Czech accent was considered unacceptable for playing a working class British girl, so British actress Joan Barry had to stand just off-camera and speak Alice’s lines while Anny mouthed them. This was Ms. Ondra’s last English film but she went on to a successful career in Germany, France and Czechoslovakia.

The film has Hitchcock’s trademarks: a heavy dose of suspense, a famous landmark as the site of the climax (the British Museum) and a cameo by the director himself. It also has an ambiguous ending of the type that would soon be unacceptable under the Hays Code.

The imagery gets a little heavy-handed from time to time, more suitable for the silent version I think, but the painting of the clown who points and laughs at you is a good recurring image. Hitchcock did also start using some sound tricks to good effect; the best of these is a gossipy neighbor whose monologue slowly fades out except for the repeated use of the word “knife.”

The old-fashionedness of the film (based on a stage play and you can tell) is part of its charm, but may grate on younger viewers who aren’t used to it. New film fans may want to start with some of Hitchcock’s Hollywood movies from the late Thirties to ease into it.

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